Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: novel

“Eat Pray Love” Author Writes Amazing Fictional Tale. . .

Have you heard of Elizabeth GilbertThe Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

Perhaps you read the book, Eat Pray Love; or, saw the movie?

Well, Ms Gilbert wrote a few fiction titles and did some journalism before Eat Pray Love.

In fact, here’s a bibliography of her work

The specific work of fiction I want to talk about is her 2013 release, The Signature of All Things.

Wikipedia’s “overview” does not do the book any justice, at all:

“The story follows Alma Whittaker, daughter of a botanical explorer, as she comes into her own within the world of plants and science. As Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she starts a spiritual journey which spans the 19th Century.”

Actually, if I hadn’t already read Eat Pray Love and known Ms Gilbert was an accomplished writer, I would never have read The Signature of All Things based on Wikipedia’s description

But, I have read The Signature of All Things…

Literary explosions happened…

Tears often fell…

My authorial spirit was enlightened…

I was shocked to my core approximately six times…

And, the story’s events may have happened in the 18th and 19th Centuries; but, the writing was extremely accessible

Since I’m not a real book reviewer, I’ll share a few excerpts of others’ reviews that say things I can agree with…

From GoodReads:

“Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, ‘The Signature of All Things’ soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad.”

From The New York Times:

“The novel is frontloaded with its most hair-raising exploits as back story on Alma’s father, a plant thief whose boyhood punishment was to be packed off on the madcap voyages of Captain Cook. Real events provide ample substrate for a novel that entwines the historic and the imagined so subtly as to read like good nonfiction for most of its first half. It crosses over to page turner after the introduction of the author’s most beguiling invention, the deliciously named Ambrose Pike.”

From The Guardian:

“Each passage of this sprawling novel is written with an astonishing eye for just the right amount of period or environmental detail. The character of Alma Whittaker is so believable, so deeply drawn and so likable for its complexity and open spirit, that it is impossible not to be engrossed by every twist and turn of her thoughts and imaginings. In fact, one of Gilbert’s most impressive achievements is making Alma’s journey a universal one, despite anchoring her protagonist’s life in a different time and sending her to the furthest corners of the unexplored earth.”

And, from The Washington Post:

“Gilbert has been a journalist, a biographer, short-story writer, novelist, memoirist and, perhaps most famously, a celebrated ‘Oprah author’, but she continues to set higher goals for herself. Like Victor Hugo or Émile Zola, she captures something important about the wider world in ‘The Signature of All Things’: a pivotal moment in history when progress defined us in concrete ways.”

Still, this book may not be suitable for every reader…

I suppose that’s true of all books………
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Author Interview ~ Jane Watson – Part Two

Jane Watson visited this blog back in November of 2011, gave us a great interview, and made us want to read her first novel, Hindustan Contessa.

Today, I’m proud to welcome Jane back for an interview that gets deeper into her writer’s mind and sheds light on the Process of Writing


Jane, what are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel about literary theft—at least that’s what I tell myself it’s about,  but often, as I write, it does seem to me that the story I am making can often develop into something else.  I believe in a process of gradual linking of relevant parts of a story until the real story takes shape. OK, this is arduous, but what I’m trying to do in this process is to find the real story I want to tell, the authentic one if you like, which I may be doing my best to cover up.

It’s my experience that many writers have a wonderful story that they could tell but they go out of their way NOT to tell that story. I believe this is because we are often fearful of recognising our own true authentic self that the story contains; i.e., we are fearful of accessing our own Inner Worlds.

I’m telling this story of literary theft because I actually went through the experience of having an idea of mine—an image, specifically, in a photograph—used by someone else. There is no copyright of ideas but it was a betrayal of trust. In releasing this story, I am hoping that I’m accessing my inner fears and thoughts about this experience.

In my two readings of  Hindustan Contessa, I realized you go deeply into the different states of mind of your characters. What about the different states of mind you visit when you’re preparing to write and during the actual writing?

Interesting question. I do not think my grasp of words has changed much since I was about thirteen, (and, I suspect this is the same for most people) but I truly believe the *way* I think about those words has changed dramatically. Many people believe that writing is about getting down the right words I disagree. For me it’s about getting the right thinking going, specifically about accessing the Inner Worlds I mentioned before. To go into those worlds the writer has to be fearless and determined; but, above all, at peace with oneself in that moment. I believe anything a writer can do to help them leave the real world behind and make that peaceful meditative journey is beneficial—listen to music, meditate, drink tea, you name it… :-)

Please, Jane, tell us more about your conception of the Inner Worlds of the writer?

