Category Archives: Teen Literacy

THE WRITE STUFF: Official Newsletter of Word Journeys Inc. and Robert Yehling

V 20, N 1 • January, 2016

Celebrating 20 Years of Serving Authors, Publishers & The Written Word 

WELCOME!

Welcome to the 20th anniversary of Word Journeys, Inc. In 1996, I started the company to provide editorial services to magazines and corporate publications. Soon, my goals and the company shifted into the book world, where we have camped since 1999, providing writing, ghostwriting, editing, marketing, promotion, and publicity consulting services to authors, editors, agents, and publishers. We will provide this newsletter of stories, links, and specials to our Google + readers, and mailing list. We cover everything concerning the works of Robert Yehling, Word Journeys clients, and related publishing activities and events. Beginning in February, past issues will be archived on our website, www.wordjourneys.com.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES…

2016: The Year of the Writer

We’re declaring 2016 the year of the writer, and are re-releasing a pair of books to commemorate: The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life; and Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write. Both books are being published in second edition by Open Books Press of Bloomington, IN. The Write Time is now available, while Writes of Life will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon.com, and will be published in mid-April.

The Write Time features a different exercise for every day of the year — and a story to enhance it. All genres and styles are covered. This is perfect jump-start material if you’re stuck or just need some fresh creative juice. Used in writing conferences, colleges, high schools, and by many published authors. Links to more than 125 top writing and reading websites. http://amzn.to/1O2skaG

Robert Yehling, Martha Brookhart Halda to appear on Write NOW! TV show

Robert Yehling and Martha Brookhart Halda will talk about the writing life, and how they’ve collaborated, on Write NOW!, a TV program in Orange County, CA. The show will air Friday, January 22. Yehling will discuss his various works, while Halda will talk about the German launch of A Taste of Eternity, her remarkable story, and the book’s forthcoming release in the United States. The show hosts are author/publisher Charles Redner, and Judy Saxon.

Just Add Water a Finalist for Dolly Gray Literature Award

Just Add Water is a finalist for the Dolly Gray Literature Award, given to the top family-oriented book with autism themes. It joins ten other finalists for the prestigious award, which is followed by all of the autism organizations and schools. The ceremony is January 25 in Tampa, FL. For more information: http://daddcec.org/Awards/DollyGrayAwards.aspx

The Hummingbird Review: Michael Blake, E.E. King, memoirists featured

The writing of personal story serves as a theme of the winter-spring edition of The Hummingbird Review, now available through bookstores and online. Featured contributors include the late Academy Award-winning Dances With Wolves author/screenwriter Michael Blake, fictionist-poet and Ray Bradbury protégé E.E. King, novelist W. Thompson Ong, Beat-era poet Michael C. Ford, an interview with guided autobiography facilitator Sheri Kohlmann, and the first excerpt of Martha Halda’s memoir A Taste of Eternity to be published in English. Plus more than 60 poems and essays from a dozen nations. Just $10. Order yours! http://amzn.to/1VohQIp

Appearance at Just Add Water at L.A. Times Festival of Books

Robert Yehling will be discussing the development and writing of Just Add Water at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the nation’s second largest book festival, which takes place April 9-10 on the USC campus in Los Angeles. He will be signing both after the presentation and in a booth on-site. In 2015, more than 150,000 attended the event. Stay tuned for more details. http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

FROM OUR CLIENTS

  • Brandon Cruz, star of the smash late 1960s/early 1970s sitcom The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and I are shopping a pair of titles we’ve been developing for a year, one The Courtship of Eddie, his memoir; and the other a deep look at his work as one of the nation’s foremost alcohol-addiction recovery specialists. Both books are packed with powerful, emotional stories, messages of great hope, and Brandon’s entertaining storytelling style, laced with his sharp wit and insights. Stay tuned…
  • Cracked, Not Broken author Kevin Hines had quite a thrill on January 9, when he spoke at a White House conference on men’s health. Kevin is busily preparing a documentary about his story and speaking engagements worldwide; look for a second book by 2017. http://amzn.to/1Gle6Sf
  • Jeff Emmerson’s long-awaited book, Beyond ADHD, is making the publishing rounds through agent Dana Newman. Emmerson looks beyond the conventional ADHD protocols in this riveting work that combines personal story and the insights of more than 20 medical, neurological, and therapeutic experts. Its findings are not only revolutionary — but potentially transformative. View his Beyond ADHD blog at http://bit.ly/1Rk2lCt
  • Motocross racing fans of a certain age… Remember Gary Wells, the racing and jumping phenom of the 1970s and 1980s? The man who routinely outjumped Evel Knievel for years? As Gary celebrates his 60th birthday this year, his story, Closure, is on its way to publication, thanks to author Tyler Anderson, himself a champion racer. This is a no-holds-barred biography at the up and down sides of America’s love affair with one prodigy and his prowess on a bike, during the biggest 15-year period in U.S. motorcycle racing history. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=gary%20wells%20closure

FEATURED TITLES

ON THE WORD JOURNEYS BLOG

How Just Add Water Was Written: Behind the Scenes Story: http://wp.me/p8UUi-hB

BLOG OF THE MONTH

Kristen Lamb’s Blog is annually selected one of the Top 100 writers blogs by Writer’s Digest. Not only is it packed with resourceful materials for writers, but readers will delight in all of its behind-the-scenes features. This is a MUST blog to add to your blogroll. https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com

WORD JOURNEYS SPECIALS

Service: 20% off editing of your next book! We’ll bring your manuscript to a publish-ready polish, as we have done with more than 150 others. All genres. Email ryehling@wordjourneys.com. Through Feb. 29.

