The world is upside down

It is nothing new that the world is functioning upside down in various aspects of life. Why not in the writing realm too?

As you know already, and as you can see from the blog header, I have published three novels up to now. Two others and a short stories anthology will follow soon, almost certainly all three to appear this year. I published with small indie presses, because this is what I have the possibility in the current book market conditions. Many writers more seasoned than me published with the same two indie presses, so I am in good company. (And they aren’t vanity presses, printing and dumping the books in your arms. No, they assure launching events, participation at fairs, the collaboration of literary critics, etc.)

I am glad that I have started to become a little known among the contemporary writers in Bucharest. If one googles my pen name (despite being quite common internationally) one can find something about one of my novels too. If googling the titles, there are few information about them, but they are, reviews and photos. I had good reviews from the literary critics at the book presentation events, I had my novels displayed at the bi-annual Bucharest International Book Fairs… all these are successes for a junior writer, with only 3 novels published up to now.

I think I have a few more good things to list, including being on some senior writers’ good list. It sounds lovely, but… let’s vent my frustrations too. And this comes with the warning that the Romanian book market, unfortunately, doesn’t resemble the English speaking books market, so most of the book marketing ideas I find online, in English speaking blogs, unfortunately do not apply. For example, the English-speaking literary world promotes very much e-books. Here they are negligible sold. Printed word is the base… where it is.

While the English speaking market is catering to nearly one billion people (there were, in Internet statistics, 400 million native speakers of English, to which to add 400 million speakers of English as a second language, in 2006, and I assume the population has increased in 12 years), the overall population of Romania was of 19.5 million people, out of which about 4 million are abroad, about 3 million too young to read my novels (below 14)… and from the remaining 12.5 million, about 40% or more are poor, too busy to survive and not reading anything else than an occasional newspaper or religious book. Sad, but true.  Of course, from the remaining people who would read in principle (some regularly, some occasionally) not all are fans of historical adventures fiction/ YA, what I am writing. This is a realistic analysis.

As far as I heard the publishers say (not only personally to me, but also in interviews on the internet) – and we have our “big fives” here too, plus a whole constellation of small indie presses (the equivalent of self publishing would be here dealing directly with the printing house without a publisher, which is recommended only for professional books which have already the distribution ensured or for people who print one memoir book in their lives to give to 50-100 people, not needing ISBN or anything), in my country a book (written by a contemporary national writer, not translations of international bestsellers and not books required for school reading like our classics) printed in 1,000 copies is already considered a best seller.  My novels were, 2 of them published in 200 copies, the first one in 300. It is the level generally the writers around me use.

Now, my sincere frustrations?

– I haven’t recovered the costs on any of them. Yes, I have sold some, but the greatest amount was given freely. Now, to be honest, I knew from the start that I wouldn’t get rich from writing. I did it from my heart, and I loved when I received compliments about the books (not only from the critics, I appreciate more the readers’ compliments and questions, even if I know the critics’ are of importance for the accession to the Writers’ Union). This is when I felt they got their mission, to brighten someone’s day and to transport them to another time and place, offering them an insight on that way of living. But I would have appreciated if I succeeded to recover my costs. Some writers know business owners and get sponsors. (I had sponsors too, back in 1999, for my professional handbook in project management). I don’t know influent people who would be able to sponsor me, every cost is supported from my meager savings (given that I am retired now).  Yes, I sold books at various events… but the money received covered the expenses of the event, with very little margin (if any).

– I can’t reach exactly my target group, the high-school and Uni youngsters. Until now, my novels were bought mostly by grown-up or older people who were nostalgic about the style of novels they use to read, because these were the ones coming to the literary events.

…And everything needs more money. Half, I understand this as in the fact that if I try to expand my marketing network, this doesn’t come for free because this is what those people gain their living from – organising things, writing things. I am lucky that I haven’t had to pay for some things, though. There are friends who help me for free, and I thank them wholeheartedly. At my turn, I have always helped people for free, with whatever I could. It had never occurred to me to ask money, and I am always shocked when I am asked money for various things which, in my thoughts, shouldn’t.

