Dec 19, 2009

Happy Holidays!

A few years ago, David and I created our own set of holiday cards featuring a penguin couple.








However you're celebrating this year, have fun and be safe!




Tis the season to be merry!







Wishing you and yours a magical holiday season and a glorious new year!


~Gwen, David, & Jasper


Dec 15, 2009

December Updates and Wintery Greetings

Dear friends, family, and fans: The weather outside is frightful, so it's more important than ever to cuddle up, huddle together with friends and family, and enjoy the light in each other.

Whether you're up late with anticipation for holiday festivities or simply have some free time to read, I wanted to tell you about some interesting blog reads. David posted an insider's view into being a bipolar hero and a funny note on Chicago squirrels. I wrote about my second reading of CTFS and a fellow OS blogger, Jim, wrote about sharing the experience at The Book Cellar. I had my first guest blogger, Bob Messerli, on my OS blog. His post is quite intimate and beautiful. (If you're interested in being a guest blogger, please let me know.)

I'm writing feverishly to finish this draft of Invisible Elephants, which is one reason why I haven't been blogging as much in the past month. I hope that you will continue to check in on both blogs. I try to post several times a month.

There is a new press page on my website thanks to my web master genius, David. This includes book reviews and the few blog interviews that I have had so far.

In case you're still looking for holiday gifts, I would like to recommend two fantastic redheads, Kelli of Greenie Bean Recycle and my sister Tiffany of Blessings by the Book. Kelli creates tote bags out of all recycled materials, including t-shirts. Tiffany hand makes delightful scrapbooks. Both are very affordable.

Wishing you a merry and magic holiday season to you and yours.

Peace,
Gwen

Nov 24, 2009

Writers Need Love Too

There is a myth of the isolated writer. The writer shuts herself off from the world, curls up in a dark attic, and furiously pounds away at an ancient typewriter. Okay, the furiously pounding part is real. But a true writer cannot build a fortress of solitude and hide there. A true writer is one who experiences the world fully, not simply from her own perspective but from everyone she meets and everyone she imagines.

The writer must write, of course, and for this she must turn off the phone, sit down at the computer and write. But this is only one part of being a writer. Writing means interacting with people, taking notes, learning to read body language and listening to the way people talk. Then the writer takes all of this back to her quiet space and enters into her fictional world, bringing all of her observances with her. She creates a real world because she writes from a place of knowledge and experience.

The writer cannot—unless she is Thomas Pynchon—hide from the world after she has finished her writing. A writer must go out into her community and connect with others: writers, publishers, librarians, journalists, and readers. Especially when a writer is competing (I despise that word) with so many other books, she must be accessible.

Our modern technology has made this much easier than before. I credit my husband and Amy Guth, founder of the Pilcrow Lit fest, for instructing me in the ways of social media. Thanks to twitter, facebook, myspace, my two blogs, and my website, I am able to connect with potential readers near and far. I am able to make real connections with my audience. At last June’s Printers Row literary festival, I learned about teen bloggers. These teens read practically one book a week, or more, and write interesting reviews. They also do interviews with the author and contests to win the book. I was amazed at the web savvy of these Young Adult lit reviewers. Many of these blogs have hundreds of followers.

The past Wednesday, I experienced a wonderful part of being an author. I read at The Book Cellar (Jim wrote a wonderful description of it here) with three other YA authors. One of them I had read with at my first reading, J. Adams Oaks. I did an interview with him here. The other two, Pamela Todd and Diane Mayer Christiansen, I had the pleasure of meeting that night.

Diane was the first to approach me. She was animated and outgoing, but nervous about reading aloud because she is dyslexic. Her novel, Switcher, is written for kids and teens. She wants her stories to tell them that it’s okay to be different; you’re not alone.

Pamela was a kind and lovely person. Her well-written novel, The Blind Faith Hotel, deals with environmental issues, about which she is very passionate.

I was panicking all day about the reading, of course. Being a writer (there are reasons for that myth), I extremely dislike public speaking. Even reading in front of people makes me nervous. When I was in elementary school, I was supposed to be in a public spelling bee. I was so anxious that I refused to go. It didn’t matter how good I was at spelling (my skills have diminished significantly since the invention of spell check), I could not think or speak with a crowd of people looking at me.

But I want to be an author so badly that I push through the anxiety. Of course, a nice glass of La Fin du Monde goes a long way to helping me. I also had my devoted husband and a great group of friends, including the charming Jim of OS, to support me.

The best part of the night was afterwards when I sold a book to two people I didn’t know. One was a delightful woman who wanted to give it to her niece after she read it. The other was a staff member of the bookstore and our wonderful MC for the evening. It is wonderful to sell books to friends and family members, but they know you. It is quite another experience to sell your book to someone who heard you read for ten minutes and that made them want to shell out several bucks to read it. My mind is still blown.

Participating in the Chicago literary scene has made me feel like a real author, instead of being someone who loves to write. This sense of belonging has been invaluable. Chicago authors continuously impress me. So far, I have never been disappointed. They are delightful, down to earth, and passionate about writing. None of them has ever treated me differently for self-publishing my YA novel, rather than getting it published traditionally. They have always been generous with their attention and advice.

A writer cannot simply hide in her attics, intermittently hating and adoring her work. A writer has to write, but she also must interact. She has to talk and listen and observe and live. Writing is about communication. A writer has to see that her writing actually means something to someone else. This completes the circle.


"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. […] It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship."

~Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”

Nov 17, 2009

November Update

Hello!

I just wanted to give you a quick update.

I will be participating in The Book Cellar's Local Author Night, featuring Young Adult authors. The reading will take place this Wednesday, Nov. 18th, at 7pm. I will be joining J. Adams Oaks (Why I Fight), Pamela Todd (Blind Faith Hotel), and Diane Mayer Christiansen (Switcher). If you're in Chicago, I hope you'll join me for a drink. The Book Cellar has a wonderful beer and wine list.

Over the past month, I was interviewed on a feminist blog, reminisced about Halloween in our home as a child, and had an adventure while trying to meet Sherman Alexie. I also discussed the inner conflict between being a peace activist and enjoying violent films.

I have to give a little plug for my sister-in-law, Tiffany Glover, who recently began an etsy store to sell her unique, handmade scrapbooks. She even does commissions and they're perfect for holiday gifts.

You should be checking David's website periodically. He is furiously painting his cheesecake series. New works will be posted frequently in the next two months.

Thanks for your support. As usual, you can stay in touch with me on facebook, myspace, or on my blogs.

Cheers,
Gwen

P.S. Currently, blogger is not allowing me to link other websites. My apologies.

Nov 15, 2009

I am a Powerful Woman; I Eat Things

I am a powerful woman

I eat things


I open my mouth

and eat

all the darkness outside

I open my mouth

and chew

on the bones of broken dreams


I am a powerful woman

I eat things


Between my lips

is a wide hole with teeth

I bite down

on hard, evil things

I bite down

and convert them into potent energy


I am a powerful woman

I eat things


I grow strong and thick

like a deciduous tree

I can carry chubby cheeked children

on my ample hips

I can bear much weight

on my scarred back

and secure shoulders


I am a powerful woman

I eat things


I hunger for life

Eating is nourishment

for my blood, bones, and muscles

Arms that protect

Hands that heal

Feet that go places


I am a powerful woman

I eat things


I am not ashamed

I can swing my apple hips

to sultry music

I will not hide

I can lift my head high

to feel the sun on my face


I am a powerful woman

I eat things

Oct 26, 2009

THE MISSION: TO MEET SHERMAN ALEXIE


It WAS a dark and stormy night. But I’m not going to say that.

It was a Chicago night in late October. The cold rain made the roads slick and slowed everyone down. It was getting dark around five-thirty already and the menacing clouds made the sky even darker.

We were on a mission. The destination: the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. The tools we had: a 1989 Dodge Caravan with a broken transmission. The countown: 57 minutes and counting. We were determined to see Sherman Alexie.

Sherman Alexie, one of our great Native American writers, has a remarkable biography. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation near Spokane, Washington. Learned to read by age three and had read The Grapes of Wrath by age five. He received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction for his collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1993. Since then, he’s been writing brilliant works of both fiction and nonfiction, inspiring Native Americans and the rest of us to work for our dreams. To not be afraid to dream.

