Thursday, February 28, 2008

Misha’s Tale: What Are A Publisher’s Obligations?

Since the story of Misha Defonseca’s hoax has become public there has been no shortage of writing about the opinion that Jane Daniel, Misha’s original publisher, should have known better. Well, everyone has 20/20 hindsight and knows what should have happened. However, this brings up the question of how responsible should a publisher be before publishing a book. Three things occur to me at the outset:

1. Prior Restraint – The Constitution of the United States of America offers protections against prior restraint and for good reason. No one should be prevented from saying/writing/publishing what they want to however as soon it is sid/written/published others are well within their rights to object and file suit against what is said/written/published if they wish. This is why O.J. Simpson had a right to write If I Did It and Rupert Murdoch had a right to publish it, despite objections by the Browns and the Goldmans. As soon as it was ready the public had a right to object to it which they did. That is how Democracy works --- there is the right to have your say and the right to object to what is said. I hope no one wants to mess with those concepts!

2.How True is True? – Imagine this, what if Misha had come to Jane and said “I was abducted by aliens.” Should Jane have refused to publish her book? Publishers publish books that strain credibility all the time --- alien abductions, the Loch Ness monster, channeling Elvis, living with wolves… Just because it strains credulity doesn’t mean the publisher has a right to deny the person who wrote it the right to publish. I hope I won’t shock anyone by saying this but publishers publish book to make money! Shocking, I know but there you have it. If a book is successful both the publisher and the writer make money. And the publisher generally makes a whole lot more than the writer. The average author of a paperback bestseller that sells for $5.95 makes 85 cents on each book sold. A publisher is obligated to make sure that nothing in the story is libelous/slanderous but is not required to fact-check what the author says is part of their story. Furthermore the contract that Misha signed with Daniel specifically stated that everything in the book was true and autobiographical. From that point on everything she wrote was her responsibility and not the responsibility of the publisher.

3.Widespread Support – At the time Jane Daniel met Misha Defonseca, Misha had been telling her tale in synagogues around Massachusetts for a couple of years. She had a strong following in the local Jewish community and the support of respected Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Joanne Yocheved Heiligman of Temple Beth Torah in Holliston. Regardless of whether Daniel personally found the story credible there was much belief in and support for the story. The story was also supported by wolf experts such as Paul an Joni Soffron of Wolf Hollow, The North American Wolf Foundation. In the face of such strong support, Daniel had to make a decision between those who supported Misha and her story and those who said they didn’t believe in it. She chose the former. Serge Aroles, the French authority on feral children, has written of how he was branded an anti-Semite when he raised objections to the story. Had anyone questioned Misha’s tale back in the mid-1990s they could well have heard the same objections.

So how responsible is a publisher for the veracity of the work they publish? If the author they publish signs a contract stating that the information in their book is true and the publisher cannot find anything libelous or slanderous in the book that is all they are required to do. Jane Daniel did her job. She was working with a liar but she did not know that. If publishers stop publishing books that strain credulity where will it stop? Can we take the chance to NOT publish books because they might be inaccurate and untrue? All this talk about "due diligence" and publishing reminds me of a story:

A little over a century ago there was a woman who published a book about the atrocities she witnessed perpetrated on people who had no way to object. No one believed her and many were outraged that anyone would print such lies --- but then things changed and her book became the beginning of a devastating war. When Abraham Lincoln was first introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe he said, “So you are the little lady who started this great big war.” There will always be books we don’t want to believe, but we can’t start preventing them from being printed. It works both ways...

Thanks for reading.



******
Posted yesterday following the Yahoo News story in which Misha said her publisher, Jane Daniel made her write the book:

So, she is still blaming Jane Daniel for whatever she can think up to blame her for. If what Misha NOW says is true, why did she effectively kill the book that Daniel published by bringing a lawsuit against her that resulted in a $22 Million judgement against Daniel and in favor of Misha but then she took the book to Europe and, on her own, without any help from Daniel, republish the book (making sure to change her birth name so no one could track her down) in SEVENTEEN different languages, lecture and make personal appearances in schools and other venues, and sell the book to the movies? How did Jane Daniel make her do that? And furthermore, if Misha was so reluctant to publish her story, why did she bring the lawsuit in the first place? She accused Daniel of not doing ENOUGH to promote the book (despite an offer from Oprah which Misha refused to cooperate with and an interest from Disney which Misha now claims she turned down).

So let me get this straight:

1.) Misha now claims that she didn't want to tell the story but Jane Daniel persuaded her to do it.

2.) Misha then brought a lawsuit against Daniel for not adequately promoting the book (despite the Oprah and the Disney opportunities) --- for failing to promote a story Misha claims she didn't want to tell.

3.) Misha receives hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the lawsuit in addition to the rights to the book that she then takes to Europe to publish and has translated into 17 languages and sells to the movies (the story that she didn't want to tell except Jane forced her to do it --- yeah, right).

