Category Archives: Reading

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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Nonfiction Picks from Joy Neal Kidney and Gwen Wilson

I’ve been reading instead of writing lately. Today I want to share two of the nonfiction books I’ve enjoyed.

Book #1 is biographical and historical nonfiction based on the author’s family history.

A year and a half ago I reviewed Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. That book opened my eyes to the “home front” during WWII—what the war was like for some American families. Joy’s family, in particular, suffered great loss as three of her grandparents’ sons died in battle.

Joy has a new book out called Leora’s Dexter Stories. The subtitle, “The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression,” gives an idea of what story lies inside. It’s also an understatement. This book uses a variety of sources, such as journals and family stories to piece together a heart-breaking account of the poverty experienced by the Wilson family during the Depression.

Too bad this book can’t be required reading of every American and every student in American schools so that we learn not only what hardships people went through during that time but also how hardworking, clever, and resilient they could be. Our ideas of recycling and repurposing today are a joke compared with what Leora, Clabe, and their children did to survive. For awhile the only thing that kept them from being homeless was when the two oldest sons joined the Navy and sent money home to the family. The family endured criticism and gossip from others because of the need to sometimes be on a form of relief, although they worked very hard as tenant farmers or in other jobs. I managed to hold off crying until daughter Doris, Joy’s mother, an amazing basketball star, had to leave her full-scholarship business college because she couldn’t afford rent. This book is a powerful tribute to the Wilson family.

 You can find Joy here: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Book #2 is a coming-of-age and family dysfunction memoir, set in Australia.

Australian Gwen Wilson, writer of the blog Garrulous Gwendoline, has published a memoir called I Belong to No One. On the cover it also reads: “One woman’s true story of family violence, forced adoption and ultimate triumphant survival.” I wasn’t sure what I would find when I started to read, but I was immediately hooked by Gwen’s storytelling voice. As you might expect from a woman who bills herself on WordPress as “garrulous” and says in the memoir that one of her favorite words is loquacious, Gwen’s voice expertly tells her story and imparts her personality. Her voice is strong, confident, and positive because so is the woman telling the story of her childhood and youth. She also comes across as humble and sincere. This is the successful, mature adult looking back at her upbringing. And while she was clearly always very emotionally strong and generally positive, she was not always confident because the life experiences she went through from a young age tried to grind her down. But Gwen didn’t let them keep her down. Whenever she could catch a lucky break, she would run with it. Finally, she caught one in the form of a job in the shipping world and was able to move forward with her adult life.

Nevertheless, with Gwen’s muscular and straightforward prose, the majority of the story details what she had to overcome. Legally, she was raised by a single, mentally ill mother who was not capable of parenting her. But in reality, Gwen was raised by her older brother Steve and a series of surrogate moms in the form of neighbors, aunts, and friends’ mothers. This patched-together group of “moms” are where Gwen learned how to be a woman. The topics covered from Gwen’s first person perspective include domestic abuse, illegitimacy (in a time when that really mattered), forced adoption, child neglect, poverty, and rape. The rape scene and how it was handled afterward should be mandatory reading for anyone who is unsure of the #metoo movement. It reminds me of how things were when I was young (so we need to remember that we have made some improvements in society and law regarding rape). Gwen truly had nobody to turn to—and no rape crisis centers as they hadn’t been invented yet.

Gwen’s descriptions of her homes and the people in her life are carefully and wonderfully drawn. I find it difficult to move from under the spell of her story and back into my own life. Gwen was born the same year as memoirist Mary Karr. There are similarities in topics, but Australia in the 60s and 70s was much different than the United States. And Gwen had less advantages than Mary Karr had. But anybody who found The Liar’s Club or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle fascinating will find Gwen’s book just as hard to put down.

I hope to have reviews of a couple more books next week!