"If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing." — Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)

"Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. . . . Imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace." — Sherman Alexie (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven)

So now you understand why we would fight traffic to get downtown during rush hour. As anyone who lives in Chicago knows, getting from A to B can be quite an adventure. Having a car sometimes makes the travel easier. Sometimes not.

David picked me up from work at five sharp and we hit the road. Traffic was crawling along slowly, but the reading and interview didn’t begin until six so I thought we had plenty of time.
It took us almost an hour to get downtown and onto Michigan avenue, where we sat in traffic for ten minutes before turning off to find a parking lot. We found parking fairly easy for $10. It was six o’clock so we walked fast, huddling until my big clear umbrella.

The Harold Washington Library is huge and beautiful. We found the doors and made our way to where it looked like people were collecting. We were then told that the room was filled to capacity and they weren’t letting anyone else in to see Sherman Alexie.

Heartbroken, we wondered what to do. The “man in charge” told us that we could come back in an hour for the book signing. So we decided to get a cheap meal at the Dairy Queen and come back. Sometimes there’s nothing like greasy fries and soft serve ice cream to mend the heart.

We walked back to the library, chilled and damp by the time we reached our destination. We wandered a bit, trying to find the exclusive room. We followed the flow of traffic going in the opposite direction and found ourselves in a large, theater-like auditorium. I was amazed that this room had been filled to capacity. I spotted several groups of teenagers and students. We stood in a weaving line, leading up to the front where Sherman Alexie was sitting at a small table. We could see him smiling and taking pictures with his fans.

Apparently, everyone had been given a ticket with a number on it so that you had to get in line in numerical order. It took us about fifteen confusing minutes to figure this out. We didn’t have a number because we hadn’t been able to get in. We were accosted by librarians for not standing in the right order and I was afraid that they might call security. Worried that we were making a scene, I was about to abort the mission. David held fast though and, overhearing our predicament, a teenager gave us his number.

When we finally reached the front, I shook Mr. Alexie’s hand and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him. He was charming and funny even after a recorded hour-long interview and signing books for half an hour. We told him our story and he said he was sorry we were “outted.” He then wrote, “Sorry you were outted” and his signature in my copy of Reservation Blues.

I walked away on clouds. I had just met and spoken with a man of greatness. Maybe some of it rubbed off on me.


Oct 17, 2009

Literary Update

Tis the beginning of the holiday season and winter is already nipping at our noses. I wanted to take a moment to share some wonderful news with you.

The first official reading of Cast the First Stone was a brilliant success. Thanks to all of you that were able to come. (You can read all about it here.) The next event may be at The Book Cellar in November. Details will be announced as soon as they are finalized.

On my ever active blog on Open Salon, I interviewed author J. Adams Oaks, blogged about the idea of Princess Leia being a feminist icon, and wrote a humorous post about my experience with H1N1 as a pharmacy tech. I was interviewed about my take on feminism here. CTFS was reviewed by Ashley’s Bookshelf and by Open Salon’s Stim. (A huge thank you to both of them!)

Very soon I expect to be downshifting from promoting CTFS to finding an agent/publisher for my second book, Invisible Elephants. I have almost completed the second rewrite and I believe will to ready to send out by February. This is a very nervous-racking process for me, so I will definitely appreciate all of the emotional support I can get.

As the holiday season approaches, don’t forget to check out the CTFS shop and the DeRosaArt shop. There are some wonderful gift ideas there.

Thank you again for all of your support. I couldn’t do this without you.

Oct 8, 2009

Princess Leia, Feminist Icon?

As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, I didn’t have many female role models while I was growing up. Feminism was a bad word in our home. Women were expected to be supportive to their husbands, good mothers, and take care of the home. Wives were told by God to obey their husbands. My dad was most definitely the head of the household. To him, feminism was a weapon of the devil to destroy families and marriages. This was actually a common view among American Christians in the 1980’s.

“Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” -- Pat Robertson

(Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Can you imagine anyone saying that? Out loud? The whole sentence is absurd.)

My father was very strict about what kind of secular influences we were exposed to, but he loved science fiction. Star Wars: A New Hope was the first movie I remember watching. I was in awe of the visuals of outer space, the music that stirred my sense of adventure, and the lead heroine, an intelligent, passionate, and courageous woman, who didn’t take orders from anyone.

When I saw Princess Leia’s courage in the face of Darth Vader, I was in awe. Every single time I watched it, which was about once a year. I identified with this woman who was struggling for freedom in an oppressive environment. She stood up to her father (obviously, she didn’t know Vader was her father, but still…) and refused to betray her beliefs. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Princess Leia wasn’t the normal damsel in distress. She wasn’t just a beautiful woman. She had tenacity and grit. At the climax of the movie, I was a little disappointed that she stayed behind while the men went out in their fighters to destroy the Death Star. I vowed to never be the one to stay behind. I wanted to be right in the middle of the action.

I was one of the nerds that went to see all three original films when they came out in the theater again in the 90’s. I was one of the nerds that was crushed by Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It didn’t have the same raw energy, the wonderful characters, and the sense of awe that the original three films contained.

Later, I learned more about Carrie Fisher, the woman who has had to live in the shadow of her most famous role. Carrie Fisher is bipolar and—for those of you who aren’t familiar with this mental condition (I don’t like calling it an illness)—being bipolar is a very difficult challenge to overcome. I describe it as being emotionally acute. Being bipolar is a daily struggle and it makes relationships even more difficult to maintain. Her marriage with her soul mate, Paul Simon, ended after several years and her second husband (with whom she had a daughter) left her and came out of the closet.

Carrie Fisher never gave up though. In the years since her iconic performance as Princess Leia, she wrote several best-selling books, fiction and nonfiction, and has had cameo roles in film and TV. Carrie Fisher has a brilliant sense of humor and received an Emmy nomination for her cameo in the second season of 30 Rock. Currently, she is performing in the one-woman Broadway show Wishful Drinking, which is based on her best selling novel.*

I know that for many, Princess Leia is a sex symbol. The unattainable and perfect woman. For me, Princess Leia is my feminist icon. She was my first (and pretty much only) female role model for feminism until Lois Lane. (Yes, I realize that they’re both fictional characters.) In a male-dominated universe, she stood out as a force to be reckoned with. Tough, smart, and outspoken, she typified everything that I wanted to be.





Sep 24, 2009

Interview with Author, J. Adams Oaks

Last week I posted about my (very exciting!) first official reading at Women and Children First. I opened for a brilliant author, J. Adams Oaks, who read from his debut novel Why I Fight. I was so impressed by the captivating novel (which I devoured in about two days) and with J. that I asked him if I could interview him.





Tell us a little about your novel, Why I Fight?

Well, let’s see, it’s my first novel. It’s considered Young Adult and geared toward reluctant male readers. It’s about a boy named Wyatt Reaves who lives on the road with his traveling salesman Uncle Spade. Wyatt’s a quiet, kind soul who is just looking for his place in the world. He’s very tall, over feet by the time he’s in his early teens, so his uncle takes advantage of that and trains him to be a bare-fist boxer.

Fighting is not admired in my social community, but it was a common and acceptable experience when I was growing up. What inspired you to write a story about a kid that starts fighting for money?

I know this is going to sound funny, because I’d heard other writers talk about this happening and chuckled to myself, but the story told me it had to happen. I listened to Wyatt and he led me in that direction. I really didn’t want to write about fighting. In fact, I tried to get around it. I wrote scenes where Wyatt just carried on with his uncle without the fighting, without the income and the only answer to that, if I stayed true to both characters, was that Uncle Spade would have ditched Wyatt if he were useless. So I had to learn about fighting. I’ve never been around fighting before—I grew up in a middleclass academic family—so I had to interview some folks and read up on it. But now, I consider that part of the fun of writing, exploring the possibilities of the world you’ve created!

I am personally very drawn to both reading and writing coming of age stories. Why did you write a coming of age story?

Okay, to be fully honest, I didn’t think that was what I was writing. I balked at the suggestion by my agent that she wanted to try to sell my book as Young Adult because it was a coming-of-age story. I really hadn’t been paying attention to that section of literature while I was writing the novel and had no idea how much it had exploded and expanded and become so diverse. I’m so excited to be included in that group now, of course. The thing that’s so much fun about coming-of-age stories, for me, is that they are such a vital, dramatic and universal part of any person’s life. We all have one to tell. So even if Wyatt lives on the road and fist fights, there is still something there for any reader to empathize with if they see through the details to the emotions and struggles behind it all.

