Category Archives: Book Review

Lots of Stuff about Writing Besides Actually Writing

Eilene Lyon of Myricopia has written a beautiful review of my chapbook Kin Types. She writes on her blog about her family history (among other things), and is finishing up a book  about it as well. About my chap:

This slender volume is saturated with spirits brought to life by Luanne Castle’s soulful words in prose and poetry. It’s a collection I will read again and again, as it inspires a hope that some of her magic will rub off on my attempts to reinvigorate my ancestors’ stories. The writing is not just creative and lyrical, but draws on deep research and compassion.

Though there are instances of tragedy and death—universal human events—not all is gloomy within these pages. I love how “Half-Naked Woman Found Dead” conjures the purple prose of 19th-century journalism, and despite the dire subject, makes me laugh out loud with the final line. In “Genealogy” she takes a simple subject, the name Frank, and in a few words imparts both a legacy passed down and a deeper meaning tied to the name itself.

The details Castle creates to evoke time, place, and experience, continually astonish me. The veil clouding the past is pierced and we step into the shoes of her long-gone loved ones.

Coincidentally, two of the Kin Types poems were just reprinted by Verse-Virtual in the May issue. You can find them here:

2 Verse-Virtual poems

Check out the other poems in this issue, as well. Some lovely work.

You know that first poem, “Genealogy”? As you can see it’s about the name Frank and looks at another meaning of the name. So when I first heard about the great Diane Seuss’ phenomenal book Frank: Sonnets I knew the ambiguity inherent in that one-word title and was intrigued. In fact, her collection is a frank exploration of her life in poems, as well as inspired by but completely different from the work of poet Frank O’Hara. If you read one poetry book by a “great” this year, make it Seuss’.  The book has just taken these awards:

Winner of the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection
Winner of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry
Winner of the 2021 L.A. Times Book Prize for Poetry
Finalist for the 2022 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award

Pretty darn amazing, but you will see why the book earned them.

On another note, I have a bundle of yummy looking poetry books to read by Merril D. Smith, Justin Hamm, Caroline Goodwin, Millicent Accardi, KB, and John Sibley Williams. Woohoo!!!!

And, finally, I am tinkering with the memoir. Is a writer’s work ever done? Kind of like being a woman (if you remember the expression).

Finally, on a completely unrelated topic, I found out there is a haunted hotel in Phoenix, Hotel San Carlos. That’s right. You can read about its checkered history here.

Make it a good week!

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In the World Again

After I got home from the Master Workshop at the Tucson Festival of Books I was exhausted. What in the world. Maybe the pandemic, by making us homebound for so long, has done this because the gardener was exhausted, too, and he didn’t even go to the sessions. But he did drive around a lot. While I was at the workshop, he went on household errands!

The sessions were fabulous, and the nonfiction workshop was a real treat. We had a stellar group of writers.

One of my favorite parts of the time was the poetry session by Felicia Zamora about hybridities. I’m so inspired to try some new and more experimental forms of poetry.

I woke up with a complicated migraine on Friday which might have been triggered from the lights in the conference rooms and/or the dehydration I experienced in Tucson. For some reason it feels much drier there than in Phoenix. This is the exact reason I can’t drive long distances and had to ask the gardener to take me to the workshop. I can’t risk having one of these monsters when I have to drive a long distance.

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Have you heard that you can help individual Ukrainians by purchasing goods through their Etsy shops? This way they can get some $ coming in whether they are still  in Ukraine or are refugees elsewhere. Some of them can still ship regular goods, but most are selling digital items. Lots of graphics and artwork, especially about Ukraine and #standwithukraine. The items are not expensive. There is a Facebook group devoted to this subject, and you can also communicate on there with Ukrainians (almost all women, though not entirely) and hear their stories and give them verbal support. They are so grateful even when you buy a $2 item. Many of them are giving some or all of the money to their army.

UKRAINIAN ETSY SHOP OWNERS

If you don’t have Facebook you can search Etsy for Ukrainian shops.

