Posts from the “Writing” Category

On Faith and Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a third grade class about writing. My talk was about 50 minutes long and as I spoke I realized that I wasn’t really talking about writing, per se, but about following your heart, never giving up and being eager to learn from everyone you meet, both inside and out of the classroom.

I originally told them that I became a writer because I was a bad math student, and, come to think of it, a pretty bad science student and economics student too. But then I noticed I wound up writing stories that involved budgets, or scientific research, or economic trends, and so I had to learn how to ask all the questions I was too timid to ask in third grade and beyond so that I could understand these subjects in a way that would allow me to write well and convincingly about them.

This admission brought me to a story about a very confusing interview that I did with a nanoscientist. No one in the class knew what nanoscience was, and I told them I didn’t either, especially as the interview with this man progressed. So I found the nicest and most professional way of asking this very smart man to explain his work to me the way he might explain it to his five-year-old niece. He did, I finally understood the very cool work he was doing, and I wrote a story about it, and then several other stories about nanoscience, which I was convinced was a very cool thing that people needed to know about.

After having relayed that to the class, I told them that I began to understand that I really became a writer because it gave me the opportunity to learn something new all the time and to share that knowledge and those stories with readers.

Near the end of my talk, I told them about Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House. I’ve spent some time researching his life and reading about his times, in hopes of writing a book about him. The kids were engaged with the Phantom of the Opera tie-in (Garnier’s opera is the backdrop for Phantom) and had a lot of questions about whether there were ghosts in the opera, for real. I told them there weren’t. But it did take everything I had not to tell them that I’ve been somewhat haunted (for lack of a better word) by Garnier’s rags-to-riches story and interested in the way it provides a different look at a Paris that was undergoing massive physical, political and social change. I told that Garnier was a cool guy who didn’t let his background or insecurities get in the way of building one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.

And that should serve as an inspiration to them to beat the fourth grade in their reading challenge…or not be shy about any other pursuit that fills their heart.

One of the kids came up to me after the talk and asked what you do if you write something sort of personal and then turn it in and no one likes it, or gets mad, or you realize that you’ve written something totally embarrassing and you wish you’d never turned it in. I sat there knowing that I had a book proposal on Garnier out on submission that was fairly personal to me and that rejections could be trickling in as I was standing there. I told her that people who pour their hearts out realize the risks they’re taking when they write and understand that not everyone will like what they do all the time.

But that’s never any reason to quit.

For all those who may not feel like your work is for them, there will be those who love it. Have faith in your story and yourself and your agent and your work will find its way into the right, loving hands.

Southern Snow Days

Posted on January 31, 2014

snowday

 

As everyone knows by now, the South had a winter storm that, among other things, dumped a menacing (and I say that in the sarcasm font) 1-3 inches of snow on Atlanta and brought the city to its knees. Children were stranded at school, cars were abandoned on the interstate, commuters were forced to hole up in the aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets because they couldn’t make the soul-punishing commute home. By soul-punishing, I mean it took some people more than 24 hours to do what normally takes about 30 minutes. Much has been written and said this week about that brand of snowmageddon (and the lack of political accountability), so I’m afraid all I have to add is that I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in my old hometown.

My husband was in Atlanta for business, so unfortunately he got caught in the middle of that mess. We were grateful to have him back home yesterday afternoon, so he could enjoy the balmy 50 degree weather and some roast beef po-boys for dinner. Where he had ice and snow and mayhem, we had sleet and cold and dangerously icy streets. School was closed here for three days. Our Yellow Lab Murray didn’t want to be cooped up, but didn’t want to brave the 20-degree weather either. So there was a lot of indoor fetch this week, which was fine because our Murray still hasn’t grown into his meaty boy paws.

Granted, this week’s snow days were not at all like the ones I had when I grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. Those days off involved knee-high snow, epic snowball fights and piping-hot cocoa after hours of outdoor play. This week, the most precipitation I saw was yesterday, when my daughter and her best friend unleashed a blizzard of glitter on my kitchen countertops. Nevertheless, the spirit of snow days — and all days involving inclement weather — remained: You accept the situation and make the most of things until the sun comes out.

So…

The sun came out.

The roads are no longer slick.

Murray only has a little bit of glitter behind his ears now.

School is back in session.

