Category Archives: Books

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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Join Me for #thesealeychallenge!!!

Are you ready for the challenge of your life? How about reading a poetry book a day for this entire month (August)? Before you get too overwhelmed, let me explain. Chapbooks count. If you read a Collected Works book, you can count it as as many books as are collected within. You can read the old guys, the classics of the 20th century, or contemporary poetry–or any combination. You can reread books that you really want to read again. Then, if you want to, share somewhere: image, title, whatever you want to share. On your blog, your social media, or keep a log for yourself.

This is the first year I am participating in #thesealeychallenge. Here is a little info about it and an interview of founder Nicole Sealey: The Rumpus on #thesealeychallenge

The way I chose my books was to grab a lot of poetry books from my shelf that I have not yet read! But I could do it through the library on my Kindle, if I chose.

Are you up to joining me? I’d love to follow your progress!!! And come follow mine:  Luanne’s #thesealeychallenge on Instagram at CATPOEMS and Twitter at WRITERSITETWEET.

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A Message from Perry

Perry wanted to send a message today.

Thinking of reading this book as the title attracts me. What do you think?

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Poetry on Sale

I never think of these things ahead of time, but at least there is still time to try for Christmas delivery. I’m reducing my poetry collection Doll God to $7 including shipping (if it’s in the continental United States only) through January 2021. The list price is $14, and to get a new copy on Amazon right now it’s close to $25.

In addition I’ll sign the book and address it to whomever you like.

Doll God

Luanne’s prize-winning full-length poetry collection. List price $14. Sale price of $7 includes shipping to addresses in the continental United States only.

$7.00

KALAMAZOO

On another note, did you see that my hometown of Kalamazoo (Portage is Kalamazoo’s largest suburb) is supplying the Pfizer vaccine right now? Represent!!!

ART JOURNAL

So I am starting an online course in art journaling by Amy Maricle and moving very slowly. First I had to order all the supplies. All are finally here. Then I had to create an image of my inner critic. I started with a blank sheet of cardstock and this pre-sharpened smart little pencil. While I won’t share this intimate detail of my life, I will let you know that my inner critic has a bolt in its neck, showing that it is my own Frankenstein creation.

I also had to come up with an artist’s manifesto based on the critic’s voice I am trying to counter. Here’s mine:

  • DARE TO TRY NEW ART
  • EXPRESS YOURSELF
  • DEVELOP YOUR TALENT
  • CREATE IN ALL PATHS OF YOUR LIFE

My next step is to create an image of my artist’s muse. Hmm.

Make it a great week–and a safe week!

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Cinthia Ritchie’s Malnourished is a Tour de Force

Cinthia Ritchie, BRAG your book!  Start posting reviews or parts of reviews of your new memoir Malnourished on your blog cinthiaritchie.com because after I wrote mine I went on Amazon and saw some great reviews over there.

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Take a look at Cinthia’s book by clicking the image. It will take you to where you can purchase the book on Amazon AND where you can read reviews. This book is fabulous. It’s the kind of book that, if you’re a writer, makes you jealous because she gets it so right, word by word, white space by white space, chapter by chapter. Malnourished is a TOUR DE FORCE. No kidding.

I wrote a review that I will post on Amazon and Goodreads. It doesn’t do the book justice AT ALL. if you want to read a better review, read Carla McGill’s over on Amazon.

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Cinthia Ritchie’s memoir Malnourished is a strange and beautiful trek into the heart of a family. Ritchie has three sisters, and all four girls/women have been tragically affected by their upbringing in a home with a predatory stepfather, a mother who will not see the truth, and a deceased father.

While Ritchie’s sister’s death from anorexia is the catalyst for the book, the subject is Ritchie’s survival story. She shares how she and her sister Deena grew up together, how their relationship expanded and contracted over time, how she and Deena diverged in their responses to life, and where they were similar. While Ritchie claims never to have been an anorexic, she has a complicated relationship with food. Ritchie has exhibited starvation and other dangerous symptoms of emotional distress and control over her body. In this memoir, Ritchie manages to open up a space where we can think, discuss, soul-search human relationships with food as emotionally-charged metaphor and how that power plays out on our bodies.

Reading this story gave me insight into how personalities and desires are shaped by experience. For example, Ritchie is a serious runner who craves being outdoors. By reading Malnourished, I was able to feel what it would be like to need to run, to sleep outside under the stars. A small bedroom offers no place for a child to run from a menace that lurks inside the house, one which makes the walls complicit with the stepfather.

