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LA’s Epic Rock & Roll, Fashion & Art Party: Interview with Author Nora Novak


Whenever she’s asked why so many Millennials and Generation Z men, women and teens continue flocking to the music and style of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Feliz Confidential author Nora Novak has a ready answer: “I think Millennials are recognizing a sense of excitement and freewheeling attitude of that era by listening to classic rock, and streaming movies and documentaries that portray the ‘good times’ they find appealing in a way not found in today’s device-dependent, stressful and more violent world,” she says. “I think the boomers, the internet and the media have had a hand in this, unlike previous generations.”

Nora, who grew up in and currently lives in Newport Beach, is the author of one of the finest scenester memoirs in years, and winner of a 2017 Southern California Book Festival Award. Los Feliz Confidential takes us right inside the classic home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz where Nora and her boyfriend hosted some of LA’s wildest parties of the 1970s and early 1980s. But their wildness was classed up by the fetching, willowy blonde hostess, whose elegance, glamour, style and love of music turned these parties into something extravagant. With her visual descriptions and deeply honest portrayal of her own feelings, goals and hopes, Nora lures us into a narrative so rhythmic and rich that you can practically hear the songs of the period spinning on her turntable — and the lyrics weaving in and out of the narrator’s heart. If you can’t remember the titles of these memory markers, no worries: she lists them in a back, a clever piece of “soundtracking” the book.

But Los Feliz Confidential is much more than a musical all-nighter put to words. Nora takes us through her rich, complex world that she creates on the fly, as a trendsetting scenester and traveler completely in touch with her native Flemish roots. The fact she was born in Belgium, grew up in the U.S. with her Old World parents but never lost her connection to Flemish culture (but rather dove into and celebrated it), adds to both the perspective and depth of the book. She takes us around the world on her fascinating (and sometimes wild) adventures, one of which she shares in the interview. She also takes us into the crazy all-hours fun of 1970s Los Angeles, and into the glam rock, punk rock, hard rock and early New Wave worlds that she made part of her own. We meet her friends, and again throw ourselves on Sunset Boulevard and into the clubs and scenes that many look back on with deep reverence, while younger generations seek to know more about this time period where freedom, platform shoes, liberation, shoulder pads, creativity, long hair, imagination, art, style, and great music prevailed.

Los Feliz Confidential and Art Damaged Author Nora Novak.

Turning all these experiences and elements into a treasure trove of a memoir was no easy task, but Novak has the chops to pull it off. She’s a fine artist, designer of her fashion line (Noraluxe Loungewear), art gallerist, actress, model, and also the author of the novel Art Damaged. She comes from a very talented family as well. Her mother, Emma Albertina Bogaerts, a lifelong storyteller, is the 105-year-old (not kidding!) newly published author of Emmy: Memoir of a Flemish Immigrant, now available in English and being shopped to publishers in Europe. Nora’s brother, Mark Leysen, is an award-winning art director and fine artist, as well as the author of Klown, his third novel (Traveling Shoes Press) about a late-night talk show host who runs for President. It definitely echoes the present state of the world.

We caught up with Nora recently. To get your Black Friday book shopping chops going, here is what she says about life, L.A., making scenes, and Los Feliz Confidential.

Word Journeys: Los Feliz Confidential is an epic scenester read – the incredible LA music-fashion-art scene and how you and others showcased and helped define it in your travels and daily lives. Could you talk about the amazing chemistry that exists between music, fashion and art, and why it was so definitive of a generation? And still is?

NN: Because that generation (talkin about my ge- generation) experienced an explosive time of cultural change, social mores, pop art and particularly British rock that spawned new looks in fashion as a lifestyle. There was an innovative and artistic energy that changed the way people dressed. The 70’s rock-infused fashion had an element of sensuality and glamour with an edge that I certainly favored and is still being recycled today. Innovative new artists, designers, bands and clubs emerged in L.A. and provided a more artistic expression in fashion. It all played out with the music creating a dazzling decade that many look back on for inspiration today.

A good example is Stephen Spouse collaborating with Debbie Harry in the 80’s and Jeff Koons collaborating with the new Louis Vuitton line today. Music blasts at every fashion collection. I think music, fashion and art have always had an evolving synergy.

WJ: Take us through your writing process for Los Feliz. How did you pare down your countless experiences into a tightly written 200-page book? What themes and points did you emphasize? And tell us about your decision to basically “soundtrack” the book, with songs listed for each chapter.

NN: First of all, I wrote what I could remember! I could have added many more stories, but I chose to keep it moving like the fast pace I was living at the time. I wanted to emphasize the difference of how immigrating here made me feel and my fearless sense of adventure. I tried to be give my stories a visual sense of the fashion and look of things, the easiness of life at that time. Everything I wrote about had music running through my mind, reflecting the time, so I naturally made many musical references. When I finished I was compelled to write a Playlist for each chapter, which I really enjoyed doing.

WJ: What are three of your favorite tales that you share in the book? And the funniest?

NN: Well (spoiler alert!), I do share an interesting story about my relationship with a Jordanian arms dealer and his Ambassador brother. There’s a tale about my first skiing experience – which also proved to be my last – and a humorous girl/girl story. I think the story about an ENT treatment given by my boyfriend’s surgeon dad is hilarious but for me it all seems humorous now. I’m still laughing!

