The Writer’s Handful with Megan Alice

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to!

Okay, so when I was seventeen I wrote poems (didn’t we all?) and hid them away in notebooks and folded sheets of paper stuffed under my socks in my dresser. Today, in the Writer’s Handful, I want to introduce to you the seventeen-year-old poet Megan Alice, whose first book of poetry, A Bouquet of Daisies has just been released. No hidden notebooks and folded-away poems for this young woman. Just saying.

And while Megan Alice’s poems do not shy away from the darkness inside them, as I put this post together, I find myself thinking of something Franz Kafka said: “Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”

Welcome, Megan!BouquetofDaisies_CoverFeb22

Did you write today?

Yes! I wrote a haiku. I try to write something every day either when I wake up or before bed. This is what I wrote this morning:

Do not mistake me

I am neither lion nor lamb

But sleeping dragon

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

In second grade I wrote a short story about a princess who fights crime with her pet dinosaur. My teacher could tell how much I loved writing, so she let me write a sequel. I wish I still had it!

What are you reading right now?

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman and Becky Shaw [a play] by Gina Gionfriddo.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Oh gosh. Well… my acting coach recently told me, “you cannot be noble only when it serves you.” That speaks volumes to me.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

A tiger cub! I imagine myself as a tiger cub and I feel that energy is passed into my writing. I can be dangerous, fierce, and powerful while also being cute, innocent, and young. I also love being unpredictable, which most young cubs are.

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Megan Alice is a seventeen-year-old poet and performer based in Southern California who has committed to donating a portion of her book proceeds to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Megan is currently working on her second book and has several novellas in development.

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The Writer’s Handful with Sarah Ward

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to!

Today’s Writer’s Handful is a conversation with Vermont writer, Sarah Ward, whose new book, Aesop Lake, was just released in paperback from Green Writers Press. This young adult novel is no light-hearted romp among the unicorns and fields of daisies, but instead tells a story full of the complicated relationships and actions young people are engaged in these days. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “A mindful dissection of how allied strength can combat hate.” Something, dare I say, we all might learn from.Aesop-Lake_Cover_MKTsml-768x1155

 Welcome, Sarah!

 Did you write today?

Yes. I edited a dialogue that I overheard at the 4th of July Parade. The dialogue was between a sarcastic father and his fourteen-year-old son. The boy was dressed in cargo shorts, a striped shirt and gold shoes, which his father deemed inappropriate, and proceeded to tease him for. The boy’s long curly brown hair was held in place with a reversed baseball cap, that could not hide his embarrassment and frustration. His only option was to jump on his skateboard and ride away. I’m not sure where I will ever use this scene, but it felt real, and impactful.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

When I was in first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Partridge would ask all of us to put our heads on our desks and listen to the instrumental recording of Peter and The Wolf. It was my earliest introduction to classical music, and it flipped a switch inside of me that storytelling could be more than See Spot Run. Each character was represented by an instrument, and their voices were so distinct that I felt connected and inspired. After the recording ended we were given time to write in our journals. I was only six, but I had been reading since I was four, and had already begun to tell stories, and read books. Then I started writing my own stories for the animals in the story of Peter and The Wolf. I created new stories about what happened to the bird, the duck and other characters. While they were only a few sentences long, my teacher was ecstatic with every attempt I made, and hung them on the wall for all of the class to see.

Bundle Sticks - Aesop Lake Signed
Illustration by Lindsay Ward


What are you reading right now?

Four books. I can never read just one. 1. I’m reading an advanced reader copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s called Unsheltered, which I collected at the 2018 Book Expo in NYC. I absolutely love Barbara’s work, and own all of her novels and short stories in paper and audio. 2. Katherine Patterson’s Stories of my Life, that I picked up at her book signing last winter. One of my favorite children’s authors, and the author of my all-time favorite book as a child, Bridge To Terabithia. 3. Thea Lewis’s Wicked Vermont, which was just released this spring. Thea is another Vermont Author, and friend. I do my best to support other authors, attending their events, buying their books, and when I’m finished, I will write a review. I believe we all need this kind of support, and it builds good karma! And last, but certainly not least, 4. I’m re-listening to the Lord of the Rings, Trilogy. I’ve read this series every decade or so since my teens. I’ve listened to the audio version twice now, and absolutely love Rob Inglis’s voice. As soon as I’m finished with the trilogy I will sock myself away to watch the movies again, for the sixth or seventh time and love them just as much, but for different reason.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

This past spring I was at the 2018 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and I sat in on several panels about writing for young adults about challenging subjects. My new novel, Aesop Lake, takes on a hate crime against a gay couple, and one of my main protagonists, Leda, who witnesses the crime, has to choose between doing the right thing, or protecting her boyfriend and family. I asked one of the panelists, Sarah Aronson, how does she cope with negative reactions to her topics, since I’m assured that some will judge my book as too violent, anti-Christian, etc. (even though it is not), and Sarah’s response was, “as soon as this book is released, start writing the next one. Don’t get focused on any negative press, or the haters, because they don’t really matter. What matters is getting back to work, telling the next story that is ready to be written, and putting your energy into the creative process.” I can’t wait to do just that, as I’ve been thinking about my next novel for six months. I’m ready to go.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

 I think my writing would be best characterized by a lemur because it often looks pretty straight forward, but there is more to it than meets the eye. There are layers of meaning and depth beneath the story, just as a lemur appears to be just another primate, but actually is quite different than others. Many of my stories have a matriarchal head of household, and strong mother-daughter relationships, which is similar to lemurs, who are one of the few known primates and mammals to have females in a social dominant role. Additionally, their social constructs are challenging, and this is true of most of my stories, given my twenty-five-years as a social worker. I tend to write stories about the darker side of families, domestic violence, hate crimes, depression and homelessness, which are topics which affect families—and women—in particular.

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Sarah Ward writes young adult fiction, poetry and journal articles in the field of child welfare. Over a twenty-five-year career as a social worker, Sarah has worked with young adults and families with harrowing backgrounds. She won the 2007 Editor’s Choice Award for the New England Anthology of Poetry for her poem “Warmer Waters,” and she is a member of the League of Vermont Writers since 2008. As a social worker, Sarah has published several journal articles, and was recently a co-author on an article published (December 2016) in Child and Youth Services Review titled, “Building a landscape of resilience after workplace violence in public child welfare.” In her limited spare time, Sarah enjoys a good book, a little yoga and a cup of tea in her home in Williston, Vermont.

 

Writing in a Moment of Crisis ~ A View From the Keyboard of Greg Olear

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If you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for kitty cats in the writing space. (Kitty cats anywhere, really.) Greg Olear, the founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker shares his space with this little guy. And also if you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for thought-provoking, bold, informative writing. Greg Olear writes just that sort of stuff in his writing space…with his cat. And if you can’t find Greg in his writing space, you will certainly find him on Twitter, where he spends most of his time.

For now, though, here is Greg Olear’s View from the Keyboard:

Olear: I’m cheating a little, but this is my view this morning from my writing space. Titus, our new kitten, is sunning himself. My laptop is about nine inches away from his face. I am lucky because I have my own office in my house. Behind me are three gorgeous wooden bookcases, filled with books. There are also bookshelves built into the wall around the window that Titus is in front of.

I love this space because I can look out the window as I write onto the street, which is not busy busy, but not not busy, either. It makes me feel connected to the community. I’m not a “retreat into the woods by myself and drink whiskey and write” kind of writer. I’m more of the Samuel Johnson “tired of London, tired of life” variety. I write almost every morning, first thing in the morning. After 11am, I’m useless.

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Lately, the fiction writing has been uninspired. We are in a moment of crisis in our country, our republic is under attack, and I am using my meager platform to inform my readers of the Trump menace. I’ve just published a book, on my own hastily-invented imprint, called DIRTY RUBLES: AN INTRODUCTION TO TRUMP/RUSSIA. I’ve been tweeting about this and writing about it for 18 months, and I decided to put it in book form. I did this because I feel it’s my civic duty to do everything in my power to get us out of this mess.

Here is an excerpt:

As I write this, a third of the country rightly recognizes Trump as a clear and present danger. A third will defend him no matter what he does, as a matter of blind faith. Whether the middle third is able to call out the naked emperor standing before us may well determine whether the United States survives this unprecedented crisis.

There are powerful forces working to silence these cries of “The Emperor has no clothes.” The talking heads at Fox News and InfoWars, the editorial writers at Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal, and an army of bots on Facebook and Twitter are adamant that Trump is wearing only the finest threads. Mainstream media outlets insist on giving equal time to the “Trump’s new clothes are fabulous” crowd, despite his indisputable nakedness. To too many evangelicals, to denounce Trump as a naked emperor is to renounce Jesus Christ Himself.

Furthermore, the story, the real story, strains credulity. Are we really to believe that a Russian dictator helped install his compromised asset in the White House, and is now exerting influence over said asset’s key decisions? That is the stuff of bad spy movies, surely; not the AP wire!

And yet here we are.

Trump once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his voters. I beg to differ. If he did that, there would be irrefutable evidence of a terrible crime, a literal smoking gun, and that would (I like to think) sway the minds of even the most obdurate #MAGA apologists.

Trump/Russia, however, is not bang-bang. There is no single smoking gun. Instead, there are thousands of them, firing simultaneously, and the result is a noxious fog that hangs over everything, clouding our view.

This book is an attempt to see through the fog.513Whs9XRAL

→Thanks, Greg, for a glimpse into your space and your work. Keep up the good fight, man. And as always, thanks to everyone for reading. ~PMc←

TBT: Wagon Wheels Day Camp

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First day of camp; I was seven, Roger nine. We wore matching sneakers. I wished we were twins; in a couple of years I would cut my hair short and dress like a boy sometimes, hoping people thought we were.

