My new novel, The SAVANT, has just been published and I'm thrilled to see the first two reviews posted on Amazon. Many thanks to those reviewers, who I don't know. I wish I did. I wish I could thank them.
One of them made a surprising comment. She said, "This book did something to me that I cannot explain. It made me feel different in a way nothing ever has."
That's quite a statement, and it genuinely touched me. An editor who read the draft said something similar. The book seems to have an impact on readers.
The SAVANT is a deviation from most of my previous books, which tend to be action driven. This one is different. When I was finished writing the book, I realized that it is something special, and suspected that readers will either love it or hate it. Of course, authors want their books to be liked. Perhaps all those previous books were just the process of learning the craft of writing. The SAVANT took me to a new zone. I broke some "novel-writing rules" along the way.
In writing stories, teachers tell you that a book lives through the main character's emotions, but what do you do with a character that doesn't experience emotions, at least in a normal way? Yet, readers tell me they are moved by the emotion in this book.
But, that's not all. Perhaps it's the setting that gives the book a uniqueness, or maybe something different? Besides being a downright fun story, The SAVANT touches on perceptions, identity, relationships, spirituality and number of other factors. It's funny, but I didn't consciously do this. It was like the main character told me his story.
Now that The SAVANT is out there, I find myself in a strange state of mind. Typically, when one book is done, I'm jumping on to the next one. While I have several plots sitting on the shelf, I somehow can't approach them. I keep wondering if I'm able to go beyond The SAVANT, and I don't have an immediate answer.
Sometimes people in need come across your path. Every winter I travel to Africa to get away from cold winters and find new ideas for my novels. And when possible, I help with humanitarian projects. For the past couple of years I've been supporting a young teenager in her studies and this year I met her mother.
Let me introduce you to Redempta. She's a beautiful 40 year old Rwandan mother of four children, abandoned by her husband. Two years ago her twelve year old daughter Amandine became sick from a tumor on her spine and ended up in a wheel chair. Redempta had to sell her import business to pay medical bills.
They live in a primitive house with no running water.
In December I gave one hundred copies of my books to prisoners.
While doing research for a new short story, I was deeply touched by some shocking statistics, and saw a need. Something has to be done. Sadly, there are over 2.2 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons. Prisons are lonely and dangerous places offering little hope. Once released, two out of three prisoners will re-offend. I asked myself how we could redeem lives? Then, I found out that prisoners ask for books, everything from learning about business to spirituality. And, they like to receive novels.
So, I worked with my publisher to send a big box of books to a prisoner support organization. It's a drop in the bucket, but at least it's a start.
Do you like high heel shoes? What are your favorites? At social events I’ve noticed a diversity of high heel shoes on women. The artistic detail is impressive and shows the creativity of the designers. And best of all high heels seem to extend a woman’s legs, a delight to the eyes. There is something feminine about them that definitely differentiates the sexes.
There’s a lot of controversy about high heels, usually about the health impact to the spine and feet. Surveys show that approximately 30% of women have sprained their ankles with these shoes.
Various opinions also exist on what these shoes do to a woman’s identity. Some say that they reduce a woman to nothing more than a materialistic object. Others claim they empower a woman and give her confidence. I'm not sure what side to take.
My question is more practical. What in the world is it like to walk in high heels? If I were to wear shoes like that I’m sure I would be falling into everything. So I admire women who can walk so elegantly in stilettos, and even dance in them.
In a light and fun way I tried to touch on some of these thoughts in my short story, ‘High Heel Slip’. The story is simple and sweet, where Lily the main character experiences an unexpected outcome. You can read the entire short story for free on this website.
If you liked ‘High Heel Slip’, please check out ‘A Smile Forever’ which is a longer romantic novelette. It’s a story about love at first sight and true love against all odds.
All people live by a culture which is made of up belief systems, habits and norms. At the same time cultures change and for some reason the cultural norms change quite quickly in the United States where cultural fads quickly come and go.
In my recent trip to the United States I was struck by how many young women were speaking with odd gravely voices, which I discovered is known as “creaky voice“ or “vocal fry”. This is a form of speaking where vocal chords are rattled in an unnatural way and then fragmented words emerge from the back of the throat. This seems to be the latest cultural conformity among young women and some studies claim that over 70% of them speak this way. Doctors say it destroys the vocal chords.
This form of speaking is almost like a unique dialect where words are broken apart and at the end of a sentence they fade into mini Caterpillar tractor like sounds. Words become a series of guttural fluctuations that get swallowed up the ending word at the end of the sentence.
I was wondering if young women do this to differentiate themselves from the previous generation or even to piss-off their mothers? The problem is that even their mothers are now speaking this way. In reality when a woman speaks like this it makes her appear unsure of herself.
