Walking Into Lightning

Ellen LeFleche

In the aftermath of her beloved husband’s death from ALS, author Ellen LaFleche took up her pen to create Walking Into Lightning, a collection of poetry which emphasizes the sensual and physical losses of widowhood and challenges our current notions of grief. Her interview is a delight to include in our line-up.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: In recent years, I’ve had several friends whose spouses have succumbed to MS, ALS, cancer and a myriad of other devastating illnesses. In every case, they’ve grappled with whether it would have been a blessing to have no time to prepare for such loss—for instance, an accident—versus having too much time and feeling powerless to slow things down. What is your own take on this?

A: That’s a hard question. Sudden deaths often happen because of a drunk driver or shooter, or perhaps suicide or drug addiction, so there must be a lot of anger or guilt in those left behind. My husband was remarkably calm about his fatal diagnosis of ALS. He’d worked for decades with senior citizens as a gerontologist, so he’d dealt with loss and death his entire career, and was for a time on the board of our local hospice. After the diagnosis, we did what I call pre-grieving: lots of talking, planning, and trying to enjoy simple pleasures like watching a baseball game or visiting our newborn grandson. Slow deaths are very hard on the caretakers. And while such a death is hard to accept, there may be some relief that the suffering is over.  I tried to honor my relief by not feeling guilty about it, and integrating it into the loss.  Processing anger after losing a loved one to accident or violence would be much, much harder for many people.

Q: Did the inspiration to express yourself through poetry come while your husband was still alive or was this after you became a widow?

A: I came to poetry many years before John got sick.  When he was in the hospital weeks before coming home to hospice care, I didn’t have the time or desire to write, but I used my cell phone to email myself an idea or image related to what was happening.  For example, the IV bag looked like a “goblin’s bobbing head” to me, and that line eventually made its way into a poem. Taking a few moments every day to engage with poetry was a way of calming myself; I knew I would want to tell our story as a way to help others who are grieving.

Q: Tell us about your writing journey prior to the development of Walking Into Lightning.

A: I always wanted to write.  I think it was just a natural instinct for me.  When I was six years old I wrote a story called “The Sneezing Apron.”  Imagine a page of lined paper with first-grade printing and a story about an apron that was allergic to pepper!  My grandfather kept it in his wallet for years.  I think it eventually fell apart, but that simple act was pivotal to me — the idea that someone could deeply appreciate what I had to say!  I had many teachers who encouraged me to write. Before Walking into Lightning, I had three poetry chapbooks published and was honored by winning several prestige prizes.

Q: Early in your career, you worked as a local reporter. How did that influence your growth and organizational skills as a writer?

A: Working as a reporter was great training. I learned how to write for specific audiences, how to appreciate editing as well as criticism and praise from readers, how to organize my thoughts as I was driving back to the office from a meeting I covered, how to view events critically, etc. I worked at a local weekly newspaper and especially loved writing feature articles where I could include descriptions and imagery.

Q: One typically doesn’t think of science (biology) and poetry in the same sentence and yet this was the case for you. How so?

A: I majored in biology (long story), and while I never worked as a scientist, it was wonderful preparation for creative writing. I’m very interested in writing about the body, for example, and biology provides imagery and details that might otherwise not occur to me. For example, in Walking into Lightning, I describe conception as happening under “the fallopian orchard,” an image that occurred to me many years ago while studying the textbook for a class on reproduction.

The scientific method was also great training for professional journalism and essay writing, a way to organize an article as a “hypothesis” and the steps to proving (or disproving!) what I want to say. Sometime, disproving my own ideas, while frustrating, is the best thing that can happen!

Q: How important is to you to incorporate your working class background into your wordsmithing?

A: My working class background is central to my writing. My parents worked for many years in textile mills. My dad would come home with his clothes stained in rainbow colors from synthetic dyes. The smell of the fumes was terrible. He later developed bladder cancer, which is strongly linked to working with dyes.  That was a great sorrow for us, and I felt a lot of anger, which is an emotion I rarely feel.

My first chapbook, Workers’ Rites, is a series of narrative poems about the lives of workers: a gravedigger, waitress, cloistered nun, ballet dancer, dowser, etc.  We need to honor all workers and their jobs, especially jobs that involve low pay and direct services to people.

Q: There’s no shortage of self-help books on the market about dealing with grief and I’m sure you must have read a number of them. How did these texts help shape some of the major themes you’ve explored in Walking into Lightning?

A: I read a lot of self-help books about grief and had many mixed reactions. It was helpful to know that other people have gone through similar pain. It was also helpful to get tips on finances, etc.  Several things bothered me immensely, though. Most books don’t acknowledge the sensual and physical losses that come with losing a partner. The solution offered was a series of tips on how to start dating again. Most books reiterated current clinical theories that grief lasting more than six months is “complicated grief” that might require therapy. I understand this – some people fall into deep depression, for example, or cannot function at their jobs – and can benefit greatly from professional help. But the word complicated? All grief is complicated.  There are so many individual factors, and six months is not realistic for a major loss. We need to take our own good time with grief.

Most books focused on the loss of one beloved person. But many family deaths are multiple – think bus accidents, house fires, acts of war, mass shootings, etc. My dad died a month before my husband, and my only sibling died three weeks after. Talk about complicated grief! There was a synergistic effect that rippled through my entire family.  I wanted Walking into Lightning to show that grief is supposed to be complicated. I also wanted to fill a gap by including sensual details of a marriage.

Q: Great title, by the way! What inspired it?

A: John was a Midwesterner who loved storms. We met and married in western Massachusetts, and on the very rare occasion when we had a tornado warning, he’d go outside to admire the green tint of the sky! I’d scream at him to follow my daughter and me into the cellar. But thunderstorms were his specialty!  He’d stand on the porch and admire the lightning as it got closer and closer. This drove me crazy, oh yes!  The title poem is about scattering his ashes into a thunderstorm.  I didn’t literally do that; the poem is an extended metaphor about surrendering his cremains into a place that he loved.  When my six-year-old grandson saw the book title for the first time he said, “But Mémère, you’re not supposed to do that.”  So my grandson and I talked a little bit about what a metaphor is, and that, of course, nobody should ever walk through lightning carrying a metal urn in their hands!

