Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Tricia Johnson, author of Sway.
FQ: How much of your poetic observer is authentically you?
JOHNSON: Yes, I am 100% the poetic observer. The epitome of this is found on page 7 of Sway, in the poem “Traveling Between the Two”. “Part of her grounded/ part of her soaring/ she leans further back/ in the striped sling chair” I sit upon my chair, gaze out upon the hillside, hedgerow, meadow, where the trees touch the sky and I am trying to capture the exact sensory experience I am in. As my poetry is so much of me, it makes it very intimidating to share my work, to put myself out there on such a personal level.
FQ: Does positing and writing about nature’s wonders give you a sense of hope?
JOHNSON: Absolutely; nature’s wonders are my hope. In her mysteries and continuous cycles, I find the definition of hope: a simple bird in flight, an insect, breeze, summer song of cricket, a butterfly come to pause on my pant-leg.
FQ: Explain the satisfaction that a poet experiences when s/he finds the “perfect” opening or last line for a particular work.
JOHNSON: When you are in the flow, words tumble down effortlessly onto the page and then the perfect ending strikes you, you breathe in and out slowly, eyes go soft and look to nothing, as it is finished. It is a cerebral, reverent and thankful moment capturing the perfect turn of phrase that lets you know, to your marrow, that the poem is captured. One of my final lines that reemerges into my mind often is, “As sun keeps shadows bold” page 78. In comparison, it is similar when writing a beginning line, that takes you on your way, begins the journey as words cluster about in your head begging to be chosen.
FQ: What poets specially influenced your desire to explore this medium?
JOHNSON: I was gifted an anthology of poetry for my 18th birthday. It opened my eyes to the sweetness of a short phrase, layered meanings, urging me to explore them. The book is filled with all the classic poets I have come to love: Wheeler Wilcox, Poe, Emerson, Longfellow, Barrett Browning, Byron, Shelly, Moore, Wordsworth—the list goes on. This book is yellowed and dogeared and still has a place of prominence on my shelf. I enjoy the classics, even though my own poetry is so very modern.
FQ: Did the isolation of “Covid times” spur you to write more, share more?
JOHNSON: With the isolation that Covid wrought, I feel that it forced us all to stop. The small things became more noticeable; we had the time to observe. I am an avid observer of nature with all its intricacies and savory imperfections. It drives my creativity and makes me want to share what I see with others. In this virulent climate we now live in, I want to share a touch of light and hope.
FQ: What would you recommend to someone, a young woman perhaps, hoping to pursue a career or avocation as a poet?
JOHNSON: Somewhere along my path I heard the expression “write what you know,” and I find this to be very true. I feel you write best when you do exactly that. If you live in the mountains or on the shore, inner city or small town, write your own experience and you will find your true voice.
FQ: Do you have plans for more writing of a similar nature?
JOHNSON: I have many poems about nature; she is one of my muses. How could she not be? So, yes, hopefully I will have more to say and share with the world in the future.
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Jo Ann Kiser, author of The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile.
FQ: Have you recently traveled to or maintained any personal ties to Kentucky region of your heritage; if so, how has that affected your composition of these memory portraits?
KISER: We have several cousins left in east Kentucky with whom we are occasionally in touch. There is a standing invitation to stay at a second cousin’s house (unfortunately we have not yet had a chance to take him up on it) — he is now occupying the home of his parents, our mother’s niece and her husband, who designed and built the house, making it large enough to hold visiting relatives. It sits on a steep hill and there is a lovely picture window from which one can look at the lush hillside below. Behind the house are a garden and chickens. Last year when we visited him and his wife, it was spring and there was a bed of lettuce and one of onions ready to make an Appalachian delicacy: cut up lettuce and green onions straight from the garden tossed with salt and hot bacon grease. We also visited his sisters and, on our father’s side of the family, three cousins, two of whom live just below the graveyard and the other across the railroad tracks from where our papaw and mamaw had a general store. However the pandemic has curtailed our Kentucky trips, which had in any case diminished with the death of our parents and then, one by one, our aunts and uncles.
Just recently after the major floods in the area we managed to get hold of a cousin and partially find out how everyone was faring. The editor of the Mountain Eagle, in Letcher County, told me that the hills looked as though a rainstorm and a tornado had simultaneously swept down each holler.
My visits home, and my year of teaching at Morehead State University, along with the reviews of Kentucky books I did for a regional newspaper, have not so much affected as revitalized and given great poignancy to the memory portraits, but they have of course meant that I write more about the twenty-first century than I otherwise would have.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to someone preparing to read your work without special knowledge of its settings and timeframes?
KISER: The most important piece of advice, I think, is that they be prepared not so much for local color as for an encounter with the power of memory and loss as well as with how the stories’ characters establish their identity as they grow up and leave their natal region.
FQ: Do you have a favorite character among the ones you depict here?
KISER: I have several favorites: the guitar player, certainly, in the lead story; the mother, Laura Jean, in “Daughters”; the couple in “Tecumseh.” Others, too, like the hero of “Sunday Afternoons.”
FQ: Has your own transplantation to very different vistas given you insight into the homebound life of your characters?
