“Author!Author!” An Interview With Children’s Author Brett Fleishman

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Brett Fleishman loves to make children laugh and one way he does this is through his books for children of all ages. His books mix whimsical word play with creative illustrations, jokes, and puzzles.

Brett’s latest creations include the following:

1. Toilet Trouble (for beginners)

2. Take a Hike! (for intermediate readers)

3. Bedtime Story (for advanced readers)

Brett was kind enough to grant me an interview and here it is. Enjoy!

  1. How long have you been writing? What inspired you to write?

I started writing children’s poetry four years ago.  Prior to that, I had never written a poem.  In fact, up until then, I didn’t know the creative side of my brain existed!  Unfortunately, it was a stressful personal situation, going through the early stages of a divorce that inspired me to write.  At that time, I was desperately looking for a way to escape from the anxiety around the divorce.  Writing children’s poetry was that escape.  I guess everything happens for a reason.

  1. Why do focus on books for children?

Because I am a kid at heart.  And I relate to children incredibly well.  I’m not convinced my maturity level is too much higher than a 12-year old’s.  So it’s a perfectly natural target audience for me.  I was always the class clown / goofball growing up.  I kind of still am?

  1. Describe your latest books?

My latest three books, which will be released on Nov 8 through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and indiebound.org, are designed for beginner (grades K-2), intermediate (grades 3-5), and advanced (grades 5-7) readers, respectively.  Each book is the second volume in a series of books I am writing for each of these three reading levels.  Each book contains a collection of humorous poems with bright, colorful illustrations.  The intermediate and advanced books are humorous, but also very educational since many of the poems employ word plays (puns and idioms).  In the appendices of these books, I include a section that explains what puns and idioms are, and then explain, poem by poem, how the puns and idioms were used in the poems.  Educators and parents seem to really appreciate this aspect of my books.

  1. What challenges do you face as a writer?

Finding the time to write is my biggest challenge.  While I would absolutely love for this to become my full-time job, right now, unfortunately, it’s not.  I have an M.B.A. in finance and work in the investment industry.  (I’m guessing there aren’t too many investment poets out there.)  I also spend a lot of time with my two sons and play competitive tennis.  So carving out time to write is my biggest challenge, for sure.

  1. What are the reactions to your books?

Generally speaking, the feedback has been extremely positive.  I have had a lot of parents and educators tell me that my poetry is very high-quality.  They like the fact that my poems are not only designed to make children laugh, but also to make children think.  For me, that’s what makes writing poetry so much fun. 

  1. What advice would you give to other writers?

I would give other writers the same advice I give myself:  Don’t get frustrated.  Don’t give up.  Believe in what you do.  This is a very tough industry to break into.  I like to read about all of the super-famous authors who were rejected time after time after time before finally being recognized for their work.  If you aren’t persistent and confident in yourself, you aren’t going to last in this business very long.

  1. What are your future plans?

For Thanksgiving?  Or for Christmas?  Or for New Year’s?  Oh, you mean future plans as a writer?  Ah, right…   So once these three books are published in November, I will have finished publishing six books in a little more than a year.  I’m proud of that, but I’m also exhausted?  My first six books all contain collections of poems.  But I’ve also written a handful of fairly long poems that I am planning to publish as standalone books.  One of them, which is called ‘Chasing Santa Claus,’ I am planning to publish in late 2019.  I have hundreds of unpublished poems still, so after ‘Chasing Santa Claus,’ I am planning to publish many more beginner, intermediate, and advanced children’s poetry books starting in 2020 — and continuing on for the next decade (or two).

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“Author! Author!” An Interview with A.R. Geiger

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I first made A.R Geiger’s acquaintance when I joined Twitter. We connected as readers and writers, but I knew I had to follow her because of the inspiring things she writes that urges writers to keep going on no matter what hurdles or challenges they face. So I am very honored to have interviewed Ms. Geiger. She’s an absolute delight.

1. First, give me a brief bio about yourself, where you grew up,  education, where you live now, writing jobs, other jobs, like and dislikes, whatever you want to share.