Nora Novak’s fine collage work includes “The Girl from Antwerp”

Cinema Verite at Cannes? It’s red carpet time.

WJ: You are the daughter of a very take-charge, dominant father and a warm, artistic mother. How did that parent combination shape you as both a person and an artist?

NN: My father, although a stern and unpleasant man, instilled a strong sense of discipline and a somewhat sardonic outlook. However, he was responsible for my love of art and photography, for which I am grateful. My mother, on the other hand, emanated femininity, graciousness, a pleasant demeanor and sense of humor. The combination definitely shaped me as an individual and shows up in my work as an artist, as I generally incorporate female photographic images in my glossy mixed-media collages.

WJ: What struck me about your journey is how you took part in the lifestyle and excesses of the day, yet you always seemed to have a sense of who you were and what you wanted. How did you maintain that compass, if you will, of how to go forward?

NN: I readily enjoyed the excess and decadence of the times; it was a Bacchanalian era for rock ’n’ roll. Everything seemed so glamorous and indulgent, and was completely accepted in the L.A. that I knew. I did have goals though, like a working schedule and a sense of enough discipline that probably prevented me from becoming another Hollywood fatality. Many didn’t make it.

WJ: You write of your affinity for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. What was it about his voice, music, lyrics, and presence that captivated you? What do you feel musicians today can learn from their predecessors in terms of delivering from heart and soul vs. making a hit?

NN: Bryan Ferry evoked a sultry, seductive kind of singing unique from other rock stars. Not to mention his suave, good looks, elegant style, sophistication and harmonica playing that simply resonated in a big way for me. I thought his music and lyrics quite beautiful and loved his sexy album covers. It seems like everyone can sing today with a huge range and big powerhouse voices, but at the end of the day, it’s generally the more unique voice with soul and a great tune that becomes the hit. The late Amy Winehouse comes to mind.

WJ: You’ve also been creating works of art. Tell us about those.

Nora Novak’s “Nico”, honoring the late New York scenester and Velvet Underground singer. Part of her Femme Fatale collection.

NN: I started a new series, my “Femme Fatale” collection. I just finished three mixed-media collages, that can be seen on my website noranovak.com and will be exhibited soon. I’m thinking about starting another book next year, possibly a sequel to Los Feliz Confidential, picking up where it left off moving into the crazy 80’s.

WJ: Lightning Round: Who are your five favorite authors? Musicians or bands? Artists? Fashion designers?

NN: My favorite authors? When I was young, I would say John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. I that progressed to Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and more recently Irvine Welsh and Edward St. Aubyn. Musicians: It’s still Bryan Ferry, Iggy and the Stones and Amy Winehouse, miss her. Artists: Jan Van Eyck, Kees Van Dongen, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel to name a few. As for designers, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, love the vintage Halston — and my own Noraluxe Loungewear line, of course!

WJ: Final question: If a musician came up to you and said, “Hey girl, I want to play you one song that speaks to who you are,” what would that song be? And who would be playing it?

NN: Well, I would love it if that musician was Bryan Ferry. I’d request his cover version of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, but wait; can I get one with Iggy on vocals, Mick on harmonica and Keith on guitar, and they can play whatever they want?

WJ: Let us cue it up! Thanks so much, Nora, for a fun and enlightening look into an era so wonderfully captured in Los Feliz Confidential.


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The Sleuthsayers: Six Crime, Mystery & Action Thriller Novelists Discuss Their Work



(First of a 2-blog series)

THEY PRESS ON WITH THEIR DAILY LIVES, watching everything. Stories percolate constantly in their minds. They sit for hours, days, weeks and months, cooking up good characters and bad, and plots with more twists and turns than a mountain switchback road.

Frank Ritter

Frank Ritter

Meet The Sleuthsayers. These crime fiction, mystery and action thriller authors specialize in compelling page-turner books that exemplify solid storytelling and characters that jump off the page. They kill people, injure others, fall in and out of love, and solve one tantalizing mystery after another. In many cases, they carry the same lead character from one book to another.

Recently, I put a few questions to authors Jenny Hilborne, Frank Ritter (also an award-winning playwright), Gayle Carline, William Thompson Ong, Claudia Whitsitt, and Wes Albers, who is also the director of the Southern California Writers Conference.

These people are very good writers. Their average collective ranking on Amazon.com? 4.8 (out of 5). And on Goodreads? 4.9 (out of 5).

Other interesting trivia tidbits: Remember the 1980s TV series Simon & Simon? The series was loosely (or not so loosely) based on Frank Ritter and his brother, private investigators at the time. Ritter’s expertise really shows in The Killing Games. Our other on-the-job expert is Wes Albers, a longtime member of the San Diego Police Department. Meanwhile, Tom Ong is one of the original Mad Men from the New York advertising scene of the early 1960s.

I hope you enjoy what they have to say – and buy their books, either for yourself or for a favorite crime & mystery fiction lover on your Holiday shopping list. Now, let’s get the roundtable started …

Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne

Q: First of all, give us a snapshot of your most recent books.

Jenny Hilborne: The Jackson Mystery Series, which can be read as standalones. They include Hide and Seek and Madness and Murder.

