Leaving Belgium

What a productive and exciting semester it has been so far.  I recently completed a project for my Writing in the Second Genre (second genre being multimedia writing).  The project is an audio essay in the spirit of This American Life.  The story is a page from my own family history, it is about the harrowing journey of a seven-year old girl faced with the ugly reality of war. The seven-year old is my mother, Therese.  The year is 1940, it is the beginning of WWII, the Nazi’s are invading her country.  If you are interested in hearing the beginning of my mother’s journey through WWII click here.

Hearing the old stories from my mother has sparked something within me.  I have been struck by an earnest desire to capture the sights and sounds of that little girl’s journey through the medium of documentary film.  It is my hope that while I am Living in London this winter, my mother and I will travel back to Belgium, to the place that was her home until she became a refugee of war with her mother and two brothers.  Stay tuned for more updates about this project.


My mother is the little girl, she is on her brother's back who is on my grandfather's back. The woman is my great grandmother.

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Historical Research and How I Stumbled onto Frank Turner

You know how you begin searching for something very specific on the internet, like the meaning of the word antitrust; you do a Google search and see the IMBD link to the movie Antitrust starring the hunky Ryan Phillippe, who began his career back in the early 90’s on the soap opera One Life to Live; you click on the IMBD link, with every intention of returning to your original search for the word antitrust; lo and behold its three hours later and, you have no idea how it happened, but somehow you have officially become a Rhodes scholar on everything Ryan Phillippe?

Well that’s kind of what happened with me and Frank Turner, who hales from the very same Hampshire, England town, Meonstoke, as the main character in the novel I’m working on. I know this because I discovered this tidbit of information on the Wikipedia page for Meonstoke. One click lead to another and another, with each click taking me further away from the research I was supposed to be doing for my novel but closer to the knowledge that I absolutely love this British punk/folk singer.

His lyrics are to the point, witty yet mercifully uncomplicated.  They deal with the full range of human emotion and experiences.  With a penchant for rhyme and using cuss words as necessary, Frank Turner is an up and coming force to be reckoned with.  I strongly encourage you to check him out:

Oh, and did I tell you his 2011 US tour kicks off September 20 in Danbury, CT?

Check him out on iTunes 

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Burnt Twig Productions

Documentary film makers  and cofounders of Burnt Twig Productions Sara Lewis and Kristin Santa Maria are currently working on The Writing Life.  The film promises to explore “the process, eccentricities, and motivation of working writers on location at their homes and work spaces.” What began as a small-scale graduate school project has turned into a feature-length film that has its creators traveling from coast to coast to interview some of the best living American authors.  To support this project go to Kickstarter.

The following is a preview of interviews in the film.  Authors Steve Almond and Elizabeth Cohen talk about the writing life.

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Best Friends

My Best Friend

I met Jenny in the 80’s in group therapy, so our friendship has always had this sort of self help therapeutic quality to it.  As you can imagine this is a double edged sword.  It can be exhausting, always searching beneath the surface of our conscious dialogue for the deeper truth, for the underlying motives whose clues can be found in a life time of behavior patterns which only your best friend of 25 plus years is a Rhodes Scholar.  The flip side to the exhaustion of constant self contemplation, however, is the fact that our connection has withstood the test of time.  Not only has it continued to flow in spite of the multitude of cross currents all relationships must sink or swim in, like coal under pressure its dark raw material has been transformed into a precious gem with the superlative tenacity and clarity of a diamond.  So heres to my best friend Jenny, thanks for the memories (for as long as I can retrieve them anyway).

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Eminem the Muse

Aside from the explicit lyrics (i.e. the excessive use of c-words, b-words, n-words and, my favorite swear, the f-word) Eminem has been my musical muse since I saw his performance last week on the 2011 Grammy Awards. That  voice, hard, rhythmic, masculine, has been streaming through my Hyundai’s speakers every day since.  His unique style of rapper poetry newly cleaving to to the message of spiritual transformation reminds me just how omnipotent the unshackled soul is.  Did I tell you that he swears a lot?  I know, I know it is rap your saying.  Not being a diehard rap fan, I may never get it, that is the need for such cuss heavy lyrics. Mind you, I’m not prude or anything,  I am extremely fond of the power of the swear, but for me, less is more, just a suggestion Em.