One of the things I loved about this novel is that it feels like the main character is talking directly to me. How does this writing style make the novel stand out from other books?

Thanks! I’m glad you felt that. I guess I’ve always written first-person narrators very close to the bone. And even more so with Wyatt; it’s what makes him truly unique, I think: his voice. My amazing editor, Richard Jackson, really worked with me to hone that voice. One of the first things he asked me when we started working together was, “Who is Wyatt telling this story to?” My answer was, “A stranger on a bus…. That’s the only way he’d be willing to admit to it all.” Richard’s response was, “Well, that’s not what you did. So let’s get to work on that.” My heart sank, but then began the first of three completely new drafts that forced me to check what why said to that stranger: Would he admit to killing animals? Would he swear? Would he lie? And how long would a stranger listen? It was a truly intriguing process and something I’ll use on the new novel I’m working on as well.

Sometimes when I’m writing about a character, I listen to music that I think my character like. What songs would you want as the soundtrack to Why I Fight?

Okay, what I imagine on the soundtrack to WHY I FIGHT is not necessarily what I’d listen to while I wrote, but what I remember on the radio on road trips when I was a kid: classic rock, glam rock, heavy metal, all the stuff Uncle Spade would listen to, you know, because Wyatt certainly never got to have control of the radio. What I listened to while I wrote was things that made me feel the words, but were in no way connected to the story. You’re going to laugh, but I listened to a lot of Brazilian music, like Samba and Bossa Nova. I didn’t know the words, but they were like poetry. I also listened to a lot of old jazz, like Billy Holiday and Louis Armstrong. I’ll have to try that with my next novel, listen to what the main character is listening to.

I don’t know about you, but I have about three different stories whirling in the back of my head while I’m currently working on one. Are you working on another novel now?

Yes, the new one takes place in Spain, so I’ll try listening to Flamenco and gypsy music to get into main character. I lived in Madrid for almost three years and so I’m finally writing about what it’s like to create a home so far from home. But, I’m like you; I’ve always got a bunch of things floating around in my brain while I’m working on the book. I have to have a few short stories going or they’ll become like flies buzzing in my ears.

I always like to hear about the beginning of an individual’s career path. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Well, I first thought I should be a cartoonist, but I wasn’t that good at the drawing. I do come from a long line of storytellers. But I remember writing stories even in elementary school. I used to write a paragraph on a note card and pass it to my friend Kathy Atkinson, then she’d write the next paragraph and give it to me. Also, my grandmother told me that for every story I mailed to her, she’d write down one of the stories from her very interesting life. I never got any of them in the mail (and I was pretty ticked about it) even though I kept mailing her what I’d written. And then, when she died, we found a notepad on her desk full of handwritten stories, and on the top of the first page it said, “For Jeffrey.” I guess writing has just been something I knew I would do.

I like to end my interviews with a ridiculous question. If you were a mythical creature, what would you be?

Ooh, that’s a good one! The first one that popped into my head was a griffin. That’s the eagle/lion, right? I would want to fly and be cool and ferocious. Ew, but I don’t think I want a beak. So maybe Pegasus. A winged Palomino. There we go. I’m good with that.


Thanks so much to J. for letting me interrogate him.

Please check out his book. You won't regret it. (You can read the first chapter here.)

Sep 14, 2009

Watch out, world, here I come!

I had the profound pleasure of reading with the illustrious J. Adams Oaks, author of “Why I Fight” at Women and Children First. I wanted my first official reading of “Cast the First Stone” to be at my favorite Chicago bookstore. David and I moved to Chicago from San Francisco about two years ago and I was feeling pretty homesick. When I walked through the doors of W&CF, I immediately felt at home. The positive energy of that bookstore is simply wonderful. (By the way, they’re celebrating their 30th anniversary!)

So, of course, I was panicking about the reading. To say I was nervous is a tremendous understatement. I couldn’t sleep all week. I wanted to cancel several times. I was worried that I wouldn’t find the right outfit, that my hair wouldn’t cooperate with me, that I’d lose my voice. What if no one showed up? What if I forgot how to read?

I read aloud the section of CTFS for the reading about 5 or 6 times. I practiced voice inflection. I figured out when to pause and take a deep breath so I didn’t pass out.

David, my husband (and everything-else-that-I-might-need-in-a-moment’s-notice), was a huge support. He baked cookies. He coached me through my bazillion practices. He told me that I looked great about a hundred times. He filmed the reading and the Q&A section afterwards. (The video should be up by the end of the week. Check back for details.)

Good friends, coworkers, and classmates showed up. I was thrilled to see so many friendly faces. Then people started walking up to me that I didn’t recognize. They introduced themselves as “so-in-so, but you know me as such-in-such from Open Salon.” I couldn’t have been happier. (Except that I was also trying to breathe and had a hard time focusing on people.) I told everyone that we would talk afterwards. If I made it through alive.

The little bookstore was packed. Kathie, an amazing writer and events coordinator, introduced me. I walked upfront, thanked everyone, and started reading. Once I started, I was on a roll. I tapped into Denny’s strength. I became my strong-willed and out-spoken narrator.

It was a major success. Why, you ask? Well, for one thing I didn’t pass out or throw up or forget my name. For another thing I felt even more a part of our remarkable Chicago literary community. J. Adams Oaks was kind, friendly, and even managed to make me laugh. This has been my experience with every Chicago author I’ve met. I’ve been so impressed by the literary community. It’s welcoming, intelligent, and down-to-earth.

I felt good. When happened after the reading felt even better. It was like a dream.

You know the dream. The one where you’re on Letterman or Conan, talking about your New York Times bestseller. The one where you get to quit your day job and write every day for eight hours. The dream where your book is studied in literature classes. Yeah, you know the one.

People I didn’t know or barely knew were asking me to sign their newly-purchased book and telling me how well I did. I was humbled. Honored. Overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening to me.

A group of OSers, my husband, and I went to Hamburger Mary’s where the party really got started. We laughed and talked like old friends. It was simply wonderful and I felt so grateful to have such an amazing community.

I really and truly couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned, playing the events of the evening over and over in my head. It’s finally hit me that I’m an author.

Watch out, world, here I come!

Sep 12, 2009

Day Seven of the Seven Day Countdown

Alright, folks. I don't know about you but it's been a rough week for me. I'm thrilled that it's the weekend. Tomorrow is my reading and I can't express how excited and nervous I am. A good friend and brilliant writer told me that I should focus on the story, not on how people react to me. The story exists apart from me. So I'm going to take his advice and listen to Denny and Haley and what their story tells us.

In case you didn't know, I am a passionate feminist and Cast the First Stone reflects my feminist beliefs.

"Women are not inherently passive or peaceful. We're not inherently anything but human." ~Robin Morgan

"You don't have to be anti-man to be pro-woman." ~Jane Galvin Lewis

"I've left the girl I was supposed to be, and some day I'll be born." ~Paula Cole

Today's question is a personal one. There's no right answer here. I just want to start a discussion. What do you think feminism is and, if you've read the book, how is it portrayed in CTFS?

Sep 11, 2009

Day Six

Today is the sixth day of my seven day countdown, but I feel that it's disrespectful to celebrate today. Instead, I posted on my other blog. I'm going to post a few words from Bob Dylan here, since he is Denny's favorite singer and I think she would spend this day of rememberance by listening to Dylan.

"In the dime stores and bus stations, people talk of situations, read books, repeat quotations, draw conclusions on the wall." -Bob Dylan

Sep 10, 2009

Day Five of the Seven Day Countdown!

I was straight edge in high school so I didn't drink. I had this fear that if I had even a sip of alcohol, I would do crazy things that I wouldn't remember later. I would be...wait for it...out of control. There was no way that 17 year old Gwen wanted to be out of control. Like Haley, I didn't have much control over my life so I desperately wanted to hold onto as much control as I could. (But, of course, control is an illusion.) I waited until after midnight on my twenty-first birthday to have my first hard beverage. I chose a wine cooler. Oh, yeah. I was so cool!