KISER: I should say, rather, that, like my main characters, I have moved away and have learned to love other places, but that, as for them, a large piece of my heart remains in Kentucky.
FQ: What writer(s) influenced you most in the creation of this collection?
KISER: That is hard to say. I am an enthusiastic, eclectic reader. Most of all, I think, I have been influenced by Alice Munro, the wonderful Canadian writer whose stories often resound with the dilemmas of people in transition. Probably more than I am aware of, I have also been influenced by a certain kind of lyricism found in southern writers such as Eudora Welty. And, although my writing is very different from hers, I have been influenced by Harriette Simpson Arnow, the great east Kentucky writer who has never received her full due. Everyone should read her novel The Dollmaker, about a Kentucky family who lands up in Detroit during the Second World War. (There was a film made of it, with Jane Fonda in the starring role, back many years ago.)
FQ: Do you see parallels in current times to Kentucky coal miners’ struggles as depicted in your book?
KISER: If I may say so, the mine owners, many of them large companies whose headquarters are far from the hills, have for the most part exercised a strong adherence to the “bottom line” philosophy that afflicts our nation. In my grandparents’ time, the major struggle was to establish a union. In my parents’ time (as well as now), there was the black lung disease that killed off so many miners or else disabled them. In my time there have been strip mining and mountaintop removal which have uglified the physical and mental lives of east Kentuckians (much of the water, for example, is unsafe). In the meantime coal and related business interests have worked to keep the area a one-industry place. I think that most inhabitants know it is time to let go of coal mining, but what else is there? How do they feed their children if they let it go? Do they too have to leave home? (Somewhere along the way some official actually suggested that they be forced to relocate.)
FQ: Have you experienced the kind of fight for survival and striving for better conditions and education that some of your female characters experience?
KISER: Our family—there are nine of us children—had difficult economic struggles. Our father, a self-taught mine electrician, couldn’t always find decent work, and he was eventually disabled in a factory accident. I feel a strong kinship with most of my female characters. And at that, I have been one of the lucky ones. I landed up in my junior high years at a good school in the hills where I was one of the students in whom a great school administrator and an excellent teacher took an interest. Then in Ohio, the principal of my high school worked toward getting me a scholarship to a fine university.
FQ: Do you have plans for more writings of a similar nature?
KISER: I have almost completed a novel tentatively entitled A Young Woman from the Provinces, so yes I do. And I have written several chapters of a novel set in my parents’ time, as well as an earlier novel whose chapters are comprised of characters whose Kentucky stories are interlinked. (This last was the most experimental of my writings and did not meet with approval!)
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Beth Franz, author of Ndalla's World.
FQ: Have you had experiences like those Julia describes in the opening pages of the book - combining moon, music, and a bit of beer to ward off melancholy?
FRANZ: Not really. As I indicated on the acknowledgements page, the character of Julia was inspired by someone who had the gentlest spirit I’ve ever encountered in this life. She was someone very close to me, someone that I was fortunate to share my life with for ten years. She was a poet, someone who opened her heart to others, thereby leaving herself vulnerable to a tremendous amount of pain when Life took a turn she didn’t see coming. Focusing on that gentle and generous individual is what enabled me to find my way into Julia’s (fictional) story. More than once, I witnessed the magic combination of the moon, the music, and a bit of beer to … not so much ward off the melancholy...but rather, to try to face it and thereby move through it.
FQ: Do you have a conception for how Ndalla’s world and that of Julia are placed in time – i.e., which came first and how did one evolve into the other?
FRANZ: You know, I really don’t have a “conception” of how that all works. I wish I did, but I don’t.
Readers have asked me: Is Ndalla’s world more advanced than ours...or more primitive? And my answer is...in some ways, it feels more advanced (spiritually speaking) than ours, but in other (technological) ways, it feels more primitive. I don’t see that as a contradiction; rather, I see it as a paradox. For me, Life rarely reduces itself to a simple “either/or.”
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read this book with no previous knowledge of its content?
FRANZ: This book invites you to open your heart, and I hope you can do that. If you can, I think you will enjoy the journey! Not only that, but I believe that you will also be richer for the experience.
FQ: You use examples from the Bible to illustrate certain aspects of Julia’s beliefs – while for Ndalla there are the Forces – what does that connection mean to you?
FRANZ: Both Julia and Ndalla are talking about the same thing, right? They have different ways of talking about it, different “names” for things, but essentially, they are talking about the same thing(s). I believe Ndalla understands this before Julia (or the reader) is likely to understand it. That is why she is so excited to hear the words that Julia reads to her from the Bible. As Julia puts it (on page 57), “She had me read the verses aloud to her several more times so that she could commit them to memory and bring them back to her people: evidence, as she put it, that we, as a people shared the same ‘soul wisdom’ as her own people.”
FQ: How much of Julia (or Ndalla) is really Beth Franz?
FRANZ: Neither one is me. Julia has a much more gentle and generous spirit than my own, and Ndalla has much more courage and wisdom than I will ever have. That is why I enjoyed spending so much time with both characters. They are both characters I admire...for different reasons.
FQ: Would you describe this book as fantasy, sci-fi – or a combination of both?
