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 Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins-Guest Reviewer Rosie Blythe

Girl on the trainYes, it’s another guest review. This one done by that lovely British lady Rosie Blythe who you might remember as the talented author of the book The Princess Guide to Life, which I gave a rave review a while back. Rosie and I have struck up a on-line friendship and I’m thrilled to publish her first guest review. Learn more about Rosie Blythe below.

When a book debuts at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List and remains there for over three months, it’s a fair bet that it will be an enticing read (and one with the inevitable film adaptation already in the works).

The story begins slowly, innocuously. Rachel travels into London every day, and like many commuters, she passes her time on the train by looking out of the window. As the 8:04 to Euston trundles slowly past the houses which back onto the railway tracks, she gets a fleeting glimpse of their occupants. The train always stops at the same signal, and Rachel gets a perfect view of her favourite house. She can see the couple inside as they go about their everyday business, and in her boredom, she makes up stories about them and their sublimely happy relationship. She names them Jason and Jess, and they come to represent everything Rachel wants – everything she used to have. “They’re Tom and me, five years ago.”

We discover that Rachel has become something akin to Bridget Jones – if Helen Fielding’s creation had taken a really dark turn. She drinks too much. She’s put on weight and finds that men regard her with a mixture of contempt and pity. She makes nuisance calls to her ex-husband – she’s not being malicious, she just misses her old life. It all started going wrong when she couldn’t get pregnant, and her husband had an affair – now the other woman is his new wife and they have an adorable baby daughter. It’s not surprising that Rachel drinks herself into oblivion as often as possible in her rented single room – and now her alcoholism is also destroying her professional life. Meanwhile, we have a change in narrator, with alternate flashback chapters from one year earlier, voiced by “Jess”, the woman living beside the railway tracks. In reality, her name is Megan and her life is far from the perfect idyll Rachel has imagined. Can her past confessions shed any light on the events of today?

The story begins to deepen when Rachel spots “Jess” kissing another man; this evidence of trouble in paradise rocks her to the core, bringing back memories of her own ex-husband’s infidelity. Rachel knows how devastating affairs can be; should she somehow contact “Jason” (who is actually named Scott) and tip him off about his wife’s indiscretions? It’s all rather too close to home – quite literally, as Rachel’s old house is on the same street as Scott and Megan’s. Her ex-husband Tom has remained there, joined by his new wife Anna – who also contributes the odd chapter just so we can hear her side of the story.

Rachel decides to return to her old stomping ground to suss out what’s going on with Scott and Megan – “I just want to see him. I want to see them… what harm can it do?” –  but it all goes horribly wrong. She wakes up with the hangover from hell and no memory of what happened on that fateful night – but Megan is now missing. Can Rachel piece everything together, or will she walk blindly into danger?

While many writers create effortlessly cool and sexy protagonists (no doubt with one eye on Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt for the movie version) Paula Hawkins dares to make Rachel, well, not particularly likeable. She’s a busybody, and her desperate desire to be involved with the action results in her spinning a web of lies which tightens around her as she gets pulled deeper into the murkiness surrounding Megan’s disappearance.

Often, thrillers lose credibility because the main characters have to be smart enough to solve crimes, yet just stupid enough to make the irrational decisions which will prolong the book (entering the dark alleyway with the stranger, hiding in a cupboard instead of calling the police etc.) Paula Hawkins cleverly sidesteps this; Rachel’s alcoholism provides a realistic reason for her to make unwise choices (such as drunkenly contacting people she shouldn’t), and leads to her becoming more and more isolated as people shut her out of their lives.

Rachel may be a frustrating narrator, with her erratic behaviour and dramatic lapses in memory, but we sympathise with her. (While wishing she could get her act together and stop being so self-destructive.) The rest of the characters also have an admirable collection of flaws – Megan has a dark past, and her husband may not be such a strong and selfless protector, after all. Due to Rachel’s stalkerish tendencies and harassment, we might have felt sorry for our third narrator, Anna, but then she admits that she liked being the other woman and doesn’t care how it affected Rachel. In fact, all Anna cares about is protecting the secure little family unit she has created.

The book has been described as “Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation,” and I agree; as well as a slow-burning creepiness, it has that classic Hitchcockian theme of knowing that the police aren’t going to listen and take you seriously, no matter how urgent your information, because they already have you down as crazy and delusional.

I found the story perfectly paced, with new twists and turns coming from the most unexpected directions. If you’re a binge-reader who can finish a gripping novel in one breathless sitting, be warned: you’re likely to end up reading under the covers at 3 am, and jumping out of your skin every time a floorboard creaks.

Rosie Blythe lives in London (hence all those crazy British spellings) and when she’s not writing, works as a stylist in television and film. She enjoys reading everything from self-help and biographies to cosy mysteries and lurid thrillers. She’s written two books: The Princess Guide to Life, and the much sillier The Princess Guide to Being a Cat.

Brag Book (and Not Just About Me)

you_go_girl_lady_bug-3124a6d95dd49bbba34dec6fbf667096I’ve been keeping up with the lovely Rosie Blythe, author of The Princess Guide to Life, via Faceboook, and she just loved my review. Well, I just love her book and I hope she and The Princess Guide to Life are huge successes.

