Thursday, December 22, 2011

Back From Italia & Back to Blogging

Last friday, I returned home to small-town New Jersey after 104 wonderful days of studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. To be honest, I don't know that there's any way to fully explain what the experience meant to me, but I will try my damnedest, because I refuse to return after a four month absence and act like nothing's changed. Yes, blog world, I left you for quite a while. However, it was less because I wasn't thinking about you, (I thought about posting often), but more because there seemed to be no way to describe the experience.

All my life, I've been praised for my confidence, my intuition, and my certainty. There's not many people I know of that are writing a full manuscript, reading 2-3 books a week, blogging, writing new songs, performing gigs, working a part-time job, running three student organizations, all while getting a 4 year degree in just 3 years--but, at 19, I'm doing it. And I'm so proud of myself for that, but, until I went to Perugia, what I was missing was balance. Sure, everything always got done on time and with as much perfection as I could perform, but my social life was struggling as was my sanity. Everything was its own, separate world, and when I was in friend world or school world or agent querying world, the rest of the universe disappeared. By studying in a gorgeous, culture-rich city, where all I had to do was study and relax with no other obligations, I re-learned how to be a 'normal', functioning human being.

Piano, piano is the way of life in Italia. Slowly, slowly. Leisure time. Family time. Time to cook long recipes and eat long meals. Time for sitting, for enjoying nature, and relishing life. I learned how to enjoy all of these things and not to stress so much about perfection or about all of the issues waiting for me back home. I let go of my anxiety over tight scheduling and the friends that didn't answer my e-mails and found a new 'zen'.

I learned to listen in a way I hadn't done before. I didn't have my crazy, vocal, rocker/activist wardrobe to inform the world of what bands I like or what causes (gay rights, homelessness, AIDS, political awareness, etc) that I support, but a more stylish, fashionable and unreadable "Italianesque" wardrobe. I didn't have my guitar with me to write songs with at the exact moment that I felt something. My friends and family were all an ocean away, so I couldn't just call or text them as I had before. I was forced to really listen to my own thoughts and figure out feelings without necessarily speaking them. I had to look to the world around me and to outside influences (music, art, etc) to help me find where I fit, and discovered a new way of processing and breathing through it all that I hadn't mastered before.

I mentioned in September that I had a "muse problem". I had rediscovered my muse in a close friend of mine (who, for now,  we'll call Muse) and had fallen so in love with her and found so much inspiration in her, that I was almost uncomfortable using her as 'Muse' anymore. The distance helped me to see that my muses are everywhere. That I should not limit myself to one muse, nor should I be ashamed of any muse that I have or of my love for anyone or anything that inspires me. Love is the most beautiful of all of my muses, and falling out of love with Muse in a romantic way is probably one of the best things I could have done for my creativity. There will no longer be a Muse with a capital 'M'. All muses are equal , wonderful, and incredibly important to me.

I found myself in Perugia. I fell in love with Perugia. And despite all that, I can't just bring her back home with me to introduce her to my friends and family. Sure, I have pictures and videos and fun facts and stories, but to truly see what I saw, you need at least 70 or 80 days with her to cultivate that love. I'm not sure how to reconcile that. But, for now, I'm putting my best foot forward, letting the world see this new self, and hoping that maybe people will start to understand.

                                                                   Mia Bella Perugia

<3 Gina Blechman

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: String Bridge by Jessica Bell

3 out of 5 Stars

String Bridge is an emotional, women’s fiction novel about a musician, Melody Hill, who gave up her music for her husband and daughter, and is now struggling to find out how to regain her sense of self and a life that includes the music she loves. The novel is chock-full of honesty, and is written with emphasis on the feeling, the musicality, and the genuineness of the written word.

String Bridge, for me, was a 3 star read. It’s an interesting book, with unique characters who make you want to read on. However, there are just too many little flaws that prevent it from jumping all the way to a 5.

String Bridge does an excellent job at capturing the realness, the grittiness, the musicality, and the occasional chaos of a musician/struggling woman’s mind. It lets you really see and feel what Melody is going through, and come to intimately know her many weaknesses. However, I did occassionaly find this emphasis muddled up my reading, when certain strings of jumbled thought seemed unnecessary and confusingly added to everyday life. This, though irritating, can be easily overlooked.

