“This Angel on My Chest” by Leslie Pietrzyk

(Leslie was one of my mentors in Converse’s MFA program)

Angel

This Angel on My Chest by Leslie Pietrzyk is a collection of linked short stories is both difficult to read and hard to put down. It is difficult to read because it is based on Leslie’s own life–becoming a widow at a young age–and entering into the grief of each of these women is a hard thing. But also a wonderful thing as each story is told in a different format, with a different point of view.

Pietrzyk’s writing draws the reader into the small orbit of each woman’s struggle with the unexpected death of a loved one–how does one continue on when such a devastating event threatens to bury you as well? But each character does, in her own way and in her own time.

Pietrzyk’s book is the winner of the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was one of the Best Books in fiction of 2015, according to Kirkus Reviews.

 

“The Bookshop Book” by Jen Campbell

Bookshop

I want to open a bookshop after reading Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book, (but I won’t because I know it won’t end well–I can’t very well sell books that never make it to the shelves because I need to read them first. Quality control you know.)

Campbell’s book is filled with tidbits and interesting details about books, bookshops (mainly in Europe, esp. England, but there are a few from other places around the world), readers and writers.

The book itself is divided up into easy sections for reading; but the most difficult part about this book is putting it down.

From Campbell’s website:

Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops…

The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.

That it is.

Facebook

Twitter

 

Living a Creative Life without Fear is “Big Magic”

Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity and being creative

interested me in her newest book Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear. What draws me to Gilbert’s theories on creativity and creative living is her willingness to embrace mystery and the unknown in regards to the creative process. Her words are a challenge the status quo regarding creatives in general and writers in particular. I’m not going to list them all, but just a few ideas that caught my attention and made me think deeper about the creative process.

CreativeGilbert writes in a clear and encouraging manner, defining living a creative life as “living a life that is driven more strongly about curiosity than by fear” (9) and then writes about how to allow your curiosity to trump your fear. She writes “creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this…fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun” (13). Fear is a constant companion to those practicing any type of creativity; “This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it (13). Gilbert tells you what to do about it, and it isn’t the same tired advice about working through, shoving aside etc. She makes space for her fear; “plenty of space” (24).

It isn’t like a lot of books on creativity I’ve read and that is a good thing. I’ve never bought into the “books are like my children” line of thought; no, my children are far more precious and special than any book I will ever write.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear. Riverhead Books: New York. 2015. Print.

Guilty pleasures-Amish Quilt shop mystery series

guiltyguilty

Book information here

Every once in a while it is nice just to read something because the books are fun reads; guilty pleasures if you will. I started with Isabella Alan‘s first Amish Quilt Shop mystery Murder, Plain and Simple, because she has set the series in territory not far from my home, and I wanted to see how she fictionalized real places, because it is a technique I am trying to integrate into my own writing and I wanted to see how someone else did it and did it successfully.

Murder, Simply StitchedI was hooked after the first book and ordered the rest of the series. Not because I am enamored of the Amish (I don’t get the fascination to be honest), but because Alan has created likable characters, both Amish and non-Amish; given the heroine a love interest, complicated by the fact his former wife lives in the area; she loves her parents but clashes with her mother; and it is all written with a sense of humor–even though these are cozy mysteries and dead bodies are involved, and the Angela feels compelled to help the sheriff bring to justice the guilty party.

Angela Braddock is a transplanted Texan. She moved from Texas to Rolling Brook, Ohio, after inheriting her Amish aunt’s quilt shop. She is also trying to get back on her feet after her fiance breaks off their engagement. Her French bulldog–who suffers from a bird phobia–moves with her and is unsure of what to make of all the fresh air, grass, and wildlife. He is, after all, an urban dog through and through.

Murder, Served SimplyHer partners in crime solving are Old Order Amish women; members of her late aunt’s quilting circle. Colorful characters in their own right, they are joined by the handsome sheriff and non-Amish citizens of Rolling Brook, including a tea shop owner whose tea concoctions are some of the worst ever foisted upon civilization.

