“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

“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

Book Review: Summoning Grace by Samsara Saj

Late last year, thanks to my presence on the website BookBloggerList, several authors have reached out to me to read and review their books. Many of these authors are fledgling writers and these books (some of them self-published) are their “babies” and as with any baby, I want to handle them with thoughtfulness and care. So I have to keep this in mind in my review of Samasara Saj’s novel Summoning Grace.

The back jacket of Summoning Grace is as follows:

“Bridget McKenna, a lawyer practicing for more than twenty-five years, has disturbing recollections from her childhood after a family birthday party. As she tries to handle the impact of these revelations, she turns to Jack Cassidy, the only man she ever loved, with whom she has not been in touch for three years. Being with Jack helps her connect the dots regarding the work she does as an attorney, where the corruption of politics and the ugliness of domestic violence reveal to Bridget the sexual shoals a woman must navigate. By contacting Jack, she starts the process of reaching into her soul for the reckoning that awaits her.

Once she reconciles herself to the darkness of her painful past, through the grace of God, she finds the strength to summon all the faith, courage, and grace that she can, to deal with professional obstacles, family loss, and her greatest challenge, rescuing her only brother, Joe.

Told in eighteen chapters, Summoning Grace explores the deepest self-examination a woman can undertake, providing her the wisdom and understanding to help those she loves with kindness and dignity.”

This summary is a bit of a bait and switch. Little of this book focuses on Cassidy and domestic violence. Nor does Summoning Grace focus on Bridget’s past. Also the book jacket classifies this novel as a romance, but it is more of a family story. Therefore the second and third paragraphs are a better description of this novel over-all.

Bridget’s family, the McKennas, are a loving and close-knit family who join forces when only son Joe gets seriously ill. The McKennas decide to work together to help Joe and his family in a very trying time. I liked the idea of a family being functional and totally messed up. It comforted me like a bowl of chicken soup.

However, when dealing with Joe’s illness Bridget is convinced she is the only one who can handle his care, even more so than the hospital staff. Not only did I find this to be a slap in the face to the people who work in the medical field, I also thought it gave short shrift to Joe’s wife, children and the other McKenna siblings.

Bridget is also a rather off-putting in her law career. Only she can handle the profession and everyone from her colleagues to her clients are incompetent losers.

To add to Bridget’s “Mary Sue” perfection, she is a diva in the kitchen, a true Julia Child reincarnated. And when it comes to family get togethers and holidays, she always brings masterful dishes. Considering she’s busy with Joe and her career, I found this element a bit implausible.

Ultimately by making Bridget an ideal person—loving sister, top notch attorney and fabulous chef—Saj has given us a character who is really insufferable and without complex layers. I like characters who have their share of flaws and who are multi-dimensional. These characters are more relatable and interesting to read.

Still I must commend Saj for at least writing a book. She’s technically proficient and I respect her deep faith. I believe she has the ability to write a better book and I believe she wants to express herself with love and hope in her heart. These are noble ideas and much needed in our challenging world.

So though I can’t recommend Summoning Grace, I can encourage Samsara Saj to keep on writing. Don’t let my review deter you.

Book Marks

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The best movie adaptations of famous books according to the Stylist.

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky’s list of his best books on film making.

Essential reading on the movie industry according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The Vulture’s list on the 100 best screenwriters.

Good Reads’ list of essential biographies, autobiographies and memoirs written by old school movie stars.

Good Reads’ list on film reviewing that movie buffs should read.

Great movie scenes that took place in libraries.

Great movies scenes that took place in book stores.

Writer Digest’s guide on writing adaptations for film.

The late Ursula K Le Guin’s list on the books that meant the most to her.

 

 

 

Book Report: We Were Witches by Ariel Gore

It’s no secret I’m a fan of writer, author, teacher, activist and creator of the alternative parenting magazine Hip Mama Ariel Gore. Her memoir Atlas of the Human Heart is a favorite of mine. And I also love the non-fiction Bluebird and Gore’s primer on writing How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Now Gore is back with another tremendous book, a novel called We Were Witches.

“My body is a curio shop.” – Ariel Gore from We Were Witches

We Were Witches is a creative blend of memoir and fiction. We Were Witches is about a struggling single mom named Ariel and her beloved daughter Maia.

Ariel is determined to better her life by getting a college education and working less than desirable work/study jobs in a post-Reagan world of “family values,” skimpy child support checks, a shitty ex, less than ideal parents and a safety net made of spider webs.