Frank Ritter: The Killing Games, an adult thriller (now available), and The Devil’s Crib, another adult thriller, which will be out in Spring 2014.

Gayle Carline: I write the Peri Minneopa Mystery Series. A couple of titles include Hit or Missus and Hot Mess.

William Thompson Ong: I call mine the Kate Conway Series – The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders.

Claudia Whitsitt: The Samantha Series: Identity Issues (Book 1) and Intimacy Issues (Book 2).

Wes Albers: Black & White is my first published novel. It’s a look into the life of a street cop, told through the eyes of veteran San Diego Police Patrolman John Hatch.

Q: Do you set up your plot twists before you begin writing, or do you let characters and situations take you there?

Albers: I do a little of both. For Black & White, I didn’t start out with anything. I simply sat down one day and started writing. I let the story take me where it wanted to go, until I hit a point where I needed to get to a logical conclusion. It became necessary to start doing some plotting and outlining as I went along, but mostly so that I could drive the story where I needed it to go rather than any creative plot twist.

Gayle Carline

Gayle Carline

One challenge in writing about street cops is that their job doesn’t necessarily flow like a typical story. The thought of having something fall along the lines of Act I, Act II, and Act III is kind of contrary to how the job works. Not every story in a cop’s life resolves. Instead, a street cop’s life is often more a series of scenes.

Whitsitt: Plot twists–what I live for! I do some pre-plotting. It’s best to know where I want the story to wind up, but I’m always willing to let the characters take over. I find a mix of planning/free-form works best for me. The story sometimes stays on track but often the twists are created along the way as a result of my character’s personalities and the ways in which they handle situations. The story evolves through the writing as I continually play “what if”. And my characters have minds of their own—feisty crew that they are!

Ong: I set up a basic plot with plenty of twists and turns in every chapter. But once I begin writing, those unexpected plot twists and turns will come flying at me from every angle and provide the spice for my story. While writing my first novel, I learned two very big lessons: 1) the best way to create plot twists is to ask your characters what’s the worst thing that can happen to them; and 2) believe in your characters and they will help you steer the plot, taking you to places you never thought possible.

Carline: It depends upon the book. Sometimes I just know how everything’s going to work and sometimes I get the idea as I’m writing. I try to do a very general outline. For my first mystery, I was so frightened of having any loose ends or conflicting clues, I stuck to my outline like duct tape. I thought writing to an outline would be my system. Then in the second mystery, I got bored with a scene, so I hit Peri over the head with a golf club and abandoned the outline. The third mystery was a hybrid of outlining, then ditching the outline, then re-outlining. I’m now writing a fourth book, and there is no outline.

William Thompson Ong

William Thompson Ong

Ritter: I story board not only my books but also my plays. All plot twists, locations and even some character traits are worked out on my story boards. I also do a personal profile of each major character and their traits.

Hilborne: I write whatever comes into my head at the time. My characters drive the story.

Q:  How much pre-planning do you put into your characters’ spoken voices, so that their dialogue is distinctive and forward-moving?

Hilborne: I’m not a planner. I hear their voices as I write the dialogue.

Ritter: I work very hard at making my dialogue match each character’s background and speech patterns so that each has his/her own voice. I study slang usage, speech patterns for an American locale I may need, and the speech patterns of those for whom English is a second language, if needed.

Carline: Of all the pre-planning, my characters are my biggest focus. I write up a study of each one, what they look like, their occupation, likes and dislikes, even astrological signs. Then I write a journal for each one. I let them tell me what’s important to them. By the time I start writing the book, I know who they are and how they sound.

Ong: Dialogue is not something that can be wasted. It must either establish character or further the plot. Before writing I make sure each character is

Claudia Whitsitt

Claudia Whitsitt

fixed in my mind—from what makes them tick right down to those quirky little details that are so important—and voice here is key. Then, before each scene, I write a brief outline that describes the action along with snippets of highlighted dialogue. Then I write the scene. I rewrite again and again. When I think I am finished with a novel I go over it carefully, looking for places where sharp dialogue can replace those author descriptions that are too long.

Whitsitt: I wrote a L.O.O.S.E. character sketch before I began writing the series, but I mostly hear my characters’ voices; it’s quite instinctive on my part. I simply step into their shoes and voila! Dialogue! (Don’t tell anyone I hear voices. Please!)

Albers: Dialogue thus far has been a pretty natural process for me. Often it is the easiest part of storytelling. I have an image of the character in my head and any distinct voice for a character just seems to develop as I work.  When I’m not writing but simply daydreaming about the story and where I want it to go, sometimes I’ll get a flash of something unique that I want to attribute specifically to a character.  The sergeant in Black & White is a good example. When I started writing him I had lots of examples of bad managers, or supervisors, from my past so I simply had him strike an elitist, condescending tone and the words just came naturally, his voice developed organically. I must have struck some chord because readers have consistently reacted to him as an accurate reflection of a bad boss that everyone has had at some point.

Q: Out of all the books you’ve written, what are two of the most surprising in-story developments that you did not know would happen when you started writing?

