Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Unrequieted Love

A special thanks to Stella at the Ex Libris blog for letting me guest post over there yesterday!  Just in case anyone missed it, I'll re-post it here:

It wasn’t intentional that my first two novels both revolve around the theme of unrequited love.  I just wrote what came naturally to me, and somehow that’s what came out.  It was only later that I recognized the pattern.

No Cure for the Broken Hearted, my first novel, has to do with young love gone awry through circumstance.  The two main characters, Katherine and Nick, fall in love in their teens before they are separated for twelve long years, the heartache left to simmer but never really fade.

My second book, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues, looks at heartache from a different perspective.  This time around there were reasons for the couple, Warren and Ophelia, to split.  As is sometimes the case, those reasons become less apparent over time.  Thinking back, one tends to remember the good times and forget about the bad.

It is only now after finishing my second book that I find myself contemplating the personal importance of this theme in my own life.  Why did I choose to write about it, twice?  I think that everyone has some doubts and regrets on some level regarding relationships from their past, and I’m definitely no exception.  There are always questions in the back of one’s mind about how things might have turned out if only they’d said something else, or done something else.  We have to move past these to get along in the world, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still there, lingering.

In this day and age, those questions are closer than ever before.  In previous generations, it was simply harder to stay in touch with people.  Today, with e-mail and Facebook, all of your past loves are really only a few clicks away.

When I was in high school, there was one girl in particular that I had a huge crush on.  After months of trying to get up the nerve, I finally called her up and asked her on a date at the end of my junior year.  She wanted to go, she said, but she had family commitments.  The next day I left town for the summer.  Sadly I never tried again.  More than ten years later I got an e-mail from the girl.  “I’m happily married now, with two young boys,” she wrote, “but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve never stopped wondering ‘what if.’  I think that everyone has a ‘what if’ person in their life, and I wanted to let you know that you were mine.”

I was floored.  I wrote back and we exchanged a few more e-mails to fill in some of the blanks in our lives and explained what we had been thinking all those years before.  And then we wished each other well and that was it.  I feel grateful that she reached out to me in this way.  It was cathartic somehow, to put some of these ghosts to rest; to let her know I’d cared, and to hear the same in return.

Obviously this experience goes a long way toward explaining why this theme of unrequited love appeared in my first two books.  To me it is personal, yet at the same time universal.  This is one of the strongest emotions there is, full of longing and poignancy, and tinged with the faintest of hope.  Sometimes it can lead to great beauty, and sometimes only pain, but in the end there is perhaps no other emotion that better describes what it is to be human.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fading Days of Summer

After a week with temperatures in the 90's (30's C), it is finally on the cool side today here in Budapest.  There is the sense that the days of summer are coming to an end, both in the temperature shift and the attitude of the people who live here and know that these hot and sunny days won't last forever.

Coming from Southern California, the concept of the end of summer is a completely different one.  Back in Laguna Beach, fall simply means the time of year when you can go to the beach without all of the crowds.  Even winter gives you the occasional balmy beach day.  Here there is the sense that one must take advantage of the summer days while they last.

In that spirit, I took a bike trip with some friends yesterday a few hours north of the city, where there is a nice sandy beach on an island in the Danube.

Closer to the city nobody dares swim in the river, but here the water is deemed to be relatively clean.  It was a beautiful afternoon and I did my best to appreciate it and store that memory away for the cooler days that inevitably lay ahead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to the Beach!

Well, after weeks of cool and often rainy weather this summer, things have really turned around again in a big way here in Budapest.  The sun is out and temps are climbing back into the 90's (30's C).  This morning I stopped off to get some pastries and sat down on a bench to eat them on the way to one of my favorite writing cafes.  All of a sudden, a girl riding past on her bike stopped to say hello.  It ends up it was my friend Marti, who I met in Budapest two years ago and hadn't seen since!  We'd lost touch and while I'd considered looking her up again when I came back this summer, somehow I never got around to it.  Now here she was, right in front of me!  It was quite a nice surprise.  Marti runs bicycle tours in the city, but didn't have any clients for the day.  That afternoon she was heading to Palatinus Strand, the large swimming pool and thermal bath complex on Margaret Island in the Danube, and she asked if I wanted to come along.  How could I refuse an offer like that?!  It is times like this that being a writer is such a luxury.  I headed off to the cafe for a couple of hours, and then met up with Marti and some of her friends for an afternoon at the pool.  Ah, the good life. :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Price Drop! New novel now .99 cents (.86 pence)

Well, one week since Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues went live, and sales are definitely on the slow side.  So far, I've managed four sales on Amazon U.S., one on Amazon UK, and one on Barnes and Noble.  Most of those are from friends and relatives, I'm pretty sure!  So, I've decided to cut the price from $2.99 down to .99 to see if I can get some momentum going.  Thanks to those who picked up a copy at the higher price, I appreciate the support!  Here's the book's description:

Warren August is down and out in Hollywood, flat broke and living on the streets. When he stumbles onto a movie set in search of food, he sets in motion a chain of events that could finally turn his life around. He might even have a chance to win back his beloved Ophelia. Sweet, sweet Ophelia, who broke his heart three years before. But can he hold it together long enough to redeem himself? And will she ever take him back?

Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues is an off-beat romantic novel about discovering what true love really means.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues finally finished!

Ah, what a relief!  After months of revisions, I'm finally done with my new novel, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues.  I posted it to Amazon U.S., Amazon UK and Barnes and Noble in ebook form last night, and when I woke up this morning it was live!  Now I'm off to spend the morning at some of the thermal baths here in Budapest to relax in celebration... :-) 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Photo of the day: Chain Bridge

There is something magical about Budapest on a warm summer night, especially down by the Danube, where all of the city lights reflect up off the water.  Last night I took a bike ride with a friend along the banks of the river, from the Pest side over to Buda, past the castle hill, on down to the Citadel and then back across and up the other side.  This is a shot of the Chain Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in the city, built in 1849.  This was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Budapest.  It is nights like this that make this city such a wonderful place to spend some time...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Library is Open!

Normally that statement probably wouldn't elicit much excitement, but for me the fact that the city library in Budapest is back open is kind of a big deal.  Every year they close the library for the month of July.  Since I arrived in late June, I hadn't actually had a chance to visit the library until this week, but last time I was here in 2009 I used to like to write at the city library regularly.  At that time I was living in the same neighborhood, so it was easy to stroll on over.

This time I live about a 25 minute bike ride away, which still isn't bad.  The Szabo Ervin municipal library is an amazing place to work.  The building is a former palace that was renovated and turned into the main library branch for the city.  The first few floors are fairly modern and look like any other library, but the top floor is stunning.  The rooms were kept intact, with work tables added and some comfy chairs by the fireplaces.

It is easy to lose oneself to imagination here, and pretend that you are royalty, living in luxury.  At the very least, it is the most spectacular city library I've ever seen, and now that it is open, it is back among my regular haunts for getting a bit of writing done.  And a bonus!  They charge for Internet, so as long as I don't pay the fee, that's one less distraction getting in my way!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cost of Living

Aside from the fact that Budapest is an interesting place to spend some time, one of the reasons that I decided to come over here this summer is that cost of living is lower than it is back home in California.  As a writer selling my work online, it doesn't really matter where I live as far as my income is concerned, so I might as well spend my time in a place where things are less expensive.  But how much of a difference is there?  I've been thinking about that a little bit lately, and the results are mixed.  Many things are actually more expensive here.  Others less.  Let's consider a few, keeping in mind that the average salary over here is considerably lower.  For instance, a teacher's monthly salary is only about $600.  Yes, you read that right, teachers employed by the state make about $600 per month.  The princely sum of $7,200 per year.  Someone told me that the average overall salary here is about $15,000 per year.  So, considering that:

Right now I am sitting in a Starbucks, and it is fairly busy, as usual.  A regular tall coffee at a Starbucks in the U.S. costs $1.50.  Here in Budapest, a regular tall coffee costs $4.25.  Nearly three times as much!  Who are all of these people spending their money so frivolously?  I rarely come here, but when I do I get a tea for $2.60, which is the cheapest thing on the menu.  Coffee in most places in town costs about $2 to $2.25.  Still slightly more than back home...

There is a California-style Mexican eatery here with a few locations.  It is almost exactly the same as a Chipotle or the many places like them back home.  I don't actually go to Chipotle much, but the places back in California that I do go generally charge $5-$6 for a burrito.  Maybe $7 at a high-end place.  Here the place charges around $7.50.

Most restaurants here actually cost somewhat less than I would expect them to back home, but not a whole lot.  A chicken Caesar salad at a place I like to go costs about $8.  I would expect to pay $12 back home for the same thing, plus taxes.  Here the taxes are included.  I figure for the most part restaurants are about 20-25% less expensive here.  Food at the grocery store is also a little bit less.

One thing that is definitely cheaper here is beer.  At a bar in LA I would expect to pay $6-$7 for a pint of decent beer.  Here a half liter beer in a bar costs about $2.50.  If only I was a big beer drinker, I'd be all set.

Now so far, it doesn't sound like I'm really making out so spectacularly well here in comparison to home, and perhaps that is true to some extent, but the one thing over here that is far and away less expensive than California is accommodation costs.  Last time I was here I rented a room in a shared apartment in a great part of town and paid about $275 per month plus utilities.  In LA one would expect to pay $800 and up to rent a room.  This time I'm renting a studio apartment from a friend of mine and paying $330 including utilities.  A studio in LA would cost $900 and up plus utilities.  So in general, housing here costs about a third of what it does in LA or Orange County.  Part of that is because in my opinion it is extremely expensive in LA, and it is also extremely cheap (by comparison to lots of places) here.  So that $600 per month I save in rent can actually pay for a Starbucks coffee or two and I'll still be a fair bit ahead!