Sunday, March 28, 2010

History Through Cartoons: A Plea

I'm not sure if someone's written this book, but I'll buy it if it exists (or I'll attempt it myself if anyone wants to offer me a nice advance).  I want a history book written through the lens of cartoons.  I mean, cartoons have represented--probably more than most news stories, history books, sociologists' attempts to re-write history books, and political memoirs--an incredibly honest glimpse into political and social history.

A chapter that I wrote for Musical Chairs, but did not include, reflected on one of my favorites from childhood, The Smurfs.  I had done a little research, to check dates, etc... and was amused to find evidence of the Reagan War on Drugs in the 80s reflected in an episode in which Poet Smurf gets the entire town high (inadvertantly, of course) and it's up to Poppa Smurf to conduct a town-wide intervention.

Going back further in time, there's the horribly-offensive but potently-honest portrayals of racism in old Betty Boop cartoons.  And finally, one of my favorites, a retelling, cautionary glimpse that reflects anxieties around WWII, through the eyes of cartoon squirrels, of course. 

OK, so if anyone has tackled this project, let me 
know when the book is out (or if there's one out there that I somehow missed?) and I'll buy it!  What do you think?  Would you be interested in such a book?  If there's interest out there, maybe I'll write it myself.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

ATTM Book of the Week: Flashing My Shorts

I've had the privlege to trade flash fiction work with ATTM author Sal Buttaci over the course of a few months (until I couldn't keep up with Sal anymore; a man who writes a piece of short fiction each week!).  Here's the rundown on his book, including my review:

Publisher's Description:

Flashing My Shorts by Salvatore Buttaci is a collection of 164 flash-fiction stories that runs the gamut from humor to horror with everything in between. These quick but thought-out writes have become quite popular today. They tend to accommodate readers on the go who lack the luxury of sitting down for long periods of reading. Like patrons at a smorgasbord, they can taste a little of this fine dish and a little of that and not go hungry. The stories Buttaci flashes in his book can, on one page, make readers laugh, and on the next, cry.

My Thoughts:

Buttaci has a delicate touch with his pen and he's fantastic at telling stories, stories with wide range and the commonality of insight, humor and strong resolution. Buy the book for yourself, buy a copy for a friend and get ready to enjoy what a strong short story collection can offer: utter entertainment in bite-sized bits. I like to think of these stories the way I think of those portion-controlled, pre-packaged desserts: when I'm done with one, why not another?

Salvatore Buttaci masters the short form in his new collection Flashing My Shorts. The stories here are spare but powerful, and each is injected with Buttaci's quick wit, sharp insight, and the sort of emotional depth that causes a reader to pause, for just a moment, before reading on, wanting more.

Here's an Excerpt:

Years of hard drinking had driven him to seed. He slept under cardboard on the coldest New York City nights, and his days were taken up begging for spare change.

One morning a passerby stopped to look at him. He turned his unshaven, toothless face away. But the woman continued staring. “Is your name Thomas?” she asked. He shook his head. “Thomas Cole?” she persisted. Again he gestured no. He could see the tears wetting the woman’s face. She could not see his.

Leaning against the streetlight, he watched his daughter lose herself in the rush hour of pedestrian traffic.

To read more customer reviews, go to

To order Flashing My Shorts, go to or

For more information about Salvatore, go to or
For more information about ATTMP, go to or

Hey, and if you want free shipping, Musical Chairs and Flashing My Shorts go together like ice cream & chocolate sauce... (sticking with the food theme here)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Going Home

It's been too long, I said, when Mom picked my tired, sick self up from the Columbus airport on Friday.  I was home.  Although I was tired, stuffy and weary throughout most of the visit, it was refreshing and wonderful to be around my family and friends again.  The thing about Columbus is that nothing changes (it seems): Mom made lasagna (that, as always, was the best she'd ever made), Barnes & Noble employed much of the same crew, had the same regular customers in the cafe, the freeways were predictably empty, and my allergies flaired in the Ohio Valley's elements.

My sister, mother and me have the most natural, off-beat humor around each other, and on this visit we defaulted immediately to a certain ping-pong humor, playing off each other's jokes and laughing nonstop as we cruised the city, running miscellaneous errands.  We were stopped in a grocery store parking lot the first night, behind an old truck filled to the brim with broken furniture and other trash.  As four presumably-related people ran around to the truck bed, straightening things so that they wouldn't fall and tightening bungee cords around faded wood stands and chairs, we were quiet a moment--probably for the first moment since I'd landed in the city.  Then my sister said, in a serious tone, "We're headed to CaleefornIA," and we all laughed like school children.  As we sang the Beverly Hillbillies song in that parking lot, I realized how easy it is for me to feel at home again.

