Browsing Tag

reading

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

Fandom is Family

May 22, 2018

By Sarah Clayville

The other day as I was strolling through Target by the rack of impossibly inexpensive items at the entrance, a young man charged at me from across the store. His arms waggled with every intention to knock me over. Rather than call security which is what most sane people might do, as a writer I humored my incessant need to wait and see exactly how the scene played out. Even if it meant personal injury.

“Your shirt. I get it.” He was out of breath and smoothed his shock of black hair against his forehead. Half my age, the young man pointed perilously close to jabbing my chest.

In an early morning haze, I’d forgotten what I was wearing and nodded groggily, still cautious that he might have intentions of tackling me.

“Weird Sisters. I get it.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, sisters

The Seeker and The Artist

January 3, 2018
books

By Cassandra Lane

It was 1984, and parachute pants and Jordache jeans were all the rage at DeRidder Junior High School. My Seventeen magazine-reading peers poked fun at my daily attire: dresses that hung loosely on my thin frame before flaring at the hems to reveal my knock-knees. My legs itched to pull on some Jordaches, or even Lee’s, but Uncle Junior, who led my family’s small church, preached that a britches-wearing woman was a sin, and we women and girls under his leadership obeyed.

“Sanctified Lady,” my junior-high peers would sing as I boarded the bus each morning. My eyes stinging, I’d shoot back: “I am not sanctified,” though when I was with my family in church or prayer meetings at home, sanctification was a state I craved.

My sister Dena, a grade lower, didn’t carry the burden of trying to be good, nor did the kids mess with her. Maybe it was because she didn’t look as gangly in her dresses. She was thin, too, but athletic and spunky. And she had what I didn’t: attitude. The way she held her small, diamond-shaped face halfway to the sky, swished her skinny hips through the hallways, and was quick to bark: “Whatchu lookin’ at?”

She was smart enough to torment other kids before they could get to her. They remembered, too, the day she beat up our neighborhood bully—Sheldon Mazieke. By the time Grandmama came on the porch with her broom to shoo Sheldon away, he was retreating to his mama’s house, blood trailing his torn white t-shirt.

Dena stood in the middle of the street, screaming at his back, veins straining in her scrawny black neck.

She wanted more.

~

Before sixth grade, I didn’t belong to the world and didn’t know how to act in it. I’d seen an angel, traced God’s face in the clouds, manifested the Spirit in church.

In church, Uncle Junior told us how to have a relationship with God, how if we didn’t we’d surely die and forever burn in the Lake of Fire, but he didn’t teach us how to have relationships with each other. The relationship between Dena and me was pocked with enmity, without a shred of sisterly bond beyond the blood we shared through our parents who, unsurprisingly, despised each other. While I spent my first few years trying to ignore my sister, eventually, I stopped wanting to be set apart. I watched with envy the ease with which she became friends with neighborhood children and interacted with our cousins. I started reading my Bible less and stopped praising the Lord publicly during church services. Mama cried about my sudden turn, asking Aunt Mae Helen, Uncle Junior’s wife, to pray for me, and the church did, but I stood there, stony and unyielding. I replaced my Bible reading with an obsession that would have been an abomination had Uncle Junior found out about it: astrology.

“It’s a sin to try and read the stars,” Uncle Junior had once boomed in church. “We’re not supposed to go around asking God why this and why that.”

But I was bursting with questions.

Why, if I were saved, did my body tingle whenever I saw Kenny St. Romain, the boy who lived down the street? His skin was the color of camel hair and his slanted black eyes were pools into which I wanted to dive.

And why had God created the Earth only to destroy it? Did he know we would be doomed as he lovingly crafted us into being? Did he cry as he molded the mud, breathed life into his first creation?

I wanted answers, and was drawn to Mama’s closet again and again to read passages from her romance novels and Reader’s Digest books on science and the body.

Waiting until everyone was preoccupied—Mama at work on the Army base; Dena hanging out with friends; Grandmama catching up with neighbors; Papa snoring into the worn green leather of his recliner—I’d put aside my Nancy Drew and tiptoe toward my grandparents’ room.

Peering around corners fist, I slinked into the cool dimness. Holding my breath against the reek of mothballs and Sulfur8 Hair and Scalp Conditioner, I picked up Papa’s magnifying glass with a piece of toilet tissue (real sleuths never left their fingerprints) and headed for Mama’s bedroom. Adrenaline stirred my bowels, but I’d come too far to allow a bathroom trip to interrupt my investigation. I folded my lanky frame into Mama’s closet and opened the flap of a box way in the back. As dust sprayed my face, my eyes and nostrils burned, but I held in the sneeze.