Wes Albers

Wes Albers

Albers: The first was in another unpublished story. I had a bad guy tied to a tree who was about to be executed. Hope was lost, from his perspective. When I originally started writing the chapter, I intended it to be more about the events that would ultimately lead to his surprise release, but as I wrote, it developed into an internal dialogue where this vicious and foul person started reflecting on the tragic path that led him to that tree. Suddenly, he became human and relatable.

The other was the start of Black & White. I didn’t set out to write police stories. In fact, I actively resisted them but someone encouraged me, and then repeatedly pestered me until I made an attempt. I never expected the first line of Black & White would ever survive to print, but in an instant, I found the voice of veteran of the streets, a voice that spoke with the authority of experience.

Whitsitt: My main character, Samantha, has experienced deep moments of profound sorrow. I was surprised how moved I was by those events and the lingering effects her grief had on me—losing loved ones I hadn’t intended to “kill” before I began penning the book. Writing those scenes is exhausting!

The other in-story surprise that has occurred is how much I enjoy writing male characters, (I guess my five brothers are worth something after all!), so much so that I’m considering a new series focused on one of those men.

Ong: At the end of The Mounting Storm, I originally had one ex-wife fire all six bullets from a Colt revolver into the body of the villain. At the very last minute, I switched the revolver into the hands of the other ex-wife. That gave the ending the unexpected wallop it needed.

In The Deadly Buddha, I changed the outcome of the scene where Kate survives the shooting in Central Park after Zack throws his body across hers and Zookie’s and nearly dies in the process. It then became a scene where a very  confused Kate realizes how much she loves the guy—and decides to marry him instead of keeping him waiting another 50 pages.

Carline: The first one came with the first book, Freezer Burn. I had imagined one character, Benny, as an immoral lout (this was before I started all the character development techniques). After the first scene, I saw him for what he was: an obsessive-compulsive man who was confused by the world around him and needed help.

The second one that truly surprised me didn’t happen when I was writing the book, but it happened when I was journaling one of the characters of my current work. I had thought of the crime, figured out the who/what/where, but while one of my characters was telling me about his life, I discovered the motive for the murder. It was completely different than what I was planning.

Ritter: After I story board, I then begin my plot and location research. In the case of The Killing Games, although my research had developed the needed information to make the climatic explosion at the LA Coliseum really happen, I altered this information so as to not be giving out factual instructions to any idiots or truly bad guys. Other than that, because I story board, the only in-story developments while putting pen (computer) to paper have been characters that I grew to truly like and had to either hurt badly or even kill them off. Honestly, when that happens, it really hurts. In The Killing Games, the bad guy rapes a woman and later he rapes her 12-year-old boy. Those scenes were very hard for me to write realistically, but they needed to be there to set up later actions and character developments.

Hilborne: All of my books have surprised me. The endings are never how I might imagine them. The most surprising element for me is the themes readers pick up in my stories. I never intend a message, but readers have pointed them out.

Read Part 2


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A Busy Summer of Writing Arrives

A few writing and book topics on a very hot Summer Solstice:

I love writing in summer. The longer daylight hours, warmer weather, presence of trees and plants everywhere, and completion of a college year seem to conspire to throw this writer’s creativity into high gear.

This summer is especially prodigious. In six weeks, on August 1, Dr. Steve Victorson and I will celebrate the publication of our book, The Champion’s Way. Developed from Steve’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, The Champion’s Way has been a dream project as a book writer, editor, former sportswriter and coach: a look at the 11 distinctive qualities that champions master over all others. However, we make this discussion engaging, with more than 50 interviews with various Olympic and World Champions, along with dozens of other sports anecdotes. Anyone can become a champion of themselves in life, business, the arts, education or sports. That’s our core message — master the 11 qualities.

We spent more than three years writing and rewriting this book. What is especially endearing is that the book is releasing during the first days of the London Summer Olympics — a perfect companion read to see how these great athletes tick.

The Champion’s Way will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks on Amazon.com. The official website will be up by July 10. Meantime, visit our Facebook page.

• • •

The other book I’ve been writing for years, Voice Lessons, is also finished. Am now conducting the final polishing edit after ten years, three complete rewrites, and a restructuring of the plot after it almost sold to Dutton in 2003. The novel is a father-daughter-daughter relationship piece set against the backdrop of a legendary music group that reunites after many years. The main protagonist, music legend Tom Timoreaux, heads out for a long-awaited reunion tour with his band, The Fever, and hires his daughter, Christine, as a backup vocalist. In the course of the book, she becomes a superstar. I won’t spoil the surprises and emotional content of the book, but I will add that the book also provides a panoramic backdrop of the last century of American music, and how the rock and roll pioneers not only drew from many influences, but lived and breathed music in ways that would be really refreshing to see from more of today’s stars.

The book’s official website – with “backstage” passes, Fever “tour schedules,” lyrics to the 80 original songs I wrote for my characters, and much more to entertain music fans everywhere — will be available for viewing in August, and publication is scheduled for Spring 2013.

• • •

Also releasing in Spring 2013, Backroad Melodies, my fifth collection of poetry and essays. This will be my first released poetry collection since The River-Fed Stone in 2008, and it will feature 50 new poems plus 10 essays — including a multi-paneled tribute to my friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, drawn from our many discussions, good times and readings.

