A Medical-Nightmare Memoir, A Darkish Thriller with a Social Conscience, and A Brightly Lit Romance

I finished another memoir, this time one my mother recommended. Called Brain on Fire, it’s about a young journalist (Susannah Cahalan) who suddenly lost her mind. She suffered from symptoms which appeared to be mental illness, but were accompanied by seizures–her only actual provable “physical” symptom. After being wrongly treated by a neurologist who insisted she suffered from over-drinking (she was not a big drinker), she was admitted to the epilepsy ward at NYU.

Her first stay was a full month and during that time she lost her mental abilities and, although she slowly recovered after her rare condition was corrected diagnosed and treated, she lost her memories of that month.

Because of her job and her position at the New York Post, Cahalan was able to publish an article about her illness that spurred the medical world into diagnosing others with the conditions. She wondered how many people were locked away in psych wards when they, in fact, had anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. How many people had unnecessarily died? In the few short years since her illness in 2009, the condition is diagnosed much more often–and lives have been saved because of her courage and her job and connections.

The book is important because of its spotlight on this particular rare illness, but also for how it shows that there is hope for other sufferers who have not received diagnoses or proper diagnoses. I went through a similar problem with original diagnosis for the tumor in my foot when the first specialist I went to, a “big name” doctor, ignored my concerns and misdiagnosed me in a way that could have led to me losing my ability to walk permanently. I suspect this happens more often than we know.

Another aspect of the book I found very intriguing was Susannah’s life stage. As a 24-year-old who had been living on her own, with an ambitious career job, she had just been moving into a “genuine” adulthood, but her illness made her dependent on her family and others. This is a difficult time of life to have this happen. Kid, adult, now kid again–or at least that was the way she felt.

Finally, she meditates on the loss of her memories at the end of the book, wondering if she will ever retrieve that lost month again. But she says about memory is true of anyone, and if she was a little older, she might realize that, too:

Maybe it’s [the memory of that month] not gone but is somewhere int he recesses of my mind, waiting for the proper cues to be called back up. So far that hasn’t happened, which just makes me wonder: What else have I lost along the way? And is it actually lost or just hidden?”

These are the questions of every memoirist.

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I finally wrote a review of Carrie Rubin’s unique novel Eating Bull. If I had written it soon after finishing the book, my review could have been longer and more detailed.

I devoured (sorry for the pun) Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull very quickly, although I savored it as I read. Then I didn’t write this review for many months. Perhaps because this book took me by surprise and just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone, writing about this book proved to be daunting. Eating Bull is a suspenseful thriller which showcases the dark world of the fast food industry and of fat shaming and bullying. It has a cast of characters I found very realistic–which means annoying and endearing at once. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a boy who deserves the sympathetic eye of Rubin’s narrator on his life and dilemmas. His mother frustrated me. She clearly loves him very much, but I wanted to step in and advise her on ways she could help improve her son’s life, but of course, I could not. Perhaps the most vivid character is Sue, the public health nurse, who teams up with Jeremy to fight fast food. Eating Bull is a very important book in the way it shines a spotlight on topics allowed to fester in our culture all the while the reader is obsessed with following the compelling story to a satisfying resolution.

What I realized about this novel, which Carrie says is in the “deep genre” (a genre I am not familiar with), is that the contrast of the real-life everyday problems of unhealthy eating (and an industry devoted to pushing it), fat-shaming, body image issues, and bullying with the excitement of a suspenseful thriller had to be digested carefully. It’s an amazing novel and should be put at the top of your reading list.

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To offset the seriousness of those two books and to relax into your comfort zone of a romance in a delightful small town, remember to pick up Jill Weatherholt’s Second Chance Romance. This is the same review I linked to a week or two ago.

A charming story of love and light, Jill Weatherholt’s first novel Second Chance Romance is published by the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin. According to the website:

“You believe hearts can heal. Love Inspired stories show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives—always.”

I’m not used to reading in the genre of Christian fiction, and I was eager to try something new. If you think that everything is puppy dogs (there is a puppy, happily) and rainbows in Weatherholt’s book, you will be astonished. Melanie, a divorce lawyer from D.C., has lost her faith and hope in the face of horrific tragedy. A resident of Sweet Gum, handsome single dad Jackson has been touched by darkness in his life, too. But he’s been able to hold onto his faith.