Q: In novels and plays, one either comes up with a plot and then peoples it or develops characters and identifies conflicts which will challenge them. A poem, of course, is a completely different platform. What comes first for the poet?

A: It’s different for every poet. I am very interested in using imagery. My process usually starts with an image around which I can explore an idea.  For example, a few months after John died, I was walking into town on an errand. It was the morning after Halloween, and I saw a crumpled white sheet in the gutter. I assumed it was an abandoned ghost costume, and that raised all kinds of interesting thoughts and images. This resulted in a lyric poem about the workings of memory titled “I remember our first Halloween together.”

Q: One of the unexpected elements of the book is the inclusion of poems about the sensual and physical losses of widowhood. What governed this choice for you?

A: I wanted to acknowledge the physical losses of widowhood because most self-help books ignore this reality.  Physical loss adds a dimension to grief that many people might not feel comfortable talking about, even to a therapist.  After my recent book launch, I received a card in the mail from someone who was in the audience and felt great relief that this aspect of grief was honored.

Q: What were some of the challenges in writing personal poems about marital intimacy while honoring the feelings of family members who knew your husband?

A: This was the great challenge in writing the book.  I had to think deeply about what should remain private and what could be shared as a way of honoring what was lost. I relied heavily on metaphor and beautiful images rather than explicit details:  definitely not porn and at a level below erotica.  If the book were a movie, it would have a rating somewhere between PG and R. This challenge of what to include and how to write about it came from a deep appreciation of our marital privacy and my goal of helping other grievers to know that it’s okay to talk about physical loss.  I also thought about loved ones who knew John and told several relatives that is was ok if they didn’t read the book.

Q: How did writing this book help you to heal from losing your spouse to ALS?

A: Every person needs a container for their grief. It could be volunteering, making art, traveling, gardening, etc.  Writing was my container, a safe, enclosed place where I could figure out my feelings. I wanted to write poems that offered grieving people the solace of being understood. My therapist said that true grieving requires understanding the lost relationship in all its dimensions, good as well as bad. Writing these poems helped me to do that.  Because the loss of my husband was bracketed by the loss of my dad and my only sibling, I was overwhelmed not only with sorrow but with endless tasks to take care of and other people to comfort.  All of this during one of the coldest, snowiest winter in memory. I didn’t go through the traditional bouts of deep weeping that many people experience.  I hardly ever cried that winter; I was locked in a state of numbness. Writing the poems served as a kind of metaphorical weeping. In fact, there is poem in the book titled “Prayer for Weeping.”

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher who would not only be the best match but also a supportive and sensitive partner to the material you wanted to share?

A: Several of the poems in the book won prestigious prizes, and initially I was very optimistic about finding a publisher or winning a contest that included publication. I came close a few times but didn’t quite make it.  It took two years to find Saddle Road Press.  A friend cyber-introduced me to Don Mitchell and Ruth Thompson. I couldn’t have asked for a better publishing experience.  Don provided amazing design options. He took the sumptuous photograph that appears on the cover. Ruth served as a perceptive and gentle editor. I was going through an unexpected health crisis at the time the book was accepted, and working with Ruth and Don helped me to cope with physical discomfort.  We emailed almost every day during the process and shared life events that were happening and interesting stories about our daily lives. It was the perfect blend of hard work and human connection.  I couldn’t recommend them more highly.

Q: What advice would I give to creative writers who want to explore grief and loss? 

A: Don’t worry about following current theories about grief. Challenge ideas that don’t resonate with your personal and cultural experiences of grief.  Make sure to give yourself the time and space to write. This is the most important part, allowing yourself the space to write. Be comforted. Be held. Know you are not alone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m trying to organize another collection of poems.  It’s a challenge at the moment because these poems are not thematically related and do not follow a narrative arc like Walking into Lightning; I’m not sure where this project will take me.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much. I appreciate everyone who has read these comments.  And I’d like to thank all my wonderful friends and neighbors who kept me fed, nurtured, and held during my winter of loss.

 

 

 

 

 

Women of Means

women of means cover

Whether one is born with a silver spoon in her mouth or marries into a family with an expansive set of heirloom cutlery, it has to be said that wealth, social status and privilege are no guarantee of a happy-ever-after life. Author Marlene Wagman-Geller explores this theme in her new release, Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your journey as an author. Who (or what) had the greatest influence on your passion to put words to paper and/or fingers to keyboard?

A: My love of reading segued into my writing career. Books have always been a large part of my life and my dream of dreams was to become an author.

Q: What was your break-out moment into the world of publishing and how did it make you feel?

A: My first publication occurred in 2008 with my book Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature’s Most intriguing Dedications. I love words but do not have adequate ones to express such a feeling of elation.

Q: Have you had other careers along the way? If so, what did they teach you about the craft of becoming a disciplined wordsmith?

A: I am a long-term high school English teacher. I do not feel it enhanced my career as an author…unless I write an updated Up the Down Staircase.

Q: What gave you the idea for Women of Means?

A: The idea for Women of Means was the oft-repeated comment, “If I only had money…”

Q: How did you go about deciding which women to include in the line-up?

A: The criteria for inclusion: extraordinary wealth coupled with an extra-ordinary story.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned in the course of your research?

A: The most surprising thing I learned was wealth often comes with a high price.

Q: Which chapter resonated the most with you?

A: The chapter that resonated most was Christina Onassis, a tragic, poor little rich girl.

Q: If you could invite three of these famous femmes to dinner at your house, which trio would make the guest list, what would you serve, and what would you most like to ask them?

A: I would invite Huguette Clark to ask why she bought priceless pleasure dome estates and never lived in them; Leona Helmsley to ask the Queen of Mean why she was so mean; Ruth Madoff to ask if she knew how her husband was funding their lavish lifestyle. I would serve Uber Eats as I don’t cook.

Q: Did the book alter your personal perspectives on wealth?