One of my personal favorites from this collection is the essay, “For The Lifelong Love Of Learning,” in which I share my own personal experiences with students and faculty through Education for Life, one of the best and most principled systems ever created to inspire, motivate and inform students on what ultimately matters in their intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical development.

We’ll keep you posted on Backroad Melodies. Look for preordering and other information by Holiday 2012.

• • •

Not to be outdone, we will begin our new e-book line in Fall 2012 with The Best of The Word Journeys Blog, featuring the most popular and commented-upon pieces from the first 100 postings of this blog. Several of the blogs went viral, owing to the beauty of social media, and several others ended up in unexpected places (such as Christian Science Monitor’s Culture Cafe), with unexpected readers — back stories that I share in the run-ups to the pieces.

• • •

I’m also working on a very special and unique project, The Legacy Series: Innovations and Technology, with my associate, Lisa Maine, and my friends and colleagues at Innovative Properties Worldwide in Denver. This special publication, which will be available over the holidays as a print magazine, e-book, mobile App and iPad publication, focuses on what we need greatly in this country economically: more innovation, vision and complete commitment to the business models revealing themselves for today and tomorrow. We launched this publication as a tribute to the memory and contributions of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. We depart from Jobs’ enormous impact as an inventor, visionary and businessman to look at the seven industries that Apple products either created or infused, as well as developments in a wide variety of areas.

One of my favorite jobs when developing and editing a specialty publication like The Legacy Series is the interviewing process. During this time, I love hearing the visions, ideas and strategies of forward-thinking CEOs, who have one eye on their bottom lines and the other on tomorrow’s marketplace. You’ll hear from plenty of CEOs throughout the publication.

• • •

The end of summer brings with it one of my favorite writing conferences at which to present: The Southern California Writers Conference. This conference has been partially or wholly responsible for more than $3 million in publishing deals for first-time authors. In the past two years, it also has established the reputation as one of the best conference resources for up-to-the-minute developments in the ever-accelerating digital book world, and what it requires of authors. I will be presenting two workshops, with topics to be drawn from: editing your own manuscripts; writing your book’s business plan; repurposing content for print and online use; and/or a creative writing intensive.

The SCWC features top editors, publishers and agents, all of whom are looking for great books and authors. The workshops are first-class, and we have read-and-critique group sessions that are second to none … including the infamous Rogue Read & Critiques, which start at 9 p.m. and end at … well, the record is 6:45 a.m.

Be sure to click onto the SCWC’s website and register now if you plan to attend. It’s well worth every penny.

• • •

Like I said, summer is a great time to breathe deeply, expand the mind into the warm, open air, and see what comes back creatively.  Enjoy your writing and reading … and most of all, the sun and warmth.

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A Royal Farewell to Harry Potter

Since today is the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this book and movie franchise’s contributions to literature, entertainment, culture and reading. Then, this morning, I saw an article from GalleyCat, “Harry Potter Lives Forever in Fan Fiction,” with a statistic that stunned me: Fanfiction.net now hosts 420,000 fan-written stories inspired by Harry Potter.

That’s four hundred twenty thousand stories.

Time to share my deepest appreciation for J.K. Rowling and the most important series of books to grace the children’s publishing world since Dr. Seuss (although, of course, Harry Potter books are for grades 5 and up). While grossing billions of dollars in book and film sales and selling books by the hundreds of millions, plus earning its own theme park at Universal Orlando, the numbers behind Harry Potter only make us sit up and pay attention. Especially those 63 publishers who passed on Rowling’s first manuscript before Bloomsbury gave Rowling a $20,000 advance. Seems pretty crazy now, doesn’t it?

My appreciation for Harry Potter began in 2001, when I was talking with a schoolteacher and artist who was home-schooling her 11-year-old son because of her differences with a school system that had cut compulsory reading by 50%. She handed me a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series, and said, “These books are making children want to read again. One day, we’re going to be crediting J.K. Rowling for making reading enjoyable for millions of kids like it was for us.”

What a prophetic comment. The combination of adventure, sorcery, danger, fantasy, compelling stories, teen romance, villains, and main characters just as dorky, intelligent, curious, silly and courageous as all kids in their awkward years created a fan base just as ravenous as Trekkies or Star Wars fanatics … only younger. Rowling’s magical storycrafting and her populating of characters in these worlds was just as meticulous and well thought-out as George Lucas’ creation of the alternate universe of Star Wars.

In an era when we were losing kids (and the printed book itself) by the millions to endless TV, video games, mobile devices and, at the end of the run, Facebook and Twitter, Harry Potter gave them a reason to read, imagine, dream and fantasize.

But what I really like about Harry Potter’s impact is the second component — the writing. It’s one thing to read books, but it’s another to sit down with a piece of paper and write creatively — something that seems to be phasing out of more and more schools as students approach high school age. As the GalleyCat post makes clear, the Harry Potter franchise has sparked writing by young people big-time.

I submit that today’s incredible number of highly talented, highly determined fiction, memoir and narrative non-fiction writers in the 14 to 25 age range were directly or indirectly influenced by reading Harry Potter books. All of the popular genres of this group — graphic novel, horror, fantasy/supernatural, romance and adventure — are “grown up” offshoots from Rowling’s narrative premise. I’ve worked with a lot of these kids in various schools and writer’s conferences, and seen some incredible works along the way — works of incredible depth, imagination and emotion.  In addition, some of these writers illustrated their own books and already know how to brand them through social media, blogs, websites and the like.

