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Exclusive Author Interview...

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

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Book Review


  • Virtual Writers Workshop, Sunday April 12th

  • Drum Circle 3

    Virtual Writers Workshop at the Etopia Island drum circle

    Join us live online for another book launch and group readings at Etopia Island in Second Life.

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

    BarbaraAlfaro2Our special guest will be Barbara Alfaro, a recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for her play Dos Madres. She’ll be reading from Mirror Talkher memoir about a Catholic girlhood and working in theatre won the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir. Barbara is currently working on a novel tentatively titled Roses and Vices.

    Joss, hippieJoining her will be J. L. Morin, author of the award-winning cli-fi (climte fiction) novel, Nature’s Confession. She is also the author of Trading Dreams, ‘Occupy’s 1st bestselling novel’, and writes for Huffington Post. Her Japan novel Sazzae won a Gold medal in the eLit Book Awards and a Living Now Book Award.

     The group offers useful feedback on original fiction, poetry, and lyrics. Writers read their work in the magical ambiance of the Etopia Island in Second Life to the beat of conga drums. After each reading, participants type their real-time reactions in the chat box and discuss each work.

    Etopia Island’s virtual venue is the ideal place for this kind of writers’ focus group. Participants as far flung as the Brussels Writers Circle  and Brazil regularly attend.


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  • James W. Hall, poet and bestselling author says you can learn to write well

  • by Mary Yuhas

    photo James w. HallJames W. Hall started out his writing life as a poet. He published four collections of poetry, three of them with Carnegie-Mellon University Press. His poems appeared in Poetry, American Scholar, North American Review, Antioch Review, Poetry Northwest, and many other literary magazines.

    Hall is also the author of eighteen novels. Thirteen of which, like his most recent Going Dark, (December, 2013), feature a hardcore loner named Thorn, who makes a meager living tying bonefish flies.

    His non-fiction work includes Hot Damn! a collection of personal essays he wrote for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel’s Sunshine Magazine, as well as some he wrote for the Washington Post and The Miami Herald. His most recent non-fiction effort is Hit Lit (Random House) which is an analysis of twelve of the most commercially successful novels of the last century and the dozen features those books have in common.

    Hall authored two collections of short stories. Paper Products (W.W. Norton), and Over Exposure, an eBook that contains his Edgar Award winning short story, “The Catch.”

    Several of his novels were optioned for film and Hall wrote the screenplays for two of those projects, Bones of Coral, MGM-Pathe, Gruscoff-Levy Producers. (Co-writer, Les Standiford) And Under Cover of Daylight, (screenplay), Nelson Entertainment, Red Bank Studios Producers. He also wrote a television series pilot for Renfield Productions.

    LitVote: Over the years, you’ve had a lot of jobs. Can you tell us about them?

    The Big Finish: A Thorn Novel (Thorn Series Book 14)
    James: I spent many years in school, earning a B.A. in literature, an M.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing. But between stints as a student I’ve been a bartender, a landscaper, a marina worker, a summer camp dining hall manager, a lifeguard and a restaurant manager and a handyman.

    I once had the distinction of digging post holes and building a fence for Robert Redford at his Sundance ranch.

    LitVote: Did those varied work experiences enrich your writing? If so, how?

    James: Those jobs were a great source for collecting exotic characters. Seems I was lucky to work alongside some very rich and complicated people and I find those characters from real life have migrated into the stories a great deal. The work itself isn’t particularly memorable except for the marina experience. I did learn a lot about barnacles and boat hulls during that time.

    LitVote: You were a poet before you were an author. “Maybe Dats Your Pwoblem Too,” ─ a poem about Spiderman ─ is your best known poem. I love it. It’s incisive, poignant and is used in classrooms to help teach a variety of subjects. Do you still write poetry?

    James: I don’t write poetry anymore, but the disciplines I learned from decades as a poet still linger and not always in positive ways. For instance, I find that when I write prose sentences I still sound out the words and listen for the cadence and rhythm of the language much as I did when I wrote poems. That can produce a lyrical sounding phrase, but it also slows me down greatly and I’m always questioning how much the musical writing matters to crime novel readers.