4.) Misha also accuses Daniel of not verifying the story before she published it despite the fact that Misha signed a contract which states that Misha certifies that the story is absolutely true and biographical. (Daniel plans to publish the contract on her blog tomorrow.)

So, Misha has confessed to perpetrating a fraud that sold thousands and thousands of books AFTER she won an egregiously high amount from her original publisher while taking publication rights away from Daniel. But, even though Daniel had no say in the seventeen translation rights, the Italian operetta, the school books, the film by Vera Belmont, and the speaking engagements, it is still all Jane's fault.

Where will Misha Defonseca's lies stop?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MISHA ADMITS IS WAS A HOAX!!!

Order BESTSELLER! by Jane Daniel at Laughing Gull Press.

According to
Le Soir, the largest newspaper in Belgium, Misha Defonseca just admitted that her story was a hoax: Article in French!

Too Many Questions
One of the most interesting things to me about the Misha Defonseca controversy that has occupied most of my blogging for the past week is the incredible role the internet and blogging has played in this story. The original book, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust, was published in 1997 by Mt Ivy Press. At that time the internet was nowhere near as commonly used as it is now and who could have known it would be. Then the lawsuit was brought by Misha against Mount Ivy and for 10 years Jane Daniel and her lawyers were so embroiled in the legal firestorm that ensued that there was little time or space to gain perspective on the story. Finally, in the summer of 2007, with her last efforts to save herself from financial devastation destroyed, Jane stepped back and began to collect what little remained for her. Her best hope was that the whole miserable debacle would at least provide her with material for a good book. So she began writing.

I have been a blogger for nearly three years now. Blogging didn't exist in 1997. The more Jane and I talked about her plans for her book the more starting it as a blog made sense. She could perhaps get some people interested in her ordeal and also provide useful information to the thousands of independent publishers that the latest trend in digital printing has spawned. She hoped that along the way some new information about her case would come to light that might help her. In August 2007 she started BESTSELLERtheBook.blogspot.com.

For several months she posted chapter after chapter. The idea of the veracity of Misha's story was something she and I discussed, especially after she came across the bank cards in the trial documents. From the time the book was published many people had questioned the veracity of the story but Jane had whole-heartedly believed it when Misha first told it to her and, when the book was about to be made public, she worried about people doubting it and set about finding credible authorities who would endorse it. However, when she thought about the information on the bank cards --- Misha recorded her birth date as being 3 years later than she claimed in the book and that her mother's maiden name was Donvil, not a Jewish name --- she began to give serious thought that there were some disturbing discrepancies.

In December Jane was contacted by Sharon, a genealogist who had discovered her blog. Sharon had read with rapt fascination and she had a few ideas. Based on her experience as a professional genealogist she was seeing discrepancies that were far more interesting. It was at this time, thanks to Sharon's contacts in Europe, that she and Jane discovered that the book had been translated into 17 languages abroad and that a movie was about to be released --- something Jane knew nothing about. Why, she asked, would Misha work to ruin her own book in America (read Jane's blog for details on this) then turn around and publish it in Europe?

Sharon acquired a copy of the French book and began reading it and recording notable differences between the information in the original American book and the French book. Two things stood out. One, all the photos that appeared in the American book had been removed from the French book and, two, Misha's birth name had been changed from Monique DeWael in the American book to Monique Valle in the French book. What was the meaning of that?

Thus the sleuthing began. And it quickly yielded results --- the Baptismal certificate posted below was discovered followed by the school record. Why had no one found them before? The answer is simple --- nobody was investigating the childhood of Monique DeWael. They were investigating the childhood of Monique Valle and finding nothing. Misha had signed both her bank cards and the deed to her house as Monique DeWael so it was logical to assume that was her correct name. Could it be possible that the name Monique Valle, in the European book was a deliberate attempt to mislead?

As evidenced by the posts on this blog and on BESTSELLER! once the name DeWael was used by searchers there was a rapid progression of information and ideas. Bloggers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean began sharing information and the information they shared became more and more damning. Monique Valle might be a mystery girl without a past but Monique DeWael was not.

The story is still unfolding but one huge question has been plaguing those of us closely involved in this story: Is it possible that Misha realized she made a huge mistake by using her real name in the American book --- a mistake that could reveal her as a fraud? Is that the reason she was so difficult about promoting her own book and, ultimately killed it with a horrific lawsuit, then took the book to Europe, changed her name, removed her photos, and published a book that soon became a great success abroad, was translated into 17 languages, made into an Italian operetta and eventually a French film? In the era before the internet would we ever have known about this discrepancy? We live in the information age but information isn't much use unless it is shared and accurate. Is it possible that the internet and information shared on blogs revealed information that was not intended to be discovered?