Yes, today is the grand finale of an incredible youth literature franchise. While I admit to only reading four of the books, and seeing five of the movies (I’ll see the new release, for sure), I just want to be sure we always hold J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books very high in our hearts as writers, readers, parents, teachers … and the young writers who were sparked creatively for life by a band of pesky students with supernatural powers at Hogwart.

Indeed, as the GalleyCat article proclaims, Harry Potter Lives Forever.

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Singing Praises to the Home Library … and All Libraries

In the past week, I’ve been really thinking a lot about libraries, those bastions of knowledge and our love of learning and reading that, many feel, are under siege by the proliferation of e-books. Three things popped into my life concerning libraries:

First, while reading a scene in Roadshow, the outstanding travel memoir of Rush drummer Neil Peart, I was reminded of the time I spent in a couple of Carnegie libraries in New York. As part of his enormous philanthropic work, 19th century American industrialist Andrew Carnegie created 2,500 libraries when there was no library system in the U.S. He launched libraries in this country as we know them today.

Second, I read two conflicting articles, by two newspapers of conflicting political views. One said that libraries were about to die by the sword of electronic publishing and a lack of deep thinking and learning in the U.S. The other said libraries were thriving like never before. As one who taught writing workshops for four years in a small, vibrant rural library (Crittenden County, KY) with a staff that radiated love of reading (and whose head librarian, Regina Merrick, is a novelist), I’m here to say the latter article is more accurate.

Third, I read an article the other day from the Independent, the United Kingdom’s largest online newspaper, entitled, “Will the Home Library Survive the e-Book?”

This article gave me pause: Can the home library truly be endangered? The answer is, yes and no – depending upon the value you place on good old-fashioned book learning, how much you and family members enjoy curling up or stretching out with a good book, and on the worthiness of books as a reflection of who you are. With Amazon selling more e-books on Kindle than physical books, and Barnes & Noble also claiming higher e-book sales, the very satisfying and rewarding experience of going to an independent bookstore, buying a book, reading it and placing it on your home shelf appears to be in some danger.

Appearances can be deceiving. For example, since I now promote books via social media and publish e-books, among other things, I could be considered the enemy … until we start talking about the 3,000 books in my home library. Some of these books were the first I read, or that my mother read to me: Babar the Elephant, Make Way for Ducklings, Burt Dow Deep Water Man. Others serve as literary benchmarks of my school years: Johnny Tremain, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Old Man and the Sea, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Then there’s my rebellious bohemian side, told in a tale of New Journalism titles: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Pump House Gang, In Cold Blood, Trout Fishing in America, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. An entire bookshelf captures my love of poetry as a reader and writer, with works by more than 200 different poets. And the spiritual titles, ranging from Christian works to Autobiography of a Yogi and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Often deep flirtations with the Space Age, movies, sports, nature, ecology, sustainable living, organic gardening, travel, military subjects, running, nutrition, foreign languages, mind-body learning and so much more cover a roomful of shelves, presented as novels, memoirs, topical non-fiction, essays, short stories and travelogues by writers from legendary to one-book wonders, from globally known to regional heroes and heroines.

Then there are the collectibles, the old hardbacks, the books that sit prominently, some behind glass cases, to be seen but not necessarily touched: the transcript of the Apollo 11 moon landing and walk; Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, with pencil illustrations by Picasso; Steve Garvey’s life lessons learned as a Dodger batboy, before he became a star first baseman, with his autograph to me “from your fan, Steve Garvey,” a nod to the years I covered Garvey while a sportswriter; first editions of Mark Twain books; and my priceless treasures, the poetry and children’s books written by my great grandmother and great-great aunt.

I’ve tried many times to downsize my library. I can downsize furniture, clothing, dwelling size, DVD collection and other possessions … but unless I’m passing along books to a public library for safekeeping, I just can’t part with them. That’s because each book on that shelf represents a slice of life, an experience, a moment in time shared by the words on those pages and the inquiring or imaginative mind inside my skull. Furthermore, I put notes, related articles and other slips of paper in these books, further footnoting them for posterity.

Whenever I get around to writing life stories or a memoir, you can bet my library will be a major character. It has accompanied me through thick and thin for 45 years and counting.

My experience is shared by millions of others who have home libraries of all shapes, sizes and designs (and home library design also reflects the style of the owner). As Alice Azania-Jarvis, the writer of The Independent article, noted, “But it’s not just a matter of which books we display that’s interesting – how we choose to do so has become an equal point of fascination. ‘They can almost sculptural in that they offer a physical presence,’ explains (household stylist Abigail) Hall. ‘It’s not just about stacking them on a bookcase, it’s how you stack them. I’ve seen books arranged by color, stacked on top of each other. Once I saw a load of coffee-table books piled up to become a coffee table in themselves.’

Do you think people like this – people who truly love to read, to present their libraries as a statement of taste and love of learning – will let Google come in and scan out their collections? Do you think they’ll buy a bunch of storage drives and relegate covers, paper and all their visceral experiences to electronic files? Will you?