    LitVote: Character development is key in your books. What techniques do you use to build character?


    I think of characters as onions. I peel them away layer by layer as the novel goes on.

    I don’t always know who they are when the novel starts, so writing the book is a process of discovery in terms of plot as well as characters. I’m always interested in how a character rationalizes what they do, especially the bad guys. Frequently I find myself going back to some one particular shaping incident from their past. It’s an old Freudian habit, I suppose, but I do think we are all products of major moments of our history. Usually something traumatic shapes our thinking in profound ways. A loss, a surprise, a failure, things like that.

    LitVote: You are an organic writer. Without an outline for your books, how do you keep from getting lost?

    James: I get lost all the time. That’s why God created the Delete key.

    LitVote: Do you think some people are natural writers?

    James: Not really. Some people prepare themselves better to be writers, by reading a lot, by being attentive to people and empathetic and by being introspective. But writing is a skill and a habit of thinking, so training can be of assistance.

    LitVote: Can those who are not innate storytellers learn to write well?

    James: Yes. I believe studying models is the most important learning device. Finding a book you love and analyzing it carefully, chapter by chapter, and using that as a paradigm. Before there were creative writing programs, writers managed to learn their craft quite well but studying the masters and copying their techniques. I’m not talking about outright plagiarism, of course, but about absorbing someone else’s work and using it as a reference point.

    LitVote: For over forty years, you taught writing at the university level. What did you tell your students is the most important element in writing?

    James: Keeping their butts in their chair.

    LitVote: What are your suggestions to first time authors?

    James: Find another line of work. If you absolutely can’t do something useful and you must write, then give yourself 10 years to finish your apprenticeship before you rush something into print on Amazon or elsewhere.

    LitVote: Your future plans include…

    James: Trying to keep my fingers nimble on the keyboard, and leaving the writing room a bit more regularly so I can actually have a life.


    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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  • Author Interview: William P. Wood

  •  by Mary Yuhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LitVote: Were you happy with the adaptations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LitVote: Any tips for first-time writers?

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

    LiteVote: What’s next for you?

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



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

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

  • by Charles Degelman

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

    Sea level, Nat'l Geo

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

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

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

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

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


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


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  • Excerpt of the Novel: Dark Lady of Hollywood


    by Diane Haithman

    pic of Diane


    Chapter 1


    Since nor the exterior nor th’ inward man

    Resembles that it was.

    — King Claudius, Hamlet


    Dark Lady of Hollywood

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

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

    “The thing?”

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

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

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  • What a Glorious Day

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

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

    All at Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Business of Mass Incarceration

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

     By Chris Hedges

    This article first appeared in TruthDig

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


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

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

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  • Spotlight on the Alternative Justice System

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent Articles:

Erika Raskin at the Virginia Festival of the Book


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

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

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

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

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

It was a great afternoon.

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

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The Sustainable Growth Oxymoron

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

Ekebana by Ekaterina Seehaus ©

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

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

‘Sustainable Economic Growth’ is an Oxymoron

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


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


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

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

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

Three Things Worth Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

(via SustainableCitiesCollective.com)

Catch up with JL Morin’s blog tour:

Huffington Post – Universities Make Cli-fi Dreams Come True

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

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

LitPick – Six Tips on Writing Reviews

Next stop:

Teenreads.com – March , 2015 – The Veil

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A Tale of Interracial Romance and Survival

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

Reviewed by Dr. Bessie House-Soremekun

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

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

“compelling and thought-provoking”

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

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


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

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Thoughts on People and Peppers: A Romance

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

Review by Eric Darton


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

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

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


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


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

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‘Facing’ Disability in Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew Gross moved from the apparel business to bestselling author

By Mary Yuhas

Andrew GrossAndrew Gross is the author of the New York Times and international bestsellers Everything to Lose, No Way Back, 15 Seconds, Eyes Wide Open, The Blue Zone, The Dark Tide, Don’t Look Twice, and Reckless. He is also the coauthor of five number one bestsellers with James Patterson, including Judge and Jury and Lifeguard. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

LitVote: Had you sold any books before you co-authored with James Patterson?