In a world which wouldn’t function as upside down as it does, the writer should be allowed to write – like it was before the ascension of social media – and the others should do the marketing part. I am sure that Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas weren’t the ones to do much more than writing. Yes, they received their money after the books were sold, but nobody asked them money for publishing, for book launching events organisation and other things. Or, if now shedding money is a must because there are too many books published and no publisher assumes the economic risks anymore in this crisis economy, at least they should want the money from the sales! Not before recovering the costs…

One would say fame has a price I am paying. Even little fame. Others say it’s something wrong with me and my writing, otherwise merit triumphs. What I have seen and heard around me, says that it’s not only me, and not only merit triumphs. Besides merit, it takes good luck, knowing the right persons and maybe also having some financial reserves… But I still have the feeling that things aren’t how they should be. The system doesn’t function how it should. (Where does it?)

 

Advertisements

Half a century

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth olf old age.

Victor Hugo

Yes, I am turning half a century old. My soul is still a teenager, my bones are ancient and often painful.

It’s Good Saturday, Easter Eve. When I was born, it was Sunday of Palms, and I made my entry at 10:45 or 11:45 am. My mother gave me, in different moments, any of these two hours. Yes, it hinders with the calculation of the rising star, that’s different for each of these two possibilities. But I can live without a detailed horoscope.

She was waiting for me 2 weeks later, but I decided early in the morning that the Sunday of Palms was a better day for my arrival (yes, I heard that girls usually come sooner than boys). 50 years ago there was no echograph. Doctors guessed the baby’s gender by other signs, and my mother was told she was having a boy. She decided to name me Andrei and therefore as a newborn I grew up in blue clothes.

My doctor was away fishing, since Palm Sunday is a day when traditionally people eat fish. It wasn’t far from Bucharest, though, so he was brought back in emergency to perform the c-section which was needed in my mother’s circumstances. To my doctor’s and my mother’s surprise, I was a girl. So my mother found me a rare Latin origin name, and her best friend, who came 2 days later to visit her, advised her to give me also a saint’s name, reasoning: “She’s a girl; when older, she might not want to tell anymore how old she is, so give her a patron saint, to celebrate her name’s day. Call her Gabriela, for example, it’s in fashion.” (Yes, I had in my class, all through school, 4-5 Gabrielas, 4-5 Danielas and 3-4 Cristinas, these being my generation’s popular names). My mother said then that if it is to choose a saint’s name, I’ll bear her mother’s name, Elena. And I love it more.

Also, in most of my stories I have always written, I had a brother named Andrei.

50 years later, I can say I have got a nice life. Not everything was good and bright; I think nobody’s life is brilliant and spotless. I had disappointments, but I had also achievements. When calculating everything in balance, it has been all right. I have known professional success, including a PhD in World Economics. I have contributed, with my small possibilities, to my country’s European integration. I have taught several people.

I have lifetime friends and newer ones, I have known love and I have a husband who understands, supports and respects me (I do love, support, understand and respect him too). Lately, I have started to know writing success too. I have been writing for a lifetime, and I want to keep writing. It would be interesting how to interact with my readers now, though…

I have seen most of the European countries. Outside Europe, I saw Ceuta (part of Spain, but on the Morocco side) and Israel. I might see more, later… I have met lots of interesting people of various nationalities, ages, professions. Now, I am stepping into a new part of my life, and I am decided to live it to the fullest.

Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind ….. ~ (Jackie Joyner-Kersee)

I want no regrets in life. To do everything I can, while I can. I am not ashamed of my age, I will never pretend I am younger, and I am ready to embrace my next half century with a smile. (And a Greek dance, why not?)

 There is a fountain of youth.  It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. ~(Sophia Loren)

 

Călătorie prin Vlăhia mare – de azi, de ieri și de odinioară

Am descoperit pe multele cărări neexplorate ale internetului linkul către o arhivă a unei scrieri pe care o publicasem demult, la sfatul cuiva care nu mai este în viață, Dumnezeu   să-l odihnească, într-o revistă online intitulată NEAMUL ROMÂNESC.