One can only wonder about the philosophical presuppositions behind creaky voice and why has this become a valued form of communication in today’s female population? Is it a DaDa form of art that has come back to hit us in auditory form? In a Postmodern world is creaky voice a way of tangibly demonstrating that words ultimately succumb to a subjective meaninglessness? Perhaps it is a derivation of the Eastern ‘Om’ chant? What are the origins of this form of speaking and why has it become so popular?
Creaky voice is an odd cultural conformity. But more so, I wonder if it is silent fragmented scream that begs for love?
Recently one of my friends here in Spain asked why I chose the pen name Cass Tell? He recognized that I have a need for personal discretion and indeed that’s one of the reasons I decided to live in a remote area of the Costa Brava. Since moving here I’ve found out that many artists, writers and poets live in this area. In fact, in meeting one of the local writers I asked him if there was anything like a get together of these people, having an image of Bohemian artist/writer get togethers in Paris in the 1930’s? He responded, “Oh no. We all know who we are, but we stay within our own worlds.”
Indeed, that’s what I’ve found in coming here in that it provides a unique environment for writing and art. It’s a place where the mind can be creative and run free. Not far from where I live is Cadaques, where Salvadore Dali lived. When I see his art I understand where it came from or at least how the surroundings here contributed not only to the imagery in his paintings, but also to the philosophic undertones.
A poet friend of mine once came to stay with me for several weeks and he said this was the best place he ever experienced to write poetry. During that same time a novelist also stayed with me and she used her time to write a wonderful fanciful novel. The surroundings are special and it is a joy to share this with other authors and artists.
But, I haven’t answered the first question. How did I choose the pen name Cass Tell? Actually, it came from a visit to Nice, France where I was there doing some research for a novel in the Blue Fate series. After wandering along the promenade des anglais, a pedestrian walkway that follows the coast line, I walked down to the sea. In looking up at the seawall toward the East I saw a large sign that said "CasTel". At that point the name Cass Tell seemed appropriate and it stuck.
Today I was in Bonners Ferry with Jacob who manages the ranch where I am staying. Jacob needed to get some Alfalfa seeds to sow on several acres so that they can have enough hay for the cows and horses the following year. The ranch is owned by my old business partner, but he is currently somewhere in the Caribbean on his yacht. I decided not to stay in his main ranch house, but rather in a log cabin that is in a remote place at the end of the ranch.
The owner of the seed store had a beard, checkered long sleeve cotton shirt, jeans and boots. Jacob explained that the owner was a Mennonite. The store was busy with pickup trucks parked at a loading dock in front of the store and men were carrying large seed bags and placing them in the back of their trucks. There was one group of men standing next to the loading dock and I heard them talking about the weather.
On the way back to the ranch Jacob said, “Did you notice the one man with the red checkered shirt?”
“Yes,” I said.
Jacob smiled and said, “He’s got a hopper full of problems.”
“How’s that?” I replied.
“Multiple wives. He’s one of them traditional Mormons. Just keeping one wife happy is a heap of work, but to have three must be a real problem.”
“Do you know much about them, that is how they live and what they believe?”
“A bit. They all live in a couple of simple houses over by the Montana border and have a bunch of kids running around. I’m not sure how it works, but he rotates around each night, so I heard. Must wear him out,” Jacob laughed.
“What’s their belief system?” I asked.
“Some mumbo-jumbo about owning a planet some day and that a man is like the hub of the wheel and the more spokes you got the better, with the wives being the spokes. A woman’s got to live that way and please her husband or she don’t make it to the planet. It all came from John Smith because that’s the way he lived and believe me he had plenty of spokes in his wheel.”
“But the current Mormons don’t live that way,” I stated.
“Naw. Their Prophet is always shifting their truth around which in this case was quite convenient. Years ago they had to change their laws in Utah to become a U.S. state so low and behold the prophet had a revelation and things were changed. Having multiple wives became illegal. But there are still a lot of hangers-on to the old ways.”
“How many of these traditional Mormons do you have in Boundary County?”
"We ain’t got many. Most are down in Utah."
On the ride back we talked about the different religious groups in Boundary County including the more recent arrivals who were into New Age beliefs. At the same time I reflected on these traditional Mormons who held to the original beliefs of John Smith. It is interesting how one man can create a set of thoughts and people will cling to those thoughts for generations to come. And much of the time people hold to those beliefs without questioning the underlying presuppositions.
The lifestyle of the traditional Mormons definitely goes against the historical values of many people in the United States and other countries. But there are places that allow polygamy. The Islamic world allows up to four wives, and there is a practice of polygamy in many countries in Africa. It‘s interesting that in today’s Western world we see a pattern of men and women going from marriage to marriage, or even skipping marriage and just going from partner to partner. I wondered about the philosophical presuppositions behind these different practices and reflected on the stability given to a culture by having a system of one man and one woman together for life.
The discussion with Jacob opened up some questions in my mind, which I was sure I would be thinking about during the coming days.
