Saturday Sunday: The Junk Picker by Jan F. Drewniak, Don Drewniak

I have a deep appreciation for those who cherish the belongings they have and collecting unwanted items from others who don’t want them anymore and giving those treasures (other people’s junk) a new life. I stumbled across this book on twitter and the title grabbed me immediately and had to find out more! I’ve added this book to my reading pile for 2020! Who knows, just maybe I might be able to get an interview with the author. Have a beautiful weekend! -Stephanie

The Junk PickerThe Junk Picker

by Jan F. Drewniak, Don Drewniak

“When I was in my mid-teens during the late 1950s, I would often see my father, Jan F. Drewniak, sitting at a desk late into the night in our house in Fall River, Massachusetts. On the desk was a collection of pens and pencils, stacks of writing paper and what looked to be two battered books. He alternated between writing furiously, pouring through the two “books” and occasionally sitting for long stretches with his eyes closed. I vividly remember one time when tears were streaming down his cheeks. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.

What I did not realize was that he was writing about his experiences first in Brooklyn, New York, and then in the Berkshires during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, I was too absorbed in high school life to have bothered to ask him what he was writing. Upon completion, the writings were put aside for over thirty years.

Several days prior to his death in 1991, he handed me a small, sealed cardboard box and requested that I not open it until he had passed away. I honored the request. When I finally opened the box, I found an envelope with the following written on it, “Please do not open this until you have read the enclosed.” Over eight hundred handwritten pages were piled under envelope.

Once I began reading, I realized that I was reading a manuscript – the manuscript that had to be the product of all the nights he had spent at his desk four decades earlier. I was stunned and amazed as I turned from page to page. The reading introduced me to a father I had never known.”

The Importance of Writer’s Workshops

Book with glasses

This past Saturday I attended a Writer’s Workshop at the Book Exchange in Marietta, Georgia led by Susan Crawford, Author/Publisher. There was a great group of women writers there and it was a delight to meet them and discuss different aspects of story-telling. Crawford really inspired us and gave a wonderful outline with the right tools to structure our writing and developing our characters. The opening topic was “Experiencing vs. Showing/Telling”. We talked about the balance of the two and it was quite interesting to talk about when it is okay to tell rather than show.

Crawford was open to questions we had and her insight was much appreciated. She led us in three writing exercises that we were able to read out loud to the group and one of them was about, “Opening Line.” This was probably my favorite exercise because as readers and writers we know the “Opening Line” needs to grab us. I’d like to share my opening line with you. This particular line is from a scene of one of stories I’m working on. I wanted to see how it would work with this exercise and it turned out great!

The opening line below is from a story that takes place in North Georgia: Untitled

“As she entered the hiking trail alongside highway 515, she heard an approaching car heading straight for her.”

Writing that as an opening line was interesting- the line grabs you and you want to know what happens next.

I want to encourage you to try this exercise and see what you come up with. It doesn’t have to be from a story you’re already writing. Try to make something up off the top of your head. I know I will be practicing this exercise often and next time, I won’t be using a line from my story.

I learned several valuable lessons at this workshop and now I fully understand the importance of workshops for any writer. For example, meeting with other writers to discuss the different aspects of  story-telling, and the encouragement from these events motivates oneself to keep writing.

These are some other topics we discussed that was a refresher for me:  Reading your work out loud really does help, a deeper understanding of how to experience what is inside your character’s head, and an in-depth look at point of view. Most of all the discussions among fellow writers about the right prose to describe senses, emotion, the setting and so on…

The class lasted two hours and afterwards Crawford critiqued one writers work. Alas, I had not brought my manuscript for this aspect of the workshop but next time…I would love to hear Crawford’s thoughts on my story.

Thank you, Book Exchange for hosting this workshop and for your gracious hospitality.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

More about Susan Crawford:

Susan H. Crawford

Susan grew up in Miami, Florida. She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Author Website

Interview with Susan Crawford at VoyageATL HERE

Book Exchange Website

Book Exchange Facebook Page

Other Layered Pages posts about the Book Exchange:

Bookish Happenings

The Book Exchange: An Independent Book Store

 

 

Characters in Motion with Meghan Holloway

“Often times the best inspiration comes within us.” Writer Meghan Holloway shares with us how she fleshes out her characters to drive the plot.

************

Storytelling is, at heart, an exploration of the human condition. More than evocative imagery or lyrical prose or a captivating plot, a story must have a character at its center in whom I can invest.