Calatorie prin Vlahia mare

Povestea a fost scrisă în 1999, conținând amintiri din două călătorii în Grecia, din 1999 (AZI) și, respectiv, 1994 (IERI). ODINIOARĂ este istoria…

Și, bineînțeles, scriitoarea de astăzi nu mai crede tot ce credea cea de acum 18 ani. Timpul trece, oamenii învață și evoluează. Anumite realități, din păcate, nu se pot schimba în bine, în tot acest timp…

A March Amulet For You All

martisor_potcoava1_zpsa18d7635I am offering each of you a March amulet, according to the tradition in my country, to bring you good luck, happiness, love, good health and everything else you wish. Well, my wishes for you include inspired muses too.

The 1st of March is the traditional holiday of the March amulet, day when Romanians celebrate the coming of spring. In most parts of Romania, on this day girls and women receive “March amulets” from men. In some areas of Moldavia, there still exists the ancient custom that men receive also a “March amulet” from women. “March amulets” are bicolor (white and red) twisted braids to which various figurines are bound. They celebrate the rebirth of life after the hard winter.

The name ‘Martisor’ comes from the God Mars (Marte, in Romanian) which was celebrated in March (Martie). According to the Roman calendar, it was then when they celebrated the beginning of the year on those times. The amulet called Martisor became a traditional gift for the New Year’s Eve, which was supposed to bring luck and happiness. It has remained a March celebration even after the new calendar was adopted. Now it is a happy celebration of Spring which comes to brighten our days after so much snow and freeze.

“March amulets” bring happiness and luck and are worn at sight (pinned on the blouse or around the wrist) for one week, until the 9th of March. The March amulet is a Romanian tradition more than 8,000 years old, as the earliest proofs of this holiday discovered by archeologists showed.

martisoare_zps0f04a039

The pin-charm could only be made during the winter months and worn after March 1st. In earlier times, little silver coins were tied on a thin, twisted black and white or red and white wool rope. The coin charms were originally used to provide both luck for the future and protection from the environment to the wearer. The ropes stood for the advent of summer, warmth, and regeneration, while intertwined with the constant presence of winter, cold, and death. The amulets were also believed to enhance fertility, provide beauty and prevent sunburn in women. Young girls even threw the amulets toward the sun to prevent freckles. They were worn on the wrist or pinned over the heart. Many wore the pins until trees began to bloom, hanging the amulets in the tree branches after that point.

As in all traditional cultures, based on a dualist mentality, March was the time when the old and the new, the good and the evil confronted. For young people, it meant ritual games, gift-giving, and the well-known March amulets.These “tokens” of an old culture survived. We can find them in jewelry shops, sold by street vendors, everywhere, a sign of love, appreciation, respect, everybody is happy to receive.

In ancient times it was a silver or gold coin suspended on a white-and-red braided thread with a silk tassel. Red symbolizes love and white symbolizes purity. This tradition is also considered to welcome in Spring time – by uniting Winter (red) and Summer (white). Parents customarily tied around their children’s wrist, young men offered to young women, and young women used to exchange among themselves was believed to bring good luck, good health, “like pure silver, like the river stone, like the seashell”.

The March amulet is offered early morning on the first day of March; it used to be worn for 9-12 days, sometimes until the first tree would bloom when it was hung on a flowering branch to bring good luck to its bearer. The recipient used to wear it around his neck until he would see a blooming rose and the present was then placed on its branch; in this way Spring was poetically welcomed.

martisoaredisplay_zps081f7c96

This custom began as a magical gift meant for protection against evil spirits of the winter-ending. Even doors of homes and stables were knotted with white-red thread for protection! Now, family members, friends and sweethearts exchange symbolic pins – any jewelry or (more often) trinket, generally with symbols of spring (flowers, leafs, birds, ladybugs), good luck (four-leaf clover, horseshoe, chimney-sweeper), love (a couple kissing, a heart, etc.). Recipients wear the pins beginning March 1st for one to two weeks. If a person wears many March Amulets it shows they are held in very high esteem by friends and family. In this regard, the charms are also a status symbol.

