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!

 

 

 

 

A Chat With Jacquie Gauthier

Jacquie Gauthier

By Debbie A. McClure

Someone told Canadian ex-radio host, Jacquie Gauthier that we all need to “Find Your Elephant!” When I heard that quote, I had to laugh. After all this is a woman who has literally learned what that means. Imagine falling in love, leaving your country of birth, and starting all over in a foreign country, and in the process, finding yourself. For many years I listened to Jacquie on the local radio station in London, Ontario, Canada, and worked with her on a local Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser. However, I never dreamed she’d roam so far, or that one day we’d be talking about elephants and writing books. Welcome Jacquie!

Q: Tell us a little about your books and how you got started.

A: My first book, The Gift Of An Elephant: A Story About Life, Love, and Africa, really came as a result of my Uncle Ernest, who was a missionary in Africa. When I was a little girl, he gave me an ebony elephant carving. I loved that little carving, and it sparked my life-long love of elephants and Africa. In fact, little did I know that my love for him and the seeds he planted, would sprout much later in life.As a result of my great uncle, I’ve always had an affinity for Africa, and for helping other people. 

I’ve had what I believe is a pretty bumpy ride to where I’m at now, living in Africa with my husband, and my passionate involvement with elephant and African wildlife conservation.  I wanted to share my own personal experiences in Africa and Canada, and the journey that’s lead me here, in an effort to remind people that anything, literally anything, you feel deeply about can happen. But change isn’t easy—I don’t think it’s supposed to be. There is a lot of pain along the way, but if you keep going, keep believing in yourself and pursuing what’s important to you, you can create the changes you need in your life. I also know that Africa changes how you view life, yourself, and others. It’s an incredibly unique place on this planet, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve experienced with others.

Q: Explain how you went from London, Ontario to South Africa, and why?

A: A few years ago, when I was at my personal lowest, I decided to go on a mission trip with Canadian Aid For Southern Sudan. My job there was simple. I was to help the kids create art, assist with the music camp, and help work on plays for the kids. I have to tell you, I loved every minute of it!  

One day I went with a group of people to deliver some medicines and interview refugees not far from where we were staying. That’s where I met Johann, a South African paramedic who was working on a U.N. contract at the time. He is such a wonderful man, and we connected immediately. After we got married, Johann came to Canada on Permanent Residence, but he couldn’t find a job. Oddly enough, he landed a job in Mozambique, so returned to Africa to work. We absolutely didn’t want to deal with a long-distance marriage, so I moved to Africa with him, but I didn’t have the documentation to work. This meant I was going to have a lot of time on my hands, which worried me a bit, but I figured something would come along.  

When we were preparing to move to Africa from Canada, I contacted the television show, House Hunters International. What followed was a crazy, fun experience of having our massive life overhaul and move to a new country, filmed. It was a great experience, and we still get stopped on the street by people everywhere who have seen that episode and recognize us!

The problem for me with moving to Africa was that Johann was required to be gone for as much as a month at a time. Because I had the time, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing a book. With the success of The Gift Of An Elephant, I was encouraged to write my second book, Twenty-Eight Elephants: And Other Everyday Miracles.  

I won’t say much about Twenty-Eight Elephants right now, except that this book talks to the many experiences, happenstances, and yes, miracles, I’ve had or heard about throughout my life that have changed me irrevocably for the better.

I also have to say that I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to observe, first hand, the unrelenting, inspiring resilience of the people of Africa who’ve been misplaced by famine, war, and drought, yet are happier than many North Americans. Why? Because they value each other. They pay attention, and care for each other—that’s all they have—each other. I’m convinced that miracles, serendipity, God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, happen all the time.  

Q: You now collaborate on a highly successful new artistic venture with a remarkable artist in Africa to raise funds, awareness, and build a brand new business. How did you and your artistic partner, Alicia Fordyce, meet? 

A: Alicia and I met at an art show in far off and exciting Hoedspruit Limpopo. Alicia was an exhibiting visual artist, and I fell in love with her work. Long story short; we chatted, clicked, and continued to run into each other socially on several occasions after that. Then I had this crazy idea to do fine art and photography on elephant dung paper, which is an amazing product that really isn’t as gross as it sounds. I’ll explain in a moment. The key thing is that Alicia thought it was a great idea too, so we decided to collaborate on this new art project, which we entitled; Two Girls And An Elephant (see link below). The plan was to start a new business by creating original art, sell it, and at the same time, raise funds and awareness of African elephants and rhinos, who are at an alarming risk of becoming extinct if people don’t do something, like NOW!

Q: Tell us about your artwork.

A: Well, we started out thinking of doing prints of Alicia’s paintings and my photography (another passion of mine) on high quality art paper and elephant dung paper . We planned to sell the prints to tourists visiting the area. Of course Alicia and I have the original art, but we weren’t sure it would be as big a seller as it is. Actually, it’s doing exceptionally well! Some of our original art has been exhibited at the Lion Sands Ivory Lodge in Saubi Sands, an absolutely incredible hotel that’s often called “one of the best hotels in the world”, which sits right on the banks of the Sabi River .  

Q: Okay, I gotta ask; what is dung paper, and how do you use it?

A: *laughs* It’s made from elephant dung, or poop. You see, elephants have poor digestive systems, so what remains is mostly grass. The grass is boiled in caustic soda, then water is added to make a paste, which is then spread out on a screen and left in the sun to dry. As you can imagine, it’s a very organic look and is an amazing medium. We work hand-in-hand with a local paper-maker to have the it refined to our precise design specification, which is thinner than what they would normally produce. 

The advantages of this product is that it has such an organic look and texture. This makes it completely different from anything else out there. We like to tell purchasers that this is a great way to bring an authentic piece of Africa home with them, and it is!

The disadvantages of the dung paper are very few. Alicia loves painting on it, however, I will say that printing on it is a bit more difficult, and supply is limited. In addition to larger pieces, we also do greeting cards, book markers, etc., all at different price points of course.

Q: Who benefits from the sale of the artwork?

A: We donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the artwork to Elephant’s Alive South Africa. 

I’ve also become very involved with a local (African) organization, Wild Shots Outreach, which teaches kids how to use a camera to create beautiful images. It’s imperative we educate the country’s youth about what’s happening in their own backyard regarding the elephant, rhino, and other wildlife populations. They’re the future, so if they can learn to connect to nature, they’re far less likely to be swayed into becoming poachers later in life. They’re also taught the importance of preservation, and where each animal on the planet fits in with it’s natural habitat. Every animal impacts the environment and other animals around it. It’s a domino effect that’s in serious jeopardy of collapsing in several areas.

Q: Tell us a bit about the importance of elephant conservation. Why should people outside Africa care?

A: 36,000 elephants are brutally murdered every year. That’s 96 elephants A DAY, or one every 15 minutes, which is completely unacceptable!

You see, the elephant is what is known as a “keystone” species. In other words, it’s survival impacts the other animals and habitat. When an elephant knocks down a tree, leafy greens are accessed by smaller animals who otherwise wouldn’t have that food source, and the tree itself becomes a nest or hiding refuge for other animals. When an elephant walks in mud, then that mud solidifies, it creates a natural water bowl for smaller animals. Their droppings mean new seeds are delivered to new locations, conveniently encased in fertilizer. 

There are so many ways the African elephant impacts it’s habitat in a positive manner. That’s why I’m doing what I can to raise awareness and funds to help out. Did you know that elephants cry, form complex matriarchal societies, and mourn their dead? These animals matter in a very significant way, and people can definitely do a lot to help end poaching. Can you imagine a world without these majestic, intelligent creatures?

Losing any species off our planet is scary, and potentially dangerous, in ways we can’t even predict yet, but time is our enemy. Things have to change, or in 15 years—15 years, we won’t have wild African elephants at all! A few years ago, scientists predicted that we had maybe 20 years left to protect and preserve the African wild elephant, but it’s happening much faster than originally thought. Awareness from the rest of the world is part of the answer. After all, if people don’t know there’s a problem, we don’t know how or why we need to correct it. I think the answer is in educating young people about nature and the ripple effects. The fact is, many children living close to Kruger National Park have never seen an elephant. This means they have no affinity for the animals. For the adults of a community village, poaching means money—more money than they’ve ever seen before. It’s hard or impossible to say no to that kind of offering, especially if you have a family to feed. When there’s no understanding of why the elephant is important, there’s no reason not to take the money. If people the world over would stop buying ivory, there’d be no demand, and no need to slaughter the animal. Again, it’s about education on many levels. 