What I’ve written here might sound like Ritchie explains all this in the book. While she does reflect on her experiences, her gorgeous, lyrical writing does not “tell” the reader, so much as allow the reader into her world to figure things out for herself. Most importantly, Ritchie’s generosity in baring herself for scrutiny and understanding is such a gift to every reader.

Malnourished is not a comfortable read. It’s a work of art that nudges readers from our comfortable seats, from the comforting ways our minds purposefully arrange our interior landscapes. The beauty of the way Ritchie arranges her words will keep you going even through the darkest passages.

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Felix still has an upper respiratory infection. The vet says that it can last three weeks. Because he has to stay in the bedroom all this time (isolation), I have a lot of anxiety about him being lonely. Poor baby. Please send him healing vibes so he gets well soon and can be let out of the bedroom!

I started experimenting with writing weird poems about everyday subjects and objects, inspired by reading Matthew Lippman’s new poetry collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful. I’m not even done reading it yet!

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Go. Read. Hunting the Devil by Suanne Schafer

I could not put down Suanne Schafer’s new novel Hunting the Devil until I ran out of pages to read. You might recall that I wrote about her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, and loved it. The new story is entirely different from the first one, but another literary success. Furthermore, Hunting the Devil seems a very important book.

Here is my review, which is also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Suanne Schafer demonstrates once again that she knows how to write novels that defy genre boundaries and engage on many levels. Hunting the Devil, her most recent publication, is a historical war story that takes place in Rwanda, but also holds elements of a medical thriller and an unconventional romance complete with love triangle. The cinematic experience of reading this important book is still with me weeks after reading the last page.

Dr. Jessica Hemings, an American medical doctor, is in Rwanda to establish a clinic to treat poor Rwandans when civil war breaks out. With her biracial American features, Hutu paramilitary identify her with the Tutsi population they are committing atrocities upon, so her life is in danger. After her twin babies are killed, Jessica escapes across the country while planning revenge upon the murderer of her children.

The short chapters with initial place names and dates make a complex book easy to follow. Schafer’s descriptions are apt and illuminating, but never drag down the pace of the story. An ex-physician, she knows how to write about medical issues in a way that is believable and comprehensible to the layperson.  The interpersonal relationships and inner landscapes of the main characters are well drawn. Unlike a lot of writers, Schafer even writes sex scenes well.

I knew so little of the Rwandan Civil War when I began this book. Since finishing it, I’ve done some more reading. Schafer has cast this devastating and enthralling story upon a well-researched setting. In doing so, she introduces her readers to an event in history that needs a prominent place in our understanding of world history. She does this through an action-packed can’t-put-it-down storytelling style. I have been recommending the book to family and friends. When anyone asks me how I could read about the atrocities, I explain that as a reader one becomes so caught up in Jessica’s experience that one is compelled to keep going. There is no going back. And for that I am so grateful. The book changed me forever.

Suanne Schafer

You can find the book at these links:

 

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The Self WHAT?

If you are disturbed by vulgarities and crass language, feel free to skip this post, but please come back next week because I don’t make a habit of subjecting people to it.

I have a nonfiction short story out in a new anthology published by Devil’s Party Press. The theme of this collection is a bad word in the title of each story. Lest you think this is sophomoric hijinks, the writers are all over forty!

Click through the photo if you want to order a copy. My story is called “The Self-Mindf**k.” See, I can’t bring myself to spell it out in public!  As for the title of the anthology, you can read the book cover above.

Seriously, though, my story is childhood memoir, about the way the fear and anxiety of living in my parents’ home over a basement bomber shelter affected my thinking—hence, the self-mindf**k. Here is a little “teaser.”

In the summer I turned six, my father dismantled his cozy basement workshop and built a secret underground bomb shelter out of cement blocks. This intrusion into our home was my first encounter with the Cold War. Television regularly put us through tests of emergency broadcasting via CONELRAD, and at school, duck-and-cover drills were weekly rituals. The goblins in our nightmares were “Commies, Reds, and Pinkos.” The anxiety this threat gave me was palpable and made even more acute because I was supervised by nervous parents. I had to wear a cumbersome lifejacket just to play in the sand at the beach. Overprotective was an adjective created for my mother and father. I don’t know if I would have been a fearful child if I had grown up in a different environment. Maybe part of it was genetic. But a fraidy cat I was–too scared to attempt cartwheels or to ride atop someone’s handlebars. Living across the street from an intimidating dog was one more frightening aspect of life in those days.