Product: $5 off hard-cover, signed copies of Just Add Water: A Surfing Savant’s Journey with Asperger’s, the biography of autistic surfing great Clay Marzo. Shipped direct from author. Email: ryehling@wordjourneys.com. Through Jan. 31.

WRITING/READING TIP OF THE MONTH

“Reach into your bookshelf and grab twenty titles of any kind. Read the first paragraphs of each, quickly and in succession. What pops out? What really grabs your eye? How did the writer grab you? Now return to your work, and in the spirit of what you have just read and compared, make your sentences pop and snap.” — From The Write Time, by Robert Yehling

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The Write Time: Feeding your Writing Needs Over the Holidays

Welcome to the 2015 Holiday Season … and Launch Day!TWT_WebCov

Today is the release of the second edition of The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, published by Open Books Press out of Bloomington, IN. Since it initially released, it has been used as a teaching tool in dozens of high schools and colleges. Of equal importance, it sits on the shelves of writers ranging from multiple book authors to those writing for fun. Now, we’ve brought in 20 new exercises, as well as fresh photos and a new foreword, to go with the other 346 exercises in the book.

For me, the beauty of this book is its diversity and variety. Since I was young, I’ve kept journals, with the specific intent of writing about something different every day. I believe that diverse writing, along with good reading, observation and life experience, builds our voices and fluency as writers faster than anything. When my book or editing clients say, “You can write about anything! How do you do that?” my answer is the same: “By many years of writing about different things and experimenting daily.”

That is why I created The Write Time — to present a sweeping approach to writing about the subjects that interest you, and trying new forms in the process. Between that, the stories embedded within the exercises, motivational and creativity quotes from authors and brilliant minds, and listings of 125 dynamic writing websites, I’m confident in stating that The Write Time goes well beyond typical writing prompts and exercise books. In fact, you won’t find another that offers such a rich experience.2015-12-01 06.23.33 2015-12-01 06.24.09

For The Write Time, I cobbled together writing exercises developed from the past 15 years of teaching at conferences, high schools, retreats and colleges, gave them stories, and brought them together. Every genre and type of writing is covered, from fiction to essay, songwriting to poetry, fantasy to literary narrative non-fiction. Whether you journal, write poetry or songs, novels or essays, short stories or major papers, The Write Time will be a valuable asset.

The other thing — you’ll never have writer’s block again. All you need to do is open the book to the date, or any random page, and it won’t take long for your words to flow. “It serves as a invocation to come sit at the shore of new creativity, take up your ink-cup, drink plentifully, and be refreshed by the waters of a new day, all intentionally assembled by a fellow writer, reader and lover of literature,” wrote Andres Torres, advanced placement teacher at Minooka (IL) Community High School, in the Foreword.

The Write Time is available through all bookstores, Amazon.com, online booksellers, and on the Open Books site. Or, if you’d like an autographed copy for a holiday gift for yourself, or writers among family and friends, contact me and we’ll get one to you.

Finally, to whet your taste buds, the exercise for December 1:

All complete stories arrive at resolution. We entered the story with characters departing from an opening situation. We followed them as they made their way through the world you created for them, enjoying the motives, conflicts, twists, surprises, realizations, discoveries, complications and sub-plots along the way.

Now, we’re ready for resolution. How will your story end?

Write the ending to your story — no matter where you are right now. The resolution can lead to either a predictable, surprising, or twist ending; your call. Whatever the case, make the ending solid and convincing. Refine it over and over. Then, use it as a compass to guide you through the rest of the story.

(Please let us know how you like The Write Time by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

 

 

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What A Decade: How Far Carrie Underwood Has Come

(I originally wrote this piece 10 years ago this month, while editing American Idol magazine. It is probably my favorite piece of magazine journalism, and Carrie Underwood is definitely the most put-together female performing artist I’ve ever known. So much is revealed in this interview, conducted two months before her debut  Some Hearts LP and ushered in one of music’s greatest careers. She is not only an exceptional singer, but an exceptional woman and role model for girls and teens globally. For good reason.)

The Country Girl’s Cinderella Story

Years after giving up her dream of being a star, Carrie Underwood decided to drive to St. Louis to audition for AI4. Now, she lives the greatest wish of millions of fans who selected her as the new American Idol while sticking to her simple, hard-working roots.

By Robert Yehling

Here’s a Cinderella story with a country twist. The blonde-haired girl leaves the glass slipper in the clover meadow of her adolescence and heads to college to prepare for adult life. There is no prince, no palatial ball, no castle. Then something happens: the glass slipper finds her, in the form of an American Idol audition. Of course the shoe fits. A year later, she’s a rising star in Nashville, America’s newest sweetheart, and a young woman whom all mothers would want their daughters to emulate.