Another organization that’s doing its part on behalf of education is “Nourish”. They’re working on building self-sustaining communities to banish poverty. By focusing on early childhood development, food security, English literacy, environmental education, conservation experiences, and entrepreneurial training, they’re making significant inroads with the people living in and around the wildlife areas and game reserves. Teaching the people about how they can benefit from tourism for years to come by helping to preserve it, is a key factor. 

Q: How can people reading this help?

A: *laughs* Donate! Support a charity, buy a product, (like our art) that helps the people living in and around the African elephants and other wildlife, to become more self-sustaining. When you do, you create your own ripple effect, even though you may not necessarily see it first-hand. This actually goes for all wildlife anywhere in the world. What you see us doing in South Africa, can be adapted for other areas of wildlife in need. This our planet. We created these serious problems, but we can fix it too. We just have to do it together.

By sharing my personal experiences in my books, I hope to inspire others to take on new challenges, and recognize the connectivity we are all a part of.

Website: http://www.twogirlsandanelephant.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacquie.gauthier.5

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquie-gauthier-10983a16/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jacquie-Gauthier/e/B014V288DS

Instagram: jacquie_gauthier_author

Nourish: http://www.nourishnpo.co.za/

Elephants Alive: http://www.elephantsalive.org/

Wildshots Outreach Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wildshotsoutreach/

Ivory Lodge Game Reserve:  https://www.sabi-sands.com/lion-sands-ivory-lodge.html

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Don Martel

Don Martel

 

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 Don Martel is a Canadian photographer who has an eye for detail, and whose work is, by any standards, outstanding. He has a way of looking at the world around him, and at life, that most of us simply don’t have. He’s also not afraid to leap outside his comfort zone, as evidenced by his recent adventure of cycling solo across Canada in a bid to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Disease. Even more surprising is the fact that until undertaking this monumental task, he hadn’t cycled since he was a child! Now, he’s written a book, Loaves and Fishes, about his incredible experience.  Welcome, Don Martel.

Q: Can you tell us how this whole incredible journey started?

A: Actually, I wasn’t intending on doing a story book at all. Initially I planned to do a Canada Coast to Coast photography book, since photography is what I know and do. The truth is, this book has been a journey. Since returning home, I often tell people that although I cycled solo, I was never alone. Loaves and Fishes is a collection of short stories about some of the miraculous events that happened to me during this epic adventure, and the wonderful people I met along the way.

Although I thought I was prepared, in fact, I knew little about cycling, especially long distance cycling, which is a whole other challenge. A chance meeting and one question started it all. I was in Temagami, Ontario for a photography workshop when I met a man, Marcel Cisv, and a woman, April Pennington, at a grocery story. They had all these bags on their bikes, so I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were cycling across the country to make memories for lost memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Intrigued, I invited them to the cottage I was staying at. Marcel customized his bike, and it looked awesome, so that aspect intrigued me as well. We shared a meal, talked long into the night, and in the morning we said goodbye and they headed east. That incident really sparked my imagination, so I started following their blog. They finished their journey in October 2014, and I saw on Facebook that they became engaged. I sent Marcel a note of congratulations and half-jokingly asked if they were looking for photographer. Marcel replied they were, and would love to have me out to be their photographer, but couldn’t afford to pay me my going rate. Instead, they sent me two tickets to Kelowna, B.C, and arranged for three nights in a local hotel for me. Marcel remembered how much I admired his bike, so he custom built one for me! In the meantime, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That became the catalyst for my entire journey. To me, it was a no-brainer that whatever I did, it had to be for Alzheimer’s. I got the bike in September, then trained from September to April in New Brunswick’s many hills and valleys. I cycled 66 km (approx. 41 miles), even in winter, just about every day, with few exceptions. I honestly thought that would get me ready for the Rockies, but I’ve since learned that nothing prepares you for the Rockies. *laughs* It’s a much bigger hill!

On June 4th, 2015 I started out from Vancouver (mainland), British Columbia, and finished on August 15th, 2015 in Halifax, N.S. It took a whopping 76 days to complete and 8200 kilometers (approx. 5095 miles), and irrevocably changed my life.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your book, Loaves and Fishes? (www.donmartel.com)

A: It’s essentially a book about the people I met along the way, and the many crazy, sometimes miraculous adventures I had during that 76 days on the road.

I have a favourite saying that I think applies to this journey. Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitating. A chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself. Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that would have otherwise not occurred, and a whole stream of events issue from the decision. Raising one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidences and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”

After reading the book people often ask if these events actually took place, or did I make them up.
These things did happen! The stories in the book needed to be told. Odd as it sounds, coincidences and timing became part of a recognizable pattern. Karma? God? Angels? Synchronicity? I’ve learned that amazing things happen when you go off the path. The trip changed me. I never for a moment dreamed I’d do something like this! But then again, writing a book is another thing I never thought I’d do, yet I have.

Q: Where did the title come from?

A: The title came from actual, literal stories about loaves and fishes. Let me explain a little. Christians understand the biblical stories about loaves and fishes, and how God was able to provide both when they were most needed. You see, when you cycle long distance, you eat flat bread (it doesn’t squish). However, I’d been cycling for hours and needed to eat, but ran out of bread, and there was no flat bread available in the stores of the town I was in at the time. Of course, I could get some the next day, so I resigned myself to a meager meal of peanut butter and a few bits and pieces I had on hand, but I was hungry, so this didn’t exactly thrill me. Still, I had little choice. I was cycling down the road that night, and saw a car coming toward me at a high rate of speed. Suddenly the car pulled over. I thought the driver needed directions, so I approached the car. The driver was French, and without preamble, he begins to tell me that he’s the best baker in Quebec. He tells me, “I’m a retired baker”. I’m waiting for punch line, and wonder why he’s telling me this. Then the driver got out of his car and went to the back of his car. He reaches in, and I think, “Oh, oh!”. The driver retrieves a huge baguette (of bread), then proceeds to break it in half. He hands half of it to me. Still confused, I thanked him. The driver then abruptly gets back into his car, and drives away, leaving me standing at the side of the road with my baguette. I’m completely astounded. Is this a coincidence, that I should be hungry and was needing to buy bread earlier in the day?

The next morning I arrived at the next town, and stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast. There, I met a man from London, Ontario, who was hitch-hiking. As we’re talking, another man approached. It’s the same man from previous night who gave me the bread! Excited, I took photo of the two men, then turned to put my camera away. When I turned back, the bread man was gone. I had no chance to ask why he stopped the night before, who he was, or where he went. When I asked, the hitch-hiker simply shrugged and said the other man said he had to get going, and walked away. Now that’s weird, and that’s part of how I got the title for the book. There are so many similar stories that it just seemed to fit.

Q: You are known for your outstanding photography, Don. What did it mean to you to be able to take this journey and really see this beautiful country, coast to coast, from a photographer’s perspective?

A: This was the original intent of the book. I’ve travelled cross-country by car and by plane, but on a bike, it’s slow. Slow is good. As a cyclist, you become aware of every crack in the highway. By cycling, you can observe things you wouldn’t ever normally see. When you go slow, you get to appreciate the small details you’d otherwise miss any other way. I was able to observe so much more of what was around me, moment by moment. When you cycle, you get to see more than just the normal tourist attractions, or destinations. I was able to see, up close and personal, that beauty is everywhere. Make no mistake, it’s a long ride, but it gave me time to take it all in. Any time I saw a potential photograph, I could stop and make the shot. Every mile, every stop, everything, was entirely up to me.

Q: This book is dedicated to everyone affected by Alzheimer’s. How has the disease affected and impacted you personally?

A: Obviously, it impacted me hugely when a friend’s mother was diagnosed. The more I talked about the disease, the more I realized just how many people are affected by it, or know someone who is affected. I hadn’t realized before how prevalent it is. Marjorie was very special to me, and it was incredibly heartbreaking to watch her decline. I wanted to do something to help make a difference.

Oddly enough, the coincidences (or whatever you want to call it) were at play from beginning to end. My birthday is May 21st. May 21st I signed the copyright for the book, and on that same day, May 21st, Marjorie Symons, my friend’s mother, passed away.