In Costa- Gavras's 1989 movie The Music Box, one of the lawyers warns another about going in to court against a Holocaust survivor saying, ''You don't have a prayer. Holocaust survivors are this century's secular saints.'' In 1997 when Jane Daniel was forced into court by Misha Defonseca's accusations against her Daniel didn't stand a chance regardless of what she had or hadn't done. Misha was known as a Holocaust survivor --- that was all anyone needed to know. Now, in 2008, as the evidence mounts that Defonseca is neither a Holocaust survivor nor a Jew a new devastation is happening. Holocaust-deniers and neo-Nazis are using her hoax to support their cause. More destruction. The pain this woman has caused seems to be endless. But I still believe that the truth will put some of the pain to rights --- for my friend Jane and for all the true Holocaust survivors who have to endure the derision resulting from lies.

Thanks for reading.

Addendum
After I posted this blog I received the following information from Sharon Sergeant of Ancestral Manor, the genealogist I mentioned in the blog. This provides additional information on how she went about her investigation. I found it so interesting I wanted to share it here:

I actually got 5 versions of the book to compare - US, French, UK, 
Italian and Japanese. The discrepancies over time were quite difficult
to track, so we first focussed on a picture time line to give our
research a rudder in developing theories to test in the records. The
photos were removed from the French version. Like the name change from
De Wael to Valle, the removal of the photos was a red flag.

I worked with two expert photo analysts independently on the photo
time line:
Colleen Fitzpatrick www.forensicgenealogy.info
Maureen Taylor www.photodetective.com

1. The US records had given us some clues that were not in the various
book versions or the interviews, but we still had to expedite sorting
out likely vs unlikely in the conflicting statements.

2. Visual Time Line
I augmented the 1997 US publication photos with others
found on the internet.

Colleen and Maureen were both able to confirm the likelihood of the
theories I had formulated to test in the records:
"Misha" is likely to have been born in 1937, rather than 1934.
"Misha" may be related by blood to the persons she identifies as Marthe
and Ernest DeWael - instead of the "foster" grandparents identity she
gives them.

This visual time line and basic hypotheses are important as we wind our
way through various threads in the records methodology.

3. Street and Phone directory searches
The Belgian libraries revealed a skeleton summary of Valle, De Wael,
Donvil/Donville, and Levy names and addresses in greater Brussels -
particularly Schaerbeek and Anderlect communes from 1911-1977.


3. Negative Proofs
The purported Jewish parents, German Jew Reuven and Russian Jew Gerusha,
were not found in the Belgian databases for Jewish deportees.

Other researcher commentaries on the realities of this era include the
unlikelihood of the "Misha" claim that Reuven could pass for Aryan and
worked at the "town hall," and thus manufacture new identity papers for
"Misha." Identity papers were manufactured, but not as depicted. These
types of revelations become more important when we follow the
paper trail.


4. Baptismal and School Records
The child that matches the US public records for "Misha" was found in
the 1937 baptismal registers of St Gertrude Parish of Etterbeek, Belgium
- shutting off the surname search for Valle (as changed in the 1997
French publication), even though "Misha" said the French version in her
native language was the "real" story.

Ernest De Wael is named as her godfather, and Josephine Dillemans is her
godmother on the baptismal record. We learned that grandparents were
often godparents in the tradition of the times - adding fuel to the idea
that Ernest and Marthe De Wael were her real paternal grandparents, and
that her maternal grandmother was Josephine Dillemans.

Following the Schaerbeek address given on the baptismal certificate, we
located that neighborhood elementary school, and found Monique De Wael
entering first grade in 1943, daughter of Robert De Wael, a Schaerbeek
town employee.

There we also found Marguerite Levy, sister of Monique De Wael's first
husband Morris Levy, living in the same neighborhood and starting first
grade with her.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Misha Controversy Grows

I suppose by now many of my regular readers are tired of the Misha Defonseca controversy but there has been so much happening in the last few days that it is hard to avoid talking about it. I was contacted by David Mehegan, a reporter at the Boston Globe, to give my perspective on this story yesterday and he is interviewing Jane Daniel today. The controversy around Misha Defonseca continues to grow and, since I have been talking with Jane about this for a couple of years now, the outcome is important for many reasons --- not the least of which is justice for Jane who has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in this case and whose home and place of business is now under threat.

Today, a link to Jane's blog BESTSELLERtheBook@blogspot.com was posted on Michael Rivero's What Really Happened web site and the hits have been off the chart. There were 243 visitors in the last hour alone and they keep on coming. Jane will be doing a radio interview with him this coming Saturday.

But one of the most interesting stories I have encountered came from LaMeuse, a newspaper in Brussels yesterday. The following is a rough translation of the article sent by a contact in Belgium.

I said so!
It states that two of Monique friends (Alice and Fernande) wrote to
the women's magazine "Elle" when there was an article about Monique.
Their answer was: you are jealous of her success.