I’m not saying this is the only way to help Ukraine, but it is a very personal way and means a great deal to a few individuals. It’s also a very small amount of money for each purchase, so if you accidentally send to an imposter (word is that it’s pretty reliable) it’s not a lot of money. Be sure when you message back and forth that you don’t use specific words like stand and support because Paypal is being a real jerk.

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I have a review of Jess L. Parker’s brand new debut poetry collection, Star Things, in the current issue of the phenomenal Rain Taxi Review of Books. This will give you an idea.

What a great magazine to subscribe to. Here’s what it looks like.

 

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Anybody else register for the AWP conference? I signed up for the virtual format, and I am dismayed how few sessions there are. I keep wondering if I am reading the schedule incorrectly.  I must be?

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Make it the best week you know how!

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The Case of Alice Sebold

I’ve been dwelling on the case of Alice Sebold (author of the beautiful novel The Lovely Bones) and the trial of her accused rapist. I wrote about her memoir Lucky here: [P]lucky to Survive The book was structured in essentially two parts. Part one is about Sebold’s rape as a college sophomore and her resulting trauma. Part two is about the rape trial. When I wrote my earlier post I latched onto the opening rape scene because I was reading memoirs with the eye of a writer who wanted to write a memoir. I ignored the rest of the book. A reason, though, was that I felt confused by the book and also found the trial section icky, but I failed to analyze it enough.

Now, it turns out, the man she had identified as her rapist is innocent. Talk about gobsmacked. Anthony Broadwater, the man who went to prison and has now been exonerated, seems to have suffered because he was a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can read about Sebold’s apology here: Alice Sebold Apologizes

I have some thoughts about this matter. My heart goes out to Anthony Broadwater for the ruination of his life and his reputation. I can’t even imagine what his life has been like or how it felt every day knowing he didn’t deserve what was happening. In articles, he sounds like a very balanced, kind man. Can you even imagine what he went through all this time? It seems just BEYOND.

Another aspect is that a lot of writers and others have been quick to condemn Sebold.  But remember she went through a horrific and terrorizing experience where she thought she would die and was never given proper support afterward. She was young and the rape must have damaged her emotionally. Then she had only the police and prosecutor to rely on. They were hell-bent on getting a conviction and manipulated the situation. She must have been like putty for their purposes.

To me, this is one of those horrific tragedies that happen in life where so many issues converge. There are innocents, like Broadwater, and bad actors, like the prosecution. Then there is Sebold, a victim of a horrible tragedy herself. Is she guilty of a travesty against Broadwater? Or is she being victimized all over again by people who were quick to denounce her?

When Sebold saw Broadwater on the street and thought he was the rapist, she was operating under a problem that everyone in the world operates under. Cross-racial identification is known to be very problematic. At least, we know that today. That wasn’t the case in 1982. I’m not sure how to solve this, but it needs solving so that we can trust identification of criminals. I do understand the phenomenon, though. We see the details that identify individuals more clearly in people we are most used to seeing. So if we come from a white family, we are best at identifying white individuals, etc.  I think we can all get better at this, but it takes being around people of all races! So is Sebold responsible for pointing out the wrong man or a victim of a natural phenomenon? Both?

Ugh, I hate situations like this. It’s so much easier when there are clear bad guys and good guys. Please help me organize my thoughts on this matter. What do you think?

What is clear to me is that a grave injustice was done to Anthony Broadwater. And all of us who read Sebold’s memoir were made complicit in it.

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I made my first mini junk journal last week. The video is a minute and a half and shows all the pages inside the journal, if you’re interested. The project was to put my “stamp” of authenticity on it. I feel like I did that.

 

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I will leave you with Perry to start your week. By the way, you know what my mother said the other day? That Perry looks like a rat!!! What kind of Grandma says that?! Sigh. More like a ferret or possum? In the following 6 second video, Perry learns that in the “Mouse for Cats” video game when he catches a mouse it squeaks.

NOW you will have a good week!