In most places of Romania only females can receive amulets. (But I sent also to males abroad, when corresponding with them, to know how it is, and some liked them very much!)

In Moldavia (both the one still part of Romania and the Republic of Moldavia), all persons can receive a little March amulet – and mainly boys. In Bulgaria also everybody can receive a March amulet, but they have only the threads, without any trinkets. (The boy and girl made of red and white thread offered above is a Bulgarian [b][i]Martenitsa[/i][/b], as they call it!)

In Northern Greece, only children (both girls and boys) can receive it, and it remained a coin put at the wrist or at the neck by the thread.

I gave one to each of you! The ones who want to know the legends of March amulets please click on this link.

martisorbratara_zpse477614d

In modern times, the pins lost their talisman properties and became symbols of love. The delicate silk or wool ropes are still a “cottage industry” among the country people today. They still comb out the wool, dye the floss, and twist it into thousands of tassels. But now students can make them too. Or some, unfortunately, are made in China the most recent years.

The March amulets can be made now of gold, silver, or any metal, but also of plastic, glass, cloth, shells or even feathers. Some have the form of an animal, bird, bug or cartoon characters, flowers etc. The most representative are the 4 leaf clover, the horseshoe and the chimney sweeper which are the symbols for luck. All the men and boys are giving these amulets to women and girls, not only the husbands or sons or lovers, but also bosses, colleagues from school or from work.

Another Valentine’s Day for me

afis_dragobete_zps8daf7bb9

Valentine’s Day has not been celebrated in Romania until imported together with Halloween and other aspects of UK/US culture, but we have a local traditional equivalent of St. Valentine’s Day, almost forgotten except some country regions. Called Dragobete (a kind of local Cupid elf – Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia, which stands for the main character in the pagan myth related to spring arrival and the end of the harsh winter), it was traditionally celebrated by the 24th of February by young people.

That day, clothed with holiday suits, young men and women of the villages meet in front of the church and go searching the woods and meadows for spring flowers.

They gather to pick snowdrops (first flower of Spring) if the weather was not too rainy. A feast would occur in one of their homes, complete with dancing and merriment. This was considered to be the time when single people would “pair up”. The young people were convinced that they had to be happy and joking all day else love would elude them all year long. If a girl did not meet a boy that day, it was told that no one would love her all year long.

They sit around fire on the hills of the village and talk. At noon, the girls run to the village, each followed by one boy who had fallen for them. If the boy is fast and reaches the girl of his choice and if she likes him, she kisses him in front of everyone. This tradition triggered the expression “Dragobete kisses the girls!”. The kiss show the two lovers’ engagement, Dragobete being an opportunity to show the love in front of the community.

There are a number of Dragobete customs in rural areas, many of which are not kept by modern Romanians anymore.

In the old days, single women used to gather the last remnants of snow, called “the fairies’ snow”, and the water resulted from the melted snow was used throughout the year for various beauty treatments and love spells.

On this day, no animals are sacrificed because it would ruin the point of mating.

The tradition goes that men should not hurt women, nor argue with them, otherwise they will not do well the whole year. Youngsters believe that on this day they should be joyous and respect the holiday, so that they can be in love the whole year.

Modern Romanians embraced Valentine’s Day in the early ‘90s. More recently, a new movement has emerged in Romania – that of celebrating the traditional holiday instead of what is seen as the commercial, Western European -imported celebration. Bar and clubs organize Dragobete-themed nights, media outlets put up themed campaigns to remind Romanians of their traditional holiday.

I like this, but I don’t like the hate messages which are usually implied together with the invitations to celebrate Dragobete, that one shouldn’t want Valentine’s Day because it is foreign. I think people should not be encouraged to hate, but to embrace both holidays, because love is worth celebrating. (And any opportunity for a little celebration, for getting out of the usual routine, is a good one).