This weekend, the weather should be spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s.

Go figure.

*****

Speaking of making the most of things: I roasted a chicken one night this week and turned the leftovers into a homemade chicken noodle soup, which was perfect for the weather. You’ll need:

* Roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

* Diced onions and sliced carrots and celery

* Two boxes of chicken stock

* Whatever small pasta noodles you have on hand. I used a mix of elbow macaroni and shells.

* salt and black pepper to taste.

* A few hits of parsley

* Red pepper and celery salt  (optional, but the celery salt really gives it a nice flavor)

Directions: Cook the pasta as directed on the package and drain it. Put the chicken, vegetables and stock together in a pan, before adding about three cups of pasta. Season to taste, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Here is the end result:

chickensoup

The French

Posted on January 17, 2014

Pictured above: A framed franc note from 1944. I got it in the mail yesterday from my mother, who sent it to me as a belated birthday present. Now it’s among the really French-y stuff that surrounds me in my office as I write or work on the very first class I’ll teach in a couple of weeks.

Yes: teaching. I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” for LSU Continuing Education. The class begins February 17 and it will explore French history through the lives of the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. As a profile writer, this is an ideal way for me to approach it because each class will have a theme (i.e. Saints and Saviors) and consist of a series of related profiles about prominent French people from all walks of life.

Getting this class down on paper has been one thing. The ideas have been flowing. Things have been fitting together like perfect little puzzle pieces. It’s all making sense and (most importantly) feeling like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Delivering the class to a crowd may be something else. Last week, I wrote about my need to work on my public speaking skills. I did that, knowing that I would be speaking this morning to a room full of potential students, and, after that, presumably a class full of people I’d convince to listen to me speak for six more weeks. I’ve been getting a little whipped up about this and when I got my first class list earlier this week, I have to say I was a little nervous to see those first names there.

I got some good redirection from people who suggested I view this not as public speaking, but as talking about something I like and being myself when I do it.

So that’s what I did this morning. I behaved like myself, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed. Why? Because after explaining what the class was be about, I told a packed house that there would be no better way to spend Monday mornings than with a weird magazine writer lady who talks about French people behind their backs. A friend of mine quipped: “With lines like that, you could go into marketing.”

By next week, I should have an updated class list that indicates just how effective this more Paige-like approach was. In the meantime, the morning was good fun and for once I felt at ease speaking in front of a large group. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. We shall see. All I know is that I met some wonderful people this morning and can’t wait to captivate them with stories about a country and people who have so thoroughly captivated me!

New Year, New Goal

Posted on January 10, 2014

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

This time last year I was returning from a research trip in Paris. I spent two weeks there by myself, both sifting through archival material about an architect who captured my imagination and indulging in goodies like the ones pictured above. In my waning moments in the City of Light, I told myself that if I did one thing in 2013, it would be to turn this research interest of mine into a book proposal that would capture a literary agent’s imagination too. By September 11 of last year, I did just that and I am beyond grateful to be represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. I spent the latter part of last year refining my book proposal to her and her fabulous business partner Miriam Goderich’s standards. Now that I’ve completed that milestone, I have a new goal: If I do one thing in 2014, it’s to become a published author.

Yes, I did say “goal” and not “resolution.”  Jane wrote about resolution-setting this week on DGLM’s blog, and like her I tend to set goals, rather than resolutions that seem made to be broken. It’s because I prefer to work toward something in my own little imperfect way, rather than resolve to do something, fall short of my resolve and then feel like I’ve bungled everything in my efforts to get from point A to point B.

All the same, it’s the beginning of the year, and beginnings are a good time to reflect on what you’ve done before and tweak where necessary. This article that Jane shared has a great list of things worth working towards, for better or for worse. Better sleep and less smartphone are my favorites on this list, along with supporting local businesses and donating to charity (my pick: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society because my sister was diagnosed with this a year ago).

I’d like to add the following to my own personal list:

1. Reacquainting myself with my yoga practice. My mat spent more time in the closet than under my feet at the end of 2013 and I need to change that for my own sake. Shame on me.

2. Improving my public speaking skills. I probably won’t be the first (or last) writer to say that I get a little nervous speaking in front of people. But I’m steadily working toward changing that. Last fall I spoke to an elementary school class about writing, and this spring I’ll teach my first class at LSU. Other speaking engagements are on the horizon and it is my hope that after each one I’ll get better and more confident in front of crowds.