A: My research showed great wealth is not always commensurate with great happiness.

Q: Finish the sentence “If I had a million dollars, I’d…”

A: Travel and buy a dream house. Maybe a lovely kitchen would inspire me to cook…

Q: Our society has sadly moved in a direction where even the offspring of not-so-rich parents embrace an attitude of entitlement, lack of ambition and zero accountability. Is it a fixable problem or are we stuck with this trend for the foreseeable future?

A: I think history is cyclical. The post war parents-baby-boomers worked hard; their offspring traded suburban homes for hippie communes.

Q: What do you want the takeaway message to be for your readers?

A: As the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy you love.”

Q: Did you allow anyone to read the book while it was a work in progress or did you make everyone wait until THE END?

A: My friend was with me from the beginning, the one who I mentioned in the Acknowledgement Section.

Q: What direction do you see the publishing industry taking in the next 10/20/50 years?

A: More e-books till they outnumber physical books. I think the trend of taking chances on new writers, ethnic, and non-traditional books will continue.

Q: Tell us about some of your prior publications.

A: Women of Means is my seventh book. All prior publications are non-fiction. My next book, Fabulous Female Firsts, will arrive on March 17, 2020.

Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am working on a dual biography of two fascinating women who slipped through the sands of time. Fingers are crossed! This would be a departure from my earlier books; I hope the publishing gods look kindly upon it.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I am originally from Toronto, Canada; my parents were Polish, Jewish immigrants.

Q: Where can they learn more about upcoming releases, book signings, etc.?

A: Website at https://marlenewagmangeller.com/

Amazon Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Marlene-Wagman-Geller/e/B001JS09V2%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

https://www.facebook.com/marlene.wagman.5

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I want to share my belief that dreams don’t just have to be for sleeping. The power of persistence makes goals attainable. I would also like to thank Ms. Christina Hamlett for arranging this interview, for all her sisterly solidarity.

I enjoy connecting with fellow bibliophiles. Please contact me at wagmangeller@hotmail.com

 

 

Canaries Can’t Cry

Canaries Can't Cry

Anchored in the Adriatic is the tiny island called Sansego, where people live their lives in heavy labor, faith, and superstition, working the land from cockcrow to vespers and the sea from vespers to cockcrow. This is the birthplace of author Antonia Burgato who, in Canaries Can’t Cry, stitches the stories her mother told of life on the island that, in part one, spans the time between two world wars. The author’s voice changes in the second part, as she comes of age in an America of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Elvis Presley and becomes an adult during the Civil Rights uprising, the VietNam War protests, and the women’s liberation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Your new book, Canaries Can’t Cry, focuses on the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus following World War II. This being a geographical. political and sociological period with which many readers may not be familiar, could you indulge us with a brief history lesson?

A: The Dalmatian comprises a group of islands off the coast of Croatia. They belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until WWI, then to Mussolini’s Italy until WWII, and then to Yugoslavia until its breakup in the nineties. Today they are a part of Croatia. By the time my mother turned 32, she had lived in three different countries without ever having moved as far as across the street.

Q: The title alone is compelling. How did you come up with it?

A: When my brother visited me in boarding in school, he told me of a canary he had bought for my mother to keep her company while at home alone. The bird flew on her shoulders chirping while she was at her chores. She loved that bird, but he had a habit of biting. She patted him on the head each time he bit her. One day she patted him too hard, and the bird fell lifeless in her hand. I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with a time when I was eight years old, and she had humiliated me with a public beating in front of the school. She had killed my spirit as much as she had killed the canary.

Q: One of the challenges of penning an autobiographical work is striking the right balance between telling too much, telling too little and finding a place of common ground which will resonate with readers who otherwise have no frame of reference or context regarding the events and dynamics which unfolded. What was your approach to developing this very personal project?

A: In writing an autobiography, the author must expose her inner self. For example, I was still a teenager when I was thrown into the world of Rome alone. It was a painful, growing up experience better left buried. However, I needed to unearth details to take the reader on the journey with me. I chose details that are translatable to any woman too young to be out on her own without guidance.

Q: Your mother escaped from Yugoslavia to go to Italy where your father had an apartment. What did you find there?

A: It was after Italy had surrendered to the Allies and declared war on its former Axis partner. Germany had begun to occupy Italy. Living quarters were scarce for anyone, and my father found his apartment occupied. We lived first in a chicken coop and then in a barn until the Germans left and the apartment became available.

Q: After his death, she brought you and your brothers and sister to America. Why did you leave Italy?A: With my father gone, my mother lost her privilege to live in the factory-owned apartment. America had opened a quota system to accept the many emigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Everyone my mother knew from her island in Dalmatia had already gone. She asked her father for her share of the inheritance, and she followed them.

Q: How old were you at the time and what were your first impressions of the country you would now call “home”? A: I had become a teenager in America. We had living room with television, a washer and dryer in the home, a refrigerator, and there were supermarkets. Wow! I also discovered Bazooka gum.

Q: What was it like being a teenager in America? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

A: That’s a tough and painful question. I was disassociated with family and with school. I tried hard to fit in with other teenagers from the neighborhood, but I wasn’t like them. I belonged neither here nor there—and I wanted to belong. I’m thankful that such times didn’t have violent gangs as today. I could have joined a gang, if the opportunity was there, just to belong somewhere.

Q: You also have three older brothers and a younger sister. How did your mother manage such a “full house”?

A: She put us all to work, and she took our paycheck. Some people are stupefied by that. But is it better to go to work and leave the children unsupervised or to send the children to work and let them contribute to the family’s well-being? There are arguments for both cases.

Q: Best advice she ever imparted to you?

A: It’s never one piece of advice but a sum of them. She guided us children to value education and responsibility in everything she did, in all her scolding and caring—not always the best for everyone. Our (my siblings) values in strength of character, of compassion, and of a drive to self-improvement emanate from her role model.

Q: Mixed marriages are fairly commonplace in the 21st century but not so much back in the 1960s. How was your marriage to a black university student received by family, friends and coworkers?