When I visited the B&N, it seemed little had changed.  Sadly, there were fewer customers than I remember seeing in the store when I worked there.  Seeing my book on the shelves, however, was a great feeling, one that reminded me how important that job and store had been to my transition.  How important it had been that I discovered (or rediscovered) my love for literature some seven years ago.

As the weekend progressed, I continued to feel at home, only more so than I maybe ever did before leaving.  It's funny how that works sometimes, and how a little perspective can truly make a person like me appreciate the journey I've been on.  From a near-hopeless, anxiety-ridden ghetto girl to a, well, far more hopeful, educated woman, who has more support and less anxiety than she could've even imagined those years ago.

Perhaps, some of us have to leave in order to appreciate what was there.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Author

I have decided, now that I have a job and a subsequent paycheck to earn, that I must sustain regular postings.  One quite fantastic way I plan to do this is by participating in a blog tour, courtesy of ATTM Press authors, some of whom I've read.  First up, I'm happy to say, is a wonderful book that I read and reviewed (as you'll see below) a few months ago.  Steve Lindahl is a fabulously talented writer, and a good friend of mine.   Check him out!

ThumbnailImageMotherless.jpgMotherless Soul is the story of Emily Vinson, a woman whose entire life was impacted by the loss of her mother when she was 2 years old. At 82 Emily contacts a hypnotist hoping to draw out hidden memories and to discover as much as possible about the short time she spent with the woman who gave her life. Glen Wiley, the hypnotist, teaches her more about herself than she had expected. He helps her bring out memories of many past lives, including an experience that took place on a smoke filled battlefield. All of Emily's lives have had the same tragic outcome, the loss of her mother at a young age. Her soul is caught in what Glen calls circularity, meaning that the tragedy will occur again and again unless she can break the pattern. She and Glen must revisit her past lives and use what they learn to find the other souls who are part of the circle. They must use the past to change the future. Emily's stubborn desire to know her mother is realized in intricate and unsettling ways no one could have imagined possible.

Excerpt (from Chapter Four)

Glen asked her to count backwards from one hundred. When she passed fifty-nine he started to guide her saying, “Go back, back further to a time before you were Emily Vinson. Keep going back.” His words seemed to run right through her body, like a shot of whiskey. Glen seemed to be growing distant, although she knew he was right next to her. She kept counting toward zero, even as he spoke.

Emily lost track of the counting. She was certain she’d repeated some numbers, but she tried to keep them coming. She knew she had to do what Glen told her to do. She closed her eyes. Shortly after that the dim light she could make out through her lids faded into absolute darkness.

“You’re slipping through time and space into a place that’s been buried in your heart for ages upon ages. Something important happened to you in this place. You’re starting to remember what it was like: the smells, the sounds, the texture of the world around you.”

Her eyes started to burn. Memories were flowing into her head after a period of nothingness and those sensations were different from what she’d experienced the day before. This time it was as if she were two people. The person she had been before the session began, the old woman nearing the end of her life, was now watching someone else from inside that other person’s body. The other person was very young, but in trouble.

“Talk to me, Emily. Let me know what you’re feeling.”

Emily started to cry. She wasn’t able to hold back. Her cry was the loud wail of a hungry baby. But Emily knew what she felt wasn’t only hunger. Something was very wrong.

Review: Jen Knox (Author of Musical Chairs)
This is a profound work about the cyclic nature of pain and one woman's desire to confront it and move on. The story begins with Emily's search to demystify the mother she never knew, the figure whom she believes to hold the secret that will break a cycle of discontent. Where this leads her is on a journey of self-discovery that begins with a trip to a hypnotist and introduces Emily to generations past. Emily's journey is filled with realizations that grow exponentially, and ultimately lead to a philosophical and spiritual awakening. This book is phenomenal. The chapters are short and engaging, and the writing is fantastic.