Achieving a fully-fleshed character is one of the most challenging aspects in writing. Creating a paragon or a villain is a simple thing, but also a flat and unsatisfying achievement. Building a well-rounded character—humane, flawed, fallible, and nuanced—is a task as formidable as it is rewarding.

We writers tend to be a solitary lot for we pursue a sequestered craft. We are watchers, though, sentinels of interaction, cartographers of existence. It is through this lifelong pursuit of observation that we find the lens through which to view the human experience and the clay with which to build our characters.

When I tell a story, I have a two-fold beginning:  I have a plot arch in mind first or a particular setting and event in history I want to explore; but the key piece that moves this germ from idea to tale is character. The plot is what creates the arc of storytelling; the character is the vehicle in which the reader is transported.

Meghan Holloway

About Author:

Meghan Holloway

“My dearest darling …” That was how my grandfather began all of his letters to my grandmother while he was stationed in Okinawa in World War II. I never knew my grandfather, but I’ve poured over his letters. I used to draw lines up the back of my legs, just as my grandmother had as a young woman whose nylons had been donated to make parachutes, and I’ve endlessly pestered my paternal grandfather for stories of his childhood and service. The worn letters and patiently-told stories cemented my interest in history, especially in the WWII era.

I found my first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at a friend’s house and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. I flew an airplane before I learned how to drive a car, did my undergrad work in a crumbling once-all girls school in the sweltering south, spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, finished my graduate work in an all-girls school in the blustery north, and traveled the world for a few years. Now I’m settled down in the foothills of the Appalachians, writing my third and fourth novels, and hanging out with my standard poodle.

Author Links:

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Manic Monday and Weekend Mystery

me-ii

As we all know Mondays can be pretty manic and generally I look forward to Mondays nonetheless. This past weekend, Georgia had its first snow of the year-more like snow turned to ice-and left many trapped indoors for an entire two days. I’m not complaining though, it was a great time to catch up on shows, movies, format blog posts, drink lots of tea and talk with friends via social media about books. Alas, no reading for me. I know. I’m shocked myself. Let me explain why. Book reviewers can often go through a reading funk. Having so many books to get through and often times feeling like you are reading much of the same stuff, one can get frustrated. Well, that is me at the moment. Okay, I have to admit it’s been increasingly getting to a boiling point with me and so far the books I have selected and read this year has not been a good beginning for the new year. I have three books to write a review for that I was less than satisfied with. My main complaint with these stories is that there is no depth to the characters and not enough back ground information to really get to know them. One must get to know the character in order to sympathize and relate to them. Furthermore, the plots were weak and contrived.

With that said, I even wish agents and publishers would accept more stories with male protagonists. I’m also tired of seeing stereotypical characters. More so in the male roles. Another thing that concerns me is that the market to think that women just want to read about other women and their issues. It’s time for some changes. Yes, I said it and feel relieved to finally express my feelings about this. Agents and publishers, if you are reading this, I hope you take this into consideration. When a female author pitches a story to you with a male protagonist, please accept it! I can confirm I am not alone with this. Many of my fellow book bloggers and friends are right there with me.

afternnon-tea-1

Having feeling this way and wanting to find something to get out of my reading funk; I then asked my friends, co-bloggers and author friends for some mystery titles with male protagonist. I posted this request on my Facebook wall. In the HNS Facebook Group and on twitter. The recommendations came flooding in and what great conversations it made! Soon I will be sharing those titles with you. I am currently arranging them in a file and formatting the post. I might do a series of them. Be sure to be on the lookout for that! I am really hoping this will get me out of my reading funk. We will see. Ha!

**********

Today I have lots of blogging things to do! I have a ton of interview questions to get out, answering emails, book promoting, draft two book reviews and turn them in. This doesn’t include all my other responsibilities that I have today…Whew! Here is hoping to a productive day! I know many of you can relate! More on my thoughts as a reader coming in the near future. Stay tuned.

Have a wonderful bookish week and be sure to come back every day this week to Layered Pages for some great posts!

Take a look and follow these amazing book bloggers! They do a tremendous job in supporting authors and books.