A: My family saw his color and his character and embraced him into the family. I had nothing but warm memories of my 14-year marriage to a black man in the sixties. His family and friends were the kindest people I have known. They were academics, belonging to the Harlem black elite. They roused in me a desire to further my education. The story was different in the working world. Some states still had anti-miscegenation laws, and feelings were strong in the southern states. I had been fired twice from jobs for being a “n….r lover.”

Q: Was it a happy, fulfilling partnership?

A: I would not be the person I am were it not for my first husband. He had exposed me to universities and to conversations beyond gossip and frivolous niceties. He taught me freedom of expression and helped me to revive my spirit.

Q: Your move to California ignited a passion to start writing seriously. How so?

A: My husband had released in me a spirit that wanted to fly. My marriage had become confining, and I left a man I loved to search for my own identity.

Q: And your passion for playwriting—who or what was the prominent influence there?

A: I would have to say George Bernard Shaw was my primary influence in playwriting. I went on to major in dramatic literature after discovering his plays. The works of Ionesco, Beckett, Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Sartre ignited passion in me. My second husband was a well-known playwright and a founder of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance. I had begun to find my voice.

Q: Tell us about reconnecting with your brothers and sister. Would you consider yourselves close-knit or has time and distance pushed you farther apart?

A: My mother had sent us all to boarding school. We did not get to know each other until we came to America. She sent us to work as soon as we could to support the family. We learned responsibility and to care for each other. Today, we are closer than we’ve ever been.

Q: Your mother’s death, with the word “Finally,” had a powerful effect on you, and it seems that it was a turning point for you. How so?

A: In her life, she was demanding of me, trying to mold me in her image of a woman. I distanced myself from her, but physical distance does not break the emotional bond. Her death released her grip on me and my resentment of her. With that gone, I could see her strength, frailty, and courage, and I wish she could be here for me to tell her so.

Q: What was the easiest part of the book to write? And the hardest?

A: It was easier to write about my mother’s story because she told them often and with great passion. Once I switched to my story, I had to do much soul-searching and reveal long buried things. I didn’t want to delve deeply into my rights and wrongs, but if I didn’t, my readers would have felt something amiss.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress?

A: I had a beta reader. A dear friend and very supportive. I also gave parts of it to a few family members. They knew my mother’s story needed to be told; they didn’t always agree with my version of it. It is the old Roshomon effect when everyone sees the same event differently.

Q: Is there a message you want readers to take away from Canaries Can’t Cry when they finish?

A: Live your life to the fullest but do not trample on others. Your accomplishment is attained through your own efforts. If someone has given you a position, be grateful for the opportunity but question what you’ve done to earn it. If you throw someone under the bus to get somewhere, you have cheated.

Q: Define “home.” Is it the place you were born, the place you live now or the place that holds the fondest memories?

A: A home is where you find love and fulfillment. That place for me, at this time, is in California with my husband, surrounded by encouraging and caring friends.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did quite a bit of reading about traditional publishers and decided to go hybrid because, at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to spend the lengthy time in submissions and rejections. It took me 10 years to write this book and I wanted it out.

Q: What are you doing to market the book?

A: In addition to this interview, I do much social media contacts, book signings, and speaking engagements to immigrant associations, especially to those engaged in second language learning.

Q: What have the reactions been from family, friends and fans?

A: Their encouragement motivates me to write my next book. Some of have expressed a shared feeling, especially in the various “me too” scenes. They didn’t know that about me. I had never talked about them because I thought I had done something wrong.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: A few of my readers have remarked that they didn’t know what an interesting life I have had. I’m not so sure it was any more interesting than anyone else’s life. I’ve lived with curiosity, adventure, and risk. That is my wealth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My next book, Secrets of the Very Old, is now in its editing phase. I’m already thinking of more projects. Four years ago, my husband and I took a year off to live in Italy. It’s in my mind to write that memoir. Another one is my displacement after my house burned to the ground from one of the California fires. I’m still displaced with lots of emotions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: People say their life is boring compared to mine. I’d say no one’s life is boring. Even an uneventful life has its unique story. Live life to fill your cup and shout it out. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book.

 

 

Best Psychology in Film

Kat Marshall Woods

We love them. We hate them. We’re vexed by them. We’re terrified by what they might do next. Whether the characters in movies and television shows melt into our hearts or get under our skin, there’s no denying that “reel life” psyches leave an indelible imprint on our “real life” perceptions. In her new book, Best Psychology in Film, author Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D. shares her expertise regarding exploration of the psychological dynamics found within Oscar winning and nominated films. Whether one is behind the camera, acting in front of it or sitting in the audience watching the finished product, the book’s takeaway value on what makes a compelling film “tick” is priceless.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to psychology as a profession?

A: From early childhood I was attracted to psychology. I recall asking my mother what profession would allow me to sit and listen to an individual’s problems and help people. From that time on, psychology was my focus with the goal of being an integral part of people’s healing. I believed it would be an honor to hear individuals’ stories that ranged from happiness to pain and allowed the opportunity to be trusted with such intimate information. I have not been disappointed; it has been my honor to serve my patients in what I hope has been as meaningful to them as it has been for me.

Q: Given the diversity of specializations in this field, what types of experiences have been the most influential in shaping your career?

A: What a difficult question! I feel that all of my work has influenced me to become the professional I am today. Whether I provided services within academic settings, mental health hospitals, outpatient treatment programs, private practice, or the Middle East, or teaching university classes with doctoral students, I can easily track how each of these experiences have honed my professional skills and developed my professional self. With the array of experience I have been afforded, I feel now well equipped to apply what I have learned to screenwriters who are in the midst of developing themes and developing their characters as it pertains to psychological dynamics and interpersonal interactions.

Q: Psychology and film make for an interesting combination. How have you connected these two fields?

A: My main interest has been to share what psychology has to offer to those naturally interested in the field and in a manner that is inviting to those who give little attention to psychology in an effort to spark curiosity. Using film, a source of entertainment, to illustrate psychology in a welcoming way has been ideal to marry the two fields.