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Felix update: First we went through the exact same disappointment at a different ultrasound facility on Tuesday–it was another screw-up and they sent us home. However, the next day he had his ultrasound. It showed a liver tumor, enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, and other smaller issues. I haven’t been able to talk to his regular vet after she got a copy of the report but we did speak briefly and hypothetically. It’s unlikely that we will put him through more testing as it would be traumatic to him and probably to no avail. But a decision has not yet been made. If we don’t do more testing, we will provide hospice for him at home. I have started giving him subq fluids (under the skin with a needle) once a day, as well as several meds. The internist who performed the ultrasound was so impressed with Felix’s chill personality. He really is the epitome of a “good boy.”

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Giving Back to Poetry

I’ve been reading more than usual lately. For one thing, all my Ann Cleeves (Vera, Shetland, 2 Rivers) books on the wait list at the library have been coming available. Then I’ve got a few fiction and nonfiction books I’m rarin’ to read. Additionally, I’m reading a couple of brand new poetry books that I plan to review for journals or this blog. The best way to  understand a poetry collection, for me, is to prepare for writing a review. So reviewing is actually a benefit to me, not just to the poet who wrote the collection.

Something new that I am starting to do is to read the new issues of journals that are emailed to me. It’s not that I didn’t read any of them before, but sometimes I would hit delete if I felt like I had too much going on and plenty to read. But I’ve decided that that is not good because without all these wonderful lit journals a lot of writers, including myself, would be screwed. Then I am choosing one of my favorite pieces from the journal and sharing it on social media.

I have a belief that underlies these endeavors. Too many poets (I can’t speak for creative nonfiction and fiction writers because I know a lot more poets) are so involved with their own writing or maybe the writing of their “big star” inspirations that they do not put enough back into the poetry community. Of course, I include myself in this number.  There are certainly plenty of exceptions to this phenomenon, including the work that lit mag editors and small press editors and owners do, especially those that continue long past the “it will help my career” period. Two special names that immediately spring to mind when I think of helping the poetry community are Trish Hopkinson  whose website is a treasure for poets and Neil Silberblatt who runs the Facebook group Voices of Poetry. I’ve talked about Diane Lockward’s craft books on here several times. Her books, monthly newsletter, and press (Terrapin) are all important to the poetry community. In fact, she has a new craft book coming out soon. It’s called The Strategic Poet. I’m super blessed to have a poem in the tome (that rhyme is how you can tell I’m a poet hahahaha). The poem is called “After the Call from the Animal Welfare Office: A Triple Triolet,” and it’s a response to a horrific cat hoarding situation in Phoenix last year.

There are many more poetry helpers, too. The work that I am doing for the community is miniscule compared to that of others, but I am trying to keep #poetrycommunity at the forefront of my decisions as much as possible.

Let’s make it a great week ahead!

 

 

 

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A Mixed Bag Week

While the gardener and I were in California for two days last week, my daughter encountered the bobcat. She was in the back of our house, watering plants. As she turned slightly, she saw the bobcat walking toward her from the side.  She scooted into the house quickly and took this video.

She said that the bobcat actually hung around the backyard for awhile. Then he/she was back again the next morning!

In Arizona our mask mandate is expired, but where I go people are all still wearing masks inside. Not outside, thank goodness. Without a mask mandate, you do run the risk of running into a jerk. When we were in Pasadena, I noticed that everyone has to wear a mask outside, even walking down the sidewalk where other people are a block away.  I thought that was pretty stupid, too. I wanted to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Dear God, Can we please have common sense back? I promise I’ll take good care of my share. Love, Luanne

Pasadena sidewalk

Not sure if I mentioned that my The Artist’s Way group finished the Cameron book and is moving on to another. We’re starting Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s a short book, but so far it has some brilliant ideas. I also think the Cameron is brilliant, but there are things I don’t like. One of those is that Cameron comes from a place of extreme privilege, whether she thinks so or not, and it kind of permeates the book. The Bayles and Orland book has a voice I prefer.

Here’s one of my latest art journal pages. Although it’s not cheerful, I am pretty happy with this messy one. The man’s face is a transfer from a sketch my MIL did of a man at the Art Students League when she was there. His name was Leonard.

