Literary Novel Portrays Life with Huntington’s Disease

Reading novels enables us to understand and feel the thoughts and experiences of another person. Fiction, if it is done well, transports the reader to the fictional character’s world and life. Author Malorie Blackman puts it this way, “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.”

An excellent example of this is Anne Pete’s new novel, The Speed of Life, about a woman coping with the fallout of her Huntington’s Disease (HD) diagnosis. HD is a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities – usually striking in one’s 30s or 40s – and has no cure. May is National HD Awareness Month, the perfect time to read this heartrending, insightful and, ultimately, inspiring novel.

There currently are about 41,000 symptomatic Americans living with HD, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA). More than 200,000 are at-risk of inheriting it. HD manifests as a triad of motor, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, which progressively get worse over time. Its symptoms are often described as having ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases simultaneously. It’s hard to imagine the impact that can have on the lives of people with the disease and of the people who love and care for them.

Pete’s novel sheds transcendent light on those lives with sensitivity, authenticity and literary grace. The story enables you to walk in the shoes of a women coming to terms with a past she tried to ignore and a future she never anticipated.  Please read my full review of The Speed of Life, and consider downloading the ebook at Amazon or your favorite ebook retailer.

May is #HuntingtonsDisease Awareness Month. @AnnePeteAuthor’s novel, THE SPEED OF LIFE, brings sensitivity, authenticity and literary grace to the realities of living with HD. #LetsTalkAboutHD #ReadingFostersEmpathy

If you read The Speed of Life, please share your thoughts about it in the comments below.

To learn more about Huntington’s Disease, visit www.HDSA.org online and follow #LetsTalkAboutHD and #HDSAfamily on social media.


Free Books are Priceless

Authors are often asked for book donations – for charity raffles, libraries, blog giveaways and even random people offering a “free review” in return. Most authors would love to say yes to everyone, but it just isn’t possible. The cost of shipping alone is typically more than an author makes when selling a book. I know this, because I am an author.

Authors also are some of the most generous people around. I know this, because I recently asked a bunch of them to send me signed books for a fundraiser. For free. They responded by filling my mailbox.

Each year my church’s youth group has a dinner and silent auction to raise money for their summer mission trip. I love to read. So, naturally, a giant box of books seemed to me the perfect item to auction off. I did this about five years ago, and the response was overwhelming (both from authors who donated and from those bidding at the fundraiser).

Hoping to replicate that success, I sat down one morning and fired off about a dozen emails. A few were to authors I’ve met in person at various events. Some were to people I had only “met” through social media. Others were to authors who didn’t know me from any other chump asking for a freebie. Once again, the response was overwhelming.

It’s difficult to fully express my gratitude to these folks. Below is an alphabetical list of the authors who contributed (both fiction and nonfiction books). Please help me in thanking them for their generosity by visiting their websites, buying their books, posting reviews online, or perhaps sending a note or two letting them know what their writing and their generous spirits mean to you.

You can also show your support and thanks by donating to the Paradise Valley United Methodist Church youth mission, if you are moved to do so. Here is the link to PVUMC’s secure online giving site.

Photo: Item to be auctioned at the PVUMC youth mission dinner March 2019 – includes 13 signed books, a blank journal, one-of-a-kind pen (handcrafted at SeedsforAutism.org), and original book-themed art.


Peculiar Savage Beauty is 2018 Arizona Book of the Year

2018 Arizona Literary ContestJessica McCann’s second historical novel, Peculiar Savage Beauty, was named 2018 Arizona Book of the Year in the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest. The novel also placed first in the published fiction category.

Peculiar Savage Beauty is the story of a headstrong and fiercely independent young woman who charges into the heart of the wind- and drought-ravaged Great Plains in the 1930s, intent on battling the dust and healing the land. As a geologist working for the U.S. government, Rosa Jean “RJ” Evans must find her place in a small farming town that welcomes neither a woman in authority nor changes to their way of life. She befriends Woody, an autistic savant born in an era long before any medical diagnosis would explain his peculiar ways and unique talents. The locals label the young man an idiot and RJ an armchair farmer. Yet, in each other, they see so much more.

Inspired by historical events during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster, Peculiar Savage Beauty is a parable about man’s quest to dominate the land and nature’s refusal to be conquered, about unlikely alliances and unexpected love.

Publishers Weekly calls McCann’s novel “gripping” and “atmospheric” with a “suspenseful plot and insightfully etched characters.”



Pay No Attention to the Teenagers behind the Curtain

IMG_6393

Huge thanks to Mrs. Markham and her students at Accelerated Learning Center for reading my novel, All Different Kinds of Free.

Teenagers have always been a mystery to me (even when I was a teenager and especially when I was a parent of teenagers). So when a local high school English teacher contacted me to say she was teaching my historical novel in her class and would love to have me speak to her students, I was both massively thrilled and a tiny bit terrified. The visit was last week, and I’m happy to report I had nothing to fear.

The students and faculty at Accelerated Learning Center in Phoenix are amazing. Mrs. Markham created a unique lesson plan and assignments to go along with the group reading of All Different Kinds of Free. As just one example, she had students write a personal essay from the point of view of one of the characters in the book. The papers were posted on the wall, and it was interesting for me to see whose minds the students chose to explore. Some chose main characters (Margaret, Jim, Edward Prigg), while others chose secondary characters (such as Mill Green Justice of the Peace Thomas Henderson). The perspectives portrayed in the papers were insightful and creative (and sometimes hilarious, as Justice Henderson declared in one, “The nerve of some people. God, I need a drink.” I loved it.).

I’m relieved to say no one nodded off while I shared my writing background and inspiration for the novel. The students were attentive and engaged, and they asked a lot of unique questions about writing, researching, publishing and freelancing. The hour we spent together flew by too quickly. While teenagers will probably always be a mystery to me, they are no longer so intimidating thanks to the remarkable students at ALC.  I can’t wait to go back next year, if they’ll have me again.



Your Next Read Awaits Underground

ADKF on the subwayBooks on the Subway is like a library on the go. Created by self-proclaimed book lover, Rosy, it helps shatter the boredom of a long commute and introduces people to a variety of books. I’m so excited to have my novel, All Different Kinds of Free, now traveling the rails. Pick it up and read while you ride. If you love it, take it with you and finish reading it. Then bring it back to the subway for someone else to enjoy. 

You can follow Books on the Subway on Facebook, Twitter and official blog. And if you take the subway in New York, your next great read might just be waiting for you underground.


On Generosity, Gratitude and the Writing Community


Writers often lament how much competition there is in this business. They want to become published, yet they fear doing so will be like diving into a shark tank of rivals. They’re looking at it all wrong. Being a writer is more like being adopted into a loving family that will champion and support you, always.

I recently embarked on a small fundraising effort for my church’s youth group. Each year they host a dinner to raise money for their summer mission trip, and items are solicited for an auction. As an author and someone who loves to read, I thought it would be cool to assemble a basket of signed books to auction off.

After church one Sunday, I went to my computer, composed a brief email and compiled a list of authors to approach with my request. A few were authors I had met at writers conferences or who I knew personally. Some were people I had “met” only through social media. Quite a few were big-name authors who didn’t know me from any other chump asking them for a freebie. I explained that I was reaching out to fellow authors for donations. I described the enthusiasm and generosity of our church youth, where they were going this summer, where and how they had served their community in the past. And I asked for one signed book.

You should know, before I continue, that authors are often asked for free books. Quite often, actually. We’d love to say yes to everyone, but it just isn’t possible. We receive a limited number of copies from our publishers, and after that we have to buy our own books just like everyone else does. Heck, even our shipping costs can really add up.

So, I wasn’t expecting a huge response. I thought that if I emailed about 35 authors, I might be able to collect 10 or 12 books to fill a nice basket. I thought wrong.

IMG_5676The response was overwhelming. Twenty authors replied enthusiastically. They ran the gamut from debut novelists to New York Times best-selling and award-winning authors, including the American Book Award, Orange Prize and Pulitzer Prize. They were happy to contribute, delighted to have been asked. Several donated multiple titles. Many included personal notes of encouragement and support for our church youth and their mission to help others.

All told, 30 signed books were donated, enough for three auction baskets (children’s books, novels and nonfiction/memoirs) with an estimated retail value of more than $500. All proceeds from the auction on March 30 will go toward the Paradise Valley United Methodist Church 2014 youth mission trip to Booneville, Arkansas.

It’s difficult to express the full measure of my gratitude. I’m grateful for the book donations, of course. Yet, I’m even more grateful to be part of a community of writers who help one another, without a moment’s hesitation. This fundraiser is just one example. I have dozens more stories about ways in which fellow writers have helped me without expecting anything in return — by featuring me on their blogs, by recommending my novel to friends, by consoling me through countless queries and rejections, by sending an occasional note of encouragement, by emailing feedback on a rough draft or by offering advice for a perplexing research challenge.

Perhaps the best way to express my gratitude is by paying it forward, by championing and supporting other writers when they ask for my help, and even when they don’t ask.

Below is an alphabetical list of the authors who contributed to the PVUMC youth mission auction. Please join me in thanking them for their generosity by visiting their websites and  perhaps by sending a brief note of gratitude, buying a book or posting a review.

Jon Acuff: Start: Punch Fear in the Face (nonfiction)

Jody Hedlund: The Preacher’s Bride (inspirational historical romance) 

Beth Hoffman: Looking for Me (fiction) 

Charles Krauthammer: Things That Matter (collection of essays and writings) 

Mike Lawson: House Blood (spy thriller) 

Lee Martin: Such a Life (memoir) 

Jenn McKinlay: Read It and Weep, A Library Lover’s Mystery 

Sarah McCoy: The Baker’s Daughter (contemporary/historical fiction) 

Laura Munson: This is Not the Story You Think it Is: A season of unlikely happiness (memoir) 

Jolina Petersheim: The Outcast (a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter

Rebecca Rasmussen: The Bird Sisters (fiction) 

Jewell Parker Rhodes: Sugar (middle grade novel) 

Erika Robuck: Call Me Zelda (historical fiction) 

Timothy Schaffert: The Swan Gondola (fiction) 

Lisa See: Dreams of Joy (historical fiction) 

Rachel Simon: The Story of Beautiful Girl (fiction), Riding the Bus with My Sister (memoir) and Building a Home with My Husband (memoir) 

Conrad Storad: 6 desert-themed picture books (including Don’t Call Me Pig, Rattlesnake Rules, and Desert Night Shift

Natalia Sylvester: Chasing the Sun (fiction, special advance copy, releases June 2014) 

Barbara Anne Waite: Elsie, Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1918 (nonfiction) 

Ann Weisgarber: The Promise (historical fiction) and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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PVUMC book donations

Novels, children’s books and memoirs/nonfiction titles fill three decorative baskets for the PVUMC youth mission fundraising auction.

Giving Thanks for Great Books

My reading each year is an eclectic gambit. Books include a blend of new
and classic fiction in multiple genres, as well as tomes on the writing craft
and research for my historical novel-in-progress. Of the 20-plus books I read
in 2012, a handful stand out as exceptional and unique. I highly recommend the
following books. They are great reads and would make great holiday gifts for
the readers in your life.





Light Between OceansThe
Light Between Oceans

A stunning debut by this
Australian novelist. The Light Between Oceans grabbed my attention from the
opening pages and held it until the very last. By page 100, it was
unputdownable and I finished reading it in a day or two. It's a uniquely
crafted story about love and loss, grief and anger, right and wrong — and
about how difficult it can sometimes be in life to draw a clear line between
any of them. The book was beautifully written, and the supporting characters
were just as compelling and important as the main characters.



