Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Resolution: Fight the Green-Eyed Beast

New Years Resolution Time!

As usual, I've got a few. I might share others down the road, but the one I want to discuss today is envy. I'm swearing it off again. Yes - again. Attached below is a post I wrote in 2009, which was the last time I gave this subject serious consideration. At the time, I wanted two things very badly, and it was causing me considerable angst, sucking up my concentration and leaving me with a restless, edgy malcontent that wasn't much fun for me or anyone around me.

Interestingly, I eventually got both those things - after a fashion. Nothing we long for  ever turns out to be exactly what we expect, does it? - and I suppose there's a lesson there for another day.

I am one of the most determined and relentless people I've ever met, so my argument against envy doesn't have anything to do with futility. I truly believe we can have almost anything we truly want - which makes it very important to choose wisely.

The list of things I want on the cusp of the new year looks a little different than my four-years-ago list. The big things don't change (my children's happiness, satisfying work and enough money to live on, time with my friends) but the sparkly treasures which beckon on the other side of the fence do. I think I have extraordinary taste - it's not sports cars or granite countertops or collagen injections that I covet - but unfortunately, even the most gorgeously-spun daydreams don't justify rearranging the universe.

I think it's important to let God/Fate/whatever have His/its hand in the unveiling, too. So I humbly pledge to try to give up the clamoring and demanding and grasping, and allow the pebbles to roll down the hill on their own. There's bound to be a pretty one in there somewhere.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There have been only two times in my life when I’ve really struggled with envy. Or more precisely, with wanting what I couldn’t have.

The first was during my teen years. I wanted just about everything that other people had. Specifically, I wanted larger breasts, and to be shorter. I coveted other girls’ clothes, boyfriends, Bonne Belle lip gloss, and so on. Aristotle calls envy “pain at the good fortune of others,” and as I looked around at my peers, every flawless complexion, every new pair of wood-platform Bare Traps, every fresh-minted couple making out outside the band room seemed conjured specifically for my torment.

Time passed. I left my central-Missouri town, that hotbed of unrequited longing, and as I made my way in the world, enough of my cards came up aces that I enjoyed a few decades of relative serenity with my lot. I certainly reaped a bigger haul of life’s bounty than I ever anticipated, at least when it came to material stuff. And I also figured out the very valuable lesson that about 95% of what we end up with is in our control. In a general sense, I figured out what I wanted and set out to get it, and tried to remember to be grateful.

Now I’ve bumped up against the demon again. There are two things I want badly and I can’t figure out how to get my hands on them.

In the first case, I might well be able to have the thing, but there’s a ramp-up that I’d rather skip over, a worthiness I haven’t worked hard enough to develop. I want this thing now, perseverance and temperance be damned.

In the second case, I have no justification for my desires at all. This thing belongs to someone else and there’s no case to be made that I deserve it. I didn’t do anything to earn it. And I can’t have it. Period.

And that knowledge burns. Oh, it burns. Author Joseph Epstein writes: “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” Did he ever hit that nail on the head: go out and commit a little gluttony, lust, or greed, and at least you’ll have some good memories while you’re doing penance.

But envy? It feels like shit. There’s that hollow-gut emptiness, that giddy–with-no-outlet frustration, layered liberally with shame, because, come on, it’s not very nice to want to play with other people’s toys. (Remember how repugnant Woody Allen’s “the heart wants what it wants” justification was?)

The traditional punishment for envy, when one arrives in Hell to do one’s time, is submersion in freezing water. In Dante's Purgatory, envy-ers get their eyes sewn shut with wire. Neither sounds like much fun, but truly, living with envy is its own punishment – it’s the only sin to come with a handy boil-in bag. If you believe in a vindictive God, you probably hear Him laughing as you writhe with envy.

I know of only one cure for envy: time. Eventually you’ll either want something else even more (probably not a sign of karmic improvement) or you’ll rise above, immersing yourself in rewarding philanthropy or a consuming hobby, or become a Buddhist or something.

Neither, unfortunately, holds the least appeal for me at the moment. I prefer to just sit here and suffer.

Shakespeare is credited with the “green-eyed monster” phrase, though technically he was speaking of jealousy. (Our linguistic sloppiness has mired the two concepts in hopeless confusion, but jealousy is usually a 3-person deal where envy concerns 2 people plus a thing.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

In honor of the occasion I thought I'd share a photo from the archives, in which I am wearing a holiday vest, for which I think I should get more points than just an ordinary reindeer sweater. (Though I probably owned one of those too.)