Since I got married to a man who is as fan of the Chinese and Japanese cultures as I am of the Age of Sail and of the Greek, Spanish and Latino-American ones, I admit that we do celebrate Chinese New Year every year too 🙂 This, in the same spirit, that everything is worth celebrating, if it means being out of routine for a day or an evening…

The love between Valentine and Dragobete is lost in translation, how I saw a funny Valentine on Facebook saying…

LA MULŢI ANI DE DRAGOBETE!

Longing for a real community

community-puzzle

I think I have always been looking for a group of friends to write a story together, and discuss it, and get inspired about it. Not more social than other RPGs; some are more social than I would have wished, as in mindlessly gossipping and socializing instead of writing. I can also accept and I don’t mind being a small writing community. It happens. What saddens me is when people stop talking one with the other, stop saying “Happy birthday!“, stop plotting together the next steps of the story. I am mostly disappointed in the lack of involvement, of interest, of enthusiasm, of a real writing community. This means that the community spirit is lost, and it makes me think that what I actually wanted for the community doesn’t exist and I failed. I have been living in a dream, or maybe in denial.

It seems that when people are involved in your own goals and they aren’t for yourself alone, the outcomes tend to turn out differently than you imagined, if at all. It also means reassessing what is possible to happen (and making it happen), while keeping everything else as my dream of an utopic group of friends which doesn’t exist in reality. I know other sites have this community: people who actually communicate, discuss plots, twists, play games, see movies together… I achieve partially this – I am talking to all those who want to talk at least a little, but no others actually do, and the feeling of a community doesn’t exist. This is exactly what I am missing and longing for.

Each of us has a different personality and a different life. But instead of looking at each other as extraterrestrial beings, we should focus on what unites us, then expand our knowledge about the other aspects which are less familiar to us.

Why would I care about someone else except myself?” some may ask. “Why should I be interested in building a community?”

Just because you are human, and this is what humans do. Loneliness is not good. We have been designed to live in groups/ packs since early Stone Age. And community is good. It means all these (and much more):

community-is

“Why should I be interested in making friends with the other writers? I am here just to write. I have friends by my side, from school/ work/ neighbourhood. I had friends who backstabbed me and I am shy about making new ones.”

It is possible to have bad experiences; but if you aren’t trying (with caution, of course), you will never find good ones. And if you already have friends by your side, what harm is it in having some in various corners of the world as well? They can offer you a different kind of support and sounding board than the ones who are closer to you, just because their life experiences might be radically different. You can discuss with them about different subjects than the ones usually discussed with your friends from school/ work/ neighbourhood. How many of your friends who are so close are into writing and can understand you in discussing characters and plots?

Moreover, you are a writer. And writers do care about other people’s lives, details and circumstances in order to find later inspiration for the most diverse characters. (Even when writing in genres totally different than contemporary life, they can still be adapted and twisted to fit).

And we all are writers too. This is what unites us into forming a community and what should give us enough subjects to talk about, even if some of us aren’t exactly twin souls. A writing community has as purpose writing a story together. When this purpose doesn’t exist, and when the people don’t talk as much either, aren’t much of a community.

community-means

A writing community has as purpose writing a story together. When this purpose doesn’t exist, and when the people don’t talk as much either, aren’t much of a community. Writing with others has a social aspect, and it needs communication even for those who don’t become best friends (even if it is nothing bad with making friends, but not everyone is compatible with everyone), at least in the writing field: from plotting and synchronizing ideas, to getting inspiration, headcannons, exchange experience on research and on different aspects of the writing process. Until now, this has functioned with most people… and exactly when they stopped communicating, misunderstandings arose, because nobody is a mind reader. They just fill in the blanks with what they would have thought/ done./… and they aren’t the other person, to think identically.

