Indie Monday

This week’s guest: Rick Bailey

This week on Indie Monday, I’m proud to host Rick Bailey, author, educator, essayist, and world traveler. Rick grew up in Freeland, Michigan, on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. He taught writing for 38 years at Henry Ford College in the Detroit area. While writing textbooks for McGraw-Hill, he also wrote with classes he taught, a work habit that eventually led to Tittabawassee Road, a blog of essays on family, food, travel, and currrent events. His blog became the basis for American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). A Midwesterner long married to an Italian immigrant, in retirement he and his wife divide their time between Michigan and the Republic of San Marino. His second book is the memoir/travelogue The Enjoy Agenda at Home and Abroad (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

This week, Rick will talk about his brand-new release, Get Thee to a Bakery: Essays (University of Nebraska Press, 2021).

DL: Congratulations on your new book! We’re anxious to hear what it’s about.

RB: Thanks for the opportunity to talk it. And major congratulations to you. I can’t wait to get into the next Martin Preuss book.  

Get Thee to a Bakery is my third collection of essays, part memoir, part creative nonfiction. Think David Sedaris. In this collection there are 42 new pieces. That’s a lot. So they’re on the short side. You can read them on the beach, or waiting in the doctor’s office, or on a flight (when we start to fly agains, that is). Try them lying in bed at night. Readers of my first two books tell me they go to sleep with a smile on their face. 

Among the important topics I explore are: family and friends, food and wine, technology and the environment, the general weirdness and surprise in contemporary life. My wife and I live in Italy three months of the year, or we did until Covid, so there’s some Italy in the book. And there’s some China in the book. And travel around the US West. One of my current favorites is an essay about the American smile. Americans smile more than other people. I mean in public, presenting this congenial disposition. Europeans think Americans are kind of crazy like that. Another current favorite in this collection is about earworm, a condition I’m afflicted with too often. Why is that Captain and Tenille song stuck in my head this morning? How do I get rid of it?

DL: What inspired the creation of the book?

RB: I write a blog (rick-bailey.com), which sort of keeps me in a constant state of alert. The blog is my compost pile. It’s a place where I “write my life.” The books grow there. This particular book came sooner than I thought it would. By Spring of 2019 I had accumulated a lot of stuff on my blog, when I came down with a detached retina. That will slow you down, let me tell you. I had to sit for a week, to avoid jiggling my repaired retina. And I thought: what the hell, let me see if there’s enough accumulated material on my blog to make a book. And there was.

Initially I was kind of surprised, even a little embarrassed about, you know, the use of the term “memoir.” I always thought of memoir as something old famous people wrote. Well, I satisfied one of those conditions. (I’m 68 years old.) Back in the 90’s and 00’s, I started reading reviews of memoirs in the New York Times. Regular people were writing memoirs. People who were, like, 35 years old. In my mind, the genre started to morph. I began to see it as what I said above, “writing my life.” I saw that I didn’t have to have this big overarching narrative. I wasn’t writing the story of my life. I was writing stories from my life.

I usually choose one of the essays to become the title piece of the book. American English, Italian Chocolate, my first book, is named for an essay about pride in regional language and regional foods in the US and Italy. The Enjoy Agenda, my second book, is named for an essay about getting older, the perils of international travel, and being able to manage your life to maximize pleasure and avoid pain. I think that’s called hedonism. That’s my agenda. 

Get Thee to a Bakery, my new book, is named after an essay about cleaning the gutters on my house in the fall, the delightful season of pumpkin pie and my reflections on falling from a ladder into a bed of dying hastas, where I pictured myself like the drowned Ophelia in that Pre-Raphaelite painting. As long as I was full of pumpkin pie, that would be an okay way to go. Again, maximize pleasure, take rational steps to minimize risk and pain.  I’d say that’s Get Thee to a Bakery. I guess it’s all three books. 

I’m working on a fourth collection of essays right now that focuses more on growing up years. I remember the first time I heard Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” going to see “Bonnie and Clyde” the weekend Martin Luther King was assassinated, how we worked through our agonizing differences on the Vietnam war in our family. A lot of that formative stuff. We’ll see where that goes. 

DL: Could you talk about your writing process? Did it differ from the way you’ve written your other works? Did the pandemic affect the writing or launch?

RB: I’m a morning person. I taught online for 20 years and formed the habit of writing a few hours every day with and for my students, usually beginning at about 5:00 a.m. In retirement, you’d think I’d be sleeping in. In fact, I get up even earlier, usually sitting down to my laptop and coffee around 4:00 a.m. There’s nothing much happening at night that interests me. I go to bed thinking about what I’m writing and I wake up thinking about it. 

I’m also a quota guy. I aim for 750-1000 words a day. When you hit that number by 7:00 a.m., you have the rest of the day to ruminate, to open your imagination, to pay attention to your receptors and be alert to new ideas. If my wife and I are walking and I think of something related to the writing, I don’t trust myself to remember it. I take out my phone and capture it with the Notes app in a sentence or two. I write first drafts on Google Docs. Sometimes I sit in the grocery store parking lot. I’m there to buy a cauliflower. But the car is a quiet place. I take out my phone, open Google Docs, and read what I wrote that morning, editing by voice or by thumb. I have a little portable keyboard I can open and use with my iPhone. When we’re in Italy I spend quite a lot of time waiting for my wife. She’s in a shop, I’m in a coffee bar. I take out my two devices, keyboard and phone, and write up what we had to eat at that restaurant, Il Passatore, the night before. With color photos. I can blog while having a glass of wine in a bar in Italy. That’s the indescribable beauty and utility of modern technology.

The pandemic? It’s been good for my writing. Isolation and I get along pretty well.  

DL: What was the best part of/most fun about writing this book?

RB: The best part is the capture—of memories old and new. I always wonder why some memories are so vivid, from my childhood, I mean. I want to capture some of those moments. If I remember them, they must mean something. And I want to capture funny or interesting stuff that happened yesterday or last week. 

The fun part is making connections. I take my son to have his wisdom teeth out and I hear on the radio that Encyclopedia Britannica will cease publication. Two unrelated subjects that I bring together in an essay. We have a power outage in the middle of summer, I write about that—two days sleeping in the basement, but also a brief history of air conditioning technology. In The Enjoy Agenda, there’s an essay about having a toothache in Italy. I tell that story. But I also did some research for the essay, stumbled onto what art historians say about smiling and teeth and portraiture conventions in Renaissance painting (only peasants and dead people show their teeth). I also looked at the history of dentistry (the first of important book was written, in Latin, by a Venetian in the 16thcentury), at gruesome primitive dental practices in the 18th and 19th century, at-home remedies for dealing with toothache. This discovery process is fun. And making connections involves an act of imagination that’s always kind of a rush.  

