Monday, January 23, 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

A few evenings ago when I was in state of inner turmoil, I read this poem.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear for what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. 
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

The peaceful world of East Prussia before WW2
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property

  The magic of a peaceful world so eloquently expressed, led me to remember where true stillness lies. Closing the door to my home, I went down to the water to "rest in the grace" of the ocean's waves lapping against the shore.

  As I sat on the beach lost in a world of problems, a school of blue runners swam past, their silvery sides flashing like coins in the last rays of the fast setting Bahamian sun. How alive they were! How free and ready to jump and flip and change directions. How "untaxed by forethought of grief."

Blue Runners
 Watching them, something of their natural essence was transmitted to me. I had the sudden feeling that their beauty was drawing me out of my mental quagmire. As the disquiet in my mind subsided, I thought about my grandparents and what they must have felt during the war "when the despair of world grew inside them" and they "feared for what their lives and the lives of their children might be."

  From reading my grandfather Walter von Sanden's diary, I know that near the end of the war, on January 22nd 1945, just before embarking on the great trek that would forever take him and my grandmother away from their beloved home in Guja, East Prussia,  he too awoke in the night and went down to the water.

My grandfather by the water
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  Standing at the edge of the lake with a heart full of grief, he listened for the sounds of nature—the rustle of dry leaves in the winter wind, the soft crunch of a rabbit's paws on the snowy path beneath the linden trees. Waiting for dawn, he watched the sun rise, its first rays touching the reeds that lined the shore. Beyond the far embankment, the snow blanketed fields of the estate stretched out before him. He swallowed hard, knowing he would never again stand in that familiar stillness on the land he so dearly loved.  

 Great Crested Grebe with her eggs—this photograph
was taken by my grandfather in Guja, East Prussia long before the war.
He was well-known for his photographs and books about nature.
The environment was his passion.
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  Nevertheless, he felt embraced by what he saw, empowered even—despite the dire worldly circumstances, enemy gunfire moving ever closer—by an intelligence greater than his own. Only nature could imbue him with this kind of strength. The stillness outside in the trees and the lake, in the rocks and the earth, made it possible for him to access the realm of stillness inside. From him I learned that when humans become still, truly still, they go beyond thought. This is nature's gift to mankind. In nature's solace, the great troublemaker of arising thoughts is quieted and we are returned to faith and God and the sacred mystery.

Guja, East Prussia
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  My grandfather was a naturalist.  He was fully present in the world of plants, birds, animals and other natural forms of beauty. I am grateful for this sacred understanding that was passed down through the generations, first to his daughter Owanta—my mother— and then on to me. It has helped me move through life's difficulties with a kind of deep-rooted trust drawn from another dimension, one that is not visible yet clearly exists in the peaceful dignity of a flower, the strength of a tree, the innocence of a bird. Furthermore, his wisdom helped me write The Last Daughter of  Prussia.

My mother Owanta Gisela von Sanden as a little girl in Guja
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  When he and my grandmother fled Guja that night, they looked up at the waxing moon and "the day-blind stars." For the last time, they closed the heavy oak door to their home, leaving behind all personal belongings, all objects of sentimental value. Taking just their bicycles, they set off on the dangerous journey. A flock of cranes was passing overhead. They pedaled on, carrying with them the thought of survival and knowing that like the birds, they were free "for a time" of all earthly attachments.

The house in Guja as they left it in winter

(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
Until next time...

–Marina Gottlieb Sarles

c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's in a Book Cover?

  What's in a cover?  A whole lot, I'd say, as in this day and age packaging is everything. The old adage, Don't judge a book by its cover, doesn't hold water anymore. No one reads a book before they make a buying decision. Once we pick up a book in a store or pull it from a shelf, we ALL judge it by it's cover. And only if that cover is compelling will it spark our interest and encourage us towards a purchase.

A book cover for my grandfather's book
"The Flying Gemstone" printed in the 1950's
Since then, covers have become one of the most important selling components.

  I'm writing about this today because for the past weeks I have been steeped in the process of finding the perfect cover for MY book—The Last Daughter of Prussia. With the finished manuscript in hand, I began to wonder what kind of cover would truly speak to the theme of a novel that encompasses so many subjects—war, history, love, loss, survival, horses, gypsies, nazis, aristocrats, East Prussia and mythical amber to name a few. I had no idea which way to go. How could I conceive a cover that would  portray my voice, my style and my message? I had tried a few things but nothing really grabbed me right in the heart.