Well, I believe the most important task facing a writer is to access those worlds.  In his book, The Craft Of The Novel, the writer Colin Wilson says: “A story or a novel is a writer’s attempt to create a clear self-image” He also says “Socrates argues that each human soul already contains the knowledge of all things.” In other words, a writer, when they attempt to access those Inner Worlds, is also attempting to access their own true self and to explore that. This is probably why some writing teachers say: write about the thing that you would most like *not to reveal *—because in that process you will probably have to look inside in a deep and meaningful way :-)

Jane, your novel certainly used symbols in highly creative ways. Would you share your view of symbolism in your writing and, especially, in your preparations for writing?

To me writing, the telling of a story or narrative, is held together not by “plot” but by a network of images and metaphors. These provide the underlying emotional and organic structure of my ideal work. I suppose this is a rather architectural approach to story. My preparation for writing often involves pages and pages of mind maps of connected  images and lists of events with their corresponding symbols and images.

What’s your process of revision like?

Read it, throw some out, read it, throw some out Read it again, put some back, read it again, put some back You get the idea, lol. But seriously, for me, revision is about finding where the story connects with the underlying symbolism. I look for areas where I’ve been too general in my description, to improve it, and areas where I have no underlying image or symbolic connections. I do a lot of restructuring—juxtaposition of various parts of the text are critical. The work is like a collage in motion and it’s the connections in the collage I’m trying to create. E.M.Forster himself once said: ‘Only connect

Care to share some of your current feelings about publishing?

Probably unprintable But, I truly believe that if many of the famous names in the history of writing were trying to get published today [by traditional publishers] they would be ignored. Nowadays, the process of putting out a work of art, which may be a novel,  seems to have become less and less nurturing and more and more commercial and yet creative projects often have to go through a lengthy process before they are ready to be born—I think there’s a contradiction there. Initially, novels are not commercial products, they are creations, which are then merchandised. However, nowadays, I feel the first stage is often not encouraged because the conveyor belt is waiting for the product ;-)

You give us much to ponder………

Jane, thanks, so much, for coming back and sharing your hard-won writer’s wisdom—looking forward to your next book :-)

Synopsis of Hindustan Contessa

An Australian couple, Milan and Tillie, travel to India. Kidnapped by robbers and incarcerated in a cave, Tillie tells their story. Captured by her sexual jealousy and suspicions of Milan, Tillie nevertheless endeavours to help him come to terms with his own childhood spent with grandparents who held him hostage while his parents travelled overseas. Family intrigue and crises of identity follow the couple as they travel across India. Against the colourful backdrop of India and Venice, this novel tells a story of loss and rediscovered identity amidst magic, obsessions, goddesses and misconceptions in a land where reality and illusion seem to merge. Not just a tale of India but a story of people who try to exist in the global melting pot and for everyone who lives on the edge.

Jane’s Novel at Amazon US
At Amazon UK
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
* Google Author Page

Preparing To Write A Book . . .

I published a novel in May of 2011.

I’m preparing to write a companion book—a collection of 19 short stories that happen in the same universe and time-frame as the novel.

It may be of interest how I prepare to write.

In fact, it may be important to let you know I consider all the Preparation to be “writing”, too.

Putting the words on the screen or page is merely the final phase of the whole Process of Writing.

Is this different from how you may experience Writing? If so, let us know your thoughts and feelings in the Comments :-)

So, the way I Prepare

For the novel, it was 23 years of study—psychology, philosophy, sociology, religion, politics, and a few other topics.

Of course, during those years I didn’t know I was preparing a novel—looking back is what proves it

Then, 11 years of trying out various formats and plot structures—actually, 11 years of life crises (part of the Preparation) with a few intensive attempts to get the Form of the novel shaped

I also utilized my relationships on Book Island in the virtual world Second Life to get some broad concepts from folks—their responses to the over-all Theme of the book.

The putting-words-down part took  about six months.

Then, of course, the attending to revisions sparked by the editor and a few early readers.

Part of preparing to put the words down for the second book is all the additional reading—this time not as wide-ranging as for the novel since my mind has already narrowed down the areas of life that need attention.