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Thanks to Marie K. Bailey  I discovered I could post a deal on my first poetry collection Doll God on this blog. Ten bucks covers a signed copy and postage to a U.S. address I’m so sorry that I can’t offer the same deal to my friends in other countries. However, if you are interested in shipment elsewhere, please email me and let’s try to work something out.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Doll God, Family history, Memoir, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

This and That

My poem “Why We Wait for Rain” was published this past week by Red River Review. You can read it here: WHY WE WAIT FOR RAIN. The poem came about because Arizona has a very dry climate (usually), and the smell of rain just about does me in. It’s the creosote, just so you know.

I’m usually so lax about my submission process, including record-keeping and goals. But this year, as you might recall, I have set a goal for myself. This publication is the third one so far (although one of the others published five poems, I am counting publications, not pieces), and there is another one that will be published near the end of this month.

I had a lovely package to open the other day. Sheila Morris’ latest book, Four Ticket Ride, with a beautiful inscription and . . . wait for it, my name in the dedications! Made me so happy I could have cried if I wasn’t smiling. Read about it on Sheila’s blog here. I can’t wait to read it! Click the book image to purchase through Amazon.

Guess what’s coming up in March April?! NAPOWRIMO

Who is with me? Let’s write a poem a day, starting March April 1! I did it last year, and I felt quite productive! Of course, this year I will have company. That might cut into my productivity. Merril, a big thank you to you who pointed out my error. I won’t have as MUCH company in April (I think) as in March so actually April should be better for NAPOWRIMO.

This is a tangent, but the gardener and I bought some new flowers for the yard.

Cyclamen

Make it a lovely week, my dears.

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Cats and First Sentences

This past week I have been babysitting my daughter’s cat. Isabella Rose is a sweet brown tabby. My daughter watched Perry once for a week, so Izzie knows Perry and they get along fine. At one point, I thought Perry was in love with Izzie, but that ardor has cooled and they are just “parallel play” buddies, like toddlers. The other day I let Perry go in the bedroom alone with Izzie because I was busy and thought he would babysit her for awhile. Hah!

When I went back to look for him, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I started to think the gardener had let him out of the bedroom and had forgotten. I searched the whole house. Nada. Then I remembered something. The bedroom was once his bedroom when he was new to our house. At that time, he clawed a hole in the bottom of the box springs so he could climb up in there.

Sure enough, I found him up under the bed. With the boards and the fabric bottom surrounding him, I thought he was stuck up there. If you want to see a very dark video, check out my Instagram. If you have an account, please follow me, and I will follow you back if you “like” Perry’s pic/video (so I know you’re legit haha).

Come to find out, Perry just didn’t want me to take him out of Izzie’s room. He got out of there just fine when he wanted a treat.

Before I let you go, tell me if you think this is an appalling first sentence for a chapter (because I do):

The first hint of fall filled the crisp late afternoon air.

It’s boring, but that’s not the problem I find with it. What the heck is the “first hint of fall”? Huh? WHAT specifically fills the air. I can’t imagine it. There is no image so of course I can’t imagine it. Is it a smell that fills the air? A sound? Please share it with me, writer.

I discovered this annoyance in Rita Mae Brown’s Tall Tail, one of the cat mystery series Brown writes with Sneaky Pie Brown (her tabby who MUST have passed on by now). It’s a Bantam Book and Brown is a big-ass writer. Years ago, I read her influential lesbian novels Rubyfruit Jungle and Six of One. She’s a good and prolific writer, but I’m really appalled at the poor editing (on the part of an editor?) that would allow this sentence to go to press.

Why am I sharing my frustration? I tend to think that if the book has a big publisher it’s been well edited. But I guess not. This is not my first disappointment of this nature either. Is this a new development in the world of books or have I not noticed it before?

OK, done, time to think about other things.

Perry says HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Love and light to you and yours!

Luanne

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Editing, Writing

Suanne Schafer on the Writing of A Different Kind of Fire

When I attended the Stanford online writing program, I met fellow writers with whom I’ve developed a lasting bond. One of my favorites was not even in my nonfiction program, but rather a fiction specialist, Suanne Schafer. Before her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, was hot off the presses and in my waiting hands, I knew it would be a good read. I just didn’t know how wonderful a book it would turn out to be! When I finished reading this historical (women’s, LGBTQ, art, Texas) novel, I begged Suanne to write about the book for my blog, and she kindly agreed.