The boxes were filled to the brim with geography books, romance novels, Shakespeare plays, road atlases. Beneath it all lay a plain, jacket-less book. It was bright red— the same color of lipstick Dena wore once she passed her tomboy stage. That cheap Wet n’Wild brand of red that didn’t come off until she wiped her mouth hard with a wet, soapy rag. Even then, you could see the red residue trapped between the cracks of her chapped lip skin. Which is why Mama, who was home early from work one day, popped Dena right in the mouth when she got off the bus and came traipsing through the house.

But Dena continued to wear the lipstick when she was away from the watchful eyes of home. She wanted to be a model.

Mama said, “No, you’ll end up a prostitute,” but she couldn’t tame, at least not right away, Dena’s desire to break away from the restrictions of the family.

And I was breaking away, too, quietly. The astrology book’s title, Your Guide to Astrology, Your Guide to Life, was etched in gold lettering. It promised insights into career, love, family and friends. All one needed to know was a birthday to unravel mysteries that had previously befuddled them. I held Papa’s magnifier over the list of astrological signs and birth dates, looked up my birthday and the birthdays of people I knew. And I read.

I couldn’t wait to take my new treasure to school.

The next day, when the bus driver pulled up to DeRidder Junior High, I descended the steps with a smile on my face and no fear of stumbling. Squeezing the hardcover underarm, I eased it from its warm spot only after my nearsighted eyes focused on my two friends huddling in the courtyard.

We cracked open the book, turning hurriedly to our respective sections: Taurus for me. Leo for Melanie. Libra for Loretta.

My chapter described me in a way the outside world obviously had not yet realized: sensuous, earthy, romantic. Hip-heavy. Leos, Melanie acknowledged as true, were leaders. Smart, showy, self-centered. Loved and worshipped by many. Loretta’s pretty face and peaceful demeanor were detailed in her chapter.

Sometimes, I allowed those who were not part of our circle, but were not our enemies either, to skim the book. Sensing their time was short, they flipped the pages quickly, seeking for clues of who and why they are.

I never offered to let Dena read the red book.

Like Loretta, she is a Libra, but in her case, I had to disagree with the description of Libra as a peacemaker. She hated me and had been attacking me since we were toddlers. I was the oldest, the holder of the birthright, the quiet one who could be trusted with information and tasks, but Dena knew that I was not nearly as innocent or special as the adults seemed to believe.

One morning, she stood over me as I sat reading.

“Why you always got that stupid book?” she asked, wrinkling her nose. She waited. I could feel her breath on my forehead.

“You barbarian,” I hissed, but my voice shook a little, and she laughed.

I closed the book and willed myself to stare into her eyes without blinking.

“Hmph!” she finally said. She threw me a menacing look as she flounced away.

Afraid she’d try to steal the book and parade it in front of the grown-ups, I started sliding it under my feather-stuffed pillow at night. Over the years, the book’s hard corners softened, the pages browned, and the cover started to fade.

~

I lost track of the astrology book after going off to college. A year after I graduated, Dena met a soldier and ran away with him to Georgia. They married, and her soldier became a police officer who beat her, a police officer who pulled his gun on her. Watching his father, their three-year-old toddler did the same, except his gun was make-believe, and he would call out to her: “Mommy, I’m gonna kill you.”

With her wildness and fight siphoned from her, my sister temporarily forgot who she was and what she wanted out of life. Her apartment was decorated in black leather couches, white shag rugs and black-and-silver striped wallpaper—somehow stark and drab at the same time. Much like her face back then: strikingly beautiful but etched in dull lines. Many miles away, I dreamt of her, feared for her. Helpless. How many bloody lips would it take, how many broken wrists, how many calls to 911, before she left him?

More years of worrying for her safety passed before she laid claim to what even she did not know was there: her artist self. First, she began to paint – a black-skinned man in emerald-green slacks and a yellow shirt on a canvas the color of red clay. A wood pipe dangled from his lips. Her images dredged up Haiti and Louisiana.

Next, she bought tools and slabs of wood, her fingers curling around her new utensils as she carved lines and smoothed out grooves, giving birth to the prominent bone structure of an African woman. If I can make this, she told herself, I can make furniture.

If she could craft furniture out of mere planks of wood, she could leave the man who kept trying to break her. And if she could leave her abuser, she could create a life, a style, that looked nothing like her current reality.

And she did.

And she did.

