Author Interview Series-Mira Awad

Mira Awad

 Mira Awad

Mira Awad

Singer, songwriter and actress. Born 1975 in Rameh village in the Galilee (Israel) to a
Palestinian father and Bulgarian mother. As a relentless Artivista, Mira makes a point of promoting dialogue through all the art forms she practices. As actress she participated in numerous bi-lingual productions, as singer she has made the point of collaborating with artists from both sides of the conflict, to bring forth a model of co-existence. As writer she created TV formats promoting dialogue, and a TV drama series that deals with the Palestinian-Israeli identity. As composer, Mira developed a unique fusion of sounds, combining the East with the West, weaving the Arabic language and it's oriental ornaments with Western harmonies. She also composes music for film and theatre. 


Marina Raydun: I referred to you as a poet once and you corrected me, saying that you’ve
always thought of yourself as a songwriter, not a poet. What is the
relationship between lyrics and poetry?


Mira Awad: Well, I do have the habit of shying away from titles, but after giving your question some thought, I do think a song is some form of a poem after all. Once words are intentionally put together to describe a situation, or an emotion, they are poetry. And like in poetry, lyrics may come in many styles and rhythms, with or without rhymes, they may be strictly structured or freely flowing in an associative manner, this would necessarily affect the way they are put to music. 


MR: Is music in your family or did you fall into songwriting on your own?

MA: Yes, music is in my family, both my parents have musical hearing and beautiful singing voices. From my mother's side there are even musicians, in different levels of professionalism. However, as far as I know, I am the first composer. I started writing songs at a very early age, I cannot recall how I started scribbling words and why they became tunes, but nowadays I think maybe if there were existing songs in my language that portrayed the emotions that I had wanted to describe I would not have had the need to write new ones. I may be mistaken of course, and maybe the need to write songs is stronger than circumstance.
 

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MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had
power?

MA: I think I had that realization quite early in life. As I come from a multicultural family, I spoke three languages up to the age of 5, and could connect the different parts of my family together. Although I could not make that assessment as a child, that fact put me in the bridging position early in life.

 
MR: A couple of years ago you put a few poems by Mahmoud Darwish to music. 
What was your biggest challenge with this project? Having asked
that—biggest reward?


MA: The biggest challenge was that the poems were already put to music by a big Lebanese artist called Marcel Khalifeh, and his songs had a big popularity in the Arab world. I had been commissioned to write the music for a theatre play made of Darwish's poems, and felt that the original tunes could not serve the drama depicted on stage, and suggested to the director we re-compose them to serve the play. I did not know how this would be accepted by Palestinian crowds who know the original tunes, and I think opinions are divided regarding this: some appreciate the modern take on the very well known poems, and some feel it was presumptuous of me to even think I could do a better job than Khalifeh (which was never my intent). Regarding the reward, well, besides the actual rewards this project got (I received composer of the year in the theatre awards for that year, and also an award from Acum, the Israeli organization for composers), the biggest reward is when young Palestinians tell me I have revived Darwish for them, and even more, when Israelis , who were usually exposed to Darwish in a demonizing way, tell me I have introduced his poetry to them in a way they can connect to.

MR: You’re a true Renaissance woman—you’re a songwriter, a singer, an actress, 
a graphic artist, and a screenwriter. Does your creative method vary from
medium to medium?


MA: Calling it a "creative method" gives me a lot of undeserved credit, as if I have a planned process I go through in order to create. All the medias you mentioned are ways of expression, each one of them appeals to different senses, but all come from the same need to release what is within, whether in shapes, colors, words, melodies or stories. The process may vary, a creation may start from a private or a shared session of improvisation, or from an idea that then needs to take shape. Creativity is my therapy, that’s why I also developed workshops for creativity, to encourage others, who may not consider themselves artists, to uncover the creativity within them as well. I believe we are all born extremely creative, and I believe that when we release these creative energies, we are happier people.

MR: Your upcoming TV Series, Muna, is about a relationship between an Arab
Palestinian living in Tel Aviv and an Israeli Jew from Sderot and what
happens to their bond with the commencement of military operation
Protection Border in Gaza. You are a tireless advocate for peace and
coexistence. Is this project a part of that effort for you? What inspired you to
turn to screenwriting in particular?

 
MA: My TV drama Muna deals with the same story that I try to tell using all other medias: my identity, as a Palestinian living in Israel. Only this time I chose to bring it forth with a story, and not with a song. While songs may remain in the metaphoric realms, a scenario allowed me to treat the subject more directly, and go more in depth into the conflicts and the complexity. My only experience in scriptwriting comes from being an actress, acting out other people's scripts, and with the years I developed my own taste in what would be a good story or a good scene, and that's what lead me through the process. However, I did have scriptwriter Maya Hefner and director Ori Sivan working with me on Muna, so, although I came up with the story, the series is eventually a joint effort, and the process was yet another big lesson in collaboration.

MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a
better writer as an adult, what would you do?


MA: I would have worked to release my creative energies more, to learn how to channel my thoughts more freely, something that had taken me years to develop.
That is why I also believe that education for creative thinking should be included in school curriculums.

MR: What, if anything, do you owe real life people who serve as an inspiration for
your characters, be it in a TV show, or perhaps a song?


MA: Everything is inspired by real life, by people I meet, and situations I encounter. Clearly these things get processed through my individual outlook on life, but nothing is created from nothingness.

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MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?

MA:

Q: "In the eyes of the public, an artist only exists when they share their art. Is it frustrating that people sometimes ask why you disappeared?"


And the answer is: Yes. Sometimes I am frustrated that audiences don't consider the incubation time that I need as an artist, and if I'm not sharing a new song or new concert on my [facebook page], or if I'm not on some morning TV show, then it's as if I'm not doing anything. The truth is that the incubation time, the time that it takes to form a new project, is real life for me. When it is time to share it, it means the creative process has ended and the marketing phase had started, which is nothing about artistic expression and all about sales. I'm sure you can imagine that I would have preferred to remain a private individual in an ongoing creative process, but hey, we all need to make a living somehow.

To learn more about Mira Awad, please visit www.miraawad.co

Glossing

I never related well to peers growing up. I gravitated toward adults, always. Now that I'm that adult, it's tricky. Surrounded by college freshmen week after week, I forget sometimes that they were my kid's age when I graduated from college. I love these kids and will miss them an unreasonable amount, but I can't say I'm not bitter at how much faster they learn. I'm competitive.

I am learning American Sign Language. The reasons I went back to school having long ago secured a doctorate degree are personal and so I'm keeping the entire experience such. All my projects and presentations so far have been autobiographical and personal in nature, and when it came to selecting a song to interpret for my final exam, I picked End Game  by Into the Presence-a song many may not know but one of tremendous personal meaning to me. Explaining why would not only divulge too much personal information but also be taking me off topic. Suffice it to say, the song is significance to me. I discovered it by accident. I saw Lisa Marie Presley perform live at New York City's City Winery in 2013 and when she introduced her bassist (Luis Carlos Maldonado), she mentioned that he had a band of his own. I looked up Into the Presence in a few days later, which also happened to be the day my live suddenly became gut wrenchingly hard, and downloaded its album and single. It was there for me when I needed it to be and I'd been grateful ever since. So back in September, when my professor first told us we were going to be interpreting a song for our final presentation, I'd contacted Luis, asking for complete lyrics. Graciously, he shared them. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), my professor postponed this assignment until we had not one but two semesters of ASL under our collective belt, so here I am, trying to remind myself that I'm not quite as good an actress as I imagine myself to be as I record take after take on my iPhone X. 

I'm a freelance writer and translator, often taking on translation gigs of various size and complexity. I translate English to Russian and Russian to English. I've translated a play, I've translated subtitles, I've translated a short story, I've translated legal guides. What I'm saying is, I'm not foreign to taking material composed in one language, making sense of the essence of it, and then recording that meaning in a different language, and yet, I found this assignment unreasonably difficult. ASL is its own language, with its own grammar and syntax, and still I kept falling back on practically transliterating the lyrics verbatim, word for word, while my professor kept reiterating that what I was supposed to be doing was glossing. Glossing is what we call it when we write down one language in another. It's called glossing of a language because the target language may not have equivalent words to represent the original language. The result is what's called "gloss." What I was supposed to be doing was to go after the meaning of the text and represent that in American Sign Language, in proper ASL word order.