 

 

Murder, HandcraftedMurder, Handcrafted is due out this summer. I’ve already per-ordered mine and am anxious to see what trouble Angela and the residents of Rolling Brook are up to now.

 

 

Help #SaveRuminate-Ruminate Literary Journal

Photo property of Ruminate
Photo property of Ruminate

#artmatters and that is why it is so important to #saveRuminate. I’ve subscribed to numerous literary magazines over the years, letting some subscriptions expire, debating with myself about if I should renew or not with others, but with Ruminate, there is never any thought of letting my subscription go. It is one of the few literary journals I’ve held onto throughout the years and not having it around anymore is just to painful to think about. But it could happen. The all-volunteer staff is exhausted and they need paid help to keep going. So—are you in or out? I’ve made a donation, signed up for a monthly donation and for today and tomorrow subscriptions and gift subscriptions go to saving Ruminate.

Repost: “The Perils of the Perfect Past. The New Past, According to Social Media”

Loving this post by Daphne Strassmann

Like most people these days, I willingly deposit bits of myself online every day, through shopping, commenting on friends’ photos, posting pithy quips, and engaging in my newly found hobby of reviewing recent purchases. Isolated, these activities are disconnected material; woven together, they make me part of a new, vast community of casual storytellers. Despite their careless, seemingly ephemeral character, however, these stories have a new flavor of permanence, and material has never been so easily accessible to writers. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram remind us and our followers where and how we have been, all the while creating parallel universes through our daily posts. The vast and specific nature of our online information has the capacity to behave as a spontaneous external hard drive to our own memories. We can have—increasingly, can’t escape having—instant access to our past, seemingly bypassing the natural remembering process. Our hippocampus, it seems, can live on the web.

Of course, future accessibility to the information we etch online, especially on social media, will vary depending upon who does the archiving. Yet as data storage becomes less expensive, the capacity capabilities grow and so does the amount of information held online. After all, in order to serve our needs, the web must have infallible and non-perishable memory.

Certainly, this trove of online information will be a tantalizing and highly useful resource for future biographers and narrative nonfiction writers. And yet, for the memoirist, a source of indelible online information could be problematic.

Digital omnipresence shortens and stunts the distance to remembering—the crucial engine for memoir. Molded in the narrative nonfiction writer’s hands, memory creates stories and feeds a compulsion to reflect on, understand, and validate personal experiences. The organic experience of remembering is still enveloped in mystery. Memoirists have a soft spot for that mystery, but we should concede that digital content will make the past, in some ways, less mysterious.

Some, like Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, see the infallible memory of the web as a big problem: “Because of digital technology, society’s ability to forget has become suspended, replaced by perfect memory.” Alas, memoir informed by perfect memory would, I fear, lose its sensory appeal. Web memories might alter the memoirist’s process, not only by providing infallible instant memory but also by usurping our own natural recollection processes.

Mayer-Schönberger also argues that that our online interactions make us feel watched and that, even if we are not in fact under surveillance, the sensation of being watched leads us to self-censor. In fact, writers online are often being watched—or, at least, seen—by readers. This, too, is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, social media, in particular, can help writers find a wider audience—that “platform” publishers are always talking about. Ideally, this audience will be invested in the work—but it could also be dissonant from it. For better and worse, the web arms us with accidental connections.

Of course, if you’re writing about your contemporaries, odds are good they’re hanging around online, too, and maybe also watching you. Those characters—who in an earlier time might have been lost to us—travel across oceans and different decades to engage passively with our own recollections. They can disagree with our memories, question them, and, over time, even change them. They are unwelcome guests on e-mail, Facebook, or through the dream-like images of Instagram. We know what our college roommates, from thirty years ago, ate for breakfast this morning, and it can be difficult to gain distance from a character when she is still right there, hoping you’ll “like” her handmade inspirational posters. These people, our characters, are persistently with us—and not just in our memories.

And, of course, they all have their versions of stories. That’s always been true, but now the bar for commenting has been lowered significantly. That story you’re telling about your halcyon days can become distorted or commandeered—tainted, even—as it passes through what we might call “the Facebook fact-check.”