Carrie Underwood, moments after winning American Idol Season 5 in 2005

Carrie Underwood, moments after winning American Idol Season 5 in 2005

If you’re worried that Carrie Underwood will strike midnight, don’t: The new American Idol’s career is in full ascent. It’s only been six months since we finally saw her cut loose when Ryan Seacrest made the winning announcement – “I will never forget that moment, that excitement, the fans in the audience screaming. How could I not let go?” she says. In that time, she’s cut an album, racked up a pair of major endorsements, headlined Idols on Tour, and considered countless offers from the entertainment and business worlds. The heroine of this fairy tale has met her destiny: life as a star in the 21st century.

“This whole experience reminds me of something I’ve heard quite a few times: ‘If you want to make God laugh, make plans,’” Carrie says. “My life is completely different in every single way possible. I’ve had to re-evaluate everything. What I was going to do before, I’m not going to do now. I’m going to be a singer for at least the next little while. There’s no more planning things out as I was doing last year at this time.

“The big change for me is that now my goals can be much, much higher than what they were a year ago, which were trying to find a good job out of college, work my way up the ladder – the typical business plan – find somebody, get married, have a family. Now it’s make an album, do well on it, so I can make another album, touring, promotion. After I’m hopefully an established artist one day, people will know me not just because of being an American Idol but because they’ve been hearing me a lot on the radio, and what I’ve done as a solo musician.”

How does a charming, highly intelligent and gorgeous 22-year-old country girl from Checotah, Oklahoma handle this sudden fame and fortune? Especially when you consider that she hadn’t flown on a plane until she headed west last November for the Hollywood Auditions? Or that she would much rather wear t-shirts or light blouses and jeans than alluring skin-clinging outfits (as she made clear to Skechers when they chose her to follow in the footsteps of noted sirens Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera)? How does she go from raising farm animals and studying for broadcast journalism finals to dealing with record company executives, television interviews, officials from Hershey’s and Skechers, career agents, press agents, countless people screaming “You’re

the greatest, Carrie!” and exhausting tour schedules synchronized to grueling recording schedules?

Therein lies the secret to Carrie Underwood’s climb to the top of American Idol and how she conducts her life from this point forward. Behind the blonde hair and brown eyes, reserved demeanor and remarkable voice is a woman who understands how to remain calm in the midst of storms. She’s very friendly and a joy to talk with, because she can handle countless conversation subjects while switching back-and-forth between the maturity of a grown woman and the doe-eyed enthusiasm of a girl on the rise. From a crisp tone of voice that broadcasts confidence and self-assuredness to the way she moves, Carrie exudes coolness in the greatest sense of the word.

She also knows she wants and how fortunate she is that her dream circled back to be reclaimed. “I’m a thinker, not a big dreamer. Every little kid wants to be famous, a movie star, a music star, whatever,” she explains. “About 99 percent of the time, it never happens. As a little kid, I used to pick four-leaf clovers out in the pasture and my wish was always the same: ‘I want to be a music star.’ But as I finished up high school, my thoughts were, ‘What makes me special?’ After high school, nothing had happened, so I figured it was time to grow up and get a job. It was important to go to college, learn a trade. So I did that, and then my childhood dream comes true. Life is pretty funny.”

Carrie prides herself on sticking to her core values, personality and interests, some of which raise eyebrows. She grew up bottle-feeding cows on an animal farm in a meat- and-potatoes family, but she is a committed vegetarian and recent honoree of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “I love to go fishing with my friends, but I always throw them back,” she says. She became the new American Idol by performing country music – Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride and Patsy Cline are favorites – but she’s a huge Green Day fan who plays guitar, piano and drums. She lives in one of the most rooted, earthen parts of the country and conveys pure radiance with every smile, yet her favorite movies are Star Trek: The Next Generation and a host of old horror flicks: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Alien.

Then there is her reserved emotion. Farm life is doubly hard work: In addition to raising animals and crops, and synchronizing life to planting and harvesting seasons, the parents often hold full-time jobs. Stephen and Karen Underwood both worked outside jobs – Stephen at a paper mill and Karen as a schoolteacher – while tending to the farm and raising daughters Shanna and Stephanie. By the time Carrie came along, her sisters were teenagers and vital workers on the farm. They supported and nurtured her singing, first at church, then in local talent competitions, later in high school music programs. However, there was little time for deep discussions or displays of emotion. “We don’t really show our emotions; we’re not big huggers,” Carrie says. “We’re kind of a quieter family. For good or bad, I have a lot of my dad’s personality traits, and he’s a stoic man who gets things done. I really don’t get real excited about anything. A lot of times, I think that people’s emotions should remain within. You seem to have a lot more power and energy that way.”

Carrie Underwood channels her inner Axl Rose during the 2013 CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Her rendition of "Paradise City" reminds me of what she told me several times -- inside, she's a rock-and-roll girl. Check this out on You Tube.

Carrie Underwood channels her inner Axl Rose during the 2013 CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Her rendition of “Paradise City” reminds me of what she told me several times — inside, she’s a rock-and-roll girl. Check this out on You Tube.