FRANZ: I have a hard time with labels. I understand why we need them, and yet every time we try to apply one, it feels to me as though we miss the mark a little. Either that, or we send a message that because this book is “THIS,” it cannot be “THAT.”
I don’t know that this book fits under either label very comfortably. The label of “sci-fi” implies a lot more technical know-how than I am able to get on the page. And the label “fantasy” implies a lot more specificity and world building than I was able to achieve with this novel.
For me, the novel inhabits a space that is informed by a little bit of romance and a little bit of time/space travel, requiring the narrator to find her way forward in a world that she is struggling to navigate comfortably. For that reason, I’m tempted to label it an adult coming-of-age novel.
FQ: What female writers influenced/inspired you in composing this tale?
FRANZ: Dorothy Bryant is one writer who comes to mind. She had the courage to write in whatever genre the characters and the specific story demanded. I had the good fortune to spend a little time one afternoon with her back in the early 1980s, when I was still in my twenties. She was very generous, very encouraging, too.
Octavia Butler comes to mind, too. Her stories open up new realities for her readers. She gives her readers new ways of looking at the old problems. She creates new worlds and invites her readers, if we have the courage, to tackle the very issues that tie us up in knots in our own world, a world that is much too close to us to see it as clearly as we try to see it.
And of course, Willa Cather. She was my (writer) hero when I was in college. But just as Willa Cather had to wake up and realize she could not be her (writer) hero, Henry James, (and thank God she realized that and found her own voice and her own material), so too did I have to wake up and realize I could not be Willa Cather. There is something very “freeing” in realizing what we can NOT do. Maybe that’s the only way we can get on with figuring out what we CAN do!
So many other great writers of fiction whose stories have sustained me over the years: Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Katherine V. Forrest, Mary Renault, Rita Mae Brown, to name just a few.
FQ: Do you have plans for a sequel to Ndalla’s World, as seems suggested in the Epilogue?
By: Kathleen Boucher Publisher: Tellwell Talent inc. Publication Date: November 2019 ISBN: 978-0228818823 Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott Review Date: August 30, 2022
Children’s self-help consultant Kathleen Boucher turns real life situations into affirming action through the voices of two fictional tweens seeking help and offering it to others of their age and aspirations in her book Nine Ways to Empower Tweens.
There are two “speakers” in this carry-with guide: identical twins and, at age 12, tweens, Emma and Elliot. They have learned some techniques through the assistance of teachers, parents, and other adults, and through observing life as it is lived. Passing this assistance along, they have devised nine rules, each of which carries a set of instructions based on the advice of wise counselors and underpinned by examples that have the feel of tween truth. Each chapter focuses on one of the nine “ways” and includes space for writing one’s thoughts and practices.
The book begins with a typical situation that might make even an adult feel nervous – talking in front of a group. The writing space allows for positive affirmations and solutions – what strengths one can emphasize in a public presentation, with “key points” listed and expectations for audience reactions. Words of encouragement complete this segment. Other guidelines, all with accompanying examples and exercises, encompass starting each day with gratitude, creating “vision boards,” defusing anger, understanding time and how to use it to best advantage, devising a solid work ethic, making an excellent first impression, talking to oneself about one’s special challenges, and finally, an exhortation to “Start Each Day with Love in Your Heart.”
Boucher is an award-winning children’s writer as well as a medical and wellness practitioner, as she indicates when describing the determination of comedian Jim Carrey, who struggled with dyslexia but was sure he could become a success. In one story episode, a school acquaintance, Jenny, mocks Emma’s hair style, so she rushes home, cries – and begins writing, until she is ready to approach Jenny and realizes that it was Jenny’s own self-directed negativity that made her attack someone else. Apologies all round - and by such mechanisms and self-examination many other dilemmas are resolved. The book is illustrated with sketches, graphics and special fonts that enhance the text on every page. Exemplars for tweens include Einstein, Carol Burnett and Eleanor Roosevelt, and there is a bibliography of resources for readers and their teachers/parents/counselors to rely on for further study.
Quill says: Kathleen Boucher, author and lifestyle coach, has created this colorful manual for young people of all ages, in a mission to help them analyze their problems, correct any misguided thinking, and remain highly positive in all they take on.
For more information on Nine Ways to Empower Tweens, please visit the author's website at: www.boucherbooks.com
By: Ian E.S. Adler Publication Date: April 27, 2022 ISBN: 979-8805401832 Reviewed by: Dianne Woodman Review Date: August 29, 2022
The Last War is the first book in The Cynnahu Saga by Ian E.S. Adler. Adler has created an epic fantasy world with the prologue providing essential background information and establishing the tone for a deadly conflict between the Naga, a serpentine race, and humanity. The stakes are high as the Naga are determined to wipe out humanity, and only ancient and powerful magic can save humankind.
Readers are immediately pulled into the world created by Adler with an attack by the Naga on Shrine Isle, one of the isles in The Archipelago of Cynnahu. The assault does not end on Shrine Isle. Ankohl Isle is the next target where the population is obliterated except for eleven-year-old Sakura. Volcan, a Fire Mage, rescues Sakura, whose life goes off in a new direction after the slaughter of her family. Meanwhile, eleven-year-old Emrys is attending a school on Eirias Isle when he makes a discovery that affects the trajectory of his life.