Q: What surprised you to learn about yourself while making this journey?

A: The amount of determination I had to do this trip! I don’t mind saying that it’s a huge task! I hadn’t realized I had that kind of persistence. I’m truly surprised that I was capable of it. The entire time I was cycling, I kept repeating to myself, “Keep going. You’ll get there.” Eventually I did, and I learned I’m capable of anything I truly put my mind to.

Q: What surprised you to learn about others?

A: I’m blown away by the generosity of Canadians coast to coast. So many contributed to my success. I keep saying that although I cycled alone, I was never alone. People cared about what I was trying to do. People took time to help, talk, and share what they had with me – food, stories, a warm place to sleep, whatever I needed.  I also learned that people love to tell their own stories. If you listen, they are so interesting. I also learned that laughter really is the common language, and so are tears. We are all the same. No matter who, what, or where you’re from. People actually just want to be friends and be helpful.

Q: What has been the ultimate take-away for you from this whole experience (the ride and creating the book)?

A: The greatest take-away for me is the realization that great things will happen when you get out of your comfort zone. Amazing things! It doesn’t have to be a huge coast to coast journey. It can be anything. It’s so important to be open to opportunity. Great things are possible when you get past being scared.

Q: How has your photography influenced how you see the world around you?

A: Photography forces you to change how you view the world. It forces you to go slow and really focus. You have to be willing to take the time to observe. You see, the camera sees differently from the human eye. Shadows are shown different from the naked eye. They are darker. You have to know what your camera is going to do before you make the shot. *laughs* I’ve been at this photography gig for 30 years now, but I’m still learning all the time.

Q: This is your first book. What have you learned about going through that process?

A: Oh! I’ve learned that writing a book is like having a baby! It’s a very painful process. Just when I thought it was done. It wasn’t done. I thought I knew, but I had to learn how to write. I had to learn how to write from passive voice to active voice. Writing is also very personal. It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a book, but it’s a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it. I guess you could say that the journey to write the book was similar to the cycling journey. Although I had to do write and compile it on my own, so many stepped up to help me make it the best it could be. Once it’s published, it’s fun. Now I get to talk to so many more interesting people. When people tell me they enjoy the stories, there’s absolutely nothing like it. I can honestly say that I never worried about what people would think of the book. Of course I want people to enjoy it, but I felt the material spoke for itself. They’re all amazing true stories, and people keep sharing their own remarkable, true stories with me, so I know I’m not alone.

Q: Would you publish another book? If so, what subject matter?

A: YES! I definitely do still want to do the photography book I thought I’d do when I started this whole adventure. I have literally thousands of photographs of that trip, and I want to share them with others. We live in such an incredibly diverse, beautiful country. I also want to write a book similar to this one. There are still so many more examples of amazing true life stories that have happened to me personally over the years. The truth is; the journey never ends. Maybe I’m open to it. I believe that if you aren’t out there, you can’t have the experiences.

Q: How has this experience changed your photography?

A: It’s made me slow down even more. Now, I look at things a little more carefully, and really seek the opportunities around me. They’re everywhere. Everything is more than it appears to be on the surface!

Q: When you teach photography workshops, what is the key take-away you hope people leave  with?

A: You’ll never see the same again. I have three principle elements I want people to understand. 1) Understand how the camera sees things different from your eyes. 2) The principals of visual design. The organization of shapes speaks volumes, and the art of subtraction is key. You have the whole world in front of you, but as a photographer, you have to narrow and focus on the subject. 3) Line, rhythm, dominance, balance, light, shadow, and how they all affect a photograph. Everything else is just practice, and continuing to being open to opportunities.

Q: What’s next for you, Don?

A: Maybe another ride across the country. *laughs* I want to explore new countries too, and bring new groups of people with me. I’m 59 years old now, but when I’m 65 I’d like to enter the Via Italia seniors cycling group. I may even try my hand in bike racing. Now that I’ve done it, I can’t stop cycling. I bike everywhere now. It gets in your blood. Besides, the benefits to my physical health are great. I guess I’ll keep biking, until I can’t.

Connect with Don Martel here:

Twitter: @donmartelphotography

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Martel-Photography-359216777621/timeline/

Website: www.donmartel.com

Instagram: don_martel_photography

 

 

 

 

Pray Every Day

Pray Every Day

Where does the time go? It’s easy for our fast-paced lives to become so overstuffed with items on our To Do list that we sometimes lose sight of making the well-being of our own hearts and souls a priority. Inherent in that objective—but often lost in the shuffle—is the need to give thanks for our blessings, to ask forgiveness for our flaws, and to seek gentle guidance when personal crises overwhelm and debilitate us. EmmaLisa Hill shares insights on the development of her new book, Pray Every Day, an inspirational guidebook on learning to listen deeply to the wisdom of a higher power and to recognize that we are never truly alone.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Is prayer something that was instilled in your heart at an early age or did you come by this path more recently?

A: I was taught to pray at an early age, before I started to school actually. My grandmother, my mom’s mom introduced me to the church and prayer. It was instilled in my head and as a habit, or way of life more so than in my heart.

Q: What was your inspiration to share your beliefs about prayer in a book?

A: I was diagnosed with colon cancer in November 2002. I was so depressed and disgusted with my life during that time that I decided to stop praying. After all, what good was it doing anyway? I was a “good girl,” and God let me get cancer. So, I was not going to pray any more and I wasn’t going to take the recommended treatments for cancer. I was already an ordained minister when I was diagnosed and during that time I decided God wasn’t working for me.

A minister, who was one of my teachers while I was a student in ministerial school and who also was trying to hook-up with my ex-husband at the time, heard that I had cancer and called me. She recommended a doctor who I eventually ended up working with. The doctor charged me $300.00 for one hour, and told me to talk to the cancer and meditate. Since I had given him $300.00, I thought “What the hell? What do I have to lose?” So, I talked to the cancer. However, I stop talking to people. The cancer talked back. And the word got out that the cancer said to me: decide if you want to live, laugh, and learn to love yourself.

My classmates from school, my friends, my family, my church family, and my friend’s church families were praying for me and calling. I would not take any calls. They didn’t give up on me. Everybody who had my email address started to email me prayers and jokes. I am still surprised that I read them, but for some reason I did, and I saved some of them.

God spoke to me and said write a prayer book and told me how to do it, on a Saturday in March 2010.  My response, “I will when I have time.” I didn’t feel like I was being disobedient. I didn’t say no. After all I had plans that weekend. I had things to do. As I was getting dressed, getting ready to do my thing that Sunday morning, God let me get dressed, and said, “I said write a book,” rather forcefully. That’s how this book got started.

Q: Did you perceive any risks in taking a very private mindset into a public platform?

A: I don’t think I felt like I was taking a risk. I did know I wasn’t going to respond well to criticism and judgments.

Q: The age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

A: Because we, people, decide who is good. For me, I thought I was good because I obeyed people. I did what my mom, and the preachers, and teachers, and leaders told me to do, and they told me I was a good girl. I believed them. I was very obedient to human rules. They used the bargaining, bullying, deal making, and tricky techniques to get what they want from me. God wasn’t always in the picture. Emilie Cady said in her book Lessons In Truth, “Every person believes himself to be in bondage to the flesh (to people) and to the things of the flesh. All suffering is the result of this belief.”

Q: In your mind, is there a difference between being spiritual and being religious?

A: Oh yes. I have learned the difference. Being spiritual for me is listening to the God in my Being. Being religious is being in bondage to human rules. People created religion.

Q: What do you hope will be the takeaway value for your target readership?

A: First of all, I hope they will learn to listen to the voice coming from within, and not only listen but act on what they hear. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” No matter what’s going on in my life, I recognize THAT voice when it speaks.

Alexandra K. Trenfor said, “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” I hope my readers learn that faith comes by hearing the Voice of God within.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book teaches people how to pray. Is this to suggest there is a right and wrong way to go about connecting with a higher power?

A: I hope I have not tried to teach people how to pray. I believe the “right or wrong” way to pray has caused suffering. I believe praying based on what’s in your heart and the way you need to pray at the time is sufficient to connect to a higher power. My intention in writing this book was to just encourage people to pray.

Q: How did you go about collecting prayers from total strangers?