There’s a flip side to being unemotional: It’s hard for audiences to connect with you. Despite possessing the best voice on the show – Simon Cowell told a KTTV interviewer in Los Angeles that Carrie’s voice stuck utmost in his mind from several thousand people who auditioned before he, Paula and Randy in 2004 – Carrie heard the loud whispers about her stoic stage presence throughout AI4. While she strictly adhered

to unofficial Rules 1 and 2 of succeeding on American Idol – “Be true to what you do best, and be your most authentic self” – she also ran the risk of being voted off as more flamboyant finalists like Bo, Constantine, Vonzell, Jessica, Nadia and Mikalah whipped up live audiences each week.

“It kind of kept people from really getting to know me, because I didn’t share my emotions as readily,” she recalls. “That’s not such a good thing. I’m definitely working on being more personable. For the first time in my life, I’m dealing with people who live and work at a completely different level, so I put myself out there more. It sure helps that the competition aspect’s gone and that type of pressure is off.”

While Carrie might be a rising superstar to America and the world, she is still a country girl, although people in Checotah and neighboring Muskogee refer to her as “our Carrie,” in the sweet and inclusive way locals regard fellow residents who hit the big time. She illustrated the ever-humbling vibes of going home. “As soon as I got home, my mom told me to clean my room. I was just joking, ‘Mom, the new American Idol doesn’t clean her room,’ and she said, ‘This one does.’ To my family, I will always be Carrie and not the American Idol. I never want that to change.”

Within a month of winning American Idol, Carrie stared into her potential in the recording and entertainment world. She became the newest jingle girl for Hershey’s –

the commercials have been on TV since July – and also signed with Skechers. The first print ads were timed for back-to-school. “I was really surprised to get these endorsements so quickly,” she says. “Hershey’s was really into the image I want to portray. The same thing with Skechers – they target younger people. Plus, I’m really happy to get free shoes and free chocolate. Those are two of a girl’s favorite things!”

Then she laid down a vocal track. With her 19 Recordings/Arista Records single, “Inside Your Heaven,” one of the three songs she sang in the Final Show, she became the first country artist ever to debut at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It also was the first country song to go #1 on the Hot 100 since Lonestar’s “Amazed” in 2000. While selling more than 170,000 copies, “Inside Your Heaven” also topped the Pop 100, Country Singles and Singles Sales charts in July.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Carrie began working on her album during the Idols on Tour, flying to Nashville on her off days. “I don’t want to be one of those people who goes, ‘I’ve achieved the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, so I can cruise now,’” she says. When the tour concluded in September, she returned to Nashville. She’s moving into barely charted territory: Among previous American Idol finalists, only Josh Gracin has broken through in Nashville, but that came two years after he competed. Meanwhile, Carrie attracted America’s huge country music fan base to the show, and is delivering an album to them. Even at the Season 5 auditions, the shift was evident: Numerous country singers turned up from San Francisco to Boston. Everyone who watched her perform with Rascal Flatts on the Awards Show knows that she has superstar written all over her. Sales of her debut album could go through the roof, especially since it comes out in time for the holiday shopping season.

Down the line, she hopes to better reflect her eclectic musical taste. But for now, she’ll stick to her strength. “I definitely see myself on tour singing different songs live, but the album is going to be country first,” she says. “We’ve talked about Rascal Flatts and various people doing little parts, but nothing is set in stone. I’m basically living in the

studio, sleeping in there if I have to, until it’s done. I’m young, and this is my chance. I’m not about to let it slip away.”

It’s fitting that Carrie’s big break came on television. For the past four years, she prepared for a television career at Northeastern State University in Tallequah, Oklahoma. She also managed to keep her vocal chords tuned, singing in a country music show and finishing in the top three for two straight years in the Miss NSU Scholarship Pageant.

However, becoming the star of entertainment shows and talk shows wasn’t on the agenda – nor were pageants. “I’m not a pageant girl,” she says. She saw her future existing as a news producer, director, assignment editor, or in delivering stories and commentary like her heroines, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, “the people who have been there forever and have overcome a lot of obstacles on their way to the top. For a long time, no women were in there. It would’ve been impossible for me to do what I do without them.”

Once Carrie made it to the Final 12, the American Idol producers became familiar with her career aspirations. The producers take a keen interest in Idol contestants’ life goals, even as they work together to fulfill the dream of becoming a recording star. In Carrie’s case, they met one of their own. “The producers were really helpful,” she recalls. “They knew I was interested in a broadcast journalism career. I asked a lot of questions; I paid attention to little things. I like taping things, being behind camera, doing things like editing snippets and segments, stuff like that. They were always so good to answer my questions. I wasn’t asking about my place on the show; I was trying to get some tips from the pros on how good shows are produced, how they come together.

“You know those little snippets they showed about us? I came to the point where I knew what they were looking for. Later, people said how ‘naturally’ good I was at it, how I made things move better and I sounded better. Well, the truth is that I studied this in school, then studied how the producers of the show were doing it.”

The other side of celebrity is a constant request for interviews. While it sounds fetching and glamorous, it can quickly wear down even the heartiest of souls. Carrie conducted daily interviews during Idols on Tour, and will be doing the same before and after Christmas to promote her album. During press conferences, she often studied interviewers for that future day when she might join former Idol finalists Kimberly Caldwell and LaToya London in the TV world – or move beyond that. “I’m totally learning how to interview other people right now by watching the way they interview me,” she says. “I sit there sometimes thinking, ‘Would I ask that question? What different kinds of questions would I ask?’ What I really like – and what I would do if I was interviewing someone – is when people already know something about me and they really get in there, make me think about my next answer. What I don’t like are really boring questions.