Cassandra Lane is a former newspaper reporter and high school literature and journalism teacher who has published essays, columns and articles in a variety of newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She is an alum of Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA) Foundation and A Room of Her Own (AROHO). She received an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. A Louisiana native, she lives with her family in Los Angeles and is the managing editor of L.A. Parent magazine.

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Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Book Review: Asana of Malevolence

September 6, 2016
asana

By Kelly J. Riibe

The dark back-stories for the players in Kate Abbott’s thriller, Asana of Malevolence, could all have their own novellas. Each character has a crippling past that continues to haunt them as they try to move forward in life in order to find forgiveness for themselves and the others who have hurt them.

This is Abbott’s second novel, and as an instructor of yoga she introduces and writes about the discipline in a way that makes it almost a character in itself. Through yoga, Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean were able to find peace from different traumas and begin a road to recovery. For them the retreat to “The Garden” was meant to be a celebratory excursion in which they could grow in their yoga spirit and find a calming reassurance to life’s dark side. However, upon arrival they soon realize the retreat is being led by a manic leader with cult-like intentions.

Phoebe and Moses are hikers on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail when they encounter Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean trying to escape. Phoebe and Moses understand the feeling of loss, and immediately want to help these damaged souls who are fighting their past guilt, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with the hijacking of what was supposed to be a peaceful yoga retreat. It is heartbreaking to read that yoga aided each of these characters in processing their past grief and sadness, but then ultimately led them to a destination that offered only torture and fear.

The retreat leader, Larry, is a power obsessed man with an evil past. He will stop at nothing to control others. He feeds on weakness and vulnerability, which makes all those within Abbott’s story targets for his wicked plans. Larry’s relentless pursuit to make others serve him casts a long dark shadow over “The Garden” and the spirit of yoga.

“The Garden” is a rich backdrop to the story’s plot and Abbott describes it beautifully. The solitude of the area and the long distance of trails and wooded paths, cause the main characters to participate in an involuntary game of hide and seek with deadly consequences for being found. The characters must make tough decisions in their attempts to escape the reach of evil that is extending from what was once a calm and serene place. Very few locals live near the “The Garden”, but those who do prove to be worthy allies.

Unbreakable bonds of friendship are formed quickly in Asana of Malevolence, especially as the characters face acts of violence. The need to escape is urgent from the very start of the book. However, the ability to trust others is tough for many in this story due to their history of struggles and heartache. The characters grapple with seeking help that could ultimately put innocents in danger’s way. Throughout every chapter, a person is being tested, while having very few options in terms of survival.

Inner strength, and a little help from the paranormal, guide all of the characters in this page-turning read. Their quest to flee Larry’s control and also escape their own demons will keep readers engaged until the end.

****

Excerpt from Asana of Malevolence:

Sean had a rumbling in his left ear.  He could feel the ground beneath him and the sun beating down on him.  He tried to open his eyes but the light was blinding.  He wasn’t in any pain.  The last thing he could recall was someone injecting something into his foot.  But he didn’t feel high, or like he was coming down from something.  Maybe he was actually dead and the blinding light was heaven.   But he didn’t believe in God.  Something soft brushed against the left side of his face.  He reached up and something bit his hand ever so gently.

He forced himself to open his left eye.  It wasn’t quite as bright now because something was blocking his vision.   He heard an unmistakable meow and closed his eyes as tightly as he could.  Definitely dead.  That corny Rainbow Bridge poem had turned out to be true.  How else could Titus be there?   Reluctantly he opened both eyes this time.  Titus was still there, staring him in the face and purring.  Sean pulled himself up into a seated position and the cat hopped onto his lap.  He petted him and examined him closely.  White-tip on the tail, one paw missing a toe and that terrible Titus breath.

Sean looked around him.  Somehow, heaven was a dirt road in front of a double wide trailer.  Funny version of Saint Peter’s gate, but who knew?  The double wide appeared abandoned but suddenly the door popped open and an enormous woman with waist length grey hair stepped out, the little porch sagging under her weight.

“Are you God?” Sean asked.

For some reason, God found this extremely amusing.  She threw her head back and laughed uproariously, exposing remarkably white teeth.

“Oh, no, Sugah,” she gasped as she tried to stop laughing.  “Farthest thing from God is old me here.”   Another peal of laughter.

She stepped down onto the ground and waddled over to Sean.

She peered at him closely.  Sean wondered if she needed glasses.

“Mah name is Prudence.  Whatcha got there?  A cat?  Cute looking thang but they makes me sneeze.”  Prudence immediately sneezed twice as if to make a point.