3. Cultivating patience. I have a history of not waiting well, but I’m working on that. Although I made some strides in 2013, we can always stand to improve ourselves, non?

4. Sharing more here about writing, publishing, entrepreneurship and the latest and greatest reads. Plus, keeping up the eclectic and random stuff. Blogs and social media always seem to be a work in progress, something that shifts shape depending on a writer’s interests. This year, I’d like to open things up to readers who have questions about writing or publishing, share interviews with interesting folks and bring activity from my Goodreads feed into longer, more thought-out posts. If there’s something you’d like to see covered here, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line via my contact page, or shoot me a tweet on Twitter. You can follow me @paigebowers.

What goals have you set for 2014? Please share them in comments and let me know how you’re doing with those goals. And, if you’re not setting goals or resolutions, let me know why you don’t.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014!

 

 

 

That Suit

Posted on November 15, 2013

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Next week is the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy Jr’s assassination. Networks are airing retrospectives and publishers are releasing new books that look at this pivotal national event. Today, The New York Times writes about one of the signature artifacts of that day: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Chanel-inspired pink suit.

Having done archival research and having touched everything from letters signed by Napoleon III to journals written by grieving widows eager to preserve their husband’s place in history, I have a sincere appreciation for historical preservation, as it helps future generations gain a better understanding of their past, hopefully so they can enrich their future in some sort of way. Having said that, Jackie’s neatly tailored suit (still caked with her husband’s blood) has been out of view since that fateful day in November 1963 and the Kennedy family wants it to stay that way until 2103.

The pillbox hat and white kid gloves were lost that day and when presidential aides asked Jackie if she wanted to change into something else, she reportedly told them no, “let them see what they’ve done.”

As Cathy Horyn writes: “Curators cannot think of another historical garment imbued with more meaning, and also deemed too sensitive to be shown. Among items of apparel with similar resonance are garments worn in concentration camps and the tatters that remained after the atomic blasts in Japan. But these objects, while deeply affecting, are displayed in museums. Other examples mentioned by curators include Napoleon’s death coat, a shoe dropped by Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine and the suit and cloak Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated.”

Displaying Jackie’s suit in a similar fashion would produce “hysteria,” it was believed, so it will sit in a climate-controlled vault for at least another century. In the meantime, pictures and video clips remain.

What does Jackie’s pink suit signify for you? Or, can you think of another historical artifact that has as much resonance? If so, what is it and why do you find it significant? Leave your answers in comments below.

Yogalosophy

Posted on November 13, 2013

Photo: Seal Press

Photo: Seal Press

My yoga practice has fallen apart over the past couple of months, in part because of various work projects that have kept me busy, but also because of a back injury that has been flaring up off and on during this time. With the holidays right around the corner, there is no time like now to get back on the mat (once I can move painlessly), because the breathing, twists, turns and stretches have a way of helping anyone (not just me) stay calm and focused when things get hectic.

ModernWomanThat’s my Yogalosophy, but in the recent issue of USA Today’s Modern Woman, I talked to celebrity yoga and fitness expert Mandy Ingber about hers. Ingber, a former actress, believes we already have the perfect body. It just may be hiding behind layers of fat, or (in my case) compressed spinal discs. What you have to do is love the body you have in order to get the body you want.

Ingber speaks from experience. After being “all over the map” with her own body, she overcame her own eating disorders and body image issues through the self-love she preaches. “I started making better choices as a result of loving myself,” she told me in an interview. “I used to think that if I did something wrong (like gain weight) that I ruined everything. Now I don’t have that black-and-white thinking about myself anymore.”

Now she’s known as the yoga and fitness guru behind some of Hollywood’s hottest bodies, among them, the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. Her latest book, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover provides readers with an easy-to-use wellness overhaul that includes traditional yoga poses, toning and cardio exercises, recipes, music playlists, journal exercises and other action items that support physical and mental wellness throughout the day.

“This is really a ‘Start where you are, take what you like and leave the rest’ type of book,” she says. And it’s one I’ll have to reacquaint myself with very soon.