 

 I’m a Jesus-loving traveler, a reader, and a mythology enthusiast! My bookshelves are always overcrowded. I believe that all books have something to teach us, whether they are truth or fiction, history or myth. My stories are my heart and soul. They stem from places I’ve visited and things I’ve seen. Airplanes are my happy place! I’ve backpacked through Southern Europe, eaten snails in France, bought books in Portugal, and lived in a castle on the beach in Scotland for four months. (I vacuumed the hallways every week. Apparently, this is called ‘hoovering’ in Europe.) I’ve ridden elephants in Cambodia, slept on buses and church floors, and fallen in love with cultures very different from my own. To quote Mary Anne Radmacher, “I am not the same for having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.
The places I’ve seen have
seriously influenced my work and the stories I tell. Words are my art supplies, and I am passionate about painting an honest, accurate picture of life in every sphere of society. I have been writing for five years, but I was making up stories long before I learned to put them down on paper.

 

2. When did you you start writing and why?

I have always been coming up with stories and writing many of them down, but I started writing seriously when I turned eighteen. I was on a trip that turned out to be very boring for me, and I needed a distraction! Thus, my novel was born, packed into the notes section of an iPod touch. Once I started, I was hooked, and I haven’t been able to stop since. I have too many stories in my head to let them all wither and die.


3. How does your Christian faith inspire and influence your writing?
God is very much the center of my writing and the center of my life. Without Him, I would have given up long ago. I pray every morning before I start writing, and He gives me the ideas and creativity that I need to continue! When I get stuck on a problem, my solution is always to take a break, get away, and ask God what He thinks. He always seems to always have a solution for me. When I was still living at home, I had a quote written on my wall next to my computer that read, “Have you asked the Master Storyteller?” It helped remind me who was really the master of my stories.

4. What do you write and why?
I write YA fantasy, most of it centered around Justice and the reality of Human Trafficking. This is an area of passion for me, as I have spent time studying and working with people escaping from it.

5. What challenges do you face as a writer? Describe a typical writing day. 
Time. The hardest challenge I have right now is fitting writing time in between two jobs. Writing has not begun to pay for me quite yet, and so my stories have to fit themselves into the bits and pieces of my day when I’m not working to make ends meet. Sometimes that means waking up early or staying up late, sometimes it means being very intentional with an hour. Somehow I’ve always managed to keep my stories going, even in my hardest seasons.

6. Who are your favorite writers and why?
Cornelia Funke. Her Inkworld series is one of the best fantasy trilogies on the market. Hands down. After that . . . hmmm. J.R.R Tolkien, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, John Flanagan, Brian Jacques, Charlotte Brontë. . . I could send you a list a mile long and still come up with other names. Words are my passion and books are my obsession.

7. What are your future plans? What do you aspire to?
My plans are a little shaky right now! But I would love to be a self-supporting author and do lots of traveling. My passion is to tell people’s stories and give a voice to those who have none. I’ve written one biography already, for a man who was a Vietnam war vet and a missionary. I’d love to do more! Right now, the difficulty is finding the time . . . I’ve got at least two others who would like me to write their stories! Someday.
More on A.R. Geiger

On the Books: An Interview With Elizabeth Jahns

For quite a long time I have been very fortunate to have book-related professionals reach out to me to read and review various books among other things. These people have inspired me to start a new series called “On the Books,” a Q & A feature with authors, publicists, editors, publishers, interns among others to tell me about their experiences in the book biz. My first interview is with Elizabeth Jahns, who interned with Beacon Publishing Group. Ms. Jahns was instrumental in getting my interview with Kip Addotta. She impressed me with her professionalism and enthusiasm and I thought she would make for a good interview.

First, can I get some background information on your college education, major and work history.

I attended Sarah Lawrence College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree, concentrating in English and Creative Writing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to work with words. However, when I got to college, I wanted to explore different subjects and see what else was out there, just to make sure that books/writing was really what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, since I’d never really done anything else. I considered majoring in Political Science, in Philosophy, and even (very briefly) going Pre-Med. What I wanted to do, above all, was make the world a better place. Becoming a writer or a literary agent seemed a trivial thing in comparison to following the path of, say, Mother Teresa. I completed internships with Student World Assembly (a now defunct nonprofit whose main goal was to raise global awareness regarding human rights issues and to get college students involved in the process) and the Mary J. Blige Center for Women (a center in Yonkers, NY that offers programs for women that empower them to pursue personal goals and become self-sufficient). However, after a couple years of this, I realized that what I truly wanted to do was work with words, either by writing or in the publishing industry, or both, and that I would strive to make the world a better place by whatever means were available to me through those channels.