Flashlight Commentary

The Maiden’s Court

A Bookaholic Swede

A Literary Vacation

Let Them Read Books

2 Kids and Tired Books

Celticlady’s Reviews

A Bookish Affair

Thank you for visiting Layered Pages! Hop on ever to check out my post on a readers’s voice over at my BlogSpot

Stephanie M. Hopkins

One Reader’s Voice Out Loud

Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

Interview with Simon Stirling

simon

Simon Stirling hails from Birmingham, England.  He went to Glasgow University, but left early to take part in a new play on the London fringe (written by John A. Bird, who went on to found The Big Issue).  Simon then spent three years training as an actor at LAMDA, during which time he got his first literary agent.  For the next decade or so he wrote scripts for theatre and various television drama series, picking up a Writer’s Guild Award for his work on “Between the Lines” and writing what is probably the rudest episode ever of “Casualty”!  In more recent years he has worked as a script consultant and scriptwriting tutor, and for two years he was Youth and Community Director at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury.  Many years of research went into his first two historical nonfiction books, The King Arthur Conspiracy (2012) and Who Killed William Shakespeare? (2013) – both published by The History Press – and his current project, “The Grail: Relic of an Ancient Religion” for Moon Books.  He now lives in Worcestershire, in the heart of Shakespeare country, with his wife Kim, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. They were married on the Isle of Iona in 2002.

Simon keeps a blog with regular updates on his research and adventures in publishing:

www.artandwill.blogspot.co.uk

Stephanie: Hello, Simon! Thank you for chatting with me today! As a Shakespeare enthusiast, I am always intrigued with anything to do with him and was delighted you wrote a book about him. Please tell me a little about your book, Who Killed William Shakespeare?

Simon: Hello, Stephanie!  “Who Killed William Shakespeare?” was first published last year by The History Press.  It’s my second book for them.  I’d spent a little over 25 years researching Shakespeare’s life and times – starting with a particular interest in the character of Lady Macbeth (where did she come from?) and then gradually widening out from Shakespeare’s middle years to take in his youth and retirement.  When I met up with my editor at The History Press to discuss the publication of my first book (“The King Arthur Conspiracy” – 2012) I was hoping we’d have time to chat about the Shakespeare project I’d mentioned to her.  We didn’t, but I did notice that she had written in her notes, “Who killed William Shakespeare?”

When I’d first mentioned the project to her, I’d outlined very briefly what I had discovered about Shakespeare’s life and the three stages (childhood and youth, middle age, retirement and death) which I was keen to cover.  The fact that she had zeroed in on his sudden death told me that this was what the publishers would be most interested in (although I still managed to cover the rest of his life in the book) and, whether she realized it or not, she’d given me my title!

who killed ws

Stephanie: That is really intriguing. Your research must have been quite extensive. Could you tell me a little about it? Was there anything you discovered that you did not know before?

Simon: The research started the traditional way: reading any books I could get hold of about Shakespeare.  But I found them all rather disappointing.  None of them really told me who Shakespeare was.  After many years, I began to realize that this is one of the great stumbling blocks in Shakespeare studies.  We know quite a lot about Shakespeare, but many scholars prefer to pretend that we don’t.  And that got my antennae twitching.

I combined what you might call “mainstream” or “orthodox” Shakespeare research with more detailed investigations into the region he came from – which also happens to be my home region.  Most Shakespeare biographers pop up to Stratford to look around and then head straight back to London.  They’re really only interested in Shakespeare-in-London.  But the best material about him, his contacts, his family network, his background, etc., is to be found in the Midlands.  For example: we know that the 18-year old Shakespeare was first given a special license to marry “Annam Whateley” of Temple Grafton (a parish near Stratford), and that the next day a license was issued stipulating that Shakespeare would marry “Anne Hathwey” of Stratford.  For years, scholars have insisted that Anne Whateley (his first betrothed) didn’t exist – but a search of local records turned up a will which names her.

The biggest surprise came in the form of a skull.  I had been chasing up a local story, published by a Victorian clergyman, which insisted that Shakespeare’s skull had been stolen from his grave in Stratford and ended up in a private family crypt under another church altogether.  But it was only when I’d started writing my book that I discovered that this skull really did exist.  What is more, it shows various injuries which match those visible on the portraits of Shakespeare.  And these injuries both confirmed and added to the theory I had already formed about how Shakespeare died.  So that was a shocking moment – discovering that the Victorian vicar was (partly) right.  Shakespeare’s skull is NOT in Stratford!

Stephanie: Now that is really interesting! How long did it take you to write, Who Killed William Shakespeare? And what was your inspiration?