My problem was in the word "meaning." I'm an educated woman, a writer, and yet I would not rephrase "lying in stone" or "soldier and horse." I say "would" because I could, I just wouldn't. Obviously, there is no physical soldier or horse in the song. And there are no stones. It's an internal battle depicted lyrically. Like in an A.P. English class in high school, there I sat with my lined paper, taking stanzas apart. This exercise is the most important key to interpreting a song in ASL, but I still felt like I needed permission to stray from the original English words written by Luis. "But what is he trying to say when he says, 'with every turn I risk the end of the game'?" my professor would ask. "There is no game, right? You can't sign 'game'-no one's playing 'Mortal Combat' here." She was right. It's a visual, literal language, so I couldn't sign "turn," and I couldn't sign "game." Instead, I we compromised on, "Every challenge, closer to finish." 

"But is it okay to stray from the text?" Seventeen older than most people in the class and here I was, arguing with the assignment.

Once I got rolling, and signing, I felt this giddy sensation take root in the pit of my stomach. It felt right-like I was creating a beautiful dance conveying the meaning of one of my favorite songs. Like I was discovering the song for myself all over again. My initial reservations were assuaged when the assignment finally clicked. I wasn't disrespecting the text. I had to remind myself that once the words are written and published, they no longer belong to the author, be it an essay, a novel, or a song. Once it's out, the word lives and breathes, and those on the receiving end are free to interpret your meaning as they see fit. And they'll do so through their own lens, whether you like it or hate it. They won't ask you. And technically, they shouldn't have to. 

I have intimate experience with this. Right before my novel Effortless was published, I was asked to do a guest blog as part of building publicity for the release. The topic I was asked to discuss was how I balance writing and parenting. It was an interesting question but it wasn't particularly challenging because I knew exactly what I was going to write as soon as the request came in. I wrote that it was simple for me: as much as I love writing, it comes second to my kids. Because absolutely nothing comes before them. I believe the words I used were, "my children are not an inconvenience I have to manage." The article was generally well received, but there were a couple of women who took these as fighting words. I was apparently guilting "working" mothers, accusing them of not making their children a priority in favor of their careers. No matter how I tried to explain that nowhere did I say or even meant to say that, those who wanted to believe their version did not want to hear it, no matter how much I brought them back to the original text. It stung, I won't lie, but I had to remind myself that as readers, we all perceive information through our own set of preconceptions, our own set of goggles. I do it too, I'm sure. Perhaps someone felt envious that I was able to put my career second to my kids. Maybe someone struggled with their own guilt as they made choices that were second guessed by their own environment, and here I was with my article, putting salt on the wound, saying how easy it was for me to make that decision. No matter the reason, my reader was the interpreter, and as the author, I was no longer in control. You can only hope that when it's all said and done, your audience will give you the benefit of the doubt, hunker down and try to get to your authentic meaning, putting their own prejudices aside instead of projecting. I'm very careful nowadays to do just that.

With this reflection, I eventually made my peace with my ASL II final: I have the right to interpret the beautiful poetry Luis Carlos Maldonado penned, but it comes with a responsibility to do justice to the original. That's pressure. And I'm competitive.

 

 

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes

 Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes

Summer Dawn Reyes is a writer of plays and short stories from Jersey City, N.J. She is also a director, actress and event producer and is absolutely in love with theater. She has won multiple awards including a commendation from the New Jersey State Assembly, the Permanent Career Award in Writing from the Society of Arts and Letters-NJ and the N.J. Governor’s Award in Arts Education.

As a woman of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino descent, she is passionate about increasing diversity in the arts, a common mission for both her theater companies, Thinking In Full Color and 68 Productions. You may also know her from her work as an arts journalist covering Hudson County, N.J.

She would like to thank the Lord for His many blessings and her loving family for their support, especially her husband Greg and her stepson Greg Jr.

 

Marina Raydun: Is there a book that changed your life?

Summer Dawn Reyes: I think the most influential books for many of us are the ones we embrace in our youth, the ones that taught us to love reading. For me, this was the Nancy Drew series. I picked them up when I was maybe as young as 5 or 6, and couldn’t put them down. I wanted to read as many of them as possible, and every one was more intriguing than the next. I loved the covers and their dark, mysterious feel. I loved the girl power in the triumvirate of Nancy, Bess and George. It sold me on the entire mystery genre, which was by far my favorite until middle school. What I really loved was flipping to the back to read the ending, and then spending the rest of the read trying to see if the author had masterfully laid out the plot to get there.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

SDR: It’s not really underappreciated, but I think Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is so overshadowed by the musical’s success that many people don’t even know there is a book. They just assume the musical is derived from the movie (which I’m sure they don’t realize is from a book too). Wicked is so rich and so nuanced, and the world is so well fleshed out. There is racism and deviance and traditions, all of these layers that are just delicious. And of course, all the characters are way more fleshed out and serious and darker than musical fans would realize. I think anyone who is a fan of the Wizard of Oz universe in any of its depictions should actually sit down and read Wicked and enjoy it as a book.

MR: Who is your literary hero?

SDR: This is probably really cliché, but my literary hero is Shakespeare. I am a playwright and am deeply involved in theater -- I have my own theater company, Thinking In Full Color, which is devoted to sharing stories by women of color. I am also a director, theatrical production manager and actor. And none of this would’ve come to be if I hadn’t fallen in love with the Bard. He is just a master of exploring different depths -- debating philosophical issues on minute, and making cuckold jokes the next. Every single author has so much to learn from him. I can offer nothing new on the subject of his great merit.

MR: Who is your literary crush?

SDR: For some reason I feel like this question wants me to pick a fictional character instead, so I will! I always felt Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights was just dark and brooding and sexy in that stereotypical way, so I’d totally hit it. I would also totally crush on Lisbeth Salander from The Millenium Trilogy, but I doubt she’d give me the time of day (though who knows, maybe someday I’ll get cast as her lover Miriam Wu in something!) As for someone I’d actually want to settle down with….I’m not sure. Most really well developed literary characters are somehow awful, that’s what makes them interesting.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

SDR: To write, I pretty much just need a good beginning. I need inspiration, obviously, but also the first good sentence or paragraph. That for me is everything. Once I have a beginning, jumping off and following my characters’ paths is easy. But sometimes that beginning doesn’t come easily, and other days it just doesn’t come. Besides that, my biggest challenge is just finding time to write.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

SDR: I like to think that I wouldn’t necessarily close myself off from writing about something, but there are definitely some genres or subjects that just don’t interest me. I’m not really into drug culture, cowboys, or like, gross aliens. I’m fine with extraterrestrial intelligence and cultures, but not into just big, slimy, three-headed, no-faced, tentacled monsters. Also I guess I wouldn’t write anything racist, misogynist, sexist, queerphobic or otherwise hateful and discriminatory.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

SDR: I’m friends with many writers, but I’m unfortunately not really active in any author communities. There is an organization in my area called Jersey City Writers that is really cool and I’ve thought of joining, but I feel like my personal writing (or rather, work) style doesn’t fit into writing clubs in general. I have, however, participated as an actor for their genre nights, when they challenge their writers to create something outside their comfort zone!

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

SDR:  In a literary vein, Shakespeare for sure, but I also really love science and fine art so I’d love to hang with Francis Crick, who sounds like a hoot, or maybe Da Vinci, Vermeer or Caravaggio (I won’t play tennis with him, though!).

MR: What is your biggest failure?

SDR: It’s probably not the worst thing I’ve done, but it is something that still bothers me when I think about it -- I messed up my Common App because I didn’t realize they didn’t allow you to change certain sections after submitting it anywhere, so one of my attached essays was only good for one school but not the others. I panicked and mailed my application to Harvard and wrote a note saying I was totally sorry I sent the wrong essay. I just looked like a big dumbass. ...And I still got on the waitlist. I would always wonder what would’ve happened if I just did the application right. I ended up taking some Harvard classes online, and ultimately not really going anywhere because I had to take care of my chronically ill mother, and I regret my whole higher education experience (or non-experience) in general. But I’m still hella smart, and I know someday I could still go back. We’ll see.

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

SDR: Yes! But doesn’t everybody have those?