As it happens, I have some experience with this. I have an unpublished cultural memoir set in the Dominican Republic and Texas, concerning events that happened in the 1970s and ’80s. In it, I piece together, much in the way my memory works, vignettes that touch on both the traumatic and the mundane. In great detail, I describe my aunt’s palpable grief—she went from catatonic to howling in pain—on the afternoon we learned that my father had died piloting an air force plane. I mention how an uncharacteristically blonde, blue-eyed Dominican classmate derided some earrings my mother had brought back from a trip to Venezuela. If I had published this book in the early days of the web, and especially before Facebook, and if, through a freak act of nature, a copy made it back to the Dominican Republic, someone might have quibbled about the narrative, recognized him- or herself in the story and related to or separated themselves from it. Maybe I would have received an e-mail or two with pointed questions: “Hey, did I really hurt your feelings when I said your earrings should be worn only by classless maids?” Or “Why would you write about your aunt crying like that?” By contrast, that same interaction on Facebook or any other social media platform would be instantaneous and, for me, a huge distraction from my work. The mirror social media holds up to my work, so far, has intimidated me enough to keep me from publishing. Not because I have startling revelations that cast people in my life negatively, but because in my writer’s mind, my past has its own past. I can’t get lost in the reverie of recalling that past when so much of it is so present every time I update my Facebook status.

And yet, perhaps there’s hope. I take heart in knowing that although social media supplies us with instant memory on steroids, the content itself can be ephemeral. The moment a corporate institution goes down, so does the content and so do your memories. Our data could be one hack or natural disaster or bankruptcy away from exposure or deletion. In many ways, the steady storytelling we’re imprinting on the web is no different than jotting an idea on the back of a napkin and misplacing it.

And perhaps that’s for the best. We shouldn’t rely too heavily on external digital memory. The noisy interactions on social media distract at every level, and the illusion of perfect recall is a siren’s call. It’s hard to resist since it’s omnipresent in daily life, and so usable, but even the most assiduous curation of interactions on social media has a cost. If our postings on social media and the web keep giving us perfect recall, then the story is authored for us; we become transcribers rather than storytellers. As writers, we delight in that moment when memory becomes story. We need to forget in order to engage in the essence of remembering.

– See more at: https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/perils-perfect-memory#comment-45317

How I “Found Poetry” This NaPoMo

Yeah, yeah, yeah. April is National Poetry Month. Who cares?

Ooh! Ooh! We do! There are so many National Poetry Month challenges, it’s not even funny. But this year, I participated in The Found Poetry Review‘s challenge titled PoMoSco, and it was, as a colleague of mine so eloquently puts it, amaze-balls.

What worked? The people. “202 participating poets published 3,861 poems.” Yes, indeed. And…the prompts. All “found poetry” prompts. Think found poetry is just taking a source and picking out some words? Think again. Think “White Out” where you, you guessed it, take white out to a source to create something new. Think “Picture It” where you take a source and make art all over that shit to create…wait for it…even more art…but poetry. Think “Order’s Up” where you take a menu and poem the crap out of it. Yes indeed.

This was such a blast. I won’t even mention the super-fantastic #AWP15 off-site reading at House of Balls (bowling balls, carved). Oops!

Look. You want to write something good? Something new? Something amaze-balls? Yeah? Then you’ve got to write. Sit down and write. That’s it.

Check out some of the thousands of poems that the scouts created this April here. Try some found poetry…if you dare. And share that experience. Share your inspiration, share your writing, share the love. And, while you’re at it, check out my personal favorite from this past month, Gary Glauber’s “Yes It Is.” Here’s an excerpt:

“All the love despite
silent rages and vague stares
came pouring through
with starts and stops,
desperate efforts.

I want to go to bed, be in my head, just wear red.
Red is the color that my baby wore
and once more, it’s true. Yes it is,
it’s true.

A lullaby: woods and river
calling child to go to sleep.
She sang it every night.” 