The capture is the thing, putting memories in context—sometimes, as in the case of toothache, in a really broad context. I like thinking that my grandkids might read one or more of my books one day, that they might laugh and wonder at what happened to me and at what I thought about, that they might appreciate the sound of my voice. I guess I think that about readers in general.

DL: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

RB: Any book, it’s a long-term project. In that week with a detached retina, I assembled a manuscript. Then came rewriting, revising, adding and subtracting content, moving stuff around. Five months later I had something that felt like a book. The work doesn’t do itself. You have to stay with it, move it along. That’s a challenge. I had the good fortune of writing a doctoral dissertation in the 80’s. The experience was awful, the work was of no great value, but I learned how to manage a long-term project and see it through to completion. It made doctoral suffering worth it. I’ve written a lot since that doctorate, a bunch of textbooks and now these books, which have been really fun. 

DL: How can readers purchase it or get a signed copy?

RB: It doesn’t look like I will have a face-to-face launch or any signing events for this book. I’m hoping to do a few Zoom launches. I’ll announce those on Facebook and Twitter. If a reader wanted a sample of my writing, I’ve recorded a bunch of podcasts and posted them on my website, and I’m working on screencasts now, too. They’re under 5 minutes in length. You can hear how my voice sounds and sample the content. And of course, my blog gives readers a sample of my work. “The Summer of 1964,” which I posted on February 15, will probably be an essay in my fourth collection.  

To purchase Get Thee to a Bakery, I recommend your local bookstore. We need those stores. I mean communities need those stores. And I’d be happy to get a signed copy to anyone interested in that. Contact me by email—baileyrv@gmail.com.

DL: Thank you for joining us this week, Rick. Much luck with the book!

Sestina: The Cleaners

Back when I was writing poetry more or less full-time, I loved to experiment with poetic form, both organic and received. As a boy I once wanted to be an architect (until I realized you had to learn, you know, math). I’ve never lost that interest in structure.

As visual artists are fascinated by the structural intricacies of, say, fractals, I’ve long been fascinated by the ways in which language works; how letters represent sounds and join to form words, then larger syntactic elements, then even larger structural constituents until lines, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, and so on create the massive architectural units of a poem and a novel.

As a poet, I found great joy in writing in (and ringing changes on) forms as disparate as sonnets and their minimalist siblings, word sonnets, and their maximalist cousins, sonnet crowns; gloses; ghazals; villanelles; pantuns; and so on.

One of the forms I found especially compelling was the sestina, a form dating from the twelfth century. It’s a poem of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotating in a set pattern. The envoi contains the six line-ending words, often in a proscribed order.

There have been some great sestinas written by poems such as Elizabeth Bishop, W.H. Auden, and Seamus Heaney, to name just three.

Besides its elegant complexity, one of the things that fascinated me about the sestina was the almost hypnotic repetition of line-ending words that gave the poem a sense of obsession, even of being trapped.

When I sat down to write my own sestina, I drew on my experience as the manager of a movie theatre in Birmingham, Michigan, many years ago. (The theatre was the Bloomfield, if anybody remembers that; it has sadly morphed into a parking garage underneath a gym.)

Bloomfield Theatre, Birmingham, MI.

Every night, a young married couple came in to clean the place after each day’s showings. It was not a pleasant job, and the young man–Ricky, his name was–seemed perpetually angry; his wife was mostly silent.

I decided to write a sestina in the form of a dramatic monologue spoken by the wife. It seemed to me that she was trapped in a bad marriage with a volatile man who didn’t appreciate her, and the sestina with its restricted order of repetition of words would be a good correspondence.

As I started to work with the poem, I quickly saw that the woman was trapped in more than just a bad marriage. I tried to reflect that.

I was chuffed that this poem won the Grand Prize for poetry in a literary contest put on by the Metro Times in 2005. It also appeared in my chapbook, New Year’s Tangerine (Pudding House Press, 2007).

Sestina: The Cleaners

Every midnight when we leave our small room
in the boarding house basement where we stay
beside the lumberyard in Hazel Park
we drive to Birmingham, to finish
the night inside an empty theatre. We clean.
We pick up what the rich leave behind. 

Stuffing the car’s back seat, behind
Rickie and me, our supplies leave no room
for a passenger. Mops, gallons of Mr. Clean,
Windex, boxes of urinal cakes that stay
in my nose all night, polish for the brass finish
on the front doors — these fill our life. We park 

under the marquee, in the “Do Not Park”
zone, while my Rickie leaves me behind
to unload the car alone. When we finish
our work in the morning, every rest room
will be spotless, the long lobby will stay
as we leave it, sweet smelling and clean 

until those who hire others to clean
their own homes come and treat this like a park
where they can throw trash anywhere and it will stay
where it is until Rickie and me follow behind
to pick up after them. There is no room
to even walk in the auditorium after they finish 

dumping the tubs of popcorn they never finish
while they lounge at the movies. The greasy floor is clean
when Rickie stops mopping, while in the Ladies Room
on my hands and knees I carefully park
the stiff brush against the toilet that some behind
sat on like a throne and hope my dinner can stay 

in my belly, my canned macaroni and cheese will stay
where it is till the tile is scrubbed when I finish.
Now is when I want to scream, now crawl behind
the stall partitions on the floor that is spotlessly clean
and rage against Birmingham and Hazel Park
and curse my life that has so little room, 

curse this narrow stinking room that will finish
my dreams, make me stay on my knees and clean
in an endless “Do Not Park” zone, forever left behind.

©️ Donald Levin 2007

Indie Monday

This week’s guest: Brenda Hasse

This week on Indie Monday I’m delighted to host Brenda Hasse, a multi-award-winning author and freelance writer. Brenda has written and published award-winning young adult historical romance, pre-teen historical mystery, and adult metaphysical/visionary novels. She is also the author of several picture books for children. Brenda volunteers her time researching and writing scripts for the Fenton Village Players to perform during the Ghost Walk and Historical Cemetery Walk. She resides in Fenton, Michigan, with her husband and cats.

This week, Brenda will talk about her forthcoming release, A Victim of Desperation.

DL: Congratulations on your new book! We’re anxious to hear what it’s about.

BH: Thank you, Don. A Victim Of Desperation is a novel based on a woman’s experience in human trafficking, her perseverance to escape, and her determination to move forward afterward.  

DL: What inspired the creation of the book?

BH: I was at a two-day book signing. I sat at my table on the first day and a woman, who was selling her products across the way, walked over to my table and introduced herself. We talked for a few minutes before she returned to her booth. The next day I went to her booth to see what she was selling. We started chatting. Our conversation led from one subject to another, and before long the topic of human trafficking came up. She started telling me about the time she was human trafficked. After revealing her experience, she confessed she had never told anyone else about her experience. Even her children didn’t know about it.

We parted ways that day, but her personal story haunted my mind for months. I was able to make contact with her through Facebook and asked for her permission to write a story based on her experience with the hope of preventing others from falling into the entrapment of human trafficking. 

