Our towns are filled with people who love to write and get published. Here are a few words of advice from Westporters on how to put pen to paper and get into print.
Dalma Photography by Pam Barkentin Blackburn
Author of The President’s Ultimatum, a political thriller by an eighty-two-year-old, first-time novelist John Cavi (the pen name of John Cavaiuolo)
About the Work: The President’s Ultimatum is a thriller that portrays a fictional storyline in the factual environment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
The forty-third President of the United States, Gerald W. Burke, is entering his second term, and after a lackluster performance during his first four years, senses he must do something dramatic to establish his legacy and claim his place in history. Out of a desire to improve relations with the Muslim world and win the war on terror, and with a strong dose of hubris, he devises a bold plan to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that had eluded world leaders, including his predecessors, for sixty years. He presents both parties with an ultimatum to resolve the conflict on his terms or else. This sets off a chain of unintended consequences that threaten his presidency and his life.
Praise: The one [compliment] that I cherish the most is from my beautiful wife, Ellen. She is my severest critic, and when she read the final manuscript and said the book was excellent, it confirmed what others who read the book said after publication.
Commitment: The President’s Ultimatum is my first novel, and it was conceived and written over an eight-year period, a hectic time of my life. I was in and out of hospitals with a myriad of problems—lymphoma, chemo, stem-cell transplant, TIA stroke, heart attack and sepsis. A side effect from the transplant therapy left me with serious cornea issues. For the first two years, I composed the plot and subplots in my mind because the vision problems impacted my ability to read and type.
While in the hospital for the chemotherapy and the stem-cell transplant, a total of six months, I read over fifty books. One of the topics that piqued my interest was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I read several books on this and related subjects.
Two nonfiction books caught my attention. The first, a doctoral thesis—“A History of the Israeli and Palestinian Conflict,” by Dr. Mark Kessler—presented the conflict from three points of view: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the unbiased version of the author who reconciled the discrepancies of the two antagonists.
The second, a nonfiction book—Gidion’s Spies, by Gordon Thomas—is the definitive book about the inner workings of the Mossad and its operational successes and failures. While reading Gidion’s Spies, I recalled having a vague familiarity with some of the material. It then occurred to me that I had read some of that same material in Daniel Silva’s novels. Silva selected a real Mossad operation that was outlined in Gidion’s Spies and crafted a fictional novel around that single real event. I said to myself, “Hey, I could do that,” and at that point I decided that I would craft a novel around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and depict my fictional solution.
Advice: I feel that the best advice, coming from a neophyte like me, is to persevere. Even in my darkest days, I felt that I would be successful in completing the novel. …I sense I sublimely thought that if I completed the novel, I would somehow also succeed in overcoming all the ills that I was plagued with.
High Hurdle: Because of my vision issues early on, I virtually composed the entire novel, with the various subplots, in my mind in chronological sequence. Thus, when my vision issues were temporarily resolved, it took me nine months to get the first draft of the manuscript on paper—700 single-spaced pages. Reorganizing and reducing the manuscript took five years.
Go-to websites: Goodreads, Linkedin Authors, Amazon’s Creative Writing.
Favorite authors: Over the years I’ve read extensively—from fiction, historical novels, biographies about world and military leaders to books on events that have shaped our world. Hemingway, Graham Greene, Tolstoy, Remarque, Michener, Pasternak are some of the earlier favorites. Woodward, LeCarre, Casey, Ludlum, Silva, DeMille, Forsyth, Flynn, North, Patterson and a host of others are my current favorites.
Coauthor of A Godsend: A Love Story for Grownups, a novel
About my work: My work is about helping women feel and do what they really want rather than what they “should” feel and do. Freeing them from ancient ideas that leave them exhausted and depressed—it’s taking an evolutionary leap that frees everyone else, too.…I get letters from women in Turkey, Greece and Portugal saying I’ve changed their lives.
Writer's block: I wrote magazine columns for ten years, so I got the hang of just sitting, staring, weeping and having a kind of nervous faith in the unconscious.
Fellow writers: When I see anything by Alice Munro I haven’t read, I grab it. That unique, meandering style of hers, and those ordinary people...her stories stop my heart.
Advice: I’d love to say, “Write what you want; in your voice!” But making a living is desperately hard in a content-hungry world that expects writers to write for free, so that lofty advice is meaningless.
Cheery pairings: We created a drink called A Godsend,* which is a take on a manhattan (since the protagonists meet in Manhattan), but uses ingredients from their regions. So it’s bourbon, maple syrup, Meyer lemons and bitters. It tastes a bit like a bourbon margarita.....or a sweet/sour mint julep. Heaven!
Author of The Water Wars, a fictional account of teen heroes in a resource-depleted future
About the book: My latest book, The Water Wars, is a YA [young adult] “dystopian” novel about a near-future world in which the supply of fresh water has run out.
I’ve written an adult novel, and two works of nonfiction. I’m currently writing a book about the running boom and the 1970s (for Houghton Mifflin) and working on another YA dystopian novel.
Advice for budding writers: Read. Everything.
Favorite place to write: At my kitchen counter very early in the morning when only the dogs are awake.
Beating writer's block: Coffee and chocolate are the best drugs to get me over the hump when I can’t think creatively.
Call of the aisle: I love Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
On the pedestal: I am a huge admirer of David Foster Wallace, for his sheer creative genius. As a kid, I loved reading science fiction by Frank Herbert,
Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood. I love to relax with something funny by Carl Hiaasen. When I was younger, I think I read nearly everything by Faulkner, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Photographer of In the Garden, a pictorial journey through Fairfield County’s most gorgeous gardens.
About my work: In the Garden was inspired by my passion for garden photography and the challenge of trying to make a lush and elegant book to celebrate the beauty of the American garden and the stories of the people who create and nurture them.
Kudos: Cynthia Conigliaro, the owner of Archivia Books in New York, said, “It’s really beautiful—kudos! The images are quite magical and lovely, and it’s a great visual reference for garden designers, dreamers, historians, photographers.”
Favorite photographer: I’ve been inspired by Irving Penn, Ralph Gibson and Ernst Haas—for different reasons but primarily because of their masterful ability to frame an image and their poetic use of color. And Jay Maisel. And William Waldron. And Simon Upton. And Johnny Miller…. Shall I go on?