“This is Titus.”  He pointed at the cat.  The entire conversation seemed absurd to him but he kept going.  “And I’m Sean.”

“Nice ta meetcha,” Prudence said, extending her hand and hauling Sean to his feet with surprising strength.

Prudence looked him up and down.

“What happened to your other shoe?  You only wearin one.”

He could only shrug.  He was dead, after all.  Why would he need shoes?  Titus jumped off his lap and darted up the road and into the bushes.  The cat emerged shortly with Sean’s other Nike.

“Well don’t that jest beat all?”  Prudence chortled.  “He a smart one.”

Her face turned serious as she asked him what he had done to piss off that no account who dumped him in front of her house.   Prudence had heard the car but hadn’t ventured outside because she thought it might have been the owner of the double wide, come back to kick her out again.   When she finally peered out the window, Sean was on the ground and a silver car was disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“I though you was dead,” Prudence concluded.  “You wasn’t movin, hardly even breathin.”

“You mean I am not dead?”

“No, Sugah, you right here wit me.  Live as can be.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be dead.  That guy, he shot me up with something that should have killed me.  I’m an addict.”

“Maybe that jest give you more tolerance.  You bring dat cat wit you?”

“No.”  He opened his mouth to explain that the cat had been his some years ago and was probably dead but he realized that information would only add to the confusion.  Instead, he asked how far they were from Charlotte.

“Oh, fity, hunnerd miles or so, I expect.”

“Is there a bus, or a train station around here?  I need to get back there.”   He patted his pockets.  For some reason, Chad had not taken his wallet or ID.  Maybe he wanted Sean identified.  He felt a sudden stab of worry for Mary Alice.  He hoped Betty had gone to find Mary Alice when Sean hadn’t shown up at the agent’s office.

“My nephew, he live up the road aways, past where the blacktop start.  He might could give you a ride.”

“That would be great.”   Sean reached down to put his shoe on and felt a wave of lightheadedness so strong that he had to sit down quickly.

“You ok?   Maybe you needs something to drink or your sugar low.  Dat happen to me a lot.”

Prudence lumbered up the steps of the trailer and came back with a carton of orange juice and a box of powdered donuts.  Sean gulped and chewed and he did feel better, although he was sure he would be crashing in thirty minutes.

“So, how far up to your nephew’s place?” he asked at last.

“Oh it fur nuff.  I ride you up dere.”

She disappeared around the side of the trailer and then he heard the sputter of an engine.   She reappeared around the side of the trailer riding an ancient motorcycle with a side car.

“Now make sure you brings dat cat wid you.  I don’t need anyone else beggin me for food at my door.”

Sean eyed his chauffer.  She appeared remarkably comfortable.  Sean got into the sidecar and Titus hopped up beside him.    Prudence tore down the dirt road, rattling Sean’s teeth.  The engine belched exhaust but it ran fine.   About fifteen minutes later, the dirt turned to blacktop and there were houses visible.    Prudence turned into the driveway of a small white ranch.  The door to the house opened and two kids ran out.

***

Asana of Malevolence is available now through the publisher at: https://mascotbooks.com/mascot-marketplace/buy-books/fiction/asana-of-malevolence/ and on Amazon here.

Kelly J. Riibe is a freelance writer, blogger, and full-time mother to three kids. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, MockMom, and is the co-writer for the blog:www.familyfootnote.com.

Kate Abbott is a mother, runner, yoga instructor and recovering attorney who delights in writing from the dark and bright sides of the heart. Her first novel is Running Through the Wormhole. Asana of Malevolence is her second novel. Her writing has appeared in Mamalode and Sammiches and Psych Meds.
Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

 

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Books, Guest Posts, writing

Scheherazade’s Call.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laraine Herring.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

That 1922 edition of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit was my version of the book. My rabbit. My boy. My playroom and wise old Skin Horse. William Nicholson’s illustrations helped make it mine. When later editions hit the shelves, the new illustrations (lovely though they were) were jarring. That’s not my bunny! That’s not my story.

This seems ludicrous on the surface, but talk to a fan of a book when the movie comes out and you’ll get a step-by-step guide of what didn’t match up and how the actors didn’t fit the images the reader had put in her head. Readers claim ownership of the fictional worlds they inhabit, and rightfully so—they helped to create those worlds using the signposts the author provided through text. The reader’s experience with the story is so intimate and so real that it comes as a shock when another reader has a different relationship with the same story. No one can enter the web of words the same way, and no one comes out the other side unchanged either.

Why do books matter? Why do fiction writers matter? Why is fiction reading still relevant? The world changes, evolves, and by necessity leaves behind what no longer fits. The thing is, stories always fit. They take us by the hand and pull us into worlds we didn’t know existed—not the world of the writer, but the world that was within us. Our hidden interior world, on the trigger of a turn of phrase, can expand into new ways of being in and relating to the world. Our experiences with characters and adventures on the page make us move in surprising ways. They give us a window into a way of life we’d never know or a belief system that challenges us and stretches our capacity to care. The author might have been writing five hundred years ago or just yesterday. It doesn’t matter. The readers are the wild card. Each reader co-creates her own story and makes it personally relevant and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.

Our lives are very different from when that first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit captured hearts. Much of what fuels our economy is not a physical product that we can ship and store. Our productivity is intellectual. It’s artistic. It’s creative. And it doesn’t always sit on a shelf. It isn’t warehoused and it isn’t collecting dust. This is an economy of ideas and of inventions based not on a combustible engine, but rather a combustible spirit. As Seth Godin tells us in The Icarus Deception, this is the time of the creatives, the artists, the dreamers and imaginers. This is the time for magic. But it’s hard to put magic in a spreadsheet. It’s hard to make a pie chart or a PowerPoint slide about its benefits. But make no mistake. Our modern age runs on magic. It runs on someone alone in a room with an idea to make the world a little bit better. Innovation and invention start with imagination—the world of fiction.

Who would have thought we’d go to the moon, or store our documents in a cloud, or type a manuscript from across the room from the computer? Who would have thought, until someone did, and then what had once been purely fiction became the norm. Then the standard. But before it became the standard, it was inconceivable. It was impossible and then someone dreamed it. Someone shook the fairy dust and came up with an electric car, solar power, Apple computers, airplanes and stories. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, parenting

Powder Blue Polyester Tuxedo.

October 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Ben Tanzer.

There is quiet. Can you hear it? Just wait a moment. Pause. Take it in.

There is no screaming about toys, Animal Jam, showers, homework, dishes, screen time, or even screaming about why someone is screaming.

No one is complaining, crying, wheezing, moaning, grousing, grumbling, protesting, or bleating. And no one is watching Pokemon, Pretty Little Liars, Kicking It, H20, The Fosters, America’s

Got Talent, or The X Factor. It is quiet, and it is like magic. It is magic.

Noah, the little one, is lying on his back, brow furrowed, skin as buttery as ever, and he is reading Miss Daisy is Crazy!, one of the 20 million books in the My Weird School series by my new best friend Dan Gutman. Other titles include Mr. Klutz is Nuts! and Mrs. Roopy is Loopy! and on and on ad infinitum.

Myles, the older one, is sprawled out on his stomach in our bed, his spiky, mushroom cap hair flying in 50 directions, his long legs splayed everywhere, and he is re-reading, yes you read that correctly, re-reading Insurgent, a book that couldn’t be more in synch with what he loves: scrappy, underdog, outcast girl discovers she is special and then kicks all kinds of butt.

Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, parenting

Lost. By David L. Ulin.

September 9, 2014

By David L. Ulin.

(From: The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time)

I decided I would help my son Noah with The Great Gatsby. He didn’t ask, not exactly, but neither did he say no. First, I showed him some of my annotations: a galley of a novel I was reviewing, the marked-up copy of a text I was preparing to teach. He stood just inside the door of my home office, thumbing through the pages, smiling closely to himself. “You’d fail if you were in my class,” he said.

Noah was right, of course, for I am a minimalist when it comes to marginalia … or maybe, it’s just that, at this point, I know what works for me. Either way, I’ve developed my own shorthand for note-taking, a system of slashes and asterisks and underlinings that take the place of language, that serve more as memory triggers — cite this — than as the component parts of any intellectual or critical frame. It’s not that I mind highlighting passages that move me; in fact, I’ve grown so used to reading with a pen in my hand that I miss it, an almost physical ache, when I read for pleasure, as if in the act of annotation, I can’t help but take a deeper plunge. And yet, like Noah, I don’t want to be distracted, don’t want to be pulled out of the flow. The sample annotations that he showed me, a series of page spreads covered with small, precise loops of writing, made my head hurt, not so much because of the denseness of the commentary as because of how it cluttered up the page. Too many notes and it can get overwhelming, interposing the reader’s sensibility on top of the writer’s until it is obscured. To me, this is antithetical to the nature of the process, which is (or should be) porous, an interweaving rather than a dissemination, a blending, not an imposition, of sensibilities. Continue Reading…

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