In 1997, Fernande called Laffont, the French publisher, to warn them of
the lie, but they did not listen to her. Fernande also warned Michel
Bouffioulx (Belgian journalist), Mireille Dumas (French TV talkshow)
and other media persons that interviewed her. No answer.

A few months ago, when Monique went on air for the Belgian public
station RTBF, Fernande also called and they told her not to play with
"fire" . She was told " you cannot laugh about this woman's misery."
Fernande says she does not understand how Monique managed to make
believe with this story to so many people.

Fernande says "I was 13 in the 1950s and Monique was 4 years older than
I, we were neighbors. She lived on 69a rue Dr. Jacobs in Anderlecht
with her grandfather, a wonderful man who had nothing in common with the
family she describes. We saw each other after 4.pm (after school) to
play cards or in her garden because she had a swing.

She belonged to a very good family and lived in the most beautiful house
on the street. Monique was always 'special'. She wanted to be the
'star' where ever she went. Power, money and glory, that is all that
interested her."

Alice knew Monique a little later, sharing the same teaching studies in
"Berkendael" (well known teaching school in those days) . She remains
puzzled. "She never spoke of anything, neither of her parents nor about
the past. If she had really lived such an adventure, definitely, we
would have known about it. I went to visit her in Boston, 17 years ago.
[circa 1991] She told me that she was preparing 'a surprise.' When I
asked her to tell me some more, because we were very close, she
answered: 'You will see.' In fact she was preparing all this for quite
a while. She always had the dellusions of grandeur, but here, she really
took big risks."

The rest of the article summarizes Jane's court battle, the docs on the
blog & other reports.

There are also several pictures, including Erenst De Wael's house.

And so this story continues to unfold thanks to the power of the internet and bloggers. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Literary Fraud II

Since posting my blog yesterday I have received literally hundreds of visitors, mostly from France and Belgium, reading about the Misha Defonseca issue. I have thought a lot about this whole story and it is a difficult one to talk about because no one wants to believe that anyone would perpetrate such a hoax but, as the evidence that it is a hoax grows, the full range of outrages such a thing creates becomes increasingly painful.

There have been no shortage of literary hoaxes. Probably the most famous in recent years is James Frey's A Million Little Pieces which he originally wrote as fiction but then published as nonfiction. It was his appearance on Oprah, and her support of his story, that escalated the book to large scale attention. His book contained a lot of lies and exaggerations and, when those came to light, Oprah was justifiably angry about it. But did his book hurt anyone? Other than the embarrassment/hoodwink factor, probably not. If Misah Defonseca's book proves to be a hoax it is quite another matter.

First of all there is the lawsuit against her publisher, Jane Daniel and Mount Ivy Press. I won't go into the details of that case, you can read them on Daniel's blog BESTSELLER! But the hurt certainly doesn't stop there.

There is an authority on wolves and feral children in Europe, Serge Aroles, who wrote a book on the subject. In an article about Defonseca on his blog Loup.com (it is written in French) he states that when he wrote the book he considered the Misha story so preposterous that he didn't even consider it for the book. My French isn't that great but I was able to read enough to understand that he found so many of Misha's statements about life among the wolves to be so bizarre that he couldn't take her story seriously.

The premier of the movie based on her book has created a great many fans who adore the story and love Misha for writing it. Following a 2005 interview in La Mague: Le Journal Culture, many fans posted to support Misha and tell her how much they loved her and admired her for having the courage to tell her story. Her fans want to believe in the heroic little Jewish girl who crossed Europe on foot in search of her parents and lived among the wolves. If, in fact, Misha's story turns out to be a hoax, how will all those fans feel? Had the story been written as fiction they would still love and admire her for creating such a wonderful tale. But if it turns out to be a hoax a lot of them will be horrified.

Research lends credence to the possibility that Monique Ernestine DeWael (Misha's birth name) may well have lost her parents in the war. The man listed as her father on the baptismal certificate was arrested as a partisan and died in a death camp as did her mother. But so far there is no evidence that those people were Jewish. Defonseca has written that she was a "hidden child", a Jewish child given the identity of a child who died and whose death was never recorded. The Monique Ernestine De Wael on the Baptismal certificate, she claims, died prior to 1941 when Defonseca's parents were captured and taken away. But, even if that is true, we still have no answer as to who the child registered in a primary school in 1943 was, when Misha claims she was living with wolves in Poland.

We know that during the writing of her book, Defonseca was given a tremendous amount of support, both financial and emotional, by various Jewish groups her in Massachusetts. They believed her story and wanted to help her. Now, as more and more evidence points to the possibility of fraud, how are they to feel about this woman they embraced and supported?

But the most damning statement was made today in Regards, an online newsletter serving Belgium's Jewish community. Historian Maxime Steinberg says that, if Misha's story is a hoax it may be the biggest Holocaust fraud of the decade and, sadly, serves as one more tool for those who would deny that the Holocaust even happened.

