Places and Times

 

ATurfa cover art

“Poetry,” wrote Robert Frost, “is what gets lost in translation.” For a lot of today’s adolescents – and no shortage of adults as well – the chance to go beneath the surface and explore a poem’s meaning is so often dismissed because, frankly, other forms of expression seem like much less work. A case in point is my nephew Eugene who balked throughout his public education that there weren’t any or enough words that rhymed with the actual words he wanted to use (i.e., pterodactyl). As an adult, the closest he allows himself to get to poetry is the greeting card aisle…and even then gravitates only to short verses with obvious rhythmic patterns. Oh, Eugene! The expressive word-pictures, philosophies and insightful turns of phrase you’re missing out on!

For the rest of us, poet Arthur Turfa’s Places and Times is a cozy invitation to step – as if through the frame of a gallery painting – into the reflective moods, passions and travel experiences that have shaped this globetrekker’s vibrant life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “At home in the world” is a phrase that could easily be your personal motto. How have you been able to put that mindset in active practice in your years of traveling the globe?

A: One way is to learn something about my destination. It could be some of the language, or it might be someplace I want to see there. Having seen tourists act like tourists or tour stereotypical Ugly American, I try to connect somehow with people and places.

Q: Is there a favorite place that calls to you – either as a destination to return to or one that’s on your wish list of places you’ve yet to visit?

A: Oh yes! Berlin. I have been there primarily as a tourist, but also as a student. When there was still a Wall, I lived for a summer with German friends. My great-grandfather was a cadet at the academy in nearby Potsdam, and that plays some role I suppose. When I am there, I am rejuvenated.

Q: People who love to travel are often bitten by the wanderlust bug at an early age. Was this the case for you and, if so, how did it subsequently influence your writing style and your view of globetrekking?

A: My parents like to travel, but they stayed in the US and Canada. I liked to travel. So far I’ve bene to 41 states, Europe seven times, Asia once, Mexico once, and Canada six. The way I remember best is writing I remember a place, persons, or an event that is either historical or personal. Most of my travel to Europe was to learn German, and I immersed myself in the language, literature, and culture.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your exposure to languages other than your first one.

A: In my father’s hometown near Pittsburgh, I heard about ten Old Country languages regularly, as well as accented English. Three of my grandparents were born in Europe; my paternal grandparents still spoke Hungarian daily. Those experiences form the basis of my second book Accents. My mother taught me some French; her mother was a Walloon. The Germans in the family were all speaking English, but I learned that also. Languages came easily to me.

Q: You’ve had a number of interesting careers during your life – pastor, educator, and soldier. What have those diverse pursuits taught you about the creative, business, and discipline aspects of being a successful author?

A:  All of them have given me tons of experience, I’ll say that! The careers have taught me how to set a schedule, to make good use of time, and to keep on track. Creativity is needed in all of them, and there are some carry-overs. For example, I have used pastoral skills in the classroom, I have taught as a pastor (even in sermons), and found military skills contribute confidence and a “let’s-get-the-job-done” attitude.

Q: You’re also a moderator on Google+. What does that involve and how does it sync with your writing activities?

A: Lately it has taken me away from them except for prompts and occasional pieces. Sometimes the personalities can get in the way of poetry. But some of those pieces become part of something larger. Peppered Poets is a guild for people who want critique and to wrestle with poetry. Words on Fire is another smaller group with amazing talent. POETS is the largest but very diverse. These groups bring me into contact with different styles of poetry. I also have found some very food friends from all over the world of whom I can ask anything.

Q: Let’s talk about your passion for poetry. When was this first ignited?

A:  Of course I was exposed to poetry in school. I learned what I had to, and tolerated what I was given. However, I liked hitman. In my senior year in high school, my English teacher saw something in me. He allowed me to spend most classes in the library, reading anything I wanted to. I wrote reports and found myself loving literature. Auden’s poetry really grabbed mem, and still does. Sadly, a teacher could not do that today, unless there was Project Based Learning.

Q: What were your early poems like and how do they compare to the poetry you’re penning now?

A: The first things I wrote were lyrics for songs, heavily-influenced by what I was listening to at the time. As far as early poems, they were nature or history-based. I actually found a few undergraduate poems recently, and they were not terrible. They are on a Google+ Collection of mins. The ones I remember best though, I cannot find.

There are some similarities with current poems in terms of content and structure. But I have learned to love sonnets. Getting older has improved them, I assure you!