DL: Could you talk about your writing process? Did it differ from the way you’ve written your other works? Did the pandemic affect the writing or launch?

BH: To write this novel, I worked closely with the “victim,” who is known as “Jessica” in the book. She was forthcoming with her experience. Many conversations and emails between us helped to make the story come together. I usually outline my novels because I like to know where I am writing to, but this novel told itself through Jessica, who is a very strong, determined character.

I believe the overall theme is perseverance. The novel differed from the way I normally write because it is based on a true event. I usually write fiction: picture books for children, pre-teen, young adult historical romance, and metaphysical/visionary. With the confinement of the pandemic, I was able to focus on the book to complete it on a timely basis. However, I have delayed the publication with the hope of holding the launch of the book at a bookstore in May.

DL: What was the best part of/most fun about writing this book?

BH: I truly enjoyed working with Jessica. We laughed a lot and, as our topic of conversation would often stray, we found a common ground for many of today’s issues. I am thankful for the day our paths crossed and she allowed me to share her story with everyone. She is an amazing person.   

DL: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

BH: The most challenging part of writing this book was trying to make it as accurate as possible. I want the reader to feel the emotions she experienced and the environment she endured. I’m certain Jessica grew tired of the detailed question I posed. However, I think she enjoyed sharing her story.

DL: How can readers purchase it or get a signed copy?

BH: My books are always in stock at Fenton’s Open Book in Fenton, MI, and R&B Used Books in Grand Blanc, MI. They may also be ordered through any independent bookstore and online (Bookshop.org, Amazon.com). I will be holding a book launch signing at R&B Used Books on Saturday, May 15, 2021, from noon to 3:00 (COVID restrictions apply).  

Readers interested in this or other of my works can visit my website: http://www.BrendaHasseBooks.com

DL: Sounds great. Thanks for much for joining us this week, Brenda. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

BH: The first and last chapter of A Victim Of Desperation conveys a technique used by human traffickers today. I hope with the publication of this book, many will recognize the devious scheme and avoid becoming their victim. I have a friend whose son was a Michigan State Police officer, who worked with the FBI, to bust the first two big human trafficking cases in our state. He said the hot spots are Genessee County in Swartz Creek, Davison, and Grand Blanc. He confirmed the technique I described in the first and last chapters.

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Ingar Rudholm

This week on Indie Monday I’m happy to host Ingar Rudholm. Ingar is the author of two books, the Traveling Circus (Argon Press, 2017), and the brand-new prequel, Traveling Circus and the Secret Talent Scroll (Argon Press, 2020). Both books are aimed at readers aged ten to thirteen. A talented artist as well as an author, Ingar wrote and illustrated both of these books. Based in western Michigan, Ingar is well-known across the entire Michigan writer community for his creative marketing and publicity ideas, as well as for his great generosity in sharing his knowledge and insights with other writers as he helps them to achieve their goals.

This week Ingar will talk about his most recent release, Traveling Circus and the Secret Talent Scroll.

DL: Welcome and congratulations on your new book! We’re anxious to hear what it’s about.

IR: I just published Traveling Circus and the Secret Talent. The book is a young adult fantasy story for 10 to 13 year-olds. 

Here’s the description:

Buried in the wreckage of a sunken ship, Cordelia finds a skeleton clutching an ammo box. Inside, she discovers a magic scroll that turns any natural talent into a superpower. Transforming an ordinary girl like Cordelia into something extraordinary—a mermaid.

When a tragic car accident shatters Cordelia’s dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer, her father, Salvatore, is determined to harness the scroll’s magical powers to heal his daughter. But his tampering with the scroll comes at a steep price.

Will Cordelia achieve her Olympic dreams or remain forever cursed as a mermaid in a circus sideshow?

Currently, I’m working on Book 3 in the trilogy, Traveling Circus and the Skeleton Key.

DL: What inspired the creation of the latest book?

IR: You raised a tough question! Technically, I wrote Traveling Circus as a stand-alone book and I had no outline for a trilogy. Since I never know when an idea will pop into my head, I keep a notepad on my nightstand next to my bed. My inspiration for stories comes from my subconscious mind during the few quiet moments before awake and dreams.

Here’s the breakdown for the trilogy. In Book 1, I wrote in my journal an idea of a ringmaster in a surrealistic circus. The ringmaster was loosely based on Salvador Dali with a magic pocket watch. In my imagination, I saw a circus act where a rabbit turns into a lion (which is metaphor for the boy in the story finding his courage.) In Book 2 (a prequel), I let my subconscious mind run free with a burning question, “How did the ringmaster become the bad guy in the story?” Thus, I came up with a back story where the ringmaster’s wife, Gala, dies in a tragic car accident and he uses the magic pocket watch to erase his sadness. If you lose your ability to feel sadness, you can’t feel empathy for other people. Therefore the ringmaster turns into the bad guy in the trilogy. For Book 3, which I’m working on now, I had a daydream about a mermaid swimming to the bottom of ocean (into the abyss) to face her fears and rescue her father, the ringmaster, from the belly of a monster (metaphorically speaking the dark side of human nature.) The inspiration for Book 3 was loosely based on Pinocchio, Geppetto, and Monstro the whale.
 
DL: Could you talk about your writing process? Did it differ from the way you’ve written your other works? 

IR: For Book 3, I decided to co-write the book with Michigan author Jean Davis. Working with another author was both fun and rewarding. I learned so much about my own style and I learned by studying someone else’s writing process. For me, one of my shortcomings is telling vs. showing. I definitely improved on my shortcomings when working with a writing partner.

DL: Did the pandemic affect the writing or launch?

IR: A fellow Michigan author asked me: How are you marketing a new book during a pandemic? Unfortunately most of my book events have been cancelled for 2020.

Since I can’t go to book events, here are some things I’ve been doing to market my book during the “stay at home” order:

1. For the past few years I’ve been collecting emails at all my book events. When I finally released Book 2, I contacted everyone on my list.

2. I ran a free giveaway for Book 2 in exchange for a book review on Amazon.

3. I’ve been running Amazon Ads.

4. I created a Book 2 trailer for my YouTube channel. (All you need is an Ipad, microphone, and video editing software to create your own trailer.) I also read chapters from my book and put it on video.

5. I ran a Facebook Ads targeting everyone that “liked” my author page. The ads announced Book 2. I also ran ads targeting a certain age group and their book interests. I also sent Facebook messages to parents who bought Book 2 for their kids.

6. I promoted my book on Instagram using pictures and hashtags. I also sent Instagram messages to all the readers who have “liked” my book, notifying them about Book 2.
 
DL: What was the best part of/most fun about writing this book?

IR: After writing and illustrating a trilogy, I’ve come to conclusion that I want to spend more time drawing and less time writing. I figure 40% writing and 60% drawing would be a good fit for me. For my next series, I will create a graphic novel.
 
