Will my story resonate with anyone?

a man and woman dancing tango

When you write a story, you never know if it will resonate with anyone. Then a person like Dr Beatriz Copello writes a review and you find yourself dancing with joy, thinking how blessed you are.

Beatriz Copello’s review was published by The Compulsive Reader and you can read it below:

A review of The Usual Story by Libby Sommer

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

The Usual Story 
by Libby Sommer
Ginninderra Press
Paperback, ISBN: 9781760415792, July 2018, $27.50, 80pp

The Usual Story by Libby Sommer takes the reader into the life and mind of Sofia.  Sofia is a middle-aged woman, a writer and very much involved in dancing, particularly Tango.

Tango, a dance that was born in the 1800s around the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the dance of port workers and women of the night. Nowadays, this complicated and elegant dance is very much in vogue and danced around the world. Tango gives some sort of skeleton to a large part of The Usual Story. Other sections deal with relationships from the past and the present.

The reader gets to know Sofia as she dances and relates to the other dancers who participate in the Tango classes. In an interesting way Sommer mixes in her text Sofia’s tango adventures and lessons with her thoughts and love experiences, as well as evocative descriptions of her surroundings.

There is something in human beings that makes them ponder relationships. Sommer, with a very fine narrative, engages us in Sofia’s analysis of the past, particularly in her relationships with her parents and with two of her younger lovers J and Tom. The writer has the ability to create very believable characters. She handles feelings in a measured and unsentimental way. The author says about J:

Little by little, I’d learned new things about J. Once, when staying with him in that first summer, I found him lying on my bed with so pitiful a look on his face that I couldn’t see into it. It was very painful to realise how utterly defeated he looked; everything about him was different to what I’d seen before, out of sync, closed down, remote, his very guts hanging out in front of me.

Every now and again we encounter in the narrative some profound thoughts from Sofia. She reflects: “I think that when you are really stuck, when you have stood still in the same place for far too long, it’s almost as if a bomb needs to go off, to get you to move, to jump, and then to hope for the best.”

The Usual Story contains many things about the every day, the mundane, the routine of living but it is presented in such an engaging way that the story becomes real. It is impressive the ability of Sommer to fragment the narrative when we encounter Sofia’s visits to the psychiatrist. We read about her participation in Milongas, asking relatives about her past, and about love and its many facets. All of these interspersed with poetic descriptions of place. Sydneysiders will recognise many areas of the Eastern suburbs in Sommer’s vivid imagery. The following is one of those descriptions that has cinematic qualities:

The sea looks different every day. Today it’s a mid-grey tone, its surface moving in a gentle tugging motion as a container ship moves south along the horizon. A moist breeze brushes my cheek as the waves make a hushing noise as they curl into the sand of the beach. I watch the colour creep slowly into the clouds. A flock of lorikeets balances on the bare branches in front of me.

There is a certain melancholy in The Usual Story which I believe stems from the relationship of Sofia with her mother and her daughter. Relationship between parents and children can be very complicated. As sons and daughters we tend to arrive at a different view of them according to our age. As children, our parents are like gods; as adolescents they can be our enemies; as adults we tend to be more objective but we are too busy with our own children to spend time analysing these relationships. We may also depend on our parents to help with our progeny and this clouds our assessment. A different thing is when we get to that same period of life:  our third age. It is then, when we have lived and experienced life, that we can be more objective in the evaluation and appreciation of our parents. Sofia is at that stage and she can see clearly her mother’s distant and cold behaviour, but there must be in her a grain of insecurity so she wants to check what she thinks she knows. She wants to be sure. So she searches through memories, analysing them, confirming facts with other relatives.

Sofia’s relationship with her daughter is not perfect either. After seeing a mother and a daughter embrace each other with love she says: “They embrace and then walk to the door, still entwined. I feel a pang of wistfulness for my own daughter as I watch them walk away. My daughter who hadn’t wanted to spend a weekend away, just the two of us. She’d said we make each other tense if we’re together too much. But she’d said it in a kind voice.

‘You don’t mind, do you?’ she’d asked.

I did mind. ‘At least you’re honest with me,’ I said.”

As a psychologist, I found The Usual Story fascinating because the characters are so interesting and authentic. As a reviewer, I enjoyed the book’s clear narrative, perhaps a little leisurely at times, but the pace picks up engaging the reader with a beautiful text.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.

Print and ebook editions of The Usual Story available from Ginninderra Press, Amazon, Book Depository and other online booksellers.

3 Parts to a Great Blurb

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Your book’s blurb is crucially important. But writing a blurb is harder than we think. A great blurb is short and sweet, gives away enough of what’s inside the book without giving any plot spoilers. It draws the reader in.