Andrew: I made a career change from the apparel and athletic business. Basically, I came home without a job one night and announced to my wife and three kids that I wanted to write a novel. I spent three years writing my first book, “Hydra,” a political conspiracy thriller. The first year I wrote it, polished it the second year and marketed it in the third. That’s when out of nowhere, I got a call from Little Brown that Jim Patterson wanted to see my book. For the next seven years, I coauthored six books in the, “Women’s Murder Club,” series with him. As a result my first book was a number one seller on the New York Times bestselling list.

Lit Vote: Why did you decide to go solo?

Andrew: It was just time. Working with Jim was a great platform and beneficial in launching my career.

I do miss being able to bounce my ideas off of a top iconic author.

LitVote: How has your writing changed since you collaborated with him?

Andrew: It has changed a lot. I learned a lot from Jim, but I don’t read the kind of books I was writing. Now that I’ve finished my ninth book, I like it just fine. I’ve developed my own voice, my pace and plot movement.

LitVote: What is the most difficult part of writing a book for you?

Andrew: Coming up with a premise or what’s at stake in the book. I triangulate or use three separate themes. In my book, “Everything to Lose,” a twenty year old murder, an ordinary woman with a handicapped son and Hurricane Sandy all come together. I want the book to execute smoothly and my characters to be very engaging.

LitVote: Do you outline every book?

Andrew: Sometimes and other times not. About fifty percent of the book is organic. Thrillers are plot intensive so it is pivotal ─ especially for aspiring authors ─ to have a road map. Without an outline, it’s easy to write into a dark corner. At the same time, I leave an outline open every day so I am open to something fresh and new.

LitVote: How long does it take you to complete a book and how many hours a day do you spend writing it?

Andrew: I’m a one-idea a year guy. I work six days a week. My chapters are usually about five pages. I try to write a chapter a day. The following morning I go back and re-edit and then write another chapter. My books are about eighty chapters. It takes around nine months to complete a book. It’s not a sprint or marathon.

LitVote: What advice do you have for first-time authors?

Andrew: Outline and patience. Everybody wants their book out, but for me all of the magic comes on a second or third draft. Creativity doesn’t always come in a linear way.

Living with a book allows a full creative process.

Today just getting a book out is daunting. Know what you’re getting into because it’s not a cakewalk. There are only a few publishers and a handful of bookstores.

The bestselling list of authors today resembles the bestselling list of ten years ago. That’s not true with musicians or actors. It’s very hard to break through.

LitVote: What is the most effective way to stand above the crowd?

Andrew: There are a lot of avenues, but there is no easy answer. Every time I think I have an answer, something happens.

I think it’s usually accidental, similar to trends in the apparel industry…an author taps into a trend. But, those are difficult to duplicate and hard to do by design. Usually they’re a one-trick pony.

Write a great book and be as energetic as you can be about getting your name out there locally and regionally. My Facebook pages have avid readers.

LitVote: How important are titles?

Andrew: There are a lot of title fights between authors and his or her editor. It can be thorny to say the least. I once switched editors over a title. To some degree, when writing a thriller, a poor title that doesn’t grab readers can dumb down a good book. I like provisional titles.

Of the nine books I’ve written, only one title survived.

LitVote: What does your future hold?

Andrew: Write more books with more richness in setting and place. In my latest thriller, “One Mile Under,” ─ a Ty Hauck novel ─ water is the conflict as townspeople in a drought-stricken, oil-rich community battle an energy company over fracking. (Release date is April 17.)


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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Ten Things You Need to Know if You Burn Wood

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

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

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

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

1) Respiratory Problems

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

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

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

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

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

2) Carcinogenic

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

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

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

3) Toxic Chemicals

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

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

4) Worse Than Cigarettes

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

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

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

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

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

5) Exceeds Federal Standards

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

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

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

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

6) Smoke Enters Homes

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

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

7) EPA Stoves Not Much Better

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

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

8) Doctors Want Ban

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

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

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

9) Taxpayer Subsidized

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

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

10) Alternatives to Burning

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

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

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

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

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Jessica Handler Memoir – How to Write “The Tough Stuff”

By Mary Yuhas


Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss
Jessica Handler is the author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss (St. Martins Press, December 2013.)