Some of the reading has been purely Massaging my Mind—fiction and non-fiction that I’ve intuitively felt would loosen-up the flow from unconscious to conscious

My next task is to re-read the novel Hindustan Contessa by Jane Watson. I’ll be writing my thoughts, feelings, and opinions as I read; sending those to Jane; and, discussing them with her. This task is important to me as a writer—really getting into the larger considerations of the writing process with another person

The next phase is to deeply contemplate the 30+ pages of notes I’ve been compiling for months.

Since the second book is a reshaping of the same themes as the novel, getting to know what I actually wrote in the novel is one of the things I’m doing to prepare—yes, a writer can write things and still need to discover what they actually said :-)

So, then, re-reading the Novel and beginning the final Notes for the short stories

As I’m writing I’ll be sending each story to my Beta Readers—folks who read the novel and want to give feedback on the stories.

Finally, I’ll be sending the stories to two editors

Part of the reason for many Beta Readers and two editors is that me and one of those editors missed 12 typos in the novel :-)

So, that’s a peek into the Process I call Writing.

And, if you’re a writer, what’s your Process?
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Some Reviews Feel Better Than Others

There are reviews and there are REVIEWS.

Even amongst all the good ones, there are those that make a deeper impression on the author.

And, there can be reviews that are good for the book but don’t make the author feel good

It’s even possible to like bad reviews, as was indicated in our post, Bad Reviews Are Good ?

As far as Notes from An Alien goes, the post, “Almost” “Reviews”, had me saying about a particular review, from a humble reader who struggles with the English language, that, “No writer could ask for anything more………

Still, a treasured review from a humble reader is different than a treasured review from another author—cherished in different ways.

There are a few reviews from authors on our Review Page but one was just released that has special reverberations

Jane Watson is the Australian author who wrote Hindustan Contessa.

You can read an interview with her here.

She is my best friend

Some may think that last comment “invalidates” a review of my book from Jane.

But Jane knows me, perhaps better than anyone; and, knowing something about the author can infuse a review with special insights.

I’m including her review here but also giving you the link to it at Amazon since it could help sales a bit if you went to the site and rated or commented on Jane’s review :-)

The Thinking Person’s sci-fi

“I loved this book. Notes From An Alien is a deep epic with many voices, which work together to create a concert of meaning, which is both instructive and profound. The book is quite ‘documentary’ in style and structure, yet the writing has intense lyrical moments which draw the reader in.

“The story, told through science fiction, expresses the belief that world peace is possible and can be everlasting. The writer uses a clever technique of telling the story as a history of a distant planet. Soon however the reader comes to realize that this struggle could be the history of Earth itself in the future.

“The plot turns in many remarkable ways but mostly the book seeds in the mind a desire to think about the worlds it describes and how they may have come about. The characters are finely drawn, not the least is the narrator, Sena, whose voice begins the narration in a most intriguing way. She has a poised intimate voice and her method of addressing the reader is arresting:

“‘I am a woman from a star system about twelve light-years from Earth. If you choose to believe me, my story might be considered a history lesson—how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs. If you choose to not believe I’m real, my tale might be considered a science fiction story about how to achieve unity and peace—a lesson that Earth desperately needs… I’ll proceed on the premise that I am real.’

“How can we resist such an invitation to listen?

“She goes on to make the observation:

“‘And, even though I’m speaking to you now in what’s called first-person point of view, most of the story will be told in what writers call third-person omniscient, which means that the other people in this tale won’t be the storytellers. This is what writers on Earth use to give them more freedom of expression—jumping from an overall point of view to very personal views and back out, much like what a camera does in a movie.’

“Which is apt because, for most of the book, I felt the reader was watching the stories unfold in a cinematic fashion, so much so that I am hoping that someone does make this into a movie! This is Dune without spice but with plasma as a far more potent symbol of connection. In fact as I read on I realized that Plasma was one of the most important ‘characters’ in the book. The concept of plasma as a connecting force or medium is fascinating. I found myself on several occasions looking up the index of science-based books in bookshops looking for the word.

