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Exclusive Author Interview...

Irish American, Agatha Award-nominated author Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) gives LitVote an exclusive author interview for St. Patty’s Day…

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Book Review


  • Author Prudy Taylor Board says writing in different genres is easy…but do your homework first

  • By Mary Yuhas

    Prudy Taylor Board is a project editor with Taylor and Francis Publishing, a leading publisher of technical, academic and scientific nonfiction headquartered in Boca Raton.

    Prudy and skeleton

    Currently, she leads two critique groups in Palm Beach County and is the immediate past president of the Writers Network of South Florida. She has had 22 books (15 regional histories in Florida and South Carolina and 5 novels) and more than a thousand articles published in regional and national magazines. She was a staff writer for the News Press, public information officer for the sheriff’s department; assignment editor and reporter for CBS and NBC TV affiliates on the other coast, and managing editor of two regional magazines — Lee Living and Home & Condo. She also edited The Fiction Writer, a magazine for writers distributed nationally. In Palm Beach County, before moving to Taylor and Francis, she was Managing Editor of Dartnell Corporation’s sales publications and personally edited Sell!ng™ and Sales & Marketing Executive Report for which she won a national award as most improved from the Newsletters and Electronic Publishers Association.

    A Grave Injustice
    Prudy writes about what she knows. For her horror novels, written as Prudence Foster, she has studied the occult for years, traveled to Haiti where she attended a voodoo ceremony in the woods outside Cape Haitien, attended a séance at a cenote where virgins were sacrificed centuries ago outside Chichen Itza, Mexico, and in Cartagena, Colombia, she had a Tarot card reading and befriended a 90-year old medium. Her mysteries, in particular the Recipes for Murder series, are based on her experiences as a television assignment editor/reporter and daily newspaper reporter covering the courts and police beats. (more…)

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  • Hashtags every writer needs to know

  • How do you find readers on Twitter? People who read Twitter like a newspaper find the threads they’re interested in by searching on topics preceded by hashtags. That’s why writers need to ‘file’ their tweets by adding hashtags to their messages. Otherwise, writers risk tweeting into the abyss.

    Here are hundreds of hashtags that will fly your tweets beyond your followers to everyone reading about your topic on Twitter:


    #1K1H (write one thousand words in one hour)






    #AuthorLife (more…)

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  • Author Interview: William P. Wood

  •  by Mary Yuhas

    William P. Wood on turning books into movies, catching lightning in a bottle, and working with his father

    bill wood public radioWilliam P. Wood is the author of nine novels and one nonfiction book. His work in the District Attorney’s Office inspired him to pen an array of acclaimed legal thrillers.

    Many of his books have been translated into multiple languages and optioned for motion pictures, two of which were produced. Wood’s latest release is, Sudden Impact. He currently lives in Sacramento, California, where he is working on his next novel.

    LitVote: Do you write about the cases that most disturbed you?

    Sudden Impact
    Bill: I don’t. People, situations, strange facts mix together and the combination turns into a story. The characters, their hopes and fears and ambitions and escapades are what matter.

    LitVote: Your book, Rampage, was optioned and made into a film. Court of Honor was made into a TV movie, Broken Trust on TNT.  Can you explain the process once a producer expresses interest in adapting a book into a film?

    Bill: I was lucky. Both of those books became movies quickly. Other books were optioned, had screenplays written, and shopped around and nothing happened. Turning books into movies, especially today, is like catching lightning in a bottle. The basic straightline process, which rarely happens, is that the book is optioned, a screenwriter and or talent, like actors, like the idea, and folks come up with the money to film. But it is an eccentric process.

    LitVote: Were you happy with the adaptations?

    Bill: Very much so. Rampage had one of the world’s most talented and visionary directors, William Friedkin turn it into a striking film. He was incredibly gracious and generous throughout the shooting, editing and later events associated with Rampage. The cast was superb too, starting with Michael Biehn. Likewise, Broken Trust was a terrific film. Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne are not only superb writers but extraordinary screenwriters, which is very different process. Tom Selleck turned in a profound, layered performance in the lead with Marsha Mason and Elizabeth McGovern giving the whole enterprise depth, suspense, and drama.

    LiteVote: How long does it take you to write a book?

    Bill: Pick any time. I’ve written novels in forty-five days and my one nonfiction book, The Bone Garden about female serial killer Dorothea Puente took nearly four years. On average a novel, from first to last draft, takes about eight months.

    LitVote: You also were a co-writer for several episodes of the CBS-TV series “Kaz” starring Ron Liebman (a former car thief-turned-criminal attorney Martin “Kaz” Kazinsky.) What was that like?

    Bill: Wonderful. Frustrating. Fun. One episode starred the great late character actor Eugene Roche as a judge going crazy during a trial. He was astonishing. But as the series went on, there were more people trying to shoehorn ideas into scripts and things got very cumbersome. My late father, Preston Wood, and I wrote three episodes together, based on my experiences as a deputy DA like my novels, and working him was one of the proudest and most satisfying experiences of my life. He wrote for almost every major TV show, “Adam-12”, “Addams Family”, “Emergency!”, “Bonanza” for example.

    LitVote: What is the single most important thing an author can do to improve his or her writing?

    Bill: Read a lot. First last and always. Rewrite. Okay, that’s two things.

    LitVote: Any tips for first-time writers?

    Bill: Write because you enjoy it. Write because you have something to say. Don’t worry about anything else.

    LiteVote: What’s next for you?

    Bill: A movie version of my latest novel, Sudden Impact, I hope. And finishing a new novel.



    Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, featured tree times on Scribd.

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  • Environment, Ethics, and ‘Endgame?’ — How do we approach Cli-fi writing?

  • by Charles Degelman

    As writers hell-bent on creating a new and vital fiction genre, cli-fi (climate fiction), we’re probably aware how research via scientific thinking and and information can support and enrich our fictional world-building. But how what about the scope, scale, approach and desired outcomes of cli-fi creation? 

    Sea level, Nat'l Geo

    Do we reflect our faith in the ingenuity and good intentions of homo sapiens? Do we point the finger at ourselves as Walt Kelly (Pogo) did on the first Earth Day (1970) —”We have met the enemy,” he wrote, “and they are us”? Or do we accept the inevitable and write to the prospects and percentages of planetary collapse?

    What is eco-etiquette and how does it apply to or optimism, or pessimism, objectivity, ethical responsibilities and creativity as cli-fi writers? — all questions worth considering as fiction writers and all questions raised by scientists and scholars of our planet’s trajectory past, present, and future.

    Many of us have discussed public response to dystopian, disaster-oriented cli-fi in terms of its potential to desensitize, guilt-trip, or fulfill self-destructive fantasies. Okay. But what are non-fiction climatologists and environmental prospectors thinking? And can they give us any helpful clues as to how to approach our work as novelists?

    The essay, “Endgame?” just appeared in “The Nation,” the United States’ oldest running (and most consistently progressive) periodical. “Endgame?”, written by an urban affairs activist named Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, is actually a survey of current non-fiction writing and thinking on climate change and the ongoing speculation about potential climate disaster.

    “Endgame?” asks many of the questions we do about the impact of our writing, various stances that enviro thinkers are taking, and introduces us to six books written across the spectrum of current thinking about… yes, the endgame — what leads up to it, what happens after. Rather than delve into the specifics of the six books, I urge you to read this informative and relevant multi-review of the way people are thinking about and writing on global warming.


    Charles Degelman is the award-winning author of A Bowl Full of Nails


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  • Excerpt of the Novel: Dark Lady of Hollywood


    by Diane Haithman

    pic of Diane


    Chapter 1


    Since nor the exterior nor th’ inward man

    Resembles that it was.

    — King Claudius, Hamlet


    Dark Lady of Hollywood

    “See, here’s the thing, Kenny . . .”

    I’d forgotten how my immediate supervisor, Danny Gordon, never really shook hands. He’d just put his in yours and leave it there, like a small, limp package waiting for UPS. We’d been holding hands like this ever since he walked into my office to welcome me back. Sweet.

    “The thing?”

    “The . . . thing.” Dan nodded then fell silent. I decided it was up to me to end the non-handshake and gentlly disengaged myself from it. Dan still said nothing. The pause was clammier than his hand. “Say whatever the fuck it is you have to say, Dan,” I suggested pleasantly.

    Danny winced; he tended to take profanity very personally. His small brown eyes had been fixed on the floor. Now, as he looked up, they darted every which way behind the narrow glasses — furtive weasel eyes trying to escape from his desperately hip green rectangular frames, from his head, from my office. From me. (more…)

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  • What a Glorious Day

  • by Keith Raffel
    A Fine and Dangerous Season
    Sometimes good things do happen to us writers. In September an editor from Amazon Publishing got in touch. She wanted to buy rights to A Fine and Dangerous Season, the Cuban Missile Crisis thriller I’d published as an ebook on my own last year.
    Amazingly, six weeks later — today! — the book is out in a re-edited version with a new cover in both ebook and trade paper editions.
    Here in Palo Alto, it’s bright and sunny and in the high 60s.
    What a glorious day!
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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    All at Once

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.” (more…)

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  • The Business of Mass Incarceration

  • Chris Hedges holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. His recent book is Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

     By Chris Hedges

    This article first appeared in TruthDig

    Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside.


    The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.

    * * *
    The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system…[more]

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  • Spotlight on the Alternative Justice System

  • There is a higher probability of doing time in the ‘land of the free’ than in any other country.

    On its way to becoming a prison state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the U.S. seized the center stage again when it provoked the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.


    Wall Street Journal reporter and author Jess Bravin (HC ’87) highlights some of the differences between U.S. prisons and Guantanamo and discusses where to try suspected terrorists in this exclusive author interview.


    Jess: There’s one tremendous difference. In U.S. prisons, people are there because they have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a term of years or life. At Guantanamo, as we know, almost no one there has actually been convicted of anything. They’re being held preventatively.

    LitVote: Can you tell me how many are in there for no reason at all?

    Jess: Sure. Well, right now there are about 166 men still held at Guantanamo Bay. Congress has imposed a lot of restrictions preventing the president from transferring people out of Guantanamo, and the United States is having difficulty finding places to send them since it won’t accept them on its own soil, so it has to try to negotiate or persuade or pay other countries to take them. Most of the prisoners cleared for release are from Yemen, and U.S. authorities believe the environment in Yemen is too unstable and risky for these men. Other detainees, such as the Uighur Muslims from China, are at risk of persecution if repatriated to their home countries. And the US Congress has imposed restrictions on the president’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo.

    LitVote: How come they’re all men? US prisons are 92 percent men and 8 percent women.

    Jess: … there don’t seem to be a lot of women who were involved in very high levels or involved in organizing terrorist acts or taking up arms who were fingered in this way.

    LitVote: What about the people in the orange suits with the bags over their heads?

    Jess: I did see in January of 2002 a military transport plane that was offloaded with detainees coming off, and they had those famous orange jumpsuits, and they were handcuffed and they had on blackout goggles and earmuffs and facemasks and gloves, basically to deprive them of most of their senses. I did not see any abuse, and my visits there have been many, but my visits at Guantanamo have all been under military escort, so I can’t see anything that they don’t choose to let me see when I’m there.

    LitVote: When do you expect it to be shut down entirely?

    Jess: Well, I have no information on that. The president said he was going to do it when he ran for office the first time in 2008. They recently reassigned the State Department official whose job was finding new homes for the detainees. I suppose the questions is whether President Obama wants to leave off in four years having accomplished that campaign promise from 2008 or having it be one of the things that is a mark on his report card as incomplete. (more…)

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Recent Articles:

Everything you wanted to know about Downton Abbey

By Mary Thurman Yuhas

PR shots 2014 www.sarahweal.com

Jessica Fellowes

Jessica Fellowes is an author, journalist and public speaker. Formerly a celebrity interviewer at the Mail on Sunday and deputy editor of Country Life magazine, she has written seven books as well as touring with her lectures on Downton Abbey from Cheltenham to California.

LitVote: Sadly for many of us, the upcoming season of Downton Abbey is the last one. It has enjoyed an incredible estimated viewership of 300 million worldwide. The next series, The Gilded Age, takes place in the 1880s in the U.S. and showcases families such as the Vanderbilt’s. Will you be co-writing it with your uncle, Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey?

Jessica: No! I have nothing to do with Julian’s script writing at all, and in fact he always writes alone – he’s extremely unusual in not leading a team of writers for Downton Abbey. However, I adore the era he is writing about for The Gilded Age, so if there was an opportunity for me to explore the series in the same way that I have done for Downton Abbey, I would jump at it.

LitVote: Why did your uncle choose to write about Americans for the next series?

Jessica: You’d have to ask him to find out but I imagine it was a combination of NBC (who have commissioned the pilot) wanting a show based in the U.S. and Julian wanting to explore that territory. It’s ripe for a series – the building of New York, the rich families, the cowboys, the British aristocracy marrying into them…I can’t wait!

LitVote: Some of the lines in Downton Abbey have become iconic. One of the most memorable was Maggie Smith’s character, Violet Crowley, the Dowager Countess, when she said, “What’s a weekend?” Your uncle, Sir Julian Fellowes, grew up in an aristocratic household. Is Downton Abbey somewhat of a memoir for him?

Jessica: No. He – and my father, as well as their four brothers – were the children of a ‘mixed’ marriage in that their father was from an aristocratic background, though he was the poorer relation, and their mother was middle-class stock. She suffered terribly at the hands of her husband’s snobbish aunts, and Julian has drawn a lot from those stories for the show. His was a comfortable, enjoyable childhood but not of Downton ilk.

LitVote: Why do you think that people from all over the world fell in love with the characters?

Jessica: I think for a start there is a wide range of them, so whoever you are, you should find at least one to relate to, or recognise or even just like to hate! Plus the master/servant relationship is at the centre of so many classic dramas – even without having servants or being one, we’re all familiar with the workplace environment and certainly with families.

LitVote: Did you or your uncle expect such a positive response to the show?

Jessica: He was certainly hopeful and very excited about it but we couldn’t have possibly anticipated the extraordinary phenomenon that it became!

LitVote: The scenes in the bedrooms and kitchen are all shot on a set. Only the living areas and dining room are filmed in Highclere Castle [this is the real-life name for Downton Abbey.] What are some of the other fun facts that most viewers probably don’t know?

Jessica: The funny consequence of the two sets – which are about 50 miles apart – means that they have to film in blocks of two or three weeks. So when a footman leaves the kitchen with a plate of food, he doesn’t emerge in the dining room until a fortnight later!

LitVote: You’ve written three beautiful companion books with photographs about the show and characters. Is Highclere Castle as beautiful as it photographs?

Jessica: I’ve now written a fourth companion book – out Nov 10 – ‘Downton Abbey: A Celebration’, with even more beautiful photographs! The house in which the show is filmed is certainly handsome and impressive – the architecture is one of Victorian confidence, which is what Julian and the producers specifically wanted. Inside, the Great Hall, library and dining room are all in real life as you see them on the screen. But I think the beauty we associate with ‘Downton Abbey’ the show comes from the brilliant technical and creative achievements of the art department, costume designer, lighting cameraman, good-looking actors….

LitVote: The costumes are magnificent. What happens to them when the show ends?

Jessica: Initially, some were made, some were bought and many were hired – so they were returned to the hire companies. Cosprop lent a great many of the costumes and together with Carnival (who make the show), they have staged a marvellous costume exhibition that is currently touring the USA (dressingdownton.com). The later series, under the hand of costume designer Anna Scott Mary Robbins, hire very little but buy in or design and make their own costumes – they are, of course, an asset now, because of the success of the show. They are carefully stored – beaded dresses, for example, cannot be hung or the beads will pull the material they are sown on – and I hope there will be more exhibitions!

LitVote: Now that you and your uncle have five years experience writing and filming a period piece, is there anything that you will avoid or add in the upcoming series?

Jessica: Again – I only write the companion books, not the show! But I have read the scripts for the final season and I can promise you that it will not disappoint. They are going out on a very high note.

LitVote: What do you see in your future?

Jessica: I hope to be lucky enough to continue to work as a writer, both non-fiction and fiction, and enjoy many happy days with my family.

*      *     *

Mary Yuhas, is a journalist and has contributed to Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, China Daily USA and Washington Times among others, creator of Baby Boomers the first reality blog and the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother,  featured three times on Scribd.

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The Goliards

A story by Brian Sloan, Author of Double Crossed: The Imperium Impunged

Nearly one thousand years ago, a loosely knit band of student clerics, collectively known as the Goliards, roamed what are now regions of England, France, and Germany. They were a lively, sinful bunch despite their priest-in-training status. Most historians see eye to eye on the fact that they were vagabonds; though, few have made the logical conclusion that they were on the run. Heresy, in those days (and for centuries beyond) was punishable by a tortuous death, usually of the burning at the stake variety—and sadly, much to the delight of the public.

Some historians have viewed the Goliards as the most scholarly of the time, while others have labeled them drunks.   Scribed history must be especially viewed with a skeptical mind. Skewing the truth of the day’s events isn’t just a recent phenomenon of this digital age (CNN v. Fox), but an effective tactic since the beginning of time for those who have sought influence and power.

Works of art, however, have survived in a more pure state over time and while masterpieces have been commissioned with the intent to influence, art has, and always be, subjectively interpreted. In the early 19th century in what is now, Germany, a collection of poetry, short stories, and music was discovered that has been attributed to the merry Goliards. Most of the collection takes direct aim at their employer, the Roman Catholic Church.

The Carmina Burana would likely remain unheard of except for German composer, Carl Orff, who in the early 20th Century scored the cantata which too is titled the Carmina Burana. Cue Fortuna Plango Vulnera, the 2nd movement from his opus magnum, and most will rightfully claim they’ve never heard it. Cue the first movement, Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi, and nearly all who have watched commercials or movies will recognize this piece instantaneously. Not many could sing along, and fewer yet can comprehend the lyrics, but it’s seemingly loved just the same.

In writing Double-Crossed: The Imperium Impugned, I borrowed the translated lyrics from the first movement to frame the outline for this novel.   My intent was to create an intriguing story in the most beautiful place, with the most beautiful people, marred by the ugly truth. It’s a story about how quickly life changes and the importance of exploiting each and every moment. And like the Goliards, I placed anagram and acronym clues to answer the readers’ questions as they arise in the story. Can you make an anagram from Goliards?


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Faggot: An Appalachian Tale, Surviving Bullying
Frank E. Billingsley
Book Launch at Serendip Spa
Place Stephanie, Brussels, Belgium

by Frank E. Billingsley, PhD

As an American expat author in the capital of Europe, I launched my new novel, Faggot: An Appalachian Tale, Surviving Bullying, at Serendip Spa in Brussels Belgium. The owner of this award-winning spa, Melissa Rancourt, offered me the opportunity to be the first author to host the newly created “Wine and Books” evening. I was incredibly flattered to be the author to initiate the event. As the day of the event grew closer, I could feel myself becoming more and more nervous. What if no one wanted to come meet the author a controversial book?

crowdOn July 3rd, the event commenced, and I was a little more than nervous. But, as the familiar and unfamiliar faces started to appear, the room slowly became more crowded, and I could feel myself becoming more at ease. The event was a wonderful experience for a new author: the genuine compliments, and wishes of congratulations filled the warm summer evening’s air.

FrankSigningI am overall honored and humbled to have had such a wonderful turnout. Serendip was the perfect venue to discuss the book, and why the story was important for me to tell. The discussions led to great debates about words that have touched us all for the better and for worse. The venue offered a safe place to discuss those words, and how they have left a mark on our lives. And, further, it helped toward realizing how the words have molded our characters and made us the individuals we are today. Overall, what a great experience, which has led to the next book signing event on July 29th at the Book Loft of German Village, Columbus, Ohio.

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Haw puts a new spin on dystopia

Interview via eco-fiction.com

June 19, 2015 – Author Sean Jackson’s Haw was just launched today.

Haw is the gripping story of a father’s struggle to save his son from a corrupt society in a pitiless, bleak, futuristic America. Sean Jackson has published numerous short stories in literary journals, from the U.S. to Canada and Australia. Haw is his debut novel. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He lives in Cary with his wife and two sons. I want to warmly welcome Sean and thank him for speaking with Eco-fiction.

Mary: Your novel, Haw, takes place in a future world where climate change and related problems have degraded the planet, yet reportedly your book offers some hope. Do you think that literature can effect social moods and ideals–and, if so, do you think dystopian views or hope is the better motivator (or a combination of both)?

Sean: Literature has a dramatic effect upon the way we think, socially and politically. It’s just a matter of whether writers want to address these larger issues. I understand the desire to write for a larger audience, but I’ve always felt that if you’re not bringing something new to the table, if you’re not agreeing to a dare of some kind, then you are probably cheating yourself. When I was younger I felt that the only worthwhile writing was found in the books and stories about change and revolution, like in Dostoevsky or Sartre or Ibsen. I’m lucky in that I still feel this way.

Dystopian literature has been around a long time. It’s in the religious scriptures, and you can find it in Homer. I’ve been a big fan of Richard Bach for years. He writes both very simply and very mystically about our stations in life. Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy take darker views into human nature. I tried to put some of both in Haw. The story just didn’t seem to work without keeping the compelling and unbreakable nature of love intact.

Mary: They say that a story, first and foremost, is what draws a reader. Your novel has been described as humorous, brilliant, and moving. Please describe what’s going on in your novel at a pure and essential story level.

Sean: Unchecked power corrupts and destroys. That’s the nut graph. Expanding out from there, I explore the possibility that future generations could become even lazier with holding their governments accountable. You cede more power to a ruling entity, it only craves more power. It’s a vampire-and-host relationship. The people become weaker, the rulers grow stronger. Scarce resources cause white populations to systematically destroy dark-skinned people. None of this sounds very humorous, but I assure you that some comic relief is sprinkled throughout; otherwise it would get too grim. And sometimes dark comedy works best. Hopeless people can be funny. It’s often their only way to survive. Unfortunately, violence is the only remedy to the problems of the future landscape in Haw. I think we’ve seen that in America recently in places like Ferguson and Baltimore.

Mary: There is an LGBT element to your story as well, something that is unique (so far) in the flood of novels coming out about climate change.

Sean: Across the country, there is what feels like a war against the LGBT community, simply because they have sought equality. It’s a repeated cycle, with the suffragettes, then the Civil Rights marches, and now the rainbow flags are the battle flags for many people. It’s a taboo that many writers want to shrink away from if they are seeking a mainstream audience. I have a transgender daughter and I noticed over the years that if I referenced a work that featured homosexual characters, it was often written by a lesser-known writer such as Jean Genet or John Rechy. People were saying, by omission, that gay people did not belong in novels. So I created gay characters that are a part of the setting just like they are in real life. It’s weird that this hasn’t been done before.

Mary: I’m glad that you are not being exclusive. Mitch Cullin (Tideland, A Slight Trick of the Mind) described your novel as a potentially seminal work in contemporary American fiction and likens your novel to Brave New World. What are some of the similarities?

Sean: I hope Mitch is right. The book takes a straight-on look into a potentially bleak future, unless we can rein in these people who think the Earth is invulnerable and that minorities are disposable. How long can we keep this up? I think Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are more relevant than ever before, more so than even the Cold War era when nuclear war was the looming disaster. I think it’s been a while since widely read American authors have tackled social issues.

And there is a genetic issue similar to Brave New World, only darker: some people aren’t bred to be more perfect but rather more imperfect. Populations of dark-skinned people (the citoyens) are fed into systems of poor nutrition and economic hopelessness so that the white society exists in a matrix of plenty.

And there is a trip into the American West that could remind a reader of Huxley’s novel. Brave New World showed the dangers of utopian society, and I feel Haw depicts an even more extreme and imminent threat, of having wealth-inequality force the majority of people into deprivation so that the depleted natural resources can sustain and nourish a select few.

Mary: You’ve published in several literary journals thus far. What kinds of works have you published before, and are you working on anything else at the moment?

Sean: Short stories written in the literary fiction vein, quite different from Haw. I’m trying to finish and revise a couple of stories currently being published in journals so that I can put together a collection. I want these stories to reflect the struggles that poor, young families and strong women encounter in the modern world. I’m not sure if they’ve “gotten there” yet. But I’d like to get a book of stories published next year. We’ll see.

And I am toying with the idea of writing a sequel to Haw.

Mary: I will be looking forward to it! I’ve been asking all the authors I interview: who were your greatest inspirations (authors) when growing up?

Sean: I’m from North Carolina, so Thomas Wolfe is near the top of that list. The old standards, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Raymond Carver, Hemingway, and Willa Cather, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, are there. And I read a lot of French authors after high school. I wanted to teach French lit after college, so I read Gide, Camus, Hugo, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Collette and the great Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Mary: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Eco-fiction.com. I’m looking forward to Haw!

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By Bradette Michel, author, For Their Own Good

The idea to write my novel, For Their Own Good came after I attempted to confirm a family rumor that my grandmother had been committed to the mental hospital in Jacksonville, about sixty miles from her home. Modern privacy legislation prevented my access to her treatment records, but I did gain information about the history of the asylum and a woman who was locked up in the hospital long before my grandmother’s time—Elizabeth Packard.

In 1860 Mrs. Packard was committed to the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville, Illinois for disagreeing with her husband’s religious beliefs. I was stunned by her fate, but sadly found she was not alone. Many nineteenth century patients were locked in this institution and others like it for reasons that had more to do with the needs of their families than any mental aberrations. Deemed unfit to live in their communities, these outcasts were rejected by society, often lost custody of their children, and were deserted by spouses.


Mrs. Packard

Legally, Reverend Packard was not required to seek a court hearing before committing his wife. Instead, he enlisted the sheriff to bring her to the hospital by force. Naively, Mrs. Packard thought that since the hospital was experienced with the treatment of the insane, staff would recognize her as sane and refuse to admit her.

The institution’s superintendent, Dr. Andrew McFarland diagnosed Mrs. Packard’s illness as monomania, a condition in which the patient is sane in every way but one. Dr. McFarland concluded that Mrs. Packard’s insanity came from religious excitement. Only by agreeing with her husband’s theology, would she show evidence of being cured.

The Jacksonville hospital was one of many built across the country in the early nineteenth century through the efforts of social reformer Dorothea Dix. Dix convinced Illinois state legislators that asylums were the best way to cure the mentally ill. The Illinois State Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville, Illinois, admitted its first patient in 1851.


Like many other asylums built across the country at that time, the Jacksonville hospital was designed by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride and other medical professionals believed that locating these hospitals in rural areas with landscaped grounds and farmland stimulated and calmed patients’ minds, as well as reduced costs by providing food products and livestock for the facility. Large and multi-storied, these institutions were most likely the biggest structures country patients had ever seen.

Kirkbride Buildings were intended to facilitate a new method of the care for the mentally ill—moral treatment. Moral treatment advocated placement in the hospital, away from vaguely defined causes of insanity, where meaningful work and recreation regulated the mind, encouraged physical fitness, and fostered social skills. Recovery could only be achieved in the asylum under the Christian guidance of a strong superintendent who acted as a wise father to all in the facility.

Residents were classified according to gender and symptoms before they were placed into wards on either side of the administration building. The most disturbed patients lived on the lower floors, in wards far away from the civilized activities of the central offices. The better-behaved patients resided near the administrative center on the upper floors.

Moral treatment’s tenet that good behavior be rewarded motivated some, but also created an atmosphere of fear of placement in the worst wards for bad behavior. Those wards had windows as well, but the expected therapeutic views of the grounds were blocked by metal screens to deter escape.

Mrs. Packard continued to defy Dr. McFarland’s instructions and refused to accept her husband’s beliefs. As a result, she was moved from a ward near the administration building to Jacksonville’s infamous Ward Eight, which housed the most disturbed residents. Mrs. Packard worked diligently to improve the filthy conditions she found there, while keeping a strict personal schedule to maintain her own sanity.

The implementation of moral treatment soon proved to be anything but simple. Patients did not always respond positively to the so-called healthy environment provided by the hospital. Staff returned to the use of restraints like the holding chair, opium, and punishing cold baths—old practices that Dix had found shocking. Even traditional medical practices, such as bleeding and blistering were revived. It became difficult to tell the difference between the use of these methods as treatment and their use as punishment for what staff deemed sinful behavior.


Holding Chair

Because of the ease of commitments and the lack of any standardized definition of mental illness, the asylums quickly became dumping grounds for what society deemed as misfits, who were forced to live with truly dangerous residents. The total control of staff and confusion over appropriate therapeutic interventions created an environment ripe for mistreatment of patients.

Asylum superintendents adamantly defended the hospitals, establishing the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII), forerunner of the American Psychiatric Association. As heads of these institutions they had attained secure and well-paid employment. Their families lived in spacious, well-appointed living quarters in administration buildings, complete with attendants to serve their needs.

RBased on absolutely no research on best practices for the treatment of the mentally ill, but utterly convinced of their own expertise, superintendents maintained support from power brokers and the public—for a time. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the system began to crumble. Crowding, expensive operating costs, and no evidence of the effectiveness of moral treatment made it difficult for politicians to justify funding the asylums. Reports of abuse and unsanitary conditions within the walls sped up the hospitals’ demise.

Mrs. Packard contributed to the system’s downfall as well. In spite of Dr. McFarland’s refusal to provide her writing paper, she acquired writing materials surreptitiously and wrote almost continuously about the asylum’s mistreatment of patients, and how many women were locked up as a result of their husbands’ selfish purposes. After her release, she published her writings and lobbied state legislatures across the country to enact laws requiring a trial before commitment. In spite of the objections of the AMSAII, Illinois and other states passed such legislation.

Interestingly enough, Mrs. Packard’s release did not lessen her impact on Reverend Packard and Dr. McFarland. They followed her to several states, testifying before state legislatures that her opinions were the ranting of an insane woman.

Mrs. Packard’s story inspired me to write For Their Own Good, but my challenges as a twenty-first century woman do not compare to her struggles against persecution. The agents of nineteenth century society attempted to break her, but in the end, as with all trailblazers, attempts to contain Mrs. Packard only made her stronger.


Carlisle, Linda V. Elizabeth Packard, A Noble Fight, University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Packard, Elizabeth, The Prisoners’ Hidden Life Or Insane Asylums Unveiled (1868) Kessinger Publishing, LLC (February 21, 2008).

Sapinsley, Barbara, The Private War of Mrs. Packard, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House Books, 1991.






Bradette Michel small

Bradette Michel served as a counselor and teacher in locked institutions. She has degrees in psychology and human development counseling. A published non-fiction author of Supervising Young Offenders, she has authored several online courses.  For Their Own Good won second prize in the Florida Writers Association’s 2013 Royal Palm Literary Awards historical fiction category. She and her husband live in south Florida.

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Nature’s Confession Receives Hon. Mention at NY Book Festival

The epic tale of two teens in a fight to save a warming planet, the universe . . . and their love, received an Honorable Mention at the 2015 New York Book Festival. The panel of judges determined the winners based on the story-telling ability of the author and the potential of the work to win wider recognition.

Via The Guardian:

Nature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.”

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Charles Degelman’s A BOWL FULL OF NAILS wins a bronze medal




A bowl full of bronze nails for Charles Degelman: his new novel won a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards. The “IPPYs” are intended to bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent and university titles published each year.

Shedding Skin: A Writing Professor Bares His Alter Ego

Charles Degelman teaches dramatic and narrative writing at California State University, but he’s spent most of his life outside academia. As a student at Harvard, Degelman and many of his peers became aware that America’s universities had become land-grabbing, ivory-towered, defense-research factories while outside their ivy-covered walls, there was a war to stop.

In this brief interview — produced and directed by Daly, a student in the university’s Television, Film and Media Studies program — Degelman drops his role as writing teacher to speak about coming of age in the 1960s and his participation in the resistance movements artistic collectives and communes, and the counterculture that arose— in the words of Bertolt Brecht — from those who practice their art “under the regime of bourgeois liberty.”

Charles stepped away from academia, determined to change the world through theater, music, and fiction. “It was a tough job,” he laughingly recalls, “but somebody had to do it.” He left campus life to pursue an anti-career as political activist, actor, musician, writer, carpenter, gypsy trucker, and utopian anarchist.

Years later, Degelman returned to university life, hoping to pass on what he had learned about resistance and the power of art as a tool for social change. In every class, a handful of students took notice and began to ask questions that lay beyond the purview of diction, grammar, and syntax. Cal State University’s Mathew Daly was one of those curious students.

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Writers of the Future Award Ceremony 2015

“A culture is as rich
and capable of surviving
as it has imaginative artists.”

— L. Ron Hubbard

Thus began a talent search for the best creative imaginations in the world—the storytellers, the artists, the entertainers, the visionaries. Two contests that changed the future of science fiction and fantasy:

L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future and Illustrators of the Future.

Each year, twelve writers and twelve illustrators are selected by a panel of the biggest-name authors and the biggest-name artists in the field. They will be the stars of tomorrow. (read more)

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Interview with Kyla Bennett, No Worse Sin

Women Working in Nature and the Arts


via eco-fiction.com

Mary Woodbury at Eco-fiction talks with Kyla Bennet, an environmentalist and novelist, with a PhD in ecology and a law background.

Mary: Thanks so much for agreeing to have this interview, Kyla.

Kyla is the author of No Worse Sin, a YA title coming out on May 15, 2015.

Mary: I wanted to start out with your professional career to date. You work for a non-profit and volunteer for a state park. In both these positions you act as a steward for the environment. What are your favorite work experiences, and how did your studies lead to your fiction writing?

Kyla: My favorite part about all of the jobs I have had is that they sometimes–although not always–lead to saving a habitat or population of animals. There is something really emotionally satisfying about being able to look at a wild animal or a wilderness place and thinking, “This is going to survive because of the work we did to save it.” It’s giving a voice to the animals and places that could not speak for themselves. I also really enjoy my volunteer work giving nature walks in the state park. A few weeks ago, we took people out at night to look at vernal pools. When we brought a spotted salamander out to show to the group, a 4-year old boy was so wide-eyed with wonder…you could tell that not only was he fascinated with the salamander, but that he cared about it. Being able to teach people about animals and the threats they face is so important.

Both of these things–saving animals and their habitats, and teaching people about animals–influencedNo Worse Sin. I wanted to write a young adult novel that was romantic and exciting enough to capture teens’ attention and that would also teach them how important the earth and all its inhabitants are.

Mary: That sense of wonder in children is so amazing. I’m glad that you got to experience such delight. Is this your first novel?

Kyla: Yes, it is my first novel!

Mary: No Worse Sin is set in the future, addresses climate change, and involves a romance in the brewing. This mix sounds a little intoxicating, in a good way. One of your main characters is a skeptic when it comes to climate change. I think it’s important to add in such a perspective in order to show how redemption is possible–but I’m just guessing! What can you tell us about your novel so far?

Kyla: There is a lot of skepticism in No Worse Sin, some of it valid and some of it invalid. Laena, my female protagonist, believes in climate change, but she has difficulty accepting that it is going happen as quickly and be as devastating as Cree tells her. I understand that it is really hard to be concerned about something that you can’t immediately see. But in the book, I force Laena to open her eyes and believe the evidence in front of her, no matter how disturbing it is. And I’m hoping that this will open the readers’ eyes as well.

Mary: Your press release describes part of the focus of the novel as science vs. faith. Can you expand on this?

Kyla: I think this aspect of No Worse Sin might become the most contentious part of my book. In my dealings with climate change skeptics, one of the most common arguments I hear is that humans cannot possible change the climate, as only God has the power to do something this drastic. And when I listen to some U.S. Congressmen, I hear the same argument. Believing that humans cannot change the climate, or that a superior force will fix the problems we have wrought, delays implementation of possible solutions. This is very scary to me, and I wanted my readers to understand that we have to actnow. So, both Laena and Cree are atheists, two teens who accept science and the frightening fact that humans are changing the climate. They believe we are in grave danger. However, several of Laena’s classmates (and a violent acquaintance of Cree’s) all believe that if climate change is happening, it is God’s will. By doing this, I have pitted science against faith. I am hoping that readers will believe what Cree knows to be fact, and understand that as a species, humans do have the unfortunate power to destroy the planet. If they can understand this, maybe they will force the change that we need.

Mary: How did you decide to write for the young adult audience rather than, say, an adult audience?

Kyla: Several years ago, my then-teenage daughter was reading the vampire series du jour. She couldn’t put the books down. I decided to read one of them to see why all the kids loved these books so much. When I finished, I thought what a shame it was that this book had captured the hearts of millions of kids’ imaginations, but didn’t make them care about real problems!  I wondered if it was possible to write a book that captivated teenagers, but also taught them about environmental issues that would become critical problems in just a few short years–problems they themselves would have to deal with. I think if we’re going to make any headway with huge issues such as climate change, water pollution, and habitat destruction, we must make the children of today understand and care.

Mary: I think it’s true that children and teenagers, who will inherit our messes, will have to squarely deal with climate change more than we are–and it’s a sad thought to me. I wondered if you have gotten any early feedback from the young adult crowd about this novel–or other work you have done?

Kyla: I have given an advance copy of the book to a lot of my daughter’s friends and to teenage children of my friends. So far, they seem to enjoy the book! And several of the girls have fallen in love with Cree, the male protagonist, which is not surprising. He is pretty cute.

Mary: Romance is a good angle for telling the story! How did your work in the field of science prepare or inspire you to pen this novel?

Kyla: People always tell you that you should write what you know, and that’s what I tried to do here.No Worse Sin has sub-themes about the endangered right whale getting entangled in fishing lines, pharmaceutical pollution in our waters, and climate change–all problems that I have learned about in my training, and worked on for my jobs! So, my work in science definitely inspired me and helped me write this novel.

Mary: I ask this of a lot of authors: who were some of your favorite authors when growing up?

Kyla: This is an easy one! I was (and still am) an avid reader. I loved Richard Adams (Watership Down), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), all of the Jim Kjelgaard books, William Golding (The Inheritors), and Agatha Christie mysteries.

Mary: All great books and authors. Is there anything else you would like to cover here?

Kyla: I’m really happy that cli-fi and other eco-fiction is becoming a thing, especially for young adults. As Baba Dioum said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” I love the idea of reaching children and young adults through books. I am so grateful to my publisher Harvard Square Editions, which actively seek books with social and political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change and conservation. If we can move our children to care, then there is hope for the future.

Mary: Wonderful thoughts to end our interview on, Kyla. Thanks again for this discussion, and I hope your book does well!

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Twenty Grand: A Love Story

Released April 21, 2015, Twenty Grand, A Love Story, written in the style of a contemporary noir, is a riveting tale of blackmail, desire and betrayal, loss and hope. The intense narrative keeps a firm grip on the reader’s attention, while the flawed, desperate characters evoke respect, sympathy, even horror in a singular tale of love and justice.

“Twenty-Grand, A Love Story is a novel that pulls you in and won’t let you go. The fate of the characters will break your heart as they do the best they can with all they have. In the end, their success will lift you up.” —Lyman McLallen, Professor of English, Hankuk University, Seoul, Korea

“McLellan writes compelling characters with real struggles and dark secrets, weaving them into a story that keeps you guessing and stays with you beyond the final page.” —Stacey Wiedower, author of Thirty First Dates

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What are the best eco books for children and teens?

@EmilyDrabs, via The Guardian,


Authors including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Katherine Rundell plus teen site members share the books that made them think more deeply about climate change and environmental themes. Now share yours!

This week we’re celebrating the positive power of stories, all kinds of stories, to bring home what we risk losing on our beautiful planet – and what we can do about it. Here authors and children’s books site members share the books that made them think. We’ll be feeding this blog with more recommendations all week, so please share yours – and keep checking back.

Frank Cottrell Boyce (whose latest book is the remarkably green The Astounding Broccoli Boy)

Frank Cottrell Boyce
First book of Saints

The book that made me realise that I was part of the environment was The Ladybird Book of Saints. On the cover was this brilliant image of St Francis releasing the caged birds he had he had bought in the market. For ages afterwards I would go into pet shops and zoos and itch to unlock the doors. In fact there are “freeing the animals” scenes in at least two of my books. There are so many environmental messages about how horrible humans are wrecking the planet – that’s obviously true in a way but this image made me feel that I belonged in the World too and that I could cherish and love it.

The Promise

David Almond, author of Skellig

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. It’s beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book. It shows a troubled darkened world being recreated by the human need for greenery, life and colour.

Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel that is very much concerned with the damage humans are inflicting upon the environment and the possible catastrophic results that could have. Written in 2003, many plot points now seem eerily prescient and it makes for a disturbing, powerful read. Highly recommended for older teenagers.

Site member, Patrick

Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is true to its name in that it’s a supremely funny YA novel, and one that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real environmental streak running through all of Hiaasen’s works and Hoot is no exception, it deals with a Florida teen who bands together with a couple of new friends to stop the destruction of a burrowing owl colony. It’s a lot of fun with a solid conservationist message at its core and an abundance of charm to boot.”

Under the weather

Candy Gourlay, author of Shine

Long ago I wrote a short story called How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle for Under the Weather, the climate change anthology edited by Tony Bradman. About a white sand beach losing its sand because the sea is heating up … the same hot oceans that later whipped up the murderous monster that was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Perhaps the all too real climate change disaster in the Philippines has made me partial to flood stories. My favorite is Not the End of the World, the lyrical resetting of Noah’s Ark as a Tsunami survival story by Geraldine McCaughrean.

Lottie Longshanks, site member

The wild series by Piers Torday. So far I have read The Last Wild and The Dark Wild. Kester has the unusual gift of communicating with animals and it is his mission to save the animals from red eye the disease that is slowly killing them. It is a really exciting story and you soon guess who the villains are Selwyn Stone and his lackeys who want to dictate the way that everyone lives. The amazing rubbish dump in the second book in the series really makes you think about the damage that we are doing to our planet. I can’t wait to read the third book in the series,The Wild Beyond.

The Last Wild

White Dolphin by Gill Lewis Set in the south West of England the exciting story tells of children who take on the might of a powerful fishing business to stop dredging in the harbour because of the damage it does to marine life. I also love Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. This incredibly moving story shows how deforestation leads to misery for the animals whose habitat was the forest. And finally here is a recommendation for small children I read it to my cousin who lives in Oman when he comes to visit us. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. Emily writes to Greenpeace to find out how to care for the whale that she thinks she has seen in her pond. Emily’s letters and the lovely replies she receives from Greenpeace will give little children a lot of information about whales. (Also see Lottie Longshank’s poem Our Precious world)

SF Said, author of Varjak Paw

I recommend Exodus by Julie Bertagna: a brilliantly prescient YA novel about climate change, set in a drowned future world. It’s full of unforgettable visions and characters, and it will stay with you forever!


ItWasLovelyReadingYou, site member

My book would be Breathe by Sarah Crossan. It made me think about how we take so many things for granted, such as oxygen. You can’t see it, we use it every day, without it we would not survive; yet many people do not really sit down and feel a sense of gratitude for these types of things, becuase we assume we deserve them, we see them as something that will never go away, we just accept it without question. Breathe really made me feel a sense of ‘imagine if we didn’t have oxygen, or we had limited supplies of it-”, it made me question my unconscious detachment from what keeps us alive, and really feel privelidged to have all of these necessities.


Photograph: PR

Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cosmic is a book that makes the world look like something worth protecting. It’s hilariously funny, and also wise – it makes its readers want desperately to go into space, but also to take care of the world while we’re on it. The Earth is, as one of the astronauts says, “some kind of lovely.” The Last Wild series by Piers Torday – these three spectacular books are about a world decimated by humans, and the possibility of that loss feels very real and urgent and frightening – and they’re also fantastic adventure stories, about bravery and animals and human capacity to do huge good as well as harm. And there’s a bossy talking cockroach.

Site Brahmachari, author of Kite Spirit and Artichoke Hearts

For me it has to be The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy by Gavin Maxwell. I fell in love with these books as a child because they are set on the West coast of Scotland – a place I love – where wildlife and nature are the biggest characters. It;s a humbling landscape. If you have a love of the outdoors and really want to study the nature of beautiful, playful otters… and can stand to have your heart broken …. you should read these stories. Although they were written 50 years ago they are as timeless as the shingle beaches they are set on. The author lived and breathed the paradise he went to live in… and so will you when you read these books… and afterwards you can watch the film (tissues at the ready!)

OrliTheBookWorm, site member

Breathe by Sarah Crossan is probably the book that’s impacted me the most in terms of the environment – it’s a dystopian novel, with people living in domes due to a lack of oxygen – the raw descriptions and harsh realities were wonderfully done and uttery thought provoking, and made me take a step away from my laptop and have a look outside my window…. It’s a brilliant book, which I guarantee will change your perspective on the environment around us.

Piers Torday, author of The Dark Wild trilogy

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann – the original classic tale of a group of British animals seeking refuge when their precious Farthing Wood is threatened by human development. They overcome incredible obstacles and danger to make it to a wildlife sanctuary. But reading it today there is an extra poignancy – some of the animals in the story, like the red-backed shrike, are now extinct, and others – like the adder, hare and voles – are all under threat.

BritishBiblioholic, site member

Watership Down by Richard Adams – When the rabbits in Watership Down are forced to leave their home, it is due to its impending destruction by humans. This potentially can be seen as an allegory for the ongoing destruction for the environment in general – and unlike the rabbits, if we don’t save our environment, we won’t be able to find somewhere else to live.

Tony Bradman, author of Anzac Boys

One of my favourite books about the environment is Oi! Get Off Our Train, a brilliant picture book by John Burningham. It’s about a boy who dreams he’s travelling around the world on his toy train, and each time he stops he picks up animals from species that are endangered because their habitat is being threatened or has been destroyed. Great pictures and the message is delivered with a lot of fun.

Sarah Crossan, author of Breathe

The Last Wild by Piers Torday – it’s rare for a cli-fi novel to be magical, engaging and affecting, but Torday achieves all of these things. Not only that, but each book in the trilogy gets better. He’s not a writer to watch but one we are already keenly watching.

Please share the book that made YOU think about the environment and climate change and we’ll add it to this blog. You can either email on childrens.books@theguardian.com with the heading “eco books” or tweet@GdnChildrensBks.

Your recommendations

Beatrice, on email

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin for fairly sophisticated young readers from about age 13. The indigenous social organization of the very green planet experiencing colonization therein was fascinating, and opens young minds up to understanding the profound disruptions experienced by, as well as the important teachings of native peoples everywhere. Also, The Owl Service by Alan Garner gave rise to surprising conversations with my 10 year-old about landscape, and the connections between culture, history and the environment, as well as the importance to humans of preserving those connections. For much younger children The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein can seem a little odd viewed from a conservationist perspective, but it inspired lovely conversations about nature and environmental stewardship (“us taking care of nature because nature takes care of us”) with my 4 year-old. Anything by Jean Craighead George.

Mary, curator, eco-fiction.com

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: The novel takes place in the future after climate change has ravished economies and ecologies, and made fresh water scarce. The main character, Noria, is a young woman learning the traditional, sacred tea master art from her father. Yet, water is rationed and scarce in her future world. Her family has a secret spring of water, and, as tea masters, she and her father act as the water’s guards, even though what they are doing is a crime according to their future world’s government, a crime strongly disciplined by the military.


9780989596077-PerfectNCupload7.inddNature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.


Tito intiro Chavaropana by Jessica Groenendijk: Tito intiro Chavaropana means ‘Tito and the Giant Otter’ in Matsigenka. The author, a biologist who has studied giant otters, is now working on a sequel, in which Tito sets off into the forest to hunt a spider monkey and meets a harpy eagle on the way. They become friends but not without a misunderstanding or two!
61cwBitpcAL._AA160_Spirit Bear by Jennifer Harrington: Spirit Bear celebrates a rare and iconic black bear that is born with a recessive gene that makes its coat creamy or white. Also called the Kermode bear, the spirit bear lives in the delicate, rich, and threatened ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Jennifer’s story is about the journey of a spirit bear cub that gets lost from his mother and has to find his way back.

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Routines of Famous Writers

via Podio.com

(via Podio.com)

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LitPick Interview: Sean Jackson

9781941861066-PerfectHAW.inddLitPick interviews the author of Haw, a Novel by Sean Jackson, for Six Minutes with an Author! While Haw is Sean’s debut novel, he has published numerous short stories in literary journals. He was an award-winning North Carolina Press Association journalist for Cox Newspapers in North Carolina for 12 years. Sean was also a 2011 Million Writers Award Nominee for his short story, ‘Not Even Jail’.

How did you get started writing?

I wrote a long story when I was twelve that was about sports and growing up. It was terrible, but when I got into high school I began writing poetry, which I continued into college. After college I picked up writing short fiction again, then spent twelve years writing news stories for newspapers. I didn’t write fiction when I was a journalist. There just wasn’t time. But it all goes back to that summer when I was twelve, when my parents bought a typewriter and I needed something to do.

Who influenced you?

Early influences were the typical H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. More recently I have been influenced by Raymond Carver and Annie Proulx. I wrote Haw while thinking about George Orwell and Albert Camus.

Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

My favorite book is William Faulkner’s Light in August, which also includes the closest thing to what I would consider my favorite character, Joe Christmas. I’m intrigued by the idea that he may be both the book’s villain and its protagonist.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Of course have an outline before you begin, but also edit as you go along. Continuously question what you’re putting into that first draft. And don’t be afraid to take chances that you think may make a reader uncomfortable. Your job is to surprise the reader, in addition to entertaining. So be bold.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Don’t tell my boss, but I love to write at work. The distractions are minimal and for whatever reason my mind is able to sharpen its focus onto what I’m typing. It’s hard to explain. I know William T. Vollmann has said he used to write at work when he was just starting out. Maybe it has to do with the boredom of working a desk job, but for me it just works.

What else would you like to tell us?

When I read Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I didn’t realize just how deeply their messages, their warnings about how society should heed its limits and responsibilities, had tunneled into me. But when I wrote Haw, it all came back to me. While I don’t think my book is rightly compared to their works, I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to read them and other conscientious writers when I was younger.

Sean’s social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hawnovel?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Haw_novel

Tumblr: http://hawanovelbyseanjackson.tumblr.com/

website: http://seanjacksonauthor.com/

Harvard Square Editions’ Haw page: http://harvardsquareeditions.org/portfolio-items/haw/

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdLJhnEp80Q

(Via LitPick)

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Virtual Writers Workshop, Sunday July 5th

Drum Circle 3

Virtual Writers Workshop at the Etopia Island drum circle

Join us live online for group readings and feedback at Etopia Island in Second Life.

Get writing for our monthly Sunday meeting of the Virtual Writers Workshop, bringing published authors together with writers for synergy and exchange at 12 p.m. Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific time.



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A Peculiar Journey

By Facundo Raganato, whose first novel The Author was released today, April 1, 2015

I humbly welcome you into this peculiar deepening journey where words are more than what they seem. Magic? Indeed.

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Erika Raskin at the Virginia Festival of the Book


By Erika Raskin

Last week I went to the Virginia Festival of the Book — as an author. Held over four spring days right in my beautiful hometown of Charlottesville, the annual event brings together writers and readers from all over the country in a non-stop celebration of the written word. Surrounded by others who share a love of story and cadence, attending is basically like getting to go to summer camp for English geeks.

In informal get-togethers and panel discussions I talked process and publishing, plots and characters. I met a poet who beta tested potential titles for her collection and I picked up tips about social media. Who knew the goal was to have exponentially more followers than followees – requiring an illusory reciprocity and then a ruthless culling of the herd?(Yuck.) With relief I also learned that book selling often comes down to word-of-mouth.

The festival panels ranged from politics to memoir, short stories to crime waves. I was included in one called “Perfectly Imperfect: Novelists on the Modern Family.” Or, as I like to think of this particular grouping of related individuals: The motherlode of fiction.

Sarah McConnell, the unflappable host of the public radio show With Good Reason, moderated — and was so excellent I pretty much forgot I was feeling slightly throw-uppy about facing an audience. (Actually, Sarah’s introductory remarks made me laugh so hard I came perilously close to spitting coffee out of my nose.) She set the tone for a really relaxed exchange between a roomful of book/Nook/Kindle worms and three writers addressing the vagaries of family life.

It was an honor to read alongside Martha Woodroof (Small Blessings) and Sonja Yoerg (Housebroken) at the local Barnes and Noble. Martha’s huge-hearted novel deals with a family on the threshold of tomorrow; Sonja (who holds a PhD in biological psychology) weaves the shadow of the past onto the next gen, and my own novel explores the ups and downs of muddling through.

It was a great afternoon.

If you have the chance to participate in a literary festival: Do it. There’s a reason why summer camp is so popular.

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The Sustainable Growth Oxymoron

By JL Morin, author of Nature’s Confession, the epic tale of two teens in a fight to save a warming planet, the universe . . . and their love.

Ekebana by Ekaterina Seehaus ©

We do a lot without thinking, like using GDP growth as a standard of excellence. Most 21st century activity is based on a ‘given’ that underpins the soft science of economics: ‘Growth is good’ — not just a big assumption, a wrong assumption. Pudding with no proof.

Let’s face it, the economic crisis was good news for the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions dropped by half during the economic low point in 2008.

‘Sustainable Economic Growth’ is an Oxymoron

Senior Economist at the World Bank, Herman E. Daly and Dr. Kenneth N. Townsend have proven that we can’t grow our way out of poverty and environmental degradation. Sustainable economic growth is impossible, since the economy is an open subsystem of the Earth’s ecosystem, which is finite, non-growing, and materially closed. As the economic subsystem grows, it engulfs more and more of the ecosystem in which it exists and is bound to reach a limit when it ‘incorporates’ (their word) 100 percent of the ecosystem, if not before. Thus, the economy’s infinite growth is by Nature not sustainable.


“Each of the plants in that garden is actually fighting each other for the space to grow


I encountered an enlightening microcosm of growth while strolling through a Sogetsu Ikebana exhibition listening to spectator comments.

“When we are in a beautiful garden, we feel happy, but what we don’t realize is, each of the plants in that garden is actually fighting each other for the space to grow. And some plant species are actually at war with others,” says author Rene Bersma, observing an arrangement by his wife, Atsuko Bersma, Ikebana Sensei. “We just think it’s a beautiful, colorful compilation of flowers and bushes and everything together, and we sometimes don’t realize that some plants don’t like each other and fight for very valuable space.”

In that context, governments’ fossil fuel subsidies, which total $ 1.9 trillion annually according to International Monetary Fund reports, can be considered a weed choking sane investment. Not only do our governments give money to fossil fuel companies directly, but those same companies turn around and dump huge cleanup costs on society, a practice called ‘negative externalities.’

Three Things Worth Growing

There are selective things we would do well to invest in, like traveling with our minds instead of our bodies. Virtual meetings are where it’s at. Buying a round trip ticket for one seat in an airplane from New York to London puts as much CO2 into the atmosphere as a house does in a whole year, so we should look hard for ways to meet virtually, rather than flying around.

If you want to know what the next big trend is, ask kids. They’re usually on to something. Virtual book tours have been popularized by young adult sites like, LitPick, an American Association of School Librarians’ award-winning Best Website for Teaching and Learning. The virtual book tour is the same concept as flying from city to city doing readings in bookstores, but instead of flying around, the author tours from blog to blog. That smacks of so much common sense, it’s no wonder so many older adults are turning to the honor and purity of YA literature–the average age of a YA reader is now between 30 and 44 years old.

Authors on virtual book tours can stop for an interview with LitPick Co-founder Gary Cassel, where they talk about everything from what inspires them to write books to sharing the Earth with their animal friends. LitPick even has an environmental shelfwith over 270 great pre-teen and teen books on it. This unique site allows students to read new and advance books they get for free and then write and publish their opinions about the books. “The opinions of students about books written for them are very powerful and compelling, more so than adult reviews of preteen and teen literature,” says Gary. “We also help promote better writing by giving students feedback on their reviews.”

The next activity worth selecting to grow is the wearing of super-warm onsies. Why go out when you can stay home in your hot pajamas and turn down the heat? This piece of clothing comes in all shapes and sizes, from serious to silly, complete with nightcap hoodie, and will erase years off your heating bill.

The third thing is so retro it hardly needs explaining. It has to do with modifying that bicycle collecting dust in the basement so it can haul groceries and ride in the dark. People who sit all day have an increased risk of death. With a third of the U.S. officially obese, investment in physical activity can only result in positive shrinkage.

I’m going to put on my onsie, stay home, and catch the darling of the Traverse City Film Festival, ‘Two Raging Grannies‘… standing up.

(via SustainableCitiesCollective.com)

Catch up with JL Morin’s blog tour:

Huffington Post – Universities Make Cli-fi Dreams Come True

Offbeat YA – Science Fiction Grew a Conscience: “We Have Been Fighting the Wrong War”

Huffington Post – There’s More to the Oil Crash Than Meets The Eye

LitPick – Six Tips on Writing Reviews

Next stop:

Teenreads.com – March , 2015 – The Veil

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A Tale of Interracial Romance and Survival

Love’s Affliction by Fidelis O. Mkparu, Released March 17, 2015, ISBN 978-1-941861-00-4

Reviewed by Dr. Bessie House-Soremekun

Love’s Affliction, a novel written by acclaimed physician and cardiologist, Dr. Fidelis O. Mkparu, provides a refreshing and candid account of interracial romance and survival in a small town in North Carolina during the decade of the 1970’s.

This time period is particularly important given the fact that the United States had just experienced a major civil rights movement whose aim was the provision of equal opportunity and equal treatment for people of color and other disenfranchised members of this country. The decade of the 1970s, in particular, gave rise to the Black is Beautiful movement in America which sought to provide more opportunities for African-descended people in the United States to understand their African heritage and to identify with it in a variety of important ways.

“compelling and thought-provoking”

Given the fact that author Dr. Mkparu had the opportunity to be trained in Cardiology at Harvard University’s School of Medicine and to publish important articles in prestigious medical journals in the past, it is very impressive that he is equally comfortable and conversant with the world of the humanities and literature, as is demonstrated quite convincingly by the publication of this compelling and thought-provoking novel.

Love’s Affliction skillfully situates the topic of interracial dating and the “forbidden fruit” within the confines of what is was like to cross the racial line of romance in an academic setting in the Southern part of the United States. Although to some extent, Dr. Mkparu explores the critical role of agency in helping us to make critical decisions in our everyday lives, he also suggests that there are no easy answers to the challenges that many couples experience as they follow the paths of their hearts and have to navigate their survival on an ongoing basis within the much broader contexts of political, economic, and social conventions and external factors over which they often have little control. This book is a must read for people interested in learning more about the internal dynamics and complexities inherent in the process of crossing the color bar in America.


Reviewer Dr. Bessie House-Soremekun is Director of Africana Studies, Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, and Founding Executive Director at the Center for Global Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Thoughts on People and Peppers: A Romance

People and Peppers: A Romance
People and Peppers: A Romance, by Kelvin Christopher James, Eco-friendly, Diverse Fiction Romance, released March, 2015

Review by Eric Darton


Kelvin C. James’ latest novel People and Peppers: A Romance is a delightful tale for a wide general readership. My enthusiasm is based on two factors. First, the book presents an engaging “problem”: the love affair between an attractive young, unmarried pair, who, it turns out, will soon be parents. This could become, in the hands of a lesser writer, a very turgid business. But Kelvin Christopher James has the knack for telling his story with the quality that Italo Calvino, in his Six Memos for the Millennium, suggests as a primary virtue, i.e. lightness.

It is this lightness that leads the reader into an evermore intimate engagement with the characters and the playing out of their lives. It also permits Kelvin Christopher James to deal with quite serious material of a personal and social nature – what James Baldwin calls “the price of the ticket” – in a way that acknowledges the vicissitudes of history, including colonialism, without derailing the essentially joyful forward momentum of his tale.

Second, People and Peppers serves as a transparent, and therefore very effective, introduction to contemporary life in Trindidad and Tobago. James conveys a great deal of cultural – and culinary – information by weaving it seamlessly into the “romance.”


“I finished this volume with a lot more knowledge about this two-island nation, its people and customs, than when I began, without feeling I’d worked hard to gain it.


A third factor, one that arises from the timing of the book’s publication, gives it a measure of added value, particularly in light of the issues raised into public discussion by the recent police shootings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere. Trinidad and Tobago, while hardly free from social conflict, have an entirely different perception of “race” than we are used to in the U.S. It is instructive to find oneself, via James’ culturally-informed writing, living, albeit fictionally, in a society where race, that very real and deadly absurdity, is not the dispositive factor in people’s ways of seeing or dealing with one another. The genetic and cultural “callalloo” of T&T makes reduction to “black” or “white” impossible, so James’ characters, while hardly blind to skin color, hair texture or any other distinguishing feature, must, in the end, come to terms with one another based on – to paraphrase Dr. King’s words – the content of their characters.

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‘Facing’ Disability in Fiction

by Sharon Erby, Author of Parallel, a collection of linked stories

From a woman with prosthetic legs competing on Dancing with the Stars to a young model with Down Syndrome walking the runway during the recent New York Fashion Week—the movement to mainstream individuals with disabilities into the public sphere is encouraging. It hasn’t always been that way.

Back in the early 1970’s, when I was in high school in small town America, I couldn’t even get a stage part in the annual play. Only after complaints from both my classmates and me did the director rescind her decision; I was given a small role—one that required me to wear a long skirt—presumably to cover up my prosthetic leg. That reality has dogged me ever since. I suppose that’s why ‘facing’ disability has always been so important to me as a writer.

How does a writer ‘face’ disability? What does it look like? What does it feel like? For those of us with what society often views as ‘problem’ bodies, the experience of disability is uncanny: our perception of our self is that we’re a-okay, yet we must live with others’ eyes on us. We must live with others’ sympathy, insensitivity, and (sometimes) outright mockery.

One of the characters in Parallel is a Vietnam veteran who happens to be an amputee. Before his military service, young Martin runs across fields for fun and to clear his head, but after combat he finds himself wearing a prosthesis: a contraption that is both a literal and a figurative ball and chain. Women in bars feel sorry for him when other patrons ask, “So…how’d you lose that leg?” And the little boy of a woman Martin begins to date blurts out, “I don’t want him to go! He walks too slow!” after his mother invites Martin to join them on an Easter egg hunt. The other characters’ reactions leave Martin wondering about himself: inside, he is the still the same, so why does his different physical appearance change the way others see him?

Only by ‘facing’ disability as a fact of a character’s individuality—to be pooled with all other potential and pertinent facts, like hair color, favorite color, disposition, stature, etc., can we put disability in the perspective from which it should be viewed. Martin is a composite character; his disability is only one feature of his ‘biography’.

Yes, disability is a category of difference, but why should our society give it precedence—to the emotional detriment of an individual who is already bearing enough? It shouldn’t be “news” that amputees are a part of dance competitions or that a woman with Downs Syndrome is a model.

I’ve had people tell me, “You can’t save the world with writing.” Maybe so. But maybe, as a writer, I can change the way people perceive some of the folks who are a part of it.

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Ten Things You Need to Know if You Burn Wood

by Josh Schlossberg, author in the midst of his first novel

Ten_Things_memeWood heating is on the rise. 2.7 million U.S. households, making up roughly 2% of the population, areprojected to burn wood as a primary heating source over the winter of 2014-2015, a 3.9% increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Approximately 7.7% of households use a wood or pellet stove as a secondary heating source, based on 2012 census data.

In every state except for the balmy locales of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii, wood heating has increased over the last decade, largely due to lower costs in comparison to oil and local sourcing opportunities.

Despite some recent advances in stove technology, wood heating still involves combustion, a process that emits air pollutants that have been linked to various health concerns. With the recent uptick in residential and industrial wood burning, it’s in the public’s best interest to be mindful of the risks that come from stoking up the stove.

1) Respiratory Problems

Residential wood burning “greatly increases” the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air, pollutants smaller in diameter than a human hair, that can lodge deep inside the lungs, as well as enter the bloodstream and organs. Exposure to particulate matter can result in “aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and premature death,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PM can also trigger emphysema and strokes, with children, the elderly, sufferers of lung and heart disease, and those of lower income at highest risk.

A study by the California Air Resources Board reported that “wood smoke can cause a 10 percent increase of hospital admissions for respiratory problems among children, who are at most risk since their lungs are still developing.” Particulate matter can harm lungs during only a four hour exposure and cause even greater damage over the long-term.

The chance of premature death is 17% more likely in cities with high particulates compared to those with cleaner air, with every increase of 50 µg/m3 (microgram per square meter) of PM into the air resulting in a 6% spike in deaths and 18.5% increase in hospital admissions results, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. In some cases, up to 90% of PM pollution can come from residential burning, with wood smoke regularly responsible for half of the California Bay area’s winter PM pollution.

Other health concerns related to wood smoke include “irritated eyes, throat, sinuses, and lungs; headaches; reduced lung function, especially in children; lung inflammation or swelling; increased risk of lower respiratory diseases; more severe or frequent symptoms from existing lung diseases.”

Health costs related to wood smoke particulate matter in the U.S. have been estimated at up to$150 billion a year.

2) Carcinogenic

Despite wood’s natural origin, wood smoke includes known carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with studies demonstrating that wood smoke can cause lung cancer.

Wood burning is the largest source of PAHs in the US, with studies showing it to be the “worst contribution” to the air’s mutagenicity (likely to cause mutations in DNA, including cancer). Onestudy concluded that burning two cords of wood can emit the same amount of PAHs as driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon.

Other studies have shown that wood smoke causes mouth, throat, lung, breast, and cervical cancer, in scientific literature compiled by Dr. Dorothy L. Robinson. Even more studies linking wood smoke and cancer can be found at the Australian Air Quality Group’s website.

3) Toxic Chemicals

Wood burning emits dioxin, one of the most toxic and persistent substances on the planet as well as isocyanic acid, which can cause atherosclerosis, cataracts, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Combustion of wood also re-releases heavy metals and radioactive pollution that have been absorbed by trees, in amounts significant enough that wood ash can qualify as hazardous waste under Europe’s definitions, if the standards for coal ash were applied to wood ash.

4) Worse Than Cigarettes

The health impacts of cigarettes was one of the biggest public health scandals of the 1980’s, resulting in smoking being banned in restaurants, bars, and other businesses and public places around the world. Despite the risks of cigarettes, you’re twelve times more likely to get cancer from wood smoke in comparison to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke, according to the EPA, cited in the Washington State Department of Ecology’s The Health Effects of Wood Smoke.

Wood smoke is thirty times more potent than cigarette smoke, according to “tumor initiation” tests done on laboratory mice, with another study showing that burning hardwood created three times the likelihood of tumors in mice than cigarette smoke, and more than fifteen times when burning softwood.

A fireplace burning for an hour puts out 4,300 times more PAHs than a pack and a half of cigarettes. Additionally, wood smoke “attacks” the cells of the body forty times longer than tobacco, with free radicals from wood smoke chemically active for twenty minutes, with those of tobacco lasting only thirty seconds.

Burning 1 kg of wood can emit more carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene than 27,000 cigarettes and more formaldehyde than 6,000 cigarettes, according to Comparison of Toxic Chemicals in Wood and Cigarette Smoke, while another study calculated ambient air levels of benzo[a]pyrene from wood smoke the same as smoking two to sixteen cigarettes/day.

More comparisons of wood smoke to cigarette smoke are studied in Impact of Fuel Choice on Comparative Cancer Risk of Emissions,by Joellen Lewtas, Health Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

5) Exceeds Federal Standards

The World Health Organization maintains that exposure to fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) shouldn’t exceed 25 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) over a 24 hour average, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a much laxer 35 μg/m3 under its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Yet even with the EPA’s leniency, a single wood stove can be responsible for a neighborhoodexceeding even those levels, according to the American Lung Association. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 winter stove season, the greater Fairbanks, Alaska area has logged 48 days thatexceeded EPA standards. In November 2012, the air quality in the town of North Pole, Alaska, was measured as being twice as bad as Beijing’s, primarily due to wood smoke.

New Hampshire monitoring showed wood smoke violating PM standards by almost double the allowed levels in January 2009, with many communities in southwestern New Hampshire recording 35 μg/m3 and higher.

A study in New York — where up to 90% of the Particulate Matter measured came from wood combustion — found 26% of the population was exposed to wood smoke, with the poorer, more crowded and less-white populations receiving the highest levels of PM. Spikes of over 100 μg/m3 per cubic meter occurred during nighttime mobile monitoring, with the report linking such peaks to heart and lung problems, including heart attacks and asthma.

6) Smoke Enters Homes

It’s a common misconception that the only exposure to wood smoke occurs outdoors. However, a substantial amount of smoke actually enters the homes of wood burners, with particulate matter levels found to be 26% higher, benzene levels 29% higher, and PAHs 300% to 500% higher in the homes of wood burners, compared to those who use other heating sources. Another study estimated 70% of outdoor smoke can re-enter a home.

Those who don’t burn wood themselves, yet live in a neighborhood of wood burners, experience indoor particulate levels 50-70% of outdoor levels, according to a Seattle study, as wood smoke has the tendency to hang close to the ground and infiltrate homes, schools, and hospitals.

7) EPA Stoves Not Much Better

EPA stoves have improved somewhat upon conventional woodstoves. Instead of emitting 250 times more particulate matter than an oil or gas furnace, EPA stoves now emit eighty-five times more.

In Libby, Montana over $2.5 million financed the replacement of old wood stoves with EPA certified stoves, resulting in only a 28% reduction in emissions. Measures to further improve wood stove emissions are getting major pushback from the wood heating industry and some politicians.

8) Doctors Want Ban

Some medical professionals who have been studying the health impacts of wood smoke are concerned about the health ramifications, while others are calling for a phasing out of wood stoves.

Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, wants to see an end to residential wood burning. “We don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “We can accept our air pollution is not solvable, we can stop driving all our cars, we can tell industry to shut down, or we can stop burning wood.”

American Lung Association urges that the public “should avoid burning wood in houses where less polluting heating alternatives are available.”

9) Taxpayer Subsidized

Trends show more and more Americans burning wood to heat their homes, causing shortages of cordwood and pellets in some regions and the resulting price spikes. While an individual may choose not to operate a wood stove, a portion of his or her tax dollars may still subsidize those who do.

A $300 federal tax credit has been available to those purchasing new wood stoves or pellet stoves, with the policy set to expire in January 1, 2014, though industry groups claim an extension is possible. Eight states provide tax credits, rebates or deductions for wood heating, including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, and Oregon, with New York State offering a $1,000 tax credit for the purchase of a new pellet stove.

10) Alternatives to Burning

There are options for those seeking non-combustion technologies to heat their homes. Alternatives include ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, solar thermal, passive solar, and even experimental technologies, such as compost heating. No matter the heating source, the most basic and important step any homeowner can take to reduce energy demands is through insulation and other conservation and efficiency measures.

In some areas, you might not have a choice about whether you burn wood or not. Many states, such as Arizona, California, and Washington, enforce burn bans and restrictions, based on changes in air quality.

Several court cases, including one in Nebraska, have determined that a neighbor’s wood stove is a nuisance. A recently adopted bylaw in the County of Essex, Ontario, Canada states that one or more complaints in regards to smoke that has a “detrimental impact on the use and enjoyment” of property, will result in a cease and desist order barring future burning.

Montreal has taken things a step further, with plans to phase out wood stoves altogether by 2020.

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New York Street Scenes

by Michele Myers,

Author of Fugue for the Right Hand


I live on Riverside Drive near Columbia University, right across Riverside Park and the Hudson River. It is quiet here, the silence broken in the afternoon by the voices of children playing in the park. Only a block East, Broadway teams with Columbia students, faculty, and staff from all over the world, and you can hear a multitude of languages spoken on the wide sidewalks and the restaurants near campus. Other “regulars,” who more or less make Broadway their home, are the older men and women who sit on the church steps, or on the sidewalk in front of a grocery story, or simply stand and hold their hand out.

There is the old man who stands at the corner of 116th and Broadway, or in front of Morton Williams, the local grocery store. He is there every day, and he sings. Once when I passed him as he was singing, he pointed at his throat and said: “Do you think this is easy?” and he smiled. He has few teeth, all of them dark brown. He is thin and stoops, and his clothes are an assortment of discolored grayish, (more…)

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Eco-fiction.com Announces Climate Change Story Winner

Artists and authors are among those working to send a message about climate change. Mary Woodbury, owner of Moon Willow Press–which promotes climate change literature and art at Eco-fiction.com–announces the results of a climate change short story contest, with Robert Sassor winning with his story “First Light”. The contest began in June and ended August 30, 2014.

Eco-fiction.com has cataloged climate change novels for over a year, creating a database of more than 220 novels (with more on the horizon) with eco-, science-, and speculative fiction that have environmental themes. It has also newly created an artists and authors discussion group at Google+. The climate change story event was its first contest, and the submissions were overwhelming. The rules were pretty simple: craft a short story about climate change. There were also language and word count guidelines. Sending a nature photo in established bonus points. (more…)

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Floodlanders, by Wayne Marinovich

Genre: Action Adventure, Thrillers, Cli-fi, Dystopian

Format: ebook

In 2025, teen journeys with his father into the dangerous Central London Floodzone for the first time to sell their farm products at a market. The post climate change neighborhood is home to a hardened breed of humans, known as Floodlanders. Brutal tragedy strikes, and changes their lives forever.

This short story with chapters is a tiny gem. Marinovich’s storytelling is captivating, from the moment a Warlord guard tries to bribe the father and son on their way to market, saying,

The soldier looked down at the passbook again, then said, ‘anything in the back that I can take home to my family?’

Wayne Marinovich is an independent author and wildlife photographer who grew up on a farm in South Africa, where he spent most of his time sitting in trees and climbing up on the barn roof, fighting imaginary villains. He is the author of the Kyle Gibbs series.


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Episode 2: New Climate Change Series ‘Years of Living Dangerously’

“I knew that if people discussed the movie instead of what the movie was about, we’d have failed. I wanted all the script’s banality to work for me, to entice the audience past our subject matter until they were drowning in it,” says director Nicholas Meyer (The Day After).

The new Showtime seriesYears of Living Dangerously, is anything but banal, to judge by the first episode. It uses a brilliant technique of going around the world to explore carbon-releasing activities and extreme weather, through the eyes of celebrities who act as surrogates for the audience. In the initial episode, for example, Harrison Ford discovers mass deforestation in Indonesia, Don Cheadle talks to victims of persistent drought in Texas, and Tom Friedman ventures into Syria and finds that the civil war there was caused, along with other factors, by an absence of rain, then an absence of government response.

These correspondents come off not as experts but as investigators. They ask some of the questions we care about, and listen as we would. Except they are, for instance, Matt Damon (of the Bourne series) , Lesley Stahl (of 60 Minutes), and Ian Somerhalder (of Vampire Diaries), plus many others. They model the process not of already knowing, but of being open to learn.

(via Huffington Post)

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Tweets From Bill McKibben

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Yang Huang’s blog

Erika Raskin

  • Photo Dispatches from D.C.
    I just spent almost a month in DC with my daughter Maggie, her husband Asa…and my new grandboy, Gray!   Here are sights from around their neighborhood:     And the pope’s visit…         All in all, a pretty fabulous month.
  • James Patterson has written the ‘world’s first’ self-destructing book

  • James Patterson has written a self-destructing book to create a thrilling reading experience, with a countdown clock at the top of the screen ticking the time until the entire book disappears. Readers can also see where others are in the book and “steal time” from those reading competitors.


    Exclusive interview by Mary Yuhas


    James Patterson holds the New York Times record for the most bestselling novels by a single author, which is also a Guinness record.
    In 2010, the New York Times Magazine featured him on its cover and hailed him as having “transformed book publishing.” For the past decade, Patterson has been devoting more and more of his time to championing books and reading. His website, ReadKiddoRead.com is designed to help parents, teachers and librarians ignite the next generations excitement about reading. Patterson’s Book Bucks programs provide gift certificates to be used at independent local book stores. He has also donated 650,000 books to soldiers at home and overseas. He has donated scholarships in teacher education at twenty-two schools including Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin and Manhattan College. Mr. Patterson’s awards for adult and children’s literature include the Edgar Award, the International Thriller of the Year Award and the Children’s Choice Award for Author of the Year. Mr. Patterson received a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. He lives in Palm Beach with his wife, Sue, and his son, Jack.
    James Patterson  credit David Burnett

    James Patterson; photo by David Burnett


    LitVote: Your first novel “The Thomas Berryman Number” was published in 1976. It won an Edgar. What do you think of the book now when you revisit it? (The Edgar Allen Poe Awards or Edgars are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America to honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film and theater published or produced the previous year.)

    James: I love the picture on the back of the book. I look so young, probably because I was so young. I think Berryman is still is the best written novel I’ve done. I think the story is a bit convoluted, which of course endears it to my fellow mystery writers. I don’t think the story is as strong as the ones I’ve done since then. Winning the award was a huge surprise. I remember when I won the Edgar at the Commodore Hotel I said, “I guess I’m a writer now.” I knew I could do this thing (writing) at a certain level.

    LitVote: You’ve sold ever 300 million books worldwide. Is there a single or multiple discipline that you apply to each book that you feel has led to your huge success as an author?

    House of Robots
    James: I like to pretend I’m sitting across from somebody, just an audience of one, and I don’t want them to get up until the story is finished.

    I try to use the notion of highest common denominator for all my novels. I want a mainstream audience, but I want to create something that’s at the top of the food chain… not at the bottom or the middle.

    LitVote: What do your readers tell you they like best about your books?

    James: I think two things that come up again and again are characters they want to follow and know more about, and pace. As the Brits say about my books, the pages practically turn themselves.

    LitVote: Not only do you write thrillers for adults, you’ve written 35 books for children and teens. How do you come up with so many ideas?

    James: For some reason, I don’t find coming up with ideas very difficult. It seems to be my strong suit. I have a folder in my office which is about nine inches thick full of new ideas. I’m writing another outline just this week. I don’t know where all this inspiration comes from. When I was a kid, we lived in the woods, and I wandered endlessly telling myself stories.

    Patterson Hope To DieLitVote: You are well known for the lengthy outlines (60 – 80 pages) that you write before you begin a book. Are you able to describe what these outlines are like?

    James: Basically the outline is the book. If you read one of my outlines, you’ll get the whole story. I try to make every chapter a scene.

    I try to capture one nugget and try to build a scene around it.

    LitVote: What is the biggest mistake most first time authors make?

    James: I would say the mistake is not outlining, or not spending enough time on the outline. In most cases writers would save themselves a lot of heartache, and an unbelievable amount of time, if they would simply outline first. I think that is the biggie in terms of writer mistakes.

    LitVote: Why do you write with other authors?

    James: I think people are interested in this because for whatever reason they can’t fathom that somebody works differently than they do, or differently from the way they think everyone else should write. Collaboration can be easily understood – just think about Gilbert and Sullivan, or Lennon and McCartney, or Woodward & Bernstein. There are an inordinate number of successful collaborations. I was in Hollywood once and one of my books was being turned into a TV series.

    There were ten writers collaborating. So what I do isn’t really all that unusual. Frequently in movies and TV, you have teams collaborating.

    In advertising, it’s writer and art director, or writer and producer. The big lesson of the digital age is the power of collaboration.

    LitVote: How do you choose your coauthors?

    James: Coauthors are mostly people I have known for a period of time. I know they are good writers and I can work well with them. It’s almost always people I already know.

    LitVote: What marketing strategies do you recommend authors use to sell their books?

    James: If a lot of people weren’t interested in the last James Patterson book, the marketing is not going to fool them when a new book comes out. All marketing can do is communicate, there’s a new book and what kind of book it is. A lot of the apocryphal stuff written about my use of marketing is pure gibberish. I set the “Women’s Murder Club” in San Francisco because I wanted to write about San Francisco, not because I thought it would be a terrific marketing move.

    LitVote: Is there anything you’ve learned not to do over your years as an author?

    James: Unfortunately I keep forgetting the lessons I’ve learned and have to relearn them. I think the thing I’m most guilty of is losing focus while I’m writing a new book or outline. I always want to be conscious that somebody is out there – a potential reader – and I have to hold their interest for several hours.

    It would be useful for some writers to craft a novel the way they would a short story. My original models for my fiction are very tight novels like “Mrs. Bridge,” “ Mr. Bridge,” “Steps,” and “The Painted Bird.”

    Patterson desk

    James’ Desk

    LitVote: Do you immediately know if a book has the “right stuff” to make it and if so, what is the “right stuff?”

    James: The three rules of real estate are location, location, location.

    My rule for writing commercial fiction is story, story, story. The key to writing suspense is to raise questions that the reader absolutely, positively must have answered.

    LitVote: Your latest venture is film. Murder of a Small Town, is a documentary about the downward spiral of minorities due to the loss of jobs in Pahokee and Belle Glades, Fla. and in your hometown of Newburgh, N.Y. How was this experience and do you plan to produce more films? 

    James: I wrote the documentary because I visited Pahokee and Belle Glades, Fla. and Newburgh, N.Y. having given books out there to school kids. I found the kids to be bright and interesting – but I worried that they might become victims to the violence in these small towns.

    Films that are hopefully upcoming are: “Zoo” with CBS which will be on this summer; “Middle School The Worst Years of My Life” with CBS as a TV show; and we’re developing “I Funny” with Nickelodeon.


    Author Mary Yuhas, is the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother,  featured three times on Scribd.

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  • Literary Launch Party: LIVING TREASURES

  • 10702175_1502348103373334_7902391687473468868_n (1)

    December 6, 2014 – Yang Huang launched her novel Living Treasures, a passionate quest for romance and justice, at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, CA, and will be reading at the San Francisco Public Library today. Having lived under the one-child policy in China, she imparts profound and moving wisdom.

    To make a real change, even a small one, you cannot expect it to be passed down from the government, but rather, it needs to start with you and your actions.


    An excerpt of Yang Huang’s talk:

    I have a day job, working as a computer engineer at UC Berkeley. As a writer I have a rather optimistic worldview. I like to tackle big social problems in my fiction, put my characters under the test, let them suffer, and in their darkest and most despairing hours, let them use their ingenuity (much like an engineer), and find some sort of relief or solution, not a cure-all, but a way out, so that they can move forward to rebuild their lives.

    Before I talk about my book, I want to tell you the inspirations for my story.

    First, it was the panda. [Hold up the panda picture.] Who could resist a face like this? But do you know its secrets? Panda is bear, with the digestive system of a carnivore, thus derives little energy and protein from consuming bamboo, which is 99% of its diet. Pandas in the wild occasionally eat birds, mice, or fish if they can catch them.

    Living Treasures
    To make up for the inefficient digestion, a panda needs to consume 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo every day. This affects its behavior. A panda must spend 10 to 16 hours a day foraging and eating. The rest of its time is spent mostly sleeping and resting.
    Bamboo species flower periodically, every 30 – 120 years or so. All plants in a particular species mass flower worldwide over a several-year period. Flowering produces seeds, and bamboos die after flowering. The seeds will give rise to a new generation of bamboos, but it can take years to replenish the food supply for pandas.

    When I was in middle school, we donated money to rescue the pandas from starvation, as bamboos mass flowered over large areas of the Min Mountains. It was one of the few fund raising events I ever had in China. The plight of cuddly pandas touched many young hearts. We wrote letters, essays, drew pictures, and told stories about these national treasures.

    My book begins with a mother panda eating a chicken, so that she could survive the winter and nurse her cub.

    Here we see the resilience of panda, and the girl who witnesses it.

    My second inspiration is the student movement of 1989.

    My heroine, Miss Gu Bao, her name sounding like “national treasure” in Chinese, grows up in the 80s.

    It was a hopeful time, a liberal time. After the dark ages of brutal prosecution and censorship in the Cultural Revolution, many western thoughts were introduced and flourished in China. For the young people, it was sexy to be in a debate salon and wrangle over ideological issues. Before long, people began to demand human rights, freedom, and democracy.

    [Holds up Qin’s picture]. This is Qin, my better half, during the heyday of the 1989 student movement. I didn’t have a picture, because people were still afraid of retaliation. Students began their protests at night, wearing facial masks to avoid being recognized or photographed. This might be mid-May, when the movement had gained so much support throughout China. It was “safe” to be seen as a “patriotic youth” rather than condemned as “a traitor conspiring to overthrow the government.”

    Soon the situation escalated. The Tiananmen Square massacre came as a complete shock. To this day, we don’t know how many were killed on the dawn of June 4th. The official story was that no one died in the square. The propaganda machine in China wiped out every evidence of the demonstrations and subsequent crackdown.

    My poor parents were grateful that I wasn’t in the Square that night. They told me to never speak of it. What good does it do, for the dead and living? My classmate, a hunger striker, dropped out of the university afterwards. I never heard from him again. Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is still imprisoned for speaking up about the Tiananmen Square massacre.

    The student movement in 1989 was a defining moment of my generation. We experienced the hope, joy, and heartbreak of losing a historical opportunity. I reflected on the tragedy for more than twenty years. I would write a story about the students’ fight but with a more meaningful arc. There were many things leading up to the massacre and following after that, but that night, inevitably the focus of my story is just a starting point, a central metaphor for Bao’s tragedy. I didn’t want it to end on Tiananmen Square. It needed to be in rural China, where a lot of the injustice happened.

    My third inspiration is the one-child policy.

    May I see a show of hands? It doesn’t matter where you were born. [pause] Would those of you not firstborns please raise your hands? [Yang counts] That’s about a half of the people in this room. You wouldn’t have been born in China after 1976, if your parents hadn’t fought hard to save your lives.

    Here is a little bit of history. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao, with a typical peasant mentality, banned family planning and encouraged women to have as many children as possible. The population grew from 540 million in 1949 to 969 million in 1979, nearly 80% of population increase within three decades. In the seventies the government tried to solve the population crisis by enforcing strict controls to slow down the birth rate. Aside from some minority groups, every couple could only have one child.

    The problem is: local governments all had their own rules and regulations to enforce the policy. Some people lost their jobs after having a second child. Others were fined. Like many policies in China, there was abuse of power and corruption was rampant. In some villages, one-child policy worker team hired thugs to threaten and beat up people, force collect the fines, and even kidnap the women and their relatives. Some women had their full-term babies aborted. (If the drugs couldn’t kill, a nurse injected medicine on the baby’s temple when the mother was pushing.) Some women died from the brutal procedures, while others were forced into sterilization.

    My fourth inspiration is a blind lawyer, Mr. Chen Guangchen.

    While revising Living Treasures, I learned about Mr. Chen, a civil rights activist who worked on human rights issues in rural China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is a “barefoot lawyer” who advocates for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor. That was the career path that I planned for Bao, that she would mature into a grassroots activist.

    To make a real change, even a small one, you cannot expect it to be passed down from the government, but rather, it needs to start with you and your actions. The victory isn’t achieved by the talks on Tiananmen Square but in every action you do, every person you help, and every sacrifice you make for the common good.

    The students in 1989 appealed to the ruling class to change the corrupt system. It ended in the massacre. That’s no reason to give up. What if we don’t fight, but live our lives to the fullest?

    Every person thinks s/he is free, despite what the government tells them, and live their lives like free people, take charge of their social responsibilities, and reach out to the less fortunate.

    I know Bao could do this, because Mr. Chen did it with some success. In 2005, Chen organized a landmark class action lawsuit against authorities in Shandong province, for the excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. What an amazing achievement for a courageous blind lawyer!

    In Living Treasures, village woman Mrs. Orchid already has a daughter. The one-child policy worker team forced her to have two abortions. When she gets pregnant again, she hides in a cave. There she meets Bao, who ended her pregnancy in order to continue her career as a law student. Bao is not impressed with Orchid at first, but she learns to admire Orchid’s strength and resolve to have her child. She ends up risking her own life to protect Orchid.

    The ensuing violence is a metaphor for the Tiananmen Square massacre. But Bao is more fortunate than the students on the Square. With the help of her soldier boyfriend, she is able to rise from her tragedy and becomes a human rights activist. Her journey will not be easy, and she will suffer a great deal for her choice, but she has taken an important first step, not only for herself, but for 1.35 billion Chinese people who don’t have the political power.

    You may ask why I wrote the story of a Chinese woman in English. There were several reasons. When I was a teenager, I was enthralled by the French writers, novels by Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas. Those stories from the faraway land seemed more realistic, vivid, and inspirational than the Chinese novels about the suffering in the Cultural Revolution. When I managed (believe me, it was hard) to put down the book and walked to the school, I no longer saw the tractors and oxcarts, motorcycles and bicycles in bright daylight but felt as if I were running down the dimly lit alleyways in Paris during the French Revolution.

    Then I was able to rise above the peer pressure, that I wasn’t pretty, intelligent, or popular at a prestigious high school. I was a captivated reader. The story of French people translated into Chinese was devoid of clichés yet colored by passion. I grew up and named my first child Victor, after my idol Victor Hugo.

    My 2nd reason was the censorship. My book would be banned, before it was even written in Chinese. I kept a blog in mainland China and learned many tricks to circumvent the internet censorship, [for example, using homophones to describe the taboo subjects]. Even worse is the self-censorship. A famous writer once said, “If you want to write honestly, you should write like an orphan.” I didn’t like being an orphan, so I’d say, “If you want to write honestly, write in a foreign language that your parents cannot understand.”

    I came to the U.S. at the age of nineteen, graduated from college at twenty-one, and became a computer engineer. At twenty-three, I had a midlife crisis. I went back to school, while working full time, and studied literature and writing. It was very hard work. From day one I knew I would support my writing life by working as an engineer. What got me through two decades of apprenticeship was not the prospect of being published, though it was nice that I finally got published, but the firm belief that I was doing something worthwhile. Having a job is to earn my keep from the society, but writing is to give back to the community my soul, my struggle, and my faith in humanity and future.

    Here is my 3rd reason to write in English: to communicate with people different from me—to educate them, entertain them, and affirm the values that we all hold dear: truth, love, courage, and selflessness.

    In a small way I was emulating the masters: Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas. Likewise, I wanted to tell stories of the faraway land that make people forget the trouble in their own lives, just for an instant, look up and see a bigger world full of people, who look like strangers, as you look more closely, you’ll find they are just like you, with the same longings, fears, and ambitions. Their children and your children will inherit the same world after you are gone.

    I got a lot of friendly advice over the years. They told me: You’re the first generation immigrant, and you’re a woman. You have to work and raise a family. You don’t have the luxury of chasing a dream. Wait until you are retired, your children in college, and then take your time to write. I didn’t take the sensible advice. Life is short. I’d rather multitask and fail, than wait and discover that my time has run out. If my life were a baseball game, I want to strike out swinging rather than strike out looking.

    I never argued with the wise people who warned me that I might fail. I had nothing to prove. Just do it.

    Writing is a lonely task. I found support in my friends and family. Just do it.


    It didn’t matter if I failed or succeeded. I am only limited by my timidity, my prejudice, and my own imagination.

    I told myself: Just do it. Keep doing it. And do more of it. Predictably, the wise people left me alone.

    I got a BA, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing. My life got more hectic after I graduated, but I kept on writing. I had children, and they slowed me down. I used to write a book in a year and half, but Living Treasures took me five years to write and five more years to get it published. If I were a hare before, now I am a turtle. I plug away patiently and take in beautiful sceneries on my journey. As I grow older, I have less time to write. I focus on the essentials, the emotions, and no longer cringe to cut my favorite passages in order to advance the story.

    I learned much from watching my heroine develop and mature in the course of a novel. A young woman who wants to become a lawyer, Bao has so much to lose at the beginning: her virginity, her baby, and her career. When she’s confronted with evil, her conscience wakens. She takes a stand for what she believes in and risks everything in her life.

    Do we have the courage to fight for our true believes? If we look deep inside, we’ll find a hero or heroine buried under the layers of politeness, the mundane, and the compromises.

    If we are true to ourselves, that hero or heroine will awaken, summon their courage, elicit help, and open doors to new careers, new relationships, and creativities. Life is not merely a thing to be tolerated but celebrated. We become free even as we are trapped inside this transient shell, this small building, and this unjust world.

    Thank you.

    If you like, I’ll read a scene from my book . . .

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  • Shape Shifting Santa

  • by Dr. Susan Patrice/Kasuku Magic  

    A theory cleverly uncommon
    Portrays Santa as a Shaman

    A revitalizing view, and also uplifting
    Was his practice of spiritual gifting

    Heaven and earth his chosen domains
    Traveling by sleigh tethered by reins

    Guiding flying reindeer
    One, not eight did first appear

    Climbing and Soaring in a star filled sky
    Gracefully that team would fly

    Gently onto the roof top they would glide
    Santa then stepping inside

    Pulling from his bag messages spirits wished to share
    Letting humans know they did care

    Offering hope and cheer
    For a more prosperous celebration the following year

    With encouragement to enjoy each moment of this day
    Honoring spirit memories on display

    The past, present, and future in a magical suspension
    Imbued with a visit from a timeless dimension

    Happy Holidays to everyone

    written by Dr. Susan Patrice/Kasuku Magic
    who recently died of cancer.

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  • Publisher Guidelines

  • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

    Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

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  • What’s On Your Bookshelf?

  • Wilson & Coughlon

    Elliot A. Wilson ’15 and Sarah E. Coughlon ’15 pose with their book collections. They are good friends but like to get competitive about their reading choices. Photo by Theresa Tharakan


    Although many Harvard students find themselves too busy to read for leisure, an affirming amount of the student population collects books and reads for fun, amassing some pretty exemplary bookshelves in the process.

    Competitive Reading

    “We should probably tell her about competitive reading,” Coughlon says to Wilson. It turns out the pair’s massive collection isn’t just a hobby—it’s a full-fledged rivalry. Both friends use the website Goodreads to track what they’ve read. Wilson explains, “I’d started in high school, and was mean to Sarah freshman year about her reading habits, and it just so happened that Goodreads instituted a Challenge Yourself book-reading competition, and so we ended up not only challenging ourselves, but each other. We both read 100 or more books [that] year.” [more via The Harvard Crimson]


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  • Writing Jobs

  • The Sun is hiring

    They’re searching for an Associate Publisher to direct business operations, finance, and personnel. They also have openings for a Manuscript Editor and an Editorial Assistant.

    All three positions are full-time and based in our Chapel Hill, North Carolina, office.

    Click the job titles below for details. (No e-mails, phone calls, faxes, or surprise visits, please.)

    Associate Publisher
    Manuscript Editor
    Editorial Assistant

    More information is available at:

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  • The superstar assigns rights to his song catalog to his own NPG Music Publishing

  • prince

    Courtesy NPG Music Publishing

    Fresh from releasing “FALLINLOVE2NITE,” his latest single on Epic Records, Prince has announced that he is assigning the rights to his catalog to NPG Music Publishing, which means he will be doing it himself with the help of “some of the best talent in the industry,” according to the release.

    Prince’s last publishing deal was with Universal Music, before leaving the company several years ago. He had been inked to Kobalt Music for a label services deal but chose to release his latest single through L.A. Reid’s Epic label.

    The Grammy-winning multiplatinum icon’s songs, which he considers “fit 4 eternal publication,” includes such hits as “Kiss,” “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “U Got the Look,” “Purple Rain” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” most of which he played at a mammoth four-hour-plus show at the Palladium in Hollywood last month. NPG Music Publishing marks the first time Prince’s publishing has been independently controlled and administered in more than 20 years.

    (via Hollywood Reporter)

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  • FacedIn?

  • LinkedIn just became more like Facebook. Now everyone can write and post articles on LinkedIn, not just well-known business names. The new strategy follows LinkedIn’s disclosure that page views slipped for the second consecutive quarter.

    Now that LinkedIn ‘Influencers’ includes all willing and able writers, the company will use algorithms to distribute the most popular articles.

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  • For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

  • This article first appeared in the New York Times

    Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

    That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.


    Photo: Casey Kelbaugh
    Emanuele Castano, left, and David Comer Kidd, researchers in the New School for Social Research’s psychology department.


    “This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.”

    “Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.

    The 5-Minute Empathy Workout

    Curious to see how you do on a test of emotional perception?

    The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.

    The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City, recruited their subjects through that über-purveyor of reading material, Amazon.com. To find a broader pool of participants than the usual college students, they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs.

    People ranging in age from 18 to 75 were recruited for each of five experiments. They were paid $2 or $3 each to read for a few minutes. Some were given excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry). Others were given best sellers like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale…[more]

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  • The Bubble Has Burst

  • bubble-flowerThis poem by Sarah Strange first appeared at Poet in the Woods


    The recession hits us long and hard
    Jobs lost, our spending power is halved
    Utilities that we need and use
    Skyrocket – we’ve all got the blues!
    Some social services close their doors
    And luck runs out for local stores
    We grow our veggies, make and mend
    And where possible – don’t spend.
    The hunt for jobs is fierce and long
    And to succeed you must be strong
    The level of skills is very high
    Just the cream of the crop gets by.
    So, many strike out on their own,
    With business cards and mobile ‘phone
    After wading through a paper trail
    Of tax forms, VAT,  junk mail.

    It isn’t like it used to be
    You can’t retire at fifty-three
    And enjoy two holidays a year;
    The good times simply are not there.

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  • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

  • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

    This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


    THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
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  • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

  • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

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Around Harvard

Brain Pickings

  • Let your LitVote be heard!

  • Vote for your favorite books by giving them some stars: just click on the book cover and scroll down to the “Write A Customer Review” button at the bottom of the book’s Amazon page to improve their ranking.

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by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

    Like all romantic entanglements, the reasons for their tensions—tensions, which eventually led the invisible rubber band between them to snap—weren't quite clear.  Or maybe they were entirely too clear.  Telling me about it, Shane struggled for the right words, but his meaning rang with the clarity of breaking glass. "For a while, she was planning on moving up here to be with me, to be able to help out with all my [...]

by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

  • MLB All-Star Game: It's Getting Hot in HAR
    Determining the value of a baseball player shouldn't be about wins above replacement, but instead, something far more important: hotness. After all, isn't that why we watch sports?

Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  • Applesauce Spice Cake
    September and October are busy birthday months around here. Of course, that means cake! But I'm getting a little w [...]


TylerJamesComicTyler James
All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
4 months ago
we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
4 months ago
aidanr1022Aidan Ryan
When Dad has to hit the books in the middle of the day so he can support the fam @emrson11webster http://t.co/igjSlYR8cB
4 months ago
forgot my books ?
4 months ago