This was a cover my friend Christine kindly worked up as an idea
quite some time ago before the novel was finished
However, we both knew that although it had elements of the story and it was catchy,
it wasn't quite right

  Feeling rather daunted, I turned to my talented friend, Paula Boyd Farrington—a human amalgamation of dynamic graphic artist and brilliant muse who knows The Last Daughter inside out and who shepherded my first book Sand In My Shoes into being.

This was rough draft of a cover that Paula worked up.
Again it had elements but it was too busy.
Still, I'm sharing it with you so you can see how the process starts the creative juices flowing.

  Dialoguing over cups of hot tea (which always ended up turning cold), we decided on several ideas. I was drawn to horses because they are powerful and represent the true heroes in the story—the Trakehners. Paula chose a woman wearing an amber amulet to represent the potent femininity of my heroine—Manya. Both of us felt the cover needed an appealing "snowy old-world feel" that included both struggle and hope. But how was this to be depicted without bringing in too much or too little?

Another very rough draft.
We loved this horse—the movement of the mane  but it didn't quite capture the themes in the book.
All the same we were getting closer..
And although we did't use this cover, I adore this horse.
 She reminds me so of Shambhala—Manya's Trakehner mare— also a Last Daughter of Prussia

  With images swirling in my head, I rose to make coffee (something I always do when I need inspiration) and then, with fresh steam rising from our mugs, we turned to making mockups. They weren't perfect of course, but each one held important elements of the written story. The next day, I sent our creations, along with the synopsis, to Tim Ogline—the savvy cover designer who works with my publisher. He wrote back immediately and asked if we could talk on the phone.
  "He thinks our ideas are crap," I mumbled to myself while anxiously dialing his number. But Tim didn't. In fact, he praised what I'd sent him saying it gave him direction. What he really wanted though was to hear how I felt about my book. Within seconds of hearing his calm, friendly voice, my anxiety was replaced with the overwhelming passion I have for this book and its living characters. And Tim got it.

  It didn't take long. During the next two weeks there were a number of e-mails from Tim in my inbox. Now, this is where I must honestly say that because of my emotional attachment to my book, the process, though madly exciting was equally unbearable. My heart would pound like crazy before I opened any of Tim's designs, my mind buzzing with thoughts like—Oh my God, no, this isn't it! That's not strong enough. What will we do? There's not enough snow to show the bitterness of winter and war, to...Oh my God, yes, I love this one! But wait a minute, we need a feminine aspect to represent The Last Daughter, like a woman's eyes compelling us to come closer. Where will we find those eyes? And the blue needs to be soft yet bright. And what about the horse? Is it the right color? Does it portray the intelligence and power of a Trakehner? So many questions, changes, fine tunings. And finally...Oh wow! They are all so fabulous! I don't know which one to choose?

My friend, brilliant muse and ever so supportive sister in kind, Paula Boyd Farrington.
There isn't a person in the community who hasn't been touched by her  generous heart
or helped in some way by her to usher in the creative goddess.

  Well, one thing I do know is that in all creative undertakings we need help. We need a matrix of friends to support us with honest input. We need thoughtful critique from people who know the business and can say this cover will stand out in your historical romantic fiction category's crowd. Luckily, I have no shortage of advisors. My editors, Joy Stocke and Kim Nagy of Wild River Books were right there to guide me, keep me calm and on course. Paula, seeing Tim's three gorgeous covers side by side, knew immediately which one would snag the reader's attention. My friend, Christine Matthäi willingly donated her beautifully haunting photograph of eyes which said it all. My twenty-two year old son, Nikolai, who is more into basketball than reading was very clear on what he thought would hold a reader's interest and I listened to him because he represents the average person who will spend 8 seconds looking at the front cover.

Nikolai my trusted advisor
  And now that cover has been chosen I must say I'm satisfied. I keep the image on my computer screen and look at it all the time as it represents the culmination of years of writing and hard work. I love it. Its more than I ever hoped for and like I said in my last post—I wish I could show it to you right now! But  I can't. Nevertheless, I promise you'll have a sneak preview before the book actually comes out in September.

 Until next time...

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles