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!

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.

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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.

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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: 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: 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

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Angela K. Berent

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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 delighted to host author and educator Angela K Berent. A midwesterner at heart (and onetime Californian), Angela is the author of two works of nonfiction: List Your Life: A Modern-Day Memoir (2018) and Trace Your Travels: An Adventure Journal (2019).
Berent

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

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

AKB: I dwell in my memories, those that I’ve collected along the way and those that I’m creating with my family of four. I am thankful for my Michigan childhood, an amazing few years in California, and that my path brought me back home. I think about how I’m formed because of my memories. To remember is to savor and let those memories rest on me as I go forward.

Celebrating is the best! I work at taking time to notice the happy moments in my days, as well as the bigger moments—it’s all worth relishing. In this time of life, we can be swallowed up and consumed by pressures around us, or we can make a choice for creating peace and joy, with consideration for our responsibility for our fellow beings and actively participating in our world. Conscious choices for a happy, content life where I am proud of who I am always has been and will continue to be my driving force.

Sharing my stories and inviting others to find a way to write for themselves is my purpose for writing. I enjoy learning stories from others, and I encourage everyone to write their life.  Everyone has a story, and, whether writing grand memoirs or jotting bits of our days, it is important to document our legacy—we’re all creating one!

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

AKB: I have written two journals, List Your Life: A Modern-Day Memoirand Trace Your Travels: An Adventure Journal. I am excited to announce two new projects: journal calendars.

My calendars are designed with the same sentiment as my journals: we all want to write, but no one has the time. While the journals invite readers to respond to various topics of life and travel using a quick listing format, the calendars are designed to allow for memories to be recorded quickly and easily as life unfolds day-to-day and month-to-month.

In my journals, there is no lofty writing commitment, instead, just an invitation to write memories in short, quick lists of three ideas at a time. To guide readers in writing their memories, I write my Lists of 3 beside theirs. A variety of prompts encourage memories of all kinds: three most important pieces of advice you’ve been given to three gifts you’ve received and three favorite road trips to three beloved souvenirs.

Journal calendars include blank templates. Each month is attractively designed in a simple format to record the days. Mark Your Miles: A Fitness Journalis created as a place to keep track of day-to-day achievements, while Notes From the Nursery: A Keepsakeis where new parents will jot key moments during the blurry and chaotic first eighteen months of baby’s life. From my personal experience in each category, I absolutely want a record of every workout so I can see my progress. As for the baby days, this idea came about from a blank journal that a dear friend gave me as a gift when my twins were born, and that journal is splashed with sloppy notes from my boys’ first year. As messy as it is, I have an enduring record of some of the most memorable days of my life.

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

AKB: My hope is that my stationery items provide an easy way to write memories, in an inviting format, by way of an attractive archive.

I had long wanted to write, but I struggled with the direction and form it would take.  While I had many starts and stops, I just wasn’t finishing anything. I had the amazing fortune to hear a few key pieces of advice when my ears and heart were open, and it was just enough to propel me forward.

Write for yourself first.

Get your stories on the page before age 55.

For some reason, the first piece of advice opened a floodgate for me. It felt like I was granted a permission that I didn’t know I needed. I let any idea of lofty publication goals fall away.  With that pressure removed, I was able to explore what would truly make me happy to write. The second bit of advice makes me laugh a little more each year as I inch toward that milestone. The very most important thing that I could think that I had to say was an expression of gratitude and love. I set out to write my first book, List Your Life, as an homage to those who matter most to me.

What I discovered in writing that first journal was a form that I realized might help others find success in writing for themselves, too.

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

AKB: Notecards and spiral-bound notebooks! And, of course, a pencil. Pen doesn’t really work for sketching ideas for me. Which is kind of funny because I never erase, only cross off, in case I need that idea again. I have journaled throughout my life—there is nothing better than having that chance to pop back into a moment in my past and remember who I was with and the memories we were making—but my daily writing now consists of the three-part list format that I started with my self-published journals. Every day, I give myself the freedom to stop after a List of Three. Often I go on, but I’m never overwhelmed at the start. 

As a middle school teacher, I write with my students regularly. They know that I am committed to their success—I write everything that they do, which lets me find seeds of stories and I am continuously working at my writing fluency right along with them. 

I could brainstorm and make lists and outline all day long. Moving forward on the content of a new piece requires tremendous discipline for me. Now that I have completed two projects, I know what an undertaking the whole process is, so that can be daunting. Once I’m into it, I like to be immersed, which makes summers as a teacher extra helpful.

Ideas are all around. It’s a matter of taking the time to choose a direction and stick with it!

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

AKB: There are so many occasions in daily life where we swim along. There are limitless obligations as a wife and mother at home—all the things that I want to do well to make a happy family. As a teacher, my work is unending and, while fulfilling, can be all-consuming. Writing my books was something that I did just for me, and that is far out of the mold of my life. These books took an enormous amount of time and energy, and I had to be committed to make it happen. It would have been far easier to quit, but, once I started, I really wanted to keep going and see it through.

A control that I set for my peace of mind was that I would make sure it stayed fun, that I didn’t let my writing projects become a burden. There are too many other things that I want to do already in my days, that I knew it wouldn’t work, not the way I wanted it to, so it has been very helpful to recognize the times of year when I am most productive in my personal writing, and the ways that I can keep it fresh during the school year, such as while my sons are busy at practice or some other time when I feel like I’m not taking away from family time. That said, I am lucky to have some very strong role models in my life, and they have been instrumental in showing me that taking care of my happiness is essential and valid, too.

Writing is me-time. A place for me to stretch my imagination all on my own. To think of an idea and move it through the various stages that it takes to accomplish tall tasks. When I finished writing List Your Lifeand gave it to those who held a place in my heart and found a root in my book, I was proud that they had a tangible object to validate my affection for them.

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

AKB: Here are the links:

Angela K. Berent Website

List Your Life: A Modern-Day Memoir on Amazon

Trace Your Travels: An Adventure Journal on Amazon

Angela K. Berent Facebook Author Page

Angela K. Berent on Instagram

Angela K. Berent on Twitter