 

To learn more about Summer Dawn Reyes, you can follow her on Instagram @summeringo

Links:

  • Boys I Haven’t Loved Yet (Coming Soon!)
  • how to destroy the patriarchy in seven days
  • In Full Color Anthology (Editor and Contributor)

All available at thinkinginfullcolor.com

 

 

Author Interview Series-Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak

 Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak

Nicolas Hornyak is an author, poet, and game designer. Born in Brooklyn in 1993, he studied creative writing at Purchase College, where he wrote the first chapters of his debut novel. After graduating, he published Aimless Sky in 2016, followed by The Phoenix Express in 2017. His poetry has also appeared in Italics Mine and New York’s Best Emerging Poets, and he contributed pieces to Hexblood Tales, Vol. 1 and College of Wizardry: The Magic of Participation in Harry Potter Larps. He currently lives in Jersey City, NJ.

Marina Raydun: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

Nicolas Hornyak: My favorite novel of all time is fortunately also underappreciated. It’s this rather unheard of book called When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon, which was published in 1993 in Ireland. It is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, but the protagonist is gay and closeted in a time where LGBT issues weren’t well regarded. Lennon really captures the almost inherent futility of existing when you’re even just a little different, and captures the gay nightclub scene of Dublin in a magical yet tragic way. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s queer today.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

NH: I don’t have a particular piece in mind, but as a game designer, I love reading documentation about live-action roleplaying, or LARP. These games are a sort of masterclass in storytelling, because the audience of LARPs are also the cast. You almost never see that in theater or cinema. And when you partake in LARP, you suspend reality, substituting it for an alternate portrayal shared by the people around you. In those moments, nonfiction becomes fiction, and fiction becomes nonfiction. You cannot tell the story of your characters without understand that you played them, and so they might as well be real. But you existed in a physical space that transformed into a reasonably fictional setting for the duration of the game. The documentation behind every LARP is a look at how fiction becomes real, and that is fascinating every time.

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

NH: I’m a really big fan of science fiction and fantasy, and thus far, I haven’t really published anything outside of speculative fiction. The Phoenix Express is the closest I’ve come to a literary work. 

MR: What are you currently reading?

NH: I am currently reading a book about the craft called The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. Since my two books have addressed themes of grief and mourning, The Art of Death is my attempt to explore why I did what I did. It’s very good. It subtly teaches lessons about writing via a memoir about the author’s deceased mother and her own explorations into the question of death. I will probably be rereading it for a very long time.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

NH: It kind of…didn’t. At least not all that much. My first book was episodic, with each of the long chapters published as a serial through Patreon before the full book came out. The sequel was also episodic, so the process stayed the same. Things didn’t change until I left Patreon before working on releasing the full sequel. Without a set monthly schedule, I pivoted to writing my novella whenever the inspiration struck me. In the end, I published that book second, and the sequel to my first novel is going to be edited and hopefully published this year. 

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

NH: The best review was on The Phoenix Express, where someone praised how much history, heroism, and feminism I packed into a small novella. I worked really hard to tell a story about this middle-aged courier who travels through time, so to see that someone noticed the lack of male characters and the historical nods was amazing. I’ve not received a bad book review yet, but I’ve definitely been called “bland and uninteresting” for short story submissions. I guess I make a better novelist than I do a short form writer.

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

NH: Omph, tough question. I guess the best answer I can give is that I owe them my friendship and love, unless they would rather abuse or toss it aside. At that point, I don’t owe them a thing. It’s definitely a brutal answer to your question, but I prefer to keep my characters very distinguished from the people I know for this exact reason.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

NH: Probably my own self-doubt. I think a writer wants to do their very best to craft authentic and relatable characters. But sometimes, I do feel that for all my feminism and woman’s rights activism, I’m still doubting the choices I write into every female character of mine. It doesn’t help that I dabble in escapism, and that includes crafting worlds with better rights for women. But it is infinitely better to try and learn from experience though, and feminism only succeeds if everyone, regardless of gender identity, works for that better world.

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your books, who would play your characters?

NH: I think from The Phoenix Express¸ Elmira would be played by Freida Pinto, while Malikah would be voiced by Eliza Dushku. In Aimless Sky, Sky Ashworth would be played by a younger Dev Patel. Never really had an answer for Chelsea Alawi, but her character was influenced by Gina Torres’s performance in Firefly.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

NH: I’m not sure, actually. As a writer, you don’t want to limit yourself, but you do see the lines which you try not to cross. From a game designer perspective, I don’t write about sexual assault at all, because that’s not a topic players can have fun or enjoy a game with. As an author, consent between characters is always on my mind, if only to set a good example, but I’ve read plenty of books which discuss sexual assault. But one topic? Well, I’m almost certainly never going to write about pedophilia. And I think part of it is because there’s a history of queer individuals being labeled as pedophiles (which is obviously not true), and since I’m a bisexual man who likes to write narratives that involve queer characters, there’s no compatibility.

If you would like to learn more about Nicolas Hornyak’s work, check out www.nicolashornyak.com.

His latest work of fiction, The Phoenix Express, is available for purchase at https://goo.gl/rdG2BM

 

 

Author Interview Series-Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon

 

 Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon

Patrice Hannon holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and a B.A. from Saint Peter’s College, both in English.  Patrice is the author of Black Tom: A Novel of Sabotage in New York Harbor, Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love, and 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen.  She taught English full-time at Rutgers University, Vassar College, and Stockton University.  A Jersey City native, she now lives in New York.  Recently, Patrice read from and discussed Black Tom in the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Patrice can be contacted through her website, patricehannon.com

Marina Raydun: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?  

Patrice Hannon: That question is broad enough to be taken in any number of ways.  What comes to mind is how my reading when I was in the graduate English program at Rutgers—literary criticism and theory as well as primary texts—changed my experience of literature.  Even if I don’t literally have a pen in my hand, taking notes as I read in preparation for a class or an essay, I read as a teacher, critic, and writer.  I’m very much aware of style, of the ways a writer is achieving effects at every level.   

MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

PH: Although I know I could be a better writer, I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done differently as a child to make that happen.  As is the case with so many writers, I read voraciously when I was young.  I memorized poems.  I also wrote poetry and stories under the influence of those models.  I believe (as do many) that aspiring writers should immerse themselves in great literature.  Although heaven knows not everything I read was great—I read comic books too—I experienced again and again the thrilling pleasure of some of the most beautiful and powerful language, the most captivating stories, ever written.  Reading was the source of my desire and, to a great extent, my ability to be a writer.             

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

PH: The first draft!  I often start a scene or chapter or book without a clear plan for how all the pieces will fall together.  The whole only takes shape as I write, so I have to keep making that leap of faith and start writing without necessarily knowing what will develop—how the plot will unfold, what the characters will do.  The fear is that nothing will develop, but fortunately that is almost never the case.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

PH: Publishing my first book did change my writing process for the next book but I don’t know that it’s made any permanent changes.  After my first book, Dear Jane Austen, was published, I was approached by Paula Munier, an editor at Adams Media, and asked to write 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen.  I started working under a tight deadline on a book that required a lot of research and I knew the only way I would make the deadline was to give myself a daily word quota.  The pressure to meet these self-imposed quotas was intense and I would sometimes go for days without leaving my apartment or getting much sleep.  I also didn’t have the luxury of endless revision.  With my next book, a still-unpublished novel, I returned to writing at a less manic pace.          

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

PH: Not a whole book (thank goodness) but yes, I see things here and there in all my books that I would change if I could.  I won’t be specific, though, since I don’t want to point out my lapses to readers who might have missed them.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

PH: I’m happy to say I’ve received many wonderful reviews in newspapers, on blogs, on Amazon, and in other places.  I applaud the excellent judgment shown by the wise authors of such brilliant commentary on my work.  It would be hard to single out one of those reviews as the best.  Naturally, a few bad reviews stand out in my mind.

Although 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen was generally well received, one Amazon reviewer was disappointed by the misleading title and pointed out that my book did not, in fact, contain 101 entirely new, hitherto unknown facts about Jane Austen.  (My book was part of the 101 Things You Didn’t Know About _____ series, in which I suspect all the titles are similarly deficient.)

Another reviewer highly praised the content of the book but took off two stars because she didn’t like its physical dimensions (more or less square) or the fact that there were no illustrations.

The Books Editor of one newspaper trashed Dear Jane Austen on principle (there were too many books about Jane Austen published that year) while admitting he hadn’t read it and wouldn’t bother to.  I in turn was so offended by his savaging of a book he refused even to open that I called him at the paper and left a voicemail message.  He called back and we talked, eventually making peace.  He acknowledged that it was in fact possible to create a good book that took as its starting point the work of another author.

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

PH: To name just a few: to the grave of William Butler Yeats in Drumcliffe Churchyard, County Sligo, “Joyce’s Tower” in Sandycove, and Mulligan’s pub, also in Dublin.  Staying with Dublin, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean and where he is buried.  I adore Dickens so The Dickens Museum in London was a must (along with, of course, Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey).  On a trip to Rome I visited the house where Keats died (The Keats-Shelley House).  Ten years ago I was invited to attend the Jane Austen’s Regency World Awards dinner, organized by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.  101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen had been nominated for an award.  (It won!)  While in Bath I visited many places associated with Jane Austen and her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.  On the same trip I spent three days in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a seaside resort Jane Austen had visited, also the setting of a key scene in Persuasion.  I absolutely loved Lyme, particularly the romantic seawall known as the Cobb, famous not only for its role in Persuasion but also in John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  There are many more places, particularly in London, Dublin, and of course New York City, where I live.    

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?

PH: People who don’t know me might be surprised to learn that I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  It was my favorite book when I was a teenager but I hadn’t reread it for many years when I learned of the planned film adaptation.  I read it again at that time to see if, after studying and teaching the greatest literature I would still love and admire this work of fantasy from my youth.  I certainly did!  I was inspired to write an essay about Tolkien’s masterpiece [read it here:  https://dc.swosu.edu/mythlore/vol24/iss2/4/].

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

PH: I can’t think of one.  

MR: What are you currently reading?

PH: I just started reading The Green Man by Kingsley Amis.  I picked up a copy at a used book sale decades ago.  Last year I finally read Lucky Jim and thought it was one of the funniest novels I’d ever read so when I spotted The Green Man in my bookcase last week I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m enjoying it very much.

 

 

Death Cleaning

Death Cleaning

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It's been a month since dad died. And today I finished reading The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. Coincidence? No. The timing of it all is what attracted me to the title in the first place, the reason being that I've been on a mission to declutter for quite some time now, even before my dad ever truly passed away. This obsession began when he was still dying. Call it a coping mechanism, a distraction. Plus clutter gives me anxiety and boy, do we have a lot of clutter, and boy, do I have a lot of anxiety. So there is that. In general, I'm good at seeking out distractions (I refreshed my Facebook feed three time since opening this template), so the trouble lies in the fact that I don't get very far in my attempts to declutter whenever I go on these binges. Maybe it's the aforementioned need for eternal distractions. Maybe we just have too much clutter here. Much like with my weight and my ever evasive goal of losing some-I don't like what I see, but I also don't have enough steam in me to make the necessary dent to order to truly make a difference. It's like I want to, but I also don't. Or at least not hard enough. So I turned to Margareta Magnusson for guidance.

This isn't a how-to book. There are no pretty pictures of all your belongings neatly organized like in an IKEA catalogue. On the contrary, Ms. Magnusson gives very little instruction, per se. This is, first and foremost, a book about personal responsibility. Her bottom line seems to be, "it's not the responsibility of others to sort through your crap after you die so declutter as you go along, downsize before it's too late." Sure, she gives pointers here and there: photos and letters are the hardest to get rid of due to our understandable emotional attachment to them, so save those for later and start with clothes, cutlery, furniture, what have you. The goal is to simplify your life while you still can so as not to stick your loved ones with the task. Sounds reasonable. I'm game. I knew I loved all things Swedish.

Luckily, since my mom lives in my house and there is no need for her to downsize, we haven't had to do much death cleaning after dad's passing. The only things we immediately disposed of were  medications and supplies simply because they were too painful to still have around. His clothes are still in the closet, his shoes are still by the door. His tools are still in a messy shed, his gadgets are still all over the living room. I don't know if it's healthy, but it is what it is. Mom is not ready even though dad had not been his real self for weeks and weeks before his eventual passing and hadn't worn those pants in months, hadn't used that tablet in weeks. It should be easy enough to get rid of these things now. They are things he hadn't touched in so long, what emotional attachment? Still, we are not ready. But while dad's shirts are still on hangers, I've been inspired to begin to let go on my own level. It's not necessarily that I'm confronted with thoughts of my own mortality (I'm too much of an escapist to fathom the finality of own existence), but between the need for distraction, the anxiety that living among piles of books, magazines, toys, and bills creates within me, and this newfound craving to declutter as if to detox in the name of personal responsibility, I need to do something.

I haven't made very much progress yet. But the good intent is there, that sense of purpose. That's a start, right?

Author Interview Series-Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi

 

 Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi

Kristina Rienzi is a Jersey Shore suspense author, and the President of Sisters in Crime-Central Jersey. A dreamer and hopeful future Oahu resident, Kristina encourages others to embrace the unknown through her writing. When she's not writing, Kristina is sipping delicious wine, spoiling her pups, watching The Twilight Zone, singing (and dancing) to Yacht Rock Radio or rooting for the West Virginia Mountaineers. She believes in all things paranormal, a closet full of designer bags, manicures, the Law of Attraction, aliens, angels, and the value of a graduate degree in psychology.

Marina Raydun: Why do you write?

Kristina Rienzi: Simply put, writing brings me joy, and the silence I need as an INFJ. Yes, I masquerade as an extrovert. But in those dark places, it’s all about my alone time. On a deeper level, it gives me the liberty to force growth in my characters, and hopefully in my readers, too.

MR: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

KR: It’s absolutely a gift! Stories give us a unique perspective on this journey we call life. I’m so grateful to be able to share mine with the world.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

KR: To start, getting professionally edited gave me a crash course in craft. It changed the way I wrote all of my future books. Pre-editing became part of my process…and so did plotting. After publishing CHOOSING EVIL with Frost Books Group, I graduated from writer to author and one published book wasn’t good enough anymore. I needed to write more. Publishing a book metamorphosed from a goal to a lifestyle and a career path.

MR: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

KR: Study the craft, then write as much as you can, as often as you can. Writing a novel would have gone much smoother for me the first time around if I didn’t let life get in the way for so many years.  

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

KR: Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about this because I don’t base my characters on real people. It conveniently saves me the trouble of explaining myself to family and friends!

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

KR: Actually, I find it much easier to write men than women. I’m not sure why, but I seem to get into my male characters’ psyche much easier. I’m a glitter-loving, high-heel wearing, girly-girl on the outside. However, my personality tends toward more masculine traits. I’m sure that has something to do with it.

MR: How do you select names of your characters?

KR: My main characters come to me with a name. However, there are some ground rules. I try to mix up the alphabet in the story, and only use a name once between stories. It can get confusing fast, and I like to keep the details simple so readers can focus on the story. 

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

KR: Yikes. Not sure. I try not to read reviews. I don’t want to get too excited, or too upset. I want to keep writing, after all!

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

KR: Too many to name! But, one in particular is not only one of my best friends and soul sisters, but a truly inspiring person: Christine Clemetson, psychological thriller author. Christine encourages me, joins me on my writing adventures (from meetings to road trips to conferences), and talks story with me whenever she has the chance. We write with a Twitter group most mornings (@5amwritersclub) and check in on Twitter with its hashtag of the same name - #5amwritersclub. Discipline makes all the difference. Having an accountability partner you admire is key to persevering through all of the ups and downs in this business. Writing friends are life!

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of one of your books, who would play your characters?

KR: All writers think of this, don’t we? Well, for my latest book (not yet published), AMONG US---a government conspiracy thriller pitting a conflicted English Professor against a clandestine security agency ---Jennifer Lawrence is my perfect heroine, Marci Simon. Jennifer could easily transform from a conservative educator to a fierce bada** on a mission to expose the truth, or die trying. Pierce Austin, the security agent after Marci, must be Ian Somerhalder. He has perfected the art of being a mysterious and manipulative, yet likeable, adversary. They’d be perfect in the push/pull of conflict in AMONG US. 

Connect with Kristina here:

·      Website http://kristinarienzi.com

·      VIP Newsletter http://bit.ly/RienziVIP

·      Facebook http://bit.ly/RienziFB

·      Rebels Reader Group http://bit.ly/RienziRebels

·      Twitter  & Instagram @KristinaRienzi

·      YouTube http://bit.ly/RienziYouTube

·      Amazon http://bit.ly/RienziAmazon

·      Goodreads http://bit.ly/goodreads-krienzi

 

 

Author Interview Series-Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper

 

 Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper

Jacqueline Colette Prosper is a Brooklynite, social media editor, and pop culture obsessive.  Former pop culture writer at TODAY.com and Univision Networks. She has also contributed articles to New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and Elle.com. Subscribe to her Monday newsletter, featuring vignettes, doodles, and short stories: tinyletter.com/yummicoco

 

Marina Raydun: What is the first book that made you cry?

Jacqueline Colette Prosper: The first book that comes to mind is Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, but it could also have been Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I was 13 at the time, bursting with bubbling hormones, and always ready for a good cry -- those books were tearjearking AF. The last book that made me cry could have been Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki -- she definitely strikes a nerve in the heart of any parent as they prepare to toilet train their toddler.

MR: Is there a book you’ve read over and over again?

JCP: As a kid I loved Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and I have read it numerous times. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with my four-year-old sometime soon. From Fudge's toddler antics to Peter's hilarious infuriation with his baby brother, it's the funniest book I've ever read.

MR: Was there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

JCP: As the youngest child in household filled with adults, I was pretty much ignored, and mostly free to do whatever I wanted. I felt pretty naughty reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis around age 12 though, and if my parents were paying attention, they probably would’ve confiscated it.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

JCP: Elia Kazan: A Life. It’s a fantastic memoir! I bought it not really knowing anything about the late director, after someone recommended it to me. Kazan wasn’t the greatest man that ever lived, and he knew it. He cheated on his wife way too many times to count, and he is infamous for having ‘named names’ to House Un-American Activities Committee, which lead to the destruction of the careers of many people including playwright Clifford Odets. However, he successfully crafted a deeply personal autobiography that’s beautifully written and highly self-reflective.

MR: What are your literary pet peeves?

JCP: Writing anything takes a lot of bravery and discipline. If there’s a work that I don’t like I can’t say I wasn't feeling it in that moment because of any personal pet peeve. I'm in awe of anyone that writes and keeps at it. But when it comes to MY writing, I tend to edit myself too much, and I hate that.  I long to let my thoughts fly, and to allow myself to freely write without frequently pressing the backspace button. Daily writing sprints have helped me to stay on the right track. 

MR: Who is your literary crush?

JCP: I think I have a crush on the author Emma Straub. I really enjoyed reading Modern Lovers earlier this year, and I recently visited her incredible bookstore Books Are Magic in Carroll Gardens. Perhaps opening her store was inspired by Ann Patchett’s Nashville bookstore, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, it’s amazing! There’s even a great kids’ room with a gorgeous tufted leather sofa, and a poetry vending machine. All of the design elements in the store are Instagram snap-inducing

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

JCP: I’m currently working on a short story that is hard to write, and making me cringe -- could be brilliant, could be a disaster, jury is still out. I want it to be a hilarious and biting story. However, I tend to write too much detail, and in this instance my strong characters need a stronger plot. I’m working on it, and looking forward to that ah-ha moment when all the right pieces come together to finally make the story POP.

MR: Is there a book you wish you had written?

JCP: There are a few books that I wished I wrote: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Affliction by Russell Banks, Journey to the End of the Night by L.F Celine, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, and Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Those are stories built to last that I often think about, and still come up in conversation. It’s my dream to create literary works that transcend time, worming its way forever into someone’s subconscious like a pop song.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

JCP: I’m fortunate to have met many different authors while living in New York, and working in media. Stephanie Laterza is a wonderful friend and author. I greatly admire her storytelling abilities and discipline. I’m also a part of a monthly writers’ workshop in Crown Heights that has also greatly influenced my creative work for the better.

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be?

JCP: Issa Rae! She’s awkward. I’m awkward. I’d love to be her friend, and I’d love to collaborate on projects with her.

Dad: A Eulogy

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Dad and I had two periods of intense bonding—in 1994 when he helped me translate every single word of my homework night after night, and in 2017-2018 when he came home after his initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and I, along with my mom, became his primary caretaker. Immigration and cancer have similarly humbling qualities—they break you down and remold you into someone else, often to the point where you forget who you were in the first. Dad got to experience this metamorphoses twice. The difference between the October 1994 dad and the January 2018 dad is massive and I fight to cling to the 1994 version. Dad was tireless, dad could do anything. Dad slept little and accomplished a lot. That’s why watching him deteriorate so drastically in front of my eyes has been so gut wrenching. This was a thoughtful, selfless man. I would like to share one particular story that, for me, so perfectly illustrates the man my father was before he grew exhausted and emaciated by both the disease and the treatment.

Anyone who knows me knows what agony 7th grade was. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t have friends, and the world outside our overpriced apartment on East 13th street off of Ave R in Brooklyn may as well have been Mars to my 12-year-old self. I cried before school, at school, and after school. Homework filled me with panic and dread. Dad, doing odd jobs at an ice truck company back then, worked long and late hours, and only at 9pm would we buckle down with dictionaries to translate words like “photosynthesis” to help me complete the homework assignments I had blindly copied off the blackboard and into my foreign three-ring binder.  He stayed up as late as it took for me to feel remotely comfortable coming back to school in the morning. But it wasn’t until one particular incident that I had my very first realization of just how dedicated my father truly was. As if moving across the world for us wasn’t evidence enough, that is.

My English class was hell for me: a bunch of twelve-year olds with minimal English skills at best were expected to read short stories by Jack London and answer questions in class. The mere idea filled me with anxiety. It was such a relief to find out that the teacher could let us borrow the book for the night in order to let her confused students go over any particular story at home. Oh my G-d, I could take the thing home and go through the stories with my dad to be remotely prepared in class for once! So that’s what I did. Mrs. Neyman let me sign a copy out. Score! But dad didn’t get home until roughly 8pm that night; by 11pm I was beat. We barely made a dent in the book and I had to return it in the morning. I was a mess—full on hysterics of a petrified fresh-off-the-boat pre-teen. I was never going to learn English, I would get terrible grades and fail at everything, inevitably. Of course now, my thirty-five-year-old self realizes now that I could’ve just continued signing out the book night after night. Surely Mrs. Neyman would’ve understood. We also could’ve made a run to a local grocery story boasting of its 5c a copy service and photocopied the whole damn thing. But neither one of us was thinking clearly that late at night. So dad sent my wet face to bed and promised he’d think of something. “What can you possibly do?!” I cried. I slept fitfully, an insomniac from an early age, and when I woke up in the middle of the night and crawled back into the kitchen where we were studying, what I saw made me cry all over again but for a different reason: there was my dad, hand copying the entire Jack London story in question (something about spoiled eggs) at three in the morning. He sat there and handwrote the whole thing so that come morning, I could return the book but have the comfort of knowing that I had the story at home and we could continue going over it the next evening. The feeling of guilt and gratitude are still overwhelming and I tear up every single time I even think of the incident. I hope I said thank you at the time, but I don’t remember now, to be honest. “I love yous” and “Thank yous” never come naturally to me in Russian. If I haven’t, thank you, dad. What you did that night for me speaks volumes of the man and the father you were and will forever remain in my memory: selfless, tireless, sleepless problem-solver. There aren’t many like you. There isn’t a person you met who won’t miss you.

Author Interview Series-Chelsea Luna

Chelsea Luna

 Chelsea Luna

Chelsea Luna

Chelsea Luna is the author of the bestselling NEW ENGLAND WITCH CHRONICLES, a young adult paranormal romance series comprising of four novels. Chelsea is also the author of the UPRISING series.  Chelsea received a Juris Doctorate from New York Law School in 2007, and is a practicing attorney in Tennessee. Chelsea is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

 

Marina Raydun: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?    

Chelsea Luna: A gift.  I love creating worlds and characters – I couldn’t imagine not doing so.

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? 

CL: I went to Scotland after I read the Outlander Series.  To see the countryside where Diana Gabaldon created her masterpiece was breathtaking.

MR: What’s your favorite childhood book? 

CL: I loved R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series.  I’ve probably read all of them.

MR: How do you select names of your characters? 

CL: When I start a new novel, I always know my main characters’ names.  Somehow, they are already in my mind.  For other characters, I go to the Social Security website of the top 100 baby names for that particular year and browse the names.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process? 

CL: When I went from self-publishing to traditional publishing, I learned to keep better outlines and notes as the traditional process is much slower than self-publishing.  It was easier during rewrites and drafts to have a much bigger, broader novel base to return to. 

MR: What book do you wish you had written? 

CL: Harry Potter, of course.

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play your characters? 

CL: For my New England Witch Chronicles series, I always envisioned Alex Pettyfer as my Peter LaViollette. 

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author?

CL: I’m not sure.  I write YA and MG novels, so those topics are pretty narrow to begin with, but I’m not sure that there are other avenues that I wouldn’t explore.  I wouldn’t want to limit myself in any way. 

MR: What are you currently reading? 

CL: 11.22.63 by Stephen King and it is phenomenal!  I’m about a third of the way through and I can’t stop reading it.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? 

CL: I don’t really! I listen to audiobooks when I drive by myself. 

Learn more about Chelsea Luna here:

www.chelsealunaauthor.com

https://www.facebook.com/chelsealuna.author/?ref=bookmarks

 

2017 in Books

2017 was the year I discovered Audible, which changed my reading life forever. Below is a list of the books it has allowed me to read this past year, along with some short notes. I hope you can find something that piques your interest for your own 2018 reading list!

Happy New Year!

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different was the last novel I actually "read." I was about to say it was my last paperback, but that would be wrong-I read it on my beloved Kindle. I love Maria Semple. Where Did You Go, Bernadette? was genius, and Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. A relatable, flawed and troubled protagonist is everything for me. I highly recommend this novel to those seeking literary fiction at its best.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 was my first Audible book and also my first Stephen King novel (yes, yes, I know!). The creativity and the attention to detail of this one blew me away. Just to think of all the research that went into this novel! Highly recommend to thriller lovers.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I've resisted reading Liane Moriarty for a while. The rebel in me sometimes winds up missing out on something fun just for the sake of being contrary. But HBO was coming out with an adaptation (I don't have HBO), so I decided to give it a try. Holy crap, was I immediately hooked! Liane Moriarty is one of my most favorite authors now. The way she writes her characters is impeccable. They are nuanced, they are relatable. Loved Big Little Lies.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Pretty much "read above." Highly recommend to those who love quality women's literature.

In the Woods by Tana French

I've heard a lot of buzz about the Tana French mysteries and finally decided to give this one a try. It was good, and I certainly wanted to know what comes next, but it didn't click that much for me. I'm curious about the background of the main character, but I'm not sure I'll continue with the series for now. I may get back to it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I'm sorry to admit this but The Couple Next Door is my least favorite book this year. This doesn't happen often, but try as I might, I still can't find much to say about it. There is too much telling, barely any showing, and the whole thing is riddled with stereotypes on every level. This is a well ranked and reviewed book so this was quite a surprise.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

After having such a negative experience, I simply had to cleanse the palette with some more Liane Moriarty. What Alice Forgot wound up being my favorite book by the author. Alice and I share quite a lot in common.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

A highly suspenseful novel! I can't wait for the next installment. 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I don't read much YA but this was such a thoughtful book. Simply lovely. It does a wonderful job at attempting to renew your faith in mankind. Highly recommend to fans of the genre.

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

This is probably my most favorite thriller. I could not turn it off (an Audible equivalent of being unable to put the book down). Great imagery, great foreshadowing, a great story. It's #4 in the series but I read it as a standalone book and it totally worked. 

Author Interview Series-Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas

 Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas

Michael Namikas, who grew up in a Los Angeles suburb, studied history and law in New York City before deciding to put his legal career on hold in order to pursue his true passion: listening to, researching, and writing about Hip Hop music and culture.  In addition to writing published articles about rap giants like Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar, and N.W.A, Michael has also edited a coffee table book about Ronald "Riskie" Brent, an artist who designed the cover artwork for a number of classic rap albums.  Michael is nearly finished writing volume one of Lost in the Whirlwind, a comprehensive guide to Tupac's music and life.

You can follow Michael at his website (www.michaelnamikas.com), on Twitter (@mikeaveli2682), and on Reddit (www.reddit.com/user/mikeaveli2682). 

 

Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

Michael Namikas: It’s hard for me to recall the specific incident where I first learned that important lesson.  If I had to guess, it would probably be a time when my older sister obeyed one of my parents’ “commands.”

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

MN: My favorite genre would have to be non-fiction.  Is that a genre?  It seems pretty broad.  The history of World War II, if I had to be more specific.

MR: What are you currently reading?

MN: I’m currently reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell.  Because I no longer get to read as often as I would like, I have to be pretty selective.  Lucky for me, both books are excellent so far.  I frequently find that when I’m discouraged or frustrated with my own writing, reading the work of great authors inspires me to continue working.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

MN: I mostly read non-fiction so it’s difficult for me to think of a novel that is underappreciated.  When I do read them, I tend to either read ones that have already been accepted as “classics” or more recent ones, like Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which have won awards or received great reviews.  I’m not an ideal person to answer this question, unfortunately.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

MN: I don’t have many expectations for success.  All I really want is a decent return on the time that I’ve invested.  More important than money, however, is that people read, learn from, and enjoy what I’ve written.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

MN: Two things.  The first is the discipline required to get up, sit at my desk, and write every day without a boss or a firm deadline in front of me.  The second is the will that I need to resist the urge to pointlessly edit something that I’ve already written.  I really enjoy editing, probably more than writing, and it can be a challenge to keep myself from continuously tinkering.

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

MN: It would have to be Tupac Shakur, the subject of my upcoming book.  I have a lot of questions that only he could answer.  He was such a complicated person.  Although he only lived for twenty-five years, each of those years was so full.  He led an endlessly fascinating life that I hope to help illuminate.

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

MN: I can’t think of any topic that I would never write about, although I admit that it would be more difficult for me to write about things that I have no personal experience with unless I did a lot of research beforehand. 

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

MN: Not many, although I have visited parts of Las Vegas that are important to Tupac’s death.  Recently, I’ve visited the hotel that Tupac was staying at the night that he was murdered, the nightclub that he was driving to when he was gunned down, and the traffic intersection where the drive-by shooting that took his life occurred. 

MR: What literary character is most like you?

MN: I’ve never really thought about that because I don’t think about myself when I read.  I want to learn about the experiences of others, not make connections between my own experiences and the characters or people I am reading about.   That’s one thing I’ve noticed about myself that differs from a lot of people who I talk to, particularly when the subject is music.  Many people become fans of artists who they feel they can relate to on a personal level.  I tend to favor artists whose lives have been very different than my own.  Any personal connection that I have to them or the characters they depict is on a very basic level, involving emotions that almost anyone can empathize with. 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview Series-Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

 Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein is a children's book author. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon and Schuster/ Paula Wiseman Books) is available now. Her upcoming chapter book series, WARREN AND DRAGON, illustrated by Mike Malbrough (Viking Children's) will be released Summer 2018. You can find more about Ariel at http://www.arielbernsteinbooks.com, and on Twitter and Instagram at @ArielBBooks.

Marina Raydun: Rumor has it, you have quite a few favorite children’s books. Is there one you can single out as an absolute childhood favorite?

Ariel Bernstein: If I have to pick one, it’s probably THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. When I was younger, I identified with the character of Turtle and loved seeing the story through the chapters from her point of view. When I read it again as an adult, I appreciated how Raskin made all of the character personalities so distinct and layered. Plus, with every read I discover clues I’d missed before.

MR: What is the first book that made you cry?

AB: I don’t often cry when reading books. I imagine if I had cried when reading a book, it was when I read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, knowing what had happened afterwards.

MR: As a parent, what do you look for in a children’s book?

AB: I look for re-readability. If I take a book out of a library or buy one, I want a story that my kids will enjoy multiple readings of, and one that I will be okay reading multiple times!

MR: Do your test drive your ideas on your kids?

AB: I don’t. It’s hard to explain to my kids what my book will ultimately be about when I first start writing, as I often figure out a plot as I write.

MR: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

AB: Sometimes when writing I get stuck figuring out what should come next. Taking a break and reading a few pages from another book usually help.

MR: Any unusual writing quirks?

AB: I don’t think this is so unusual, but I often get my best ideas when I’m out taking a walk.

MR: One of the most prominent features of children's literature is illustration. Do your characters, as they are drawn, match the portraits you must have had in your mind’s eye while you were writing them?

AB: Actually, I rarely have a visual idea of what my books will look like! When I write a picture book, I know the illustrations will be completely up to the illustrator and editor, so I don’t need to figure out what it should look like. When I’m writing chapter books, I don’t know which images or scenes the illustrator will choose to draw. I don’t really write with that in mind.

MR: I Have a Balloon is marketed as a book for ages 4 to 8. That’s a bit of a range in kid years, I would say. Which age, have you found, has the most to say about the book at readings?