‘A three-act structure. You want to catch the reader’s attention, give them the content, and then give them a reason to care.’ – Author Unlimited

Have a look at this YouTube video by international best-selling self-published Romance writer Alessandra Torre. She tells a terrific story of how she went from 3 book sales a day to thousands by changing her blurb:  The Blurb Equation – How to Write a Kick-Butt Blurb.

 

The Blurb Equation (Alessandra Torre)

INTRO + HINT + CLIFFY

 

1. PART 1 INTRO:           the characters or situation is introduced.

2. PART 2 THE HINT:     what the story is about, the conflict or climax.

3. PART 3 THE CLIFFY:  what’s going to happen? Hooks the reader.

Alessandra says to keep the blurb short. More than four paragraphs is too long . Three paragraphs of two to three sentences is best. Don’t give away the plot.

Keeping all this excellent advice in mind (although I’m not a Romance writer), I’m continuing to sweat over the draft blurb for my new book THE USUAL STORY, due for  July release by Ginninderra Press. Please use the comments section to give any constructive feedback. I’d love to know what you think.

It’s especially difficult for me to write a satisfactory blurb for THE USUAL STORY because it is really a collection of connected short stories. I’ve linked the stories by using the tango dances and dancers, the painful ending of a brief romance, and the main character’s search in her past for answers.

Tango is the dance of passion, forcing partners into an intimate relationship. Sofia loves the tango, but at the dances she must face the truth of her ageing in our society that has very little use for anyone who is not young.

In the painful aftermath of a brief affair, Sofia goes in search of what she actually knows about herself and the past. As she looks for answers in dark corners, we begin to see, as does Sofia, the elusiveness of understanding and memory – the psychological space where recollection and loss collide.

If you liked The Crystal Ballroom you’ll love this book: a story of memory, intrigue and passion.

 

I hope this Blurb info is helpful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.

 

 

 

The older woman in fiction

men and women dancing

My new book, The Usual Story (Ginninderra Press) is due for release mid 2018. Like The Crystal Ballroom, The Usual Story is set in the dance world and will add to a small pool of literature that addresses the issue of the older woman in fiction.

‘In this unusual book Libby Sommer puts women’s psyches under the microscope – their hopes and dreams, fears and foibles – yet always with a deft touch and a sympathetic ear.‘ –  The Crystal Ballroom review, Women’s Ink! magazine , November 2017

two tango dancers in red black and white

The Usual Story touches on the stages of a woman’s life:  childhood, adolescence, marriage, motherhood and grand-motherhood. It’s created from asides, snapshots, glimpses, encounters and memories. The numbered sections provide a container for the chaos as we meet this woman in mid-life change. How will she come to terms with the truth of her aging in a culture that has very little use for anything that is not young?

Set partly in a seaside suburb of Sydney the story is played out against a response to nature, using the poetry of the Australian seascape to celebrate the beauty of this country. The presence of the sea throughout suggests the enigma at the heart of all life processes, the fact that certain things can’t be captured in words, can only be hinted and gestured at.

Together with many other developed countries, Australia’s population is ageing. Over the course of the 20th century, the proportion of people aged 65 and over has tripled. The baby boomer generation form a prominent part of Australia’s population, and as most fiction readers are women over forty the book will reach a group of people who are increasing in number but who are often ignored in literature. Most novels, if they have a heroine at all, depict her as young and beautiful, whereas middle-aged women, the majority of the readership, have no role models.

Although publication of The Usual Story is still more than six months away, we are looking at ideas for the cover. It will probably have a similar look to The Crystal Ballroom, perhaps in red, black and white with a dance theme. The publisher will make the final decision.

So then comes reviews for the back cover. Any suggestions for reviewers?

Header image Pinterest:  Beryl Cook – Dancing the Black Bottom

 

 

One-Page Review of The Crystal Ballroom

author holding copy of The Crystal Ballroom

 

I was delighted to see a one-page review of my novel ‘The Crystal Ballroom‘ in October Quadrant magazine (available now in newsagents or on-line).

Penelope Nelson writes:

‘Have you ever heard Latin American music coming from an upper room over a shop, and lingered briefly at the sign about dancing classes? Perhaps you have seen people–a man in built-up shoes or a woman with a surfeit of silver bangles–heading for an old town hall after dark. The world of ballroom dancing and tango lessons has its own etiquette and hierarchies. Libby Sommer’s new fiction ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ lifts the lid on the delights and pitfalls of this fascinating sub-culture …

‘Sommer has great skill in creating atmosphere. The music, the swirling scents of aftershave and sweat, the decor of ballrooms, flats, motels and shared tents are powerfully evoked …

‘Some of the best passages in the book express the joy of dancing:

We’re practising walking the length of the hall. Alberto says that in Buenos Aires students of tango spend two years just learning to walk properly.  “Extend forward,” he says, “step forward, only placing the weight on the extended leg at the last moment, toes pointed, sides of the feet staying connected on the floor.” Then backwards with a straight leg, torso pulled up, chest up and out, and with a partner again, always there’s that special connection with a partner.