A team of five individuals is called upon to face challenges that will test their fortitude in an all-out effort to defeat the Naga and save humanity. The team consists of Archmage Hoth, the ruler of the Archipelago, Fire Mage Volcan, Traveler Myrriden, Sakura, and Emrys. The only way to defeat the Naga is by the incantation of a Calling Spell, the use of five Dragon Shrines, and the oral incantation by the team of five. However, there is an obstacle in the way of fulfilling their task as hidden meanings in ancient writings require deciphering before the magic spell can be put into play.
Adler has built a complex and detailed fantasy world full of adventure and excitement that keeps readers turning the pages. The author provides explanations of what people perform in their jobs that go along with their titles, such as Dragon Guardians, Isle Masters, Loremasters, and Mages, to name a few. A strong and ideal cast of characters who are dealing with grief, sacrifice, tricky interactions, and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds populate the story. The characters also undertake risks, whether it is being involved in battles where magic plays a part or in trying to overcome outside forces and internal challenges when it comes to solving the secret code in ancient writings.
The author has included helpful material. There is a map of the fantasy world, which is a handy visual reference for readers. The footnotes provide further information that supplements the text. However, the book could use better proofreading to catch grammatical mistakes.
The Last War is an excellent setup for the ongoing conflict between the Naga and humanity as the battle for dominance continues in the upcoming second book of The Cynnahu Saga, titled Dragon Guardians.
Quill says: The Last War is a gripping fantasy story that pulls readers into a magical world with nonstop action and suspense that revolves around an armed confrontation of epic proportions.
For more information on The Last War: Book One of The Cynnahu Saga, please visit the author's website at: ianesadler.com
When I Was Better by Rita Bozi chronicles the Nazi invasion, Soviet occupation, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. At the center of it all is Istvan’s and Tereza’s epic story and journey of survival.
The story opens in Hungary where we meet Tereza who has loved Istvan for as long as she can remember. Through all the turmoil and unrest in Hungary, Tereza and Istvan still manage to marry. Soon thereafter, Istvan escapes to an Austrian refugee camp where he befriends sixteen-year-old Barna. Barna adopts Istvan as his surrogate father which is a turning point in Istvan’s life. But things take a tragic turn...
Meanwhile, on the home front, things are getting worse for Tereza and her family. The Russians are in charge. They take what they want when they want it and to resist is met with horrific consequences. The Russians have an affinity for the Hungarian women and sadly the women in Tereza’s family (including Tereza) are raped. Her sister Klara left their home in Sombathely and moved to Budapest. Eventually, Tereza makes her way to Budapest. It’s been a long time since she has seen her sister. There will be no talk of what happened to either at that hands and control of the Russian soldiers. However, the unspoken words between them are more than enough to share their stories and tragic experiences. The years and decades on the road ahead for Tereza and her young son, Zolti, will pave a way of destitution and tragedy. Tereza refuses to give up. She believes in her soul that Istvan, Zolti, and she will reunite...someday.
It’s difficult to produce enough adjectives to describe the exceptional body of work Rita Bozi has produced in this stellar novel, When I Was Better. It is equally challenging to single out a particular passage over another given there is a multitude to choose from. Her scene set up and character description is off the charts. One example of this that caught my attention is on Page 175 when she describes Meszaros: "...As they were leaving the smoke-filled room, the Chief Officer pulled Istvan aside. Tereza kept a hold of his arm. Meszaros was ten years Istvan’s senior, with bushy black eyebrows—awnings over his eyeballs—his mouth stretched as wide as a frog’s and his upper lip was but a flap of skin. His wavy black hair receded only at the corners of his head. The rest poked forward in the middle of his forehead, like a cat’s tongue..." The prolific analogies and tangible accounts of the ravages of war are anchored throughout this novel. Ms. Bozi is more than adept in her research as she effortlessly sets the timelines and occurrences with precise accuracy. There is phenomenal emotion that bleeds across the pages. The only caution I would offer to the reader is the length of this book. It exceeds 500 pages. This was not a deterrent for me. Anytime a writer takes on an epic read such as this, it’s abundantly clear he/she had vision to deliver something quite memorable tenfold. In this case, Ms. Bozi has done so and admirably at that!
Quill says: When I Was Better is more than a ‘good book.’ It is a memory that steeps into the soul of the reader and one that will linger long after the proverbial ‘The End.’
For more information on When I Was Better, please visit the author's website at: www.ritabozi.com/
From author Keri Claiborne Boyle comes her fourth children’s book entitled The Black Hole Debacle. Illustrator Deborah Melmon provides the adorable images that accompany the tale. The out-of-this-world story follows Jordie, a young girl who is fascinated with all things related to space, as she encounters her very own black hole in her desk during geography class one day.