I didn’t think so. To me, the home library is like the public library – an institution running a very close second in sacredness to your place of worship. For many, the library, home library or bookstore is a place of worship. My library is the living, breathing lungs of a life dedicated to writing, learning, and helping others bring their stories to life.

Here’s hoping your bookshelves receive the same love — and reward you with the joy of all those stories, words, and memories of your life at the time you read them. In fact, dust off one of your older books, one you haven’t read in many years, then sit down and re-read it. As you do so, enjoy this present experience and literary adventure, but also recall the events of your life the last time you flipped through these particular pages.

Deeply enriching and revealing, isn’t it?

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When Music and Writing Mix

(In honor of National Poetry Month – and the Muse)

The other day, while putting together the Spring/Summer issue of The Hummingbird Review, I was discussing lyrics and poesy (composing poetic verse) with publisher Charlie Redner (whose poetic spirit and enthusiasm inspires the heck out of me). It is always impossible for me to distinguish between the two, because I feel they are the identical core expression. The only discernible difference is that one is accompanied by vocal or instrumental music and the other is spoken. Maybe I’m crazy about this, a reincarnated Ancient Greek or something…

Which provides a good departure point to discuss the music of writing. So many of us seem to create separation between lyrics/music and our writing. All you have to do is walk into the nearest middle school or high school classroom or hallway to see what I mean: many kids will stick in their ear buds and listen to hip-hop or their favorite singers or bands all day long, but will fall flat on their bored faces when asked to write an essay, book report, paper or story. As for poetry? That’s dead man’s stuff to many of them. Not happening.

Yet, what are they listening to? Poetry! Writing! They cruise through school corridors reciting hip-hop or singing their favorite songs, completely in rhythm, their vocal cadence (while often hilariously out of tune) hugging the meter that the words and beat provide. They sing or lip synch the lyrics with hearts, minds and bodies engaged, feeling the rhythm, embracing the words (for good or bad), diving deeply into the experiences, images or messages being conveyed. They do the exact same thing as spoken word artists, only it’s someone else’s words and it’s accompanied by instrumental sound.

And yet, from classrooms to societal conventions to our own writing desks, we separate the two. We put music in one corner, and writing in the other, as though they were opposing boxers. We keep them apart, to the point of distinguishing between good lyrics and good poetry. (Though Homer Hogan sure didn’t: his two-book The Poetry of Relevance remains, nearly 40 years later, an incomparable counterpoint anthology of poetry/lyrics by 1960s musicians and classic poets). I’ve even had writers at conferences, book expos and workshops, people who have been writing fiction, non-fiction or journalism for years, tell me that music and writing belong apart because writing is more noble, more learned, the thinking man’s art. Seriously.


I’m here to tell you: that’s a mistake. That’s part of the problem plaguing our society, making it less and less literary by the day. Writing was always intended to remind us of how connected we are to universal source, from where original music, thought and expression come. When the ancient poets and writers started laying down symbols and words on cuneiform tablets and papyrus, what do you think was moving through them? Music. They heard the music of words, saw images within melodies, and brought us the earliest verse and prose that became lyric, poetry, drama, story. Musicians and writers even use the same term to describe that inner prompting voice that visits and inspires us:

The Muse.

To me, the best writing – fiction or non-fiction – is deeply musical. I hear and feel the music in each sentence, in the rhythm of the author’s (or character’s) experience, in the flow of the narrative. As a writer and poet, I can’t roll any other way. As an editor, I can always tell when a writer is fully connected to their innermost heart and mind, to the original source of the words that I read on the page. That’s what connects readers as well, whether or not they realize it. I want to pick up your story, essay, poem or book, join the mellifluous cadence of words, hear the way phrases and images come together, and become part of the experience. I want to become part of your narrative music, your verbal symphony playing out on the page. You do that, and I am hooked. Your readers will be, too. My clients and workshop students are very familiar with how I compare Chapter One of a novel or memoir to the overture of a symphony. There’s a reason for that: it is the overture of your story. When we are in tune with the present moment (which we are, when we read something we like), we respond musically to life, to the word, to the experience as it presents itself on paper.

Why? Because that is how homo sapiens has been hard-wired as a species since Day One. We’re musical beings. The ancient shamans sure knew that, which is why they drummed and expressed the callings of spirit in rhythm and chant. I’m the last person to consider myself authority on this one, but when in the beginning there was The Word, and The Word was with God, I’m betting it was felt and heard musically. Or sung. When Enheduanna carved her tributes to the goddess Inanna on cuneiform tablets in Ancient Sumeria 5,500 years ago, becoming the world’s first written poet (yes, a woman was the first known poet-in-writing, since the even older Vedas of Ancient India were transmitted orally until Alexander the Great’s charges began recording them), she conveyed the songs of her soul. And, almost 3,000 years later, the Greek lyrical genius Sappho danced so deftly with music and words that she created a body of work comparable in size to Shakespeare’s or Goethe’s until 98% of it was destroyed by library burnings, time and the hands of men who misunderstood her and her work. (Can you imagine how enriched we would be today if all of Sappho’s works, or even half of them, had survived?)