If you practice yoga, what is your favorite type of class to take and why? Or, if you’ve read Ingber’s book, what did you think of it and what sort of results did you get from following her program? And finally, what sort of fitness or wellness ideas do you have for making it through the holidays? What is your holiday-related health or wellness downfall? Please leave your insights in the comments section below.

World War I and Veterans Day

Posted on November 11, 2013

Photo: CORBIS

Photo: CORBIS

World War I ended on November 11, 1918 and a year later President Woodrow Wilson honored the nation’s veterans with the first Armistice Day. Wilson said that the holiday, now known as Veterans Day, would give people cause to reflect on “the heroism of those who died in the country’s service . . . because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

As we pause to reflect on the sacrifices of American service men and women, Europe prepares for the centennial of “the war to end all wars.” Yesterday, The New York Times featured a travel piece about the “rich tapestry of events” planned at museums and battlefields such as Verdun. The BBC reported that war buffs will lead to big business in places like Ypres, Belgium, which is seeing a boom in hotel construction and memorabilia. And, various groups have begun collecting and digitizing pictures, letters, postcards and other souvenirs from the conflict in order to explain its long-term impact on the modern world.

Curious about World War I? There has been a library’s worth of books written on the subject. But here are ten tomes to get you started:

1. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before The War by Barbara Tuchman: Tuchman explores the quarter-century before the war’s outbreak, tackling the haves and the have-nots, the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy, the music of Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, the Dreyfus Affair and more.

2. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark: Clark looks at the events and relationships that led Europe and the world into a brutal conflict.

3. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan: MacMillan’s recently published history is another exploration of the march toward war, exploring how a continent awash in peace and prosperity could wind up in a fight that transformed the modern world.

4. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman: This beautifully written, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic recounts in vivid detail the very first month of fighting, showing how it shaped the course of the entire war.

5. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings: Hastings blames Germany for the war’s outbreak and argues that the country’s defeat was vital to the freedom of Europe.

6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: Billed as “the greatest war novel of all time,” it is the fictional account of a German soldier who faces the war’s horrors and vows to fight against the hate that has meaninglessly pit him against other young men of his generation.

7. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild: Hochschild’s New York Times-bestseller asks why so many nations got swept up into the violence of the war, why cooler heads couldn’t prevail, and whether we can avoid repeating history.

8. The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne: Horne looks at the ten-month battle that claimed the lives of 700,000 men, showing how the fight was less about defeating the enemy and more about bleeding him to death.

9. The Great War: July 1, 1916. The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco: Sacco, a cartoonist, depicts one of the most infamous days in the war wordlessly with this 24-foot-long panoramic drawing.

10. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World by Margaret MacMillan: MacMillan looks at the men and women who converged on Paris after the war in order to shape the peace.

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list of the World War I-related titles out there. Anything I missed that you love? If so, what is it and what makes it great? Please let me know in comments. Or, share your thoughts about what Veterans Day means to you.

Swimming With The Great White Shark

Posted on November 6, 2013

I was at my desk earlier than usual today so that I could interview legendary golfer Greg Norman. A top-ranked player in the 1980s and 1990s, Norman is known by his nickname “The Great White Shark,” in part because of his aggressive style of play, but also because you can find a lot of those toothy predators around his native Australia. Reebok helped him develop the shark logo and brand during his golf heyday and he has since expanded it to include about 20 different businesses, from golf course design, to eyewear and a wine label too.

I always enjoy talking to creative and entrepreneurial people who pursue their passions and (most importantly) execute those pursuits well, no matter what the market, or other people say. I also confess to being a bit mystified by people like Greg Norman, or actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who have been able to sell people a lifestyle or products based on whatever their brand may be. So I got off the phone with Greg Norman this morning and was really, truly inspired by his accomplishments. Then, I had a little brainstorm that I took to my Facebook page. Granted, I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek (maybe), but I asked my Facebook followers to help me develop a brand, logo and lifestyle that I could sell to the people, a la Norman or Gwyneth. The immediate feedback was that whatever it was, it had to have some element of Frenchness to it. But I pointed out that because I’m based in the South physically (only mentally do I drift along the Seine…for now), it needed to have a Southern element.

So I submitted this to them: Deep Fried French.

