Most Recent Stuff
- Living in the Moment: Georgia O’Keefe and Clouds #MondayBlogs #GeorgiaOKeefe October 9, 2017
- Circumstances of Childhood. A new novel by John W. Howell! October 3, 2017
- Living in the Moment: Trinidad, Santa Fe and the drive from Hell #MondayBlogs #travel October 2, 2017
- Scars: A Portrait of Life September 26, 2017
- Living in the Moment: Total Solar Eclipse #MondayBlogs #totalsolareclipse September 25, 2017
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Kevin Brennan is giving away a FREE ebook in exchange for an honest review. Go to his blog for details. Check out his current reviews on Amazon to see what you’d be missing if you don’t take him up in this great deal. I’ve read each one of his books and loved each one too. And wrote reviews for each one … otherwise I’d be in line for a freebie 😉
Here’s a little backstory on how Luanne came around to creating her wonderful chapbook, Kin Types.
As a child, I loved reading about times past. Biographies of famous women like Lucrezia Borgia and Annie Oakley let me experience life in the periods in which they lived. Historical fiction lent a sense of adventure to realistic depictions of old England or the American colonial period. Time travel became my favorite fantasy.
But I never associated those times with my ancestors. The people who came before me were my three living grandparents, and the oldest person I knew, my grandfather’s aunt. I thought they had always been old.
As I became a teen, my grandfather began to tell me stories about our ancestors, and while they were interesting and I remembered them, I still didn’t put these relatives in my mind’s image of the Gilded Age and before. But then, when I was in college, my grandfather decided to show me his large collection of antique family portraits…
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First, the confession: I’ve been away in body as well as in mind. For two years my husband had been planning this road trip. For one year, it’s been almost an obsession with him and then with me. And, into the mix, as if it weren’t enough to be planning and obsessing over a road trip, I started a course of study that might lead me to a “second career.” (See my previous post here.) Sometimes I think I purposely set up roadblocks to writing. Anyone else I know would have been blogging about this trip, before and during. But not me. No, I was discreet. Only those who had a need to know knew of our plans. Now I’m back to my hot, humid home and our three cats who have (yet again) proven that they are loyal to whose-ever hand that feeds them, be it my hand or the pet sitter’s.
I’ll write about our trip later. For now I’ll just say that we drove to Casper, Wyoming, to view the Total Solar Eclipse. We saw it. It was a sight that will last me the rest of my life. Now, on to my review of Luanne Castle’s chapbook: Kin Types.
I took Kin Types on the road with me. It’s a very slim volume of poems which I received in the mail only a few days before our trip. I slipped it into one of my bags, sensing that the thirty pages of poetry and prose belied a depth and density that I’ve come to anticipate with Luanne’s writing. And yet I still wasn’t prepared for the wealth of stories I found among those pages.
Our first night out, in Olive Branch, Mississippi, I pulled Kin Types from my bag, thinking I would read a poem or two while my husband showered, before we turned off the lights. Instead, I read all the poems, totally captivated by the stories of Luanne’s ancestors. In her acknowledgement, she wrote:
for those who came before me
whose stories I was privileged
to try to inhabit, if only for a moment
Thanks to Luanne and another friend of mine (I’m talking about you, Jane), I’ve developed an interest in my own ancestry: who was it that came before me, what happened to them, how (if at all) their existence has informed my own, besides the obvious connection of DNA. So, with a slight chill, I read the first sentence of “The Nurturing of Nature and its Accumulations”:
Anything that happened to my grandmother before she got pregnant imprinted the genes she shared with my father and then with me.