Source Text: Bloom, Amy. “Silver Water.” Come to Me. New York: HarperCollins Books, 1993. Print.

I love the way the poem flows around the italicized stanza. This poem is one result of the “Pick and Mix” prompt where participants chose stand-out words and phrases from a text and then put them together in any order. 146 people wrote poems based on this found poetry prompt. Fantastic!

 

And now for some shameless self-promotion. My favorite of the poems I completed (not as many as I would have liked, but what’re ya gonna do?) is a “Picture It” sourced from Marlin Barton’s short story “Short Days, Dog Days” from his new collection Pasture Art. It’s titled “Sleep is a Lock-blade Knife.” Enjoy!

What did I find this past NaPoMo? I found Found Poetry. I hope you’ll try some, too. It works.

A simile a day could keep boredom away…

By Yolande Clark-Jackson

I just finished reading Mary Karr’s memoir Lit.  This is the third of the three phase memoirs that pretty much revolve around the fallout from her childhood traumas. Lit details the events of Karr’s life as a young woman, wife, mother, and writer who for many years battled alcoholism and the demons of her past. It also develops into a story about how the author unexpectedly gains a deeper self-awareness and faith in a higher power. It begins with an open letter to her son as part apology and part explanation for what she feels she cost him. Yet, I believe all three books are loosely dedicated to her mother who often appears as nemesis or heroine in her memoirs. Karr’s mother also battled alcoholism but is sober for most of this last installment.

What works in this memoir is what works in all of three of Karr’s memoirs. She has the ability to write a tragedy like a shameless comedian, and her writing voice is generous with metaphor and simile. This keeps the reader entertained while she has to relay necessary information. Background sections of memoir could get stale, but Karr avoids this with the use of figurative language. Her Texas colloquialisms also add texture to her rich and colorful prose. For example, when she realizes she has to check herself into a hospital to avoid suicide, she writes, “It’s a relief to place myself before the staff person on duty, asking him to call my doctor because   I’m fixing to off myself.”

After finishing the book, I went back to re-read the first fifty pages and counted over a dozen similes. My favorites: “My head pitches back like a Pez dispenser.” “The suds swirled down my torso like chrysanthemums in a Japanese wood-block painting,” and “Mother’s yellow station wagon slid like a Monopoly icon.”
Karr also has a gift for telling a story in a way that is entertaining for the reader even though the subject matter is gravely serious. This is not to say that she makes light of the seriousness of her experiences. It is just to say that she is able to inject humor at just the right moments in her narrative to stay true to how she was taught to communicate and move in the world. Language was how she learned to cope with dysfunction.

A great memoir should make readers think, feel, understand, and relate on one level or another. I think Karr’s animated comparisons allow the reader to get closer to her and her past in a way a simple straight forward retelling couldn’t.  She takes you on a wild trip down her memory lane, and her style of writing makes it worth the while.

Karin Gillespie on Bestselling authors

Karin Gillespie is a fellow Converse grad and a knockout writer, which is why when she speaks writing, one should listen….translate–read. From her blog post “Are You the Next Emily Griffin? The One Quality Every Bestselling Author Must Have”

An eye-opening encounter

Speaking of success, a few years ago I was one of the guest authors at a book festival.  At this particular festival authors were expected to sit for eight hours, peddling our wares to the public. It made for a long day and few books by unknowns were sold. I got to know the other author sitting next to me, and we spent a long time chatting and dreaming of the day when our book lines would be long, and we would be so well-known no one would dream of asking us to man a table for eight hours.

My new friend bought my book and I bought hers, and we promised to stay in touch but lives get busy and we never followed through.  I didn’t think of her for a long time until one day I came across her book at the Barnes and Noble. Her name? Cheryl Strayed.  She wrote a book called Wild.

Had I not been in the library, my jaw would’ve hit the floor. Instead, I sent a message to Karin. 🙂

 Read more on bestselling authors at Karin’s site.

Put books where most needed: Little Free Library’s kickstarter campaign

 

 

 

Little Free Library is running a kickstarter campaign.  Get books into the hands of those needing them the most: