Category Archives: On writing

Falling into Green by Cher Fischer

Book Review by Carolyn Barbre

She’s sassy and sexy and green right down to her organic cotton underwear. A vegan who savors scrambled tofu for breakfast.

Dr. Esmeralda Green is biracial, Latina (her mom’s light-brown skin) and Irish (her dad’s red hair; her own being strawberry-blond). She tells her story in first-person English but swears and exclaims in Spanish. “Aye, Dios, mio! Why don’t we have more high-speed rail?” she questions when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the 405 freeway—the state of traffic on the 405 pretty much 24/7.

Dr. Green is an ecopsychologist (as is author Cher Fischer in real life). “Ecopsychology acknowledges the environment as an important part of the human psyche,” Esmeralda explains. “When nature’s integrated into the human experience, things get intense. They get meaningful.” Already you have a dynamite combo for a mystery series California-style.

She lives in the yellow clapboard ranch house built in the 1960s by her abuelo and abuela in Majorca Point (the Palos Verdes peninsula). Her house is slip sliding toward the ocean with the shifting earth, and saving it is costly, such as new plumbing lines the power company has mandated she must have installed. But our girl only trades green stocks, usually solar or wind, and they are coming through for her.

The man in and out of her life is Gabriel Hugo García, local TV news superstar for the Latino global news organization KLAT. She meets up with him while riding her twelve-year-old palomino, Sam. Esmeralda uses the animal in equine-assisted therapy for patients. Garcia is covering a breaking story on location. He reports, “The young woman, Abigail Pryce, who was found dead tonight at the bottom of the highest cliff at Majorca Point, is the nineteen-year-old niece, or would have been the niece, of the long-ago suicide victim Charlene Pryce, who was only sixteen when she leapt to her death at this very same location …”

Charlene Pryce was Esmeralda’s best childhood friend and now her niece may have jumped, or maybe she was pushed off that cliff, but why? Why did Abigail call Esmeralda just the day before, wanting to talk? Why, before she committed suicide, did Charlene warn her to stay out of the water? Why suicide? Is Hummer-driving TV newsman Garcia sleeping with her nemesis, Detective Suzy Whitney, who drives a gas guzzling mega SUV?

Dr. Green is a quirky California gal who cares deeply about things that matter, the kind of protagonist you wish could be a real life friend.

Author Cher Fischer

Falling into Green, published by Ashland Creek Press, is the first book in what promises to be a fabulous eco-mystery series by Cher Fischer. This reviewer already is a #1 fan.


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Woman at Work—Please Excuse Delays

by Carolyn Barbre

I apologize to my few faithful followers for dropping off the edge for the last few months. But I finally got my memoir right, style-wise. About eight years back my older son asked why he should read it since I kept changing content.

My answer, “I haven’t changed content. It just took this long to get to a happy ending.” The story took 25 years to get to that happy ending and another 15 years to finally work through all the trauma, depression, remorse, guilt, and poking at wounds so deep my soul seemed to cry tears of blood, before coming out the other side.

I am by no means alone in my experiences and have come across more woeful tales than my own, but not one memoir. These tales are found in books written by psychiatrists and psychologists with titles like Divorced from Justice: The Abuse of Women and Children by Divorce Lawyers and Judges, Mothers on Trial, and No Visible Wounds, wherein the women who share their stories are given anonymity. Not only have they been abused and shamed but they have been shanghaied by our paternalistic self-regulated civil court system that has unfathomable tolerance for cruelty and virtually no fear of reprisal.

None of this has any connection to Backcountry Writer, so I will be starting another blog to be called “Show-Cause,” where I can hopefully offer some solace and enlightenment to other mothers in similar circumstances, who have remained silent (and anonymous) for far too long.

Meanwhile I am posting another blog immediately after this one, one that’s in keeping with the Backcountry Writer style. Thanks for your patience.