Q: You also have a background in media. Tell us about it.

A: My first employment included working with children and building a semester curriculum to teach a class. I chose Cartoon Education, a class for children to view cartoons together and discuss the morals found within the episodes. Thereafter, I became employed as an intern at a national insurance company within their visual communications department. There I learned how to perform numerous media activities, teleprompting, editing, etc. Since becoming a psychologist, I have been frequently asked to be the talent/expert. Stepping onto the set always feels like coming home.

Q: What inspired you to develop Best Psychology in Film?

A: For several years I wrote for American Psychological Association’s journal, PsycCritiques regarding psychology and film. In an effort to share these ideas, I began contributing with The Huffington Post and Medium. For the last years, I have continued to contribute to Medium and now Thrive Global. Best Psychology in Film became a way to share these ideas with my readers who wished to think deeply regarding the films they enjoyed.

Q: What governed your focus on films which were nominated for Academy Awards and those that won within a specific year?

A: The Academy Awards is a time of the year when people congregate to films. Whether it is for the fashion displayed on the red carpet or an interest in the films deemed as extraordinary; these films have been most likely viewed and discussed. Because these films were recommended by such an esteemed organization with many viewers support, I felt Best Psychology in Film might capture those works that would be able to include many people in the discussion. Otherwise, it is suggested in Best Psychology in Film that one might view the film prior to reading the associated chapter to personally relate to the book.

Q: What chapter/film was the most enjoyable for you to conceptualize using psychological theory?

A: Chapter IV: La La Land. This film was surprising to me. Though I very much enjoy musicals, I admittedly lacked excitement to view this film. It was also a film that I initially lacked a clear link to the psychological theory that would be best suited to explore. However, after multiple viewings, I found myself seduced by the characters’ passions, determinations and support of one another. I was hooked; singing and poorly performing dance routines in my home! Once the dancing began, the psychological theory was soon to follow.

Q: What are your three favorite films that you remain most intrigued by psychologically?

A: The Shining (1980) as this film highlights the presence of psychotic symptoms budding in an individual (Jack Torrance, performed by Jack Nicholson) and the presence of an early onset of psychosis in his son (Danny, acted by Danny Lloyd); Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) that depicts the hardships on a single mother providing for a child and four elderly grandparents made light by the hopes and inspirations of a young boy who wins the opportunity to view paradise in fantastical chocolate factory and The Color Purple (1985) that illustrates the effects of generational and cultural trauma.  All of these films, I could watch a million more times than I already have only to learn of additional psychological theories that apply.

Q: Does Art imitate Life or does Life imitate Art?

A: Honestly, I think both occur. The beauty of art is that it documents life, what it has been and what it is presently. In concert, art also offers possibilities of what life can be. And when art makes suggestions regarding how the world can be, it has the power to inspire its viewers and support change; allowing life to imitate a different reality, one that art proposes as an alternative.

Q: What do you believe is the takeaway value of Best Psychology in Film for readers? And for Hollywood?

A: I am hopeful that readers will take that psychology is an unavoidable aspect in our lives. Psychology is indeed the study of individuals and the way in which we navigate our world. If this is agreeable, I believe the art of film that strives to visually share individuals in their most natural and complex states can benefit from considering the psychology within the themes and characters to create richer productions.

Q: Despite the fact there has been no shortage of crises, tragedies and conflicts throughout the world in recent months, the Los Angeles Times gave much more front-page ink during the month of May to the final season of Game of Thrones than to actual news. In your view, what has driven the obsession of fans to care more about the fate of fictitious characters in fictitious realms than events transpiring in real life?

A: Consistent, structured investment. Game of Thrones has been a collection of narratives that have included the intensities of human nature. Using fictitious realms, animal and human-like creatures have allowed for the stories to become a vehicle to engage the adult fantasy mind. This series has been an outlet for many to feel similar as the characters and wrestle with similar conflicts (typically less intense than depicted in the series) of love, faithfulness, loyalty, humiliation, torture, war and rage. Being based in fiction allows for the viewer to engage in such conflicts and primitive raw behaviors in the safety of our own living areas while being entertained.

Q: Briefly, what was the process that led to your being hired for film projects?

A: Initially, I was requested to be an expert psychologist upon documentaries and was asked to take the role of a psychologist in a scripted series. Thereafter, I was asked to review scripts for writers, provide a psychological perspective upon the work, ensure the representation of psychology and interpersonal exchanges represented a realistic experience and provide set accuracy when there was a psychological scene (i.e. ensuring a therapist’s office appeared accurate). Since, I have offered my services through PsychMinded Media, a business created to house this work.

Q: As a psychologist, do you limit your consultation to films which have a psychological aspect?

A: Absolutely not.  I am a strong believer that psychology is all around us. It is within every interaction we have with others and when we are taking part in our own solitude.  Because psychology is ever present, I have had the privilege to consult on films that do not have an overt psychological aspect.

Q: When you’re not writing and consulting, what do you do for fun?

A: There are four activities I faithfully turn to for enjoyment: quality time with my husband and dog, visiting my neighboring organic farm to harvest and take in nature, exploring unfamiliar places and resting with a Vogue magazine for inspiration!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Currently, I am consulting on a number of short film productions, offering psychological perspectives of films upon panels pertaining to cinema works and conceptualizing my next book publication.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Cinema and media works have great power to display individuals in a manner that captures the richness of the human condition. It has been amazing to be a contributor in this industry while using my love for psychology to offer greater authenticity to the work. I am hopeful that I will remain as fortunate in the future!

 

 

The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book

Wisconsin answer book

Since this website’s debut in 2012, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing a global readership to lots of new books and new voices. This time around, we get to introduce our readers to an entire state: WISCONSIN! And, of course, we had a good time picking the brain of one of The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book‘s co-authors, Mark Meier, who has put together a fun answer book chock-full of tidbits about his home state. (Had this nifty reference been available when Love, Actually was filmed, we like to think that the Wisconsin-enamored Colin Frissell (played by Kris Marshall) would have tucked a copy into his duffle bag when he set off to meet American girls who would find his accent adorable.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “Knowing the answers,” wrote an unknown author, “doesn’t take away the wonder. It actually makes it more amazing.” Assuming the same sense of wonderment can be ascribed to the heart of America’s Dairyland, what was your inspiration to pen The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: The project came about from a former coworker. The publisher approached Terri (Schlichenmeyer) about writing the book, but she was getting ready to build a new house outside the city. “I don’t have the time to devote to such a big project. Can I have a coauthor? I know this guy . . . .”