But Ariel does have a lot of things going for you including an excellent education, an oddball assortment of loving friends, her own creativity, resourcefulness and writing talent. Ariel also has a street smart wisdom, her feminist spirit animals and Maia’s unconditional love.

As We Were Witches unspools Ariel learns to embrace being a square peg and refuses to whittle herself into a round one.

Vividly written with passages I saw in mind’s eye (especially the one on Maia’s birth, which chilled me) We Were Witches is simply one of my favorite novels of the year!

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 Club: My Musings on Poetry

poetry word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” ― Leonard Cohen

What does poetry mean to you?

When I was a little girl and read the books of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, I thought all poetry had to rhyme. My idea of poetry was quite simplistic.

As I got older, my ideas of poetry advanced. I learned poetry didn’t have to rhyme. In fact, it often didn’t. I also learned of various styles of poetry—sonnets, haiku, limericks—to name a few. So for a while I thought of poetry was a writing format with a lot of rules and regulations and something a wee bit pretentious.

However, a few years ago I covered a slam poetry event for high school students sponsored by Still Waters Collective, an organization that mentors talented young writers and speakers. This event blew me away, and reminded me that poetry could be whatever you wanted it to be and wasn’t pretentious at all.

“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” – Robert Frost

Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why?

Well, I mentioned Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but I also got to give a shout out to three ladies whose appreciate like Maya Angelou, whose classic “Phenomenal Woman” never fails to lift my spirits.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Huffington Post has nine other inspirational poems written by Ms. Angelou I also love.
Then there is Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl’s Love song really speaks to me when it comes to love and desire.

Mad Girl’s Love Song

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

I often wonder what else Ms. Plath could have written if she hadn’t met such a tragic demise.

And then there is my love for Dorothy Parker, the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their own good.

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” ― W.H. Auden

Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)

Back in the 1990s, as I inched my way back into the world of writing, I participated in a local poetry writers group. Though I wasn’t in it for a very long time, it did get the writing juices flowing. I didn’t think of myself as a poet, especially compared to my fellow writers, and I turn my talents to non-fiction writer working as a copywriter, research writer, freelance journalist, publicist and editor professionally, personally and academically.

Interestingly enough, I found some of the poems I wrote while in this group and was pleasantly surprised that a good deal of it wasn’t as cringe worthy as I thought. Sure, some of it was pretty damn good.

And last month I attended a poetry workshop at my friends Nora and Elaine’s Buddhist temple in Chicago. I was at first hesitant to participate because of my lack of experience writing poetry. I thought maybe I could just sit back and observe. No dice. I actually had to write something, which I did and I had so much fun and learned so much, not just from the teacher but from my fellow students, too. Everyone’s poem weaved such eloquent and creative tapestries of words. I felt humbled to be around such rich talent.

Now I don’t envision myself a poet but this class (and the discovery of some of my old poetry), once again challenged me as a writer and inspired me in ways that go beyond the written word.

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.” ― Gustave Flaubert

Anything else you would like to add?

It’s funny; ever since I asked people to give me their thoughts on and experiences with poetry, I am starting to see poetry beyond actual poems. I see poetry in music, words I read in various books, dialogue in both movies and TV shows, various quotes, and just from everyday conversation. I see poetry in visual art and innovative crafts. I see poetry through fashion and style. I also see poetry in my love of food when I read my cookbooks or discover a new recipe or make a meal. I’m finding poetry in the natural world around me, whether it’s the blooms of lilac bushes, Lake Michigan, the twittering of birds when I wake up in the morning, or a glorious sunset as I end my day. I see poetry in the physical world of dance, yoga, and athletics. I find poetry in prayer, meditation and just simple silent contemplation. I guess I just find poetry in living life!

“I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, ‘Ahhh.'” That was the first poem. – Lucille Clifton

Book Review: A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

As a child I adored Shel Silverstein’s books, The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, among others having a special place in my heart. In fact, I think I treasure them now more than I did when I was a little girl. I always had an inkling Silverstein did more than write children’s books and my inkling proved true when I read Lisa Rogak’s biography A Boy Named Shel.

To call Silverstein a Renaissance man is putting it mildly. Not only was he a prolific children’s author, he was also a cartoonist, singer/songwriter, screenwriter and playwright. He also led a rather interesting personal life.

Born to a Jewish family and raised in Chicago, Silverstein attended Chicago School of the Fine Arts but was soon drafted into the Army. While in the Army Silverstein began to draw cartoons and later, once he returned to Chicago, he drew and published cartoons for several magazines.