Events transpire that first set Melanie and Jackson at odds and, later, try to prevent them from finding love together. The reader is left in suspense until the end as to how the problems will be resolved. And how faith and forgiveness and compassion can change their lives.

The characters are engaging, especially the characterization of Rebecca, Jackson’s little girl. Her personality rises right off the pages, and I feel as if she’s an actual child I know and can’t wait to see again. I’ll always remember her characteristic twirl.

Weatherholt’s book is one I want to pass on to several people because they will love moving to Sweet Gum, a town with a heart, for the duration.

Once you’re done reading Jill’s and Carrie’s books, please leave a review–even a couple of sentences will do–on Amazon (and Goodreads is you’re over there) for them! I know they will appreciate it. Don’t be like I was with Carrie’s review–waiting until I had just the right words to say. It’s more important to put up a review, even if it’s short, than to worry if you are writing it well enough. I wish I had realized that myself and not made Carrie wait all this time. :/

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Memoir, Novel, Reading, Writing

Two Poetry Collections

Carla McGill posted an advance review of Kin Types at the Finishing Line Press website. In her post she writes about Kin Types and Doll God–and introduces the work of poet Cindy Rinne whose book Quiet Lantern I just received yesterday!

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So much of my work emerges from an interior place, an inner knowing, a sense that yes, now I should write this story, or yes, right now this poem is forming in my thoughts. No matter how many lists or outlines I make of what I want to write, I find that I cannot keep to them because something else is rumbling within.

I am learning to pay attention to the interior world first. As the new year approached, I somehow knew that this would be the year that I would search for a publisher for my first collection of poetry. I am only now, as spring begins, delving in to the list to see which one might be a good fit for my work (or more importantly which one would accept my work).

On a side note, I have a poem called “The Northern Lights” in the most recent…

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Doll God, Family history, Kin Types, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

What Happened to the Cat Who Came to Visit?

A couple of weeks ago I told you the story of the cat who came to visit our yard and how we trapped him so he wouldn’t get eaten by a local predator. I had him neutered and took him to the no-kill shelter where Perry was put into the ISO room until he could be vaccinated and microchipped.

Although the vet and vet techs that did the surgery on Perry realized he was not feral because he was affectionate and even let them handle his family jewels (before the big heist), once he got put into that tiny cage in that little room right next to the big dog room (with their loud chorus of barking) he became withdrawn and very unhappy with humans.

The shelter began to wonder if somebody had made a mistake or even lied about Perry being a stray, but domesticated cat. Maybe he really was feral and, if so, what would the shelter that is designed for putting friendly cats in together until they get adopted into loving homes do with him?

I talked to the wonderful organization Alley Cat Allies that works to better the plight of feral cats and to the spay and neuter clinic that had done Perry’s surgery. It seemed clear to anybody not witnessing him at the shelter that he was not feral. I’ve gone to the shelter every day, but only for a short period of time, to read to him and (don’t tell anyone, please) sing to him. 

Perry’s favorite book

He seems to like the “Riddle Song” and “Billy Boy,” two of my specialties. I put an extra stanza in the latter that always seemed missing from the original. I am careful to show him the illustrations in the picture books and notice that his eyes track the images as if he is really examining them. I find that interesting . . . .

Using a soothing, but pleasantly expressive voice while reading to cats and dogs is very effective with them. It doesn’t get done often enough because of time constraints. Consider reading to shelter animals near you or bring children who are early readers so they can practice their reading skills out on the very nonjudgmental animals. In the Curious George book, Mr. Herb gets angry with George, but I am careful not to show that in my voice to Perry who can’t handle that kind of emotion right now.

The techs and volunteers couldn’t get Perry out of the tiny cage in ISO to move him to a big 3 story cage in the roaming room so that he could have better accommodations and get to know other cats and humans, too, and we don’t have a “cat den,” where a frightened cat goes to hide and the “door” can be shut so you can move him. But finally our cat volunteer and staff member ROCKSTAR Judy maneuvered him into a kennel and moved him to the new cage in the big room. I didn’t get involved in this for two reasons. One is that I want to be a safe person for him, one he doesn’t associate with grabbing and other mean shenanigans. The other reason is my primary lymphedema. Cat bites and scratches can be very dangerous for someone with lymphedema, so I am always aware when working and playing with cats that are not my own (and even my own).