Denny, on the other hand, gains quite a taste for alcholol. Question number four is: What's Denny's drink of choice?


Sep 9, 2009

Day Four of the Seven Day Countdown!

Father of mine
Tell me where did you go
You had the world inside your hand
But you did not seem to know
Father of mine
Tell me what do you see
When you look back at your wasted life
And you dont see me
~ Everclear

Question number four is: How does each chapter open?


Sep 8, 2009

Day Three of the Seven Day Countdown!

Denny was based off my best friend in high school. She was a really tough girl. The first feminist I knew. We were like yin and yang. She was the dark, angry one and I was the sweet, happy one. On the outside. We listened to No Doubt and Metallica, created our own sci fi comic book world, stayed up until 1am watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, and could eat a half gallon of strawberry ice cream between us. We didn’t fit into any kind of group at high school. She was a little goth while I was nerdy and shy. We spent every day together until I went off to college.


Once I got deep into writing the book, the characters became their own. Denny and Haley no longer looked like me and my best friend. (My best friend never had a drinking problem.) But their friendship dynamic is based on us.


Okay, question number three: How would you describe Denny?


*image of Emily the Strange

Sep 7, 2009

Day Two of the Seven Day Countdown


When the story of Denny and Haley began forming in the dark recesses of my mind, it was Haley's story. I tried writing it from her point of view, but I had a big problem. Haley wasn't self aware enough to tell her story. She always wanted to tell other people's stories. So I decided that her best friend would tell her story.

Okay, are you ready for question number two? Here it is:

How would you describe Haley?

Sep 6, 2009

Seven Day Countdown to My First Official Reading

Today is the first day of my celebratory countdown to next Sunday, Sept. 13th at 4:30pm, when I'll be sharing an afternoon of literary debauchery with J. Adams Oaks, author of the adrenaline-packed novel Why I Fight. You'll find us at Women and Children First.

Each day I'll be posting a question about Cast the First Stone. The answer can we found either on my website or my blog if you haven't read the book yet. The person who answers the most questions correctly will win a copy of CTFS. You get extra points if you answer the question correctly and then post about it on twitter, facebook, myspace, or your blog. Just leave a comment telling me where you've posted.


Day One: What is Denny's last name? ( Yes, I know. It's too easy, but I thought I'd start you out with an easy one.)


Sep 3, 2009

Why I Write

I began writing as a little girl and I never stopped. Writing stories was my door to Narnia, to a world where magic was real and good always won. Writing stories was my way of going on adventures, which were strictly forbidden by my controlling father. Good little girls do not go on adventures. They do not take risks. They do not kiss boys. Good little girls pray and get A’s and obey their parents without question.

I think storytelling is in my blood. My mother created stories as a way to escape her poverty-stricken childhood and I did the same. I liked the control of creation and then the joy of watching things happen. I was quite the bossy big sister, but my brothers and all of our friends loved to play with me because I created the best plot lines. Whether we were playing Barbies, GI Joe, dress-up or detectives, I set the story in motion and then we just adlibbed the rest. It was beautiful.

As I got older, I crawled further into my fantasy worlds. I wanted to write stories about mythical kingdoms and princesses that had to dress like boys to escape their captures. My female characters were stronger than I was. They overthrew their dictators. They ran away from home. They walked down the road less traveled to new lands, meeting extraordinary characters. They fought dragons and became heroes.

I attended Oral Roberts University in order to start a new chapter of my life. I had been dreaming of fleeing my father’s kingdom for years and I was finally able to do it. But I still wanted to be a good little girl so I went to a conservative, Christian school where I became a “fringe” student because I didn’t think that everything was a sin. I didn’t think that people should be shunned for having different beliefs. I didn’t think that one’s public image was more important than one’s heart and soul.

I found my fellow travelers. Many were in the English and Drama departments. Some were studying theology and Spanish and history and psychology. I found my fellow fringe students everywhere. I took classes that introduced me to Anglo Saxon poetry, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the fairytales of George MacDonald. I learned that my favorite story, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, was written by an imperfect man who thought that heaven wasn’t be made out of gold. He believed that, just maybe, death wasn’t the end of the journey toward finding God.

During my senior year, I learned about modern fiction. I began reading Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Flannery O’Connor. I started to realize that I was a feminist. That realization changed everything.

I wanted to write stories that were true. I wanted to write about imperfect, real characters that fell down and then got back up again. I left my fantasies behind and took to the open road. I followed the footsteps of the beats, found the home of Maxine Hong Kingston, and opened my heart to the city of San Francisco.

It took me years to flesh out my written voice. The first, completed attempt of telling a true story is a Young Adult novel, Cast the First Stone, about two girls growing up in small town, Oklahoma. It’s a work of fiction, and yet it’s all true. The human connections are true and the struggle toward self-realization is true.

I’m working on a second book, Invisible Elephants, in which I become transparent as an author. I’m not hiding anything in this novel. All of the confusion and pain and beauty of being raised in a strict Christian home is revealed in this story.

If you live in the Chicago area, you’re invited to participate in my first official reading of Cast the First Stone. It will take place at Women and Children First on Sunday, Sept 13th, at 4:30. (It’s only 2 weeks away!) I am sharing the afternoon of literary debauchery with novelist, J. Adams Oaks. He wrote the amazing and engaging YA book, Why I Fight.

Hope to see you there!

Aug 13, 2009

Literary Rockstars

The amazing literary rockstar, Stephanie Kuehnert, interviewed me on her blog: http://stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com/2009/08/cyber-launch-party-day-23-women-who.html Stephanie interviews and highlights amazing authors all the time, so you should really check out her blog.

You also have an opportunity to win a copy of CTFS!

Aug 4, 2009

Summer Updates

Hello, ardent readers!

It’s been a hot summer and I’m eager to update you on all the literary happenings.

Promoting my debut novel, Cast the First Stone, has been going exceptionally well, considering that it was only published about eight months ago. The book is currently available in two Chicago bookstores (both of which I adore): Women and Children First in Andersonville and The Book Cellar in the Lincoln Square. You can also find it on amazon.com .

I will opening for J. Adams Oaks, author of the Young Adult novel "Why I Fight," at Women and Children First on Sunday, Sept. 13th at 4:30pm. Please join me there to celebrate my first official reading.

In the past month, I have had the pleasure of interviewing NYC performer, Leslie Goshko, YA author, Stephanie Kuehnert, and singer/songwriter, Miriam Speyer. You can find the interviews here. Check the blog for upcoming interviews. If you are a writer, artist, singer, or “other” extraordinaire and would like to be interviewed on my blog, don’t hesitate to email me.

The first review of CTFS is out here. Thanks to Mrs. Magoo Reads! Two fellow authors, Jessica Hopper of The Girls Guide to Rocking, and Lauren McLaughlin of (Re)Cycler were featured on the blog as well.

David has finished the rockin' new look to his website . There are new features and a Q&A page. Check it out!

Follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com/GwendolynGlover .

Thanks!

Aug 3, 2009

Sadie Rose (part two)

Remember a year later when Dad had his first book published? He was an elder at our church. His radio show was doing okay. Dad wasn’t making as much money as he had at the newspaper. I know because Mom was teaching at the Christian school that we attended. You were president of about three different clubs at school and were on the soccer team. To my young eyes, everyone seemed to fit somewhere. I felt strangely on the outside of everything. Everything flying by me like a playground merry-go-round. Spinning faster and faster. Making me ill. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what was happening. Except me. I curled up inside myself like a potato bug and waited for things to settle down. For things to make sense.

That didn’t happen.

In late February, I started my period. Mom hadn’t given me much information about it. I think in my embarrassment I blanked out. The whole conversation is a black hole in my memory. Like so many life-altering events, I have only a vague feeling about it. I thought maybe I would bleed forever. I was so ashamed of this thing that I wouldn’t leave my room except to use the bathroom and eat dinner. Maybe Mom was worried, I don’t know. You teased me about being in my room all the time. “You’re white as a sheet, Abby,” you joked. “You’re such a nerd. You need to get out. Stop reading all the time.”

Something happened over that winter. I didn’t know what was going on, but by the spring I had gained fifteen pounds. I didn’t realize it right away. My clothes just got tighter. I had soft breasts and fleshy hips and still the baby fat over my belly remained. I didn’t get much taller, but I felt unbalanced like a giant mammal. Clumsy. Awkward. I couldn’t run fast without my chest hurting. I couldn’t play anything anymore. I got tired so quickly. I had no energy.

Dad mentioned it for the first time (but it wouldn’t be the last) as the summer came to a close. He told Mom to take me shopping for new clothes. He said my clothes were too tight. He started telling me to cut back on sweets, sugar, desserts. But Mom snuck me things. She let me drink chocolate milk. She gave me Three Musketeers bars which I hid in my underwear drawer. Dad told Mom to make me eat salad instead of meatloaf, vegetable soup instead of mac’n cheese. I wished I could just disappear.

You didn’t tease me about my weight, but you had that look of utter humiliation. You were embarrassed of the way I dressed, my unstylish glasses, my short, chunky way of hurrying after you. You wouldn’t let me hang out with your friends after church. You didn’t invite me to the movies or to play video games at the arcade. You shunned me.

You had ambition. You, at age fifteen, were starting a youth group at our church. It started out as a Bible Study group on Wednesday nights. By the following year, there were thirty teens attending the Sunday night service and about half as many at the Wednesday night group. The church really respected you. They respected the whole family. They thought Mom was the perfect Christian wife. They thought Dad was a good man, just maybe a little too otherworldly. I heard the saying a lot: “Too heavenly minded for any earthly good.” That was Dad.

I was different. I knew that there was something wrong with me. I had had nightmares my whole life. When I was young, I had vague visions of swirling chaos when I closed my eyes. I would cry and Dad would come into the room and pray. Later, when I thought I was too old to cry, I would crawl into bed with you. I saw demons in the curtains, the pile of clothes on the chair, the toy shelf. I piled stuffed animals around my bed to keep away the demons. We would listen to music to hold the demons at bay. They were strangely afraid of music.

The nightmares were different as I got older. I closed my eyes and saw a penis. First just one, alone and hanging limply. Then I saw men naked with this fleshly, pale appendage. Male teachers, our pastor, other men from church. One naked, unappealing body after another. I can’t remember how I even knew what a penis looked like. Maybe from changing diapers in the church nursery. I didn’t know how to make these images go away. But I knew that I was dirty and evil for having them.

***

Remember when Mom took me shopping for school clothes? How did you get out of going? Mom and I had completely different tastes in clothing. I preferred loose t-shirts, dark clothing that you couldn’t see through, baggy jeans, large sweatshirts, hoodies, and sneakers. Mom wished I dressed more like a girl. She wanted me to wear my hair down with barrettes, blouses with flowers, and lacey dresses. That stuff made me feel like a frosted cupcake. I felt puffed and fat in girly clothes, but with boyish clothing, I could hide strange curves and my soft belly.

I felt lost in the huge, fluorescent world of K-mart following at Mom’s heels with the shopping cart while she waved bright, colorful things in my face. The floor was scuffed and shiny. I wanted to run, but my legs were rubbery.
“Abigail, you haven’t chosen one new outfit. I just don’t think that your slacks from last year are still going to fit. You’re just growing up so fast.”
Mom had already collected a cart of clothes for me to try on: several different sizes of gray, black and blue slacks and skirts, several polo shirts of various dull colors, and a pair of black boots. I didn’t even remember being in the shoe department.

I hated wearing a uniform. I hated that we had to wear skirts or dresses on Chapel Wednesdays. This year, I planned on wearing black Chuck Taylor’s with my uniform instead of dress shoes.

“Sweetie, don’t forget to come out and show me.” Mom insisted on further humiliating me in front of a dressing room full of strangers.
I tried to pull on the size 8 slacks, tears burning at the back of my eyeballs, but they wouldn’t go past my hips. I had gone up a whole size in three months. I held back the impending flood, a golf ball of humiliation lodged in my throat. I was determined to work out more. Maybe I would do the jazzercise tapes with Mom. The size 10 fit well. I didn’t even have to suck in my stomach. But the skirts looked ridiculous. They clung awkwardly to my thick calves and protruding hips. I picked one that hung down loosely to my ankles. It was ugly, but hid my curves.

When we finished deciding what to leave behind, Mom dropped a bomb. “Abigail, you definitely need new undergarments. Let’s see what we can find for you.”
You don’t know what it’s like to have to pick out underwear with your mother. It’s so easy for guys. You either wear boxers or briefs. No big deal. As we neared the Intimates department, I was sure that my face was glowing like a neon sign. I was trying to think up excuses why I didn’t need to get anything. Sure, I had red marks from my bra straps and the elastic waist of my underwear, but it would be much worse to pick them out in public and have the cashier hold them up and look at you, knowingly. Everyone knowing how fat I was.

Mom’s holding up a package of Hanes flowered prints and a package of striped prints. “Which one do you like better?”

Before I can point or nod, a deep, boisterous voice calls out from behind us, “Neither! Check out these, Abby!”
I turn as if in slow motion. I’m in a movie, a dream. This can’t possibly be happening to me. There was Mrs. Johnson, wearing a new wig that resembled a 1920’s bob, and Liberty. And Morgan. Mrs. Johnson is holding up a single pair of underwear: bright turquoise with printed, hot pink letters spelling out Girlfriend.

Mom laughed. “Dorothy! What a sweet surprise to see you here. Liberty, Morgan, how are you guys?”

“Just fine, Mrs. Singer.” Liberty said. Morgan waved meekly and then whispered into his sister’s ear. “We’re going to look at t-shirts, Mom,” Liberty said and they walked away. Any shred of pride I still had went with them.

“Really, Maggie. Abigail needs some flare in her undergarments. Something that reflects her sweet spirit. Abigail, what do you think of these?” She pulls a pair of panties off the rack with green, dancing frogs on them.

“Oh, that’s sweet,” Mom chimed in. “Dorothy, you truly find the cutest things. Abigail, why don’t you look over here and pick out about five or six different ones.”

I was surprised to find a few that I liked. One was rainbow striped, one had tiny red hearts, and several were poka-dotted in various colors.

“Now, Abigail, what size are you?”
Mrs. Johnson has pulled an enormous, padded-bra off of the wall beside her. I died.

“Oh, Dorothy. I don’t think she’ll fit that,” laughed Mom. I wanted to kill them too, both of them. Take them down with me.

“Well, we should have her fitted.” Mrs. Johnson turned to the elderly woman at the customer service counter. “Excuse me, Ma’am. We need a sizing.”

Mom tried to lead me over but my feet had turned to stone. “Come on,” she whispered. “It isn’t that bad. You’ll be more comfortable if the bra fits correctly.”

The employee handed me a tape measure. I simply stared at it in her veiny hands. Her bones, with her transparent skin stretched over like a deflated balloon, held for long, agonizing minutes until Mom took it and stretched it out. “Hold up her arms, honey.”

She poked and pinched. I squeezed my eyes shut. “Looks like you’re a size 32B. Why that’s quite, um, why that’s…I wasn’t that size until I was fourteen.” She strained a smile. “Must be all that miracle grow we’ve been putting in your food.”

Mrs. Johnson was already pulling bras off the hangers. I didn’t understand how she could be enjoying herself. “Oh, that’s nothing. I was already a C cup when I was fourteen. How about this one, Abigail? It’s flexible, soft, and just a little extra padding so nothing shows through.”
I nodded and I took it between my fingers, delicately like it was a snake about to strike. I felt my face hot and pulsating under those Kmart lights as I dropped the bra into the cart.

Francis, I needed you then. I needed you to take the attention, fill the spotlight, absorb the focus so I could be an invisible elephant.

Aug 1, 2009

First Review of Cast the First Stone

I am so very excited. Mrs. Magoo Reads has just reviewed CTFS! She will begin a contest on Monday to win a copy of my debut novel.

Read it here:
http://www.mrsmagooreads.com/2009/08/cast-first-stone.html

Check back for more reviews to come.

Jul 21, 2009

Sadie Rose (part one of short story)

I am nothing. I am invisible . Hold onto what you believe, Francis. Look at me. Five foot, four inches of one hundred and thirty pounds of insubstantiality. Nearly eighteen years old and I just don’t believe anything anymore.

Dad’s been living on the couch for two weeks, Francis. Two weeks. He won’t eat anything. He just lies there watching black’n white movies. He hasn’t changed his clothes in three days. He says he’s waiting for the Rapture. He says he’s ready to go to heaven. It scares the shit out of me. Mom’s moving out this weekend. Did you know that? No, you don’t know anything because you’re out there finding yourself. Without me. Fuck you.

Remember when we were best friends? You were my big brother, my protector, my guardian. Remember when we lived out in the country? We dreamed and talked about living in New York City, where we would never be bored.

We were so bored in our little three bedroom house. You and I shared a bedroom because Dad needed the third bedroom as an office. He was working hard on a book. He was writing about the Book of Revelations. He was deciphering every little detail. After dinner, he would go to his office, not to be disturbed. We didn’t have a TV, so we colored on the living room floor and listened to the Christian radio station.

Remember Sadie Rose? That was the only thing you were scared of…then. A pony named Sadie Rose. The neighbors down the road had bought it for their spoiled five-year-old granddaughter. She hated that dirty pony. I don’t know what they named her. But I named her Sadie Rose, after my favorite book character, and she was divine.

Before you got too cool for me, we would ride our bikes down to the gravel road, leave them at the edge of the thicket, and push through the tangled trees until we reached the clearing. Sadie Rose would be waiting for us and the pieces of apples and carrots stuffed in our dirty pockets. She was perfect in her acceptance of me. I felt like I belonged.

I was amused that my big brother—taller than me by four and three-fourths inches, faster and stronger no matter how hard I tried—was afraid of big animals. As far as I knew, you weren’t scared of anything else: leering, peering adults, standing in front of the church congregation to sing or recite scripture, answering questions in school, or performing in the Christmas Play. All of these things scared me to death. I turned rubbery at the thought of people looking at me, criticizing my pale, reddish face and my thick, plastic framed glasses, mocking my nasally voice. But animals, even big ones, didn’t scare me at all.

Do you remember how it felt to be all alone, just the two of us, in the middle of the tangled woods? No one could hear us singing. The sky above was bright and unending. Limitless potential lived there in that hidden clearing. One could almost still believe in fairies and gnomes, of secret adventures, and unknown places.

Sadie Rose was tangible. Her hefty, rotund body was warm to the touch and soft like thick velvet. I had stolen a brush from our grandma when we had visited her ranch in Kentucky, so I could brush her down. No one else took care of Sadie Rose, as far as we knew. Her lips were soft and her tongue wet and rough as she nibbled the treats from my flat palm. You refused to feed her. I knew that ponies could accidentally bite you if you didn’t flatten the palm of your hand when you fed them.

Sadie Rose would let me ride her. Sometimes. Until she didn’t think it was fun anymore. Then she would just stand still and chow down on grass. I liked to lay flat on the curve her sun-baked back and close my eyes, feeling the summer heat soak into my body. I imagined that all time stood still and only we existed in this happy place.

I heard God there.

You would get bored after awhile. You had friends to play with. Neighborhood kids that would want you on their team, because you were good at everything. I was never chosen for a team, unless you picked me. I could run, but I wasn’t a favorite. I couldn’t swing a bat or catch a ball. I definitely couldn’t shoot a basket.

“Come on, Abby, let’s go,” you said.

I didn’t want to leave the clearing. I wanted to stay with Sadie Rose forever.

Remember the day of the Big Announcement? After visiting Sadie Rose, we trekked back to our bikes and rode home. You were good to come with me. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere by myself. Dad was afraid that someone would steal me away, since I was just a girl. But I was nine years old and I was fast. I was pretty sure I could ride my bike fast away from anyone who would try to kidnap me.

We heard Mom’s whistle when we were a block away from the house. This was before cell phones and even pagers. Mom’s whistle would bring us back if we were within half a mile of her. Her whistle to call us home was long and piercing.

She was standing on the porch. It wasn’t a big porch with a bench swing, but you could fit a couple of chairs on it. I didn’t care because I liked to sit on the railing anyways. I liked to sit there and watch the sun set between the tree trunks, a golden orb turning the stoic trees into black silhouettes. The luminous colors of an Ohioan sunset are more flamboyant than any other sunset I’ve ever seen.

“Kids, there you are. Dinner’s almost ready. Your father will be home any minute.” Mom’s curly hair pushed through the bandana. It refused to be tamed. “Wash up and set the table.”

Dad didn’t like for us to be late for dinner. He got home at precisely six o’clock every day and he wanted dinner, and all of us, ready. Dad worked as a copywriter and research assistant for the local paper.

We lived in a small, rural town, but Dad wasn’t a county boy. He was a small town boy. A Main Street boy. He liked to read. Like me. He liked to read about history, religion, and politics. I thought Dad was very smart. Dad liked to talk about these things with people. Sometimes people would be upset. Their faces would get red and they would start stuttering. But Dad was always calm. He never raised his voice. He was confident. I read a lot. I wanted to be confident like Dad. I wanted people to respect my opinions. I wanted to have an answer for everything.

Mom was smart too. She taught us at home. You didn’t like it because you had friends and you felt like you were missing out. But not me. Mom and I took lots of nature walks. We learned bird calls and how to track a duck by its droppings. Mom was a different kind of smart than Dad. She knew things that mattered every day. He knew things about heaven and the future and what had happened two thousand years ago.

When we heard the car drive up, you and I were standing by the door. You thought it was stupid to wait at the door for Dad, but I didn’t mind. At twelve, you were too old to wait at the door. Dad walked in, hung up his hat and keys, and turned to face us. He was beaming. “Well, children, today is a good day. Where’s your mother?”

Mom appeared from the other room, wiping her rough hand on a kitchen towel. She always seemed a little out of breathe when Dad was home. Like she was always late for something. “Hello, dear. Dinner’s ready.” Dad walked over to her and kissed her loudly on the lips. You and I exchanged glances. Dad and Mom never kissed in front of us.

“It’s happened, Maggie! It’s finally happened!” Dad grabbed Mom’s hand and began to awkwardly dance around the living room. Mom moved with an awkward imbalance while Dad jerked with happiness.

“Well, what is it, Joshua?”

“I quit!”

Mom pulled away abruptly. You and I clutched each other’s hand instinctively. “Joshua. What are you talking about?”

Dad turned to us. “Children, Maggie, let’s sit down at the table and I’ll tell you all about it.” A wide grin was rooted into his bearded face. I hadn’t seen him so happy in years.

After Dad said grace, he told us that he had received a call this morning from a Christian radio station in New Haven. Dad had been distributing a newsletter about the End Times for about a year and apparently someone at this radio station thought that it was insightful. After Dad told the caller that he had a Bachelors Degree in History from Oral Roberts University, he was asked to fax over a resume. Dad had a phone interview not an hour later with the station manager.

“It’s fantastic, Maggie. I’ll have my own radio program.”

I looked from Mom to Dad as I shoveled spaghetti into my mouth. Mom’s face had a pinched look like she smelled something bad. Dad shone like Moses on the mountain. You raised your hand.

“Yes, son.” Dad had barely touched his food. He took a sip of water.

“Dad, I’m very proud of you.” You smiled. You had managed to not cover your face in sauce. I had already gone through two napkins. “I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

Mom finally spoke up. “Josh, New Haven is two hours away. That’s quite a drive.”

“We’ll move.”

Mom’s face went cold white. Your jaw dropped open. I thought of only one thing: I’d never see Sadie Rose again.

And that was that.


***

Remember how we used to dance to Carmen? In the living room we would move all the furniture to the walls so we had as much space as possible. Sometimes even Dad would join in. You and Mom would sing. The room seemed to vibrate under the passion of your combined voices. I would move spastically like I was under a spell. I’ve never had any rhythm. But I had zeal. I was willing to be a fool for my faith. We didn’t know what good music was, back then. Carmen was all we had.
Carmen sang about stuff that you and I didn’t even know about. Drug use and witchcraft, being on the down and out—we didn’t know what that was. But we understood the message of salvation. All is not lost. Just when you think you’ve hit the bottom, Jesus is waiting for you.

It was a simple message. It reverberated in our chest bones.

