Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Guest Review: Ball Don’t Live by Matt de la Pena review by CoBalt Stargazer

Ball Don't LieBall Don’t Lie was Matt de la Pena’s first book, published in 2005, and it was developed into a movie of the same title starring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. de la Pena is a California native, with an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. He currently resides in Brooklyn, teaches creative writing and visits high schools across the country.

de la Pena has written ten books, and whatever your opinion of Young Adult books is, Ball Don’t Lie is one of the better examples of the genre. The author won the Newberry Medal earlier this year for Last Stop On Market Street, and I am gradually working my way through the rest of his novels. I recommend trying to locate his work at your local library, or perhaps online at Amazon.

The story opens at a place called Lincoln Rec, which is a local hangout for professional amateur basketball players. Dreadlock Man, with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball.  Most of the characters go by nicknames, which they were given when they first started playing at the rec center. The exception is Sticky, the book’s protagonist. Sticky is seventeen years old, and he’s been in and out of foster care since he was a kid, due to either behavioral problems or adults who don’t really want the responsibility of taking care of him because he isn’t what they had in mind. At the time the book opens, he’s on his third or fourth set of foster parents.

Sticky has a fairly severe case of a likely un-diagnosed OCD, which affects him even when he’s on the court. He often becomes fixated on sounds, the tone of things, repeating actions over and over again until he’s satisfied with the “PING!” or the “PONG!” Despite the fact that he’s white, this is no story of privilege. While basketball is our hero’s passion, he feels as if that’s the only thing he has going for him. That is until he meets Anh-thu, a pretty Vietnamese girl who works in a clothing store. That he meets her while trying to shoplift from the store where she works is mostly beside the point, although his penchant for theft comes into play later.

The overall point of the book is, Sticky can ball, and the book is full of urban slang on that note. Ball, baller, daps, hoops, etc, but it never comes off as patronizing or condescending. Sticky and his friends, who are mostly older, live the game in between their days at school and at work; but the kid isn’t sure there’s life beyond the court. Skin color aside, society has an impression of him and kids like him; and while he wants to be the “Eminem of hoops” he needs to rise above the self-defeating belief that he can never be anything other than a semi-thug on a basketball court. When Anh-thu enters his life, he becomes almost immediately smitten, even if he isn’t always capable of expressing it.

As the book progresses, his episodes of OCD continue, and as his girlfriend’s birthday approaches he decides to buy a fairly inexpensive stuffed bear, but steal a more costly bracelet as gifts. But although he changes his mind about the bracelet, he ends up using the knife he found to hold up an older man. He finds himself in possession of a little over four hundred dollars, more money than he’s ever seen in one place at one time. He counts it out once, slowly and deliberately….and then his condition kicks in. He’s locked in place, fixated on the bills in his hands, the compulsion to count them out a second and a third time holding him there until someone else comes along and steals it from him, shooting him through the hand in the process because he tries to resist.

Sticky wakes up in the hospital with Anh-thu asleep in the chair beside his bed. The reader gets a potent flashback into his childhood and how he decided his name was always going to be Sticky. His mother, who is only referred to as ‘Baby’, was an off and on drug user with a history of bringing boyfriends home. The reason he ended up in foster care is that she committed suicide while he was the only one in the house. Only he was locked in an episode then as well, concentrating on splitting out of a window while trying to hit the fender of a truck parked outside.  The sound of his mother shouting his name, “STICKY! STICKY! STICKY!” got stuck in his head on a loop. After that his given name, Travis, fell by the wayside because that’s the last memory he has of her.

But the upside is, the memory triggers a breakthrough, and as cliché as it sounds, Sticky and Travis merge for a brief time, and he begins to cry, likely for the first time in years. He loses his cool, the hard shell between himself and the world around him, finding catharsis.

The book ends with Sticky returning to the rec center after spending three weeks at a summer basketball camp, playing up and down the West Coast in front of college coaches and scouts. The scar on his hand resembles a purple spider, but he can still ball. More than that, he’s discovered that he isn’t nothing without the sport; he has friends and family and love. A future, which he didn’t know was possible until he let go of the preconceptions of not only society, but his own preconceptions.

In the end, Ball Don’t Lie isn’t a perfect book, but it’s such a triumphant story that the flaws it contains make it even more worthy of a read. Sticky is every boy with aspirations, finally bringing those aspirations within reach. Give it a look. You won’t regret it.

Guest Book Review: The Drop by Dennis Lehane-Guest Review by Cobalt Stargazer

The DropI am introducing Guest Reviews and the lovely Cobalt Stargazer is my first guest reviewer. You can learn more about Cobalt Stargazer below.

You may not know the name of Dennis Lehane, but most undoubtedly you are familiar with Lehane’s books. Two of them, Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone were made into very successful movies, both commercially and critically. Lehane’s novel The Drop started out as a short story called Animal Rescue, and then it was stretched out into the screenplay for the movie version, which starred Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini in his last film role.