You can read my Goodreads review here.

MEET SUANNE SCHAFER, AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE

A Different Kind of Fire began as an homage to my grandparents. According to family legend, my grandfather had vowed he would never marry unless he married his childhood sweetheart. My grandmother, though, had other ideas. She traipsed off to the Chicago Art Institute with the goal of becoming an artist. Several years later, she returned to West Texas—one child in tow, pregnant with another, and abandoned by a fellow artist, a European nobleman she’d had to marry. Steadfast Bismarck waited seven years for her husband to be declared dead before Bismarck could finally achieve his goal.

To disguise the fact that I was writing a family history, I set A Different Kind of Fire some twenty years before my grandmother went off to art school. Originally, I adopted the contemporary romance format of alternating points of view to reveal a love story. Eventually I realized I didn’t really want to write a family history—I wanted my story to be larger than that. The more I researched the Gilded Age, the less interesting Bismarck became. Back on the ranch doing the same thing day after day, he wasn’t as intriguing as a young woman suddenly on her own in a big city, encountering suffragettes, bohemian artists, misogynist professors, and handsome European nobles. I wanted to write herstory not history.

I chose a very close third-person point of view for A Different Kind of Fire because I wanted readers to feel as though they were Ruby. To accomplish that, I had to become Ruby, to see only through her eyes, to experience only those things she could directly experience. Showing Ruby’s world through an artist’s eyes proved to be a two-part task. As a teenager, I painted well enough to be expected to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. In an act of defiance, I became a photographer instead. Both art forms required an eye for line and color as well as a sense of composition, so I already saw the exterior world as an artist would. Thus, translating Ruby’s love for her West Texas home was relatively easy. For her, the drab landscape carried colors most folks never saw: “clouds turned scarlet and yellow against the cobalt sky” and “moonlight silver-plated puffy clouds … and gave an argent shimmer to the grasses below.” She sketched a bleached cow skull and “lightly penciled a copperhead wandering through the eyeless sockets, an insolent S snaked” over paper washed with a “venomous green.”

What proved more challenging was revealing how art permeated every aspect of Ruby’s existence. When she first saw Bismarck nude, her immediate desire was to draw him—she created precisely-detailed anatomic sketches guaranteed to shock viewers of the era. Art influenced even Ruby’s subconscious. I pulled an experience from my own life to illustrate this. I always knew when my grandmother occupied my dreams—I woke to the smell of turpentine. So, when talking to her friend Willow, Ruby confided that she “dreamed of art in the same way she dreamed of making love, awakening with the smell of turpentine and linseed oil in her nostrils, as rich and intoxicating as a lover’s scent.”

Line, color, and composition also informed Ruby’s emotions. When her third child was stillborn, she tailored his christening gown to fit his premature body, then “cradled his skull and, with her hand, fixed its geometry in her brain. Her thumb inscribed the arc of his brow in her memory. Her nose imprinted the scent from the crook of his neck on her dreams. The pad of a finger applied the burnished new-penny color of his hair to her mind’s palette. Her arms held him, awed by how his tiny body made her soul feel so heavy. Finally, she sketched her son so she would never forget his innocent face.”

Years later, when Bismarck became paralyzed by being thrown from a horse, Ruby saw him in terms of color: “His eyes, the new-denim blue now turned to faded chambray … By kerosene light, his skin looked yellow. The color of life giving way to death.” The intimacy of working with his frail body gave Ruby new insight into the Biblical scene of Christ in the Selpulcher as she painted “the blue-gray of lips no longer warmed by blood, the greenish cast to the face, the way white flesh hung slackly from bone when unsupported by functioning muscle.”

Ruby experienced the births of five children, the loss of three of them and her beloved Bismarck. At age fifty-four as she pursued another love in New Mexico, she still viewed the world through the filter of art, seeing the world’s highlights and shadows as if on a canvas, “With little atmosphere to filter the sun, New Mexican light blazed intense and harsh, blinding her. The effect was strangely unsettling. Brilliant daylight bleached important details. Dense shade obscured others. Salient information got lost in those extremes. The narrow range of mid-tones didn’t tell the full story.”

Through a close third-person point of view, I hope I captured not only the tastes, smells, and other sensations that made up Ruby’s life, but the sentiments that bound her to her family, her lovers, her home; the innate disposition and moral code that overlay her actions; and most of all the colors, lines, and composition that guided her art.

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Purchase the novel at Amazon by clicking on the book cover.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, History, Interview, Novel, Writing Talk