She asked me, I talked it over with my wife, and I dove into something totally unlike anything I’d ever written before.

Q: Which came first in the book’s development—the questions or the answers?

A: Pretty much that was a 50-50 mix. Researching one thing brought up questions that needed answering. Sometimes getting one bit of information resulted in two or three questions, which came up with two or three more, and eventually I’m forced to limit the questions for that chapter.

Other times finding interesting bits to write about was like pulling teeth. Then the questions followed the answers. “This interesting thing happened. Now, what can I ask to use that as an answer?” Sort of like an episode of Jeopardy!

Q: So how did you go about finding questions that readers would find interesting?

A: I operated on the assumption that if I’m bored, the reader will be bored. If I find something interesting, there will be readers who are interested. It’s not a 1:1 ratio, but chances are anyone reading my chapters of the book will be able to tell the bits where I was bored.

There’s one corporation in Wisconsin. . . .

But I don’t want to cast aspersions.

Q: Are you a native Wisconsin or a transplant from somewhere else?

A: I was born in La Crosse, and grew up outside a community just north of that city. I still live in that same area, though much of what was my grandpa’s farm is now inside the city limits.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about living there?

A: I like the climate. I like the history. I like my connection to my family, which has been in the area for more than a century. I feel connected here, in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

And I like the cold winters. Weird, huh?

Q: What was the funniest, weirdest or most thought-provoking tidbit you discovered during your research about The Badger State?

A: In early Wisconsin racing there was a guy who drove with a rooster in his car. His daughter called his Chevy coup a “Chicken Coop,” and told him he had to have a chicken with him. So he did.

Roho the Rooster was with him for every race, and even went out to the bars to party with the racers. (Anyone who knows the state knows how hard Wisconsinites can party.) The bird drank beer from a shot glass, ate peanuts, and eventually passed out drunk along with some of the other racers.

On a radio interview that racer was confronted with a caller who thought it was terrible to put that rooster in such a dangerous position. He replied something like, “Lady, I’m in the car too!”

Roho died of pneumonia right after that season of racing. They actually performed an autopsy (yes I know there’s a different word when they do that to birds) to find an official cause of death.

Q: Tell us about interactions with your coauthor as well as anyone else who chimed in on the book’s content.

A: Having a coauthor definitely adds a level of complexity to any project. From the start we had eight topics, and Terri assigned them. The topic I was most leery of was Sports. You see, I’m kind of a sports moron. I had to ask someone once what “that yellow thing was” the refs threw onto the field in football games. “And I’m supposed to write about Wisconsin Sports?”

As it turns out, that topic was the most interesting part of the project for me. The History chapters she wrote is where I thought I’d be good, and Terri told me later it was like writing about trees growing.

Q: Does it have to be read front-to-back or can readers pick and choose chapters and read them out of order?

A: Each Q&A is supposed to be brief. The rule of thumb is “two paragraphs, tops.” But the editors told us from the start, “If you need more than two, see if you can split it into another question. If you can’t, don’t sweat it.”

So the whole thing is written in bite-sized pieces. You can open up to any page in any chapter and not worry about missing the flow. Sure, there might be three questions in a row about one thing, but even if you start with #3 in that series you don’t really miss out. Read the other bits next week or next year.

However, if you want to make sure you get to every question, it makes sense to read it front to back. You might not find everything fascinating, but you’ll learn a lot you didn’t know.

Q: Who’s your target readership?

A: There shouldn’t be anything inappropriate, so there’s no worries about letting young kids read it. Some of the vocabulary might be a bit advanced for the younger ones, but anyone with a curious mind will appreciate what the book offers.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of sports. I found those chapters fun to write, and I’m guessing other non-fans will find out a lot of interesting things a sports fan might already know. (Who received Brett Favre’s first forward pass as a Green Bay Packer? Brett Favre.)

Anyone who lives in or wonders about the state of Wisconsin should read this book.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which methods are proving the most successful?

A: It may (or may not) surprise people to know I almost always have copies of every book I’ve published somewhere nearby. When people find out I’m an author, they ask what I’ve written. I can show them.

I also have been posting on social media through the whole process. There were posts about it before I even signed the contract more than two years ago. Terri has done the same.

Terri is a book reviewer appearing in more than two hundred publications worldwide. She knows a lot of people. One of them manages our local Barnes and Noble, and that’s how we secured a book signing for June.

I know some people who run a local cable TV show, and appeared for an interview. That clip was posted to social media, so I was able to share that with my followers.

The publisher is a mid-sized operation, so they have access to major distributors. They also have a budget for promotions that, while small for them, is much larger than Terri or I could afford. We all have a hand in it.

As for which is the most successful, I’d have to say that word of mouth is probably the best for me. I can’t evaluate how Visible Ink’s efforts are playing out, since it’s so early in the process.

Q: Had you done any writing prior to The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: I’ve published mostly science fiction, but before Handy Wisconsin it was all fiction.

Q: What about the craft of writing most appeals to you?

A: I love words. Finding “that one word” that means exactly what I need is thrilling for me. Crafting stories makes me feel more alive than working at my “regular” job.

Some people like to drive fast, others like to shoot hoops, set up computer networks, cook the perfect steak, or build houses. I create universes.

Q: Conversely, what daunts you?

A: Editing. At times I despair of getting across exactly what I mean, especially when I read a passage to some of my critique partners and they give me a puzzled look. Sometimes the solution is just another word choice, but other times it requires major surgery. But it’s sometimes frustratingly boring to the point where I want to NEVER read about those characters again.