And this is me now. The baby from the first picture grew up to be my beautiful girl, as you can see, and her brother's bighearted and strong. That's enough blessings for anyone, and I wish you your own generous helping of Christmas magic and peace in the new year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

HORIZON - picked for B&N's Best Apocalyptic Fiction

I have been lucky enough to receive a number of really sterling reviews in my time, but this one is on another order entirely, and I just had to preserve it here, so I can look back on it in the future on those tough days when I'm feeling less than brilliant.

I think most authors would agree that the most satisfying feeling is when a reader "gets" you - when they respond to your work exactly as you'd hoped they would, riding the emotional wave that you unleashed when you started the first page. Paul Goat Allen has been that reader for me, and I'm grateful from the bottom of my heart.  Here's an excerpt from his post:

The Best Apocalyptic Fiction Releases of 2012

The Aftertime trilogy is Littlefield’s magnum opus – just a timeless, towering work of apocalyptic fiction.”

Read the full text here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Get Me While I'm Cheap!!

Hey darlin's - - been wanting to experience a little Littlefield for yourself, but don't have a lot of scratch? Well, now's the time to strike...

  - AFTERTIME is the Kindle Scie-Fi/Fantasy Daily Deal for $1.99

AND this is the last few days that you can get BLOOD BOND for $1.99.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sharing Failure

A while back, the New York Times ran a piece by Sarika Bansal titled "The Power of Failure." The idea that we learn and grow from failure is certainly not new, but something Ms. Bansal said resonated for me. She was quoting a woman who runs a nonprofit:

“Not talking about [failure] is the worst thing you can do, as it means you’re not helping the rest of the organization learn from it. It gives [the failure] a power and a weight that’s not only unnecessary, but damaging.”  

This was on my mind as I was thinking about several friends who've enjoyed phenomenal success this year, hitting major publishing milestones that have made them the envy of the book world. Only because I know them personally am I aware that in every case, they struggled and suffered mightily along their path. To a one, they became so demoralized - by poor sales, dropped contracts, caustic reviews, professional jealousy, etc. - that they considered quitting. Series ended; proposals were rejected. In short, before they succeeded, they failed spectacularly.

Their stories are not mine to tell. But I have wondered how many discouraged authors would benefit from hearing that our idols did not experience unfettered ascent to fame and fortune.

The New York Times article suggested an interesting resource, a blog called Admitting Failure. You can read others' stories here or add your own. But I advocate starting smaller. Pick a trusted friend and talk about your failure experience, resisting, if you can, the urge to edit or put a positive face on the event. Talk about how it made you feel in the moment - and how you felt about it several days or months or years later.

What I've discovered is that the more hurtful, embarrassing, and even shaming a failure was in the past, the prouder I feel of having endured and survived it now - and the more likely I am to have learned from it.  Naturally, that feeling is heightened if I later succeeded in a related endeavor - like finally publishing after being rejected many times - but it's also true even if I never succeeded.

For instance, I was never a good manager of people. I tried - I tried with a lot of heart, I must say - when I managed a small technical group at Northwestern University many years ago. But where others lead with intuition and grace, every conflict and disagreement felt acutely painful to me, and my efforts to resolve them clumsy. I did my best to learn and apply techniques of good management, but I have to believe that everyone was relieved when I finally gave up that role.

Still, when I think of the most difficult moments - performance evaluations where I spoke truthfully and was not supported by my superiors, disciplinary measures that resulted in acts of defiance, an accusation of racism against me, and - memorably - an occasion when an employee of mine told me that I reminded me of the nuns in the orphanage where he grew up and asked me if I had bugged his phone - I am proud of myself for having tried. I just wish that I had felt more comfortable talking about those experiences with others.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor...through Lucy's eyes

Next February, my novel GARDEN OF STONES will be released. In the coming months I'll be talking more about the research I did into the Japanese American experience in World War II. I did not anticipate how deeply it would affect me, nor how much time I would spend "inside the head" (a phrase I don't especially care for, but I don't know how else to express it) of my characters.

Lucy Takeda was fourteen years old on December 7th of 1941. She was aware that something was brewing in her neighborhood, but in the manner of teenagers everywhere - especially those who live in relative comfort, protected by their parents from the harsher realities of the world - she was occupied with her friends, school, and boys and gave little thought to the possibility of war.

On that Sunday morning over seventy years ago - which would have been  warm and pleasant in Los Angeles - Lucy's father felt ill, so her mother allowed her to go to church with a neighbor family. Bored by the sermon, Lucy's mind wanders ; then the doors to the church are abruptly flung open and the world will never be the same for any of the Japanese Americans in the congregation.

A bit of that scene is included below. Meanwhile, here are a few images that I find arresting; the black and white photography gives a surreal, almost quaintly cinematic quality to the pictures.