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Quote collector

It is my habit to collect quotes that speak to me for whatever reason and, I seem to be all blogged out for the present, so what follows are some better words than mine:
Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. ~Dr. Seuss

All the time you’re trying to get back something someone’s took from you, there’s more goin’ out the door. Comes a time you just got to put a tourniquet on it and go on from there. ~Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Don’t ever hold anything back. Put everything out that can possibly belong in that poem or story. Don’t save anything for the next one. That’s the only way to work. It’s the only way to live, really. ~Donald Hall

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.  ~E.L. Doctorow

Living a conscious and reflective life is a prerequisite for writing a memoir of substance. ~Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir


I tell it because there is an ache in my heart for the imagined beauty of a life I haven’t had, from which I have been locked out, and it never goes away. ~Robert Goolrick, The End of the World as We Know It


Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from. ~Al Franken, Oh, the Things I Know


Memoir is actually the most egoless genre, even though it might seem ostensibly so much ego-driven. In order for it to succeed, you have to dissolve the self into these larger universal truths, and explore these deeper mysteries. If it’s purely autobiographical and ego-driven, it’s going to fail. –Nick Flynn Memoir Writer in The Rumpus interview


“We may be through with the past but the past ain’t through with us.” –offhand remark from the movie Magnolia

 Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue. –Henry James

 Acting: Pretending to be someone else who was dreamed up by a third party. City Island, the movie (2009)


I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.     ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden


And even before the potential post-publication humiliation, there’s deadline pressure; crippling self-doubt; diets of Entenmann’s pastries and black coffee; self-made cubicles structured with piles of books, papers and unpaid bills; night-owl tendencies; failed relationships; unanswered phone calls; weight gain; poverty; and, of course, exhaustion.   ~Gillian Reagan, “My Book Deal Ruined my Life,” essay in N.Y Observer 6/5/2007

What is your favorite quote?

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Feminist Voices or Demure Ladies or What?

Feminist voices are loud in noting that male literary lions consider female authors inferior. But who, really, is to blame?

In A Widow’s Story Joyce Carol Oates, recipient of a half dozen highly prestigious literary awards; author of some of the most enduring fiction of our time, writes, “Because so much in a writer’s life can be distressing—negative reviews, rejections by magazines, difficulties with editors, publishers, book designers—disappointment with one’s own work, on a daily/hourly basis!—it seemed to me a very good idea to shield Ray from this side of my life as much as I could.”

Oates is giving a day-by-day, hour-by-hour report on her thoughts and actions during and after her husband of forty-six years, Ray Smith, editor of the Ontario Review, dies unexpectedly of complications from pneumonia. She goes so far as to say she, “walled off from my husband the part of my life that is Joyce Carol Oates—which is to say, my writing career.”

She praises her husband for his editorial skills while sharing that he did not read her fiction, and, “in this sense it might be argued that Ray didn’t know me entirely—or even, to a significant degree, partially.”

I recently tried to explain this “old-school modesty” by women of a certain age who had it ingrained to appear less than to protect the fragile male ego. Oates gives a classic example. I confess I am only 123 pages into this more than 400-page tome, but it has already become a recurring theme. “As he didn’t read most of what I wrote so he didn’t read most reviews of this [my] work, whether good, bad, or indifferent” which she follows by a qualifier defending her husband or her own reticence. “Always it has astonished me that writers married to each other—for instance Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne—should share virtually every page they write…” and again, “Perhaps it is naïve to wish to share only good news with a [my] husband.” Oates doesn’t even claim her work or her husband when she goes into demure mode but chooses the impersonal as in this work and a husband.

What do you think dear reader? What’s a woman to do?


Filed under Memoir musings, On writing

Fresh Tomato Bisque?

Roses from my garden

 My apologies for those of you who checked in and found no new posts for the last month. The thing is, I finished my memoir, corrected the second draft and am now at the dreaded find-an-agent stage once again (never found one for my novel although I gave up after about fifty queries). So I’ve been in a funk.  

Although I must say my yard and garden have never looked better, as I have fully caught up and maybe gone a little overboard. Do you think fifteen pepper plants are too many? Just kidding, I only have four in the ground: red, yellow, orange and green from the bell pepper family. The others are still seedlings that probably won’t be transplanted.

 Last year I planted all these exotic heirloom tomatoes, more than a dozen plants, and got not a single tomato. Blossoms, but no tomatoes. Not one! This year I went to the local nurseries and now have eighteen tomato plants in the ground in various stages of growth—some seedlings, some flowering and some with green tomatoes on the vines—so I will have my own organic, garden-fresh tomatoes this year.

Apparently now I am going to have to learn home canning although I don’t much care for canned tomatoes. Dried? I do have a food dryer. I’ll give it a try. It’s just that there is so much water in tomatoes it will take a while. Set up a tomato stand in the front yard? Sell at the farmer’s market? (I’d rather be writing.) Maybe just pass them out to friends and acquaintances…


Think I’ll save commenting on the zucchini, squash and cucumbers, also growing in my gardens, for another post.