“Thanks to my experience on American Idol, I got a lot more comfortable with the camera. Now I have to sing a lot on TV programs and stuff. I’m doing different media circuits and talk shows, and I find I’m a lot more prepared.”

There’s another goal in mind: Getting her degree from Northeastern State. Carrie has about nine hours remaining – less than a semester – and is working with the university to take the classes off-campus. She is also hopeful that through her experience

on American Idol, she can convince the school to credit her. “Certainly, I hope they count my experiences with the show as an internship!”

Carrie’s interest in broadcast journalism replaced her dream of stardom. It also stemmed from another ingrained reality of farm life – always make back-up plans .You never know what storm, drought, shift in the market or other unforeseen calamity will come your way, regardless of whether you’re running a farm, headlining concert tours or starting a new job. Even now, as her career heads toward a stratospheric height that could shoot past Kelly Clarkson, Carrie keeps her contingency plan at her side.

“What if, for some strange reason, I couldn’t sing anymore? I always want to have things going for me, where singing doesn’t have to be my entire world. I want to have the freedom to branch out and do other things. Certainly, music is the most important thing right now. But I went to college and intend to graduate because another career is very important to me. There’s a ton of things that make me happy, and I plan to experience them.”

Carrie will race forward thanks to the huge launch that American Idol gave her, and millions of us will watch her and buy her CDs. While her life reflects many of our dreams and fantasies come true, her personality and values will continue to guide her on what will define her career: Hard work, good timing and the most effective use of her exquisite voice. These are not the musings of a fairy tale, but of a country girl’s new reality.

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The Road to Healthy Eating: “Healing Your Hungry Heart” Author Joanna Poppink

(First of a three-part interview series)

When Joanna Poppink was 40, she faced a pivotal, critical decision – do I continue to feed bulimia, or do I make a choice in how I eat?HHH

The crossroads to which the author of the wonderful book Healing Your Hungry Heart came is familiar. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men will have dealt with one of hree eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating – at some point in their lives.

In a culture where up to 60% of elementary school girls are concerned with their weight, the seeds are planted deeply. They are fertilized to alarming and sometimes fatal levels by media messages and concepts of attractiveness that openly espouse the super-thin.

Joanna made major changes in her life during her 30s. When she entered her 40s, she dealt with her bulimia head-on. “So much of my energy and thinking and behaviors went into maintaining my eating disorder,” she says. “If it were free for something else I could do vast things in the world.  That thought gave me real hope and incentive for the first time.”

Today, Joanna works with people struggling with eating disorders as a therapist. She also has written Healing Your Hungry Heart, part-memoir, part-prescriptive and part-self help and exercise, which gets right to her point about the origin of eating disorders – at the heart level. Learning to love and trust ourselves, she says, is a most critical step for coming to grips with any eating issue.

On this holiday season, when food consumption is higher than normal, we present a very special and exclusive three-part interview with Joanna. Once read, if you know someone who is in a difficult situation with their eating, please pass along this link or provide information on Healing the Hungry Heart.

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: Joanna, tell us briefly about your professional background, and when you started working with people with eating disorders.

JOANNA POPPINK: I was a returning student in the 70’s. I finished my B.A. at UCLA and Masters at Antioc, majoring in psychology. Then years of internships. I passed the licensing exam, and the State of California gave me my MFT license. Partly because of my age, partly because of my interests and partly because of luck as I advanced in my studies, I befriended senior clinicians at UCLA and at psychoanalytic institutions.

Bulimia was in the process of being discovered.  I had suffered with bulimia since I was 13 and was new in the mental health profession.  My friends had decades of experience in the mental health profession but knew nothing really about bulimia.

WJ.COM: Yet, because of being in a crowd of senior clinicians, you started talking with each other about it.

JP: Because we cared about each other as friends and respected each others’ minds we talked openly and in depth about the symptoms and experience of bulimia – my part, and how that could relate developmentally and psychologically to what was known about normal and abnormal human development (their part). I had no idea just how rich and powerful these conversations would be in furthering our knowledge about the illness and what it takes to recover.  They benefited us and the people we would work with for years to come.

My working with eating disorder patients developed gradually as my own recovery progressed and people who had children with eating disorders and then adult women with eating disorders began to find me.  It was years later that I decided to specialize in the field.

WJ.COM: When you were 40, you came face to face with your own bulimia. How did that happen?

JP: No one knew I was bulimic.  I ask myself the question you are asking and many people have asked.  My answer changes over the years as my awareness grows. I thought the change came, when, after cleaning myself up after a purge, I thought, “What could I do with all this energy I use for my eating disorder if I used it for something else?”

My answer staggered me.  So much of my energy and thinking and behaviors went into maintaining my eating disorder. If it were free for something else I could do vast things in the world.  That thought gave me real hope and incentive for the first time.  That’s when I told a few trusted people in my life I was bulimic and got love and support instead of my expected rejection. That’s when my healing work started in earnest.

WJ.COM: Yet, the seeds for this recognition and healing started a few years before, when you were 32.