Rihanna’s chorus in Love the Way you Lie destroys me every time I hear it.  That, plus Eminem’s rap about the dark side of obsessive, explosively passionate love, the kind that completes you and destroys you all at the same time, definitely resonates with me.  He may not have totally meant it this way but I hear it as a far reaching metaphor.  I have to stop myself right here to ask myself-WTF??? Eminem? Reeeally?  For the most part you don’t even like rap!  Yaa I know, maybe I’m just a sucker for the whole Recovery thing.  Eminem representin’ with his recovery logo’d necklace and all.  That is part of it, the initial catalyst that drew me in enough to purchase the cd download, but not all.  Once I got into the lyrics I actually heard the words of a soul grappling with the duality of a self at odds with all of those contradictory thoughts and feelings pushing, pulling and prodding.  At the core I hear a spirit yearning to transcend the distraction of his addiction and move to a higher ground.  I’m rooting for you Em.  Still I could do without all the c-words.  Check it Yo!:

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What is The Muse?

I stumbled on this website conducting research for a project I am working on this semester which involves creating a multimedia self portrait.  Brainchild of Theodore Zelden, The Oxford Muse’s aim is to pioneer new methods to improve personal, professional and intercultural relationships in ways that satisfy both private and public values, according to The Muse website.  I liked the things I read, so I wanted to share  some of them with you.  The following are excerpts that especially resonated with me:

The world is filled with polite, shy, inscrutable, unintelligible, tight lipped, superficial, dishonest and also honest people who for one reason or another do not say what they think.

Many do not reveal their thoughts because they are not sure what they think. Many would be braver in their speech if they were more certain of a sympathetic hearing.

Many, particularly in places where success depends on conformity, are schooled to be hypocrites.

There are many thoughts that are still-born because the mind is not sufficiently stimulated to bring them fully into being.

If thoughts are left to themselves, they remain lonely and limp. They become meaningful to others only when they are fertilised by interaction.

The study of the habits and mentalities of nations, classes and groups does not necessarily reveal what goes on in the mind of individuals, many of whom feel misunderstood or insufficiently appreciated.

Theodore Zeldin

I do love his hair by the way!

Books by Theodore Zeldin

An Intimate History of Humanity

The French

Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives

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Got Money?

I subscribe to Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters newsletter and find it to be a wealth of knowledge, offering new ideas on how to fiscally support my writing habit and on the writer’s life in general.  Recently, I purchased a book she recommended The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing by Gigi Rosenberg. The book is an easily digested book that assists the artist/writer in thinking about new ways to fund projects, breaks down the process of grant writing to meet the need of an individual project and provides a list that features resources for individual artists including specific grants.

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Hello world, I am a writer!

Not only am I a writer but I love writers.  Love to be around them, pick their brains, read their work, read about how they work and learn their backstory.

Take this weekend for example. I had the good fortune of attending New Voices 2011 an annual compendium of up and coming authors hosted by Bill and Lynne Reed, proprietors of Misty Valley Books, an independent book store located in Chester VT.  The annual event includes five “up and coming” authors reading from their first books.  In its 17th year it boasts readings from the likes of Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Steve Almond (Candy Freak, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life).

This year’s cast of authors did not disappoint.  Varying in genres and styles, each one shining a unique brand of illumination to the written word, each one presented such compelling excerpts and backstories from and about their narratives, my only regret is that they sold of Joydeep’s The Storyteller of  Marrakesh before I had a chance to purchase it.  I have already begun reading Jay Varner’s gripping memoir Nothing Left to Burn.

I did not attend the morning activities of this unique event which included a morning of cross-country skiing with the authors, followed by lunch.  I did, however, attend the five readings by the authors followed by a reception in which attendees were given the opportunity to talk to the authors and have their books signed.  The highlight of the day for me was attending a dinner with the authors at Chester’s Fullerton Inn.  As luck would have it, I got to sit at a table with two of the authors, Jay Varner and Ben Farmer.  Farmer’s debut novel, Evangeline, is a historical fiction based on Longfellow’s narrative poem of the same name. The list of authors who participated in New Voices include:

Jay Varner, Nothing Left to Burn

From Amazon Website:

Product Description

Nothing Left to Burn is a remarkable memoir that looks into the life of a family that has spent years harboring secrets, both dark and volatile. It eloquently tells the story of a son’s relationship with his father, the fire chief and a local hero, and his grandfather, a serial arsonist.

When Jay Varner, fresh out of college, returns home to work for the local newspaper, he knows that he will have to deal with the memories of a childhood haunted by a grandfather who was both menacing and comical and by a father who died too young and who never managed to be the father Jay so desperately needed him to be. In digging into the past, he uncovers layers of secrets, lies, and half-truths. It is only when he finally has the truth in hand that he comes to an understanding of the forces that drove his father, and of the fires that for all his efforts his father could never extinguish.

About the Author

Jay Varner is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he earned his MFA in creative nonfiction. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is his first book.


Ben Farmer, Evangeline:A Novel

From Amazon’s website

Product Description

A brilliant debut novel of an epic love story and harrowing journey from Nova Scotia to New Orleans in pre-Revolutionary America.

Inspired by Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline is a brilliant novel by Ben Farmer. As the British drive the French out of mid- eighteenth century Acadia (present day Nova Scotia), the beautiful seventeen- year-old Evangeline Bellefontaine is torn by British soldiers from her fiancé, Gabriel Lajeunesse, on the eve of their wedding. Heartbroken but determined, Evangeline-along with illegal trapper Bernard Arseneau and priest Felician Abadie-sets out on a ten-year journey to the French-Spanish colony of Louisiana to seek her long-lost love.

War and the collision of imperial interests are among the forces the characters confront throughout their expulsion from their homeland and their hard-won survival in exile. Evangeline’s epic quest to find Gabriel brings her and her companions across North America’s colonial wilderness, through the French and Indian War, and into New Orleans’ rebellion against Spanish rule. It is the strengths and failings of the individuals that drive this grand tale, leading them to bitter confrontations in their search for connection and struggle for survival in a world torn asunder.

The legend of Evangeline is still alive in Nova Scotia and Louisiana, where parks, songs, statues, trees, restaurants, and people bear her name.

About the Author

Ben Farmer lives in Maryland, where he was born and raised. He graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in history. He has worked as a teacher, an editor, and in a booking agency for musicians. Evangeline is his debut novel.


Dori Ostermiller, Outside the Ordinary World


“Beautifully written and quietly spellbinding, Ostermiller’s compelling debut novel is a story of love, regret and forgiveness that will linger with readers well after the final page is turned.” –Heather Gudenkauf, NYT Bestselling author of The Weight of Silence

“Reminiscent of Mona Simpson and Elizabeth Strout in the way Ostermiller expertly explores family dynamics…   There’s absolutely nothing ordinary about this astonishingly moving and complex novel.” –Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe

“Outside the Ordinary World is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  It’s got everything I love in a turn-off-the-iPhone, read-in-one-sitting book… A fascinating portrait.”  –A. Manette Ansay, the Miami Herald

“A tightrope journey of childhood haunts… woven with crystalline perfection.  This provocative novel lingers long after the last page…” –Jacqueline Sheehan, NY Times Bestselling Author of Lost & Found

“Outside the Ordinary World is both moving and thought-provoking–a perfect bookclub book!  Ostermiller skillfully weaves past and present into one complex and haunting tapestry.”   –Diane Chamberlain, author of The Lies We Told

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, The Storyteller of Marrakesh

From Booklist

Hassan, a storyteller in Marrakesh’s Djemaa al Fna, annually retells the story of a young foreign couple who appeared in the Djemaa, captured the attention of habitués, and then disappeared. Or did they? Regular listeners interject their own memories, and these conflict wildly. Some describe a luminously beautiful young woman in traditional Moroccan djellaba and headscarf, others remember her in jeans and t-shirt, garishly made up. Were they abducted by thugs? Signs and portents of danger on the fateful day are recounted: a red moon and a red lightning bolt. The book’s ultimate focus is on the love, beauty, and elusive nature of truth, but it also works as a broad, discursive, plausible, and often beguiling presentation of a contemporary Islamic culture little changed by centuries, geopolitics, globalization, or religious enmity. Roy-Battacharya’s descriptive powers are acute, and Marrakesh, the Djemaa, the Sahara, and the High Atlas Mountains are vividly rendered through all the senses. In a time when tensions between Islam and the West are fevered, The Storyteller of Marrakesh offers an agreeable change of pace. –Thomas Gaughan

Paul Doiron, The Poacher’s Son

From Publishers Weekly

Down East editor-in-chief Doiron takes a provocative look at the ties between fathers and sons, unconditional love, and Maine’s changing landscape in his outstanding debut. Game warden Mike Bowditch, who hasn’t heard from his dad, Jack Bowditch, in two years, wonders what the man wants from him after he comes home late one night and finds Jack has left a cryptic message on his answering machine. Mike later learns Jack is the prime suspect in the shooting murders of a cop and a timber company executive. Jack, a brutal alcoholic, makes his living poaching game, but Mike can’t believe Jack is a cold-blooded killer. Mike’s belief in his father puts his job at risk, alienates him from the police, and drives him further away from the woman he loves. Fans of C.J. Box and Nevada Barr will appreciate the vivid wilderness scenes. Equally a story of relationships and an outdoor adventure, this evocative thriller is sure to put Doiron on several 2010 must-read lists. 100,000 first printing; author tour. (Apr.)

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