A: Many of the prayers in my book did not come from total strangers. The ones that came from people I have never met I read them some place or took them from some books. They spoke to me in some way at the time. Many of the prayers are just straight out of the Bible.

Q: Is there a favorite prayer or author that stood out and had an influence on you?

A: Yes, there is. The favorite prayer is on page 165, May 18th, it’s titled “The Truth About ‘Me’ and My Future,” written by Doctor Ruth M Mosley and her son, Doctor Bill Mosley. Rev. Ruth Mosley is the founder of the Detroit Unity Urban Ministerial School and author of many prayer books. Other than God, she had the greatest influence on me becoming an ordained Unity Minister as well as writing.

Q: Why did you feel the time was right to develop and publish this book?

A: Everything just came together for me this year. The book was already finished just over a year ago, in March, I might add. I had the money to pay the editor. I had the time to proof and work with the editor. The cover was complete. The High Desert California’s Writers Club was sponsoring a lot of events that influenced me to move forward with the publishing. All these things contributed to me releasing this great work into the world at this time.

Q: Like many authors, you opted to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: There are a lot of things I don’t know about the publishing business. I have written and written but never taken the next step to publish my work. I didn’t feel I had the money needed to publish a book. I feared no one would pay me for my work. I feared no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I felt unworthy. I wanted to finally complete an assignment God had given me. Self-publishing feels right for me doing this time. As I learn to follow God’s promptings.

Q: What did you learn during that process?

A: All things are truly possible. I learned to listen to the experts and let people help me. I learned God will put what and who you need in your life at the time you need it. I had to examine the real reason I am writing this book. I wrote the whole book and completed it without thinking about selling it, until a friend made light of the fact that no one was going to buy it. “Okay, you are going to sell ten copies,” she said. Why are you doing this? That’s when I really had to deal with my reasons for writing and publishing this book. Writing satisfies me. Writing gives me a voice. I learned it is okay to share me with the world. I felt so good and high when I held the first proof copies in my hands. I really learned how much I rely on an inner guide for directions in my life.

Q: What are you doing to market and promote the book, and what methods have been the most effective for you?

A: I have participated in many of the events The Writer’s Club has sponsored. However, so far the most effective marketing has been Facebook and word of mouth. I want to reach new people. So, marketing is something else I have to learn.

Q: To be candid, it strikes me that a list price of $25 could put your title out of reach for some of the people who might need it the most (i.e., students, the unemployed, retirees on a fixed income). Your thoughts on that?

A: If I can be candid also, I don’t think we can decide that a person who can afford the book needs it any less then the ones who can’t afford it. Needing prayer doesn’t have anything to do with a dollar amount. I believe God makes a way for the person who desires or want a copy to get one, whether it’s through buying or a gift.

I have already given away as many copies as I have sold. For three days on my birthday weekend on all three of my sites I gave away Kindle copies for free to anyone who wanted to download a copy. Most students only do electronic books. The book is now available on Kindle for $9.99. I have also given away many hard copies, not to people who I necessarily thought could not afford the book, but to people who I thought would appreciate it or could use it. I offer copies, as I am led, and give the person the opportunity to accept it or not. I try not to force my views, opinions, and choices on other.

Q: What are some ways people can make the time to pray every day when their schedules are already overstuffed?

A: I think one can pray as they go about their day. “God help,” is a prayer. “Thank You God,” is a prayer. “Lord guide me in this,” is a prayer. This belief that prayer has to be done a certain way at a certain time will keep a person from praying. It did me. I hope I properly dealt with this myth in Pray Every Day. A person has to want a relationship with God to pray. When I want some divine intervention, I pray. I don’t put aside a time to pray. I pray right where I am in the mist of what I am doing.

Praying is us talking to God. Meditating is us turning our minds off and listening to God. I have done this sitting on the toilet.

Q: Is the content specific to a Christian perspective or are there elements that other religions could embrace?

A: There is content that any and every one can embrace. The content is not specific to a Christian or religion. My purpose in writing this book was to encourage people to pray. Prayer is one of the tools that can be used to connect with a higher aspect of the self. I call it God. “God is Love.” When we pray, we don’t pray to a Love outside of ourselves. We pray to a God within. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a teacher who taught LOVE. Christianity started after Jesus left the planet.

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

A: LOL. I don’t know the answer to that question. I have put forth an effort to live a more authentic life by honoring myself since cancer. So, this is something I have to learn as people become more willing to share their opinions of me with me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am praying this book makes the New York Times bestseller list. So, learning how I can get this book in the hands of more people. I would love to see something about prayer on that list that I wrote. I am working on writing two more books. I would like to dance on “Dancing With The Stars.” I would like to do more traveling and speaking about living, laughing, and loving, and getting paid very well for my gifts.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The direct URL for my CreateSpace eStore and Amazon detail pages are:

https://www.createspace.com/7296986
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1548453145

Follow me on facebook @Love EmmaLisa

Also on Instagram: hillemmalisa

Twitter @RevELH

Email: emmalisahill@gmail.com

 

 

The New Eve Fertility Method for Getting Pregnant After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth.

bridget-osho

What a pleasure it is to welcome Bridget Osho, who has just released her new book, The New Eve Fertility Method for Getting Pregnant After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth. Bridget is more than a writer, she’s a woman with a mission to help other women overcome the difficulties facing them after pregnancy loss. For any woman who has undergone this traumatic experience, this book, and perhaps the institute she founded in the UK, Cherie Mamma, may be a wonderful new direction to consider. Welcome Bridget!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What is the Cherie Mamma Institute?

A: The Cherie Mamma Institute is an organization designed to help women heal from pregnancy loss so that they can conceive healthy babies. We do this by helping them create healing lifestyles and regain their natural feminine balance, usually disrupted by pregnancy loss.

The primary mission of the Institute is to help women who have lost pregnancies grow healthy and happy families. Part of our mission also includes research into the understanding and prevention of pregnancy loss and bringing the topic into the public domain so that it stops being a taboo subject.

Q: When you lost a pregnancy at seven months gestation, that event changed your life on many levels. What would you say has been the most profound lesson you’ve learned in your journey so far?

A: My pregnancy loss led to me to seek a deeper meaning to my life, my calling, and the calling of every woman. I have learned so many life lessons on this journey, but I think that the most profound lesson I have learned is that every woman is called to achieve her emotional, mental, and physical potential. Once she does this, she can be happy and fulfilled.

I believe that it is not just that women can have it all, it is that women need to have it all, and many fertility problems would be prevented if women achieved optimal physical, mental, and emotional well-being. We cannot give what we do not have. Out of the fullness of potential we can become mums, grow our families, and make an impact in the world. That is why it is so important that women who have lost their pregnancies are given the support they need to heal and become the best versions of themselves.

Q: What unexpected lessons have you learned from the women you’ve helped?

A: I have learned that it is not enough to know what to do to help them, you also have to know how to help in a way that empowers them. Many women who have been trying to conceive or lost pregnancies would do anything to have their healthy babies, but after trying different solutions for so long with little success, they can start to lose faith in themselves, which translates to loss of faith in other solutions.

It is an unconscious way of protecting themselves from false hope. In order to help them—and this applies to everybody who needs any form of transformation, such as weight loss, career growth, etc.—one needs to help them believe in themselves again. People need to believe that what they want can still happen for them and they cannot give up. It is about empowering them with hope.

Q: When you wrote your latest book, The New Eve Fertility Method, what were you hoping to accomplish that the Institute couldn’t or hadn’t?

A: I am well aware that not every woman who needs to heal from pregnancy loss will be able to get direct support through the Institute. Through the book, more women will get to know that they can truly heal from pregnancy loss and grow their families.

Q: Could you explain what a rainbow and an angel baby are?

A: An angel baby is what some people call babies who have been lost during pregnancy. They are believed to be little angels in heaven. Some people go as far as to see them as their little guardian angels who are alive, well, and happy. It is a great source of comfort to families who have lost pregnancies if they believe in life after death. I know this helped me a lot when I lost my pregnancy. It still does.

A rainbow baby is what some people call babies conceived after a pregnancy loss and who was born alive and healthy. It denotes the rainbow after a storm in the same way we see rainbows in the sky during/after the rain.

Q: What is the difference between the method you outline in the book and other methods women may have tried?

A: There are two major differences between the New Eve Fertility Method and many other methods.

The first is the emphasis on the totality of what goes into making a woman herself. Too often other fertility methods and approaches focus mainly on the woman’s body. The New Eve Fertility Method is based on the principle that when a woman loses a pregnancy, it is her whole world that has been affected; from her mind, to her emotions, to her body, her relationships, and even her work. This method focuses on helping her to pick up the pieces in all these aspects of her life so that she can truly heal.

The second difference that sets The New Eve Fertility Method apart is the emphasis on trying to heal naturally. Our bodies are naturally designed to conceive and give birth to healthy babies. It is when our natural balance is compromised that fertility becomes a struggle. For many women, this imbalance can be corrected naturally, and even when medical solutions are needed, a natural approach can make them even more effective.

Q: Writing a non-fiction book is quite an undertaking. What have you learned about the processes of non-fiction writing and publishing that you didn’t know before?

A: There is a lot more to writing a book than having ideas! For one, you need to make sure that you can guide a reader from little or no knowledge on the topic to being very knowledgeable. It means you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your reader.

Another thing is that you cannot do it on your own, you need at least another pair of eyes to read your work and you also need to have an effective marketing plan, otherwise your book will not get into the hands of the people who really need it.

Q: What do you estimate is the success/failure rate for women who come to you and the Institute for help?

A: It is difficult to look at my work in terms of rates, since women who approach us have different needs. Some women need to heal physically, e.g. improve their menstrual cycles. Some women need the emotional support to help them heal from pregnancy loss. While we support women to conceive healthy babies, our primary focus is to help them heal emotionally, physically, and mentally from pregnancy loss.

To this end, we have had women whose menstrual cycles have resumed after months of no periods, women who have conceived and delivered healthy babies, and women who feel that they have been given a new lease of life and hope.

Q: What would you say is the biggest misconception many women and health care providers believe about fertility and conception that is not true?

A: I think the biggest misconception that women and health care providers have is ignoring the influence of lifestyle in conception efforts. I have found that there is a large dependency on medications and/or supplements and not enough on wholesome diets, stress management, mental healing, and so on. I believe this is the reason so many women struggle with little success to conceive.

Q: Have you encountered any push-back from the medical community, or are they supportive of your efforts to help educate women regarding fertility and conception?

A: I have not experienced any push-back from the medical community. I am not expecting to, since my work does not replace their work. If anything, our work complements theirs. Most women who need medical solutions will benefit from the support the Institute gives in terms of stress management, natural diets, and exercises, among other things. I have had the support of a few doctors who understand what I am doing and know that women benefit from it.

Q: In your book you address fear and guilt. In your opinion, how prevalent are these feelings in women who have not been able to successfully carry a pregnancy to term? Is it a reflection of societal or personal issues?

A: Fear and guilt are very prevalent in women who have experienced pregnancy loss. There is the fear that they might never carry a baby to term and never have a baby. There is also the guilt that something they did or didn’t do contributed to the loss of their baby, since they were their baby’s primary caregivers.

In my opinion, the fear and guilt that many women after pregnancy loss experience is largely a reflection of their understanding that as a mother they feel responsible for their children. That is not a bad thing. Every mum feels this way. Most women would feel guilty if their children had an accident at home, even if it was clearly not their fault. The problem arises when the woman is not able to move on from that guilt and recognize that these problems are not their fault.

I think society can help women with this. The fact that women find it hard to talk about pregnancy loss exacerbates the fear and guilt. They can come to believe that something is really wrong with them and they just might be bad mums.

Q: What’s next for you, Bridget?

A: Simply to reach out to more women who can benefit from the New Eve Therapy Method. I am working on collaborating with more people to spread the message to every woman who has lost her pregnancy and let her know that she can still create the family she wants. I hope to do so by guest-posting, interviews like this one, seminars, and joint venture programs.

You can contact/reach Bridget at the following links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cheriemamma

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/the-cherie-mamma-institute

Website: www.cheriemamma.org

Twitter: @cheriemamma

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/153974096X/

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Another Autumn

Yvonne Higgins Leach

Was there ever a more dreaded phrase heard in a classroom than “Let’s read a poem,” “Let’s interpret what this poem meant,” or “Let’s write a poem”? One can’t help but wonder how many careers of aspiring young poets were nipped in the bud by teachers who simply went about teaching it in all the wrong ways and made their pupils eschew this form of expression for the rest of their lives! Fortunately, Yvonne Higgins Leach was not one of those students scared off by the depth of what poetry has to say. We’re pleased to put Yvonne in the spotlight to talk about her debut collection, Another Autumn.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and, especially, what fueled your enthusiasm to express your feelings through poetry?

A: I started writing poetry in sixth grade. My sister Michelle was about six years older than me and she was writing poetry. She introduced me to the art form, and more than anything, she instilled in me that I could write and that poetry was a gift to anyone who wanted to give it to the world. I went to a Catholic school and every day we’d say the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. After starting to write poems, I approached my teacher and asked her if I could read one of my poems instead of having the class say a prayer (that’s asking a lot when you think about it!) and she agreed.

From there, I got involved in my high school literary magazine. I had a teacher – Mark Arnold – who was influential at such a critical time in my life. He did after-school workshops and even a mini-course where we went to the Oregon Coast for a week with about six other students. In college, I got a degree in English, took as many creative writing classes as I could, and met another mentor and talented writer, Alex Kuo. Alex was more than a teacher, and I vouch for all my co-student friends when I say that. He took each of us under his wing, advised us constantly, read our work carefully and gave honest feedback. We’d do things outside of class too. He’d have us over to his house and we’d go camping. Having a sense of community around poetry was phenomenal. Those were great years.

My MFA came later (from Eastern Washington University) after I was in the workforce for several years. You know, you go to graduate school and you get a degree in Creative Writing Poetry and you make these goals for yourself: mine was that I’d have my first collection of poems published by the time I was 30. Well, my reality at 30 was that I was going through a divorce, raising a daughter, and had started working for a Fortune 100 company. A short three years later, I was in a new relationship and raising two daughters. I did well at my job and was recognized for it, so they kept giving me harder, more challenging assignments and more responsibility. I took on each one and just did my best at it and over the years I found myself an executive and leading good-sized teams and handling major PR corporate issues. The job became a 50 – 60 hour week, easy. But regardless of all that was happening in my personal and professional life, I never gave up on poetry.

Q: Many an aspiring writer has lamented, “Oh, but I just don’t have the time to write because I’m too busy raising my family, climbing the corporate ladder, cleaning the house, etc. In your own experience, you had more than a full plate to fill your waking life. What was your secret to making room for the written word?

I remember many a day at work being tired because I started a poem at 10 p.m. at night and wouldn’t finish until the wee hours. And then I would work on refining it throughout the evenings of that week. For me, it was as if I couldn’t help it. Either I had an experience that moved me to the point that my inner voice said: this has to be told, or someone tells me a story and I am so moved I said the same thing: this has to be documented. When that happened, the poem would stir in me until I could carve out time to get it on paper.

Q: Tell us more about your writing process.

A: It usually, but not always, goes like this: something strikes me…an idea, a story, an experience I had directly, and it tells me that it must be written. I then feel it is something that needs to be made separate, in and of itself, and to be shared with others. I’ll sometimes write the idea in a notebook; but often it just hangs around in my head and heart. When I actually get to the point where phrases are being written in my head or I see the structure of the poem taking place then I know it is time to write. From there, I live with the poem for days and sometimes weeks, replaying the lines, the images, in my head and I’ll tweak them, refine the poem over a period of time. I do a fair amount of this in my head.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or did you make them wait until you felt you had polished it to perfection?

A: I do allow people to read my work as I create it. I find that having an “early reader”, as I call them, is very helpful. He or she usually can tell me right away if something isn’t working, is a bit clunky, or unclear. Also, just recently I joined a small community of poets and we now post first drafts on a website called Inked Voices that allows us to critique each other’s work. It’s a really useful tool.

Q: What is your favorite style of poetry?

A: I have two favorite styles of poetry: free verse, especially when a poem uses regular patterns of sound and rhythm that are close to how we speak naturally and yet create an emotional experience that blows your socks off. I have always loved the elegy as well. I know it might sound strange to admire the “melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death” but what I appreciate in an elegy is by the end there is some form of consolation.