JP: Yes they did. Starting at 32, I began to earn my own trust.  I went back to school and got degrees. I made rich friendships with quality people in my profession. I discovered I could learn and that people respected me and what I had to say. I gave talks at conferences and led seminars. People were glad to come and listen.  Colleagues invited me to do more. I made enough money to support myself and my child. I was building a belief in myself that I was valuable, competent and strong.

WJ.COM: How do you look back on that now?

JP: I believe I was creating value, competence and strength in myself. When it was solid enough, I could ask myself the eating disorder question that set me on my path to recovery and freedom. When the pain of early recovery work unleashed itself, I had wonderful friends to hold me with Sunday brunches and walks in nature, and even a recovering alcoholic psychiatrist who shared his story and the power of 12-step.

All that had to be in place before I was ready to begin.  Even my therapist was in place.  She was my supervisor and agreed to become my therapist when I told her I was bulimic.

I suppose the quick answer to your question is that I created the healing and recovery environment I would need to go through recovery.  When that environment was complete my inner dams burst and the healing environment held.

WJ.COM: Since bulimia was barely on the medical recognition map, it took a lot of self-discovery, fortuitous events and people dropping into your life to set out on your recovery path. It’s far easier today.

JP: Today, with so much more known about eating disorders, people don’t have to wait as long as I did to find a healing environment that can hold them as they work for recovery.  Clinicians and treatment centers abound and are ready to work with eating disorder clients.

WJ.COM: You cover far more ground in Healing Your Hungry Heart than any other book on eating disorders I’ve ever seen. Why do you feel it’s so vital to approach this situation with 360-degree vision versus symptomatically?

JP: When a person’s eating disorder begins, a good chunk of normal development stops. The eating disorder behavior moves her mind away from stressful situations that develop in normal life.  She learns to deal with stress by using her eating disorder to go numb rather than feel, assess, communicate and learn, as her life grows more complex over the years.

Often a person with an eating disorder feels very young and acts with teen-ager and even infantile responses. She’s not trying to be cute. That’s her immature response.

Real and lasting recovery involves picking up development where it left off and supporting healthy development as it occurs for the first time.  When she gives up her symptoms, she’s given up her coping style.  This is a frightening and vulnerable place to be.  Yet it’s essential that she get to this psychological place so that she can learn anew what it means to be a mature woman.

Through the exercises at the end of each chapter and the chronological development of the chapters in Healing Your Hungry Heart, I did my best to give the reader a graduated pathway to develop her own personhood.  Once that is well on its way, she has no need for an eating disorder. She has much more effective ways of dealing with the complexities of an adult life.

(Part 2 of the Joanna Poppink interview will post on Friday, Dec. 13)

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Cruising the L.A. Times Festival of Books (part one)

festival of booksblog 1(This is the first of two blogs from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It also serves to launch a new companion blog, http://366writing.wordpress.com, which will be my daily account of one writer’s life and activities. The Festival of Books blogs will appear on both sites; after that, I will continue with a variety of pieces on this site while keeping the daily account on 366writing.)

Here’s a quick trivia question: Which author with a name recognizable to millions lists as her most influential writers such titans as Joan Didion, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dyostoevsky, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, most notably, the late short story master Raymond Carver?

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of good guesses – such as, your favorite authors. After all, many working authors of renown in the late 20th and early 21st century were influenced by all or some of these writers.

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But what if I told you that this particular author made her first splash in a much different way, as America’s teen cinematic sweetheart in the classic 1980s movies Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club?

"When It Happens to You" author Molly Ringwald

“When It Happens to You” author Molly Ringwald

Hard to believe Molly Ringwald is now 45, but there she stood, resplendent on the LA Times Festival of Books main stage at USC, being celebrated for the passion that burned within her well before becoming a movie star: writing. She read a chapter-story from her bestselling novel-in-stories, When It Happens To You, and answered audience questions with a fresh openness that doesn’t happen so often at these events.

What struck me most about her work was its depth and quality: this was no actress cashing in on her entertainment platform to get a book out. You could sense Didion’s astute observation, Hemingway’s sparseness, Fitzgerald’s intimacy and Carver’s incisive delivery in her work, yet it was exclusively her voice. That takes years of practice. As Molly said in response to a question about when he knew her work was ready, “I just wrote and rewrote and worked on it and then let it sit there until I felt my voice was good enough to bring it out.”

In so many words, she described what makes the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and other major book festivals, such celebrations of the written word. For two days, more than 150,000 people converge upon the USC campus – a quite stately setting for the festival. We were there all day Saturday to see author friends, meet with our agent briefly, shop the booths, and listen to speakers like Molly and former Wonder Years star Danica McKellar, whose “Math is Cool” stream of books might be one of the best things going for the self-esteem of teenaged girls.

We also dropped in on panel conversations, which to me are the hidden treasures of these and any book festivals. Book writing is about storytelling, and the stories behind the stories are often treasures of their own. As good as books might be, you won’t get them within the pages, or sometimes even in interviews with the authors. You will get them in these panel discussions, when guards and sales pitches are down and high-spirited interaction is the name of the game. And the LA Times Festival of Books moderators are experts at it.