After college, my husband and I moved to Columbia, Missouri, where I got a job as a barista and wrote during my free time. I am currently working as a Financial Associate at a bank here in Columbia. We are planning to relocate to Kansas City within the next few months, where I believe that more publishing opportunities will be available to me.

How did you get your internship and why Beacon? What were your duties? Describe a typical day. What challenges did you face and what was the best thing your internship? What advice would you give to other interns?

This is the very first publishing internship I’ve done. I had been searching for a remote internship on Indeed.com, as I was eager to gain experience in publishing and build my skill set, and I saw that Beacon Publishing Group had posted a position that would allow me to do just that. My duties so far have been to query book bloggers and reviewers who may be interested in reviewing our recent publications and/or interviewing our authors. Since I am completing this internship remotely, I can’t really say what a typical day looks like. Usually, I’m sitting at my laptop sending out these queries on my lunch hour at work or after I get home in the evening.

The best thing about my internship has been the experience I’ve gained by seeing how a small publishing house gets their publications in the public eye. Media coverage and bestsellers don’t just happen; a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes.

As far as pieces of advice for other interns, I have two that I think are important. Number one: do your best. This may sound trite, but it is something that will set you apart from others. If you are consistently pleasant and upbeat, while delivering impeccable work that you’ve obviously spent valuable time working on, you are going to catch someone’s eye. Number two: keep in touch with your internship supervisor(s) after the internship is over. Add them on LinkedIn and other social media, and regularly like/comment on their posts. Send them articles that you think they would enjoy. Keep on their radar. Building relationships like this is crucial in any industry. No one can get to the top alone.

 What are your future plans?

My future plans are to move with my husband to Kansas City within the next few months, where I hope that I’ll find more opportunities to pursue a career in publishing. I want to continue gaining experience by completing remote internships, eventually transitioning to paid online work, such as freelance writing. I would love to get back to New York City at some point, although this is more of a long-term goal right now.

Favorite books and why?

My two favorite books in the world are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I read them over and over again. The sense of disillusionment and loss that permeates The Great Gatsby is something that I relate to more and more as I grow older. I don’t mean that that’s all my life is–definitely not! But those are sensations that I think many people feel at some point in their lives. The characters in the novel are also larger than life (as were F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald themselves), which is why I think it has translated so well into film, and which is something that I enjoy in general. My friends would not hesitate to describe me as “extra,” an adjective that I proudly embrace, so it’s not surprising that this is the kind of novel toward which I gravitate.

As for The Bell Jar. When I first read it in high school, I couldn’t believe that Sylvia Plath, a woman who had died over a quarter century before my birth, had somehow reached into my consciousness and plucked out these secret feelings and thoughts that I thought were just mine. It was a realization that I wasn’t alone in my particular darkness. (Like Plath, I also dropped out of college temporarily due to my declining mental health.) Each time I read it, I feel the same way. I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not imagining this patriarchal oppression (even now, 55 years after the novel’s original publication), and by the fact that another female head has housed these same dark and self-destructive thoughts. And, most of all, I’m consoled by the fact that this well-educated, twenty-something young protagonist, with whom I seem to have a lot in common, also struggled with anxiety and doubt on her journey toward selfhood and fulfillment.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions!

 

 

 

“Author! Author!” Writers in Their Own Words

I’ve been very fortunate to read and review some wonderful books. But I’ve never had the chance to interview any authors…until now. Thanks to the lovely Elizabeth Jahns from Beacon Publishing Group, I was able to interview the iconic comedian Kip Addotta about his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian.”

According to his website‘s bio, Mr. Addotta has appeared on such classic programs like “The Tonight Show” and the syndicated show “Make Me Laugh.”  He was also featured on “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not only a stand up comedian, Mr. Addotta is also a talented songwriter who wrote songs such as “Wet Dream,” “Big Cock Roach,” “Life in the Slaw Lane,” and “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.” Some of these songs were featured on the the Dr. Demento radio program. In 1995, Addotta released the DVD “Live From Maximum Security!”