Q: Who are some of your favorite poets?

A: I’ll put them in two categories – those who have passed and those who are living.

Those who have passed: Theodore Roethke, for his largeness and realness in poetry. Raymond Carver, for his simplicity of language and expression.  The Irish poet Seamus Heaney, for his acute eye and ear and sense of storytelling in poetry.

Those who are living: some of my favorite poets are Tony Curtis, not the singer, but the Irish poet. He really knows how to capture an experience that moves you.  Edward Hirsch…I find his poetry precise, thoughtful, accessible, and his passion for poetry insatiable. He has written several wonderful books about poetry as well. W.S. Merwin, for his love of the world, both physical and spiritual. And last, Ellen Bass, for her gorgeous poetry that has a great balance between intelligence and heart.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any of these beloved wordsmiths, which one would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: I am of Irish heritage so I would definitely sit down with Seamus Heaney in an Irish pub in County Derry in Northern Ireland where he grew up. I would ask him to describe what he felt was the hardest thing he overcame as a writer in his lifetime.

Q: My favorite part of any interview is shining a spotlight on a book’s debut. Another Autumn is your first published work. Brava! It’s time to brag and tell us what it felt like to hold that first copy in your hands.

A: It felt surreal to be honest. I remember first feeling happy with the cover art because it represented authentically the title and so many of the poems in the book. Then I read it front to back as an actual book in my hand and that was a wonderful experience.

Q: What’s the story behind the title (and is it a teaser to future “seasonal” collections)?

A: The title comes from one of the poems in the book. I picked it because many of my poems are about the passage of time, which the seasons represent so well.

Q:  You are what I would consider a working poet. Most poets are academics and tied to a college or university. Do you have thoughts on the academic versus the working poet?

As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages. I have two primary thoughts on this: One, I think if one is in the academic environment there is a lot of support for writing, because writing is taught there and “the structure” and peers tend to be very supportive. In the work world, often your work and your writing are very separate so you frequently have a feeling of isolation when it comes to your writing. It is easy to not feel understood. Second, I think it boils down to how a writer manages his/her time to write. I don’t think anyone can deny whether you are tied to academia or the work world, we’re all busy people. It’s a matter of how you carve out the time to write. For me, it was often late at night after all the duties of the day, both professional and personal, were done. That was just my reality.

Q: What about the naysayers who declare, “But there’s no money in writing poetry. Why aren’t you writing novels instead?”

A: For me, it’s a matter of what drives your passion. I have always had a passion for poetry, knowing there was no money in it. I wouldn’t want to change genres just to make money. I would feel like I would be leaving my real self behind.

Q: The resistance that a lot of people put up toward poetry and its interpretation often stems from their exposure to it in elementary school and high school. What do you say to the person who says s/he doesn’t understand it and, accordingly, chooses not to read it?

A: Poetry is an exchange. I believe both parties have some responsibility in that exchange. The poet’s responsibility is to capture the essence of the poem through the use of his/her tools — words, line breaks, rhythm or song, metaphor — in a way that allows the reader to understand and experience it. I don’t believe in poetry that is so complicated or obscure or internal to the poet that the reader never does understand it. On the other hand, I believe the reader does have a responsibility, too, to give the poem a chance. To wrestle with it, talk back to it, read it again and again because by engaging with it he/she will discover more about the poem and I am certain something more about themselves. When we have this exchange, we make meaning together.

Q: On that note, what’s your personal list of “Ten Poems You Need To Read Before You Die”?

A: What a fun question! “Digging” by Seamus Heaney; “Traveling Through Dark” by William Stafford; “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden; “Sonnet Xvii” by Pablo Neruda; “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost; “Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke; “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins; “What the Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver; “Fall” by Edward Hirsch; “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” by W.S. Merwin.

Q: What’s your philosophy on the writer and the reader?

A: Like a painter, s/he starts with a blank canvas and then, with the tools at hand, paints a scene, image, portrait, whatever it might be. Then the painter waits for a viewer. Poetry is similar. I start with a blank white page and my tools are the words, rhythm, images, metaphor, white space that I create into an experience. The relationship between the writer and the reader is by definition removed by being experienced through text, a body of words on the page. It is a particular kind of exchange between two people most often not physically present to each other. If the poem is good, it is often a passionate form of communication between strangers, and often immediate and intense. Reading poetry is a way of connecting – through a medium of language – more deeply with yourself even as you connect more deeply with another. As a result, I believe the poem delivers on our spiritual lives precisely because it gives us the gift of intimacy and privacy and participation that we wouldn’t experience otherwise.

Q: You’re hinting at the spirituality in poetry. Can you tell us more?

A: Oh most definitely. I have two perspectives on this: First, Wallace Stevens said that “poetry is like prayer in that it is most effective in solitude”. Poetry often comes out of silence and it longs to discover the mysteries of life; hence it is kinship to prayer. So when you think about it, poetry is one of the soul’s natural habitats. In that moment when the soul captures what is deep within we attain something spiritual. I look at the poem as the soul in action through words on a page. Second, poet Pablo Neruda said in so many words: to feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. He also said “but to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, that is something greater and more beautiful because it widens our boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.” I believe that is what poetry does. It connects us.

Pablo told a wonderful story related to this. When he was a young boy in his backyard, he looked through a hole in the fence and much to his surprise the hand of another small boy shot through. When Pablo looked through the hole again, there was a marvelous white sheep there the boy had brought him to gaze at. But the boy had disappeared. Pablo then went into his house and brought out his favorite treasure: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which he adored, and set down in the same hole in the fence. The next day the pinecone was gone. This little story is about how all of humanity is somehow connected. And when the exchange of gifts occurs, whatever they may be, that is indestructible. Poetry, to me, is an exchange of gifts.

Q: Now that you have more time to write, what do you hope for?

A: Because my time was limited for literally decades, and as a result, many of my poems fit just on one page, I hope to explore writing longer poems, and perhaps write about more philosophical topics. Many of my poems are about experiences, and from there, I have an insight. I’d like now to explore other topics for poetry, like maybe take on concepts and see where the poem goes. As an example, recently I went to a reading where a poet read a 10-page poem about particles meshing into the thing they are closest too. It took her a year to write that poem. I am also reading other poets “by the pounds” now and feeling like I am getting a more complete perspective on the contemporary poetry scene in the U.S.

Q: So who is on your current reading list?

A: I have been reading poets I consider on the national scene but also getting to know many of the local poets in the Northwest. On the national scene, poets include: Claudia Rankine, Nicky Finney, Tony Hoagland, Ross Gay, Gregory Pardlo, Jane Hirshfield, Terrance Hayes, Jamaal May, Saeed Jones, Ocean Vuong, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kathleen Jamie, and Wesley McNair. I could go on and on. I am having so much fun consuming poetry!

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my website: www.yvonnehigginsleach.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you feel you have something to share, a story to tell, a poem to write, then do it. Don’t let that critical voice we often hear inside ourselves shut you down. You have every right to create!

 

 

 

A Chat with Rachel McGrath

Rachel McGrath

Interviewing Rachel McGrath (http://rachelmcgrath.net/) has truly been a pleasure. Deeply introspective, Rachel isn’t afraid to share the most difficult moments of her life with her readers. Not only does she write for herself, but she writes in order to connect with others who share her experiences. Then there are her children’s books, which are delightful romps that will enchant children of various ages. A talented storyteller with a formidable heart, I’m pleased to welcome Rachel and introduce her to our global village of readers!

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q: In Finding The Rainbow ( http://www.amazon.ca/Finding-Rainbow-Rachel-McGrath/dp/1784650447/ref=sr_1_2?tag=geolinkerca-20&ie=UTF8), you talk about the heartache and trials of dealing with infertility and miscarriage. What feedback from readers have you received that has resonated the most with you?

A: The best feedback has been around the core message within Finding the Rainbow; the prevalence of hope.  I have had feedback from people who have had similar challenges, and those who have never had to face such struggles, and it has been wonderful to hear that it is a story that many felt they could connect with and understand, regardless of their own experiences.  That is truly what I had hoped. I did not want this to be a story of misery and pain, but to give a message of courage and strength; of always looking to the future to a new day, a new rainbow.

Q: What is the message you most want to convey to readers of Finding The Rainbow?