Deep Fried French was very well-received, so I reserved the domain name. What I’ll do with it is anyone’s good guess, but my Facebook brain trust is guiding me toward ideas that may (or may not) result in a site of some sort, someday (maybe). What I know is that the demand for something Deep Fried and French is there. I also know that I’ve hired some people (sort of) who have developed the Sheryl Sandberg-esque corporate motto of “Jean In” which has a nice ring to it. It says “casual, but purposeful” which is what I try to go for all in endeavors.

Won’t you Jean In with us?

If you have any recommendations about what may or may not be a good idea for this endeavor, please send them my way. Or, if you’d like to share your thoughts on brands and lifestyle ideas that resonate with you, please do share your wisdom in comments.

 

 

There’s Something About Lola

Posted on November 5, 2013

Photo: Michael Price

Photo: Michael Price

I profiled Russian-American piano virtuoso Lola Astanova for the November issue of Palm Beach Illustrated. By age 8, Astanova was giving performances alone and with orchestras throughout Europe. By age 13, she was featured in a UNESCO documentary about twentieth-century child prodigies. But her childhood was normal, she says, adding that she even played with friends and Barbie dolls.

Now, Astanova is bringing classical music to a new generation of listeners, thanks in no small part to her penchant for hard work and her social media savvy. She became a YouTube sensation (1.5 million page views and counting) after she infused Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” with a heavy dose of Rachmaninoff-style drama. She has also graced some of the world’s great concert venues, among them Carnegie Hall in New York City. Next week, she’ll perform in Charleston, West Virginia with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

You can find my story about Astanova here, or on newsstands in South Florida. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our interview:

* Astanova’s mother was a piano teacher and didn’t want her child to pursue a musical career because it was too difficult.
* She studied at the V. Uspensky Specialized School of Music for Gifted Children and enjoyed the competition and rigor that came with learning at such an elite school. To this day, she says “I’m very critical of myself and wish I could change that, but I don’t think I can so it doesn’t make life easier for me.”
* Having said that, it’s worth noting Lola loves reading the philosophical works of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer wrote that the world was driven by a continually dissatisfied will and was always seeking satisfaction, a belief that must speak to the perfectionist Astanova.
* Astanova moved to Houston in 2000 and studied music at Rice University. But she maintained her ties with her Russian teachers.
* She is a fashionista known for wearing Chanel and Tom Ford. She’s also a self-proclaimed “beauty product junkie.” She justifies her passion for fashion by sharing an anecdote about the time Chopin lamented a pair of fabulous gloves he couldn’t afford. “He was into fashion,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a sign of respect for the audience.”

Lola Astanova was a really fun interview. I really enjoyed meeting her and learning about how someone has followed their passion successfully and on on their own terms. Definitely catch her in action if she comes to your town. For a taste of what she’s like live, here she is in an exclusive performance for PBI’s YouTube channel:

She also maintains a pretty sassy Twitter feed at @followlola, where she shares her global exploits, hair color changes, fashion adventures and on-stage triumphs with her fans.

The Final Frontier

Posted on November 4, 2013

In a recent article for USA Today, I interviewed some of the men and women who will be among Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space travelers. Some of them are doing it because they remember the excitement of the 1969 moon landing. Others are doing it because they seek the ultimate bucket list moment, or because they want to set an example for their young daughters. Whatever their reasons, when billionaire business magnate Richard Branson announced his goal to take Average Joes into space as frequently and affordably as the average airline, these people scrambled to pay up to $250,000 for the opportunity to float for five minutes above the Earth.

NASAcover

“When I was growing up, going to space was one of those ineffable experiences you could only conceptualize,” Marcia Fiamengo told me in an interview. “I used to dream about it, about floating in zero gravity. Now I can’t wait to get an all-consuming perspective of Earth and the stars. It will be quite a view.”

By the time my article went to press, there was no set date for Virgin Galactic’s first takeoff. But a recent article said that the company has pushed its first launch off until August, 2014, a delay that could cost the state of New Mexico millions. Delays aside, Branson recently reached a deal with NBC to create a reality series called “Space Race,” which would follow contestants competing to win a flight into space with the nascent carrier. No word yet on when that show might air, or when the winner might fly. Under the circumstances, that winner will join a list of nearly 700 customers (among them pop star Rihanna, socialite Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking) who are eager to take the next small step into space.