Yesterday afternoon I was heartened that Perry was no longer in his cave. He was sitting in his litter box (hahaha) on the bottom level of the cage. I had put a skirt of towels around the bottom, so maybe that was why. I assume he was in the litter box rather than the soft bed next to it because that bed might be too soft compared with what he is used to outside. I opened the skirt in front and sat on the floor to read to him. Another new cat, Oreo (a very friendly guy), crawled into my lap and stuck his nose in the book. Although I used the book as a little shield between the two cats so Perry wouldn’t get spooked, Perry was quite good at Oreo being so close and even meowed once at him. He also meowed at me and gave me eye blinks, both good signs that he is thawing.

I don’t yet know Oreo’s story, but he and another cat share a cage (that he happened to be out of at the time) and both wear lime green collars. That makes me guess somebody turned them into the shelter because they couldn’t keep them any longer. 😦 New cats generally stay in cages inside the roaming room until they are used to the room and the other cats. Because the two cats are together and are wearing collars, they didn’t live outside like Perry did so they are more social.

Please send good thoughts Perry’s way that he loses his fear (terror) and begins to show his affectionate nature so that he can work his way toward the perfect home for him.

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With my son’s wedding coming up and other family matters, the only thing I am able to handle right now in addition to work is trying to do a little promotional stuff for Kin Types. Finishing Line Press is very good about providing a sample promo packet, along with sample press releases and the likes, but it all takes TIME, a phantom-like wisp that I have been chasing but not catching for a few weeks now. So although a few ideas for writing have crossed my mind (and disappeared into the horizon) I definitely

#amnotwriting

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Cover Reveal of Kin Types

 

Finishing Line Press has revealed the new cover of my chapbook Kin Types. They put it on their website with my headshot, taken by my friend Renee Rivers.

PRE-ORDER HERE

Release date: June 23

A little background on the cover image: this is a tintype from my family collection. It was handpainted, and the jewelry was painted in gold leaf. We don’t know exactly who the photograph is of, but believe it is of the Remine (Remijinse) branch of the family. My great-great-great-grandmother was Johanna Remijinse De Korne, born in Kapelle, Netherlands. I love how the Dutch spelling conjures up the word “reminisce.”

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing

A Quick Visit to The Land of Beaches and Traffic

I’ve been beachside for my future DIL’s bridal shower.

Lovely air for my sinuses and skin.  

The hills were alive with the color of wildflowers everywhere that housing developments haven’t taken over!

We had a great family time. Now it’s good to be home with our cats and away from the hubbub.

Pear Blossom wondering why Tiger Queenie keeps coming so close. After all, Pear is the undisputed actual Queen of the house at age 17.

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Get It Now! (Pretty Please with Sugar On Top)

It’s time!!!

It’s time to preorder Kin Types from Finishing Line Press.

Press here to order my book of poetry and flash nonfiction. Why Kin Types?

  • Wide variety of creative poetic styles
  • Insight into the lives of the women who have come before us
  • Flash nonfiction–what is life like for these men after their wives have died?
  • Quick but indepth glimpses from the history of women: infant mortality, vanity and housewife skills, divorce in the 19th century, secret abortion, artist versus mother, mysterious death, wife beating, and my favorite: a brave hero(ine) saving a family’s home
  • Much more, but you get the idea

Why preorder?

  • You won’t miss out when you’re busy
  • You want the book to go to press
  • Only way to ensure getting a copy!
  • You are supporting the arts
  • The press run of Kin Types is completely dependent on the preorders
  • You don’t want to hear me whining every week
  • I will love you forever ❤️

 

ORDER HERE

Unidentified ancestor from Cadzand, Netherlands

WHAT IS SHE REALLY THINKING?

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing

A Trip to the Fair

Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.

On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.

If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation?  If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?

I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?

Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.

This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.

These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.

What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance.  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?

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 On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!

Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

When a Cat Comes to Visit

Last week was busier than usual. Among a long list of other things (that may or may not include termites and breast cyst colonies–both those suckers travel in packs), the gardener and I trapped a cat that was hanging out in our backyard. I think strays and ferals see our cats through the windows and decide our yard makes a safe place to set up camp.

This one would come sit tall and proud on our pony wall and wait for his dinner. Yes, we had to give him dinners because underneath his long fur he was quite skinny. Besides, dinner is how you trap a cat.