But it is after he began to get his cartoons in Playboy when Silverstein’s multi-layered career really began to shine and lead to greater success. He also began to write songs, mostly of a folk variety and formed his own folk group. But one of his most famous songs is the country/novelty song “A Boy Named Sue,” which became a huge hit for the late Johnny Cash. Silverstein’s songs were also sung by Judy Collins, Dr. Hook, Marianne Faithfull and Emmylou Harris. Silverstein co-wrote many songs with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, both remained lifelong friends with Silverstein.

Silverstein also wrote a great deal of scripts for the stage, film and television at times co-writing scripts with others, including David Mamet. One of the most popular television programs Silverstein wrote for is the Generation X classic “Free to Be…You and Me.”

Professional success led to personal success, especially when it came to the ladies. To put it bluntly, Silverstein was a playa, and many of his experiences as a playa were due not only to his success, but to him hanging out a great deal at the Playboy Mansion. Despite being a bit of a man ho, many of his carnal conquests remember him fondly for when he was with a woman he really made her feel special and he was often honest with them, claiming he was not the type to settle down.

Still, Silverstein did have children, a daughter and a son, and though he loved them he wasn’t exactly the ideal father. And as I read A Boy Named Shel, I learned as much as Silverstein was revered by the children who read his books, his relationship with children (both is own and those of his friends) could be described as complicated.

In fact, complicated pretty much sums up Silverstein as a human being and a creative individual. At times he was a total bon vivant, the life of the party. At times, he was very reticent and private. He was meticulous when it came to his writing and drawing, but often dressed like a homeless person. When it came to his children he experienced both tragedy and triumph. He could be both kind and cruel.

And other tidbits I learned about Silverstein included eschewing driving after being in a bad car accident. He was nominated for an Oscar. He wrote travelogues and was quite the globetrotter. And he lived all over the country.

All of this living in one life should have made A Boy Named Shel a scintillating read; but as I kept reading this book, especially as I neared the end, I found myself bored. Rogak writing style is dull and lacks a certain punch that keeps you wanting to learn more and more. She is way too repetitive and dry, which I soon found rather insulting to Silverstein’s legendary legacy and his output as a truly original artist that entertained audiences for decades and continues to entertain nearly twenty years after Silverstein’s death. Perhaps, this book would have served better as an article. In the end I just mourned that Silverstein never wrote his own memoir.  Now that would have been a book.

Still, I am grateful I learned more about Shel Silverstein. I will never stop loving those children’s books that delighted me as a bookish little girl, and am now inspired by Silverstein’s creative output to sharpen myself as a Renaissance woman. Perhaps, if you read A Boy Named Shel and connect with his work
, you, too will feel inspired.

Book Club: Poetry

Several weeks ago I came up with a new idea for this blog I call Book Club. Book Club is where I ask my readers and friends their opinions when it comes to books, writing, authors, and writing. Because April is National Poetry Month I asked a few of my friends to answer a few questions regarding poetry. Here are the initial questions I asked:

  1. What does poetry mean to you?
  2. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)
  3. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)
  4. Anything else you would like to add?

The first to answer are my friends Nora and Tari, and here are their very interesting answers in their very own words (nothing edited by me). 

NORA

  1. What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is very meaningful to me.  It is where all the wordsmiths come together to shine.  It is like the “Auto Show of Literature.”  I call it the Auto Show because basically, you see cars every day, ordinary cars, rusty cars, different brands, these cars are not extraordinary, just useful and functional.  Then you get invited to the “Auto Show”… and the cars there are shiny, luxurious, top- of- the-line in design and function, futuristic, out-of-worldly, gorgeous colors, every detail is amazing and breathtaking!  That is how I view poetry … amazing and breathtaking.

  1. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of your favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)

What I like about most poetry and poets is that there is a very human and urgent need to use words to describe universal feelings and expressions.   Poets are usually ordinary folks who take an extraordinary “look” at what everyone knows and wants.  That’s why the meaning of most poems doesn’t feel dated.

Some of my favorite poets are:

Charles Bukowski:  If you ever wanted to feel “cool” and bask in the sun of “loser-dom” without actually living the pain, Bukowski is your man.  He puts you right there and you see the details of the life of the loner, the drunk, the misfit, the bored, the angry, the sad, and you love his poems for the accuracy and you kinda hate and despise him too.  He’s disgusting to you, but you are grateful to him because you get to live through him without gettingyour hands dirty.  He creates a small beauty in all of his muck.