Hopefully, this wonderful review by Penelope Nelson will give sales of the book a boost. ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ is available directly from Gininnderra Press, in bookstores, and online.

red and black The Crystal Ballroom book cover

 

 

 

Another great review for The Crystal Ballroom

 

The Crystal Ballroom book covers

I was delighted to read another wonderful and insightful review of The Crystal Ballroom this morning. It’s on Goodreads.

Here’s an extract:

An intriguing book, neither a collection of short stories nor a novel, but a series of vignettes – snapshots − of women, no longer young, but who are determined to wring every drop of verve and excitement out of life. Most of the action is revealed in conversations over coffee or drinks, between the protagonist, Sofia and her friend Ingrid. The ‘glue’ holding the story – or rather stories − together is a love of ballroom dancing and the venues in which such events are held, in particular the Crystal Ballroom, which is a character in its own right. 

In this unusual book Libby Sommer puts women’s psyches under the microscope – their hopes and dreams, fears and foibles – yet always with a deft touch and a sympathetic ear. 

You can read the whole review here.

A novel-in-stories

The Crystal Ballroom red and black book cover

Three weeks till launch of my second novel ‘The Crystal Ballroom’, a novel-in-stories.

So what is a novel-in-stories? One famous example  is Elizabeth Strout’s Pullitzer Prize-winning ‘Olive Kitteridge’.

‘A penetrating, vibrant exploration of the human soul, the story of Olive Kitteridge will make you laugh, nod in recognition, wince in pain, and shed a tear or two.’ – Goodreads

‘In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.’

yellow Olive Kitteridge book cover

A novel-in-stories, or connected short stories that together become more than the sum of their parts,  is also known as a short story cycle.

‘A short story cycle (sometimes referred to as a story sequence or compositenovel) is a collection of short stories in which the narratives are specifically composed and arranged with the goal of creating an enhanced or different experience when reading the group as a whole as opposed to its individual parts.’ – Wikipedia
The Canterbury Tales book cover
‘A novel-in-stories is a book-length collection of short stories that are interconnected. (One of the very first examples of this genre is The Canterbury Tales; a more recent example is The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank.) A novel-in-stories overcomes two key challenges for writers: the challenge of writing a novel-length work, and the challenge of publishing a book-length work of unrelated short stories. (Few publishers are willing to publish a short-story collection from an unknown writer.) So, the novel-in-stories helps you sell a story collection like you would a novel—as long as the interconnected nature of the stories is strong and acts as a compelling hook. Another advantage to novels-in-stories is that they afford you the opportunity to publish pieces of your novel in a variety of literary magazines, which might attract the attention of an editor or agent.’ – Writer’s Digest

‘The Crystal Ballroom’ is connected by place and by a first person narrator and her friend who exchange stories about the characters they meet at the singles dances as they search for a regular dance partner.

The book will be launched by Stephen Matthews on 1 July in downtown Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop at an afternoon of launches and book reading to celebrate Ginninderra Press’s 21 years of independent publishing.

Counting down. Can hardly wait.

Book cover reveal

'The Crystal Ballroom' book cover

The book cover at last! My second novel, ‘The Crystal Ballroom’ will be published by Ginninderra Press in May this year. Pre-launch copies available next month. A very exciting time for me.

Here are a couple of reviews from the back cover:

‘Libby Sommer lays bare the foibles of human nature in her finely observed stories of love and loss in the singles dance scene. Brilliantly drawn with wit, compassion and poignancy, the characters you meet in The Crystal Ballroom are sure to remind you of someone—maybe even yourself.’ – Jan Cornall, Writer’s Journey.

 ‘Libby Sommer exposes the secret lives of the single men and women who dance at The Crystal Ballroom. Authentic and powerful, this unique book will be loved by the dancers and readers.’ Frida Kotlyar, Ballroom, Latin and Argentine Tango dancer.

What do you think of the cover design? I love it 🙂

I Am Not the Stories I Tell

Creative Commons picture

Sometimes when people read my stories they assume those stories are me.  They are not me, even if I write in the first person.  They were my thoughts and feelings at the time I wrote them.  But every minute we are all changing.  There is a great freedom in this.  At any time we can let go of our old selves and start again.  This is the writing process.  Instead of blocking us, it gives us permission to move on.  Just like in a progressive ballroom dance:  you give your undivided attention to your partner—keep eye contact for the time you are dancing together—but then you move on to the next person in the circle. Continue reading