Q: Tell us about Places and Times and how its development came about.

A:  I had a break of about 20 years from writing poetry. During that time I wrote sermons, lesson plans, had civilian and military education happening. In my free time, I was not interesting in writing anything. A friend, Carol Worthington Levy, sent us a print from a trip she and her husband took to Italy, and that sparked something. Maybe my mind was turning to poetry again. I started writing. After my deployment to Germany I finished the dissertation, and wrote more. Cautiously, I posted a few things. Joanna Kurowska told me my poetry was good enough to publish. While I had a piece or two in a journal already, she encouraged me to produce a book-length manuscript. During the period between the years 2007-2011 I wrote a lot of poetry, mainly as a break from everything else I was doing. My life has calmed down a bit, and I had the time. She told me to contact her publisher. And Carol’s artwork graces the cover of my book.

Q: How would you describe your style as a poet?

A: People say I am a painterly type of poet. I create a scene and/or tell a story. Structure helps that a great deal. I do not like short lines, unless I am writing in a certain form. In the process of creating the scene, telling the story, I let the emotions come out subtly. I love sounds and words. Like a good painting, a reader might need to step back from one of my poems or re-read a section to appreciate it.

Q: Has anyone ever said to you, “Poetry? Why? There’s no money in it.” What’s your response to that?

A: Not exactly, but some think it is frivolous or pretentious. I will work something into a poem about them or their attitude.

Q: I feel fortunate to have grown up at a time when reading and writing poetry were part of the English curriculum. Sadly, though, the exposure so many young people get to this form of creative expression is either through nursery rhymes (which suggest a poem isn’t a poem unless it’s a la-dee-da rhythm) or epic tomes like Beowulf (which are cumbersome and impossible for most to understand). As an educator, what do you feel can/should be done to make the study of poetry more fun and approachable and, accordingly, something students might voluntarily seek out as enjoyable reads when they’re adults?

A: Students need to be exposed to the classics; there is no question about that. But there are creative ways to do that. There is a lot of good contemporary poetry out there, but some parents object to language and theme (but they watch/read/listen to worse). Students need to try their hand at writing something of their own.

That being said, most English Departments debate over what and how much to read. Some song lyrics would be good to stimulate interest.

Q: Who are some of the poets and writers whose work you especially admire and/or draw from for inspiration?

A: Among the better-known ones are Auden, Eliot, Whitman, Hopkins, Rilke, Goethe, Plath, Bukowski. Among those from my Google+ communities my mentor, Joanna Kurowska, Denise Baxter Yoder, Jose Coelho and Martha Magenta,  Locally, Ed Madden and  Ray McManus,

Q: What sorts of things do you pick up on that eventually appear in your writing?

A: Really all kinds of things. These range from a glimpse as I drive or have more time to linger outdoors, a piece of music, people I know, situations involving them and/or myself. I also pick up some themes from other writers.

Q: What other types of writing do you do?

A: I do have a YA draft in process. Additionally I still do sermons, an article for a professional publication. The dissertation took some time but was interesting. And lesson plans!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I am editing a manuscript for a second book of poetry, tentatively entitled Accents. I am also submitting to journals, both print and on-line.

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

A: That I am an avid baseball fan, especially of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: https://www.facebook.com/Arthur-Turfa-Poems-of-Times-and-Places-Reflected-293732337470677/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4616169.Arthur_Turfa

http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Turfa/e/B00YJ9LNOA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1468187274&sr=8-1

https://plus.google.com/u/0/collections

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Thanks for the perceptive questions and the opportunity to answer them!

 

 

 

A Chat With Steph Young

No Plus One cover.jpg

In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when this journey toward publication began?

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

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

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.

 

 

Free

freecover

It seems that from the time a child starts school, s/he gets asked by parentals, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” By the time s/he has graduated, the question becomes, “Why aren’t you out doing something yet?” For many a disenfranchised youth like the title heroine of Lisa Litberg’s coming of age novel, Free, sometimes you just have to dial down the noise of others’ expectations in order to hear the music of what your own heart and soul are trying to tell you.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What was the inspiration behind your decision to write this tale of wanderlust?

A:  In my younger years I, like Free, traveled around the country following the Grateful Dead.  Unlike Free, I had a home to go to in between tours, but I met many people who didn’t and who remained nomadic year-round.  Their lifestyle fascinated me, so I decided to create a fictional story of one such person.

Q: What’s the setting and circa of Free’s journey and why was it important to utilize multiple locations for that journey of discovery and self-awareness to take shape?