DL: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

IR: Even though co-writing with a critique partner was fun, it did come with some challenges. For example: who writes which sections of the story, deciding what creative idea to keep and what elements should be removed, and accidentally writing two versions of the same scene. Communication is the key to working with a co-writer.

DL: How can readers purchase it or get a signed copy?
 
IR: You can find the #Traveling Circus Trilogy on Amazon. Here’s a link to the books:

Traveling Circus: Young Adult Fantasy (Traveling Circus Series Book 2) – Kindle edition by Rudholm, Ingar, Ingersoll, Donald, Rudholm, Ingar, Turek, Kelsey. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

The F-Word

 

Last week I had lunch with a friend who had just turned 71, my own age. We talked about the absolute bizarreness of being 71, and shared thoughts about what future might be left for us. Afterwards, we went into his music studio (he’s a piano teacher and gifted and accomplished pianist), and I noticed a book by Kinky Friedman on his bookshelves.

71e4pSXoaDL._AC_UL640_QL65_If you don’t know Kinky Friedman as an author, you might have heard of him as a country singer. He named his band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys; one of his big hits was a parody of “Proud to be an Okie from Muskogee” called “Proud to be an Asshole from El Paso.”

As you can tell, Kinky is not a serious, straight-laced kind of guy.

But he has a series of terrific, hysterical mystery novels that I read and loved. His detective is a former country music singer named “Kinky Friedman,” who lives in Greenwich Village and hangs around with a group of friends whose names are the same as the real Kinky’s real group of friends (Ratso, Rambam, and so on). The books are rife with Kinky’s brand of wry, post-modern, satiric humor.

I remarked on this book on my friend’s bookshelves, and we started talking about his library. When I took a closer look at his shelves, I noticed they looked a lot like my bookshelves—albeit his were a lot neater than mine. We shared the exact same taste in authors . . . there was Last Exit to Brooklyn, there was Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, Jerzy Kosinski, Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Updike, Solzhenitsyn, and many, many more books that I also owned.

On its face, this wasn’t surprising; after all, we were very similar, my friend and I, with similar backgrounds and life experiences.

There was even one of my own novels on my friend’s shelves, along with a book by his brother, who had written some historical mystery novels published in the 1990s by St. Martin’s Press.

My friend described his writer-brother as an alcoholic failed writer, and holding his book in my hands I said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a failed writer . . . Half the people in this room are failed writers!”

We both laughed. But like Kinky Friedman’s books, it was funny in part because I was being deadly serious.

Like most creative people, I’m never more than half a step away from the phantoms of failure. Too often I feel their cold breath on my neck, their ghostly arms holding me back.

636348737695712187-2016-Ghost-Medium-3-003.jpg

In my friend’s studio, in view of all these books from authors whom I had once devoured as a young man, and whose works so influenced my own intellectual development, the specters arose again. With our lunchtime discussion of aging fresh in my mind, I told my friend, “This makes me feel nostalgic for the time when I discovered all these writers.”

Thinking about it later, though, I understood that what I was actually nostalgic for wasn’t the young man who had yet to discover these great writers. Rather, it was for the future that young man imagined . . . a future as a writer, a future that lay ahead, open, waiting to be lived, containing a sense of promise that I remember hoping for and in an important way relying on to get me through the difficult times of my youth.

An as-yet unfailed-in future.

gotham-1

On a visit to New York City in the 1970s, when I was in my twenties, I went into the famous Gotham Book Mart and wandered around practically open-mouthed at the literary life that storied store represented for me, with stacks of books by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Kerouac, Graham Greene, Dos Passos, and other classic works of fiction and philosophy from America and Europe, as well as what was then the cutting edge of the literary life . . .  . Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg, Susan Sontag, John Barth, John Barthelme, Kurt Vonnegut, and others.

Even now, so many years later, I remember thinking, “This is the life I want to live.”

Except in the end I didn’t.

Today, as I contemplate my gathering senescence, that future I imagined exists only as a nostalgic memory of possibility, not as a remembered past.

I tried. I paid all the dues you’re supposed to pay, including collecting rejections by the score, along with enough acceptances to keep me going. And then, in the early 80s, a hotshot New York agent agreed to represent a novel I’d written. He was the real deal, and I thought it was just a matter of time until I broke through.

Except in the end it wasn’t.

After three years of trying to place it, the agent regretfully sent the manuscript back, saying he couldn’t do anything more with it. Nobody wanted it. He didn’t want it. And he turned down the novel I’d written in the meanwhile.

I was crushed. That final rejection was it for me. I’m not meant for this, I thought. I failed.

I left imaginative writing behind. I became a writer, yes, a professional, earning my living by my pen (or word processor, as the case may be). But what I wrote were speeches, grants, newsletters, annual reports, video scripts, and everything else you can think of for hospitals, government, and businesses as big as IBM and GM and as small as one-man computer start-ups.

A body of accomplishment, to be sure. But not as a writer, with all that had represented for me. I was good at knocking out speeches on the AIDS epidemic in New York City, but not writing novels about the moral life of the universe.

It was impossible not to agonize over why I failed. Lack of talent hit me like a pie in the face, of course. Some have what it takes, some don’t; I was the latter.

Other explanations arose the more I thought—and agonized—about it . . . explanations like bad luck (another agent wanted to represent that early book but she died before anything could happen); ambivalence about the end goal; a prideful unwillingness to do the kind of sucking up I perceived I needed to do, and the concomitant lack of a mentor helping me along; the need to earn a living; a low (and lowering) self-image that wouldn’t let me consider that I actually had what it took to find a place for myself in the world where I wanted to live, along with a pathological shyness that kept me from promoting myself more aggressively, a dangerous combination; perhaps an abiding timidity that kept me from screwing my courage to the sticking place when it most mattered.

Perhaps ultimately a combination of all of those.

Whenever I felt the urge to write imaginatively (which, by the way, was relentless), the memory of having failed so spectacularly stopped me. Nobody wants what you have to say, my inner demon insisted; just stop already.

During that time, I wrestled almost constantly with what success as a writer really meant. I tried to pinpoint what it was that I had failed at.

Eventually, I became a college professor, and, a decade after I stopped creative writing, I realized I needed to start again. The pressure to create grew too insistent to ignore. After all that time, I was still smarting from failing as a fiction writer, so I began writing poetry, which I hadn’t failed at yet.

And then to my surprise, people began to publish my poems. One poem won a prize. Then I wrote and published some short stories and one of them won a prize.

Finally, I tried my hand at another novel, and wrote a series of mystery novels. I just published my seventh. I published two slender collections of poetry.

So am I a success? By some measures, yes. I kept at it; I didn’t quit; I started back writing again, itself an act of both defiance and liberation. I  became an independent author and took the means of production back into my own hands.

By other measures, no. I published all the novels myself, under an imprint I created, which meant no authority has validated me as a writer (Mystery Writers of America doesn’t even consider me a real mystery writer); the poetry is published on the Internet and tiny journals, with the books from two miniscule presses, neither of which even exists anymore. Reviews are few and far between; my work is invisible to prestigious reviewers. Despite my best efforts, each novel I publish sells fewer copies than the one before.

So am I a failure?

That question will never go away. I always tell people it’s the work that matters, not the sales or the reception, but secretly in my heart I know I don’t believe that. I think most creative people don’t. 

Everybody knows Shakespeare’s lines about there being “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” What often gets left out is the end of the quotation: “omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

Even now, I’m not sure I ever saw that tide. If it came in, it feels like I never took it.

I won’t say the voyage of my life has been bound in miseries—on the contrary, it’s been extraordinarily fulfilling in a variety of ways. But looking backward, as I was doing in my friend’s music studio, face-to-face with the reminders of a future that was as yet unfailed-in—it’s impossible not to fear that my life as a writer—the life I had wanted to live—has been bound in the shallows. And that I’ve been spent my time splashing around, near the beach, while others are out in deeper waters.

“Our doubts are traitors,” says Shakespeare. Unfortunately, they are often our best friends, too.

Several years ago, I was thinking about Bob Dylan and his own journey. We like to believe that talent will out, and so his fame and fortune were inevitable. But I started to think about what would have happened if, by some combination of misfortunes, he had never made it. I wrote a poem about that, which binds up some of the ideas I’ve touched on here. The poem imagines an alternative history for Dylan. What if he had never made it when he moved to New York, the poem asks.

What if all the breaks had gone against him? 

What if he had failed?

 

At the Red Lobster in Duluth, MN*

He left behind the frozen landscape

and empty mines of his upper Midwest home

to head east, for New York City

where he heard it all was happening.

At every stop on the way to the Port Authority

he jumped out to grab a smoke

and check on the heavy battered Gibson

riding in the luggage compartment

beside his big suitcase. In between

he took in the fields and crossroads

on the freedom highway of the vast country.

 

When he landed in the city

he walked happily down Eighth Avenue

through the smells of pickles and pizza

to locate himself in a railroad flat

on the sixth floor of a walkup

where he shooed away rats on the stairs.

Most nights he made the rounds

of the folk clubs in the Village

singing in his rough raspy voice

the songs he had written on the backs

of invoices from his father’s store.

Nights when he wasn’t singing somewhere

he spent soaking in the tub

in his kitchen and dreaming of the future.

 

But the gigs got shorter and came less often

and he started getting to parties

after the important people had left.

The record company stopped returning his calls

and one day a club owner told him, “Kid,

I’ve seen it all, and you just don’t have it”

just as his money ran out

and rather than ask his father for more

he took the A train back uptown

but not before leaving his guitar at the Salvation Army

on Spring Street at the corner of Lafayette

and twisting his harmonica rig

into the shape of the state of Minnesota

and dropping it in a trash can on the street.

Though his friends begged him to stay

he jumped on a Greyhound back to the north country

where he learned how to cook

or at least defrost and reheat fish

at the Red Lobster in Duluth.

 

He gave up listening to music at all

though occasionally lyrics formed

unbidden in his head

as he stood over the big stove

turning flounders that smelled of butter.

He hummed these secret tunes to himself

growing old behind the cries of the servers

clamoring for their orders.

 

*A version of this poem was published in Shaking Like a Mountain, March 2010.

 

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Linda K. Sienkiewicz

This week on Indie Monday I’m happy to host award-winning author, poet, and artist Linda K. Sienkiewicz. Linda’s short stories, poetry and art have been published in numerous literary journals. Among her awards are four Finalist awards for her novel In the Context of Love, a Pushcart Prize Nomination, and a poetry chapbook award from Heartlands. She has three other poetry chapbooks. She studied at Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, and has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine. Linda is a member of Detroit Working Writers, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

This week Linda will talk about her most recent release, a children’s picture book, Gordy and the Ghost Crab.

DL: Congratulations on your new picture book! We’re anxious to hear what it’s about.

LKS: Thank you, Don! 

In Gordy and the Ghost Crab, Gordy’s big brother scares him by telling him that ghost crabs will snip off his toes and eat them. When Gordy sees a ghost crab in danger of being taken away from the beach by a girl with a net, he has to make a fast decision: stay away or save the little crab. 

The story highlights empathy, problem solving, and caring for nature for children ages 3 – 8. 

I designed a comprehensive teacher’s guide; email me at lindaksienk (at) live (dot) com for a copy. Here’s the link to a book trailer that I’ve prepared: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvOKoTdmbRs.

DL: What inspired the creation of the book?

LKS: My grandson, then three, was frightened by ghost crabs that live in deeps burrows along the shore when we vacationed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We couldn’t find him a book on these interesting creatures. My daughter said, “Mom, you’ll just have to write one for him.”

DL: Could you talk about your writing process? Did it differ from the way you’ve written your other works? 

LKS: I have a brother, nine years older, who loved to tell me wild stories, so the idea of the scary story and the rescue came quickly. I approached editing much the same as working with a poem or short story. What is the character arc—in this case, Gordy’s? What’s at stake for Gordy, besides his toes? And what’s at stake for the ghost crab? 

DL: Did the pandemic affect the writing or launch?

LKS: I believe we’ll eventually be back to having book festivals and fairs, and I can sell that way. I hope to visit east coast bookstores and gift shops in Virginia and the Carolinas in the spring. So much of selling involves online networking, and that hasn’t changed.

DL: What was the best part about writing this book?

LKS: My friend, poet MaryAnn Wehler, suggested I rewrite the story in rhyme. I knew it would be difficult, but I couldn’t resist trying. In the end, I think that’s what makes the story so much fun to read aloud.

DL: What was the most challenging part of writing this book? 

LKS: After I decided to illustrate the story myself, I had to learn about children’s picture book layout, and then decide what to illustrate. I’d gone to art school over forty years ago, and we didn’t learn to draw on iPads or other drawing apps! This was all new to me. There’s also an art to picture books, a way to get children to turn the pages, and to stimulate their imagination, too, that I had to learn. Honestly, it was daunting, but I was determined. 

Originally I had one page of information on ghost crabs in the back of the book. After my editor, the brilliant MaryChris Bradley, laid the entire book out, we ended up with several more pages. So I went back to research and the drawing board! Now, readers can learn about different kinds of crabs, and what makes ghost crabs unique. 

For example, did you know ghost crabs are the fastest of all the crabs in the world? Do you know what the smallest crab is? The largest crab? Or that horseshoe crabs are not really crabs at all?? There’s lots of fun in this book for kids and grownups.

DL: How can readers purchase it or get a signed copy?

LKS: The book is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1941523226/)
and Barnes & Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gordy-and-the-ghost-crab-linda-k-sienkiewicz/1138253716), or readers can order it from any bookstore.

I also offer signed copies directly from me in my Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/listing/902198984/gordy-and-the-ghost-crab-picture-book).

DL: Thanks so much for joining us this week. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

LKS: I never imagined that I’d write a children’s book. I have a novel and several poetry chapbooks; I’ve published in anthologies and literary journals. I do enjoy reading to my grandchildren, however, and admire well-written and illustrated books. Writing one myself never interested me until inspiration struck. 

And then, like anything I do, I doggedly pursued it. I can be obsessive, in a good way.

So, if you’re a writer with an idea, no matter how difficult or farfetched it seems, go for it! When I was struggling with so many unknown aspects of this venture, I asked myself, What have you got to lose by trying? You know, in the end, there’s really nothing. You always learn something. 

And don’t ever think that you’re too old to learn new tricks.

DL: How can readers connect online with you?

LKS: Here are my contacts:

Website: http://lindaksienkiewicz.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lindasienkiewicz.author

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lindaksienkiewicz/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lindaksienkwicz/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaKSienkwicz

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Angela Verges

With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m happy to host award-winning author and humorist Angela Verges. A graduate of Michigan State University and currently working in the field of recreation, Angela is the author of Menopause Ain’t No Joke: Blending Faith and Humor in Perfectly Imperfect Situations (2018). The book started as a collection of blog posts, which have also accompanied her on stage in the comedy sets she performs. 

Recently I posed some questions to Angela. Here’s what she told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

AV: You know, Don, that’s always a tough question for me to answer. Can I have a different question? Just kidding. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about other things rather than oneself. I’m a people person—does that sound cliché-ish? My sons always tease me because they say I talk to people anywhere. I’m that person who will make small talk with a person in the grocery store line, the post office line, or any other line. Maybe I just don’t like standing idle in lines.

Anyway, I have two young-adult sons. I’ve always lived in Michigan—a few different cities, but always in Michigan. I love to read. Reading is my gateway to writing. If you were to ask me about my hobby, I would say I collect words and phrases . . . and books. My love of writing began in fifth grade when I received my first diary.

At the top of my list for things that I like to read or write, would  be things that include humor, inspiration, and encouragement.

I guess I had more to say about myself than I thought. I feel like I’m rambling, so I’ll stop there.

DL: Tell us about your latest book and works in progress.

AV: I became a first-time author in 2018 with the publication of my book, Menopause Ain’t No Joke: Blending Faith and Humor in Perfectly Imperfect Situations. It’s a non-traditional devotional that is a collection of my personal essays on parenting, fitness, aging, and everything in between. Served throughout the book are dishes of menopause, sprinkled with humor. Each essay ends with a scripture and space for the readers to journal and reflect on their situations. 

As far as a work in progress, I have an eBook in the works. Although my season of sweat is still in full swing, the eBook is not on the topic of menopause. The book will include some form of humor. I’m not ready to reveal the title yet because it’s a working title and may change.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

AV: Writing is therapeutic for me. It also feels good when I can encourage someone through my writing. I’ve often heard it said that the writer should write with the reader in mind. I want a reader to find something in my writing that resonates with her or him. I hope there is a nugget of inspiration, humor, or insight that the reader walks away with.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

AV: My writing process consists of jotting down ideas when they come to me. I’ve lost many ideas by not making note of them right away. Now, I write down on whatever I can find. One of my sons asked me, “Why do you have notes on a paper plate?”

I told him, “Because it matches the notes I have on a napkin.”

My favorite part of the writing process is sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop and taking in my surroundings. I have a special writing spot at home, but I like getting out of the house. There are times when ideas flow like a water faucet, then they slow down to a drip. Changing my writing location often helps. There are other resources I include in my writing process. I’ll play around with writing prompts, create words with my Bananagram tiles, or pull out my Writer’s Toolbox.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

AV: Writing has taken me to different platforms. I’ve written for a church newsletter,  a parenting blog for my local newspaper, and I’ve written and performed comedy.

Writing has connected me with people I may not have otherwise met. I’ve made new friendships.

As my children have gotten older, I’ve noticed a change in my writing journey. I began with writing picture book manuscripts. I loved reading to my sons when they were younger. As they became older and involved in sports, I found myself writing more parenting articles for our local newspaper, which eventually led to the creation of my own blog.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

AV: Readers can find out more about me at my website: www.angelaverges.com.

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Andrew H. Kuharevicz

author picture

With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m happy to host Andrew H. Kuharevicz, author, poet, editor, blogger, and book-buyer and manager for the indie bookstores The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague, Michigan, and The Book Nook Too in downtown Muskegon. Andrew is also the editor-in-chief of West Vine Press. He is the author of many volumes of poetry and prose, including most recently Okay Birds Quiet Please, a book of poems; Pickpocket of Reality, his fourth poetry and prose collection; and the novel, The Future Book of War, the final volume of the Adventures of a Dying Young Man series.

Recently I posed some questions to Andrew. Here’s what he told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

AHK:A little about myself? What … self? Ok, where to start. Right off the bat a very loaded question but here I go:

I’m an American citizen, a human and all around pretty normal sorta guy who lives in a sleepy sorta town in Michigan named Montague. I run a bookstore called, The Book Nook & Java Shop. In my opinion, one of the best indie bookshops in the world. I’m biased but yeah, we’re on the smaller side but we do move a lot of books. There’s a full bar and a stage, which in non-pandemic years features author readings and music three or five days a week. Basically, my life feels like a dream. I mean I get to sell books for a living, something numerous people said wasn’t possible in the modern United States economy.

Today, I live a much different life than I did when I was younger. Instead of a wandering writer where I prepared for chaos each day I woke up, I now live a somewhat reasonable stable existence, I’m a father to two great kids, Sawyer (2) and Lucy (6 weeks), so they keep my wife and me pretty darn busy. Often it feels like real life is the novel, and that somehow, I just ended up here.

Prior to the Book Nook, I worked in a crazy pharmacy for a couple years in Downtown Muskegon, but before that I traveled the country as an idealistic young writer for about ten years. That happened after I moved to Ann Arbor and was fired from a job at a wine store. Back then I wanted to write and not sell wine, drink wine, not sell wine. I wasn’t ready to settle down yet so getting the boot I got on the road. I graduated from Western Michigan University, majoring in Sociology and Criminal Justice, with a minor in philosophy. Furthering my education, because I didn’t want to get stuck in my hometown, I started grad school studying Philosophy of the Mind. I dropped out, though, by the second semester because get this, I just wanted to write.

I grew up in Roosevelt Park in Muskegon, going to Catholic School from grades 1-12. Other than my parents, my grandmother was the most important person in my life. She was one of the only people who would sit and listen to me read my material. But writing isn’t something I developed when I was young. My first love was baseball, and during the summer I’d ride my bike every day with the other kids in the neighborhood to the little league field and we’d play until sunset. I continued playing baseball in high school and my first year of college.