Second place, and it’s a close second, is marketing. These things are not what I’m gifted for.

Q: How do you cope with writer’s block?

A: I can’t say I’ve ever had writer’s block. If it exists at all, I’ve never experienced it. I’ve been burned out to the point I didn’t write for a couple of years, but that’s not “blocked.” I’ve hit difficult parts of one project or another, but I go to work on something else. Is that “blocked?” I don’t know.

I’ve heard people talk about being blocked, but I can’t really relate because I’ve always had something to write. For those reasons I doubt there’s really such a thing as writer’s block.

Q: Any new projects on your plate?

A: My current project is taking a novel and making it three separate books. What I thought was a finished product was really more of a sketch than true novel. Since it was too long anyway, fleshing it out made a lot more sense, and was really a three-part story to begin with.

I have a rough idea of a book series that could end up to be in the neighborhood of thirty novels or short story collections. While working on the above project I’m researching for the bigger one. Those two should keep me busy for the rest of my life, and if I run out there are some smaller works I have in mind.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write. Writers write, and if you’re not writing you’re not a writer. Simple, but not easy. Every story you write will be better than the last one. If you’re not getting attention with the ones you’ve already written, write a new one. Then another one.

I think Tom Clancy’s first novel published was Red October. It wasn’t his first written. There were at least two before that. He didn’t stop. You shouldn’t.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Find a critique group. Nobody writes in a vacuum until you hit it so big people will buy anything with that name on it. Again using Tom Clancy, if you look at his later books, they all could have used an editor. Rumor has it he had the attitude, “I’m Tom Clancy. I don’t need an editor.” As a fan of his writing, I’d have told him, “Yes you do.”

Every writer needs someone who can tell them they need more of “this” and less of “that.” “Something else” needs to be changed, “another thing” needs clarification, and “are you kidding me” should be left out entirely.

I’m totally convinced my writing would be unmarketable trash without a critique group. If you can’t find one, form one. Twenty years ago my group consisted mostly of “aren’t we good” kind of people. Eventually the skill level of some improved, and people not willing to get better moved out of the group. It takes time to build a group, but they’re instrumental. Don’t skimp on getting other eyes on what you write.

 

Summers of Fire

SummersofFire-HiRes

In the 1970s, Linda Strader became one of the first women hired on a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service. She discovers firefighting is challenging—but in a man’s world, there would be tougher battles to fight. We’re delighted to put her compelling new book– Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage—in the spotlight and encourage the next generation of young women to never let anyone say “no” to whatever career paths they want to pursue.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to become a firefighter, a career that was traditionally reserved for men?

A: It certainly wasn’t because I’d dreamed of being a firefighter since I was a kid! No, it was nothing quite that profound.

My parents had moved my family from Syracuse, New York to Prescott, Arizona, while I was in my senior year. Small town Prescott didn’t have much to offer in the way of work for a seventeen-year-old. I did the fast food thing, answered the phone in a tiny office where the phone never rang, waited on tables in a luncheonette for two days…and hated every minute of it. I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that would be. I loved the outdoors, and often explored the forest around my home. I loved playing guitar, painting, and even learned how to silversmith, but those interests weren’t going to get me out on my own. I reluctantly ended up looking for work in Tucson. There, an acquaintance found me a job with the U.S. Forest Service, working in the ranger station high in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson. True, it was an office job, but it was not ordinary one by any means. They hired me as a timekeeper for the Catalina Hot Shots, an elite firefighting crew. The crew introduced me to the exciting world of wildfire. After working two summers up there, I decided I hated office work, and applied for a firefighter position. I got it, and became one of the first women to work on a Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Q: What are your recollections about the first day on the job?

A: When I met my supervisor, he squeezed my upper arm and inspected my hands for calluses…obviously checking to see if I could handle the hard work. I also noticed there were no other women, but didn’t think anything of it. After having such a hard time getting a job, I was determined to give this one my very best.

Q: Did you ever consider walking away and doing something else?

A: Yes, I did. Once when I found out the guys resented my presence on the crew, and again when I found myself blacklisted. However, I loved my job, and decided that the harder the guys made it for me, the more I wanted to keep that job.

Q: What was the most harrowing experience you can recall?

A: We were fighting a 50,000 acre fire in Northern California back in 1977, one of the worst fire seasons in recent history. Because of miscommunications,  two of my crewmates and I found ourselves nearly entrapped by a backfire operation, a firefighting technique where fire officials intentionally set a fire to stop the main fire. Additionally, while watching a 200 foot wall of flames, I remember questioning the effectiveness of the fire shelter strapped to my waist…a new piece of safety equipment just added to our gear that summer.

Q: Flash-forward to the present and you have written your first book. What prompted you to share your memories abut life as a female firefighter?

A: After suffering multiple losses over a short period of time, namely ending my 23-year marriage, losing my job, and then my mom dying, I found myself looking to my past because the future looked so bleak. I’d had some amazing adventures during my seven-year career, and thought to put them down on paper before they were forgotten. Over time, I added more, and eventually discovered I’d written what resembled a book.

Q: Many people believe that writing a memoir about tough times is cathartic. Was that true for you?

A: It was not. At first I left out the ‘tough stuff’, avoiding painful memories. However, early beta readers noticed I was leaving out people and events they believed to be important. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was torture to relive events that I did not want to, and every time I edited, I cried, got angry, and filled with resentment. I don’t care if I ever read those sections again, and in fact, I hope I never have to.

Q: Writing personal details about your life and then sending them out into the world for total strangers to read has to be a scary experience. Or was it?

A: Petrifying! I had no idea how people would react. Would they relate? Would they judge me? I feared the worst. However, as reviews came in, I discovered that people did relate to my story, and they did not judge me. They admired me for sharing. What a relief.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write? And why?

A: As I mentioned above, writing about painful memoirs was the hardest. They brought back anger and resentment over how my wonderful world fell apart.

Q: When did you first realize that the craft of writing was calling to you?

A: As soon as I started writing down memories of my adventures, I couldn’t stop. But because I’d never written a book before, it took many, many rewrites to turn those memories into an actual story, one that someone would want to read. Obsessed by this point, I refused to give up until I got it right.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and your outlook on life during the actual writing process?