Her first book, Invisible Sisters: A Memoir (Public Affairs, 2009) was named by the Georgia Center for the Book one of the “Twenty Five Books All Georgians Should Read.” Atlanta Magazine called it the “Best Memoir of 2009.” Her nonfiction has appeared on NPR, in Tin House, Brevity.com, Newsweek, The Washington Post, More Magazine, and elsewhere. Honors include a 2011 and 2012 residency at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a 2010 Emerging Writer Fellowship from The Writers Center, the 2009 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, and special mention for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. www.jessicahandler.com.


LitVote: What inspired you to write your books, Invisible Sisters and Braving the Fire?

Jessica: The question that we are all so often asked –   “do you have any brothers or sisters?” – was for a long time a very hard one for me to answer. Yes, I do, and they have both died.  I miss them. I wanted to write about our family and our lives, and to celebrate who we were and who we could have been, and to help myself understand who I have become in the aftermath of my sisters’ deaths. That’s what led to “Invisible Sisters.”

When I was growing up and looking for books to help me recognize my own experience – memoirs, how to books, anything that a writer had created that was in some way like my story – there were very few. Later, when I wrote the book, I realized that so many people want to write about their lives after loss but there’s no guide for how to write about “the tough stuff.” That takes some special care and skills.

Teaching writing workshops about crafting memoir after loss is what led me to write Braving the Fire.

LitVote: Your younger sister, Sarah, was born with a fatal congenital illness. When you were eight, you learned your younger sister, Susie, had leukemia. A year later, your family began to unravel. Today, survive and thrive is key in your message. How did you develop those skills and how can others learn them from you?

Jessica Handler photoJessica: I started keeping journals when I was nine years old. I still write in journals to keep an account of what’s going on in my life, what I’m thinking, doing. Joan Didion wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” and I’m sure that’s what I was and still am doing. I was writing to tell myself the story of myself. I didn’t write about loss directly when I was a kid. I wrote about substitute teachers who never seemed to leave, or who I had a crush on. Now I write grocery lists and observations about my day or how I can manage to get to yoga class more than once in a particular week.  Writing has taught me to honor the quotidian elements of who I’ve become in the aftermath of my losses, as well as looking clearly at who what and who I’ve lost. In doing that, I’m fulfilling what my family intended in their best moments, which is to celebrate who I am, what I can do, and to try to engage in a little tikkun olam, which is Hebrew for “repairing the world.” I can’t fix the world, but I can help myself and the people I reach through the skills I have, which is love of words and story.

LitVote: Do you recommend journaling to those who are grieving?

Jessica: I do recommend keeping a journal if you’re a person who does so anyway, or has always thought you might want to. Any form of art or self-expression that suits you is a good idea. Keeping a journal is an act of writing that allows you to communicate only between you and yourself – no one else has to read it, and what you write on those pages (digital or analogue) is your work in its rawest state.

Be comfortable knowing that if you do keep a journal, what you write there doesn’t have to turn into a published work. You can scream, cry, curse, spill coffee in your journal. It’s just for you.

LitVote: Is it common for memoir authors to eventually weave their journals into a story?

Jessica: I can’t speak for all memoirists, but I think if an author keeps journals and is working on a memoir or an essay, he or she will find that those journals can be an excellent resource. I want to emphasize that what I write – and what I’m sure others write – in their journals doesn’t usually translate directly into a finished narrative. Reading my old journals allows me to remember what my “voice” – my character, my self – was like at a particular time in life. What was on my mind, who my friends were, what music I was listening to… the ephemera of life that we sometimes forget. Journals are great for details, especially if you’re like me and keep artifacts like ticket stubs or greeting cards.  A journal, especially from a difficult time in life, is also a portal into some pretty strong emotions. Revisiting those emotions can be difficult, so a writer should go easy on him or herself and know what’s too hard to revisit at a particular time. An emotion is not a story. Writing about a strong emotion requires distance. I can’t give you an answer about how much time has to pass before someone’s ready to write about a subject, because that’s different for everyone. I can tell you, though, that distance allows the writer to do more than simply re-state what happened. Distance lets the writer ruminate on the “why” of what happened, and how he or she has responded to it over time. A memoir is also the story of how the author understands the change caused by the traumatic event, and his or her story of that change.