So many things happened at the Festival of Books, which took place on a day the LA Chamber of Commerce baked up in their dreams: sunny, 80 degrees, the Exposition Park Rose Garden in full bloom across the street, and people of all ages completely celebrating the joy of creativity and good books. The Tumbler vehicle from The Dark Knight was there, as were perfectly costumed members of the Jane Austen Society. The USC Trojan marching band opened the Festival, while a third-grader won a $500 Barnes & Noble gift card in a coloring contest. Funny: I don’t remember prizes like that when I was in third grade. Maybe I would have colored more between the lines! Check that – writers spend their time outside the lines, approaching their subjects sideways and from the back as often as straightforward.

Everyone was also celebrating the end to the tragic week and manhunt in Boston, none moreso than the young lady working the Harvard University Press booth. She flew in Friday night from Cambridge, where the bombing suspects shot and killed an MIT campus officer before getting into a nighttime shootout with police. “I am so happy to be here,” she said, her body visibly decompressing. “No one ever needs to have a week like that. It was wicked weird to drive to the airport in Boston on a Friday without any cars on the road. None.” Added Southern California Writer’s Conference co-director Wes Albers, the author of a great crime novel, Black & Whiteand himself a longtime San Diego police officer: “The stakes were way too high for us not to succeed (in apprehending the Boston suspects).” His comments clearly showed the sense of brotherhood all law enforcement officers felt this week.

Getting right back to the fun side of the weekend, I heard a few great stories (for which books have been written) during a fine panel discussion on “Nonfiction: A Singular Passion”:

• Did you know the federal duck stamp contest program is one of the U.S. government’s most profitable ventures? Duck hunters must purchase a stamp for their licenses every year. The stamp is designed from the winning painting from 250 to 300 artists. The government spends $850,000 to run the contest, and receives $25 million in annual revenue. 98 percent of that money is invested into restoring wetlands. Since being initiated in 1930, the program has resulted in restoring wetlands the size of Massachusetts. And oh yes, The Wild Duck Chase author and Orange Coast Magazine editor Martin J. Smith added,  the vast majority of duck hunters favor background checks as a form of gun control – unlike half of the U.S. senators (all fearful of the NRA), who ignored 90% of the public’s preference the other day (that’s another story).

• The best-tasting taco, according to OC Weekly food editor Gustavo Arellano, the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is at a taco truck in Santa Ana. He just spent three years canvassing every good Mexican restaurant in the country for his book on the history of Mexican food in the US; he knows.

• Did you know that, while he made marijuana illegal in the United States starting in the 1930s, Federal Bureau of Narcotics director Harry Anslinger – the J. Edgar Hoover of his department – helped Coca-Cola continue to import coca leaves from Peru for its product, even though the importation was explicitly banned by an international treaty? It’s quite a story Richard Cortes dug up — but the blowback he felt is what we heard on the panel discussion about his new book, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. “When I matched the letters from Anslinger to Coca-Cola, and called Coca-Cola for comment, I heard complete silence on the phone … they didn’t appreciate it very much,” Cortes said.

These are the tidbits that come from panel discussions – and the authors’ stories about how they find out these delights. Behind it all, they said, are stories about people and social issues far beyond tacos, duck stamps and crooked federal officials. And that’s what makes the books that we come to book festivals to buy.

(NEXT: More from this non-fiction panel – and a wild ride from four top-selling fiction panelists who threw away the typical “how to write a novel” guidelines long ago).  

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Sleuthing Through Winter

One of the greatest pleasures of writing for a living is necessary flip side of the coin: plentiful reading. Don’t have to twist my arm on that one: I’ve been a bookworm since I started reading before kindergarten. San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Nick Canepa gave me this sage advice more than 30 years ago, while we were covering a Chargers game: “Good writers read good writing.”

Sometimes, that good writing takes twists and turns away from the normal subjects and genres – and in so doing, points us directly to areas that make us better readers and writers while providing endless entertainment. Which is why the Winter of 2012-13 has been like no other for me.

It began in October. My friend and client, Tim Martin, emailed me the first half of a crime mystery he’s writing. The manuscript grabbed me with its storyline and Tim’s fun, punchy writing style – then left me hanging as I edited it. I’m still hanging, because I’m eagerly awaiting the second half of the book … and not just as an editor. Instead, as crime fiction’s newest addicted fan.

I never would have imagined myself a fan of crime fiction and mystery, though I’ll race through an Elmore Leonard novel anytime you hand it to me. My reading always tended to memoir, literary fiction, poetry, spiritual titles and books on subjects like music, the environment, travel, indigenous and ancient history, and sports … nothing about crime there (unless you take into account what our forebears did to the Native Americans, but that’s another story).

However, Tim’s novel-in-progress lit a fire. Since October, I’ve read more than 30 thrillers, mysteries, spy and crime novels by authors like Leonard, Stephen J. Cannell, W.E.B. Griffin, Clive Cussler, James Ellroy, John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum, J.A. Jance and the queen herself, Agatha Christie. Hardboiled, L.A. noir, patrolmen, rubber-sole sleuthing, every crime in the book … and even a wonderful hard-hitter, Black & White, written by my friend Wes Albers, director of the Southern California Writers Conference.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been hooked on a writing genre like this. I’ve had so much fun with my latest finds from Oceanside Library, or bookstores, that quick bedtime reading sessions have turned into eye-burning immersion into these contrived environments. The locations, twists, turns, amazing elasticity of the soul and mind – in both directions – have given me the same reading thrills I had when losing myself in adventure and sci-fi novels as a kid.