So, while Misha's story, and the movie made about it, may be a lovely and inspiring tale, the opinion that it is built upon a fraud continues to grow.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Memoir of the Holocaust or A Literary Fraud?

Order BESTSELLER! by Jane Daniel at Laughing Gull Press.

I have written here in past blogs about the story of Misha DeFonseca, the woman who wrote Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust which has recently been made into a French film titled Survivre avec les loupes. The original book was published in the United States by Mt. Ivy Press and became the subject of one of the most astonishing judgements against an independent publisher in New England history --- $33 million against a small press for engaging in "deceptive business practices". The "deceptive practices " were that the publisher claimed she could make the book a best seller. As I've said before, EVERY publisher tells their authors that --- and every author wants to believe it.

For 10 years this case has spawned lawsuit after lawsuit. In August 2007, Jane Daniel, the owner of Mt. Ivy Press and the woman who has lost virtually everything she owns in the this mess, began a blog BESTSELLER! The Book at bestsellerthebook.blogspot.com. In the prologue to the story she said that she hoped that the blog would serve as a stimulus for others to come forward with any information they had about DeFonseca. Now, it would seem, someone has.

A geneologist with contacts in Europe has supplied Daniel with some interesting documents that she posted to her blog this morning. The first is a Baptismal certificate issued in
1937 at St Gertrude's Parish, Etterbeek, Belgium for one Monique Ernestine Josephine De Wael:
This is accompanied by photographs of the young Monique Ernestine DeWael that were published in the American version of the book. DeFonseca claims she was 7 years old when these were taken shortly before she set out on foot to walk across Europe to find her parents, victims of Hitler's Holocaust. If one believes the Baptismal certificate, DeFonseca would, in fact be 4, in these photos. If I am any judge of children she looks a lot more like a four year old than a seven year old.
The question is, does the child in the photo above look capable of setting out on a trek on foot across Europe with only the aid of a tiny compass her grandfather taught her to use?

But more interesting than the Baptismal certificate and the photos, is a school record:
1943 Primary School No 2 Register, rue Gallait 18:
Six years later, in the same neighborhood where her parents lived when
she was born, Monique De Wael, daughter of Robert De Wael, employee of
the Schaerbeek town administration and Marguerite Levy begins school.
Marguerite is the younger sister of Monique's first husband Morris Levy,
who's father was also named Morris Levy, occupation film distributor,
wife's name Germaine Reps.

The caption states that not only was Monique De Wael a student in a primary school in 1943 when she claimed to be living among wolves in the Ukraine, but one of her classmates was the sister of her future husband.

What does all this mean? Well, we can only speculate at this point but it certainly raises a lot of questions. The main one being if Misha DeFonseca was trekking across Europe with a pack of wolves in 1943 in search of her Jewish parents, who was the little Catholic girl with her name in a primary school in Belgium at that time and who would later marry the very same man Misha married and who is the father of her son?

When Judge Elizabeth Fahey tripled the judgement against Jane Daniel and Mount Ivy Press she accused her of misrepresenting her publishing company's ability to promote Misha's story. In Daniel's blog she writes about the difficulties she encountered in promoting that book because DeFonseca was uncooperative about the promotion, including throwing up roadblock after roadblock about appearing on the Oprah show (what writer in her right mind blows going on Oprah?) Now, with these new documents that have come to light it makes one wonder... What was it that DeFonseca was really trying to block? Everyone loves DeFonseca's story. We all want to believe that a heroic little Jewish girl would be capable of doing what she says she did and all the animal lovers in the world are in love with the story about her life among the wolves. It is a fairy tale we can all love.

But what if it is a fraud? What if she concocted the story and that deception resulted in the loss of millions of dollars to the woman who published her book? What if it destroyed her reputation and put her through years and years of legal nightmares? Is it possible that there was far more deception going on than Judge Fahey ever dreamed of?

Visit the Bestseller! Blog, read and draw your own conclusions.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Being A Valentine

This is a repeat of a Valentine's Day column I wrote for the newspaper back in 2004. It seemed like a good time to repeat it here. Happy Valentine's Day, my beloved readers!


"You must love this time of year," people often say to me, "I'll bet you get tons of Valentine's!"

I inherited the name Valentine from my father along with my blue eyes and an inability to let anything drop.

"No," I tell them, "no more than anyone else."

"Still," I often hear, "it's such a romantic name. You must really love it."

Ah, well, yes, I do love it but as to romantic...

Romantic is a curious word. In this day of romance novels and ultra-aggressive commercialism, people have come to equate it with love and sentiments designed to manipulate the emotions - to appreciation if you are the receiver or to envy if you are not. But "romance" used to mean something quite different. My dictionary gives this definition: "A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic or strangely beautiful." I love that!