I hate the angst, that dreadful feeling, kind of like doing taxes, but I must sit down and work on that nonfiction proposal.


Fresh tomato bisque?

You take two pounds of ripe tomatoes, one medium onion sliced thin, two tablespoons butter, one bay leaf….


Filed under Memoir musings, On writing

Show Me the Money

By C.J. Barbre

eBook or Paper

I mentioned Putting Your Passion into Print (PYPiP) in a previous blog but did not review it. I must say it is an incredibly thorough report on all things publishing up to 2005, but I would prefer to have an updated version. Tumultuous changes continue to take place with the onslaught of eBooks. Just this week Random House announced it is setting a new pricing system for eBooks and listing 17,000 titles on the iBookstore.

In PYPiP they discuss the “Reality of the Royalty,” a payment you receive when a publisher sells a copy of your book. For Hardcover you receive 10 percent for up to five thousand copies, 12.5 percent to ten thousand copies, and 15 percent above that. For Trade Paperbacks, you get 7.5 percent because they use better paper and are sold through regular book channels while for Mass-Market Paperbacks you get eight percent to 150,000 copies and ten percent thereafter, sold through special distributors.

PYPiP says authors are generally shocked to discover they get between five and 15 percent of the sale price of their hard work, their work-of-art, while the publisher keeps between 85 and 95 percent. But the publishers’ costs include any initial advance, the author’s royalty, the production costs of paper and binding, etc., shipping costs and overhead. The royalties are for one-color, standard-size books and are based on the cover price.

Of course, unless you go with a small press, you need an agent who gets a 15 percent commission on your advances, royalties and most subsidiary sales and 20 percent for foreign rights, after they sell your book, plus out of pocket expenses like postage, overnight delivery and messengers.

I attended a writers’ conference last year and heard Stacey O’Brien talk about her book Wesley the Owl. She shared that she hired an editor at her agent’s suggestion, whose editing she did not agree with, but spent half her advance finding this out. She then hired a friend who did a beautiful job but pretty much used up all her advance. In other words, if you do get an advance, you will need to use it to promote your book or simply get it ready for publication in this instance.

What are your thoughts on old school paper books vs. new school eBooks, their production and promotion costs vs. author royalties?

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What is it with Super Bowl Sunday fever? Even CBS News Sunday Morning, with a demographic that attracts advertisers for funeral insurance and assisted living facilities on its local affiliate, did a piece on the Black Eyed Peas, interviewing each Pea and giving their individual bios. We don’t care.

8:30 a.m. pst: “The Road to the Super Bowl” is on. This will be followed by Troy Aikman commenting on family and the people of Dallas, then the four-hour pregame show and finally the big game—another four hours. Think I’ll skip the postgame show.

I know . . . I never watch the Super Bowl. The thing is, I am reading this great, can’t-put-down 400-page book on publishing and promotion of one’s book, but I don’t want to give it away until I’ve finished because I’m posting this on my blog. (I don’t review books I haven’t read cover-to-cover.)

I was hooked at that all important first sentence or two. “It’s important not to let the desire to get married interfere with the rational choosing of a suitable mate. So it is with the writing of a book.” Actually they had me at the Introduction. They would have had me at the jacket had I not ordered it from the library and didn’t see the jacket until I checked out the book.

Hint for single women not that into football, but who appreciate the men who are: Check out your supermarket the day before. (Too late this year, I know. Sorry.) Super dudes will be pushing carts full of beer and snacks. Doritos CRASH THE SUPER BOWL campaign and paid a hefty sum to the winners who were judged in a USA Today poll. The spots have already gotten about a gazillion hits on YouTube plus the Facebook links. Talk about promotion and free advance publicity.

Of course, I’ll be leaving the sound off until the commercials.

Why write a book when all the money is in film, unless your book becomes a film. Is that what all writers secretly hanker for?

What if we tried promoting our books as hard as football players must work to get to the Super Bowl? Or got socially networked a smidgen as successfully as the high rollers?

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California Writers Club

The following in italics was taken directly from the California Writers Club Website.

We’re one of the oldest writer’s organizations in continuous operation in the nation. Our members are poets, journalists, essayists, technical writers, and creators of genre and literary fiction, as well as editors, booksellers, and others involved in related fields, all joined together for the common goal of educating ourselves and the community on the craft of writing and the realities of getting our work published.