The Drop opens as Bob Saginowski is walking home from work on a cold Boston night. Bob is a bartender, and he works for his cousin Marv, who used to own the bar until he was pushed out by the Russian mob. Now Marv is just a figurehead, and Bob is his loyal, if plodding, employee. On his way home, he hears a noise, and when he investigates he finds a pitbull puppy, hurt and shivering, in a trash can. He lifts the dog out, which leads Nadia, the occupant of the house the trash barrel belongs to, to step outside to discover why a strange man is loitering in front of her dwelling. After some uncomfortable conversation, Nadia invites Bob in to check the dog out. After taking his picture with her cell phone and sending it out to six other people, including the local parish priest.

Bob is extremely reluctant to take the dog in, even though his loneliness is such that he feels it in his bones every time he thinks about it. He wants to make friends, and he even tries to, but he’s so shy and withdrawn that people generally give up after a few attempts to make conversation. Nadia practically has to browbeat him into taking the puppy with him by saying that if he turns the dog over to Animal Rescue they’ll keep him for only so long, then likely put him to sleep. He ends up taking the pup home, where he gives him the name Rocco.

Cousin Marv’s gets robbed (the bar serves as a drop for mob money) and a cop named Torres enters the picture. Bob mentions that one of the robbers wore a broken watch with the face turned inward. Eventually, they find a plastic bag with blood-stained money inside…and a broken watch still on it. Together, Marv and Bob literally launder the money and Bob throws the forearm into the channel after wrapping it in plastic, like a piece of meat from the butcher’s.

The advent of Rocco – and Nadia – in Bob’s life eases his loneliness somewhat, but it also brings a guy named Eric Deeds sniffing around. Eric is Nadia’s ex, and Rocco’s owner, but he’s also a little psychotic and a stalker to boot. He ends up telling Bob that he wants ten grand for the dog or he’s going to do something terrible, some unnamed something that he never describes. Supposedly Eric killed someone named Richie Whelan, a former high school football star everyone called Glory Days, and he’s been coasting on the notoriety of that for years. No one can prove or disprove the claim, but that’s the rumor.

It turns out that Marv is the one who set up the robbery, trying to get back at the Russians for forcing him out. Bob seems to get an inkling of this, and he semi-confronts Marv with: “Are you doing something desperate, again? Something that maybe this time we won’t be able to clean up?” Marv tells him to beat it after a speech about how he used to be somebody in the neighborhood, and the stool he sits on in the bar used to be just his seat, and that it meant something. Before he leaves, Bob says, “But it didn’t.”

Near the end, Eric and Nadia come to the bar on Super Bowl night, and its Eric’s intention to steal the drop money. He broke into her house and more or less kidnapped her, forcing her to accompany him. They wait until everyone’s cleared out, even old Millie, who shows up every night and stays until closing even though she can’t pay her tab (Bob does it for her). Eric knows that the safe has an automatic lock, and he’s just waiting for it to open so he can get at the cash.

Without spoiling the ending, it suffices to say that Eric ends up dead at Bob’s hand, and Nadia and Rocco are both free from him. Marv’s part in the burglary gets found out by the “hard guys”, and he meets his own end with a bullet to the bridge of his nose. Bob’s loneliness, that marine layer of gloom, shows signs of breaking up in the rays of light from Nadia’s budding trust, and possibly even affection.

Is Bob a good person? Not particularly. On the morality scale of one to ten, I’d give him a seven or maybe an eight. He spends most of the book seeming a bit slow in the head, so when it turns out that he’s actually dangerous it’s a surprise. But Cousin Marv and Eric Deeds combined aren’t as good of a person as he is by himself. Marv is too venal to be genuinely evil, and Eric, while legitimately violent, is also so overconfident that he badly underestimates his supposed quarry, taking him for a half-wit that he can run roughshod over.

Ultimately, The Drop is a story of what it means to get along in a hard world, and that it really is possible to find happiness and contentment as long as you’re willing to take the risk. Sometimes you just have to be more dangerous than anyone thought you could be.

Meet Cobalt Stargazer! Cobalt Stargazer is a lifelong resident of North Carolina, where she attended NSCU and graduated with a degree in literature, which looks very attractive hanging on her wall. After a long stretch of retirement, she started writing fanfiction again, having found ample inspiration in the show Criminal Minds. The powers of fandom in general are strong with Cobalt Stargazer, from the Buffyverse to the worlds created by several movies and even procedurals, so if there are questions, please direct them to the awesome chief blogger here, who can pass them on. Cobalt Stargazer really looked forward to this gig, which gives her the opportunity to do what she like best – read, and then be opinionated about what she’s read.