What inspired you to write a book?

I thought it was time to write the story of my life and help other comedians become better at the art of stand-up comedy.

Who inspired you to write your “Confessions of a Comedian”?

Steve Martin’s book, “Born Standing Up.”

How did you prepare to write this book?

I simply began putting down my memories:

“From the first interactions with “The Mob” in his early childhood, his nightmarish life with his father until he was on his own at 15 years of age, through his marriages, and how he became one of the best and most famous stand-up comedians of his time, Kip Addotta tells all. He names names and details the how-to and fine-tuning of comedy.”

Is your memoir arranged in a time?  If not, how and why?

It starts from when I was eighteen months old and ends at the present time!

What are the similarities and differences between writing a book and stand-up comedy?

They are two totally different things and it was difficult to write both!

What challenges/difficulties did you face when writing your book?

Remembering the order in which things happened and making my point without being ponderous!

What experiences do you feel were significant for you? (personally or career wise)

Meeting Jack Benny and trying to find my mother!

What difficulties did you overcome writing this memoir?

It gave me the opportunity to explain my behavior to my family and friends.

Did you include photographs? Do any of them hold any significance to you?

Yes I did and the ones of my grandmother, who raised me and my uncle Victor who were both Made members of Bonanno crime family!

What else should people know about “Confessions of a Comedian”?

That it is a true story!

What are your future plans? Will you continue to write?

I have another book in mind, but can’t divulge any information now so as not to impair the sales of my current book “Confessions of a Comedian.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am amazed at the response to my current book and the fact that people are finding it so entertaining!

For more information on Kip Addotta, his comedic work and his memoir “Confessions of a Comedian visit the following links:

Kip Addotta’s Website

Amazon

Good Reads

Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.

You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.

Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”

Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.

“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.

Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.

She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.

Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.

I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.

This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.

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.

Book Review: The Secret Currency of Love-The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money and Relationships edited by Hilary Black

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Even in tough economic times, women have a difficult time discussing money. Women will talk about their sex lives, tell you who they voted for in the last Presidential election and go on and on about their weight. But when it comes to money, women usually keep their mouths shut. However, Hilary Black has found women who are willing to write about money and what it means to them. She has published their stories in The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money and Relationships.

The Secret Currency of Love covers not only how money plays a part in love relationships but also the relationships between parent and child, among friends and with near strangers. Joni Evans writes how a high-profile divorce from a very wealthy man didn’t only shake her personally, but how it also affected her professionally. Dani Shapiro’s mother uses her money to control Dani. Love could be bought, even if it was from your own flesh and blood. Sheri Holman deftly describes her relationship with a drug addict and homeless man and how her own ambition never quite rubbed off on him. Sometimes money wasn’t a part of a relationship, it was the relationship.

These stories, written by notable journalists and novelists, are extremely well-written and interesting. I found myself turning page after page, wanting to find out how their stories played out. However, I was also left wanting. Except for a handful, a majority of them live in New York City. They received excellent educations, many at Ivy League schools, usually paid their parents. Their parents often helped pay their way through even after these ladies reached maturity. The writers are pretty much working in careers they love; no low-paying McJobs for these broads. And if attached, their husbands are also flush with cash. For the most part, these writers aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. They aren’t waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about paying the rent and the bills. Their children are thriving and want for nothing.

Yet, a majority of these writers couldn’t be happy with that. I found myself thinking, “You have more than most of us. Quit whining!” Bliss Broyard kvetches about not being able to keep up with her wealthy friends. I wish for once she could have been grateful for what she does have and appreciate the nice things her friends do for her. A very smug Leslie Bennetts tells us that unlike the offspring of the rich parents at her children’s pricey private school, her own kids don’t get whatever they want. What Ms. Bennetts doesn’t seem to realize is the friendships her children have cultivated with families she likes to disparage have given her son and daughter opportunities we can only dream of. Given a chance to spend the summer in France? I wouldn’t bitch.

Fortunately, some writers truly understand how money can really transform lives. A scholarship helped Veronica Chambers escape an abusive childhood, and now she donates money to help other students at her alma mater. After dealing with an abusive relationship, Kim Barnes understands how money can be a means of control and escape.