During my last semester in university, The Stranger by Albert Camus was assigned by a criminology professor. I stayed up all night devouring the book, and when I got to the end, I decided that I was going to be a writer. After that I lived in many states, and worked many strange jobs. As they say, it’s a long and winding road, but I’ll stop there.

DL: Tell us about your latest books and works in progress. 

AHK: Most recently, the end of 2019, I published a big novel that I worked on for about six years, The Future Book of War. It’s a stand-alone novel that takes place in the world of the main protagonist named Henry Oldfield. You can call it a series because he is featured in more than one book I’ve written, but you don’t have to read any others to enjoy the others. Each of the five novels that make up The Adventures of a Dying Young Man Saga is a complete story with a beginning and an end. But if you want to know more, you can read another one, which layers the story with a fuller picture. The overall story is about a boy born dumb who wanders the last years of what we know as the United States before it becomes something different and new. The Future Book of War is a book I’m very proud of and was influenced by Kurt Vonnegut and also, e.e. Cummings’s The Enormous Room.

Other than my novel-length books, I also work on poetry, mostly spontaneous and in the vein of the Beat Generation. My most recent book-bound publication was a book titled Pickpocket of Reality, words about Manhattan, where I go just about every year for the Book Expo. Inside of Pickpocket of Reality you’ll read words about cats and there’s also poems about water, writing, and running a bookshop during the technological age. Basically, just life ya dig.

Also, my best-selling collection is a book that I got to read in the Village in Manhattan at this Lit-Pub named The KGB. It was the highlight of my writing career reading with other poets and friends at a place that is rich with so much history of great writers. The book I was reading from is called Okay Birds Quiet Please, and is more of the same. Just a book about writing, the love of life and the world at large, as well as the society we live in. It’s full of contradictions, just as we as a people are. It’s about silence and the moment before you start the tap… tap … tap, which is what I call typing on a typewriter.

Lastly, and briefly, I’ll be having a new book coming out in the next couple months. It’s a mix of creative nonfiction, poetry and journalism, typed up on a typewriter and titled, In Madness We Spring: Novel Words During A Pandemic. It tells the story of the first days of the Covid-19 outbreak up until the Michigan Stay at Home Order ended. It’s from the perspective of a small business owner and the pandemic, really uncharted and crazy times; In Madness We Spring will be out the end of September/Early October, published by West Vine Press, an indie from Michigan, for which I also act as an editor.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

AHK: The question why I write is a good question. Also, a question I’ve forgotten about as my writing life has aged. So, I’ve written or edited in ninety-five percent of the days that make up the last ten years or so of my life. Hemingway said (and I paraphrase) that a writer is only a writer if they write, also, that when you are a writer you should restrain from talking so much. So maybe that’s why I write. To communicate with both myself and my expanded human family.

Writing is of course artistic, but art is still created for some kind of cause. A reason, if you will, and as you get older you often forget about the why; simply, art becomes part of you, a routine, something you do, like breathing, there’s always a reason but when it becomes habit, the reason disappears. Like brushing your teeth. Not sure if that’s a good answer, but I write to see what’s going on. I write to dig into my mind. I write to have fun. I write to talk and I write to predict the future. Ha.

Honestly, I write because I love to write, and as far as what I want to accomplish with my writing, well, back when I was just starting out I did it because I wanted to be the best writer to ever live. How outrageous is that? I was young and words were magic back then. I wanted to write the Great American Novel, living a life like Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Miller had done. Of course, that was naïve, but I had one hell of a time believing that was possible. But these days I just want to release books and try and get better with every new project I start. Being a specific type of writer, a so-called big-time successful author, isn’t Important to me, I just want to write and the only way to accomplish that is by, well, writing.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

AHK: I have two ways I write. One for long-form (fiction, novel, short stories, and creative nonfiction) and another process for poetry.

For long-form writing projects, first, I mentally prepare for the writing process weeks and sometimes months before I even start the first draft. In the morning on some random day, I come up with a story in my head, I think it over, and play it out in my mind. I let it simmer if you will. Then when I’m ready to write, I pick a typewriter, each new book I write needs a new typewriter, one just right, fitting of the vibe if that’s possible, one to match the feeling of the story I’m going to tell.

Then, I place the typewriter somewhere in an isolated room, with no internet, no distractions, nature can be there but that’s it. Next, I place a blank piece of paper in, and just start typing. No breaks, little care for spelling and punctuation; I type for one straight hour every day until the story is done. I end each session during the first draft when I know what will happen next, so tomorrow I can pick up where I last ended and have no road blocks following the story.

It takes a good year for the first draft. Often more than one, and when I’m done there’s a stack of paper that I take and copy-write/edit into the second draft into the computer. After that’s done I edit it again multiple times and pick out a good font and change the size of the paper. Writing a long-form book is like sculpting, or building a good house, it takes time.

When I was in college, my friend who taught at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, said he liked my writing, but I needed to learn to edit more. So, I took that to heart and now my favorite part of the writing process is editing, I don’t know why, most writers say they dislike that aspect but to me that’s when what you’ve written really becomes something real, a world in-itself, self-sustaining with ozone and all.

As far as my poetry, I use whatever I have. I sketch ideas and pseudo-haikus down in notepads, type some disorganized poetics on a typewriter, write on my hand if I have an aha moment.

Writing poetry is like journalism to me, most of the truest pieces I’ve written have happened during the waiting moments of life, such as in airports, on flights, waiting for the bus, or just sitting by Lake Michigan for fifteen minutes during the middle of the afternoon. I can write a poem anywhere, it’s much freer than the long-form writing process.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

AHK: The label of being a writer means nothing to me. I write because I like to do it. I have things to say, stories to tell, so I say and write them. But if I try to give you a better answer…

Writing has made me who I am, opened my mind, refined my critical thinking skills, opened up the world, like a Copernican Revolution, and it’s humbled me, connected me to other writers and poets all around the world. Writing has created a path for me, and writing, it’s how I ended up here, today, now.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

AHK: Below are links to my blog, and my publisher, West Vine Press; a Facebook page of the creative process of my current project; and direct links where you can purchase some books if you’d like to. 

Andrew H. Kuharevicz blog: adventuresinamericanwriting.com

The Future Book of War: https://www.buybooknookbooks.com/product/the-future-book-of-war-by-andrew-h-k-/4662?cs=true

Pickpocket of Reality: https://www.buybooknookbooks.com/product/pickpocket-of-reality-by-andrew-k-/4794?cs=true

Okay Birds Quiet Please: https://www.buybooknookbooks.com/product/okay-birds-quiet-please-by-andrew-k/4795?cs=true

More can be found here . . . go to Buy Books Here and scroll to bottom of page: westvinepress.com

The Novel streaming first draft From Author Andrew H. K.: https://www.facebook.com/thenovelahk/

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Elizabeth Wehman

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With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m happy to host author, journalist, and editor Elizabeth Wehman. The President/Founder of Shiawassee Area Writers, Elizabeth is the author of five novels: Under the Windowsill (2014), Promise at Daybreak (2015), Just a Train Ride (2017), Mere Reflection (2019), and The Year the Stars Fell (2020), all published by Summit Street Publishing.