Now I have to brag about someone else. Dasha Kelly is a Milwaukee-based writer, spoken word artist, teacher and activist. She is at the helm of Still Waters Collective, an organization that mentors “language artists” to fulfill their greatest potential as both writers and speakers. A few years ago I was able to cover a poetry slam Still Waters hosted for high school students for Third Coast Digest (now called Urban Milwaukee Dial), and it was truly one of the most memorable moments in my writing life. Here is a link to my article.

Now Ms. Kelly has a new novel out, and I am so proud of her I could just plotz! Her novel Almost Crimson has just been released and to rave reviews. And Almost Crimson has definitely been added to my very lengthy reading list. Brava, Dasha Kelly, brava! You are an inspiration and a gift to all lovers of the written word.

almost crimson_

Book Review: The Princess Guide to Life by Rosie Blythe

25071062Just like a lot of people, I often feel a bit out of sorts in our mixed-up world. I can’t seem to get it together personally, professionally and romantically. So in these moments of confusion I make the decision to peruse self-help section of my favorite book store. I hope to find a nugget of wisdom to help me improve my lackluster life. But after a while, I fail to be inspired, and my romp in the self-help section turns to self-hate.

Women are constantly getting the message “Girl, You’re Doing it Wrong.” We fail to “act like a lady and think like a man.” We don’t follow the “rules, girl.” And Dr. Laura is not shy of telling us of the ten stupid things we’re doing to mess up our lives. Interestingly enough, dropping the N-word nearly a dozen times while talking to a black caller is not on the demented doctor’s list.

But I digress…

So after leaving the book shop, throwing my dainty hands in disgust, I shout to the heavens, “Is there a book that will truly help me without me ending up a petite ball of self-hate? Am I destined to be an utter failure as a woman?”

Well, thank goodness for Rosie Blythe and the kindness, decency and gentle “you go, girl” spirit she conveys in her book, The Princess Guide to Life. The Princess Guide is like having your best friend in your corner, and Ms. Blythe’s advice is comforting, not shaming and scolding.

Now at first, I bristled a bit at the Princess in the title. I couldn’t help think of spoiled, entitled and vapid divas-in-training who are obsessed with material items and think success should just be handed to them. Or misguided women who think taking selfies of their bottoms and posting them on Instagram should lead to fame and fortune instead of developing a talent or a skill.

And then I thought of Princess Leia from the iconic film series Star Wars, which shaped so many girls of my generation in positive way.

Fortunately, The Princess Guide to Life is more of the latter…and so much more.
The Princess Guide to Life is divided into several chapters on how to navigate our often befuddling and sometimes cruel world—personally, professionally and romantically. At the root at all of this is compassion; but just as all princesses exude compassion towards others, princesses most also show compassion towards themselves. Self-care, The Princess Guide to Life, reminds us is not selfish. It is anything but selfish.

After a brief introduction, Blythe offers sound, and often fun, advice, on how to Princess-up our lives whether it’s our personal fashion style, decorating our homes, nourishing our bodies or keeping our bodies fit. Blythe tells us Princesses follow their own instincts and preferences when honing our own unique style. Don’t blindly follow trends that don’t suit you. Yellow may be the on-trend color of the year, but if you’re more drawn to emerald green, then buy that emerald green clutch bag if that’s what you want.

A princess’s home is her castle, and we should also bring a unique sense of style to our abodes. Princesses make decorating choices that truly make their house a home, and also make visitors feel welcome.

When making food choices, princesses make smart, healthy and nutritious food choices, but an occasional indulgence is every princess’s right. And when it comes to exercise, princesses eschew the fitness regime du jour and choose workouts that suit their budget and bodies. For instance, if God intended me to run marathons, he’s put a TSE cashmere sweater at the finish line. I hate to run, but I could spend over an hour walking along Lake Michigan (fortunately I live only a few blocks away from the shores of Lake Michigan). I also love to dance, and a few years ago I discovered belly dancing. Belly dancing is truly empowering, and all women are beautiful when they belly dance.

Okay, the princess has taken care of her style, body and home. Now it’s time to craft the persona. Princesses never fail to remember their prestige as woman, being a lady is a good thing, the importance of maintaining a veil of mystery in a time of TMI, and how to network without being an obnoxious pain the arse. Princesses also know that one can be both a feminist and fully feminine. In the slightly altered words of the Helen Reddy classic, “I am woman ; hear me roar…now enjoy these sugar mint cookies I just made.”

In the stereotypical idea of a princess, awaits to be saved by Prince Charming. Well, in Blythe’s book a Princess adores a charming prince (or princess if that’s how she rolls) and saves her own damn self. A princess maintains her independence by honing her education, skills and experience via her career and strives to keep her finances fit as a fiddle.

But being a princess isn’t all work and no play. One of the most fun parts of The Princess Guide to Life is how we can use pop culture to further shape our lives. Blythe offers songs, movies, and books to suit every mood. Of course, Blythe’s picks are merely suggestions; they are not set in stone.

Finally, The Princess Guide to Life tells us of one particular day in the life of a princess and other princess-like ideas, advice, and suggestions to help us be the best we can be.

Not once while reading The Princess Guide did I feel like I was an ugly, stupid, lazy loser like most self-help books make me feel. Blythe’s book is fun, joyful and conveys a genuine sense of warmth and empathy for its reader. My copy is now dog-eared and covered in post-it notes so I can easily refer to Blythe’s comforting words of wisdom.

The Princess Guide to Life is the perfect tome and a very welcome addition to my book shelf. From the shores of Lake Michigan all the way to London, England, I’m sending Rosie Blythe royal wave of approval for writing a truly majestic labor of love.