We waited for the bus each morning at the end of our driveway on Greenwood Avenue, a stretch of road then that was sleepy, a huge, empty field across from our house, and up the block a Sinclair station with that big Dino the Dinosaur in front. A place where you would get free glasses with every fill-up, and where my brothers would buy bottles of soda by the case and sell them at the nearby little league games for a few pennies’ profit. These days Greenwood Avenue is four lanes in front of where our house was, and at the corner a car dealership takes up a complete block. 23cfbbaebb0a1ca4970266aa97b29fb2

Wagon Wheels had a talent show on the last day of camp. I don’t remember what Roger did for it, but I danced The Freddie with a bunch of little girls under the hot August sun.

School was just a month away.

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The Writer’s Handful With Justin O’Brien

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to

Fifty years ago this summer, the Democratic National Convention came to Chicago. I was just a little girl in 1968, but I remember watching this on our black and white television: the boisterous goings-on inside the convention center, and the scary, dangerous goings-on outside in Grant Park and up and down Michigan Avenue. My office view today looks over this very spot, but it is hard for me to imagine what it must have been like on those long-passed days and nights. BUT, Chicago Yippie! ’68, by Chicago native–and now Wisconsin resident-Justin O’Brien, puts it all in focus again. This book, Justin’s story and found and snapped photos, is part celebration, part explanation of a time of turbulent hope and essential unrest.

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Recently, Justin was able to take a few minutes away from his writer’s desk for The Writer’s Handful. Welcome, Justin!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?download

I’m a dabbler. So, yes, in my odd fashion, I wrote today, as I do every day. There’s the socially obligatory Facebook posts, including fielding questions about my new book, Chicago Yippie! ’68 (garretroom.com), an account of my experiences as a 17-year-old Chicago kid caught up in the Democratic Convention riots of 1968. I also answered a question on an internet forum about  Chicago blues musician Little Smokey Smothers and his connection to the Paul Butterfield Band (I have been writing about Chicago blues music for forty years). Then there are questions I’m preparing for an interview with a Chicago blues musician for a feature article. And I revisited some of my notes on what I hope will be a long piece or a small book on The Beats and what they meant to me and my hitch-hiking friends back in the 1960s and ’70s.
 
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
As part of a science assignment in perhaps the fourth grade, each of us was asked to write about the cycle of a water drop. I wrote a first-person story about a raindrop falling in a lake and being evaporated back into the atmosphere and coming back to the ground somewhere else as snow, and on and on. I remember feeling the freedom and surprise of creative writing. I may still have that paper somewhere.
 
What are you reading right now?
I’m a dabbler, as I said, and I am juggling all non-fiction at the moment: The Rogue’s
March, which tells the story of Irishman John Riley who defected with thousands of other Irish-born soldiers from the U.S. Army to fight with Mexican forces in the 1840s, an annotated collection of some of Mark Twain’s unfinished fiction, and also a book on Wisconsin geologist/naturalist Increase Lapham. As this suggests, I cannot bear current events at the moment.
 
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
“When you know you’re going to meet an interesting person, think of some good
questions to ask them.” My dad said that to me and my brothers in the car one day when we were boys. I think it was when we were on our way to see a client of his who had been blinded by mustard gas in World War I. That was an interesting day, which I have written about.
I wasn’t a great one for taking advice, but I always remembered that bit. And it served me well throughout the years. In my early teens, when I decided I was going to be a writer, a friend and I were always contriving ways to meet famous people, like Robert Vaughn (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”), Senator Hubert Humphrey, tap dancer John Bubbles, and comedian Frank Gorshin (the original Riddler on the Batman TV show), who was gracious enough to allow us morons to “interview” him at the Drake Hotel in Chicago as he drank his tea in the dining room. Nothing came of that. But I did go on to interview scores of blues musicians over the years for feature articles as well as for the “Speakin’ of the Blues” interview and performance series that the Chicago Public Library held for many years at the Harold Washington Library and broadcast on local cable TV. I hope I have asked good questions over the years.
 
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
It would have to be an alligator that I am perpetually wrestling. Perhaps a small, tame one, because I don’t feel defeated by the effort—it’s always a good and challenging—though sometimes scary—workout, with plenty of thrashing around, if mostly mental.
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Justin O’Brien is a freelance writer who received his bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago. For most of his 42-year career, he practiced the craft of typography, a subject that he also taught and wrote about. Concurrent with his 9-to-5 job he wrote extensively about blues music over a forty-year period, and for several decades has been associated with Living Blues magazine of the University of Mississippi. His writing—on blues and other subjects—has also appeared in Juke Blues, Sing Out!, Irish Music, UIC Alumni News, Chicago Parent, The Typographer, Digital Chicago, Southern Graphics, and The Minneapolis Review of Baseball. He was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of the Blues (Routledge Press, 2005), Armitage Avenue Transcendentalists (Charles Kerr, 2009), and Base Paths: The Best of the Minneapolis Review of Baseball (Wm. Brown, 1991).