When we study our ancestry, we are trying to learn about ourselves. It’s an ego trip. It’s “all about me.” There is that element in Luanne’s poems, that she unearths these stories in order to learn more about herself, about how “those who came before” her made her who she is today. With Kin Types, though, the self interest is but one element. Luanne writes these poetic portraits with such sympathy, with such deep understanding (appreciation, perhaps even love) for the circumstances each ancestor faced and suffered through, that they almost literally walked off the page and into my heart. The most poignant of these is “And So It Goes,” a prose piece that reads like a novel, the courtship and separation (through death) of Pieter and Neeltje, their beginning and their end. Americans like to romanticize our ancestors’ struggles as they set new roots in what was a “new” world, trying to escape poverty or boredom, oppression or suppression. But their lives, especially the women’s lives, were not the stuff of romantic adventure:
Neeltje did things without fanfare or explanation, and that’s how she died. [. . .] he realized that even though she’d been at his side since their teens, he had the sense he didn’t know her. [. . .] He’d made her a mother many times over, but she had been only a girl.
Death is everywhere in these poems, as it was everywhere in the lives Luanne writes about:
Nine children born to Neeltje. Two funerals. (“And So It Goes”)
Gerrit is buried / twice, once in Santiago and / later near his brother in Kalamazoo. (“More Burials”)
His dark blond curls were so / like her brother Lucas when a baby / and not yet the young man she kissed / in his black coffin. (“New Life, New Music”)
She listens to her husband outside the church / door, reads the casualty lists, hovers around / those waiting. Now her big brother’s letter / like his touch on their dying mother’s cheek, / is enough. (“Once and Now”)
One, / two, and then a third was lost / and a fourth born. (“The Fat Little House”)
Death is everywhere but so is life. The death of babies, of brothers to war, of women dying without “fanfare or explanation” occurs among the birth of babies, the growth of families, the setting of roots. It is history; not just that of Luanne’s ancestry but of everyone’s ancestry.
What Kin Types did for me, both as a writer and a reader, is help me realize that my own family history, presumably boring and uneventful compared to those who can claim lineage to kings and generals, was anything but boring and uneventful for the people who lived those lives. Their lives might only be expressed in a few handwritten lines across decades of census taking, a marriage certificate here, a death certificate there. Only a few photographs may exist. But each atom of information is a spark to a story.
Like DNA, the histories found in Kin Types are the building blocks of a poet. Luanne’s poetry gives her ancestors’ stories a living, breathing quality that make them unforgettable. I’m grateful to Luanne for sharing her histories and for inspiring me to continue my own exploration.
If you don’t already know Luanne, please visit this post where she graciously answered my questions about writing poetry: An Interview with Luanne Castle.
You can get your own copy of Kin Types at the Finishing Line Press website: Kin Types.
I feel that I owe you all an explanation. I’ve been … hmmm … relatively absent over the last few weeks. Some of you may have noticed. Some not. No matter.
A few weeks ago, I turned 60. And my husband retired from his state job. And I started looking into a second career. Yeah, pretty much all on the same day.
I am happy that my husband is retired for many, many reasons. The least of which is we have a big trip planned for later this summer and it’s a lot easier for him to work on the logistics from home. Another good reason is his health. His back got so bad for him last winter that he couldn’t stand up straight. He was hinged at his hip, his back flat like an ironing board. The guy is 6 feet tall. I’m 5 feet 4 inches. We are not supposed to literally see eye-to-eye. He has been proactive about seeing doctors (including physical therapists, chiropractors, and now an orthopedic surgeon) as well as developing an exercise routine that has greatly improved his posture and reduced his chronic pain. Reduced but not eliminated. More doctor appointments are in the future but at least he has the freedom to focus on his health and not be sedentary for 7 to 8 hours a day.
My favorite reason for his retirement is he is spoiling me. Most nights I come home from work to find dinner ready. I don’t have to go grocery shopping any more. I don’t even have to vacuum up the cat litter. I still do my own laundry but that is personal choice.
I would probably be more spoiled if I hadn’t decided to enroll in an online program for TESL/TEFL certification.
TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
The acronyms are used interchangeably but usually TEFL refers to teaching in other countries like China and TESL refers to teaching immigrants. I don’t have plans to teach in another country, but I’m interested in moving out West where there may be some immigrants wanting to learn English.
Why, oh, why, am I pursuing a course of study when I already have two graduate degrees?