A:  Each chapter of the book takes place in a different location in the U.S.  I did this to illustrate the journey that Free is taking, both literally and figuratively.  The reader gets a sense of movement, of searching, and begins to question the idea of ‘freedom’.

Q: Do any aspects of Free’s personality mirror your own?

A:  Free and I are actually very different people.  I am very open; Free keeps to herself.  She is guarded and reticent.  Free doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs; I have always been fairly confident and self-assured, and conscious of my place in the world.   We do have some similarities.  We both love to travel, and in doing so, we both have put ourselves in situations in which we are at the mercy of strangers.  We both love music.  We’re both pretty calm and rational.  Actually, Free is probably a bit calmer than I am.

Q: Who will this story appeal to and why?

A:  Definitely Deadheads, especially those who toured in the 1990s, when the story takes place!  But I think it appeals to anyone who remembers how unsure we were in young adulthood, that cusp between teenager and grown-up.  If you like road trips, you’ll probably like this book as well.

Q: What do you hope your target readers will gain from it by the time they reach the last page?

A:  I think my novel raises questions of what it means to be free.  Sometimes what appears to be freedom is actually confinement.  Sometimes those who are confined are really free.  Freedom comes from within.  I’d like to think my readers are confronting these questions within themselves.

Q: What governed your choice to use first person/present tense?

A:  My most common compliment from readers is “I felt like I was right there with Free!”  This is why I used first person/present tense narration.  The story is unfolding, as seen through Free’s eyes, as we read it.  We are watching the events transpire.  I love this style of writing, even though I feel as if I don’t see it a lot.

Q: Were any scenes in the book challenging or unsettling for you to write?

A:  Without giving too much away, it was very hard to write the later scenes about Eric.  His struggles felt very real to me, and reminded me of people I have known.  I also felt uncomfortable developing Free’s relationship with Ed.  I think he’s the most frightening character in the book.  In some ways, I wish I developed their story further, but in many ways I’m glad I didn’t.  He really creeps me out.

Q: Of all the characters Free encounters, which one would you most like to see in a spin-off title of his/her own?

A:  Charlie!  I absolutely love Charlie.  I wish he really existed; I think he’d be my soul mate.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A:  Ooh I love this question!  I think James Franco would be perfect as Eric.  In fact, Eric kind of looks like Franco in my mind.  Jennifer Lawrence would make a good Free—she can portray quiet strength well.  I love Johnny Depp so I’d like to fit him in there—maybe he could be Joe.  He likes playing sketchy characters.  How about the guy who plays Thor as Charlie?  And Juliette Lewis as Annie?  This is fun!

Q: Like many a young protagonist without strong ties to the concept and security a home represents, would Free best be described as “running away” or “running toward”?

A:  Both.  Free is running away from her old life, and even though she has no true destination in mind, she is definitely running toward her future.  She has no choice.

Q: If you could have one person, living or dead, read your novel, who would it be and why?

A:  My father.  He passed away about a year before it was written.  He would be so proud.

Q: Whether this person was effusive with praise or harshly critical of your storytelling style, how would it affect your passion for the craft?

A:  Well one thing about my dad was that he didn’t really sugarcoat much.  If he didn’t like my book, he would’ve told me what he didn’t like about it.  But I think he would’ve liked it.  Either way, I’d still write, and my father would expect and want me to.

Q: The decision to create your own imprint, Scribomusing Press, is consistent with many of today’s authors that want to have more control of their own intellectual property. What do you know about publishing now that you didn’t know when you started?

A:  I didn’t realize I would like self-publishing.  I was actually published by a company who, unfortunately, closed within a year of my publication.  I loved working with them, and I am so grateful that they provided the formatting, editing, cover art, etc.  But self-publishing has many benefits.  I like being able to track my sales daily.  And being forced to market my own book has taught me much about the industry.  I’m still learning every day as I go!

Q: Among the many things you can be proud of along your career path was empowering urban students to express themselves through the written word. Do you feel that this is a harder or easier objective than it was when you first began teaching?

A:  This has always been one of my favorite parts of teaching English.  I think memoirs should be required in the high school curriculum.  I am always amazed and humbled by what my students produce.  Many of them have weathered difficulties that most of us never even dreamed of in high school.  Telling their story strengthens them.  And reading them enlightens me.

Q: In your view, what impact has the combination of technology and the continued erosion of the nuclear family had on creating insularity and poor communication skills in today’s younger generation?