For years I have believed that a romantic life is something we create day by day in our own unique ways. Somehow we have gotten the idea that we have to wait for the magical person who will transform us into handsome princes or beautiful princesses to have a romantic life but following the dictionary definition each of us possesses the possibility of filling our lives with romance every single day. I think it is about approaching your life as an exciting adventure, one holding new possibilities at every turn. I think it is about making a life instead of waiting for a life to happen.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell often wrote and spoke about "the hero's journey". He encouraged his students at Sarah Lawrence, and the thousands of people who read his books and watched his PBS series, to undertake the quest inward to get to know oneself. Inside each of us is an entire world of strangely beautiful possibilities.

I am always astonished at the creative ways people find to add lovely moments to their lives. In this age of utter exhaustion, when there is never enough time, it's a challenge to tuck moments of bliss in between taking care of kids, commuting, long hours at the job, family obligations, the endless lists of "shoulds" that crowd our lives. And yet so many people do.

I am a recent convert to the world of lovely teas. I always thought of tea as something for people with daintier tastebuds than mine. I was chatting online with my friend Paul who moved to Paris a few years ago and said I wished he could send me an afternoon in Paris, my life has been so demanding lately. A few weeks later a package arrived. In a beautiful black and gold pouch was a tea named "Afternoon in Paris". I brewed a pot and was swept away by the combined fragrance of sweet oranges, luxurious vanilla, and intoxicating roses. I fell in love.

Not all of us can be as daring as Paul who, following a bitter divorce, took a consolation trip to Paris and, after a week there, decided he wasn't coming back. He's lived there ever since. But I believe that we need dreams and we need to find small ways to approach those dreams. Books can take us there and music, hobbies and lovely teas or wines.

I read recently about a man who dreamed of a life as a writer. He set up a table in his basement next to the washing machine and every night found an hour or two to work on the novel he had been thinking about. When it was ready for publication he sent it out many times before it was bought by a small, low volume press that printed a short run and then failed to promote it. The writer, still believing in his dream, took what savings he had and bought a thousand copies from them. He spent weekends driving around setting up a little cardtable in front of Walmarts and trying to sell his book. He said some days not one person so much as looked at him. But eventually he sold the copies and started work on a second book which did much better. His name - of course you are dying to know this - is John Grisham. He was a man who believed in his dream and turned it into an adventure. A dream is a valentine from our soul.

When we take that heroic journey inward we embark on an adventure that lasts a lifetime. We discover that we are all amazing gifts waiting to be unwrapped and discovered. We are all Valentines.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Creative Economy

Last night I attended a meeting sponsored by the local Tourism Council designed to bring together business and organizations involved in the local tourism industry. It was an encouraging meeting with about fifty people present representing inns, motels, restaurants, and various organizations including museums, art galleries, artisans, etc. The purpose of the evening was simple --- to see if we could all find ways to work together to offer visitors to Gloucester a more diversified and culturally rich experience. A lot of ideas got born.

What I learned, I guess i never knew this, is that when visitors stay in local inns they rely heavily on the expertise of the innkeeper to advise them of where to shop, eat, and enjoy themselves. The more material the innkeepers have to draw on, the more they can offer their guests. Quite a few of the innkeepers talked about this and we brainstormed on ways to supply the innkeepers with regularly updated and current information about what is going on.

Some years ago I had this bright idea that I called Inn Touch with Art. It was a collaborative program between local inns and local artists and performers. The artists and performers would come up with a list of things they could offer to show their work --- poetry readings, musical performances, painting demonstrations, author's talks, etc. The innkeepers would offer the space in which to do this. A solo musician could perform in the parlor of a B&B, an artist could hold a painting demonstration in the garden, etc. Both the inns and the artists would promote the events through their web sites and flyers in their places of business and a schedule would be created monthly that would be distributed through all the local visitor's centers.

I knew that it would be a lot more complicated than it sounds and would require a tremendous amount of dedication on someone's part to get it off the ground but I keep thinking about it and hope to someday find a way to get it going. I think last night's meeting might prove to be a good starting place.

There was a lot of discussion of creating "packages" too. A package could consist of a discount at an inn, as well as at a couple of restaurants, and a list of events going on at various places ranging from the art associations to the whale watches and more. All of this is really interesting to me because I have been involved with the trend toward a creative economy economy. Many of the artists, writers, and artisans whose web sites I manage want to draw the attention of visitors to our area. I also do web sites for inns and function halls that rely on tourism and want the most to offer their guests. It's all loaded with potential and just requires organizing. When I design web sites I often recommend that lists of links be added and, in some cases, we also add a blog where the site owner can keep guests and/or customers updated on the latest things they have to offer. One guest house even posts recipes and restaurant recommendations to her blog.