Here is Bukowski’s poem about his daughter.  It’s called, “Marina.”

Marina

************

majestic, magic

infinite

my little girl is

sun

on the carpet –

out the door

picking a flower, ha!,

an old man,

battle-wrecked,

emerges from his

chair

and she looks at me

but only sees

love,

ha!, and I become

quick with the world

and love right back,

just like I was meant

to do.

Bobby Sands:  (Irish Republican soldier who died in 1981 from hunger in jail after 66 days of starving.  He was protesting against the oppressive British forces who refused to recognize him as a political prisoner, instead of a common criminal).

Bobby Sands is a total romantic character for me.  I used to read his writing when I was a younger girl.  I didn’t really know the particulars or could personally relate to the circumstances of his plight as an IRA soldier, but I could definitely relate to his feelings of being oppressed and confined and written off.  Plus, his need to express himself forced him, in his prison cell, to write on little bits of toilet paper with a pen that he had to hide in one of his personal body cavities.  That is a strong statement on the human need to be heard and what a person would do in order to be heard!

Here is one of my favorite poems of his called “Modern Times”:

It is said we live in modern times,

In the civilized year of ‘seventy-nine,

But when I look around, all I see,

Is modern torture, pain, and hypocrisy.

 

In modern times little children die,

They starve to death, but who dares ask why?

And little girls without attire,

Run screaming, napalmed, through the night alive.

 

And while fat dictators sit upon their thrones,

Young children bury their parents’ bones,

And secret police in the dead of night,

Electrocute the naked woman out of sight.

 

In the gutter lies the black man, dead,

And where the oil flows blackest, the street runs red,

And there was He who was born and came to be,

But lived and died without liberty.

 

As the bureaucrats, speculators and presidents alike,

Pin on their dirty, stinking, happy smiles tonight,

The lonely prisoner will cry out from within his tomb,

And tomorrow’s wretch will leave its mother’s womb!

  1. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)

Only recently have I tried to write poetry, so it is a brand new skill for me.  I think it never occurred to me to write it before was because of the way it was taught to me as a young student.  I got the impression that poetry could only be written by people who were real writers or English majors, people who were scholarly and knew all the meters and rules of poetry.  And all the poems we read were about love and they rhymed and used Old English or vocabulary that I couldn’t relate to or wrap my mind around.  Poetry felt like calligraphy to me, beautiful to look at, but not necessarily useful for us common folks. Poetry was for those who wanted to impress, not express.

The lack of connection to Poetry pushed me towards the “song.”   Song lyrics became more interesting and relevant to me and they were easier to understand. But lately, since songs to me these days involve instrumentation, musical genres and styles, more about persona and marketing, all this complicates the direct communication of words to ears to meaning.  So with the modern day love of rap music and rappers are becoming modern day wordsmiths, the poem is making a comeback.  Today’s poems have to be impactful, though, pointed, and most of all, socially conscious and reflect part of their listeners’ lives.   Today’s poetry readers have to feel like the poet existed in their minds and said it in the way that they would have said it.

TARI

1) Poetry doesn’t seem to have rules. A poet can evoke any emotion by the fewest words, or the most. Poems are valuable to us in that we don’t necessarily need to understand them to ‘get’ them. They are visceral. Poetry is deeply personal, and can be a full-on attack, or a salve, or anything in-between. Poetry speaks to our singular life experiences, and opens our eyes to other’s. It can be brutally soul-baring, and it can be beautiful, all in the same poem.

2) Charles Bukowski and Emily Dickinson. One is raw like an open wound, the other is genteel, cultured. Both are brilliant, both are honest.

3) I don’t have a favorite from Bukowski. I’m electrified, repulsed, enlightened in some way by most of his work. Emily D never really liked titles, so people gave her poems numbers and used the first line as the title. Poem 314: Hope is the Thing With Feathers is by far my favorite. It’s inspirational and full of that very thing. Hope.

4) I have. Let’s just say I won’t make the mistake of thinking I could maybe ever do that again. So bad.

5) I hold poets, I mean really good poets, in the highest esteem. I believe their ability to cast a naked, unjaded eye and lay bare artifice is unparalleled. I wish I had the ability to turn a phrase like they do, to bend words to their will. As a fiction writer, I use words… poets conduct them.Their social commentary can be, and often is, invaluable and necessary, and it is always deeply rooted in humanity and human emotion, from whatever side they approach. I envy them, even as I celebrate them. I wish I could be them.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.