A:  Well that’s an interesting question!  I do know that students today are constantly on their cell phones.  It’s a constant battle to keep them out.  They expect things immediately—there is very little delay of gratification in their world.  Plus there’s a safety in communicating through social networking—you don’t have to feel like you’re really talking to the person, so you’re more apt to say things you wouldn’t in person.  This can have disastrous effects.  On the other hand, technology has increased communication in many ways.  We can email someone on the other side of the world and have an instant response, or Skype with Grandma in Miami even when we’re somewhere else.  This is definitely a positive.

Q: If time and money were no object, how would you solve that sense of societal disconnection?

A:  I fantasize about creating urban communities in the city.  I want to buy those big multi-unit courtyard buildings and outfit them with community gardens, childcare, job training/recruiting, social clubs….I have lived in buildings like that where I only knew the people directly above and/or below me, but we all shared a common basement and backyard.  That really bothered me.  There’s so much disconnect in the city.

Q: How does your writing practice fit into the rest of your life? What else have you written?

A: I have written countless poems, short stories, essays, speeches, and songs.  I’m always writing something.  I have a notebook with me almost wherever I go.  I’m old school like that.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  I started a science fiction piece influenced by some of the changes happening in public education.  I’m not sure if it’s going to be a short story or something longer.  But at the moment I put that aside because so many readers have been clamoring for a sequel to Free.  Finally I broke down and started one.

Q: Your best advice to new writers?

A:  Read all the time.  Write all the time.  Don’t be afraid to take a chance.  Let people read your work.  Listen to them, but don’t let one person deter you.  Some people will love your work and some won’t.  That’s just how it is.  Believe in yourself and get your words out there.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you  and – even more importantly – buy your books?

A:  My website is www.lisalitberg.com.  You can order the print book directly from my store, or from CreateSpace.  The ebook is available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.  Createspace link:  https://www.createspace.com/5340967

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Lisa-Litberg-ebook/dp/B00U6HW212/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1432261427

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/524211

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/free-lisa-litberg/1119899300?ean=2940046610253

Chance Encounters

Chance Encounters

So many of us dream of travelling, writing, and sharing our amazing experiences, but Colorado-based journalist, editor, and producer Janna Graber has done more than just dream. In addition to writing for publications such as Redbook, Reader’s Digest, The Chicago Tribune, etc., in the interests of travel and gaining invaluable life experiences, she’s gone dog-sledding, saddled up for excitement and riding at some of Colorado’s dude ranches, and even toured my ownOntario Wine Country to sample our finest wines in the Niagara Valley! But for Janna, it’s more than just the travel that drives her; it’s the personal connections she makes with people all over the globe that resonate most deeply with her. Now, she’s written a book, Chance Encounters: Travel Tales From Around the World (World Traveler Press, 2014) that focuses on experiences and personal connections she and other globe trotters have enjoyed. To learn a little more about this fascinating woman, her newest book, and what inspires her, read on.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q: Tell us, Janna, how did you get the idea for the book?

A: In my travels, I often crossed paths with extraordinary people — people who lived in situations different from my own, but who touched me in some way. Some of those encounters enriched my journey, inspired me or even changed my way of thinking. I knew other travelers experienced this as well, so I decided to create a book that would celebrate these unique and incredible travel encounters.

Q: How many authors were featured in the book?

ANineteen top international travel writers were featured in the book.

Q: How were pieces selected?

A: We received hundreds of submissions from writers around the globe and selected 23 final stories. I looked for well-written pieces that followed the writer’s internal journey, as well as his/her external experience. Each story in the book provides a you-are-there feeling, allowing the armchair traveler to experience a unique part of the world from the writer’s perspective. The stories are all very different from each other, which makes reading the book so enjoyable. 

Q: What are some of your own stories that were included?

A: “My Friend, the Enemy” was actually the story that inspired the idea for the book. In 1987 while on a short student trip to East Germany, I met a young East German student who reached out in friendship, even though it was dangerous for him to do so. After I left, we had to write in secret through this grandma. It’s been 25 years now since the Berlin Wall fell, and we have been close friends ever since — simply because we crossed paths long ago.

Another story of mine, “The Parisian Angel” tells how a young French woman helped me after I had been robbed in Paris. She reached out to me when I needed it most, and helped to restore my faith in Paris.

Q: Tell us about some of the other tales in the book.