But sadly, stories like these are in short supply. I wish Ms. Black would realize women beyond her Rolodex of upper-middle class professionals do have interesting stories to tell about money. For instance, Jennifer Wolff Perrine has the means to adopt a child from a poor couple. But what about the woman giving up the child? Doesn’t she have a story to tell? What does this money mean to her and her family? Is it because she’s poor and uneducated that her story is deemed unworthy? I don’t think so. Waitresses from the Midwest have their stories to tell. So do mothers making the precarious leap from welfare to work. And a woman who used to donate to the local food bank but now gets donations from the local food bank might have an interesting story to tell. Sadly, The Serect Currency of Love doesn’t contain these type of stories. I wish Ms. Black and her coterie would look beyond their own privilege to find another unabashed truth about women, money and relationships even if they don’t wear Manolo Blahniks.

Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

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“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Book Review: You Gotta Be Dirty-The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan

31827805As someone who is more “born to be mild” than “born to be wild,” and who is more likely to watch a rerun of My Three Sons on a retro TV channel than an episode of Sons of Anarchy, I have to admit the biker culture is one I am not at all familiar with even though I live in Milwaukee, the home of the iconic Harley-Davidson. The motorcycling enthusiast I’m most likely to come across is probably a well-heeled baby boomer whose biggest act of rebellion is not having granite kitchen counter tops.

So needless to say reading You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan was a total culture shock. For the longest time, I thought “outlaw” biker culture consisted of some rebellious rabble rousers who drank, smoked weed, did a line of coke every now and then, got involved in bar brawls and petty crimes, and had a thing for strippers and hookers. But reading Grogan’s well-researched book was a complete eye-opener.

You Gotta Be Dirty focuses mostly on the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) from its inception to the modern day. The Outlaws Motorcycle Club was based mostly in Wisconsin with some activity in bordering Midwestern states, mostly Illinois.

In the first couple of chapters, Grogan tells us the formation of the OMC and biker culture in general. It’s very extensive. Grogan clearly did his research, and I was happy to get some of the nuts and bolts of this unfamiliar lifestyle before I proceeded with my reading.

Formed sometime in the mid-1960s, the OMC initially just seemed like a rag tag bunch of somewhat disheveled rebellious young men (and their “old ladies”) who had a mad fetish for motorcycles and motorcycle culture. But by the 1970s, the OMC was feared and notorious for their extreme violence and acts of terror, especially towards people of color and women, even their old ladies. To say, members of the OMC were both racist and sexist is putting it mildly. But among the OMC’s victims included people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Men, women and children often met tragic ends due to OMC’s actions.

Among these actions including shootings, stabbings, rape, assault, torture and bombings, which educated me while also upsetting me greatly.

Several of these actions continue to haunt my thoughts; one story was about the brutal torture of one young woman whose palms were impaled with nails and later she was nailed to a tree. Then there is the horrifying death of a teenage paperboy named Larry Anstett, who while delivering the Milwaukee Sentinel, died when he picked a package left on a customer’s car. The package contained an explosive device. It went off and Anstett died from his injuries, just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And in 1994, the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws detonated a car bomb. This bomb was the third largest of its kind, just after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and later, the 1995 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including 19 children; and over 800 other people were injured.

The Outlaws didn’t become famous; they became notorious and feared. Their violence went far beyond Wisconsin, causing fear among their enemies, innocent civilians, the media and law enforcement at local, state and national levels. Even their own members weren’t safe, and several of them met atrocious fates at the hands of their “brothers.”

While reading You Gotta Be Dirty I had to put it down a few times because I was so overwhelmed by the senseless violence and hateful activities of the OMC. And I must admit, I sometimes thought of keeping an Excel spreadsheet of various people involved with the OMC, some innocent, some guilty, because it was so overwhelming, yet informative. I am truly in awe of Grogan’s research ability and fortitude and at the end of each chapter, he properly provides his resources. His willingness to get the “story behind the story” is a true testament to solid journalistic standards and reporting fortitude.

You Gotta Be Dirty is a very interesting book for anyone who is interested in fugitive biker culture as whole, a total history buff or anyone interested in a world beyond their wildest nightmares. I know I certainly got an education.