Shortly before I turned 60 (an age, by the way, I had been looking forward to), I realized that I really, really, really didn’t want to continue with my current job past 62. But if I retire then, I’ll still have three years before I’m qualified for Medicare. I’ve estimated that my health insurance premiums would take at least 3/4 of my pension. I need another source of income, at least for those years and possibly beyond.
So my dream is to work part-time as an ESL tutor.
Actually, this isn’t a new interest of mine. I had looked into certification many years ago at my local university. The one class I took was underwhelming in content and inconvenient for my work schedule. I also worked at my local library as a literacy volunteer for a while. But it wasn’t until I started working on my current course of study that I realized that maybe, just maybe, this was what I should have been doing all along. I just hadn’t had the imagination to pursue it when I was younger.
Well, there’s no time like the present. Actually, all we really have is the present.
And I have a limited amount of time in which to complete my certification. It’s self-paced, but there’s an “expiration date.” The course work is very interesting. I’m learning a lot about my own language (us native speakers take so much for granted), and I like the challenge of coming up with my own lesson plans. I have to use my imagination.
Now some of you (well, maybe one person) might wonder why I’m not thinking about self-publishing as a way to earn some extra $$$.
Okay, in all seriousness, I still have a novel in the works, but it’s on the back burner until I finish my studies. I do want to self-publish, but I’ve set my expectations for market success pretty low. I can’t be in it for the money.
So I’ll continue to be fairly absent from social media and blogging for the next couple of months. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think of each of you often.
I’ll leave you with a few photos I took at the bay side of St. George Island recently. My husband was working on a time-lapse of the clouds, while I sat and sweated.
My good friend, Katie Sullivan, is publishing her second book in The Changelings Series: The Rise of Kings! I read her first book, Into the Mist, and loved it. I was a beta reader for The Rise of Kings and loved it. Read on for how to get your own copy!
Well, 2 years after it was promised, Book 2 in the Changelings saga is finally here. It doesn’t matter that it was essentially written four years ago – which, coupled with my desire to expand the story – caused me so. many. freaking. continuity errors I nearly lost my mind – it’s here now. It’s here…
More Summertime Reading Fun: My GRL by John Howell is Featured on Ereader News Today for $.99 — Fiction Favorites
My GRL is featured on Ereader News Today for $.99. Here is the blurb. Can an ordinary guy overcome the super ordinary to stop a terrorist plot? John J. Cannon, a successful San Francisco lawyer, takes a leave of absence from the firm and buys a boat he names My GRL. His intent is to […]
Usually I don’t review a book I haven’t yet finished. I definitely don’t review books that I don’t plan to finish (for whatever reason). I’m making an exception here.
This weekend I started reading Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, In No Particular Order. Readers of this blog already know I’m a Brennan
groupie fan and I’ve pretty much snatched up everything he has written. Most of the vignettes are actually from his blog, previously published so-to-speak, so I’ve already read most of them; however, reading them as part of a collection is a different experience. Even though I remember the few I’ve read so far, having these writings in context adds a depth that one usually doesn’t get from the untethered blog post.
Before I go on to explain why I’m writing a review now, when I’ve only read a quarter of the vignettes, I do want to note that while this collection could be read in a weekend, you could also take your time with it. Which is what I plan on doing. Each vignette is only a couple of pages long. So, for example, if you have a few minutes to kill before your next meeting (and you really, really don’t want to check your email again), you have time to read one of Kevin’s vignettes in its entirety. You can read one of these vignettes in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette (if you’re so inclined) or boil an egg or preheat the oven. So you can read In No Particular Order as fast or as slow as you like.
Now, why am I writing about this book when I haven’t even finished it?
“Everybody has at least one book in them. The book that is their own life.”
As Brennan notes in his preface, “most people’s lives don’t add up to a narrative that would interest many readers […]”; and yet, he’s managed to reflect on various experiences in his own life that, while not necessarily out of the ordinary of many others’ experiences, are still unique experiences because they happened to him, not them. In reflection he adds layers to the experience that assist the reader in understanding how even the experiences of a teen-ager shape the mature man or woman we later become. He ends his preface with the quote above and my first thought was, “Yes!”