Have you ever seen a cat trap?

They are scary looking, but when you cover it with a blanket, the cat can’t really see how scary it is. He only knows there is good food inside that he doesn’t have to rassle (wrestle for you grammar nazis) to eat.

We didn’t know if this cat was stray or feral. A stray cat will make a good house cat once he gets acclimated. A feral cat probably will not, although you have to take it on a case by case basis. This cat would look at us in the yard, which is unusual for a feral, plus we do not have a feral colony anywhere near. In fact, there are no cats outdoors as a general rule. That is because we have a pack of German Shepherd-sized coyotes and a large bobcat. People who try to have “outdoor cats” in our neighborhood end up inadvertently killing them. In fact, I contacted people through “Next Door,” in the adjacent neighborhoods, and they spoke of the zero cat population and how a Maltese was severely injured by the coyotes.

OUR HUGE BOBCAT

We didn’t know if the cat was male or female, but I was calling it HE and HIM. I had an instinct, but didn’t know if I was right.

After days of luring the cat farther and farther into the trap, we were ready to catch him. That meant that the gardener needed to “set” the trap as he was the one who got the instructions from a friend we borrowed the trap from. It had been a few years since we used a trap. He was busy with stuff and couldn’t be rushed, and I was worried Mr/Ms Stray/Feral would come for dinner too soon. He did. When we came out to set the trap, he was sitting there so proud and so skinny on the wall around our fountain. He watched us very carefully as I put the food all the way to the back and the gardener set the springs. Then we went inside to see what would happen. I worried he would be annoyed and avoid the trap because he saw the trap without a blanket on it and saw it being set.

At first that was true. I watched between the drape and the window frame. He circled the trap, trying to get to the food without entering the open end. Then he left.

Durn it all, I said to the gardener. You should have come out to do it earlier. Only I didn’t say durn.

I was nervous he would get killed before we could catch him. And I was a little anxious that I already had scheduled an appointment for him next day at the spay/neuter clinic. I didn’t choose them for the lower price only, but because they are used to handling feral cats. If he was feral, he would need that expertise. The receptionist asked me if I’d named the cat. I had not even thought to, but after that two names came to me: Perry for a boy and Polly for a girl.

Five minutes later darkness descended on the backyard. I couldn’t really make out the door of the trap. I asked the gardener to come look. He said it was sprung.

So I turned on the porch light and went out to see. Our little gray and white visitor was huddled up miserably inside the trap. The food was untouched.

In the garage I had put a thick blanket on the floor for warmth and then covered that with a Chux pad for potty needs, so I placed the trap there for the night. The spay/neuter clinic would open at 7AM, and the kitty would have to be in the cage all night. I knocked the food out of the cage so he would have an empty stomach for neutering the next day. Although I’d been up all night just a couple nights before (ER visit for the gardener for a kidney stone–I told you we had a lot going on), I got up early to drive “clear across town,” which means a long way through rush hour city traffic.

I’ll be darned if they didn’t do his surgery until after 4PM! Poor thing had to wait in that trap without food or water all that time. And I was so impatient because I wanted to know:

  1. Boy or girl?
  2. Feral or stray?
  3. Feline leukemia negative . . . or not?

PERRY turned out to be stray and negative for feline leukemia. Good news for him! So I brought him over to our shelter fresh off the operating table. What nobody warned me was that some cats act like maniacs while under the effects of the anesthesia. He threw himself against the walls of the cage. It was frightening because I thought he might hurt himself–and it sure seemed a different story than how lovely he was to the vet and vet techs before his surgery. That night in his cage in the isolation room at the shelter, he tipped over his litter box and got it all over, spilled his water all over, and didn’t pee or poo at all. However, he did eat all the kibble that was left for him.

Worried about him, I ran over there first thing the next morning and cleaned and reset up his cage and amenities and gave him a little canned food. He was calm, but scared.

Perry on the bed of the iso cage–the cage is much taller, but it’s underneath the bed

Please send vibes or pray for him, however you’re inclined, that he settles in, loses his fear, and finds a loving home!

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I hope that Kin Types will be ready for pre-order soon. Waiting to hear from the publisher about that.

I’m participating in the Great Poetry Exchange along with 65 other poets with books. In the month of March I am sending Doll God to one poet and receiving a book from a different poet. I can’t wait!

 

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Doll God, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Find Poems Here!