LitVote: Memoir has to be truthful so, what is creative nonfiction?

Jessica: Memoir absolutely has to be truthful. The “creative” part of non-fiction comes in with the author’s skill and freedom, not to make things up, but to craft his or her story with an eye toward plot, scenes, style, expression of character (and in this case, character means real people), and other techniques that make fiction so readable. Ask yourself what serves the story? How do you work with pacing, style, suspense, and language? What can you focus on if you don’t have a fact at hand? These are some of the tools that creative nonfiction writers work with. Memoir, by the way, is one of several subsets of the genre called creative nonfiction, which also includes literary essays and narrative journalism – that first person, immersive journalism you find in works by Susan Orlean, or Katharine Boo, or, going back in history, John Hersey and Joseph Mitchell. That’s my professor-voice for a moment.

LitVote: For those wanting to write memoir but can’t decide where to start, what is the first step?

Jessica: Start at any place in your story that you feel comfortable. Write out of order. Write what you think will be the last scene first, if you like. Write whatever comes to mind, and be sure to use detail. On my website, I have a writing prompt that goes “Write a page about your reasons for wanting to write the true story of your grief. You might want to start by giving yourself a prompt such as, “how am I different since ____.”

Braving the Fire offers writing prompts like these at the end of each chapter.

LitVote: What is the most common mistake first-time authors make when writing about loss?

Jessica: One common mistake is to try to write about the whole thing in one sweeping gesture. Loss is huge, and shape-shifting, and life-changing.

Write about the smallest details, the good and the bad.

Write about things you might not think will matter to the big story, like the way your mother twisted her ring on her finger when she was worried, or the way your husband’s out of tune singing made you laugh. These are the details that convey your world to your reader.

LitVote: You teach online and in workshops that are held all over the country. Is there a single most important element you teach about writing memoir in your classes?

Jessica: For me, the most important thing I teach is a way for each workshop student to find a way “in” to his or her story, no matter if it’s through dialogue, or plot, or character, or imagery. When a student leaves one of my workshops, I want him or her to be confident about what they’re writing, and to know that they can write it well.

LitVote: On a very different note, how did you find your literary agent?  

Jessica: I’m represented by Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary Agency. I’d submitted Invisible Sisters to her without knowing her personally, so I guess you could say she picked the book from the slush pile, and I am so glad she did. Finding the right literary agent for your work can involve meeting agents at writing conferences and pitching agents by mail or email. Do your homework first, for your sake and the agent’s. Find out who represents work that’s similar to yours in tone and topic. Be familiar with the agent’s list. Take a look at books like Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents” and learn who represents writers you admire. Read the acknowledgements page of books you love, too. Authors almost always thank their agents.

Make sure that when you do pitch an agent, you can summarize your work effectively – there’s an exercise in Braving the Fire designed to help authors do just that.

And know that when you do connect with a literary agent, that person is just one factor in your book’s trajectory. Your agent, and ultimately your publisher, will turn to you to make that book a success.

LitVote: What’s next?

I’m delighted to have essays in two anthologies: “Full Grown People’s Greatest Hits, Vol I” and in “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women”, which will be out this spring. I’m working on another book that’s not a memoir, but it’s about a real person – a teenage girl in the late 19th century who agreed to lie to better her family, and how she finds her way to the truth.


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

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Hashtags every writers 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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On Editing: Part One — Before the Fact


© New Yorker

By Charles Degelman

You probably don’t think about editors when you first sit down to write. You’re driven by the strength of an idea, you’re in love with words and eager to see them pour from your keyboard or pencil tip. You may be immobilized, intimidated by a blank page or screen. Either way, you begin to write your story or make your claim and you may realize that you already have an editor — perhaps more than one — perching on your shoulder.