This, for me, is the secret of great writing: to merge the musician, poet and creator within ourselves. When we bring these aspects together, we touch our greatness and our potential. We touch divinity. Our work resonates; it sings; it moves; it speaks truth; it touches others, deeply. We become one with what we write. Every paragraph, sentence and word of every page conveys the energy we feel when we type or handwrite it.

How do we get there? It’s very simple, but takes some practice and time: read everything aloud, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay, novel-sized or bite-sized. Read every sentence. If the words flow and resonate, if they convey what we’re trying to say with pace and rhythm, then they will likely do the same for our readers. If they feel choppy or sound rough in any way, then we’re not attaining the music beneath the words, probably not connecting to the innermost point of the writing – calling for a little revision.

Who knows? You might find yourself singing the written lines. And your readers will be singing the song of your creation as they flip the pages.

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Filed under Adult Literacy, Books, Editing, Featured Websites, Journaling, literature, poetry, Reading, Teen Literacy, workshops, Writing, Young Writers

10 Reasons to Meet the Authors

On Saturday morning at Crittenden County Public Library in Western Kentucky, we’re presenting what I consider to be the most enjoyable of literary events, as both an author and a fan of great writing: Meet the Authors.

For three hours, nine authors will talk with visitors, share their stories and experiences, and participate in three different panel discussions. Best part of this: The panel discussions are unscripted and unscheduled. Event host Regina Merrick of Crittenden County Library (a fine writer and blogger herself!) is going to simply call a spontaneous panel discussion several times during the event – and off we’ll go, to discuss a topic that she presents.

We’re going to have quite a cast on Saturday. It includes:

Jennifer Kennedy DeanLife Unhindered! and many more
Robert Barlow At the Water’s Edge, America’s Next War Between the States
Mike GuillermanFace Boss
Michael FreelandBlood River to Berlin
Molly HarperNice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men, Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever
Robert YehlingThe Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Daily Writing Life, The River-Fed Stone, Writes of Life and more
Tom McKenneyJack Hinson’s One-Man War
Chris EvansSouth of the Mouth of Sandy
Samuel BeachyGuarded by God: In the Midst of an Earthquake

But wait a second … didn’t I just participate in a Meet the Authors, of sorts? Oh yeah – two weeks ago at the Tucson Festival of Books. At that event, I became a fan, as some of my favorite voices and authors strolled through the room … Luis Alberto Urrea, Joy Harjo, Michael Gelb, the wonderfully irascible Elmore Leonard, Kim Addonizio …

Which leads to my point: attending a Meet the Authors is a tremendous experience for working writers, recreational writers, students, teachers, prolific readers and published authors alike. In fact, I consider it one of the most valuable things a writer or reader can do in the course of their life’s journey with words. Here are 10 quick reasons why I think all of us should attend Meet the Authors events when they circle through our communities:

1) To meet the authors of our home areas. They are remarkable sources of information and insight – and probably some books you’d like to read. They’re also the types of people that will intrigue students – and perhaps spark a dream.

2) Always navigate to the local history authors – the best source you can ever turn to if writing a history book that includes that particular area. Or trying to find out about the secret little tales of your locale.

3) To hear how authors craft stories. I may have written eight books and ghosted five others, but I will not stop asking this question when I meet authors. In their responses, we can literally craft our own stories better – and experience them better as readers.

4) To realize you’re not the only one having trouble writing. We all have trouble; we all struggle; we all want to throw our computers out the door like footballs (and some have!). Yet, the successful author is the one who dusts himself or herself off one more time than he/she falls – and their secrets to continuous writing are the tips I want to hear.

5) To hear how authors read. I swear, if teachers and students – and adults who have trouble reading – would learn the tricks authors use to read (after all, they are gathering valuable material for books), the literacy problem in this country would be reduced greatly. We turn reading into an adventure that involves hunting, digging, seeking, imagining, exploring, discovering and realizing new things. Who wouldn’t want to read if it were presented this way?

6) To learn the latest from the book business. This is mostly an item for writers, but the publishing industry is in a state of flux now, that it is incumbent upon every working writer to know what’s going on. Many participants in Meet the Authors are on tour with new books; they certainly know the latest buzz.

7) To make new friends and stay in touch. Befriend your favorite local authors. Communicate with them; share ideas with them; grow a friendship with them. It’s a very special rapport that feeds both people.

8) Hear some crazy stories from the writing life. We don’t all lock ourselves in offices 24/7 and glue ourselves to a computer (unless we’re on deadline). Many writers enjoy some of life’s greatest adventures in the course of their work – some of which makes it into their books.

9) Hear the back stories. Before we write books, we spend months or years developing the material. What are the life experiences or back stories that preceded the writing of a poem, essay, song or novel? I always ask for back stories; it provides instant inside perspective to the story. Readers should always ask this question when mingling with authors.

10) Celebrate the written word. What better way to celebrate the written word than to mingle with the authors at a party? Then go home and either read something new, or write those stories or thoughts you’ve kept sequestered for years!

Make it a point to attend a Meet the Authors in your community, or a group reading at a local bookstore. For my Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky friends … see you Saturday in Marion!

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Filed under Adult Literacy, Books, Editing, Featured Websites, Journaling, Journalism, literature, poetry, Reading, Teen Literacy, writers conferences