Two copies of the new issue of CopperNickel arrived in my mailbox. This beautiful journal is housed at the University of Colorado, Denver.

I have a prose poem in it about a woman getting a divorce in 1895. It is based on, among other information, two newspaper articles. The woman was my great-great-grandfather’s sister.

 

A feature of this journal that is particularly special is that they ask all contributors to recommend other books of poetry. I recommended Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s book Hour of the Ox. Her collection won the prestigious Donald Hall Prize for Poetry in 2015–a well-deserved honor. Her book seems to me to be an excavation into what was, what would have been, what could be and could have been, and what isn’t. Marci, who in the past has published a poem called “Origin / Adoption,”  is a Korean-American poet who might be inventing a family in her first book. I find that all interesting because of my sympathies for adoptees and for anybody searching for their origins.

Here is a little taste of her lines:

Counting the breaths in the dark, my fingers crept lightly

across the floor and against my father’s calloused palm,

willing his lifeline to grow long as a stream

of tea poured green and steaming and smelling of herbs.

(from “The Last Supper”)

I’ve also recently read other books of poetry I want to recommend.

Nandini Dhar’s Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations is packed with lively and vivid prose poems. I found their form to be a great choice because of the narrative energy of the book. Lots of stories in here!

The Well Speaks of its Own Poison, by Maggie Smith, follows in the path of poets like Anne Sexton who explore the dark shadows of the fairy tale world to create magical poems.

I fell in love with Wendy Barker’s One Blackbird at a Time because every poem is about teaching literature. They re-created a world for me that I once knew so well. Anybody who has ever taught English or anybody who majored in English will probably feel the same way. You have to have a little familiarity with some of the more well-known texts read in the classroom: Whitman, Thoreau, Dickinson, Williams, Stevens, and Elizabeth Bishop, are a few of those mentioned. These are the opening lines of a poem that is a tribute to Bishop and her poem “One Art” (the formatting is completely off here; I can’t get WordPress to do it properly!!!):

It’s a perfect poem, I say, and though no one

In the class is over twenty-five, everybody

nods. They ‘ve all lost: the Madame

Alexander doll fallen into the toilet, silky

hair never the same, the friend who

moved away to Dallas, a brother once again

in juvie. So many schools—thirteen in

a dozen years—I lost each friend I made

till grad school.

 Notice the doll, too. That leads me back to–wait for it–Doll God ;).

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Coming Soon from Finishing Line Press

Maybe you thought I am only interested in cats and books and writing and wine food, but my love of local history was fueled by the vintage photographs (that are now antiques) and glass negatives my grandfather gave me. Many of them are interesting shots of locations and people in actions, but more of them are portraits and Grandpa assigned names for every person he knew. Another thing that reinforced my history interest was that my father was a “collector” of old buildings, especially downtown. He would buy old unloved commercial properties and rent them out, usually to young people who wanted a start in business. Since my mother’s great-grandfather had built some of the old buildings in our city, I came to believe that I was meant to coordinate the family photos and documents and to see where the family fit into our hometown.  I’ve documented some of the information I’ve uncovered on my other blog.

But you know I’m also a poet and writer of the more lyrical sort. So it wasn’t enough for me to write blog posts about people long dead. Where the more typical family history research left off, I wanted to add the power of imaginative research. That’s when I started writing my Kin Types poems. These poems are meant to uncover and reveal the lives of women in my family who are long gone. But they could be women in anybody’s family. That’s what family history really should be: the history of the world as seen through the lives of “regular” individuals. The women in these poems endure difficulties and tragedies: the death of an infant, waiting to hear about the fate of a soldier brother, a clandestine abortion, emotional illness, inability to pursue art, a mysterious death, a horrific fire, and more.

My chapbook also contains two prose pieces–flash nonfiction–and, strangely since all the poems are about women, the viewpoint of both these stories is from two men in my family. They are men who, in some ways, lived the male American immigrant story of the late 19th century. But they also had their own troubles and tragedies, and they too cried out (in my head, at least) to have their stories told.

So it’s super exciting to announce that Finishing Line Press is publishing my book, and the stories of the people who have come before us will be available in poems and lyrical prose. Kin Types will be available for pre-order soon, so stay tuned!

My great-grandmother with Grandpa

circa 1910

(yes, she’s in the book)

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Research and prep for writing, Writing