Recently I posed some questions to Elizabeth. Here’s what she told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

EW: I’m a born and raised Michigander. Besides my writing, I’m a trucker’s wife and mother of three grown children. I’ve worked in the newspaper business as a reporter and editor for twelve years, and also am the President/ Founder of the Shiawassee Area Writers here in Owosso. I love to garden, mow the lawn, and be outside whenever possible. I’m smelling retirement, just around the corner, but don’t see myself stopping the creative juices of fiction writing anytime soon. I’ve dreamed of being a writer for my entire life. In first grade, I read 100 books and it was then that I fell in love with stories and story-telling. 

DL: Tell us about your latest books and works in progress. 

EW: My latest book came out on April 15, 2020, and is titled, The Year the Stars Fell. It is my first complete historical fiction and is based on the first settling family to enter Shiawassee County in 1833. I will soon be starting the second in a three-part series, continuing to tell the complete story of a little village in Shiawassee County that no longer exists, before it went extinct around 1880. The series is called, “North Newburg Chronicles.” I am also helping my writing group, mentioned above, publish their third anthology and that is titled, Summer in the Mitten. The group has previously published, Winter in the Mitten and Spring in the Mitten. We hope to publish Autumn in the Mitten in September 2021.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

EW: Like I’ve said earlier, I love to write. Creating stories from my imagination is something I love to do. I also hope to instill good hometown values, the helping hand someone gets from a neighbor/friend, and the value of lessons learned from days long ago. I like to instill good, solid beliefs in God that help us through all of life’s trials, and show that within the words of my stories. My ultimate goal is to give insights on how to maneuver through life at our best, but with the help of our Creator and to give Him the praise when we do.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

EW: I sit and write. I don’t let writer’s block or lack of ideas stop me from writing. I like to push through those roadblocks and see what can come from the days I feel off or when writing doesn’t come easy. My favorite part is the first time I sit down and begin a novel. I love creating believable and unique characters and then fleshing them out in the story. As a newspaper reporter/editor, I loved the research part of the story. When a small tidbit would release the thoughts of…what if’s…better than anything else. That’s why I’m so excited to write about this village, and hopefully more, that once existed and now does not…for whatever reasons.

Some of my greatest ideas come while I’m in the shower or on the lawnmower. The shower is my greatest thinking place. I can often get through difficult ideas/scenes by working them out while doing those two mundane things. Also walking often helps me create as well.

My least favorite is the editing part. When I’ve gone over edited my book over and over again and then I send it off to a formal editor and she/he sends me back with a million changes. I thought it was at a successful point, until someone else takes a look and changes my mind. LOL! Hard to be critiqued on something you thought was fairly good. It somehow discourages me the most and my confidence wanes.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

EW: Being a novel writer is a dream come true for me. I’ve always told people that someday I hope to write books. Ever since college. So this job is literally a dream come true for me. The reward is seeing my writing as a useful/helpful tool in people’s lives. If they are touched, enlightened, affected, or even changed due to something I have written, that makes the process even more fulfilling for me. I used to go into the bookstore or library and push the books aside at the location on the shelf where my name would fit. I would tell my child, if they were with me, that’s where my books will be someday. To see them there now, just makes me smile. What a gift I’ve been given to have the opportunity to now have five books on the shelf of a bookstore or library.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

EW: My website is: http://www.elizabethwehman.com.My Facebook wall is Elizabeth Wehman/Author. I’m on Twitter @elizabethwehman, Instagram at summit.street.writer and Facebook. I’m also on Amazon and Good Reads at Goodreads.

Here are links to my books:

Under the Windowsill

Promise at Daybreak

Just a Train Ride

Mere Reflection

The Year the Stars Fell

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Nan Sanders Pokerwinski

Nan Sanders Pokerwinski - photo

With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m delighted to host author, freelance writer, and science journalist Nan Sanders Pokerwinski. A transplant from the Detroit area to west-central Michigan, Nan is the author of the award-winning memoir, Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta (Behler Publications: 2019).
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Recently I posed some questions to Nan. Here’s what she told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

NSP: Writer, reader, photographer, woodsy-woman, yoga enthusiast, maker of peculiar things—that about sums me up.

I spent most of my working life writing about science, medicine, and well-being, first as science writer for the Detroit Free Press, then at the University of Michigan News Service, under the byline Nancy Ross-Flanigan. In my freelance work, which spanned more than two decades, I wrote for a variety of magazines, newspapers, online publications, and medical institutions.

Nowadays, I focus on writing memoir, personal essays, and—most recently—fiction.

My husband Ray and I moved to Newaygo from the Detroit area eight years ago, and we appreciate the creative community and natural beauty we’ve found here.

DL: Tell us about your latest books and works in progress. 

NSP: My memoir, Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta, was published in 2019 by Behler Publications, after winning first place in the memoir/nonfiction category of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Awards and placing in several other competitions. With a mix of teenage sass and decades-later perspective, Mango Rash chronicles my search for adventure—and identity—in two alien worlds: the tricky terrain of 1960s adolescence and the remote and rapidly-changing U.S. territory of American Samoa, to which my parents and I had moved from Oklahoma in 1965.

I’m currently working on a novel, tentatively titled Belle Jardin, about creativity, outsider art, and madness.

Another work in progress is a series of autobiographical collages to which I eventually hope to add micro-memoirs.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

NSP: I write because I don’t know how not to write. From time to time I’ve tried to stop writing, to focus on other things instead, but without writing I feel off-kilter. Beyond that, I write to express my thoughts and feelings about things that matter to me and to try and make sense of the experience of being human in this world.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

NSP: Ideas come from my life experiences, from things that—for sometimes inexplicable reasons—fascinate me, such as outsider art, and from events and issues I read about. My favorite part of the process is the writing itself. Whether I’m writing memoir or fiction, I love being transported to the place and time I’m writing about and interacting with the characters in the story. That’s especially true now, when actual travel and interaction are limited. And I’m one of those odd writers who enjoys revision, a process that employs a whole other kind of creativity.

My least favorite part of the process is probably publishing and promoting what I write. Certainly there are enjoyable and satisfying aspects to that side of the writing life, but it feels more like work and takes my attention away from the writing itself.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

NSP: It’s hard to imagine my life without writing. For as long as I can remember I’ve written something—whether letters and journals, articles, or longer works. Writing has provided an absorbing and rewarding career, a community of kindred spirits, and most recently, a way to keep myself occupied during a pandemic.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

NSP: Here are my links.

Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta

Website: https://www.nanpokerwinski.com/

Blog: HeartWood

Facebook: Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, Author

Twitter: @nansanpo