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Calmer Girls: a Book Review by Luanne Castle — Jennifer’s Journal

Happy Monday, everyone! I’m thrilled to see that my debut novel, Calmer Girls, has been reviewed by American writer and poet, Luanne Castle, on Goodreads and Amazon. This is something that never gets old for an author, and is especially appreciated when such a sparkling review is from an esteemed writer like Luanne. Have a […]

Calmer Girls: a Book Review by Luanne Castle — Jennifer’s Journal

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My Review of Julia’s Violinist by Anneli Purchase and Note from the Author

While I rarely write about fiction, I do read a fair amount of the genre. Today I am sharing a review of a unique novel by blogger Anneli Purchase.

The engrossing story Julia’s Violinist, by Anneli Purchase, shows destruction by war through the eyes of one woman and her family. Julia is a Sudeten German, living with three million other ethnic Germans in what is now the Czech Republic. When Hitler’s Germany is defeated, suddenly Julia’s people are vulnerable. At the start of the story, Julia is a young widow with two daughters. Because she is a German woman amongst the Czechs, she is immediately thrust into danger. The Czech military wants to rid the country of the Germans, so they herd them into barracks where they are starved and many women raped. Julia manages to stay with her daughters, her parents, and one sister in the holding facility. She stays strong for the sake of the others, especially her daughters. Eventually Julia and her family move to Germany and from there to Canada.

Before I read this novel, I did not know about Sudetenland or Sudeten Germans, so I knew nothing of their plight when, first they were taken over by the Czechs after WWI, and then their country became Czechoslovakia after WWII. I had assumed that what is now the Czech Republic was always peopled by mainly Czechs. In a similar vein, until more recent years, although my maternal grandmother’s people emigrated from Prussia, I did not realize that Prussia was in what is now Poland or that all the ethnic Germans in Prussia were made to leave their homes after WWII. Their experience was similar to that of the Sudeten Germans.  I have discovered that my accountant was a Sudeten German toddler when his family was made to live in refugee camps, just as Julia lived in the barracks, with little food. He told me that he did not have enough to eat at that age and that it affected his health.

Julia’s Violinist threads a love story throughout the historical tale. Although the story is not chronological, it is told in clearly-identified sections, so it is very easy to understand. This structure places the reader immediately in the dangerous world of post WWII, but then goes back in time to before the war, a time when Julia was just maturing and falling in love with Michael, a violinist, who also loves her. But his father dies as they are to begin courting, and Michael has to take over the family bakery. He has no time for dating. Julia’s life goes off in another direction when she marries and has children. But Michael will come back into her life. Read the book to find out what happens with the star-crossed lovers and to follow the twists and turns in the lives of Julia and her children.

Characters are so well-drawn. Julia is a very likable woman. She’s heroic, but also very human. Some of her decisions can be second-guessed, but considering her circumstances, they are understandable. I particularly admire the development of the complex and less-than-heroic character of Karl. I found myself trying to analyze him as if he were someone I knew in real life. When I finished reading the story, I felt as if I had to leave behind a hometown or community.

Although this is a minor point, the editing of Julia’s Violinist is impeccable, making it a special pleasure to read. Since Anneli Purchase is a professional editor, this makes sense. I am often sidetracked when reading by typos that I can spot at thirty paces, but this book is a smooth read. My deep involvement with the characters and their stories wasn’t broken by distractions.

Whenever I read a book from the perspective of someone from an overlooked group, I learn so much–and this novel is no exception.  I feel privileged to have “met” Julia and her family.

GREAT NEWS. Anneli Purchase is offering a 99 cent sale on Julia’s Violinist and all her other books until the end of December.

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I asked Anneli if she would please talk a bit about Julia’s Violinist. What she told me seems to explain why this book feels so important and so close to the heart of the writer.

When I was growing up, I often helped my mother in the kitchen. As we cooked and baked, my mother talked about “the old days” and I asked her many questions. She told me how the southeast part of Germany she lived in (Sudetenland) suddenly came under Czech rule with the stroke of a pen at the end of WWI. Three million Germans were to be ruled by a Czech government. When WWII came along, these people had hoped to shed the yoke of the oppressors, but as we all know, for better or worse, Germany lost the war.