* * * * * from GARDEN OF STONES * * * * * 
On Saturday Renjiro wasn’t feeling well. The next morning, he stayed in his dressing gown to read the paper, and Miyako told Lucy that if she liked, she could go to church with the Koga family from down the street.
Lucy welcomed the chance to sit in one of the pews up front between the young Koga children, her hands folded on her lap as she stole glances around the congregation, knowing she was being admired. Rarely did a week go by without someone stopping her family outside the church to tell her parents how beautiful and well-mannered Lucy was, how much she resembled Miyako. And Lucy knew that she would receive even more compliments than usual after she spent the service seated between the squirming Koga boys, helping their mother keep them quiet.
She wore her navy coat with frog closures and her patent shoes and combed her hair until it shone. Lucy knew she was a beautiful girl, but for some reason this impressed adults even more than the other children in her class. Maybe it was because she had grown up with many of them, seeing each other every day. Now that she was fourteen, Lucy thought she could see signs of maturity in her face when she looked in her mother’s vanity mirror—a narrowing of her cheeks, an arch in her brow that more closely echoed her mother’s. Lucy wasn’t particularly vain, but she had observed her mother carefully enough to know that beauty was a tool that could be used to get all sorts of nice things. The best fish in the case at the market, say; or a seat on the trolley on days when it was crowded.
As the reverend came to the end of one of his long and boring sermons and the congregation stood to sing the hymn, Lucy kept her eyes downcast as though she were praying. In reality, she was staring at Mrs. Koga’s brown pump, noting smugly how dowdy the plain, unadorned shoe was compared to the dressy high-heeled pairs in her mother’s closet. Lucy’s feet were still smaller than her mother’s, but soon they would be able to share—if she could convince Miyako that she was old enough for heels. By the age of fifteen, surely? These were the thoughts she was entertaining when the doors at the back of the church creaked open and two anxious figures burst inside, interrupting the listless singing of “Faith of our Fathers.”
Later she would remember the unfamiliar words repeated over and over by the adults all around her, Pearl Harbor and torpedo and casualties—but in the confusion inside the church all Lucy could think about was that some unknown disaster had taken place and she was here, daydreaming, thinking selfish thoughts while her parents were over a mile away by themselves, her father ill and her mother barely able to take care of either of them. It was the first time Lucy understood that it would fall to her to help them if something bad had happened, the first time she realized that in some ways, her childhood was already far behind her.

Text Copyright © 2013 by Sophie Littlefield
Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.
® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

BLOOD BOND - $1.99 for a few more days

Yikes! Just got word that the promotional price on BLOOD BOND will be expiring in less than two weeks. For now, you can get it for $1.99 at all the usual locations (links available at my web site).

Here's a sample of reader comments so far:

“A finely-crafted, character-driven novel that should appeal to a wide range of readers.” – Badass Book Reviews

“I was wondering how a white female author would be able to portray a male Pakistani detective and I am glad to say that she does an amazing job! Brilliant plotting keeps the story moving forward at the perfect pace.” – Mysteries Etc.

“Joe Bashir is relatable and likeable. And he’s hot. Give Blood Bond a go, and find a new character to love.” – Tez Says

....and you can read an interview where I discuss the book here, at BOLO Books.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Booklist Review of GARDEN OF STONES

Just got my Booklist review, and I'm pretty delighted with it!

Issue: December 1, 2012

Garden of Stones
Littlefield, Sophie
Feb 2013.

Suspense, mystery, and love drive the intricate plot in this moving drama of women in a Japanese American family over the course of three generations. In 1978, Patty is preparing for her wedding when her mother, Lucy Takeda, is accused of murdering a man in her neighborhood. Locals say they could identify Lucy by her horrifying facial deformity. Back to 1942, after Pearl harbor, when Lucy, 14, is called "Jap" at school, and even her best friend avoids her. Lucy cannot speak Japanese; to her, we means Americans. But she and her beautiful widowed mother, Miyako, are forced from home in Los Angeles and imprisoned in the Manzanar concentration camp. Life in the camp is a big part of the story - the grim forced labor in Block Fourteen, the dust and heat and overflowing toilets, and also the sexual abuse that Miyako suffers. How far will she go to save her daughter? Patty sees photo albums with images of her gorgeous grandmother and mother. What happened to Lucy? The shocking revelation is unforgettable. 

- Hazel Rochman


A while back I shared the news that my AFTERTIME series with Harlequin Luna will be re-released in the spring of 2013. Today I got the go-ahead to share the first of the amaaaaazing new covers.

Sugar, you've never seen AFTERTIME like this....

I can't even tell you how much I love this. Pretty much everyone's been stunned into silence over the concept the art department came up with. I guess that's bragging, except I didn't have a thing to do with it. I haven't received my copies yet, but when I do I'll do a little giveaway.

For more information about the book, including some really great reviews and award nominations it picked up when it was first released, go here.