Jordie watches with amazement as the black hole gobbles up everything within its reach as she tries to keep it a secret from her classmates and her teacher. Before school concludes for the day, she manages to coax the black hole into her backpack so she can transport it home safely. As the black hole settles into Jordie’s backpack for the ride home, it proceeds to scarf down her water bottle, her library books and her friend’s softball glove. Upon arriving home, Jordie shoves the black hole into her closet, where it promptly continues to scarf down more of Jordie’s belongings, this time including her soccer ball, sweatshirt and favorite hat. The situation escalates as the black hole grows bigger and bigger and continues swallowing items from her room, including all the light that had once been there. When Jordie notices her dog, Neptune’s, empty collar lying on the floor, she knows the black hole has gone too far with its voracious snacking. Jordie decides that she will do whatever is necessary to rescue her beloved Neptune from the ever-expanding black hole, and when Neptune is safe again, she will send her cosmic friend into space where it can freely roam.
The Black Hole Debacle is the whimsical story of a young girl who experiences quite an adventure when a black hole takes up residence in her desk at school one day. The story itself is funny, entertaining and interspersed with facts about black holes. Kids will laugh their way through the story, not even realizing that they are learning along the way. This book would be a perfect addition to an elementary school classroom. The illustrations are simply delightful and accompany the story perfectly. A nice added touch to the story is the alliteration that the author includes throughout the book. The book concludes with a lovely ending that will leave the reader smiling. The author also provides two informational pages at the end of the book so the reader can learn more about characteristics of black holes.
Quill says: Author Keri Claiborne Boyle has penned a true winner in The Black Hole Debacle. Young readers will enjoy the vibrant, colorful illustrations alongside the amusing story, while parents and teachers alike will appreciate the educational aspect of the narrative.
To learn more about The Black Hole Debacle, please visit the author’s website at: https://kericboyle.com/
Cowboy from Prague: An Immigrant's Pursuit of the American Dream
By: Charles Ota Heller Publisher: Atmosphere Press Publication Date: July 19, 2022 ISBN: 978-1-639883547 Reviewed by: Katie Specht Review Date: August 24, 2022
From award-winning author Charles Ota Heller comes his newest memoir, Cowboy from Prague. This inspiring and triumphant tale chronicles Charles’s life, beginning as he and his family narrowly escape a ruthless Communist government in Czechoslovakia. Armed with their entire lives packed in just three suitcases, Charles and his family board a ship headed for America and the hope of the American dream.
At the tender age of 12, Charles is told by his father that their family will be leaving the country to begin a new life in America, and that he must be brave because they will be crossing the border and it will be dangerous. Despite this grim warning, Charles does not find himself frightened because he has full confidence in his father taking care of him and his mother. The escape itself is comprised of many steps, including spending one night in a hotel, abandoning their car in a field, taking separate busses, riding a train to a village near the German border and finally, walking three hours through a dark, scary forest. At long last, Charles and his family reach the US Zone of Germany and they are free.
Charles’s adjustment to life in the United States happens quite rapidly. The first summer of living there, his father sends him off to camp with a friend for three weeks. Charles is horrified at the idea of this as he does not yet speak any English, and he is afraid that the other kids will make fun of him for not being able to communicate with them. Surprisingly, the exact opposite happens. The other kids take Charles under their wing, encouraging him to participate in various activities and teaching him new sports. When Charles returns home from camp, he is able to speak rudimentary English.
As Charles grows older, he makes decisions regarding where to attend college and what sports to play at the collegiate level. Charles earns three degrees in engineering, including one at the doctoral level. Charles also meets and falls in love with Sue, who would become his wife in June of 1959. After a few years of marriage, Charles and Sue are thrilled to learn that she is pregnant, and will give both sides of the family their first grandchild. The happy couple is overjoyed to welcome their son in April 1964, but future challenges would emerge as they venture into parenthood.
Charles Ota Heller has truly achieved the American dream. He escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia as a young boy, coming to America with nothing more than what he carried in a few suitcases. He knew no English, and yet, he earned three engineering degrees, including one Doctorate. He has successfully sustained numerous careers, including those of an engineer, a professor, an author, an investor, and an entrepreneur.
Heller’s writing throughout is deeply engaging, as he invites you into his most personal thoughts and feelings. After reading this memoir, you will feel as if you know Heller personally. His writing is real, raw, often humorous, and vibrant. Heller is truly the epitome of a person who seizes the day and makes every moment count, and this is evident in his writing.
Quill says: Heller has penned a poignant, compelling story of one man’s grit and determination to make the most of his life, even during the most traumatic of circumstances. Heller’s dream to make it in a free country came true in more ways than he ever could have imagined, but through all of his successes, he never forgot where he came from.
To learn more about Cowboy from Prague: An Immigrant's Pursuit of the American Dream, please visit the author’s website at: charlesoheller.com.
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Lyman Ditson, author of Desert Angles.
FQ: You have chosen your current home region for the setting of this book - did it inspire you in some way to create this work?
DITSON: Actually, I recently moved to Wisconsin. When I began writing Desert Angels, I lived outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I loved the desert there. One highlight of living there was a mother bobcat raising her kittens behind my house.
FQ: Have you ever experienced the kind of “recognition shock” that your narrator goes through?
DITSON: Yes. Many years ago, I had a kind of self-awareness that hit me. But over time, it felt restrictive. Now, in my later years, I have had more spontaneous, selfless revelations that I believe are more the true self.
FQ: Do you believe in angels either really, or as powerful symbols for our inner guidance?