Simon: I’m not really sure how long it took.  For years, I was trying to write a sort of detailed novel about Shakespeare in 1605-6.  It would have covered the Gunpowder Plot (to which Shakespeare was connected in a number of alarming ways), the birth of his illegitimate son, Sir William Davenant, and the writing of “Macbeth”.  Then, little by little, I extended the scope of the project and decided to write it as non-fiction.  There were dozens of false starts.  But the manuscript for the final book actually took about nine months to write.  Some of that time, though, was spent doing very detailed comparisons of the skull, the Shakespeare portraiture, and a death mask which was probably of Shakespeare and is now in Germany.  I reckon I must have spent about two months in all, studying the similarities of these various images and objects and creating graphics which point up the comparisons.

As for the inspiration, that’s kind of complex.  I ended up believing that an enormous injustice had been done to Shakespeare, and it continues to this day.  He wasn’t alone in this: many of his friends, relatives and associates were Catholic, and they suffered horribly.  So if anything drove me in writing the book, it was the desire to right a dreadful wrong.  Shakespeare was murdered (in fact, I’ve since discovered that this was anything but secret), and the facts of his life have been systematically covered up since in order to invent a false Shakespeare, a patriotic Protestant.  That’s why so many scholars pretend that we know very little about him.  The truth is more shocking – but it also explains the man and his work, as well as his violent death.

Stephanie: Well, I am glad you wrote it as non-fiction and that is no easy task. I can’t wait to read your book! I agree with you. I have heard many stories of injustice about him and it is infuriating at times, I admit.

Have you read all his plays? His sonnets?

Simon: One way or another, yes (including a “lost” play of his).  But for the book itself, I didn’t really bother very much with his history plays (they weren’t terribly relevant), and there are others I left out because they would have cluttered up the narrative.  A few poems (“The Phoenix and the Turtle”, for example) were also side-lined, but that was really just because of space, or the lack thereof.

Stephanie: Which sonnet is your favorite?

Simon: The sonnets are fascinating – they’re more personal than letters, though I sometimes felt that I was reading somebody’s emails!  Picking a favourite is very difficult: they cover such a long span (from about 1592 up till at least 1606), and the subject matter is so varied.  If I had a favourite, it would probably be Sonnet 126, which is “unfinished” (the final couplet was never published) and was, I think, addressed to his infant son or godson, William Davenant, who was illegitimate, but whose birth in late February 1606 made up for the death of Shakespeare’s son and heir, Hamnet, ten years earlier.

Stephanie: My favorite play is the Twelfth Night and Hamlet. Which one is yours and why?

Simon: I ought to say “Macbeth”, because that was the starting point for so much of my research.  But the fact is that it took me many years to learn how to enjoy reading Shakespeare (the key was to understand his latent Catholicism: suddenly, every poem and play became very readable, and intensely emotional, once I’d latched on to that forbidden information; I remember watching a very good movie version of “Titus Andronicus” and having my usual response of, “Well, that meant nothing to me” – and then spending a year or so researching Catholicism in Shakespeare’s England, and then watching the same movie again, and I was in floods of tears throughout).  The play I found myself enjoying the most when I was working on “Who Killed William Shakespeare?”, though, was “Pericles”.  I found it a really colourful, heart-warming experience.  It was the first of Shakespeare’s plays of reconciliation, the first of his “romances” or tragi-comedies, and it was hugely popular with the Catholic community.  I think I can see why.  It promises salvation, of a sort, after many horrors.

Stephanie: Now, about you and what you read for pleasure. Who are your influences?

Simon: Well, I’m a pretty big fan of William Shakespeare!  But while I was growing up, the stories of Alan Garner really grabbed me.  He always wrote brilliantly, and his stories became more mature as he went on (he’s still alive, I should add).  In my teens, I discovered his very short novel, “Red Shift”, which remains my personal favourite.  Nobody – apart from Shakespeare, perhaps – has ever managed to squeeze so much meaning into so few words.  That book taught me that you should never go overboard with description.  Keep it simple and to the point.  Too much description cheats the reader.  Less is more.

Stephanie: I agree about going overboard with description and less is more. It certainly is an art to write that way.

How often do you write and where in your home do you write?

Simon: I write every day, if I can.  Using a laptop, I can write pretty much anywhere.  But we only have a small house, and my main work station is in the main room.  I have my back to the television, but if I’m working late into the night I’ll often have the TV on in the background, just so that the room isn’t too quiet.