Snow ChildThe
Snow Child

This story and its
characters lingered in my thoughts for days and weeks after I finished reading
it.  I loved it. It's sad and sweet and
magical and lush. This story pulls at your heart in so many ways. The author
does an amazing job of developing the characters so that you get to know each
of them, and grow to love them. I didn't want the book to end, to say good-bye.
Ivey' description of the 1920s Alaska wilderness is also amazing and the novel
is worth the read for that alone.




Night CircusThe
Night Circus

Captivating! This book was
great fun to read. Intriguing and vivid, beautifully told story. Complex and
richly layered with many interesting characters, yet an easy read. Pure
entertainment.



Tree in BrooklynA
Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I had been meaning to read
this classic coming-of-age story for years, and I'm so glad I finally did.
Completely fell in love with young Francie Nolan and her family, immigrants who
strived to make a better life for their children in poverty-stricken Brooklyn
in the early 1900s. Heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time, this book had
me both smiling and fighting back tears many times. As I reached the final
pages, I slowed down my reading, because I just didn't want to say good-bye to
the characters.


Artists WayThe
Artist's Way

A thought-provoking read. The
general idea is that we all were created and thus we all have creativity within
us yearning to be expressed. We are all artistic in our own way, and when we
allow ourselves to express that we are happy. If you've ever dreamed of doing
something creative (whether it's ballroom dancing, painting your living room,
writing a novel, or knitting a sweater), you owe it to yourself to just do it.
"Stop telling yourself that creativity is a luxury." Or that it's too
late or not practical. Allow yourself to let go and do what you want to do, and
learn to ignore the well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) naysayers and devil's
advocates. Don't worry about whether your art is any "good." Leave
that to whatever higher power in which you believe. The simple act of
"doing" will lead to good things.



Leopold bioAldo
Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire

This was an interesting
biography of a man who inspired generations of conservationists. Fabulous
research for my historical novel-in-progress about the Dust Bowl.

 

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The Sound and the Worry

The Writer cover Oct 12In
an essay for The Writer magazine, I
share my thoughts on the meaning of “voice” and how those thoughts evolved when
my historical novel was made into an audio book. Scroll
down to read the article, or click here to read the PDF.

Check
out the trailer for the audio book release of All Different Kinds of Free on YouTube.

Visit
Audible.com to hear a short audio sample from All Different Kinds of Free.

 

The
Sound and the Worry  

A
novelist struggled with her character’s audio book voice, until it brought the
story to life
 

by
Jessica McCann

Writers
love to talk about voice, don’t we? We’re obsessed with it. It’s a key element of
any written work and, arguably, the most important element of fiction. And
authors seem to speak of it in the most earnest and whimsical ways. “I write
only because there is a voice within me that will not be still,” poet Sylvia Plath
wrote. Science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury once mused, “I wake early and hear
my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of
bed to trap them before they escape.”  

Voice
also refers to writing style. It’s the words an author chooses, the way she
strings those words together, how she says what it is she wants to say, that creates
voice.  

When
a novel is produced as an audio book, this literary term gains a more explicit
meaning—it becomes an actual voice. How does it feel for a novelist the first
time you hear your writing being read aloud by someone else? For me, it was
disorienting and a little weird.  

My
publisher had contracted a professional voice artist to read my debut historical
novel as an audio book and, of course, I was thrilled. Yet, when I listened to
the first sample, it was strange to hear my main character speaking to me in a
voice that was different from the one I had been hearing in my head.  

The
novel, All Different Kinds of Free, was inspired by a true story, and I
had worked hard to create an authentic voice for the main character and
narrator, Margaret Morgan. An educated, free woman of color in the 1830s,
Margaret was kidnapped, along with her children, to be sold into slavery.
Labeled as a runaway slave, she fought against all odds to prove and regain her
freedom. My goal was for her voice to be both strong and vulnerable, equally
wise and naive, sometimes despondent and yet always hopeful.  