As a child, I thought that this amazing story was one that happened only to my mother, that she and her family were the only ones who were driven out of their homes. But as I grew up and learned more about history, I realized that this was far more widespread than I had imagined. After the war, with the blessing of the Allies, the victors, especially the Czechs and Russians who had scores to settle, swarmed through Sudetenland, killing and raping thousands, and driving them out of their land.

Before, during, and after these atrocities were committed, the story of Julia takes shape. She is one person, but various versions of her story happened to hundreds of thousands at that time, and therefore, it needed to be told.

The story is fictional, but it is based on a lot of research, and while the personal story of Julia cannot be verified, I have tried to stay true to the historical facts as they happened then, hopefully without prejudice.

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Anneli Purchase has lived and taught in various parts of British Columbia, including the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island where she works as an author and a freelance copy-editor. Her articles on coastal life have appeared in Canadian and UK magazines. She has published five novels (The Wind Weeps and its sequel Reckoning Tide, Orion’s Gift, Julia’s Violinist, and Marlie).

Anneli with Emma (as a puppy)

Links

To find out more about Anneli’s novels, you can visit her website:

www.anneli-purchase.com

Anneli’s books will be on sale for 99 cents until the end of December. You can purchase Julia’s Violinist at amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can go to smashwords.com for all types of e-reader formats.

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All the happiest or most peaceful or satisfying holidays to you!!!

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Why I’m Not Writing, Probably

2021 is a weird writing period for me. I am awaiting presales of my new poetry book in May (release is scheduled for September 2022). I have sent out my memoir to see what happens to it. That will probably take a long time. Then I have 3 essays that are taking forever to be published–in fact, one of them, I don’t know if it will be published or not as I’ve lost contact with the journal’s editor. Maybe I should send the piece out again. I’ve been waiting on a few poem publications. And I stopped writing. That doesn’t usually happen to me.

I think it has to do with waiting on these books. I feel disoriented and unfocused.

Luckily, my creativity group is working on two books by Eric Maisel that I think will help. We are reading Unleashing the Artist and doing exercises in The Creative Workbook for Coaches and Creatives. For the first exercise, we listed all the creative projects that we have going on–either in process or imagined. Then we had to assign values as to how important they were. That was eye-opening. Give it a try!

I wrote a book review of a new poetry book this weekend and sent it off to a journal. And I have one more review I committed to for December. Then I have to say NO for awhile.  I do not know how anybody can tackle NaNoWriMo in November because of the holidays. That blows my mind to even think about it! If you are doing it, you are probably not reading this right now.

Make it a good week, everyone!

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Review of Grief Songs by Elizabeth Gauffreau

Congratulations to Elizabeth Gauffrau on the publication of her new book. I’ve reviewed it below, and Liz will be responding to comments today!

Her new poetry collection, Grief Songs, is a deeply personal and yet universally appealing memoir in poems and photographs. The focus is on the nuclear family that Gauffreau was born into: her mother, father, brother George, and herself. Most of the poems are tankas.

Click on the cover image to purchase at Amazon.

 

A tanka is a Japanese syllabic poetry form consisting of five lines, 5/7/5/7/7. Like Haiku, these poems use economy of language to create an image, often from nature, and usually express emotions of love or loss. Because of the way phrases and images are “set” one after another in tankas and the short length of the poem, tankas create an impressionistic art that requires an active, rather than passive, reader.

The title plays upon the meaning of tanka as “short song,” as well as the elegiac aspect of the project. After the epigraph, Gauffreau lists the names and dates of her three relatives in headstone fashion. In this way, the reader understands the others have all passed. The book’s structure is remarkable in that each tanka is mirrored by a family photograph. Photos really are a perfect pairing with tankas because they provide another dimension to an elliptical form.