I read an article, “Success and the Late Blooming Woman Author,” in a recent issue of Writer’s Chronicle, the publication of the AWP. Late blooming is a subject dear to my heart because I didn’t publish Doll God until I was almost sixty. Look at this passage:

The percentages of women writers 55 and older being published in “the most equitable magazines”  “rarely reached twenty percent.” Ugh. Well, I keep working against that. Never said I wouldn’t take on a challenge.

Leaving you with a little cat chat. This Perry routine has evolved over time, and this is where we are most recently: Every night Perry carries his “babies” up to our bedroom and, one by one, lays them in front of my face and looks at me for approval. His babies are little stuffies we call squirrels and mice. They are not all squirrels or mice, but they are close enough. When I wake up in the morning, I am surrounded with cat stuffies in the bed. Here’s another piece of cat info: when I hold two cat food cans in front of a cat–let’s say, Felix–he will go back and forth a couple of times, sniffing them, and then nudge one toward me. There is no doubt that my cats know they are supposed to choose which one to eat.

Make it a great week, dears.

 

 

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Palimpsest of Scraps

The more time I spend with my art journal(s), the more I am realizing what appeals to me and what I like to work on. I am beginning to see a connection with my writing. 

The word palimpsest carries great meaning for me. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

palimpsest

noun

pa·​limp·​sest | \ ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest  pə-ˈlim(p)-  \

Definition of palimpsest

1writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased

2something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface

The following image is my latest two pages. I call it a palimpsest because it was created with many layers, and bits of each layer show in the finished pages, whether by eyesight or touch. For instance, there are pieces of poems: “It Would Be Easier to Stop Talking to Your Ghost” by Stella Li and “Triptych in Black and Blue” by Tatiana Johnson-Boria, published by Pleiades.

I’m also using my love of the reality and concept of scrap (title of my memoir-in-scrap), as well as a poem I’ve recently shared. I also love scrapbooking and used to love to design and make stained glass. I haven’t worked with quilting at all and not with mosaics since I was a kid, but those are other scrap arts and crafts that I love. 

For the initial layer of these pages, I used scraps from many sources, including graph paper, music, poetry, a story, a piece of an envelope flap that has the Hallmark logo embossed, and ripped up practice runs with art materials. I even included a hunk of the glued bottom of a brown bag. 

I skimmed through my pages in order of when I made them, and I discovered that at first my collaging was on the “top” of the page, so to speak, whereas now I am using collage as a base and then a bit more in one or two other stages. I learned the value of collage underneath because of all the interest it provides. My first pages look very flat in comparison.

Onward to more improvement LOL. I do see a connection (first noticed by Sheila Morris) between these art pages and my poetry. The layering, complexity, and happenstance, for one–er, three–things.  

I’m going to start PT for my shoulder/arm. And now I have vitreous detachment of my only reading eye. One of my eyes is to see distance, and the other is for reading. Seriously. That’s why I can’t wear bifocals and rarely wear glasses just wandering around. I wear glasses to read, another pair for driving, and then I have a computer pair made out of some really old and ugly frames. But my eyes (sort of) don’t work together, so having a really blurry reading eye kind of sucks.

Saturday I walked outside into the blue-blue sky, and I was attacked by swarms of birds from every direction. It was like a remake of the Hitchcock movie. But they weren’t real birds. They were one of the entertainments my eyes are providing me right now :/.

In other news, the puffballs are out! Technically, they are called Sweet Acacia trees, but we call them the dang puffballs. There isn’t a human alive who isn’t allergic to these things. They smell super sweet and, at first, you will think they are roses. But then the scent goes on and on and becomes sickening and you realize it isn’t roses at all. But they do signify home after all these years.

In the close-up you can see that this tree has two little puffballs growing from the trunk itself.

Announcements:

Pear Blossom’s 21st birthday is tomorrow!!! And Tiger Queenie’s 17th is April 1. Happy birthday, sweet girls.