We are living in times when business is changing drastically and requires a great deal of creativity to succeed. Creativity in two forms --- being creative in how you market what you have to offer and tapping into the allure of the art offerings that are so abundant in a place like Gloucester. Cultural Tourism is a growing market and, in an area like this where this such a super-abundance of cultural offerings, a little creative marketing can yield some very worthwhile results. The internet is, of course, one of the best tools most of these businesses have to make use of. Most travelers today spend a lot of time online researching the areas they plan to travel to and having a web site that is both beautiful and informative is a great start.

So Thursday I am going to another meeting for a new "package" called The Art Lover's Package. We hope to come up with some creative ideas for offering an intriguing package to cultural tourists. This is an exciting and creative opportunity for local arts organizations and local businesses to partner to create, create, create.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is Mercury Retrograde Again?

I swear I can tell when Mercury goes retrograde. It's like somebody pulls the plug on my life and nothing moves the way it should. We were talking about this on Saturday because it was our Needleworker's Group monthly meeting and everyone was talking about how they feel stuck right now. One member said she blames it on Lent --- that during Lent things seem to be more of a challenge than they are at other times of the year. I never thought about that but I mentioned that Mercury was retrograde and therefore I was frustrated. A Mercury retrograde during Lent is especially a challenge it would seem.

I actually have no idea what Mercury retrograde means. I just know that when I am going through one of those periods in my life when it seems to take twice as long to accomplish anything it usually turns out that Mercury is retrograde. For what that is worth.

This has been a strange winter for me. It is very cold (well, it's very cold for everyone) and I seem to lack any sort of confidence that things will be different. I am mindful of the fact that tomorrow is the first anniversary of my father's death so I am bearing that in mind right now. But there is something else going on --- a lack of confidence in the future of our country, for one thing. I'm really discouraged by the elections so far. It has become a contest among rich folks and consideration for the rest of us seems to becoming increasingly distant year by year. The cost of heating our homes this winter is getting increasingly painful for many. Business is more of a challenge. All the sorts of things that drain the life out of average folks.

I've always considered myself fortunate that I have so many passions in my life and I still find comfort in that. Yesterday I worked on a short story I am trying to pull together for the next Level Best Books anthology --- that's always wonderful. Then I decided to sort through a closet and get rid of a lot of clothes I just never wear anymore. And that was good too because I realized that since I've been eating healthy and losing weight, there is a lot of stuff that has worked its way to the back of the closet and can now move on to new homes.

I called my sister and we talked about cooking and her kids and sewing and the things we love. One of the joys of having a sister like Lisa, someone who is so much like me in her love of the homely arts, is that when I need a shot of enthusiasm I can pretty much always count on her. Her sewing machine has been in full gear recently and I love to hear about all her projects. She told me she and a friend have been getting together to sew from time to time. They take their projects to each others' houses and work together thus accomplishing a lot more. That's how I feel about our needleworker's group --- we spend four hours together and in that time all of us do far more than we ever would alone.

So it is a good time to finish up tasks already begun and lay low waiting for Mercury to straighten out and get things moving again. I have quite a few projects in need of attention --- both work projects and home projects. The simple truth is that the country and the weather and the world and the economy are going to do what they are going to do regardless of what I want. I can work to try to minimize their impact on me but, for the most part, I just have to learn to deal with it. We all do.

Life goes on. Spring comes. Mercury goes direct eventually and there is the promise of lilacs. Times like these are a good reminder to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and have faith. There is a higher purpose to all of this and, even when it seems unfathomable, it is still there. The Benedictines who raised me say "Ora et labora" --- Pray and work.... Not a bad reminder.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Promoting Books with Video

Since the launch of the promotional video for The Old Mermaid's Tale I have received a lot of requests for information on how I did it. I have posted a steb-by-step instruction on the blog of IPNE: Independent Publishers of New England.

Please stop by to read if you are interested.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Book Promotion and Soul Identity

First of all I want to announce the premier of my first ever promotional video. I created it for The Old Mermaid's Tale and it is now on the web: The Old Mermaid's Tale Video. This is a promotional venue that a lot of authors have been using but which is all new to me. It was great fun to create and I hope people like it. The people who have previewed it all ask "what did you use to do that? Well..... a lot of stuff. I assembled the images in Photoshop, put them together in Flash, and edited the sound in InAudio. The video you now see is a Flash movie and my next challenge is going to be converting the Flash movie to video format --- an MPEG or other video format --- so it can be uploaded to video servers like Google Video and YouTube. I'm still not sure how that is going to work but I'll let you know!

Now on to another matter. Some time back I started reviewing independently published books here. That proved to be a daunting task because the simple truth is there aren't a lot of independently published works of fiction that I consider to be of sufficient quality for me to promote them. These days I am much more in sympathy with literary agents and publishers because the simple truth is lots of the independent books I've tried to read are just awful Fortunately there are some shining exceptions. Dennis Batchelder's Soul Identity is one of them.