A: Christina Hamlett writes of a treasured encounter in Hawaii that she has never forgotten. Kimberley Lovato’s tale of an elevator ride with a courageous woman in Paris packs deep emotions into a matter of minutes, from recollections of childhood memories to profound realizations of life.

Nithin Coca’s conversation with a taxi driver in Dubai leaves an impression that he won’t forget, and during a hike with a young monk in Bhutan, Shilpa Gupta learns a lesson not about Buddhism, but about herself.

Cece Romanyshyn is moved by the strength of three young Kenyan sisters who are faced with a heart-wrenching local custom, and Rob Woodburn marvels at the resourcefulness of two young men from Malawi in their quest for a decent pair of shoes.

These are just a few examples. The book is packed with incredible tales of chance travel encounters that touched or changed someone’s life.

Q: Travel writing isn’t something most people just jump into. What is your background?

A: I began my journalism career covering women’s news for Chicago Tribune, Redbook, McCall’s and other publications. When the Columbine tragedy happened in my own backyard, it was very difficult for me to write about. These were my neighbors, and I couldn’t help but feel their sorrow. After that, I decided to turn my energies to covering positive stories of travel and the strength of the human spirit.

After 9/11, travel writing changed. I was told that Americans weren’t interested in international travel. But I knew that wasn’t true. In 2003, I started GoWorldTravel.com, an online magazine devoted entirely to world travel. We work with travel writers around the world covering stories in more than 90 countries. I’ve been covering travel ever since.

Q: When you travel, you do much more than visit resorts and tourist attractions; you learn about the native cultures and people of the places you visit. What is the most interesting fact you discovered about a place, people, or thing on your travels?

A: What I’ve learned is that people are more alike than they are different. Yes, I may have a different home or lifestyle than a mom living in Shanghai, but deep down we are still mothers who hope for the best in our children. I always find so much in common with those I meet on my travels – and that provides a genuine connection that cultural differences can’t erase.

Q: Most of us choose to travel the paved roads, but you go off-road all the time. Can you share with us your most funny, or difficult, travel situation?

A: I love small towns and rural and rugged landscape. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been snorkeling with belugas near the Arctic Circle in the 800-person town of Churchill, Minnesota, and going on safari in the Outback on an Aboriginal Reserve at the northern tip of Australia. The people who live in these kinds of rugged environments fascinate me, and I enjoy being around them.

Q: What inspires you to write and travel, Janna?

A: I’m always curious and eager to learn about new places, people, and cultures. Travel allows me to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my view, and experience new things.

Q: Although travel writing looks exciting and glamorous, I’m sure many, many times it isn’t. What advice would you give to writers who would like to learn more about or get involved in travel writing?

A: Ten years ago, it was possible to make a passable living with travel writing, but the media world has changed. Fewer print publications cover travel, and online writing just doesn’t pay as much. Nowadays, travel writing is a good second career. You have to pursue it for the passion, not the money. It helps to have another source of income while you do that.

Q: How do you choose the places to visit and write about?

A: Since I went to university in Vienna, I feel at home in Europe. European destinations continuously draw me. I’m also in love with Australia, so travel there whenever I can. Generally though, I simply look for opportunities to travel and experience new things. I’m open to almost any place where travel is safe.

Q: Is there someplace you haven’t been to yet that you are determined to go to? If so, why?

A: I’d like to go on safari in Tanzania and Botswana; Mongolia is also on my wish list. I’ve never been to any of these places, but have read other writers who have inspired me to put them on my Bucket List. 

Q: What book projects are you working on next?

A: My next book in the series, called “Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World”, is also now available. Like the name says, the book includes 24 incredible travel stories from some 20 top travel writers.

My own story in the book is called “Filling in the Holes”. It’s about searching for family roots in Latvia that were tragically lost during war. It was an incredible adventure. Latvia is an undiscovered treasure.

In mid-2015 I’ll start work on an anthology devoted solely to women’s travel stories. I’m really looking forward to that one.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Janna. I, and I’m sure many of our readers, are looking forward to reading Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World, and your future works as well.

LINKS

Amazon link to Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World
http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Encounters-Travel-Tales-Around/dp/0990878600/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420764694&sr=8-1

Amazon link to Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the Worldhttp://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Lifetime-Travel-Around-Traveler-ebook/dp/B00R5NJZQA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_exp_8_1

World Traveler Press: www.worldtravelerpress.com

Go World Travel Magazine: www.goworldtravel.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Go.World.Travel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GoWorldMagazine

Website: http://jannagraber.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks