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Alan Swyer’s THE BEARD...

  Book Soup in Hollywood launched The Beard – April 4, 2016. March 30th, at 8:30 PM, Alan Swyer interviewed on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles— or (more…)

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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?

    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



    “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
    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.

    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:


By Randal Eldon Greene

We read fiction to escape from reality, right? So why would one want to write about such a controversial, hot-button topic as the environment in their fiction?


Fiction can explore many things—many topics, issues, and instances of life. A novel like Frazen’s The

Corrections explores middle-class lives in the midst of a changing economy; Truong’s The Book of Salt explores Vietnamese identity and diaspora; DeLillo’s White Noise explores the quotidian ephemeral of distraction and white noise of daily life.


With so many potential topics to write about, why am I advocating one above the others?


Well—it’s important. In fact, it may be the most important issue of our time.

The environmental health of our planet both transcends and unites humanity together. That’s right, we’re all in this together and it’s bigger than us.


But why fiction?


Fiction is a forming and shaping of mindstuff through the sieve of imagination. Mindstuff, as I term it, is the material we use when we write fiction. Our stories aren’t creatio ex nihilo, but from something.


Certainly the environment, conservation, global warming, and green energy are topics which—even if we

were to actively try ignoring them—come up again and again. Environmental news is all around us. To think about the world today means thinking about the environment. Ergo, to write about the world today means writing about climate change.


Not that there aren’t other worthy topics. There are. And those should be explored too. But it could be argued that it is only climate change and the environment that are universal to all peoples of all nations.


Fiction also gives us a story. It allows us to explore the themes of human impact and human reaction to a damaged ecosystem. Stories can move us. Stories can tell deeper truths about humanity and its relationship with the Earth—the adage fiction tells truth with lies applies here. And, done well, it can tell truth in a deep and insightful way without climbing up on the proverbial soapbox.


That’s why we need fiction that talks about climate change. That’s why we need fiction to explore the complicated history of humanity and environment. That’s why we need fiction to imagine a future for us. We need these stories to compel us to look around at our world now and help us realize our own part in the reality that drives the story.


Yes, we need fiction—books, short stories, tales—to run imaginatively with the issues of our day. Because fiction can effect change, can help us look closely at the complicated issues of our day, and help integrate these topics into the social mindset without the divisiveness that even the best journalism and news headlines inevitably and instantly generate.


This isn’t to say that journalism and non-fiction about environmental issues aren’t important—they are. They are, in fact, the stuff we wrench from reality to make our fiction. Non-fiction is the number one source of our eco-topical mindstuff. We need that research to fuel our fiction as much as we need it for our activism: statistics, photographs, interviews. Fiction, using all of these, works in tandem with activism. Fiction adds to the equation its ability to touch a deeper psychological part of our brains. Make these concerns come through with the books and stories we write and we will help reach more people with a love for the Earth and a worry for what is happening to the Earth.

That’s why I wrote Descriptions of Heaven; rather, I let my concerns about the environment express itself

in my book. Yes—it’s a book about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death. But it’s also about the Earth and ecological catastrophe. How far can we go before there’s no going back? And what if we do go too far—what do we, as humans, believe will follow when all is ruined? Can we really give up and let it get to this point? These are the questions my novel poses. But these aren’t the only questions or only environmental topics that can be explored. There’s so much more yet to be written.


We need more quality fiction about the environment. The environment needs more quality fiction. We the writers need to let our worries, our anger, and our love for the Earth find its way into our words.

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Descriptions of Heaven, cover reveal

By Randal Eldon Greene

It’s time. The long awaited first book cover reveal.

First, a little about the book. Descriptions of Heaven wasn’t originally intended to be a book. It was a writing exercise, at most a short story. I started, as I do with most things, at the end. The last line.

As many of you know, this book is—in part—about a lake monster. This central image came to me after a night of rare insomnia. The next day, still unable to sleep or function in any appreciable way, I sat on the couch binge-watching a monster hunting show that was having a marathon run. And it was with one of these episodes that the muse decided I’d find inspiration. The particular episode featured, of course, a lake monster. It wasn’t the Loch Ness Monster we are all familiar with. No. It was another lake with another monster. In fact, the show’s host mentioned a number of lakes with legends of monsters lurking in their depths, and, if my memory serves me right, the number was in the hundreds.

Thus the beginning (or rather the ending) of Descriptions of Heaven. I’m not going to reveal the ending of the book here. What I will say is that I got off my back, took my sleep-deprived self down the steps to the basement where I had my writing desk, and I wrote. And I wrote. And I saw it was more than a writing exercise. So I wrote more. And I saw that whatever it was, it was a thing with chapters. And I wrote. And as I wrote, it became this little, lyrical novel: Descriptions of Heaven.

I wrote the first draft between winter 2012 and spring 2013. Since then I’ve picked it up to revise and put it away a few times. And it was last fall that I finally decided it was ready to be sent out in search of a publisher.

And the publisher I went with, Harvard Square Editions, has sent me a finalized cover. For my IRL Facebook Friends I’ve given a sneak peak of this cover, using an unpolished version of the main artwork as my cover photo without telling anyone (kind of an Easter Egg for those I know) for a few months now.


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CODA Book Launch at Barnes & Noble

B&N Ft. Union, Midvalem UT


Join Harvard Square Editions author

Rajani Kanth at his book launch

for the title Coda


April 16th from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Fort Union  Barnes & Noble:


7119 South 1300 East St
Midvale, UT 84047


Author RAJANI KANTH is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. Coda chronicles the life, and afterlife, of the last human, in both flashback and future shock, after the apocalypse of the millennium, where timeless, misanthropic aggression, and blindness predictably destroy all life on Earth.

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A bit o’ (motley)goose


Rajani Kanth signing copies of his new book at Barnes & Noble

by Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda

a bee in my bonnet
A care in my cap
Sing me a sonnet –
grief is on tap

Sing me a sonnet
A groat in my spats
just came upon it:
my pockets in tats

Jackdaws twitter
Whittington’s afoot
Banbury’s cross
Jack Horner’s all mute

Boy Blue’s awake
Bo-peep’s fast asleep
Jack Sprat’s hungry
Wee Willie runs deep

Simon’s no wiser
Muffet’s no bolder,
spiders surprise her:
cider won’t hold her

some like it hot
some like it cold
some simply care not
truth be told

Humpty Dumpty
still sits on the fence
Neither giving –
Nor taking offence

no, no, black sheep
dont give me any wool
pulled right over my eyes
I am pretty much full

one two buckle my shoe
no,no, just shut the door:
King Cole, in heavy rue
cares to play no more

Pussy cat, alley cat
Where have you been?
in deep lucubrations –
No time for the queen

a Jack and a Jill
went up the hill:
Jack, in atonement
Still payeth the bill

Pat a cake pat a cake
Baker’s man
You cant make a mistake
As fast as I can

Hush a bye babies
Daddy’s right here:
dog’s got rabies
The end is quite near:

rain, rain
say no to Spain:
darkling spring
comes not again

A dillar, a dollar
Be ye late, or soon
Once an everyday scholar –
Now in immovable swoon

I still dont like thee
Doctor Fell:
heal myself now,
if not very well

bye baby bunting
the ships are out to sea
times they are a-shunting
nothing real can be

so fare thee well,
my mother goose,
to rhymes that braise
to words that bruise

Xmas ain’t coming
the world is getting flat
Time, friend, to pack it in
And that is that

So, how many days
left, now, to play?:
love comes but once,
It’s over: away!
[© R.Kanth 2016]

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Interview with Chris S. McGee for Earth Day

Mr Green Jeans came out on Earth Day. Watch this fascinating interview with Eco-series author Chris S. McGee:

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The Book Soup Best Seller list for last week

1. The Beard
(Alan Swyer)
2. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
(Henry Miller)
3. A Little Life
(Hanya Yanagihara)
4. Inquisitor’s Niece
(Erika Rummel)
5. The Harder They Come (TC Boyle)
6. A Map Of Home
(Randa Jarrar)
7. Alchemist 25th Anniversary
(Paulo Coelho)
8. Chelsea Girls
(Eileen Myles)
9. Kafka on the Shore
(Haruki Murakami)
10. Untamed State
(Roxane Gay)
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‘Twittermorphosis’, A Short Story by Diane Haithman

Diane Haithman’s HSE novel Dark Lady of Hollywood, inspired by Shakespeare, has been featured twice on Nikki Finke’s hot new Hollywood fiction website Hollywood Dementia (one excerpt and one short story, Enter Ghost, adapted from the novel).

This time around, Diane once again mashes up Hollywood and classic literature with The Twittermorphosis.


A short story by Diane Haithman, picture by Thomas Warming

In her vain attempt to please her agent by getting 10,000 Twitter followers, screenwriter Gina Sampson finds herself in a parallel predicament to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in his short novel The Metamorphosis, who wakes up to find that he has become a giant cockroach.

By a similarly alarming twist of fate, @GinaS finds herself stuck in Twitter.


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Abduction, a short story by Bradette Michel

Abduction takes place before the opening of Bradette Michel’s debut novel, For Their Own Good, published in 2015 by Harvard Square Editions. For Their Own Good tells the story of nineteenth century women committed to an insane asylum for reasons that have nothing to do with their sanity.

Mrs. Packard balanced on the edge of her chair as if ready to pour tea for guests. If the room had been full of women from church, only the most observant would notice a slight curve in her back or the tremor of her dress against the bare floor. She struggled to maintain a pose she had been trained to assume since childhood—the pose of a lady.
Any other morning she would have been in the kitchen preparing breakfast at the wood burning stove, her little angels waiting for her to fill their plates with biscuits and gravy. Except this was no ordinary morning. This was the day her husband had prepared for, plotted for, connived for. Pastor Packard intended to take her to the insane asylum today.
A carriage braked in front of the house. The cheerful giggles of the Packard children greeting a familiar visitor reached her ears. Perhaps friends were calling. Perhaps her pleadings the night before had convinced her husband to give up his cruel plan. “Theophilus, have I not fulfilled my duties as wife and mother? Our children are healthy. Our household is well-managed. Have I not ministered to your congregation? A woman whose mind has flown could not have performed such duties.”
She had not been surprised when he closed his Bible and climbed the stairs to sleep in one of the children’s rooms. His reprimands to her words of defiance had been replaced by a rigid glare months ago. She shuddered at the thought of the sleepless nights that came with his silence. Often she woke alone, tangled in bed sheets, shaking and sweating like stalked prey just before the lion pounced.
At the sound of heavy boots ascending the stairway she rose quickly, and turned the key in the lock.
“She is in here, doctor.” (more…)

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A Plot Twist for Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Career

by Mary Yuhas


is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 33 EMMYs, 13 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her groundbreaking journalism. A bestselling author of eight mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: five Agathas, two Anthonys, the Daphne, two Macavitys, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, won both the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller. TRUTH BE TOLD is the Agatha Award winner for Best Contemporary Novel, an Anthony Award nominee and a Library Journal BEST BOOK OF 2014. Ryan also won a second Agatha Award in 2015 for Best Nonfiction, as editor of WRITES OF PASSAGE, an anthology of essays by mystery authors, which was also honored with a Macavity Award and Anthony Award. Ryan’s newest novel, WHAT YOU SEE, is a RT Book Reviews Top Pick for “Exceptional suspense!” and named a Best of 2015 by Library Journal, which raves, “Mystery readers get ready: you will find yourself racing to the finish.” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @HankPRyan and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthor.

LITVOTE:  You were already an award winningl investigative reporter when you started writing? What prompted you to start a second career?

HANK: What prompted me to start a second career? I grew up in very rural Indiana, reading Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew, and always wanted to be a mystery author, or a real life detective. My life went a different direction, but come to think about it, I became kind of a detective and storyteller, right? I’ve been an investigative reporter for three decades now, and a journalist for 40 years! But one day–11 years ago when I was 55!– I simply got a great idea for a plot.  I remember the moment perfectly. And I went home and said to my husband: I have a terrific idea for a mystery, finally, and I’m going to write it.  He smiled, and said “Honey do you know how to write a novel? And I laughed, newbie me, and said “How hard can it be?” Now I know.

But I am proof that it is never too late to start a new career. And I am delighted every day about it.

LITVOTE:  How long did it take to find a literary agent/publisher for your first book?

HANK:  It took longer than I would have liked… But not as long as it takes for some. I thought it would be much easier, especially since I already had a well-known name, in New England at least, and hoped that might make a difference. It didn’t. I may have blanked out how much time it took, since every time I got a rejection, it felt like forever. But I think I maybe got 10 rejections before I got my agent. I know now that that is fabulous.

My first book did not sell instantly, but soon enough, and I hope I never have to worry about that again. I am so happy now with my publisher, Forge Books, and humming along delightedly.

Writing a novel can be a series of rejections, and much of success has to do with persistence.

Oh, and some magic, too.

LITVOTE: Do you outline before you start a book?

HANK: Can you hear me laughing? Every time I write a novel, I swear that I will do an outline. And then I think oh, maybe not, maybe I’ll just start. So bottom line, I have never done an outline for a book. As a result, I don’t know what is going to happen until I write the next word, and the next sentence, and the next scene.

You know there are two kinds of writers–plotters and pantsers. In other words, those who outline, and those who write by the seat of their pants. And I am a pantser.

I start each book knowing it will be about Jane Ryland, a smart savvy reporter, and Jake Brogan, a Boston police detective. I also know one cool unique plot point—one unique gem of an idea that will make the book special and original and riveting. I don’t start writing until I know the first sentence, but after that, anything goes.

It’s an intriguing tight rope, isn’t it? To begin a project, knowing that in a certain amount of time you have to have a certain amount of words, and you have faith that you will get there… Even if you don’t know where “there” is.

So far, it has worked. But not without some bumpy roads. But it is a joy, and some days I burst out laughing with how terrific it is. Other days, not so much.

Although I write thrillers, I don’t even know who the bad guys are when I begin!  When I was writing WHAT YOU SEE, I was almost finished, and in despair. I came out to the living room, and told my husband “I can’t finish this book I have no idea how it ends.”  Jonathan said “You at least know the villain, don’t you? And I said no.

People say –wow the end of WHAT YOU SEE surprised me! And I say yeah, wasn’t that a surprise? Talk about surprise endings. I surprise myself. Every time.

LITVOTE:  Do a lot of the twists and turns in your stories come from your experiences as an investigative reporter?

HANK: Oh yes, absolutely! One of the wonderful things about this dual career as investigative reporter and crime fiction author is that every day I am on the job–as I have been for the past 40 years!–I get ideas for my stories. My books, however, though ripped from my own headlines, are not my stories made into fiction. Not at all.

But I have wired myself within cameras, and confronted corrupt politicians, got undercover, and in disguise, and chased down criminals. I’ve had people confess to murder, and convicted criminals insist they were innocent, covered hostage situations, and ice storms, and shootouts and tear gas and riots. So of course, all that brings veracity and an authenticity to my novels.

Plus—I’ve had to write a story every time. So I’ve also learned the ways to tell a compelling story!

LITVOTE: How do you find time to work full time on television and write?

HANK:  Ha. I have said that if I had an autobiography, I would call it The Juggler. Because all I do is juggle! I am very organized, and have lots of lists, and I keep track of my writing progress. Maybe surprisingly, I am not a multitasker. I focus on one thing at a time, and try to get that done. Right now I am on national book tour, so must focus more on writing, and my station has been very generous and flexible about that. As an investigative reporter, there is much I can do remotely, research and interviews and scriptwriting. I have even tracked my pieces in other cities!

In my personal life?  Cooking I must say, was the first to go, and then laundry. And then vacations, and movies, and dinner parties. So I juggle, and my supportive and enthusiastic husband does too.  So far, so good.

LITVOTE:  Are Jane Ryland and  Charlotte McNally ─ the protagonists in your two series ─ your alter ego?

HANK: Well…no. They aren’t. Jane Ryland is a 35-year-old journalist, just getting her sea legs, and learning her way in the business—she’s so ethical, she keeps getting fired when she refuses to cut journalism corners. She is a 35-year-old person in 2015, and I was a 35-year-old person in… Whenever that was. So it’s a treat to get to be 35 again, but she is Jane at 35, not Hank at 35.

Charlotte McNally, well, she’s not my alter ego so much as she is flat out me. I fear is a lot of me is Charlie, and I embrace it. She also is younger than I am, but as a 46-year-old and television reporter, Charlie is worried that what will happen when she is married to television, but the camera doesn’t love her anymore. This is a rite of passage every woman in television… And other businesses! –goes through. So it was fun for me to explore, with Charlie’s trademark humor, that professional and personal journey.

Again, both characters often surprise me! Sue Grafton always says her main character Kinsey Millhone  revealed herself to Sue more and more in every book, and that is exactly what happens to me with Jane and Charlotte.

(You can read my novels in any order—just like you can watch any episode of Law & Order!)

LITVOTE: After successfully writing eight books, what suggestions can you give to aspiring authors?

HANK: It’s amazing to see that number eight, almost nine! And working on number 10.When I despaired, for a while, over book number one!

But my advice is simple: go for it. There is no one who cares about this is much as you do, no one who is going to make you do it, or force you to do it, or give you a prize if you do it. It is all about your passion, and your commitment, and sitting down in the chair and writing the best book that you can. That’s all there is. Devotion, and persistence, and that crazy wild confidence that any new author must have.

The road to successful publication is inevitably paved with rejection, and disappointment. There is also a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel (which is actually a new beginning!), and sometimes gorgeous lights along the way. So just keep at it, and work as hard as you can, do the absolute best you can, and give it 100 percent every moment of every day.

One big secret? There are no short cuts none at all. It is all about work.

LIT VOTE: Do you read your book reviews?

HANK: Yes I do, and, they are the scourge of authors. I often only remember the bad ones. If I could avoid reading them, I would. But I love hearing from readers, and it’s my goal to make certain they have a terrifically enjoyable reading experience, so, of course, I want to know if I have succeeded.

And the joy, the glorious joy, I get from the good ones is so marvelous and intoxicating. WHAT YOU SEE has received the best reviews I’ve ever seen for any book in my life! “Superb”, “highly entertaining,”  “as good as Dennis Lehane,”  “flawlessly done.”

And it was just named a Library Journal BEST of 2015!  Wow.

But when someone criticizes me unfairly, for something bizarre like my “profanity”– of which there is absolutely none in my books!–I shake my head and I vow I will never read another review.

Sometimes I think if people only knew what a dagger to the heart an unkind word is, they might be more careful about what they cavalierly say.  But that’s all part of the biz.

LITVOTE: What are the most common mistakes that first-time writers make?

HANK:  The most common mistakes? Not being careful enough, not realizing that every word you choose has to work, and has to matter, and that you can’t just bang out a book and have it be good. It takes a long time to write a terrific novel, and then it takes even more time to make better by revisions and changes and rethinking.

There is art, and there is craft. You can be the most incredibly talented person in the world, but if you don’t know how to write a book, it’s rare that it can succeed. There’s an interesting balance of skill and talent on one hand, and sheer education on the other. When I was halfway through my first book I had a little epiphany: That I had no idea what I was doing!

I took a class or two, and read some books, and after all my years as a journalist, it didn’t take much to educate me. I still study writing all the time! And hope to improve with every book. But again, there are no shortcuts. So if writer thinks “la dee dah this will be easy”? That’s wrong.

Writing a book is a marathon. It is easy to feel defeated. If you love it, please don’t make the mistake of giving up.

LITVOTE:  What’s next?

HANK:   So many exciting things! In 2016 my first series, the Charlotte McNally books, will be re-issued by Forge with brand-new editions and brand-new covers. I am so fond of these books– they are fun, fast-paced mysteries set in Boston. The first, PRIME TIME won the Agatha for Best First Mystery. Robert B Parker loved the Charlotte McNally books, (and I hope his fans will, too!)  and I am so happy that soon they will be available to readers again.

I have two short stories being published in 2016 as well, and hilariously, they are so different! One is in an anthology of X-Files stories, can you believe it? Edited by Jonathan Mayberry. And the other is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche which will be in an anthology edited by Laurie R. King and Les Klinger.

I was named Toastmaster, a huge honor, of Malice Domestic, the ‘traditional mystery’ convention held every year in Washington DC.

And then, along with James Patterson, I have been named the American guest of honor for Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, held in Dallas in 2019.

Book five in the Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan series, SAY NO MORE, will debut in October 2016. I am so excited about it! It is about witness intimidation, campus sexual abuse, and the power of silence.

And of course, I will be writing my next book, called OUT COLD! Which, oh, I should go start right now.


Mary Yuhas is a journalist and and has contributed to Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, China Daily USA and Washington Times, MapQuest 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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On Coventry by Matthew Schultz

Book Launch at the Vassar College Library on Friday, October 23rd at 7:00pm – Matthew Schultz will read from and sign copies of On Coventry

A creative exploration of the past-haunted-present, On Coventry features a nostalgic protagonist who is at once homesick and sick of home. It is a bildungsroman that charts the progressively disenchanted relationships of Eliot Hopkins, his working-class parents, and immigrant great-grandparents as a way of mapping the economic and cultural decline of Cleveland, Ohio, across the 20th Century. The figure of George Simmel’s wandersmänner is at the center of this historical narrative about the entropy of American dreams and longing for auld lang syne in a once great city.

Though Matthew’s first novel, On Coventry provides the creative hinge upon which his scholarly work swings. His first book, Haunted Historiographies: The Rhetoric of Ideology in Postcolonial Irish Fiction (2014, Manchester University Press), identifies a set of contemporary Irish novels as historiographical fictions that revisit and revise the partisan architecture of Ireland’s founding mythologies. By juxtaposing canonical and non-canonical texts that complicate previous representations of four definitive events in modern Irish and British history (the Great Famine, the Irish Revolution, World War II, and the Northern Irish Troubles), Matthew demonstrates how the figure of ghosts helps authors to expose the process by which such history is constructed.

His next book will interrogate the role of nostalgia in 20th century Irish fiction. Like On Coventry, this project is particularly interested in ‘reflective nostalgia’ (to borrow a term from Svetlana Boym) and its significance as an enduring Modernist obsession in the work of contemporary Irish novelists such as Colm Tóibín, Mary Morrissy, and Sebastian Barry.

On Coventry transcends generations in a tale of serendipity, about all the lucky and unlucky events that lead up to each individual’s present. It asks us to think about how we all create the fabric of society, are influenced by and influence the places we’re from, and the necessity to empathize with one another despite (and, perhaps because of) our differences.

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Author Laura Novak explains the ins and outs of writing an eBook

By Mary Thurman Yuhas

new Laura Novak imageLaura Novak worked in the news business for more than 25 years before turning to her first love ─ fiction. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a Diploma with Honors from the University of Leningrad in the Soviet Union. The following year she earned a Master of Science from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University where she was selected as the David Jayne Fellow by ABC News. She worked for the network in London and New York for four years before taking flight for the West Coast where she started as a writer/editor at KCBS radio in San Francisco. From there, she became an on-air reporter at KFBK radio in Sacramento where she sat alongside a guy named Rush Limbaugh. Moving back into television, she reported for the CBS, NBC, and Fox TV stations in San Francisco and Oakland. Her specialty was crime stories, and she was dubbed the ‘blood and guts reporter’. Those days provided some good fodder for material now appearing in her mystery series! Following the birth of her son, she wrote for many years for “The New York Times” on health, business and the arts. If she is not swimming or writing with a cat nearby, she is usually recycling anything in her path.


LitVote: After all your years in journalism, your books, Finding Clarity, and Murder at the Mailbox, are fiction. What inspired you to write them?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is built around a real medical case that a doctor tipped me off to, as well as stories I found in the news and the public record. They were all so outlandish they begged to fictionalized. I had a great time creating a madcap mystery weaving all of these elements together. And it was natural for me to ferret out real stories because of my career as a journalist, first as a TV news reporter, like my protagonist, Clari Drake, and then as a print reporter, including many years writing features for The New York Times. Finding Clarity,” and “Murder at the Mailbox,” have mysteries at their roots, but they are also social satires and commentary on Berkeley, California. I get a lot of feedback that I have tapped into the soft white underbelly of life in this fabled city.


LitVote: What did you learn after writing your first book?


Laura: The long form is naturally much harder than daily journalism and even feature writing. As a journalist, at some point, you have to stop and turn in your copy to an editor. With a novel, new material can come your way. You have new experiences all the time and life is full of fodder. It’s difficult to know when the story is finished or when all the elements have come together and it’s time to put the pen down.


LitVote: When we talked, you said, self-publishing is so much easier than it was. How so?


Laura: When I launched Finding Clarity in 2011, indie authors were riding the crest of a big new wave. Many of us were putting chapters up on Scribd for feedback. We were selling books there and a few other places. Then Amazon launched Kindle Select which provided a number of services in exchange for exclusivity. There was all sorts of excitement about free give aways and how to handle promotions. But to get to that point, authors needed to format and upload. The words Mobi and ePub entered our lexicon. I recall watching Youtube videos on how to format for Kindle. It was a nightmare converting a Word document into something these online stores could then publish.


Fast forward to this summer when I formatted, “Murder at the Mailbox.” The real game changer for indie authors is an application called Vellum (,http://180g.co/) created by two guys who worked at Pixar and left to start their own company, 180g. Now, formatting is easy and gorgeous. Vellum generates files that can be uploaded directly to Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo and Google Play. Books no longer have to look like typed xerox copies. Vellum has totally changed the eBook game.


LitVote: Do you recommend self-published writers use an editor?


Laura: Self publishing still carries a stigma, but it doesn’t have to. Some of us choose to spend the time building our own team and producing our own books. And that takes a lot of energy and effort. Others would rather spend that time trying to find an agent who then has to find a publisher. And that’s fine too. But to turn out a respectable product as an indie author, yes, you must hire good editors and cover designers. I hired a developmental editor out of New York who has worked with some big names. And my copy editor is a former colleague of mine from our days at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, as well as, “The New York Times.” He just retired from there in fact. Our timing to work together on, “Murder at the Mailbox,” was perfect!


LitVote: What is the best way to find a book cover?


Laura: I used the same designer for both my books. She is a very skilled and seasoned designer who does much more than book covers. We work well together. But if an author doesn’t know anyone, then that author needs to become a journalist and dig and dig and ask everyone until they come up with names and referrals. Or they can contact me on my website and I can share the names I have.


LitVote: For those who have completed their manuscript and are just beginning their self-publishing journey, what do you suggest they do first?


Laura: Step away from the book. Step away from the book! Take some time away – literally a few months if possible – and move on to the next project. Then, return to it and see all the things you didn’t see the first 100 times around. Then, when you really feel you are done, hire a developmental editor to see the holes in the manuscript that you can’t find. When that is done, hire a copy editor. They are two very different disciplines. And, in fact, the copy editor should probably take two spins on the book. Then, pursue a cover designer. And then, by all means, investigate Vellum. It really is the game changer for formatting a beautiful book.


LitVote: How do you market your book?

Laura: I promote it on Facebook and Twitter and even Instagram. And I rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help share the news.


LitVote: Any advice on what not to do?


Laura: Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy, so it’s important to get quiet and do the work. I never talk about what I do. I just do it. Yet paradoxically, if we aren’t alert and available to new experiences, then we don’t gather new material. It’s a delicate balance.


What are your plans for the future?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is the first in a series I’ve planned. It takes place at Halloween on the most famous street for that holiday in Berkeley. My next book, of which I’ve completed about 25 percent takes place at Thanksgiving and involves, what else? Food. Berkeley is deeply rooted in the food culture of the Bay Area. We can’t converse about this colorful city without including its amazing culinary scene.

Laura Novak’s web site: lauranovakauthor.com

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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Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story

Joe Giordano, author of Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, released October 8th, 2015

The great wave of Italian immigrants to the United States started after Italy’s consolidation in 1871, but il Risorgimento, did not create a nation. As one statesman put it, “Italy has been made. Now we must make Italians.”

The south of Italy, or Mezzogiorno, spoke different languages, had been dominated for centuries by foreign powers, and had distinct cultures. Many in the north of Italy held southern Italians in disdain. The south was already poor when Italy was united. The economic policies imposed by the north made economic conditions worse. As a result, many Italians emigrated to North and South America to find work.

In Argentina, Italians were early immigrants and welcomed. Pope Francis’s parents were Italian immigrants. In Brazil, Italians replaced freed blacks on coffee plantations. Treated little better than slaves, Italians moved to other pursuits. Today the richest state in Brazil, Sao Paulo, has more people of Italian heritage than the founding Portuguese.

The Italians who arrived in New York found the Irish and Tammany Hall running the city. If an Italian wasn’t a mason, a tailor, a barber, or a shoemaker, and didn’t open a shop with his family, he was consigned to manual labor. The padroni system for finding employment was Italians exploiting Italians. Workers were often recruited in Italy and controlled by a padrone in New York who took a cut of their wages. As new immigrants to the U.S., Italians occupied the bottom rung on the socio-economic scale. Often, they were used as “human steam shovels” to build the skyscrapers and subways of New York.

Birds of passage was the name given to Italians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries because they were the first U.S. immigrants who returned to their home country. Many made multiple trips to earn money in the States. After World War I, when U.S. immigration laws tightened, Italians could no longer guarantee their return, so many decided to stay. That’s when they brought their families.

As with the character Guido Basso in Birds of Passage, both my grandfathers were ragmen. Their labor was dirty and backbreaking, but they were their own padrone. My father was the last immigrant in my family. He acquired just a seventh-grade education before he set out to work. Unemployed for a long period during the Great Depression, he found a job in a warehouse. Working rapidly to impress the boss, he reached up for a box. Someone had left a vase on top. The glass knickknack slipped and shattered onto the concrete floor. My father was fired on the spot. Not deterred, he started his own business. My mother was one of five daughters employed at home doing piece work so her family could earn enough money to leave the tenement. Eventually her family purchased a home in Brooklyn.

As a boy, when my father and I passed a man doing hard manual labor, he would say to me, “See that? Go to school.” Many of my fellow Italian-Americans stand upon the shoulders of parents and grandparents who were intrepid enough to try and make a better life in a new country. Birds of Passage is not about my family, but I’m old enough to have known Italians born in the nineteenth-century. In the novel, I tried to capture how Italian immigrants of past generations thought and acted.


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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.

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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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Tweets From Bill McKibben

billmckibben 7 hours agoyep. at this late point in the climate fight, we need to do both things. fast https://t.co/s7fVrC6HHQ

Yang Huang’s blog

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  • Erika Raskin

    • What’s In A Name I Can’t Remember?
        I was in town recently and saw a woman approaching who looked alarmingly familiar. She waved before I could study my shoes, sending me to the name bank from which I returned empty-handed. Panicked, I did what I usually do in these situations– enthusiastically asked how she was– all the while hoping my lack of formal greeting would go unnoticed. It didn’t. In fact, X retaliated by attaching “Erika” to almost every word she uttered. It was like a new language. I was practically on my knees. Aggressive name usage seems a common reaction to having one’s own moniker unspoken. Masters of this conversational comeuppance often raise the ante by asking after every one of your family members, neighbors and pets–while you’re still trying to figure out what social context they belong to. Mother of son’s friend? Dental hygienist? Relative? As feigned recognition is most likely exposed when introductions are expected, I cower at the notion of large group functions. Parties are particularly hazardous. Although my husband has been trained to offer his hand and introduce himself whenever anyone advances, this does create the dangerous possibility of him re-presenting himself to someone he should know. But that is, as they say, a personal problem. The other night I was using the greatest invention of modern times– the info button on the television remote control-when I had a brilliant idea. It came to me right after I retrieved the title and plot summary of the movie I was watching: an Read More... The post What’s In A Name I Can’t Remember? appeared first on erika raskin.
    • 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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    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
      <![CDATA[Determining the value of a baseball player shouldn't be about <em>wins </em>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


    TylerJamesComicTyler James
    All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
    15 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    15 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
    15 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    15 months ago