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Three Micros in MacQueen’s Quinterly

A huge thank you to editor Clare MacQueen for publishing my three micros in the new issue of MacQueen’s Quinterly. This journal is very special because of how it is organized on the website. It’s a very creative and thoughtful design. These pieces are a sample of what I am working on for my memoir. You might think of them as a hybrid–sort of a cross between micro nonfiction and prose poems. I hope you like them.

Three Linked Micros

Toasting myself (virtually) with a glass of bubbly ;). Non virtually, we had a little family celebration the other day and drank this special prosecco. It’s called Blumond, and it’s made with blue curaçao.

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#Bookreview: Doll God — Elizabeth Gauffreau

A HUGE THANK YOU TO LIZ GAUFFREAU FOR REVIEWING DOLL GOD AND WRITING THIS POST. Luanne

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Luanne Castle Reading Doll God on Morning Scramble Television Show My Review Click cover to purchase from Amazon. Doll God, Luanne Castle’s award-winning debut poetry collection, can best be described in terms of the water imagery that appears throughout. Some poems lap at the lakeshore of sensory experience, while others plumb the ocean depths of […]

#Bookreview: Doll God — Elizabeth Gauffreau

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A Week with AWP

For some reason way back when I thought it was a good idea to sign up for the AWP conference that was to take place on Zoom just a few weeks after the Barrelhouse conference. AWP was this past week. I didn’t have time for it right now, and then my internet went down for two days. Good grief. I heard that the sessions might be recorded and left up so that attendees can view them later, but without the live chat function. You might recall I attended the AWP in person a few years ago in Tampa.

These are the sessions I did manage to watch.

Free Verse: Making a Life outside the Tenure Stream: Victoria Chang, Paul Guest, Ada Limon, Jennifer Popa, Maggie Smith

Invincibles: Women Writers Publishing After 50: Peg Alford Pursell, Valerie Brelinski, Jimin Han, Geeta Kothari, Naomi Williams

Loss, Memory, Transformation: Women Poets and the Elegy: Allison Adair, Melissa Cundieff, Cara Dees, Janine Joseph, Yalie Kamara

To Contest or Not to Contest: River Teeth and the UNM Press Provide Insight: Joan Frank, Phillip Lopate, Joe Mackall, Elise McHugh, Angela Morales

Crossover Collaboration: Poets with Visual Artists, Dancers, and Musicians: Jeffrey Bean, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Douglas Kearney, Timothy Liu, Joanna White

Beyond the Brady Bunch: Reinventing the Poem of the American Family: Geffrey Davis, Blas Falconer, Keetje Kuipers, Erika Meitner, Oliver de la Paz

New and Known: Poetic Forms and Traditions: Roy Guzman, Khaled Mattawa, Diane Seuss, Mark Wunderlich

Every single one of these sessions was life-giving. Just wonderful.

I plan to check in on some of the other sessions in the next week or two.

I’ve also snuck in reading a collection of Shirley Jackson short stories–some I have read, but most are new to me.

I tried to make a few collage pieces for art journaling, but couldn’t really devote much time because of the conference.

And I got in some cat snuggling. But I really want to get rid of the pain in my arm. It’s been five or six months now. Good grief.

Have a great week! Here’s a bunny from my yard.

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Reading, Writing, and Art Journaling

I’m readjusting into 2021 and trying to ignore the outside world as much as I can (since I have severe tension in 80% of my body right now). So what am I doing (besides work-work and home-work and cat-work)?

I really thought I was going to rewrite my memoir into something readable (ask Marie, I really was).  Now I have another idea, but can’t start it yet. My idea (which has been suggested by others in the past) is that I write my memoir as a book of poems. So we will see.

In the meantime, because I wanted to work on that, instead I became excited about writing some new poems for the book-in-progress (which is not the memoir). So I’ve written about six poems so far. Because I am always starting my poems at the kitchen table, I added my craft books to the kitchen, which means they are now in with the cookbooks.