In “Boy Scout Badge,” we see a photo on the left of George and Daddy standing together on a dirt road. The tanka to the right reads:

walk a dusty road
distance meritorious
no badge without proof
Daddy matched him step for step
hot August sun beating down

We meet here a father who is partially responsible for his son’s success. He has to walk that same long distance as his son in the heat so that George can prove he deserves his merit badge.

Later on, in “Yearbook,” a teen George with the long hair of the 70s leans against the Coke machine at school. On the next page, we

see George strike a pose
Coke machine, casual lean
no caption needed
George Gauffreau enjoys a Coke
classmate, friend, brother, deceased

The succinct nature of the tanka only gives away the poet’s grief at her brother’s early death with that one word “deceased” piggybacked onto “classmate, friend, brother.” Also notice the long O sound repeated in the first four lines. Then that fifth and devastating line differs markedly in sound.

“Family Reunion,” the penultimate poem of the collection, shows a family group photo paired with:

we did not expect
Indian summer so soon
early morning sun
haze lifts, mountain range appears
but only for a moment

In classic tanka style, this poem focuses on a season, a glimpse, one image, but in so doing tells us a lot about love and loss. The mountain range appears “but only for a moment,” just as our families are together for what seems later on to be merely a “moment” in time. We are lucky to have these reunions when we can because before too long, we will have family members to mourn.

Elizabeth Gauffreau’s heartfelt poetry can be enjoyed by poetry newbies and aficionados alike.

You can find Liz here:

WEBSITE: https://lizgauffreau.com
FACEBOOK: https://www.Facebook.com/ElizabethGauffreau
LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/liz-gauffreau
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/LGauffreau
GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/egauffreau

Elizabeth Gauffreau writes fiction and poetry with a strong connection to family and place. Recent publications include Woven Tale Press, Dash, Pinyon, Aji, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and Evening Street Review. Her debut novel, Telling Sonny, was published in 2018. Learn more about her work at http://lizgauffreau.com.

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The Strategic Poet: Diane Lockward’s Latest Craft Book

No poet could ever suffer from writer’s block when she has access to any of Diane Lockward’s phenomenal craft books. Now she has published her fourth, The Strategic Poet. The book is a #1 New Release in Poetry Writing Reference on Amazon. Click on the following image to find the book.

The back of the book lists the poets whose work appears inside as either prompt poems or sample poems.

One of my poems is featured in the book. It’s a formal poem, a triolet, but rather than being a single triolet, I made it a triple!

The description in the book of a triolet:

I accepted the challenge to use the form for a significant topic as I based the poem on a cat hoarding situation we had in Phoenix last year where 133 cats were found in one apartment lived in by a couple with children. Here is the very beginning of the poem. To read the entire poem you would need to purchase Lockward’s book.

Although I haven’t mentioned my arty junk journals in awhile (other than using supplies for my cat nicho), I am still working on them. Here’s the latest completed double page where I jumped all in with purple.

Speaking of my cat nicho, look who decided to check it out from behind. Tiger Queenie Princess Mimi Josefina. I don’t know if she realizes that I made it for the cats or not, but she never goes in my study and then yesterday she did, only to investigate the nicho.

Make it a great week ahead and stay well.

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Nonfiction Picks from Ellie Presner and Pamela Wight

I’ve been very busy caring for the kitties, especially Felix who requires a lot of meds and supplements and vet visits. But I did manage to write my reviews for the other two nonfiction picks. Click on the book covers to order from Amazon.

Ellie Presner’s memoir Surviving Hollywood North: Crew Confessions from an Insider was a fun fly-on-the-wall read, especially if you recognize some old film/TV that was filmed in Montreal. That is where Hollywood North existed: in Ellie’s hometown of Montreal. Ellie worked as a script coordinator for a decade during the heyday of Montreal’s film industry. Ellie had to be extremely organized, competent, and a grammar expert for this job. I had to laugh when she would assert her opinion over a word choice or idea with an arrogant screenwriter or bigwig. This high stress, fast-paced job seems to have been something Ellie could handle with aplomb, and the necessary adrenaline shines through in the voice of the book. Ellie’s jobs were all temporary because that is how it works in the field. Each job was created by the timeline of the film or of the season. Ellie tells the story of several different jobs, doling out behind the scenes gossip—mainly what she herself experienced or witnessed. Documents from Ellie’s work sprinkle the book, allowing the reader a first-hand look at the work. She also gives examples from her humorous work memos, designed to relieve stress for the staff. My favorite section of the book is her work for actor Patrick MacGoohan who was writing a screenplay for a movie based on his cult classic TV show, The Prisoner. I felt sad with Ellie at the end when she witnessed the last days of “Hollywood North.” You can find Ellie at her blog Crossed Eyes and Dotted Tees