What I could not overlook, unfortunately, was that so much of the novel's events happened too coincidentally. If Melody wanted to talk to a friend, she would never have to wait more than a few minutes before that friend magically appeared online. When she’s looking for a way into the music world, the most perfect opportunity—one most people who’ve worked at it for years couldn’t even dream of—miraculously appears in the form of someone from her past. Even the way things get screwed up happen in perfect time, but there’s always something that happens right on track to get her back to somewhat normal, and the people in her life seem to give her many more chances than anyone would get in the real world. But, if you can manage to suspend reality and look at Melody's emotions as the connection to real life and many of the coincidental events as pure fiction, String Bridge can become the compelling piece it's meant to be.

For a review of the soundtrack, On the Other Side, Click here

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the Other Side Review: Thoughts on the Soundtrack to Jessica Bell's String Bridge

On the Other Side is a beautifully emotive record of the deepest thoughts and turmoils of String Bridge’s main character, Melody Hill, a musician who gave up a life of music for her husband and child, but is now trying to bring music back into her life. The album is heartfelt and intense, with a mix of raw acoustic energy and moody synths.

When I first read the lyrics accompanying String Bridge, I worried that the songs would be short and simple and very literal as the lyrics seemed to be; however, the rise and fall of the instrumentation and of Jessica’s voice make all the difference. For me, the cd has the sound of what I would imagine the love child of The Cranberries, Garbage, and Joni Mitchell to be. (This also makes a lot of sense, as I can imagine Melody listening to all three of these artists.) It’s the kind of music you can just close your eyes and feel, and it works very well with the story/plot of the book. Sadly, as I did not request the music until AFTER reading String Bridge, all I can offer is the post-reading experience.

The two problems I have with On the Other Side, which perhaps I have set myself up for for reviewing a 'soundtrack', are the similarity of the songs and the overly-literal aspects of the lyrics. The songs are quite powerful by themselves, but when I listen to all of them together, I can barely tell where one song ends and the other begins. They all have the same lilting, ebb and flow of soft and heavy guitar, light and intense vocals, etc, etc, that I don’t really get a feel for one over the other. Essentially, Melody is always angsting and always doing so in the same eerie manner. Honestly, I don't feel the growth. I keep listening and trying to find out where something changes up a bit, but, particularly with the extra background instrumentation, it all becomes one wave of Melody’s misfortune. This does mimic the craziness of the novel and of Melody's life, but musically I really wanted more. Even if Melody broke out of her flow to become louder or raspier or more real, I probably would be satisfied.

I also found the songs to be extremely literal to everything going on at that moment in the story that they are meant for. In some respects, this is a good thing, because you can totally imagine her just breaking into song at that moment and singing “oh my god, how can you do this exact thing to me.” But if the reader is to imagine Melody as a serious artist, creating songs to play on her tour of the US, it’s a bit harder to believe that she wouldn’t be a bit more imaginative. It also makes the songs hard to relate to, which is augmented by the sameness of the tone of all of the songs. The emotional force behind them is so strong, but it’s not like I could place myself in the lyrics without knowing the story. Even as I first read through the lyrics, it felt like “oh, okay, she’s saying the same thing over again. And again. And again.” I understand that soundtracks are meant to mirror and augment the scenes of a story, but, as I said, I wanted some sign of growth.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy On the Other Side. I think it makes a decent companion to the book, and the musicianship is certainly of good quality. Jessica Bell's voice is incredible and a delight to listen to. On the Other Side is a soundtrack after all, so it makes sense that it works best as background music, for emotions rather than lyrics.

Of course, I could not leave you with only a review for the soundtrack, so tune in next week for a review of String Bridge.