A: Many women have had to deal with miscarriage or infertility, and it is a really lonely place when you are going through that pain. I wanted to convey that it should not be a lonely place, and that there are so many people who can help, love and support you through the pain. Above it all, whilst it is an all-consuming journey, there is a path we all must follow, and that path is never clear. Some of us will reach our destination, others will need to find a different route, but we choose the path that defines our happy ending, regardless of whether it was the ending we had first hoped for.

Q: Rachel, you’ve also written several children’s books, including Mud On Your Face (http://www.amazon.ca/Mud-your-Face-Rachel-McGrath-ebook/dp/B015JPAIZ2/ref=sr_1_1?tag=geolinkerca-20&ie=UTF8), which is very different from the non-fiction genre of some of your other works. Which do you find more difficult to write and why?

A: Great question! I actually wrote Mud on your Face a few years ago, and I’ve always enjoyed writing fantasy and fiction. That is where my true storytelling nature comes into play. However, Finding the Rainbow, my memoir, was the book that made me a writer! I truly enjoyed writing it, but it was tough letting it go, opening it up to the public and exposing myself. I guess the fiction and fantasy stories are easier, as you can hide yourself behind them, rather than throwing yourself out for all to read.  I don’t regret either, but I’m certainly more comfortable with fiction.

Q: There are many challenges to indie (independent), or self-publishing. What has been the most difficult thing to learn and implement in your own journey to becoming a published writer?

A: Kindle!  Uploading onto Kindle and especially children’s books with illustrations. This in itself took longer than actually writing the book! It was completely frustrating for a very long time, and I could have paid someone to do it, but the stubborn side of me wanted to learn the process myself, and I wanted to get it right.

Q: You aren’t afraid to go deep inside yourself and share your struggles and sorrows with readers. What have you learned about yourself since beginning this journey of writing?

A: Getting my book published has given me confidence in my writing, and it has also provided some amazing new connections through a community of writers that I never knew had existed. I have always dreamed of being published, and whilst the topic of my first book is not one I would wish on anyone, it has given me a different path. I guess what I am saying, is that out of one challenge, I have found a way of channelling the pain and frustration into something that hopefully connects with people. I had to be honest, open and completely transparent in my book, Finding the Rainbow, and through that, and it has re-inspired my passion to write.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the business of writing since you began?

A: I’ve learned that the writing industry and the talent across the independent author network is incredibly vast. It has truly amazed me. On top of that, in the world of writing itself, the connections I have made and the pure generosity and friendship I have found in so many authors I have met through different social media groups, yet have never met has amazed me.

Q: Who has been your greatest mentor, either in life or in writing, and why?

A: I have many mentors in my life, but I would like to say that it is my parents who have always stood behind my dreams, no matter what. They have never stopped believing in my abilities and ambitions, and even when it meant leaving the country and living on the other side of the world, they have always supported me.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers who are considering self-publishing their work?

A: Self-publishing is easy, but getting your product right is really difficult. There is editing, cover design, formatting, pricing and then marketing!  My advice is do your research and spend the time getting the formatting and editing right, because reviews are everything and readers can be tough critics (as they ought to be). Cover design is so very important; it needs to be catchy, relevant and professional. I’m no expert but I love to read, and when something is not formatted, has bad editing or an unappealing cover, it really throws me off, despite everything else. Whilst it is frustrating and sometimes if you don’t have the expertise, costly, it is worth it in the long run to make the investment in your pride and joy.

Q: What mistakes have you made along the way that you’d like to help other writers avoid?

A: My biggest piece of advice is don’t get impatient. As a writer you get so excited about your work, and getting it out there, and with the mediums available for self publishing it is so easy to publish something on Amazon.  My biggest mistake was with my first children’s storybook – Wonderful World of Willow (http://www.amazon.com/Wonderful-World-Willow-Coco-Book-ebook/dp/B016J6WVH8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1449850911&sr=8-2&keywords=rachel+mcgrath).  I had not yet navigated the Kindle format for children’s books, and unfortunately when it did release, the layout was terrible!  I had to quickly take it offline, and then I must have spent at least a few weeks struggling with the technology and technical specification before it was ready again. Whilst I was lucky and not many had purchased it in those few hours it was live, it is still embarrassing.  I have learned through this to just stop, slow down, and make sure that it is perfect to your own standards, before giving it to your audience.  A week or two wait will save you so much embarrassment in the long run!

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in addition to writing?

A: I still work full time in a busy Human Resources role with a global company. I have always wanted to write, but I’m a realist, too. Writing is not a ‘money making’ business, it is a passion and an art, and whilst I would love to just focus on writing, I never want to depend on it, feel like I have to do it. I want to always love it!

Q: Was there anything you’ve done career-wise that prepared you for taking on the massive learning curve and realities of writing?

A: I think life has lent me much of the learning I needed. I always wanted to write from my early teens, but had I finished a project back then, I know it would not have been the same work that I produce today. I now have life experiences, I have travelled, been hurt, I have hurt, and I have learned so much along the way.  Everything I put into my writing is me and my emotions, and whilst it is not all a memoir, it is how I view the world today.

The other piece to writing is knowing yourself, and being confident to share who you are. Again, it is the fact that I am entirely comfortable with who I am today, which I know was not the case in my twenties.  Readers want to know the writer behind the book, and I feel that today, I am able to provide that transparency.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of e-books or print?

A: To be honest, I have only just converted to Kindle. I still love the paperback, and I love the fact that you can have a bookcase filled with your favourite books, on display for all to see. Having said that, having a Kindle is so much better if you are travelling and for the general convenience of having your book on hand at any times you need it.  This question is a tough one for me, as I still buy a paperback when I really love the book.  I guess it is a symbol or trophy of having read something that truly touched my heart!

Q: In Unfinished Chapters ( http://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Chapters-Christina-Hamlett/dp/1517317975/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1449851381&sr=8-5&keywords=rachel+mcgrath_) you wrote about an event that happened wherein you reflect upon a friendship that ended poorly. What did you learn from that experience, and why did you want to share it with readers?

A: This friendship was a very important one for me. I was quite shy as a child, and my holidays were always quiet, as I didn’t often have a large social network when I was very young. But my friend who came every holiday was something I looked forward to, and our friendship was genuine, despite our differences. Whilst perhaps I knew our differences may one day push us apart, when it did happen, I felt it was more my own insecurities than the friendship itself. That stuck with me. I learned from it with future friendships, but I could never change that one experience. Writing about it was perhaps my way of closing that chapter, something that has felt unfinished for a very long time.

Q: What’s next for you, Rachel?

A: I have just finished and published a book of short stories – Dark & Twisty ( http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Twisty-Anthology-Rachel-McGrath-ebook/dp/B017ZIA5UE/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1449851381&sr=8-3&keywords=rachel+mcgrath), of which all profits are being donated to Worldwide Cancer Research (http://www.worldwidecancerresearch.org).  This was a project from the heart, and I wanted to dedicate something to  my father and my aunty who are both fighting cancer.

Other than that, I hope to have a children’s novel finished in early 2016, another story aimed at the seven to eleven year old age group.

I truly enjoy writing and I have so many stories inside me, so I will continue to work on new stories and hopefully they will reach the audience I am hoping for.

Thank you again for this great opportunity!

You can find out more about Rachel and connect with her here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RJG27

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rachelmcgrathauthor/?ref=hl

Website: www.rachelmcgrath.net

Blog: www.findingtherainbow.net (the site linked to my memoir)

GooglePlus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RachelMcGrathAuthor/posts

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Rodney Vance

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Author and film producer/director Rodney Vance connects with readers and film viewers at the heart. He taps into those places that touch us deeply and weaves stories that resonate with our core values. Rodney has worked hard to build a career that includes being a head writer on two multi-award winning television series, Lifestyle Magazine and The Evidence, a screen and playwright, children’s book author, and has produced more than thirty stage plays and events. Rodney’s list of impressive accomplishments doesn’t end there though. He’s also the Writer/Director of Singular Entertainment, a film production company based out of Riverside, California, and the Chair of the Department of Film and Television at La Sierra University in California. What a pleasure it’s been getting to know this talented man and his remarkable work. Welcome Rodney.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q         Although not currently in print, I have to ask you what it was about De’Monte Love’s story that lead you to write the book?