Yes, we are here to write, and writing together means planning together, analysing possible outcomes for various options and choosing the best one, not only for one character, but for the whole story. And by planning together we are getting further involved in the whole story, not only in one character’s life. We are also mobilizing ourselves to to progress steadily the story towards the next episodes, instead of waiting passively to be entertained by reading others’ stories.

I wish for a dedicated community of writers – as many or as few as they happen to be. The activity, the involvement (including the community feeling) and the number of characters actively written when they are needed, instead of being left to pickle somewhere in silence, are more important than the number of members.

I wish the members to be involved in the story they are writing together. To be willing to write THE STORY, seeing the whole picture, beyond a character or two. To share characters freely (be they NPCs or other shared custody characters) and to discuss in groups plots and twists, planning the next stories, agreeing on outcomes by meeting half-way after listening to the reasons why a thing should happen or not and how. To discuss literary resources and aspects of the writing craft, to actively exchange experience. Maybe also to read books or watch movies in the same field like the story and to discuss them together, including from the perspective of enriching our story (without plagiarising, of course. Borrowing basic ideas only, especially if twisted and spinned of, is NOT plagiarism!).

A writing community should have been like NaNoWriMo all the time – in respect to the community atmosphere, not in number of words/ competition, neither in number of members. In the smaller sense of a community group of writers, who actually talk about their characters, plots, support each other. And I know RPGs which are a community too, smaller or bigger. I hope to find a way to enhance community spirit on mine too.

Early retirement

pay-bills-and-die

No, you were born to find your path in life, follow your dreams and be happy.

I have the endeavours ongoing for early retirement, and there are hopes it will happen. It’s still a high dose of uncertainty, but I think time will solve everything.

My husband wholeheartedly supports my decision and understands what I am going through. He says that getting less stress and more time to rest, more time for myself, will help improve my health. That we’ll manage even with a loss of income (which would have happened anyway even if I chose to keep working and get a transfer).

My mother, however, who is 87 and got retired before the Revolution (in 1986, more exactly) is against me retiring. She thinks that retirement is a waiting room for death, that I am too young to retire and that I should be at the peak of my professional career, going higher and higher. Which, unfortunately, is not true.

She is more worried about money and caring less about what I want. She wants me working until I die at work, of stress and insatisfactions, just to get whom rich? My potential heirs? I have no children of mine to sacrifice for and I have no intention to do it for my stepchildren who don’t care for any of us and don’t visit us while alive but might fight like… siblings for the inheritance afterwards.

I know that in her mind, my mother thinks that going to work and earning money with the price of my health and sanity are in my best interest. She wants all the best for me – just that the best as she understands it, which is is radically different from what I want and I have ever wanted from life.

She should trust my reasoning and she should understand that she can’t live my life, therefore she shouldn’t wish for me what SHE wanted to achieve, but let me have and fulfil my own dreams and needs. She has always wanted to transform me into her ideal daughter, instead of understanding and accepting me for what I am. I have never been enough and I never will. I got resigned to this. She can’t believe that I am happy in my marriage with the man she had never wanted and she had done all her best to separate me from and to forbid the wedding.

She doesn’t want me to feel what I am feeling, but I can’t help feeling disrespected, insulted and taken for granted when I am telling her happily that I have submitted the application for early retirement and I receive as encouragement: “Maybe they won’t let you go.” Thank you, this is exactly what I am fearing and what you are wishing to me, just confirming me that you don’t care what I want and what I think, but only what YOU think good for me.

So at 48 and a half I am a neglected quantity. I don’t matter and you want me to put me out on the market to keep working just because you think money is everything and that it is never enough that I have been married to my work for 30 years, many of them working overtime or struggling with 2 jobs. What I have done and what I have achieved is never enough, and you want more and more, not only on the material side.

But we weren’t born just to work, to pay taxes and die. I might want more from my life. I see early retirement as an opportunity to start a new life, focused on what I like more, on what can give me satisfaction and as little stress as possible. I want to focus on writing, on taking care of my health, on enjoying the life I was too busy to enjoy until now.