 

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Flashes of Life: True Tales of the Extraordinary Ordinary, by Pamela S. Wight (of roughwighting blog) is a little gem of inspirational very short (flash) stories that explore the divine in everyday life. They remind me a lil bit of the “domestic farce” literature of Jean Kerr, Shirley Jackson, and Erma Bombeck, but more mystical than practical. I suspect because of the piece entitled “How Was Your vacation, Erma?” that Bombeck is a muse for Pam. But Pam’s approach to the material of the day-to-day life of a mom, wife, and grandmother is to look for what lies beyond, rather than in rigorously mining the humorous. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of humor in the book, but I am left more with a sense of awe for the majesty of life. For instance, in “Oxen Mystic,” Pam suffers a nighttime seizure in the bathroom when she’s home alone. Alone, that is, except for her dog Henry. He takes charge of her medical care, licking her and then covering her with his warm body, until she can crawl into bed three hours later. After Henry passes away, Pam still can feel his presence, even hear his “voice” in her ear. The storyteller of Flashes of Life is insightful, gentle, and open to each experience. While the book can be easily read in a couple of sittings and the essays are short, the book occupies a large presence in the heart and mind of the reader long after the last page. You can find Pam at her blog roughwighting.net

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Kitty Care

A big thank you to Susan Farese for guest hosting last week. I have added her contact links to that post if you would like to follow or contact her.

I’ve written about my Felix and his terminal illness (either lymphoma or dry FIP). He is on medications, supplements, and fluids. He’s eating ok, not great, but only because of the pred he’s on. I guess steroids causes them to eat if they otherwise will not. And he doesn’t seem to be suffering, but enjoying life enough. He is getting skinny though.

Now I have another cat who has entered hospice in my home. That is my 21-year-old best friend Pear Blossom. Pear’s lab values are great for her age. She’s completely fine. EXCEPT.  She has a tumor on her front leg. At her age, surgery or amputation is out of the question, so we are trying to keep her comfortable and then will have to let her go when Pear says it’s time. I have been concerned about this leg since January, but couldn’t get a vet “interested” before. I took her to a new vet who was able to xray and then to probe under the scabs where she saw the tumor. I don’t want to “talk” too much about how this wasn’t acted upon earlier. It’s too upsetting on the one hand. On the other, what could they have done back in January? She was still nearly 21 at that time.

Instead, my focus is on taking care of these two, making them as comfy as possible, and then also not neglecting my other four!

In the photo: top left clockwise: Pear Blossom, Perry, Kana, Felix, Sloopy Anne, Tiger

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I’ve been participating in the Sealey Challenge since August 1 (reading a poetry book a day). I’m focusing on short books and chapbooks because it is a lot of reading on top of everything else.  In fact, I’m debating if I should continue because I got my memoir manuscript back from a consultation and really need to work on it. Guess what?! This new structure works, according to the reader!!!! First time in ten years the structure has worked LOL. Reminder: this new structure has short pieces like this: MacQueen’s Quinterly 3 linked stories

The book structure has gone a bit full circle, but every time it moved around the circumference it gained something positive even in the midst of setbacks.

Even if I don’t continue with the Sealey Challenge it’s been a really positive experience to savor a variety of poetry styles in such quick succession.

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I haven’t forgotten the rest of my nonfiction reviews. Hope to have them up next week! OK, gotta go hug my kitties.

 

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