The more you write, the better you’ll get to know these editors. They’ll bark at you, coo at the grace of your prose, haunt you with questions, call you an idiot or a genius. Whoever they are, regardless of your doubts and dreams, you will want to shape them, train them to work for you because — before you submit your work to an editor — you will want to edit yourself. (more…)

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New York Street Scenes

by Michele Myers,

Author of Fugue for the Right Hand


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

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

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On the verge of CLOSE


Erika Raskin’s launch will be at ‘Over the Moon’ book store Saturday, November 8, 2014

On the verge of her book launch, author Erika Raskin writes:

So Keith came home from the hospital put down his computer bag in the kitchen where I was cooking and announced that we should start practicing the reading for my book party.

What?” (Generally I have to chase him around the house to listen to my essays.) My heart began pounding, the potato masher stopped mid-mash.

“If it were me,” he said in that calm medical-educator voice that generally inspires a transient surge of violence. “I would start practicing.”

“The party isn’t for five days!” I sputtered.

The established division of worry in our relationship is that I do and he doesn’t. What was going on? Seriously, I almost passed out. (more…)

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Eco-fiction.com Announces Climate Change Story Winner

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

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

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Floodlanders, by Wayne Marinovich

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

Format: ebook

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

(via Huffington Post)

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The Case for Fossil-Fuel Divestment, by Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

On the road with the new generation of college activists fighting for the environment

From Rolling Stone

It’s obvious how this should end. You’ve got the richest industry on earth, fossil fuel, up against some college kids, some professors, a few environmentalists, a few brave scientists.

And it’s worse than that. The college students want their universities to divest from fossil fuel – to sell off their stock in Exxon and Shell and the rest in an effort to combat global warming. But those universities, and their boards, have deep ties to the one percent: combined, their endowments are worth $400 billion, and at Harvard, say, the five folks who run the portfolio make as much money as the entire faculty combined.


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billmckibben 4 hours agoSierra Nevada snowpack now at 8% of normal, by far the lowest since measurements began http://t.co/HINjTJIYmU (Check out pix of 'skiing.')

Yang Huang’s blog

  • Sex Is a Lesson about Life
    I was worried when my nine-year-old son began to read Living Treasures. “It’s inappropriate.” I tried to tear it out of his hands, b [...]

Erika Raskin

  • James Patterson has written the ‘world’s first’ self-destructing book

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


    Exclusive interview by Mary Yuhas


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

    James Patterson; photo by David Burnett


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    LitVote: Why do you write with other authors?

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

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

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

    LitVote: How do you choose your coauthors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Patterson desk

    James’ Desk

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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  • Literary Launch Party: LIVING TREASURES

  • 10702175_1502348103373334_7902391687473468868_n (1)

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

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


    An excerpt of Yang Huang’s talk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My second inspiration is the student movement of 1989.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My third inspiration is the one-child policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you.

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

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  • Shape Shifting Santa

  • by Dr. Susan Patrice/Kasuku Magic  

    A theory cleverly uncommon
    Portrays Santa as a Shaman

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

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

    Guiding flying reindeer
    One, not eight did first appear

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy Holidays to everyone

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

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  • Publisher Guidelines

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

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

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  • What’s On Your Bookshelf?

  • Wilson & Coughlon

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


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

    Competitive Reading

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


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  • Writing Jobs

  • The Sun is hiring

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

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

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

    Associate Publisher
    Manuscript Editor
    Editorial Assistant

    More information is available at:

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

  • prince

    Courtesy NPG Music Publishing

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

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

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

    (via Hollywood Reporter)

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  • FacedIn?

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

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

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  • For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov

  • This article first appeared in the New York Times

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

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


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


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

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

    The 5-Minute Empathy Workout

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

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

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

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

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  • The Bubble Has Burst

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


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

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

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

  • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

    This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


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

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

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Around Harvard

Brain Pickings

  • Let your LitVote be heard!

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

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by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

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

by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

  • You're Invited to My Super Bowl Party!
    There will be no neutral fans allowed, nor those "just rooting for a close game," nor those who "just want to watch the commercials." You will support the Patriots and you will like it.

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

  • Welcome Amanda Cooper!
    We're excited to have Amanda Cooper with us today. You might know her as Victoria Hamilton. As Amanda Cooper, she [...]