A         I wanted to do something to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The original idea was to create a small, cheaply printed paperback that could be placed on grocery store counters. People who made a donation could have a copy of the book. When a friend of mine pointed out the story of De’Monte Love in the LA Times it was just the perfect story. I tried to find him and couldn’t. I ended up hiring a detective to find his family so I could call them and get permission to tell his story. My neighbour at the time, Martino Dorce, agreed to do the pictures. He’s one of the top Haitian artists and he did an amazing job.

VanceThen we started looking for someone to publish our little book and distribute it to the grocery stores and wherever else people might see it. Visikid Books picked it up and they had the idea to do a beautiful hard copy edition of the book as part of their series ‘Heroes All Around’. They would donate a specific amount of money for each book sold. It seemed like this might give a longer ‘shelf life’ as it were to De’Monte’s wonderful story and raise more money for specific charities actively involved in Katrina-related work. So that’s what we decided to do.

Q         What is the message you hoped to convey with this story?

A         De’Monte Love is the real name of a boy who was six years old at the time of Hurricane Katrina. De’Monte and six younger kids and their parents had to wait on the roof of their apartment building after the storm because the streets were flooded. A helicopter came and took the kids and promised to come back for the parents but in the confusion they didn’t come back and the kids were on their own until, ultimately, the authorities managed to connect the kids to their parents, who had been transported to Houston by then. Can you imagine the anguish of those parents? De’Monte kept the little band together until they were rescued. Already at that young age he understood the need to take care of those less capable than himself. Even though he was only six years old he did what he could to Love the other kids. And by doing what he could, he did enough.

Q         In many of your works I note an underlying theme of human connectivity, our responsibilities to each other, and this planet we call home. Has this been a pre-planned vision for your work thus far, and if so, why?

A         I can’t honestly say that my work is as thought through as the word pre-planned implies. However, whenever I sit down to write I always take the time to really think through why ‘I’ want to write this particular story. How do I connect to it? When I know the answer I write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a drawer. Later, when I’m really stuck or feel like I’ve lost my way somehow with the story, I pull out that piece of paper and read what I wrote. Usually I discover that the writing problem I’m having is really just a problem of getting off track somehow and losing my own connection to the story. The human connectivity and connection to our planet results from the personal connection, rather than from a deliberate attempt to connect more broadly.

Q         Clearly, entertainment is in your blood. What excites, draws, and holds you to this eclectic, creative pursuit?

A         I wrote my first play when I was in third grade. I published my first story in a national magazine when I was in seventh grade. I won my first national playwriting competition when I was a Junior in High School. Storytelling has always been the primary way I deal with the vexing issues of the reality I perceive. It’s a socially acceptable way to explore all the light and darkness in my own psyche in a manner that is more than casual. Let’s make that simpler. Stories make us human. Not only are they a way for us to define ourselves, but they define all of the communities around us. We are part of a family because of the stories of how mom and dad met or what we did when we were little or that time we swallowed a nickel. These stories bind us together as a family even more than blood. Ask any child adopted at a young age. It’s not fundamentally blood that makes you family, its stories. The same is true for our town or city. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, the City of Dreams, and some of those Angels are dark and some of those Dreams are Nightmares. We are Hollywood and Aerospace and Watts and Pasadena and a concrete River also called Los Angeles. New York has different stories and is a different place. Every place has its own stories. It amazes me sometimes when people show a little or no interest in the stories of their own home town. Our nation is also built on stories: the Civil War, George Washington, a City on a Hill, Vietnam… And our religions too, it’s all stories. Stories tell us who we are. Stories make us human. What possible work could there be that’s more interesting than being a Storyteller?

Q         What would you say has been the most difficult lesson of life for you to learn, and why?

A         Life is short. Only so many stories can be told. I need to focus on telling the stories that I tell instead of taking time to tell stories that other people want told. Although Storytellers must make money – and should be well paid considering the value of their service to their society – the core reason to tell a story is the connection I spoke of earlier. Money can’t be the primary reason to tell a story.

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

A         So many mentors have been supportive at crucial times. My parents were there first. I had a High School English teacher named Miss French who introduced me to the world of plays by taking me to see The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. In college I studied theology under brilliant minds of professors like Fritz Guy and Richard Rice who taught me how to think. Davey Marlin Jones, a theatre critic for the CBS affiliate in Washington DC, introduced me more fully than anyone to the craft of storytelling. He taught me the language and gave me a voice. Sometimes the necessary mentor appears as an obstacle and a source of pain. They can teach you a lot.

Q         When writing, do you maintain a daily writing schedule? If so, what does that look like for you?

A         I have repeatedly tried to maintain a daily writing schedule because I believe in the concept. I’ve never been able to make it work. The thing that must be done ‘right now’ always intrudes. For me the trick is not the specific schedule but the commitment to write or create. Like eating or connecting to another person, you may not always do it at the same time every day. But you don’t live long unless you do it regularly.

Q         In addition to being a children’s book author, you are also a screenwriter and playwright, the President and Director/Writer for Singular Entertainment Production Company, and a Professor at La Sierra University’s Film and Television Department. How do you manage to find a balance in life, or do you?

A         Every day of life is a gift. You can let that gift dominate you or you can receive it and choose what you will do and what you won’t do. Watching sunrises and sunsets are important. The daily display the universe puts on is truly astonishing and all you have to do is look up and watch it. They are reminders that we are not important because of what we do. We can scurry around all the time and, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter all that much. Yes, we have to earn money for food and shelter. Yes, we need human companionship. These are necessary things. But it’s easy to spend a lot of time doing things that we think are important, but really aren’t. Is what I’m doing at this moment in time more important than watching the sunset?

Q         You’ve achieved and touched on so many exciting, interesting things in your life so far. What haven’t you done that you’d like to?

A         I want to do what probably most everybody wants to do. I want to travel the world with someone I love and meet interesting people, write stories, and direct films that other people want to watch. I also want to lie in a hammock beneath a palm tree on the beach and doze the day away.

Q         What advice would you give to those just starting out in the world of writing and/or entertainment?

A         If you don’t like it, it’s not good.

Q         When you write, do you work from a complete outline, or do you allow creativity to take the wheel and lead you where it may?

A         Both.

Q         As we approach the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that devastated so much of the southern United States in August 2005, what lessons, if any, do you think the world took away from that experience, and why?

A         I don’t think we learned anything at all.

Q         What’s next for you, Rodney?

A         ‘The Butterfly, The Harp and The Timepiece’, a ten-minute film starring Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, gets its World Premiere on Opening Night at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival on September 3rd. I’m very excited about this little film that intertwines three stories around a magic shop where, no matter who you are, you get what you need (like the Rolling Stones song says!). The writer envisioned a film with very little dialogue – but that didn’t feel like a silent film. We have less than a hundred words spoken in the film, but we do use a brilliant new song composed specifically for the film by Grammy winner Alex Geringas and Australian Pop Star Toby Rand. The song becomes more than a platform for the emotions. It becomes a narrative device, an essential component to the telling of the story. Pictures, words, and music – like Opera! ‘Napa Valley Dreams’, a giant screen film that includes the final on-camera interview and keyboard performance of Ray Manzarek of The Doors, looks like it will find a long-term home as a destination film at The Empress Theatre in downtown Vallejo, the Gateway to the Napa Valley, on or around April 1. I’ve signed on to direct a new short film about Erwin Cossentine, a college president who fights very hard to keep his Japanese-American students out of the concentration camps during World War II. It also looks like I’m going to get to direct a feature I wrote the screenplay for about a Conscientious Objector who served as a Medic in Vietnam until the local North Vietnamese Colonel killed the love of his life and he decided to train as a sniper instead. Now there’s a story with complications!

Acuity Press has expressed an interest in publishing my children’s book ‘Pale Male and Wendy’, the story of a six-year-old girl whose great love for long words is exceeded only by her love for Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawks of Central Park. It will come out in Fall 2016. In addition, I’ve just finished a new children’s book, a folktale about the origins of Jazz called ‘Jazz Boy’. I also love my job teaching film and television production at La Sierra University, but right now it’s time to step outside and watch the sun set.

You can find more information and connect with Rodney here:

Twitter: @RodVance

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Singular-Entertainment/506571409479086

Web:  www.SingularEntertainment.com