DITSON: I think anyone or anything that guides me on a path of discovery is an angel or comes from an angel.
FQ: Do you have other creative talents and pastimes besides writing?
DITSON: I have found a passion for gardening.
FQ: Have you been, like your narrator, writing poems since you were a child?
DITSON: The three incidents that Boris spoke of were taken from my younger experiences. Of course, I can't remember the exact wording of the poems from back then, but they really were met with derision.
FQ: Do you see your dog – one’s dog – as able to impart wisdom and “read” one’s mind?
DITSON: There is no doubt that we communicate without words with our pets, as anyone with a connection to their pet will tell you. You were astute when you mentioned that Lion's speech was my conscience. In the story, it was like a consciousness of my own thoughts.
FQ: What poets/writers have influenced you most in your creative endeavors?
DITSON: The writers that stand out for me are William Yeats, William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Kahlil Gibran.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read your work with no previous knowledge of your writing style?
DITSON: Know that how one interprets some poems or stories comes from within the reader. I have heard of several different ways that people sometimes see what's in a story or poem, and that's ok. It's the place that one happens to be in at that moment.
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Rhonda Harris Slota, author of By Fire.
FQ: Do you, like your father, identify with any particular personage in the Bible?
SLOTA: Not the way my father did. I was greatly intrigued by Elijah and the way my father would become enthralled with talking about him! My great grandfather’s name was Elijah and we often visited family graves. I deeply pondered that connection. But really, I wanted more of Mary and the women, because I wasn’t sure where I fit in. Later, discovering Elaine Pagels’ Gnostic Gospels and learning more about Mary Magdalene was deeply inspirational for me!
I loved Jesus! He and the angels got me through a lot of difficult situations and painful times when I was younger. Prayer was very real and a constant for me. It still is.
FQ: What factors drew you away from the structure of Christianity to the openness of Eastern spirituality?
SLOTA: I found my father’s version of Christianity to be frightening, punitive and restrictive in ways that, fairly early in my life, didn’t make sense to me. I had a friend whose mother was the kindest, most generous and caring of souls. She was positive and always made me feel welcome. She made clothes and distributed them to the needy at Christmas time. Because she was not of the particular faith my father ascribed to, his contention was that she would not go to heaven when she died. I thought, “If she doesn’t make it, what chance does anyone have?” I also felt it odd that some of the more gossipy, not particularly pleasant or generous persons in the church were assured of their place because they had been baptized the right way and had received the Holy Spirit. I also couldn’t understand how a religion so young, could be the only one that God recognized. What about all who came before? And, what about those in parts of the world who had never been exposed to our form of Christianity?
As I said, I always felt connected to Jesus and his teachings of compassion, love, devotion to God, and forgiveness. His was/is indeed a teaching of unity or oneness. That is what drew me first to Eastern spirituality. We are all interconnected, as children of God made in his (or her) image, born of the same Spirit. My Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, reveres Jesus and includes him in the lineage of Kriya Yoga. Yogananda’s purpose in coming to the United States in l920 was to show the similarities in the tenets of all major religions; we each have one purpose: to return to that cosmic consciousness or Spirit from which we came. That appealed to me! Inclusivity of the saints of all religions! I could follow a Yoga tradition that didn’t just accept Jesus, but embraced him!
FQ: Have you traveled to or maintained any personal ties to your Indiana birthplace; if so, how does that affect your current thinking?
SLOTA: I am very close to my family in Indiana. I travel there at least once per year, and often more times than that if something is happening that I need to be a part of, such as when my father was terminally ill. That year, I went back six times. I grew up in Bloomington, which is where Indiana University is located. My family mostly lives in the surrounding country areas, but I was drawn to the University-related community. That’s where I found Yoga along with friends and co-workers open to the wider world and its endless possibilities. Some of those friends are still there and I always make sure to visit them too, for balance! To be honest, religion is one of those subjects that isn’t discussed much in my family. There is some pain associated with my dad’s illness and its center on his beliefs, and there is still some fear and concern that I have somehow gone astray! Some just think of me as odd or different, but they love me! That’s the bottom line; we do very much love each other.
FQ: Is your book or other poetic work offered as a focus for workshops or gatherings within your spiritual organization?
SLOTA: In Self Realization Fellowship (SRF, Paramahansa Yogananda’s organization), we focus on the teachings of the Holy Bible and The Bhagavad Gita as well as the plethora of writing by Paramahansa Yogananda and his direct disciples, so it isn’t a venue for my book. But many devotees have bought the book and discussed it with me and attended other events. I teach classes at the Wisdom School (Reiki kula) in Napa and at Vallejo Yoga. Both have sponsored readings and discussions, and continue to carry the book for sale. They have been some of my biggest supporters and I’m grateful. COVID reduced the number of in-person options for reading. I hope to do additional readings and workshops in the future. I’m happy that Morgenstern’s Bookstore in Bloomington is carrying the book and we have discussed a reading there, coordinating with my next visit.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read By Fire with no previous knowledge of its highly varied content?