Stephanie: Coffee or tea?

Simon: Coffee in the morning, and plenty of it: strong and black (I broke my old cafetiere a few days ago, and my wife made sure she’d bought me a new one by the following morning; she knows how important it is to me!).  But in the afternoon or evening, tea.  I have a very big mug, about the size of two normal mugs, which I drink my tea out of.  And I only have a splash of goat’s milk in my tea.  Cow’s milk really isn’t very good these days.

Stephanie: Historical fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

Simon: Non-fiction.  Most of my reading is research, one way or another, and while you can soak up atmosphere from fiction, I prefer hard facts.  The other problem is that my background as a dramatist means that I still mentally “adapt” novels for the screen whenever I’m reading them, which is annoying.  But I suppose the main thing is that I see reading as ongoing education.  Novels are a form of escapism, which means that I don’t really trust them.

Stephanie: Favorite read(s)?

Simon: Depends what I’m working on.  Sometimes, it’ll be something scientific (Simon Singh’s “Big Bang”, for example, which is a brilliant history of cosmology; I wrote a script for the Open University, here in the UK, back in the 90s, and we introduced the nation to the COBE satellite and the discovery of cosmic background radiation – it was good to read about how that all fitted in to the history of our understanding of the universe).  I also find biographies intriguing, because they’re so difficult to do well, and so when I find one I think is really excellent (like Kate Williams’ “England’s Mistress”, about Emma, Lady Hamilton, or W.H. Murray’s “Rob Roy MacGregor”) I’ll tend to recommend it.  Also, I would always recommend Evelyn Farr’s “Marie-Antoinette and Count Fersen: The Untold Love Story”.  That’s a book I’d love to have written.

Stephanie:  What would you like to say to your readers?

Simon: The research (into King Arthur and William Shakespeare) isn’t finished.  I’m expecting to unveil a “new” Shakespeare portrait during a public lecture I’ll be giving at Goldsmiths, University of London, in March, and that portrait appears to confirm what my research has revealed about Shakespeare’s death.  Plus, we’ll be able to access the actual skull, later this year, so there’s a lot more news to come.  Both my books could be thought of as primers – they’re introductions to the subject, and they both present a very different story to what you’ve heard previously, but most exciting of all is the fact that, as the research continues, more and more details get filled in, and I really look forward to updating my readers on the outcomes of these investigations.  So if you want a head start – read the books, and you’ll be ready for the new information as it emerges!

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Simon: There seem to be quite a lot of places around the world that are stocking it – you can even buy it in Lagos!  But there’s always Amazon, of course, and it is available both in hardback and Kindle.

Review: The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

the secret history book cover

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it.

Where to begin in this review was the question when I first begun to write this. There are so many highlights to this story and what can be discussed on different viewpoints. Here is only a glimpse of my thoughts and feelings. Theodora is my new favorite heroine who will capture your attention from the beginning and leave you with wanting the story of her life to continue. She is an incredible and courageous women who inspired one not to give up on what life might throw at you and she is the model of a strong, vibrant woman. I’m looking forward to more of Thornton’s stories to come. I hope you enjoy my review below and I’m sure this story will give you newfound appreciation for the wonderful stories writers bring to their readers.

My review:

Historical Fiction is the echo of the past. Where the writer draws you in its fold and as you explore the timeless treasures it has to offer, you want to hold on tight to the- what if’s and the voices that resound through the pages. Thornton gives you that and much more…Every word, every emotion and thought awakens new senses and transcends you back to sixth-century Constaninpole.

She writes a wonderful backdrop of how the city must have looked and the daily life of its people. You can imagine how the different scents of spices must have smelled like at the markets, hear the street merchants as they sell their wares, the cries of babies wanting to feed and the beggar’s unrelenting voices as they beg for food and coin. Not only that- her story is rich with wonderful historical detail and beautiful characters. The love of Theodora and Justinian is one I will never forget. They are forever in my heart.

From what I gather -this is Thornton’s first published novel. She is a history teacher who has been drawn-to put it lightly- with infamous women from ancient history since she was a young girl. It definitely shows throughout this novel! An exceptional story that has left me with what can only be describe as adoration and inspired anew.

Stephanie

Layered Pages

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thesecrethistoryvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SecretHistoryTour

the secret history banner