“This is the Thinking Person’s sci-fi, which is more speculative in nature than fantastical. The philosophy is about understanding the self as a part of a broader connected universal family. You are left with the conviction that the events it describes could happen and by the end Sena’s words seem like a prophecy and a warning. Go read it!”
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Author Interview ~ Jane Watson

[ Admin Note: Since this was written, Jane has moved on from Second Life and is creating new Worlds in Discovery Grid]

When I first met Jane Watson, her name was Arton Tripsa. Well It still is and she’s still Jane Watson but Arton isn’t a pen name. It was her virtual name on Book Island in Second Life; and, is still her name in her Worlds in Discovery Grid.

Jane is the author and Arton was the manager of BookIsland—she is the Owner and Builder of the Discovery Grid Worlds. As an author, I greatly admire her. As a manager, she was my boss. As the owner/builder, she’s my Best Friend.

I first spoke about my work as Events Manager in the post, A Virtual World, A Writer’s Mind, And Serious Business That’s Always Fun!, but since then, I’ve made more time for Book Island and Arton has become more than a boss—she’s a confidant And Jane? She’s still the author who’s book I carry wherever I go

[ Since we did this interview, Jane has returned for another interview :-) ]


So, Arton, who is Jane Watson?

I am an Australian writer. My first novel, Hindustan Contessa, was published by Picador in 2002.

Jane, why do you write?

To find out, to access an inner world, to explore the possibilities of an image (because I think am a very visual writer), to process my experience.

When did you start writing?

When I was nine I wrote a ten page novel. It was called, very originally, Kidnapped.

So, this first book of yours

My first novel was published after Picador discovered it at a writers’ conference and gave me a contract on the basis of the first one hundred pages. Then I had to finish it in the next eleven months :-)

That kind of deadline makes me want to ask about your “writing habits”.

I try and write every day. Sometimes I don’t succeed but even when I am not writing I am thinking. I often use reading to inspire me. The writing life is an isolated life. It’s quite hard to arrange contact with other writers  to talk about writing at a time that does not interrupt your own writing schedule. For this purpose, I go into Second Life. It has become part of my writing habit.

Jane, please tell us about the book.

Hindustan Contessa is a novel set in Australia and India which follows the journey of an Australian couple, as they travel in an Indian car to meet the husband’s Indian grandmother for the first time, in his family’s ancestral village. The novel’s title comes from a particular car once manufactured in India, the Hindustan Contessa, which the couple travels in,  and which seemed to me a fitting image of a dual culture. This car, once made by Hero motors of India, was an imitation of a modern Western style car with a dash of Indian style. It attempted, I felt, to have a foot in both cultures. I wanted it to symbolise the cultural identity crisis that the main characters face.

What’s the source of your inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere. Someone once said that a writer’s own life experience is like the piece of grit in an oyster, which the writer’s art and skill then transforms into a completely different and wonderful pearl. Then again, on a more sombre note, I have also heard it said that writing a novel is like driving a car without the headlights on!

Very apt analogy, Jane :-)

What’s your take on the literary community in Second Life?

Very similar actually to the real life one, because, after all, behind every avatar is a real person. I do feel that folks in Second Life are kinder and more generous in the way they receive a piece of work at reading/critique events. The other real difference of course is that the literary community in SL is more cosmopolitan and can provide many cultural perspectives.

What is the Writer’s Studio?

The Writer’s Studio is my office/shop on Book Island. On the lower level, information about my writing is displayed and, on the second, I can often be found writing at my desk. Folks often drop by there to chat with me and everyone is welcome.

[The link for “Book Island”, at the top of this post, will help you get to Arton’s Writer’s Studio]

Jane, what’s next?

I am finishing my second novel at the moment. It is about literary theft.

Thank you, ever so much, for taking time from your writing to give us some insight into your life :-)


Synopsis of Hindustan Contessa

An Australian couple, Milan and Tillie, travel to India. Kidnapped by robbers and incarcerated in a cave, Tillie tells their story. Captured by her sexual jealousy and suspicions of Milan, Tillie nevertheless endeavours to help him come to terms with his own childhood spent with grandparents who held him hostage while his parents travelled overseas. Family intrigue and crises of identity follow the couple as they travel across India. Against the colourful backdrop of India and Venice, this novel tells a story of loss and rediscovered identity amidst magic, obsessions, goddesses and misconceptions in a land where reality and illusion seem to merge. Not just a tale of India but a story of people who try to exist in the global melting pot and for everyone who lives on the edge.

Jane’s Novel at Amazon US
At Amazon UK
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

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