SLOTA: Be open-minded, open-hearted, and compassionate. It is not an indictment of religion. Quite the contrary. I don’t want my father to be the bad guy. He had a mental illness and that lead to hallucinations and fanaticism on his part. My family was rural, working-class and poor. Some of the poems show that in stark ways. Hard things happened in their lives. My mother was 16 when she quit school her sophomore year and married my dad who was six years older. Her married life started out difficult: detecting that something was amiss but having no one to talk to about it, losing her first child, losing her sister at 23 to leukemia, and trying her best to hold it together. We had no mental health services to speak of and the stigma attached was huge (that is gradually changing, thanks to organizations like NAMI, National Association of Mental Illness). My family members struggled to try to find their place in a complex and often chaotic and frightening world.
FQ: Was writing about your father’s passing painful? Would you recommend this especially personal scenario as a meditative subject for other writers?
SLOTA: It was difficult, poignant, powerful, and I recommend it. There was a redemption, a beautiful transformation that happened both at his death and while writing about it. I was able to spend that last full day alone with him. I read to him from the Bible, and shared a few stories, but mostly we were in silent prayer. Not asking for anything; just being. It was a tremendously healing experience and culmination to the journey I had started with my father years ago when I decided to spend time with him asking deeper and more probing questions. I was amazed at how much he opened up and talked about his life. Writing about his passing wasn’t easy, but felt so deeply important for my own completion of this journey together.
FQ: Has your work as a teacher and counselor in the academic and spiritual realms provided further, deeper insight for your poetic endeavors?
SLOTA: Definitely! I loved reading from a young age; my family didn’t read much and I was considered the weird kid with her “nose in a book all the time.” I didn’t realize then that reading was my escape. Later, I wanted to write novels or short stories, but my stories kept morphing into poems. I worked with some wonderful writers at San Francisco State University: the late William S. Dickey and Frances Mayes. They both helped me experiment and take risks to find a style that was fairly uniquely mine.
Teaching and counseling in both the academic and spiritual realms have given me the opportunity to encourage others as well as myself to be bold, to tell the story you feel compelled to tell, with honor, humility, and love. My spiritual practice has helped me to be more dispassionate and compassionate simultaneously. When I’m telling a story, it’s not just my story. It is a universal story. I sometimes read my own work and weep with gratitude. I know that this little life is only important in terms of the lessons I learn, the ways I am able to support and serve others, and give to the greater good. My stories’ details may be different, but we are all travelling the same road. We can learn from each other. We can help each other heal and move forward.
FQ: Do you have plans for more book-length works like By Fire?
SLOTA: By Fire was written beginning in the ’80s and it was part of a healing journey that I was embarking on with my father. I have continued to write, with some long stretches without writing while I was a teacher and school administrator, and while my son was growing up. My son also has schizophrenia so now I experience that illness from the point of view of a parent. I have written a great deal about that. I have many more resources to access, but it is still a very rough journey. My writing tends to always come back to my family for inspiration. I definitely want to share more recent material. I guess the answer to the question is Yes!
Thank you so very much for your time! - Rhonda Slota
Poet and wordsmith Lyman Ditson has created a fable for mature minds, as he sends his narrator out into the New Mexico desert with his dog, named Lion, for what seems like a typical day’s stroll in his newest offering, Desert Angels.
On this day, though, his life perspective will be torn apart and rebuilt as he encounters various etheric beings. The first is an angel named Boris, who has a slight accent and the amazing ability to remind the man of his past by reciting poems he’d been writing since childhood. As the man recalls the incidents, each quite significant, that evoked his poetic leanings, he becomes convinced of Boris’s powers and is told that he will have a mission now, to travel on a ship…and that dream becomes reality when he and Lion find themselves on board a wooden ship whose captain is a parrot with foggy vision. The parrot tells the desert traveler that he has a chance to live forever. Next, though, he will be led by a vulture to a tomb where, if he wishes to live forever, he must be willing to sleep. It doesn’t seem an attractive proposition, and his unwillingness to believe that it can happen may be the very thing that prevents it from happening.
Further meetings include an egotistic military man who wants to enlist the desert man as a scribe, a voice from a fiery cactus, and a tortoise named Dwayne, wearing tiny red sneakers. Dwayne directs him to find the four Gifted Ones, to decide which gifts he may wish to garner. And sometime in the midst of all this confusion, Lion has started talking, often interrupting and seeming to express the seeker’s conscience. In the end, all our hero really wants to do is find his way home; but in doing so, he must learn to accept who he really is.
Between each of the prose chapters, Ditson has placed poems that elicit the desert man’s feelings about what is happening to him. Is it “a fear so deep that seared my core,” or “the light of the greatest star”? These touches somehow turn the fable into the heartfelt search for identity that the desert man must undergo when his ordinary day is transformed, becoming a visit into a world of archetypes and angels. The author, who himself lives in the desert his narrator walks through, handles this panorama, turning the bizarre meetings into vibrant metaphors enhanced by skillful wordplay and higher truths.
Quill says: Desert Angels is a light-filled, lilting look by gifted poet Ditson, painting a word picture of how it is possible to see oneself when everyday routines are shattered, and fantasy becomes the only reality.