A: That I’m stronger than I think I am. I’ve been asked what I would tell my twenty-year-old self if I could go back in time. Not one thing. Actually, it is she who has much to say to me. All of those losses I suffered through set me back, big time. I lost touch with who I am. While reading my personal journals to write my book, I realized that I’m still her…the strong-willed twenty-year-old who fought for what she wanted. That was quite a profound realization for me.

Q: What is a typical day of writing and editing like for you?

A: Because I run a small landscape design business, I write when I have time. For me, editing is best done in the early in the morning when I’m rested, and creative writing in the late afternoon with a glass of wine. Hey, it frees up the mind! Summer is very slow for me, so I do make the most progress during that time, both writing and editing.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher?

A: My goal at first was to find a literary agent. After two years, and over a hundred queries and multiple rejections, I decided to query small publishers. Ironically, I had agents reading my full manuscript at the same time three publishers made offers. It was a tough decision, because I still really wanted agent representation, but I was also tired of playing the game. I ended up accepting one of those three offers, a decision I don’t regret.

Q: Successfully marketing a finished work is often one of the biggest hurdles new writers face. Was your publisher helpful in this regard or were you largely on your own?

A: My publisher made sure my book was available in multiple outlets, all over the world. They entered me into appropriate competitions, resulting in me becoming a finalist in one of them. They provided me with a press release. But speaking engagements, book signings, reaching out to the news media—that fell on me. However, I knew this would happen, no matter how I published. Therefore, I’d done my homework ages ago. I started writing a blog over five years ago, and had been networking on social media for at least three years. I exchanged blog posts with other authors. I looked for, and found, author interview opportunities. Prior to my book’s release, I booked eight speaking engagements and signing events. After watching a free online podcast about how to market your book without paying a publicist, I landed a TV interview, and Parade Magazine published an excerpt. I’m always looking for more opportunities.

Q: Now that the book is out there, what feedback from readers surprised you the most?

A: That they think of me as brave. I have never thought of myself as brave. I do know that if I want something bad enough, nothing will stop me from achieving it. If that is considered bravery, I will concede that maybe I am.

Q: What message do you want to be most strongly convey to the next generation of young women who want to follow their dreams?

A: Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do! And never give up.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: When you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work.’

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a prequel to Summers of Fire. It’s a coming-of age memoir about the intricacies of love, physical attraction, deep friendship, and the longing for independence and a meaningful life.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My blog has more about me, as well as blog posts about strong women, women in Forest Service, and links to guest blog posts and my interviews. I also have a photo gallery of my firefighting years. https://summersoffirebook.blogspot.com/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and experiences!

 

 

 

 

An Armful of Animals

AN ARMFUL OF ANIMALS Cover

What would you do to help a camel with an injured foot? Yeah, I don’t know either, but retired veterinarian Malcolm Welshman would! In his latest book, An Armful of Animals, Malcolm brings us with him through some of his most unforgettable experiences. Filled with tales of bats, monkeys, dogs, and more, this memoir is one you won’t be able to put down!

 Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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Q: How was writing An Armful of Animals a different experience for you than writing your other books?

A: My first three vet books were fictionalised accounts of a young vet in his first couple of years in practice. An Armful of Animals, relates the encounters I’ve had with animals during my life so became a much more personal experience when writing it.

Q: What was your favourite part about being a veterinarian?

A: The interaction with owners and their pets and being able to help keep that relationship going when their pets needed medical care.

Q: What inspired you to start writing and become an author?

A: I was given a goose to fatten up for Christmas. Instead she became a pet. I decided to write that up as a feature for a magazine which was accepted. They then asked me to write a vet column which I did for 15 years. With all the material I consequently accumulated, I decided to use it as the basis of a book. Hence the first one appeared – Pets in a Pickle.

Q: What do you like the most about being a speaker on cruise ships?

A: Entertaining passengers and the subsequent feedback and rapport that gets established. So many people have great stories about their own pets.

Q: What do you like the least?

A: Inevitably there are occasions when things don’t go to plan; e.g., weather conditions not allowing a ship to berth; and that can be frustrating. The biggest upset I’ve experienced in the 44 cruises speaking engagements I’ve completed is the time I was on the first two weeks of a Christmas cruise. It should have taken us over the Caribbean. However, the air-conditioning system failed in the Canaries and so the Caribbean was cancelled and we were diverted to the Mediterranean instead. Many passengers were very disappointed.

Q: What is the greatest number of pets you’ve owned at once?

A: We used to have a house with seven acres. So over a period of time we had: 15 Shetland ponies, 15 llamas, eight sheep, six budgerigars, a cat, a dog and a riding pony. Oh, and a huge aquarium full of fish.

Q: Throughout your life, you’ve traveled between the UK and Africa several times. What, in your opinion, is the biggest difference between the two?

A: As a lover of nature and animals, it’s the sheer diversity of Africa – from the heat and aridness of the Sahara to the lush tropical forests combined with the corresponding wide range of animal species which makes that continent so very different and so very special for me.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: There’s quite a list. A series of features requested by UK magazines and online websites; topics being my love of trees, depression in dogs, cats in my life, anecdotes of encounters with parrots. A children’s novel is being considered for publication. Ongoing monthly column about my dog – Dora’s Diary.

Malcolm & Dora (2)

Writing the fourth novel in the young vet series: Pets are a Pleasure. And formatting a book on the interaction between dogs and humans from the dog’s viewpoint: Rover Rules.

Q: Where can our readers find more information about you and your books?

A: My website: http://www.malcolmwelshman.co.uk

My current memoir, An Armful of Animalshttp://amazon.co.uk/dp/B07H1HM7ZB

http://amazon.com/dp/B07H1HM7ZB

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Being a retired veterinarian, part of the reason for writing the memoir was that I could then share memories of the animals that have played a role in my life. And through sharing that with like-minded people who also have a passion for pets, continue to experience and respect the important role animals play in our lives.