AB: I’ve read the book to kids ages two through ten, and luckily I’ve had great experiences reading to all ages. All of the kids end up having questions, no matter their age, so I can’t really say one age group over another responds to it more.

MR: What subject would you never write about as an author?

AB: I’ve never thought to rule any subject matter out, but there are plenty I just haven’t imagined writing about.

MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?

AB: What does it feel like to have had such a long career as a children’s book author? (Obviously I need to write a lot more books if I want to be asked this question one day!)

I Have a Balloon is available here: https://goo.gl/v8SbjD

 

Literary Gratitude

This has not been the easiest year, but it's Thanksgiving, and on Thanksgiving, we give thanks. Really, we should always carry a heart full of gratitude (or so I hear), but we're human and that's impossible. But surely we can muster up some gratitude once a year.

Gratitude itself is too broad a topic, so here I'll focus on the subject at hand-reading.

Thanks to Audible (get it? I'm already thankful!), I have read quite a few wonderful books this year. And some have done an excellent job of reminding me to be thankful for my life and everyone in it. What Alice Forgot, in particular, rung true for me. The character was highly relatable and served as a timely wakeup call. So thank you, Liane Moriarty! Hopefully you caught me just in time.

What book are you most thankful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Author Interview Series-Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

 Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

 

Stephanie Laterza is the author of the feminist legal thriller, The Boulevard Trial. Her short fiction has appeared in The Nottingham Review, Writing Raw, Literary Mama, and Akashic Books. Her poetry has been published in Newtown Literary, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Literary Mama, and Meniscus Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

Stephanie Laterza: I probably first recognized the power of language and its resonance while reading Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein as a child. I was around eight years old when my cousin gave me a copy of the book for Christmas and never before had I read a collection of poems that was so irreverent yet familiar and lyrical in a way I hadn’t experienced up to that point. I love reading the book again, this time with my Kindergarten-aged son. I realize how much Shel’s work likely influenced my own writing and understanding of the power of language to reach and give voice to the human experience in all its tragedy and comedy.   

MR: If you could do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

SL: Reading is inextricably linked with writing, so I would have read a wider, more eclectic selection of books overall, despite considering myself an avid reader as a child. I enjoyed Nancy Drew books along with the novels I inherited from my older sister. But while I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I never read any of Tolkien’s work, for example. It wasn’t until high school that I even heard of The Lord of the Rings and I felt I was missing out on something other kids my age loved. I often wonder whether Tolkien’s trilogy would have inspired me to write fantasy one day. Maybe there’s still hope for me in that regard. As a teenager, it would have been invaluable to me as a young writer to have read the work of my favorite Latina authors as part of my high school curriculum, like Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, or Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had to wait until college to read those and other books by Latina authors I admire. As a side note, Isabel Allende is visiting the Brooklyn Public Library on November 7th, so I am ecstatic to say the least.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

SL: Having readers learn something valuable from my writing, in particular about the intersectionality of class and multi-ethnic identity in America. It would be nice to eventually buy a house by the Adriatic Sea too. I can dream, can’t I?

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

SL: With respect to the heroes or generally kind characters, a balance between sensitivity and authenticity. With respect to illustrating villains, although I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I refuse to be censored. As Anne Lamott wisely said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

SL: I think writing male privilege has been a challenge for me in terms of first-person narration. Could I write a Holden Caulfield-esque male protagonist? I guess to do it effectively, I’d have to put myself into the head of some of the guys I dated in and after college. But seriously, although on the one hand I might be concerned with maintaining authenticity in writing from a so-called “male” perspective, I think the fact that most of the characters I write, male or female, end up being amalgams inspired by different people would help me to create a third-dimensional male protagonist rather than a mere stereotype. In terms of narrative structure, when my male protagonists differ substantially from my personality or direct experience, I’ve sometimes illustrated them through third person narration. Another helpful approach is to start from sources of conflict, which, on the one hand might be influenced by gender, but on the other, are ultimately universal and identifiable to anyone, however they identify. In my short story, The Weight of Figs (The Nottingham Review, 2016), for example, my protagonist is a middle-aged man coming to terms with the decline of his mother’s memory as his father denies his wife’s condition. Although my protagonist isn’t a cis female writer like myself, and I didn’t go through that particular struggle, I can certainly feel the pain of his internal and external conflicts, as anyone could. Pain is part of what unites us as human beings. I suppose we read to know we aren’t alone in that regard.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

SL: Interpreter of Maladies, the Pulitzer-Prize winning short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. She paints existential loneliness and the fleetingness of human interactions with both technical precision and emotional abandon in a way I had never seen before reading her book. The only book that came close to creating that feeling for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which still remains my favorite novel of all time. When I read Interpreter of Maladies, and Lahiri’s subsequent collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I identified with her characters’ profound sense of loneliness and loss on a personal and universal level. I also felt challenged to delve that deeply into my own characters when writing my stories. After reading Lahiri’s work, I realized how much reading inspires writers to take chances with technique, perspective and character development with respect to their own work. Of course, every writer will do this differently, influenced by their personal experience, worldview, and training, if any. It’s just nice to know we’re allowed to traverse the complex terrain of the human psyche because great writers before us have done it.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do you help each other become better writers?

SL: Besides having the pleasure of getting to know my gracious interviewer over the past several years, I’ve been buddies since college with writer Jack Lugo, who is a James Bond aficionado and podcast co-host. Jack and I read and critiqued each other’s short fiction and poetry as English majors at Fordham and I’m psyched to see that Jack is still great at his craft. In recent years, I’ve become good friends with poet Sandra Proto, with whom I’ve shared featured readings in Queens. Also, my dear freelance writer friend, Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, and I have supported each other’s creative writing for many years. It especially rocks that we both live in Brooklyn now. Showing up for our fellow writers is crucial, whether at readings, book festivals or workshops. We’re in this together, and that means a lot.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

SL: It led me to explore the power of narrative structure and forced me to edit on a larger scale. I always say I appreciate structuralism much more now than I did as an English major in college. So there’s a reason The Boulevard Trial begins with third-person narration of the young attorney Helena’s predicament and ends with her speaking for herself. I actually approached the narration surrounding the defendant Francesca and the prosecutor Alexandra in a similar way, but, as readers soon discover, one lives while the other dies by the end of the book. The trial scene is also an exercise in form as social commentary. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat in court transcript form, it’s narrated from the perspective of the court reporter, whose subjectivity comes through despite the seeming objectivity of the scene’s format. Another lesson publishing my first book taught me was the importance of revising multiple times before being comfortable with a finished product because, as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t worry too much about the quality of my first draft (or my thirtieth) anymore since I know I’ll be spending a lot of time refining the book to become something awesome. I also learned the importance of a good editor in connection with subsequent work I’ve written.

MR: What did you edit out of The Boulevard Trial?

SL: The Memorial Day office party where Helena confides her violent secret concerning her ex-fiancé to her unscrupulous colleagues, one of whom betrays her confidence to her law firm partner boss, thereby setting the book in motion. I enjoyed writing that scene, and it even had some karaoke in it, but ultimately I felt it was better to start the book the following week when Helena gets called into the Partner’s office.

MR: What are you currently reading?

SL: Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende.

 

To learn more about Stephanie Laterza and her works, please visit:

The Boulevard Trial on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/The-Boulevard-Trial-Stephanie-Laterza/dp/150591051X

Facebook author page:

https://www.facebook.com/slaterzaauthor/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Stefani1218

Short Fiction Link from Stephanie Laterza's Wordpress Blog

https://stephanielaterzaauthor.wordpress.com/short-fiction-publications/

 

To learn more about Sandra Pronto, please visit:

http://www.sandraproto.com/

 

To learn more about Jack Lugo, please visit:

https://jackl0073.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/just-a-memory/

https://thepopculturejukejoint.podbean.com/

 

To learn more about Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, please visit:

https://twitter.com/yummicoco

 

On Being Read To

I don't read anymore.

No, seriously. I don't read anymore. I haven't read a paperback or an electronic book in roughly a year. I don't have the time. Recently, I picked up a copy of The Mountain Between Us at a book fair and have progressed about 55 pages in a month. Given my lifestyle, reading a single book takes me an embarrassing amount of months. This is unacceptable, of course. Writing and reading are desperately intertwined, and depriving myself of fiction is not a viable option if I want to continue to write. So I bit and downloaded Audible last January. It was the same old classic story: you preview a book, you use that credit to buy it and finish it, and the rest is history-you're hooked. At least I am.