To purchase the soundtrack:
Amazon UK:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Ultimate Character Inventory for Building Genuine Characters

If thousands of hours of editing has taught me one thing, it's that most of the changes made to a manuscript, and most of what makes a story strong, is in creating realistic characters. This shows through when
1) everything your character says is true to who he is
2) all of the verbage used to describe his actions fits his character (the difference between a 'pranceing' or 'sauntering' character, for example)

3) his actions follow his values and personality
4) one can imagine his past/future/present by knowing the information you’ve given

It is aso, it is crucial that your character is complex, and that he breaks the boundaries of his usual traits to become a more rounded person. For example:

1) The quiet character who hides her feelings but then places them all in art/writing/music.
2) The loud character faced with a situation that has left him unable to talk about his feelings.
3) The calm character who, after dealing with too much, becomes suddenly furious.

4) The martinet who finds a vice in _____.

Of course, these also have to be believable. BUT, if you follow all of these things, your characters should read as genuine people who readers will find interest in and relate to. Below are a variety of tables to help you get a better grasp on who your character is. Half are simple, circle which answer applies, tables, and the others allow you to fill in the blanks.
Is your character:

Not spiritual
Easily angered
More artistic
More logical
Not romantic
The jealous type
Not easily jealous
More arrogant
More humble
Power hungry
Does your character

Say what's on his mind
Cover up his feelings
Act impulsively
Overthink situations
Want to be swept off his feet
Want to be in control
Keep secrets
Believe honesty is the best policy
Focus on the past or future
Stay grounded in the present
Rely on friends
Keep to himself
Have many good friends
Just a few close ones
Have a fresh view on life
A jaded view
Care what others think
Do whatever he/she wants
Think of life as a puzzle
An untameable adventure
The following are fill in the blanks, but for the 1st one, I gave examples from various characters in my manuscripts.

Your character believes that:

Lying is…

never okay
Hurting others is…

necessary to keep them in their place
Being happy is…

Being alone is…

good every once and a while to stay grounded
Friends are…

how we survive
Love is…

everything now that I've found her
Rules are…

meant to be broken
Mysteries are..

meant to be left alone.

Character's First:




Puzzle/Real Quandary:

Your Character would:
Give up everything for:
Say his motto is:
Question everything if:
Fall in love with/if:
Lose his mind if:
Act opposite his character if:
Say he is who he is because of:
Say he wakes up every morning because:
Blame his shortcomings on:

For more ideas for character development you may want to check out :
Why Your Rough Draft Still Doesn't Feel Right and How to Fix It

Click for The Ultimate Manuscript Editing Checklist

Good Luck!

And please feel free to leave more ideas via comments!

<3 Gina Blechman

Monday, October 10, 2011

Being a Writer vs Being Someone Who Writes

Ten months ago, you might not have known that I was a writer, though you may have known me as a person who writes. I did not know that there was a difference between these two things. I had written a manuscript. I had run a writing group for three years. I was a writer...right?

But though I spent hundreds of hours a year writing and working on my first manuscript, I was not actively writing towards anything. I wrote to get to the end of what I was writing. It was a hobby that I had always hoped would turn into more, but wasn't sure I was ready to take seriously at only 18 years old. Who would really want to read what I wrote anyway?

And then it all changed. I created an independent study course on the steps to becoming published. I started a blog to get my thoughts out there and to connect with others like me. I spent hundreds more hours not just writing but searching for agents and sending out queries. When that was unsuccessful, I wrote a new manuscript, spent hundreds more hours, found critique partners, and then beta readers to look over the 'final' product. And though most of this has happened solitarily, outside of my external, student/friend/employee life, I've started to realize how external it has become.

All of my friends and family know now that I am working on a manuscript that I take very seriously, and they know that I'm trying to get published. They know all the terms--beta reader, WIP, manuscript, agent--because I use them constantly. They know that, based on my first beta reader's comments, I really think this book might be the one.

When people ask me where I want to be in ten or twenty years, I say writing as my primo, my number one, dream. And in these months, without realizing it, I went from being someone who writes, to being a true, live-by-the-pen-die-by-the-pen writer.

You don't have to be published to be a writer. You don't even have to have an agent. You can be anyone and live anywhere. Being a writer is about knowing within yourself that you can't live without writing, that you write to live and live to write, and that, regardless of your present scenario, you are working towards a life where writing can reasonably come on the top of your list.

How bout you? Feeling writerly today?

<3 Gina