At church, I loved when we had special guests. People would talk about how they’d be saved. They were living on the streets. Selling their bodies for money. (At my age, I had thought they literally meant body parts.) They had lost all self-respect, drinking every day, lying and cheating to everyone, especially themselves. But then…and this was my favorite part…then they would walk past a church with open doors. Or pick up a Gideon Bible in the motel room. Or Mom would call on the phone from miles away. They heard the voice of God. Nothing would be the same again.

I had wished for a story like that. I had asked Jesus into my heart as soon as I could talk. No back story of sin and desperation. I was such a goody-too-shoes. Somehow I felt like I was losing out. My own story was so boring. But I have no desire to even do these things. I’ve heard the stories and know what happens at the end. Either you die from your choices or you find redemption. I already have redemption. All I have left is to help others see the light.

Then we moved. Our story got interesting. Sure, to the rest of the world we looked the part. We looked like the quintessential, middle-class, American Christian family. A mom and a dad. A son and a daughter. Good job. Good grades. A productive member of the community. But what was brewing beneath the surface…Even you and I didn’t know the whole story. It came together, piece by ugly piece.

***


I remember this one time when you and I were playing with my Barbies. I was seven, you were ten. My favorite Barbie had red hair and green eyes. I named her Annie. I didn’t like the blond Barbies because they were boring and there were so many of them and that’s what everyone else wanted. You had been making Barbie clothes for me because we were too poor to buy them. You were sitting at my sewing machine (that I never touched). It made this soothing buzzing sound as you pushed the fabric through the needle. The fabric went in one way and came out very different. Mom had taught you how to use a sewing machine only the year before, but you were a pro at it already. You had an eye for it, she said. You had steady hands. You could picture what you wanted to make and you knew instinctually how to do it.

You only sewed when Dad was away. He hated that his son liked doing “woman’s work.” He was out of town at a state-wide, local newspaper conference that weekend. Mom was doing aerobics in the living room. We could hear the pop music through our closed bedroom door. We shared a bedroom back then.

I was trying to get neon pink tights on my Barbie’s legs but they were too tight. “Here. Let me do it,” you said. You took the Barbie and pulled the tights up. Dad opened the door at that moment. In my memory, the rest plays out like a silent movie. Dad grabbed you and pulled you up so you were both standing above me. I saw the belt but I didn’t hear it. I cried and cried. I felt the belt hitting your legs, right below your butt. “Stop. Stop,” I whispered. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. Dad was throwing all of my Barbies into the trash can. “Let me keep one, please,” I begged.

But Dad said they’re idols. He said he won’t have idols in his house. Idols let the demons in.

***


Remember what it was like when we moved into the cramped apartment on Main Street? Dad didn’t have an office anymore so he took over the living room. The sewing supplies went into the closet. We were excited though because New Haven had more than one streetlight. It had a big library with twice as many books as our old one and two public parks.

I devoured that library. Even then, I would read everything I could put my hands on—that Dad would approve of. I mostly had to read books from the Christian section of the library. Dad scrutinized everything I read for years and years. He even had doubts about me reading Flannery O’Connor, because she was a Southern Catholic.

I spent the winter in my bedroom with my nose in a book, mindlessly pushing my frames up. I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind Through The Door and, of course, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, even though it took me three years to finish the whole trilogy. Later, I read Christian historical romances. All the librarians knew me by name and recommended new books when they came in. My favorite books were written by Hilda Stahl, who wrote the Best Friends series and the Sadie Rose series. My mom devoured the books she wrote for adults.

But then everything changed. You changed. You got older overnight. It’s like you just woke up one morning with a deeper voice, taller, and ridiculously handsome. You stopped playing games with me. You wouldn’t let me play with your new friends. You learned how to rollerblade and told me that roller-skates were stupid. They were for children.

There was no woods where I could walk, enjoying that perfect feeling of being alone. There was no Sadie Rose. No perfect feeling of acceptance.

Just a month after turning ten, I started the first day of the fifth grade. I was almost shivering with nervousness. Mom dressed me in an awful, handmade pink dress with puffy sleeves and tiny flowers. I wanted to throw a fit, but Mom seemed so pleased with her project that I kept my mouth shut and forced a smile. She had put my frizzy hair into curlers the night before and pulled those long curls into two pigtails. I had pink plastic glasses that were too big for my face. (I still have a photo of you and me on that day sitting on my dresser.)

“Little Miss Four Eyes,” sang a little boy, with red hair that stood straight up. I had just entered the classroom. I ignored the redhead and the girls staring at me and whispering behind cupped hands. I sat next to a chubby, black kid. His name was Morgan Johnson. The two of us outcasts sat in the corner with our backs to the wall. I set up my desktop: pencils and eraser in a straight row, paper aligned to the edge of the desk.
Morgan didn’t talk much, but I noticed that he had a keen eye and a quick hand for drawing comic characters. His long division page was covered in huge robots. He drew Spiderman on the pages we were reading in the American History book. He saw me watching and quickly covered it up with his hand, but I smiled and whispered, “It’s really good.”

I didn’t draw in class. I was focused on the teacher. I had been worried about going to a “real” school, but Mom had done a good job teaching me. I raised my hand to answer all the questions. By recess, I had earned another title: “Little Miss Know-It-All.”

At lunch, the little redhead held a whole mouthful of chocolate milk, walked purposefully over to me where I sat with Morgan and spewed chocolate milk all over that pink dress. My new friend, Morgan, punched him in the face and made his nose bleed. The chocolate never came completely out of my dress (I didn’t mind) and no one ever bothered me after that.

Later, I realized that Morgan also went to our church. The Johnsons were the only black family at our church. Morgan’s sister was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was your age. Her skin was deep mocha, like Morgan’s, but she was curvy where he was round. Her long hair was always in perfect braids that I envied. I used to beg Mom to do my hair like that but Dad forbade her. He said that they looked like snakes. Now, I didn’t want snakes as hair, did I?

***


(to be continued)

Jul 13, 2009

Interview with Author, Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert got her start like most authors by writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades back in eighth grade. That was also around the time she discovered punk rock. Along with literature by geniuses such as Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, Francesca Lia Block, John McNally, Irvine Welsh, and Louise Erdrich, noisy guitars and lyrics by Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Mike Ness, Courtney Love, Robert Smith, Mark Lanegan, and Brody Dalle are Stephanie's primary influences.

Stephanie's short stories have been published in 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, f Magazine, Hair Trigger, Black Oak Presents, and on inkstains.org. "Fairytale," an excerpt from her novel I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE that appeared in Hair Trigger 27 was awarded Third Place in Traditional Fiction by the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association. Stephanie's interviews and essays have appeared in No Touching Magazine, Glimmer Train's Writer's Ask, on Virginia Quarterly Review's website, and on freshyarn.com. *


Her second novel, Ballads of Suburbia, is being released in July 21, 2009.

What do you love about being a writer?

I love hearing from readers. I love being able to move, touch, or help people with my words. That’s what it is all about, providing an enjoyable reading experience. I also hope that my books trigger discussions. Especially my new one, Ballads of Suburbia, which deals with some real touchy issues, the kinds of things people usually don’t talk about, like self injury and addiction. The whole concept behind that book is breaking the silence and the best think about being a writer is having the ability to do that.

What is the writing process like for you?

Total chaos at worst; a tightrope walk at best. Yeah, I wish I could say I have this great, solid writing routine. I hope that someday I will, but I don’t. Ever since I sold I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I’ve had all these other parts of the writing job to balance with the actual writing and it gets hard. I have always worked best as a binge writer, spending an entire day writing. Now I have to break my day into pieces to write and answer email and go to my bartending job which is still what pays the bills. Every once in awhile I get to go away and write for twelve hours straight. I am looking forward to that. I need that to get my next project off the ground. I used to love first drafts but now I hate them. Revising is the fun part for me.

I really love the description of the River’s Edge. Did you base it on a real place?

Not really. I used to go to shows at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago a lot as a teenager and it fascinated me that all these punk bands played a bowling alley. And I heard about other cities where the punk venue was like a Laundromat. So I kind of took that and thought where would the venue be if it was in the middle of nowhere. And then I took it to the next level and made it kind of a collective. It’s my idea music venue really. Emily is the girl I wish I could be and River’s Edge is the place I wish I could go see shows. That book is all about living out my dreams through fiction.