“When you indulge in a personal nostalgia trip you have to be ready for some revelations that might shock or disturb … Understandings that you might be remembering people inaccurately, or that you weren’t as meaningful to them as they were to you.”
Throughout my life I’ve kept a journal of one sort or another. Some of the very earliest ones I either destroyed on purpose (watching it burn in the trash barrel at the far edge of our backyard) or simply lost (oh, to have that record of my first few months in California!). Reading (or trying to remember) old journals allow me to engage in nostalgia. They bring to mind people I haven’t had contact with in 40 or more years; experiences that make me pinch myself in wonder that I’m still alive. For the most part, that “personal nostalgia trip” is a precursor to an episode or two of depression. Nostalgia turns to self-berating for all the stupid decisions I’ve ever made, all the bad behavior I engaged in.
I’m taking this collection slow because of my own propensity to wallow in the past. Brennan’s writing, his reflections and remembrances, are short enough to be a jumping off point for me, if that makes sense. With a novel, I’ll get sucked into the plot and characters and their world and maybe even forget about my own world for a while. With a memoir, especially one of vignettes, I tend to reflect on my own experiences in-between. I don’t just read the vignettes; I consider them for lessons on how to look back, how to integrate (or let go of) experiences that are not fond memories. I have a tendency to dwell on the negative in my life, although …
“[w]hatever the case, here I sit now, happy as a panda in the bamboo grove, having made a series of decisions that led to a personal kind of heaven.”
Kevin could have written that for me. Despite all the negative experiences I’ve had, I’ve wound up (through no calculated intelligence of my own) in an enviable situation: happily married, a home to call my own, and a new horizon awaiting my husband and me.
So if you’re still on the fence about whether you should plunk down 99 cents for Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, well, all I can say is, I’ve certainly gotten a lot more out of In No Particular Order than the 99 cents I put down, and I’m not even finished.
What’s not to love about a collection of vignettes by Kevin Brennan for only 99 cents? I can’t think of anything either so go and get yourself a copy of In No Particular Order!
Guess what? In No Particular Order is now live on Amazon! Here’s the blurb: It’s true that life is linear, but the living of it is all over the map. In this memoir-in-vignettes, novelist Kevin Brennan (Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road) examines his life the way memories occur in the wild: in no particular order. Whether […]
Jeri Walker is a freelance editor and writer that I got to know a few years ago when I was trying out a new (for me) social media site. I’ve since ended my relationship with the social media site but not with Jeri. She welcomed me from the start and when I first visited her blog, I was impressed by her professionalism and focus. She offers many tips and tools that are down-to-earth (not that pie in the sky “buy my book and you will soon have hundreds of thousands of new followers and readers” blah blah blah). She conducts in-depth interviews with established writers (self-published and otherwise). Her blog is WB Word Bank at jeriwb.com and I recommend you bookmark it.
She even has some of her own writing available for purchase at Amazon. I really enjoyed her collection of short stories Such is Life. You can read my review here. Suffice to say, her stories reminded me of an early Joyce Carol Oates. You can also visit her Amazon author page here.
Jeri is a truly exceptional person. She’s resilient, having weathered, survived and bested a childhood and marriage that I know would have sent me far over the edge and into the void. And, of course, because she is so tough, she has breast cancer. In her words:
“my type of breast cancer is a triple-negative breast cancer. That means it can’t be helped by hormone treatments of estrogen or progesterone. Such cancers also do not respond to targeted Herceptin protein treatments. It does tend to respond well to chemo. Nope, rare bird that I am gets a type of breast cancer only seen in about 15 percent the women diagnosed.”
Life can be so pathetically unfair. And I know Jeri is one of many who steels herself to do what she doesn’t really want to do: ask for help. But there’s a gift for those of us who have decided to give her a little support. She’s writing it all down. We get to read all about the cancer diagnosis, the treatment, the side effects, her mental state, her love, her play with art to make meaning of all this. We even get to see her boobs.
If you care to donate, here’s Jeri’s GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/the-abandoned-boob-chronicles
And, by the way, f**k cancer.