My trip to the north of Idaho is an attempt to get into a new environment and hopefully get over writer’s block. I need to find an ending to the Blue Fate series, a set of novels I have been working on. My main character is stuck in an irresolvable moral dilemma and I’m not quite sure where to take the story. I’ve got some ideas but they create more questions than answers.
It was a long set of flights from Barcelona, Spain to Spokane, Washington, and then a three hour car drive up here near the Canadian border. I got in late to the log cabin where I’m staying and then had a fitful night because of the time change. I suspected that I would be experiencing some serious jetlag over the coming days.
In the morning I drove into Bonner’s Ferry, to buy some groceries and look around. There was no food in the log cabin. I was hungry, so went into a coffee shop on the main street of the town. The restaurant, more like a diner, was full of people. There was an empty stool along the counter so I sat down. Next to me was an older guy wearing dusty boots, jeans, and a plaid flannel shirt.
“You new around here?” He asked.
“First time,” I replied, keeping it short and vague.
“I’d recommend the breakfast special,” he said.
I scanned the menu and saw the special; two eggs, bacon, hash browns, three pancakes, orange juice and coffee.
“Looks good to me.” I needed an American experience.
The server came, automatically poured a cup of coffee without asking, and then took my order. As she walked away I talked with the man. He was born in Bonners Ferry and had lived seventy-five years, his entire life in Boundary County. I asked him what the people were like and he told me it was an odd mix. There were ranchers and farmers whose families had been in the area for generations, a couple of different groups of Mennonites, Amish, hippies, back to nature New Age-ers, traditional Mormons with their multiple wives, and many Libertarians. It sounded to me like an interesting place to live.
The old man took his check, said goodbye and walked to the front where he paid the cashier. No one filled the stool next to me and it gave me time to think. I decided that I needed to get out to meet some of these people. I didn’t know what they had to do with the Blue Fate series, but maybe I might get some ideas from them. You never know.
The breakfast came. It was enough to last me for the day.
Lately I’ve been suffering from 'writer’s block', a condition which probably hits all writers at some point in time. Technically writer’s block is defined as, “A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.” Indeed, we hope the key word here is ‘temporary‘. In my case it has to do with the Blue Fate series.
Some years ago I began to question the concept of fate. It came from several events that happened in my life including the successful sale of my company followed by the loss of someone I loved. I was on a high and just when I thought my life was on track I went to a low... a very low.
Fate has to do with the development of events outside a person’s control, and that’s what I felt was happening to me. I thought about a lot of things, such as how much control we really have on our destiny, and whether fate can be linked to the will of a supernatural power.
As I began to ask questions, I came up with the Blue Fate series. Initially I thought the series would be five books where the stories were linked together. The writing of books one to four came relatively easy, but then I ran into a brick wall. By the end of Squeeze (Blue Fate 4) the main character finds himself in a very difficult social and moral dilemma, one that is not of his own choosing. I’ve drafted Blue Fate 5 but am now at an impasse in how to conclude the series in Blue Fate 5. Basically I’m stuck.
To break my bout of writer’s block I decided to get out of my Costa Brava routine and head off to a new environment, so I just arrived in Northern Idaho in the USA.
A old business partner of mine owns a ranch in Boundary Country in Northern Idaho. When we sold our company I ended as a writer on the Costa Brava in Spain and he bought a large ranch on the Kootenai River not far from the Canadian border. He told me I could stay on the ranch as long as I want, but he isn’t around. He is currently off on his sail boat in the Caribbean.
I just arrived in Northern Idaho and am jet lagged. The trip was around twenty eight hours from door to door. I hired a rental car, a 4 x 4 SUV that I picked up at the Spokane airport. I’m staying at a newly built and quite modern log cabin on a far edge of the ranch. Jacob, the guy who manages the ranch led me over some bumpy dirt roads to get to the cabin and he opened it and showed me around. It has a large large living room with a kitchen to one side, a spacious bedroom with a king sized bed and very modern bathroom. It was late in the evening when we got here, so I couldn’t really see the scenery.
I’m quite tired and will head off to bed to try and get some sleep. Let’s see what this does for writer’s block. The Blue Fate series deserves an ending.
Athletes talk about getting into the zone. That’s a place where the athlete flows with the game, where they become so focused that all their mental and physical powers take them to a new level. Writers and artists experience something similar. They go into a mental state where the story or the art just flows through their fingertips in an intense state of concentration. Many writers experience this. It is a place where imagination takes over the mind.
Some writers say that when they get into the zone that in fact they are not writing the story. Instead, they say that it is the characters that are telling the story. This state of writing becomes an intense creative flow. Some writers know what I’m describing hereiption. It is a place of imagination where new worlds are created, where the scenes and dialog just spill onto the page. Have you ever been in that state? Full time writers live there much of the time. I’m not sure universities teach this?