Soul Identity by Dennis Batchelder


When it comes to pure creativity, Soul Identity is worth reading for that alone but there is a lot more to it. The premise of the novel is that a powerful but secretive business, Soul Identity, has developed a method whereby the progress of one's soul from one lifetime to the next can be tracked and identified. This allows people to save their acquisitions from lifetime to lifetime thus amassing a considerable fortune over lifetimes and also creating "collections" of tools that will give them advantages from one lifetime to the next. A fascinating possibility. And Batchelder has done an amazing job of defining the technique for doing this. But now Soul Identity is being threatened by a possible competitor and there are mysterious internal issues too. Into the situation comes Scott Waverly, a non-believer who earns his living detecting security holes. His job: to find out what is going on and how to stop it. The rest of the book is a mixture of adventure, forays into the philosophy that forms the basis of Soul Identity's business, and a touch of romance.

Batchelder writes well with a quick, light touch, a dry sense of humor, and a remarkable authority of technical knowledge. His characters are not only multi-dimensional and interesting but, in many cases, highly entertaining. Waverly himself is a likeable hero who hovers on the brink of being a smart-mouth but never quite slips into that trap. He is funny, droll, sure of himself in his work but not quite as confident when romance appears --- a pleasant combination. He is assisted in his business by his parents, two very charming and engaging characters. Along the way we are introduced to a number of other intriguing characters including Scott's neighbor Berry, a Santa Claus look-alike with an interesting past, Madam Flora the fortuneteller who works for Soul Identity and her daffy twin granddaughters, and a host of Soul Identity employees with unique personalities and roles to play.

The story moves quickly as Scott and Val, the beautiful computer genius and Soul Identity employee he is falling in love with, travel around the globe in search of the information they need to lead them to the book's final confrontation.

Not only is Soul Identity an entertaining read but it explores some intriguing questions about life, death and what the hereafter means. Batchelder has created a remarkable world that draws you in and keeps you entertained from beginning to end.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Annoying Art of Self-Promotion

"Self-promotion" --- the very words set one's teeth on edge probably because at this time in history most of us are aware that it is necessary if we are ever going to accomplish much of anything. It is exponentially important depending on how much your own livelihood and well-being are dependent on your own efforts. To get a job we need to promote ourselves and our abilities. To improve our businesses we need to promote what we can do and what we have to offer. To pursue our avocation we need to promote whatever it is that we love. It is all very necessary and, if you are a person who was raised by modest, moderate people, it is often very difficult.

I was thinking about all of this over the last few days because I decided it was past time to do some work on my own business web site. I spend hundreds of hours working on other people's sites to promote their businesses and their products and their art and their books and very little time promoting my own. Part of my reluctance to do this is just that "good little Catholic girl" sense of modesty and self-abasement. Well, I haven't been a good little Catholic girl in a number of decades so it is time to get over that.

So, this weekend I worked on the home page of Valentine-Design and I actually like the results. Of course now I have to work on the inside but that seems less daunting now that I have the new home page in place. Take a look. I have a lot of new web sites to be added and quite a bit of other material too. This year's projects have included a lot more Flash "movies" and they need to be included as well.

Actually, making the Flash movie for Valentine-Design's home page gave me a bright idea. A lot of author's these days are promoting their books by creating slick, attractive little videos --- sort of commercials --- that they post to the web to promote their books. I thought about this a lot and decided to give it a try. I have a ways to go before my commercial (actually I'm told they are called "promotional videos") is ready to go public but it quite a lot of fun to work on. There's a lot to learn about Flash and about music editing. There's also a lot to consider --- how do you fascinate and intrigue without giving too much away? And do it in less than a minute?

We live in a tough world where competition is fierce. The World Wide Web has given us a powerful tool in allowing us to do business with the world but, at the same time, we are also competing with the world. It is not a good time to be shy about what we can offer!

Back when my whole cyber-harassment situation was going on one of the things that my harassers kept whining about was that I spent all my time promoting myself, that everything I did was all ego, all about wanting attention, all about me, me, me. One of them is still whining about it. That effected me deeply for quite awhile until one of my friends consoled me saying, "You're promoting what you can do, what you have to offer to others if they want your skills and your talents. That's not only not a negative thing, it is a wonderful thing."

I think it is important for all of us to remember that. We all have something to offer and if we are lucky enough to be able to earn a living doing that we are doubly blessed. On the sidebar of this blog there is a poem attributed to Marianne Williamson that says "who are you not to shine" and "you do not serve the world by playing small". It says that when we let our own lights shine we encourage others to do the same.

So I hope you will look at my new home page and that you will check back to see my book's promotional video. And, most of all, I hope that today and from now on you will let your light shine --- heaven knows the world needs all the light it can get these days.

Thanks for reading.

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