Of course, I understand that this is not the same thing as reading: using your ears vs your eyes is a whole other animal when it comes to processing information.  I haven't been tested on reading comprehension since taking the SATs (the second time), so naturally, I was apprehensive to give this thing a try. But, as I saw it, I had no choice: if I wanted to continue to experience fiction, I had to do something. I can't exactly manufacture a 25th hour and there are books to be read out there!

So Audible turned out to be a lifesaver.  And fast! I very quickly fell in love with being read to. In character! And with accents! I spend a chunk of my day behind the wheel and it's nice to have a trained voiceover actor talk to me. Or, rather, at me.

Now, to be completely honest, I'm not sure I appreciate language to the fullest experiencing it this way, but I find that experiencing the actual plot and the story is easier for me this way. It becomes almost like a play, a movie, even. There's no visual, of course, but that's why we have imaginary casting.

Rarely without a pet-peeve, I have to admit that, sometimes, for me, the narrator does affect the story in a way that possibly wasn't intended. Sometimes accents are too put on, sometimes you can't help but think that you'd read a particular line differently. But this aspect too comes with a benefit of its own: as a writer, you never know how your words will be interpreted once they are out there in the world and this serves as an illustration of just that. Every person will literally read the same passage differently. And that's ok. 

My review of "books on tape"? 4.5 stars. Depending on how you process information, and how sensitive you are to having narrators impose their voice onto something you would've potentially read differently were you actually reading, I'd highly recommend it. 

Author Interview Series-Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

 Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Just before college, Ray won first place in the National Pen Women Competition for his fictional short story, Distinction, as well as winning second place in the New York Best of City - The Written Word. While attending college, Ray Melnik's course on existential literature opened a whole new world for him. He pursued a musical career as a singer and lyricist, after leaving college. In the early 1980s he was the lead singer for One Hand Clap and then Fine Malibus, with Steve Stevens, current guitarist and song writer for Billy Idol. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ray was engineer and co-owner of MANNIK Productions, a recording studio in the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York. In addition to lyrics, Ray, wrote a monthly column about pro audio for a music trade magazine, American Liverpool. Later moving into the field of technology as a network engineer and then architect, he wrote for the technology panel of a regional newspaper, Times Herald Record, and was the primary writer of articles based on home technology for the website New Technology Home.

Ray currently works as a Senior Network Architect in New York City, New York and is a resident of Staten Island, New York. His first novel, The Room, published in September 2007, is a story grounded in reason. His second novel, To Your Own Self Be True, the sequel, follows with the same intention. Burnished Bridge published March 2010 is Ray Melnik's first novella, and is a love story written on a canvass of fictional science. A series ending novel, Eyes In This World was published in September 2013. A novella, Ghost In The Park,was published in April 2016.

 

Marina Raydun:     What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

Ray Melnik: I write science fiction, and given I’m an over the top skeptic, I take pains to make sure the events portrayed in my stories are realistic enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. For example, in my novel, To Your Own Self Be True, there is a scientific device at the center of the story. In describing some of the functions, it talks of harmonics and I made sure to use frequencies accurately matching notes on a piano. In another scene, frequencies traverse a field, so I looked up the humidity levels for that particular day in the area the novel takes place knowing that humidity has a small but measurable effect on sound speed. So, I would say it’s the extra research tangents taken to make sure the details described seem believable.

MR: What literary character is most like you?

RM: I would have to say that I have always related to Meursault, the protagonist in the novel, The Stanger, by Albert Camus. Not that I relate to his obvious detachment from others but to the way he perceives reality and sees the absurd in life. If I reference my own characters, the protagonist in my first novel, The Room, is modeled after my own beliefs and thoughts exactly. Doing so in my first story was an experience that made me feel incredibly exposed, but it was therapy at the same time as I was getting over a failed marriage.

MR: What book do you wish you had written?

RM: That would be, Contact, by Carl Sagan. It embodies everything I feel about the wonders of the cosmos. It is a wonderful story about science, the vastness of space, religion versus reason and a climax that makes you feel we are not alone in the universe.

MR: What is your biggest failure?

RM: Nothing to me is that permanent that it can’t be overcome, but that said, I would probably settle on my first marriage. Even then I would not have changed a thing since my children mean everything to me. Failures are temporary and we are human. Like Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

MR:  Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

RM: Just self-imposed. I purposely won’t read fiction when I am in the process of writing fiction. With all the moments between writing the passages in the chapters and keeping foreshadowing straight, it is difficult to read other fiction because it breaks my concentration.

MR:    What is your favorite genre to read?

RM: I enjoy fictional novels, but there is no question that my favorite books to read are about the sciences. I love them all, but my very favorite subjects are astrophysics and quantum physics. Not only because they fuel the ideas for my fictional stories but because they are two subjects that are beginning to reveal the true nature of reality, and perhaps the only two that really can. We are living in a golden age of both fields of study, and if people would open their eyes to what was discovered it might just give us the humility we so desperately lack. I believe it was Richard Dawkins who said that when it comes to life, there is no question why; only how. The how we are discovering. The why is up to us.

MR:    What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

RM: When I published my first novel I was taken aback by a few people who seemed to go out of their way to be mean. You pour your heart into the story and in the process, you expose yourself. But then someone writes a review that says they were so engrossed that they missed their subway stop, or that the story made them think long after they finished. My favorite good review called my first book, post existential; existentialism with hope.

MR:  If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

RM: That would be, Carl Sagan. I have read every book he has ever written, at least twice. He died almost 21 years ago now, and the world is sorely in need of another person like him. His grasp of reality and the things that are important were second to none. What an interesting conversation that would be over drinks, although it had been rumored he preferred cannabis.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

RM: For short trips, just the task at hand with music, of course. On long drives, such as every few weeks to upstate New York, I think of possible essays. Sometimes they are put to paper, but many times just stored away.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

RM: Writing is a side passion that I’m grateful I can pursue given a demanding career in tech. I have purposefully kept royalties at the lowest possible level in the hope that the price point would entice readers to give my stories a read. My goal many times is to introduce readers to characters of reason, not well represented in literature. It has attracted its share of religious backlash, but others have written to me to say it made them think differently than they had before. That’s success to me.

To learn more about Ray Melnik and his novels, please visit:

Website: http://emergentnovels.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorRayMelnik/

 

 

 

Why write? An inherently selfish act.

I am routinely asked how it is that I find the time to write.

It's not an illogical or a particularly invasive question. I'm a mother, a wife, a student, a daughter, a sibling. Like everyone else, I am busy. Writing takes a lot of focus and time, and I have neither at my disposal. At least not in any wasteful amount. My children come before anyone and anything else, and I make that known to everyone who does and does not ask, so how is an understandable line of questioning. However, I would rather approach it as a why question. Because the "how" is easy-I carve out twenty minutes here, ten minutes there, I work in whatever small chunks of time and opportunity I have. I scribble notes in notebooks and type in keywords into my phone. I do what I can and when I can. Like everyone else. I don't sleep nearly as much as I would like. And my house is not as organized as I wish it would be. Because the few minutes I do have, I would honestly rather spend writing than color coordinating incoming mail. This is "how."

It's hard not to lose yourself in your responsibilities. Life is fast and life is hard. That's the beauty of it, if you're an optimist. On an average day, we forget to drink the requisite amount of water let alone what we wanted to be when we grow up. I don't do girls nights out or spa weekends; that is not my family dynamics. I don't have much down time. So when my house is quiet, I get to escape into myself. Writing is that magical "me" time. It is my therapy. It's important for me to be able to get lost in a fictional world of my own creation, where the characters I penned drive the dialogues. When I don't get to write, a part of me feels like it's missing. I am down and irritable. Beware! Even if it's something I will never use in any publication, even it is something not a single soul will ever read, my pencil has to touch paper, my fingers have to dance across the keyboard. High school through law school, when I wasn't taking notes on the digestive system or the dormant commerce clause, respectively, I was writing. I still do-on the school steps waiting for my child after school, at my desk while my professor is firing up her projector. This is the "why." And the "why" informs the "how." My novels take me a very long time precisely because of the time constraints my life imposes on me, my focus wavers along the road, but I still choose to do it. I'm no superhero. I'm certainly no role model. I write because I want to. It's my inherently selfish act. 

So welcome to my website. And welcome to my blog! Essays, book reviews, and author interviews are to come. Please stay tuned and bring your friends.

-Marina