I
had read the complete manuscript maybe a dozen times as it went through the
many phases of revision, copyediting and proofreading that led up to
publication. A few times, I even read it out loud. It had a certain cadence in
my mind, a certain timbre and tone.  

It’s
not that the voice artist had done a poor job of reading it. On the contrary, Mia
Bankston’s
portrayal of Margaret was expert—warm and endearing, at times
gripping and heartbreaking. Still, it wasn’t exactly the voice I had come to
know in the roughly 10 years it took to research, write and publish my book.  

The
shock of listening to that first audio sample was similar to the shock of
receiving the first round of serious edits on a manuscript. It’s a punch to the
system. Sure, you’re expecting it. You think you’re ready for it. But when the
blow lands, it still knocks the wind out of you.  

From
what I’ve read, it’s not unlike the feelings experienced when novels are optioned
for film. As a new author, I had read a handful of articles about book-movie deals.
(We all dream of it, don’t we?) They were cautionary tales about how much your
book may change— characters may be added, plot twists removed or entire endings
rewritten. It makes sense. Film is a different medium with different rules.  

With
an audio book, however, the voice artist reads the novel exactly how it is
written. Every contraction stays put, every comma in its place. Nothing changes.
Yet, somehow, it’s still different. My initial email to Bankston was
professional, something like, “Thanks for sending the sample. Can’t wait to
listen to it. I’ll let you know next week if I have any feedback.” Even as I
clicked on the send button, my stomach was in knots. Would I be able to provide
constructive, rational feedback?  

I
let a day or two pass. I tried to occupy my mind with other projects, while I
nursed my literary laryngitis. Then I gave myself the same advice I always do
when I’m feeling the sting of edits or the weight of a tough project. Get
over yourself, Jessica.
I took off my spiffy, new yippee-I’m-a-published-author
hat and put on my weathered professional-freelance-writer-and-editor hat. And I
listened to the audio file again with fresh, objective ears.  

I
paused the recording at times, jotting down general thoughts and noting places
where the pace felt a little fast, where certain phrases or words needed more
or less emphasis, and when I felt the voice artist hit a comfortable stride. Bankston
had an expert way of changing her voice to reflect different characters in
dialogue. There was also a sincerity in her narration, a quality that made
Margaret feel genuine and alive. The more I listened, the more comfortable I
became with Margaret’s new voice and the way Bankston brought her to life.  

Bankston
and I corresponded a handful of times. I shared my feedback, and she listened
to it. She shared her thoughts, and I was impressed by her professionalism.
Several days later, she sent an edited recording of the original sample. It was
perfect. At that point, Bankston set about the task of recording the entire
book, and I plunged back into my own work.  

Still,
the idea of voice nagged at me. Writers aren’t the only ones obsessed with it,
after all. I defy you to find any interviews with editors or agents that don’t
include some sort of quote about their desire to discover an author with a distinctive
voice. What does that really mean, anyway?  

“By
voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a
unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that
enriches an author’s oeuvre,” wrote literary agent Donald Maass in his book Writing
the Breakout Novel
.  

Bestselling
author John Grisham frames it in broader terms: “In life, finding a voice is
speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a
distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told.”  

Ah,
yes, the story. Voice empowers story. And isn’t that the most critical element in
all writing?  

How
many books have you read in which the writing, the language, the voice all
dazzled you, and yet the story itself somehow fell flat? The books that stay
with me the longest are, in fact, the ones that have both a distinctive voice and
a compelling story.  

“Writing
isn’t just on the page,” asserted Donna Jo Napoli, a prolific children’s and
young-adult author. “It’s voices in the reader’s head.”  

In
the case of audio books, it’s also a voice in the reader’s ears—the voice that tells
the story in its distinctive way.

###

Originally published
in The Writer magazine, October 2012


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