By: Sherrill S. Cannon Illustrated by: Kalpart Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co Publication Date: December 17, 2021 ISBN: 978-1-68235-583-1 Reviewed by: Katie Specht Review Date: August 19, 2022
From award-winning author Sherrill S. Cannon comes her third coloring book entitled My Little Angel Coloring Book, which is the accompaniment to her picture book of the same name. My Little Angel Coloring Book follows the daily activities of a girl who has a guardian angel named Angela, as she encounters various situations that necessitate decision-making throughout the day. The little girl makes these decisions with the help of her guardian angel, who is always by her side.
Throughout the story, Angela stays close to the little girl, keeping her safe as she walks to school, reminding her to say “please” and “thank you,” and to be kind to others. Angela also teaches the little girl important lessons such as sharing with others, paying attention at school, always wearing her seatbelt, and not wandering away from her mother when in a public place.
My Little Angel Coloring Book is written in rhyme, which is always a favorite among young readers. Not only is it a fun coloring book, but it is also a storybook, which is unique in itself. Kids can enjoy reading the cute rhyming story and once they are finished, they have a project they can complete with the coloring book activity.
This newest title from author Sherrill S. Cannon is an adorable accompaniment to her picture book, My Little Angel, that allows young readers to create their own colorful version of the story. The story itself is a positive one for kids, emphasizing social values and valuable lessons such as crossing the street safely, being kind to others, staying close to family when in a public place, saying your prayers, paying attention at school, and sharing with others.
Quill says: With My Little Angel Coloring Book, Cannon has certainly achieved another literary success. Parents and teachers will appreciate the emphasis on positive morals throughout the story, while young readers will love the rhyming story and the opportunity to add their own creative flair to the book.
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Sandy Gerber, author of Emotional Magnetism: How to Communicate to Ignite Connection in Your Relationships.
FQ: Is your book offered as a manual for educational or inspirational workshops or gatherings within your professional sphere?
GERBER: Yes, thank you for asking. As I speak to many business and social groups about the power of Emotional Magnetism, I have a variety of options available (i.e. keynote presentation, ecourse, downloads). Recently I presented highlights of the book to a leading national insurance group of advisors and educated them on the value of using Emotional Magnetism with their prospective clients and team members. I also have a popular complimentary Emotional Magnetism Book Club Kit available on my website for social groups who want to go through the learning experience together.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read this manual with no previous knowledge of its content?
GERBER: My advice would be for them to carve a few hours out of their day, find a place where they can relax, and be open to learning about themselves in one sitting. And, an advance warning, the learning will change how you see everyone in your life! You’re welcome.
FQ: Does positing and writing about the identification of strong, positive psychological traits give you a sense of hope regarding the human race generally?
GERBER: Absolutely! When more of us know what we emotionally need to be happy, we can courageously share that in our relationships and in turn honour others’ needs. Now more than ever, increasing our understanding, empathy, and acceptance of others is crucial for our success as a human race.
FQ: What self-help or other writers/speakers/activists specially influenced you in your desire to explore this medium?
GERBER: A few mentors have helped influence my mission to help people to communicate more effectively in their relationships. Beginning with my mother. She was a psychotherapist who was passionate about human psychology and behaviour. I still remember sneaking a book about body language out of her room in my early teens – it sure helped me to understand a few awkward high school moments! I am certain reading the infamous Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Power of Intention set me on my self discovery path and John Maxwell’s many communication books continue to fuel my passion. As mentioned in my book, Roy Garn’s study of the Emotional Appeal Theory was instrumental in my development of Emotional Magnetism.
FQ: Do you have plans for new approaches to/presentations of the Emotional Magnetism materials?
GERBER: Yes, I am in the process of writing the Emotional Magnetism, Marketing Edition and have been asked to write Emotional Magnetism, Teens Edition. It took me nine years to research/write Emotional Magnetism as a single mom in my spare time. This next book should take me a year, writing evenings and weekends.
FQ: Do you use a fair dose of humor, as you did in your book, for speaking engagements regarding your method?
GERBER: No. Kidding. Yes, my speaking engagements are fun, memorable, and very relatable. Humour is the fastest way to speed up the process to trust and respect. If we are listening to a person speak for an hour, they better make us laugh!
FQ: In composing this description of Emotional Magnetism, did you find yourself subtly using the techniques you discuss to reach out to potential readers who represent each of the four “magnet” types you have devised?
GERBER: Every time I write content for business or pleasure, I use the Emotional Magnetism technique as it is more likely the message will be heard and received. For example, potential readers who are motivated by the Safety Emotional Magnet will be interested to know that I found a way to have a long-term phenomenally successful relationship even after two failed marriages, and the skills are easy to learn in the book. Readers who have the Achievement Emotional Magnet will connect when they hear the book has won three book awards in the first 90 days in the market and pay close attention to the five star reviews. Readers with the Value Emotional Magnet will want to know the communication technique works, that it’s a quick read, and likely wait for a discounted sale price. And finally, the readers who have the Experience Emotional Magnet, well, heck, we had them at the word “magnetism.” They love to learn new things and will want it to be a fun, relatable read.
FQ: Have you considered writing a fictional work based around the framework of personality types depicted in your SAVE model?
GERBER: Not at this time – can I skip this question? I have a large to-do list already.