Through it all, though, I saw something else: plot and narrative pacing at its finest, delivering maximum impact with few words. This appeals greatly to me as both a writer and editor, because I’m always advising my clients to edit and polish, whittle and trim, boil down sentences to their most essential cores. Crime fiction also offers another treasure for writers: great dialogue. If you want to learn how to bury yourself so deeply into your characters that their spoken voices, not yours, lands on the printed page, read Elmore Leonard. Or Cannell. Or J.A. Jance. Their attention to rhythm, tone, vernacular and slang is so good, and so true to their characters, that these characters come to life without physical description. Of all fiction genres, crime and mystery belong in the forefront when it comes to dialogue.

So when the impulse to change your reading material hits you, go for it. It might be time to find genres that will re-ignite the thrill of reading. Or, if you are a writer, it could be your Muse, tapping you on the brain and saying, “Let’s go on a new journey, one that will enrich your storytelling as we move forward.”

But when you do, don’t leave any clues. The little sleuth who now inhabits me may find them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Man Who Made Poetry Cool Again: A Few Words with Billy Collins

How many of us remember learning poetry in high school? Quick: name one poem that you studied.

Now that I have stumped most everyone, I confess: I was lucky to have two teachers who loved the lyrical word. One (Tom Robertson), freed a bunch of freshmen from their cluelessness by bringing in rock music lyrics and records, and going over them for a month, before returning us to our regularly scheduled program: the dead poets collecting dust in our literature textbooks. It worked. The other (Dr. Bev Bosak), gave me the job of co-editing the Carlsbad High School literary journal, Spindrift. I’ve been writing poetry since, along with newspaper, magazine and web journalism, fiction and non-fiction books, along with a lot of editing and ghostwriting.

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Most of us weren’t so lucky. We caught up on sleep or gossip, got our weekend party schedule together, or played folded paper football or, as the century turned, with our cellphones while our teachers tried to analyze and interpret the poems of long-dead poets who, as Billy Collins says, “lived on a different verbal planet.”

Then Collins, the nation’s most popular and one of its most beloved poets, came along to make poetry cool. Cool for who? Us? Our parents? Librarians? The neighborhood bookworms?

No: for high school students nationwide. Seriously. When he was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003, Collins developed the Poetry 180 program, which changed the face of how teachers taught poetry and students learned it. All of a sudden, kids not only read works from poets who were still alive – but, in some cases, just a little bit older than themselves.

“After becoming Poet Laureate, I immediately thought of what an awful time I had in high school,” Collins recalled during an exclusive interview for The Hummingbird Review I conducted earlier in the week, while he was in San Diego for a reading at Point Loma Nazarene University. “If you wanted to get beaten up in the parking lot, announcing you’re a poet would be a shortcut to that. Also in high school, the poems that were taught were hundreds of years old. I wanted to present poetry that would be cool, because being cool is the objective of high school – and it continues to this day.”

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Experience it they did. The Poetry 180 program was the biggest thing to happen to contemporary poetry entering American schools since the Beat Generation. Featuring very contemporary poets of all ages  like Jane Kenyon (“The Blue Bowl”), Ron Koertge (“Do You Have Any Advice For Those Of Us Just Starting Out”), Laurel Blossom (“Radio”), Geraldine Connolly (“The Summer I Was Sixteen”), and Daisy Fried (“She Didn’t Mean To Do It”), the two print anthologies have sold a quarter-million copies. The website that started it all (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/) has received millions of visits. Not only did reading poetry become cool for students, but so did writing it. Last time I visited my Twitter feed, I was following more than 1,000 literary and poetry journals, most started in the last five years, and most run by young adults. I would bet nearly all of them have benefitted from Poetry 180.

“It actually works, much to my surprise,” Collins said. “All these teachers said, ‘It changed how I teach. It changed my students’ whole idea of what poetry was. They like it.’ They ask, ‘Where’s the poem for the day?’ They remind the teacher, ‘Give us one of those poems.’”

Collections such as Picnic, Lightning, Sailing Around the Room, The Trouble With Poetry and Ballistics make Collins the most-read poet today. He’s transcended the niche of hard-core poetry readers, in largecollins2 part thanks to three events: appearances on NPR and A Prairie Home Companion, followed by his appointment as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

“That was kind of a booster rocket on this whole thing,” he says.” All these things oddly fell into place. Believe me, world poetry domination was not my objective here!”

Collins’ humorous take on the world – including himself – has added to the persona of Poetry 180. Not only does he give poetry a sense of present-day coolness, but he’s also one of those very cool people you love to hang around with as they pass through their 70s, dispensing wisdom and great humor, often in the same sentence. His poems convey the same feeling, finding extraordinary perceptions in ordinary moments, yet coming across with a simplicity that draws people in for what has become an enduring relationship with his words.

Which is exactly why he created Poetry 180 – to keep kids coming back for more, for the rest of their lives.

(You can read a full-length interview and profile on Billy Collins in The Hummingbird Review, which will be on sale in April.)

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