Jack London Jack London

Our story begins in the early years of the twentieth century, when Jack London and his literary pals gathered at the home of poet Joaquin Miller in the Oakland hills for picnics and conversation. At the same time, the Alameda Press Club, led by California poet laureate, Ina Coolbrith, was holding meetings at the Shattuck Hotel in Berkeley. After various mergings and spin-offs, most of which are lost to history, in 1909 these informal literary salons became the California Writers Club. 

As I mentioned yesterday, I attended my first meeting with the Writers of Kern chapter of the California Writers Club. Anyone can be an associate member. To be an “active” member one must have a book published (self publishing does not count) or three newspaper or magazine articles published. At this meeting the chapter president suggested associates submit stories to the newspaper saying they could easily be published. True.

Newspapers, big and small are shutting down every day. The ones still surviving are looking to cut corners any way they can. So it seems a little unbalanced for three articles to equal getting a book published, but the founders had their own difficulties getting published.

I remember reading Call of the Wild as a child and being greatly impressed. I visited Jack London Square and shrine to Jack London in Oakland and purchased The Collected Jack London which includes in its 1,060 pages 36 stories, four complete novels and a memoir, all for $12.. 95. In fact I purchased two and gave one to my son who was living in Oakland at the time (about eight years ago) and had never noticed the shrine.

 John Steinbeck mourned the changes in Monterey after his tremendous success as a writer (and he would really hate it today but I think he would be pleased with his very own museum in Salinas). I’m pretty sure Jack London would feel the same about prettification of the Oakland docks and Jack London Square.

Anyway, I’m honored to be in an association claiming association with so many renowned California writers, and so welcoming to hopefuls.

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THE NIGHT FERRY by Michael Robotham

The weekend is forecast to be cold and rainy with snow in the mountains. I decided to take care of some outside chores including using the weed wacker (noisy) and tiling the fountain (quiet). For quiet outdoor chores I love to listen to an audio book and have yet to be disappointed with any novels on CDs.

The Night Ferry by Australian author Michael Robotham

This thriller is the third in a series, preceded by Suspect and Lost. I was surprised to have a male author tell the story from a first-person female point-of-view, that of London Detective Constable Alisha Barba. Barba is a Sikh from a traditional East Indian family (arranged marriages) but she leads her own life. She is a near Olympic-class runner although a back injury incurred in the line of duty (in the previous novel, Lost) requiring six operations and nine months of physical therapy, has her looking at a desk job.

So we have a strong female lead with ethnic flavor, who has overcome adversity and will prove to be a dedicated friend. She has not seen Cate for eight years, although they were inseparable as schoolgirls, when she gets a note asking her to please come to their high school reunion. “I’m in trouble. I must see you,” Cate writes.

At the reunion Cate, eight months pregnant, tells Ali that someone is trying to take her baby. But before Ali can get details, Cate and her husband are run down by a car, which kills the husband and leaves Cate in critical condition.

Avoiding the desk job, Ali takes leave to investigate on her own time, with the help of her former partner, Vincent Ruiz. Now retired, Ruiz is the model of a cantankerous old, street-wise detective. He and Ali share a strong bond of affection and mutual respect.

 Ruiz accompanies Ali to Amsterdam in search of answers about Cate’s dilemma that will expose them to the dark and dangerous world of drug trafficking, international baby selling, and forced impregnation of illegal immigrants.    

Along with all the intrigue is Ali’s interior dialogue about her love life, her parents’ expectations, her good and bad memories around her friendship with Cate, along with self-criticism of her job performance. I can’t speak for the men, but we women can definitely relate.

It was a great day, an excellent book and the fountain looks pretty good too.

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New and Improved

“New and Improved” are supposed to be the magic words in advertising. Just put the words on the package and watch it fly off the shelves. But the announcement from WordPress that it was changing one templet called PressRow to the new and improved Pilcrow has, in two days, provoked pretty much unilateral discontent from PressRow users that can be viewed on seven pages of complaints.  

They said the site would look the same but would have great new features. It doesn’t look the same. Many bloggers lost their custom headings. My pretty, pink, cloth-covered horizontal book stacks are now dark, vertical, leather-covered books which don’t look country, just old.

Perhaps one of my wildflower photos will work… Okay, I just previewed  this post and, lo and behold, this photo appeared in the heading. Don’t know how that happened. Hopefully it will stay there when I publish.

View from my bedroom window, spring 2010

Now I need to investigate whatever nifty new features I can find, stop complaining and  get up to speed.

Don’t be afraid to be the first one to leave a message. Others have gone before, just not on this post. What kind of artwork would you like to see illustrate a backcountry blogger?

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