I’ve also started my art journal and am taking Art Journaling 101 from Amy Maricle (an online video course). I’ve been working on background pages. Here is one of my acrylic backgrounds. I am using watercolor and water-soluble pastels for backgrounds, as well.

I might just sit around and play with acrylics. It’s so much like finger painting. What a great stress reliever.

I’m riding the stationery bike, doing stretching or yoga, and walking–at least one of those per day. Yes, I should do more per day, but I have so much I want to cram in each 24 hour period. And that includes reading “my”new mystery series, Vera Stanhope detective, by Ann Cleeves. (Love that name, Ann Cleeves LOL)

OK, go out and seize the week and stay resilient and healthy. XO

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Science and Me Redux

Over seven years ago, I posted “How and Why I Don’t Know Science,” which was “Freshly Pressed” by WordPress. I’m going to paste it here so you can read it if you like and if you didn’t at that time. Why am I posting it all over again?

I am reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is how the book is described on Goodreads:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Werner, the German boy, is a genius at science, math, engineering, mechanics. I am not quite 1/3 of the way into the book and the two main characters have separate threads. Werner’s thread makes science, especially applied sciences, sound so fascinating that it makes me regret that I never learned much science in school. Thinking about this reminded me of my post all those years ago. The post explains how it came about that I didn’t learn science.

Once in awhile I like to go back and look at something I wrote a long time ago. I’ve had seven years of writing experience after composing that blog post. I’ve also changed as my life has evolved over time. Since I wrote it I have become more involved with my writing and more involved with cat rescue. And I’ve gotten farther away from my childhood.

The main reason for feeling that I am further from my life (and me) as a child is that because I have written so much about my childhood since then I have been able to let some of it go. Once I write about an event, I unpin it from deep inside me and it begins to float away. Very useful way to get rid of bad memories.

Until one goes back and reads a memory, of course ;).

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Here is HOW AND WHY I DON’T KNOW SCIENCE.

After I heard we had to dissect the body of a cat in tenth grade biology class, I requested to take a replacement course instead. Today many school districts are sensitive to this issue and students can opt out without creating a stir. But back in 1971, school administrators at my Michigan school had never heard of a college-track student requesting to skip the foundation of high school science classes—and all over a dead cat. (How and Why the cat would die wasn’t divulged). Although they were surprised by my request, they allowed me to switch over to a course called Earth Science, but the only connection it had with its name was interminable dullness like dirt.

At fifteen I saw the world through a lens like a microscope and never from the top of a cliff. My father often said, “You can’t see beyond your own nose. It’s the bigger picture that counts.” My father, though, only saw the world as if it were a coloring book—large geometric blanks to be colored in by him, sloppily, with loops passing wildly beyond the black lines.

My view worked well for the science projects I had performed at home for years. When I was nine, my mother had bought me a How and Why book with scientific experiments kids could do at home. I grew mold on potatoes, made a weather station, something different every week.

But Earth Science class turned out to be a playpen for students who would not much longer be called students, kids who had troubles at home and troubles at school. Because I didn’t have the capacity to look at the longer range consequences, I didn’t realize that by not taking biology I’d left science behind. I wasn’t able to study physics or chemistry as all the science classes were lined up like the begetters in the Bible—biology begat chemistry which begat physics.

The SAT didn’t require any scientific knowledge, and somehow, with my intuitive test taking abilities, I managed an eighty-something percentage on the science portion of the ACT. The next year I attended a college chosen for its proximity to my boyfriend and satisfied the lone science requirement by taking a course called “The History of Science,” which taught no science.

Today I don’t know much about science, but my conscience is clear where my four cats are concerned. Too bad I couldn’t have a clear conscience and science both.

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Obviously seven years ago I had four cats. But now I have six!

Kana says, “Have the best week possible!”

Kana is next to my cardboard standing work desk

and the painting on the wall behind her was by my MIL;

the table is one we call “kitchen” but actually functions as cat feeding station

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