I love the friendship between Emily and Regan because it’s so authentic. It reminds me of friendships I have. Tell me about the girls in your novel and how they differ from most teenage female characters we see in Y.A. fiction, movies, and television.

The friendship between Emily and Regan is actually kind of based on my real life relationship with my best friend. We were never the girly girls. We didn’t cry over boy problems or anything really. We talked about our emotions in a very veiled way, which certainly causes problems. It does for Em and Regan. It did for me and my BFF, but you work through it and learn how to be the tough chick that is still open with her best friend. Also the thing I loved most about Emily and Regan and my relationship with my own best friend is the incredible sense of loyalty. We see a lot of Mean Girls style backstabbing in YA fiction, movies and TV. We see it because it happens a lot and is very real. I address some of those issues in Ballads of Suburbia. Girls are kind of taught that they can raise themselves up by holding another girl down. It’s so messed up. So I definitely like to show what true friendship is like in my books and with Ballads, you see some of the contrast with the typical backstabbing friendship.

Were you surprised by anything that happened in the story as you were writing it?

I always let the story surprise me. My stories are character-driven, so what the characters do dictates how things unfold. IWBYJR started out as short stories. In one of those short stories, Emily was a college student. Obviously as I got to know her, I learned that Emily was not the college girl type. The surprises are the best part of writing a book. I tend to know how a story begins and ends and then I allow my characters to take the journey.

What kind of books did you read when you were younger?

Quite a wide variety. I started out addicted to Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was like five. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. In late grade school and junior high I was reading a bizarre combination of VC Andrews, Stephen King, and Shakespeare. In high school it was the classics like Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Steinbeck, along with Irvine Welsh and Sylvia Plath and a lot of political, feminist nonfiction. The only YA author I really read in high school because there wasn’t too much that I related to out there at the time was Francesca Lia Block. I adored her.

Who’s your favorite author?

That’s impossible to choose. It depends on my mood. Steinbeck, Irvine Welsh, Francesca Lia Block, Joe Meno, Melissa Marr. Those folks are all up there for me.

Music is a major part of your life and your writing. Who are you listening to right now?

Civet. I freakin’ adore Civet. I have been talking about them for like a year since Melissa Marr did this contest for IWBYJR where people listed their favorite empowering songs by girl bands. Someone listed “Son of a Bitch” by Civet and I’ve been obsessed ever since I heard it. My top four favorite bands are bands I’ve been listening to for 17 years. Civet rounds out the top five, that is how good they are.

Aside from them I’m listening to a lot of Rise Against and The Gaslight Anthem along with the new Green Day and Rancid albums. Oh and Spinnerette.

Tell us a little bit about Ballads of Suburbia.

Really the back copy sums it up better than I ever could:

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park. . . .

Amidst the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

As I mentioned earlier, Kara deals with both self-injury and drug addiction. Her friends deal with family situations that run the gamut. It’s a book that I hope breaks the silences and shatters the myth of the suburbs as a quiet, safe place.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Write as much as possible, read as much as possible. Know that you will have to do many drafts. I used to think if I wrote one, it was done. I also used to think that other people’s input wasn’t useful, but it is ESSENTIAL. I went to school for writing because I wanted an excuse to have time to write, but what I gained was a whole group of peers who gave me incredible insight on my work. That’s why going to college for writing worked for me. If that isn’t in the cards for you, find a local or online critique group to join. It’s amazing the insights that other people will clue you into!

You are invited to the Cyber Release Party for Ballads of Suburbia! Beginning July 13th at stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com.

Meet me at the Ballads of Suburbia Release Party at Women and Children First, 5233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL on Friday, July 24th, at 7:30pm.

* Bio info from author’s website:
http://www.stephaniekuehnert.com/meetstephanie.html

Jul 5, 2009

Flash Fiction (a very, very, very short story)

Cat saw the shooting star and decided it was a sign. She buzzed her hair and moved to the City by the Bay. She bought a 49ers baseball cap and got a job at Borders. She lived out of her car for two months before she found a room for the rent the size of her bedroom closet back home.

Not home anymore.

Not since she told her mother (her father was AWOL) that she thought she was supposed to be a boy. “God doesn’t make mistakes,” her mother said as she burped Cat’s younger sister’s baby boy. Ray-ray (also known as the Little Pooper) looked up at her and grinned a toothy grin while drool dripped onto his bib. Cat knew she’d miss some things about home.

Sissy cried, but Cat left anyway at five am, just as the crisp night air was dissipating. She thought, This is the first day of the rest of my life.

It was such a cliché that Cat started laughing. She cranked up Metallica and hit the road in her Dodge pick-up.

Cat experienced much on Route 66, from St. Louis to California: the Promised Land. She met real Indians, ate buffalo jerky, talked to stringy-haired waitresses, and ran into a music group traveling from Chicago. She considered sleeping with the emo boy because he looked so cute, but didn’t. She wasn’t on good terms with her vagina and she wasn’t okay with sharing it with anyone.

Cat didn’t know if she was on good terms with God either. Was God okay with her leaving her family so she could start over as the real her? Even so, Cat still said her bedtime prayers before drifting off to sleep.

Cat was straight edge and that bothered Rusty, her roommate. Rusty was a full-blown lesbian and she was obsessed with Monty Python. She was also in love with Cat. Rusty was in love with her smooth coffee skin and mysterious eyes and those black freckles that danced across her nose. But Rusty couldn’t figure out how to tell her without both of them getting stupid on Two Buck Chuck and chocolate cigarettes.

Cat refused to drink. Her father had been a drunk until he left them six months after Sissy was born. Cat wouldn’t touch the stuff. She wouldn’t even take Nyquil when she was sick.

She only spoke to her mother on holidays and birthdays. Sissy wrote her long letters covered in scratch’n sniff stickers. The envelopes were stuffed with Polaroids of the Little Pooper. In succeeding photo, the Little Pooper’s afro was bigger. Cat’s heart was heavy as she reread those letters over and over again.

Cat went to the free clinic about a year after moving. She told the health workers that she had thought she was a boy all her life. She taught herself to pee standing up. She didn’t like wearing shirts in the hot summer sun. She loved playing sports and hated dolls. She hated her time of the month, hated the blood and the secrecy, and doubly hated the idea of being pregnant. She wanted to have a hard shaft instead, something to be proud of and something that could not be hidden.

Cat was tired of hiding.

She started hormones and it made her angry. She started boxing and running to release endorphins. Her breasts shrunk and she grew little spouts of chest hair. Cat didn’t like chest hair. She didn’t like feeling angry all the time. She did like hitting people in the boxing ring.

“Cat, I love you,” Rusty said as they sat in lawn chairs on the roof of the apartment building, looking up at the stars and eating special brownies that their roommate had baked just that morning. Cat looked over at Rusty, at her rainbow hair and thick waist and thought maybe, just maybe, she might be happy being a girl.

Jun 24, 2009

Gay Pride Open Mic Night

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Women & Children First’s annual Gay Pride open mic night. Hosted by Chicago poet Gregg Shapiro, it was an evening of merriment, contemplation, and a bit of naughtiness.

Jenn P. began the evening with her rockin’, slam style, lesbian poetry. As a performer, Jenn P. was engaging, intimate, and energetic. I thought it would be difficult for the others to follow her brilliant performance.

Craig Seymour thrilled the audience with a section of his story about his life as a gay stripper in DC. Very risqué. Richard Fox read from his book of poetry, Swagger and Remorse. Robert Rodi had a quiet, confident way about him. Although he read from his newest book, a work of non-fiction about dog showing, I'm now interested in looking up his fiction because of his crisp, clean style of writing.

I was intrigued by Anne Laughlin’s from her mystery book about a lesbian sheriff. Jennifer Harris read a section from her farcical novel, Pink, which is about a girl imagining her book being published and made into a movie.

W&CF owner, Linda Bubon, read a humorous story about her recent 40 year reunion and events coordinator, Kathie Bergquist, read a comical excerpt of her novel, which was a special treat.

There were several non-featured writers/poets and I'm afraid I didn't get their names. (Next time I will!) But I was impressed that the majority of the unknown poets were quite decent. I’ve gone to so many open mics where most of the poetry is just plain awful. W&CF does seem to attract talent.

Please check out http://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/ for upcoming literary events.