For a video reading of an excerpt go to -  Motherless Soul

For more information about Steve Lindahl go to - or

To purchase Motherless Soul go to - Amazon, All Things That Matter Press, or Barnes and Noble


civil war, past lives, reincarnation, mothers and daughters, hypnosis, mystery

Monday, March 15, 2010


It began with me practicing my reading in front of the bathroom mirror.  Once confident that I wouldn't go over my time limitations, my husband and I went out for coffee; but, when we got outside, we found that our cars had both been egged.  This was an interesting occurrence, one that I didn't realize at the time would prove an ominous start to our day.
After some detective work, we concluded that the eggs had to have been thrown from above, and there is a direct line from the balcony above our apartment to where they landed.  The neighbors who occupy this balcony are menacing people, who like certain parking spots and, due to the fact that neither is currently employed, have a lot of time on their hands to start little wars with neighbors--us included, apparently.  After vowing our revenge, we drove for coffee and returned to clean the house for our soon-arriving guest.

Around 3PM, we picked up a friend and fellow author with ATTM Press, whom we had invited to the event to help us man our book table and also sell his own books and represent our shared subsidy press.  I was thrilled to meet the author of a book I admire, Widow's Walk, in person, and I was not disappointed.  Ken Weene is a wonderful person.  We all had lunch and talked about the event.

I hadn't heard my phone ring that morning, and so when I saw a message was left from the literary director of Luminaria, I figured it would be a general "good luck" call or some such thing.  Instead, the message said that as of that morning, the committee was informed that no authors or artists could sell anything at Luminaria.  There wasn't the right licensing in place.  We had forty books, between mine and Ken's, ready to take with us, and it was inconceivable that wouldn't take at least a few to the event and set up.  If we couldn't sell them, we thought, maybe we could raffle them off or even give a copy or two away.

I broke the news to Ken, who had traveled from Arizona to sell his book at this event, and who was heartbroken but very kind about the whole thing.  In the midst of all this, my precious dog cut his lip and was continuously scratching at it and irritating it.  So, as I tried to put a cone around his neck, to keep him from scratching, I bent over.  His sad face captured my gaze, and my maternal sense took over because, as I got up from attaching the well-intended tortuous thing, I hit my head on an open cabinet, hard!

Aside from the egged car, couple dozen or so books that I couldn't sell, and huge bump on my forehead, I noticed that my throat was getting sore, and that I was incredibly tired for so early in the day.  Nonetheless, Chris (my husband), Ken and I decided to make the most of this thing.  We headed out for Luminaria.

Reportedly, 200,000 people were there.  It took us half an hour to get off the exit ramp we needed to get to our parking space.  This was OK, we had good conversations in the car.  Then, when we arrived at Luminaria, we figured out that of the 200,000 people that were there, many of them were left over from a San Antonio St. Patrick's Day parade that took place at noon and were really drunk.  There were people bumping into each other everywhere, and although many stages were set up outside, I got flashbacks to my clubbing days and felt a bit out of place.

When I found my stage, there was no table, nowhere at all, in fact, for me to sit and relax.  Moreover, I had been pushed back from my time slot of 10PM to 10:50PM, which meant I would be the last act.  A wavering man I didn't know almost ran into me as I stood outside the venue, watching another act.  There was some phenomenal art to look at, I admit, but this man was incredibly drunk and he kept running into me and Chris.  When Chris asked him to leave, he got closer.  He had brought his own liquor, he said, because regular beer wasn't strong enough.  Ken and I agreed we would write about the annoying man in some manner, and he, in turn, said he was a writer and that he had been laid off from his unemployment (???).

I felt downright feverish by the time of my reading, had been yelled at by a stage manager to get out of the dressing room before it was my turn (she seemed tired), then had to sit there and wait with her for the ten minutes or so prep-time I had before my reading.  She also informed me that I had been pushed back because I missed the dress rehearsal (didn't I get the email they sent?  No!)

Once at the podium, everything was wonderful, except for the fact that almost everyone had left and there was an incredibly loud Mariachi band playing just outside the venue and I couldn't hear myself read.  The good news is, this didn't relate to the audience (reportedly).  And, quite a few people expressed interest in the book that I couldn't sell them.

So, my first big reading is over, and I have to say that although I'm not usually an optimist, I can guarantee, they only get better from here :)

What a day!!!   Now, I'm sick, so I'm going to go rest.


Here's a sample from what I read:

Throughout the summer of 2003 I repeatedly underwent what psychologists have since diagnosed as post-traumatic stress and panic disorder.  A spiritually-inclined friend refers to the same summer as my rebirthing period.  Still others, who claim to have had similar experiences, tell me that such episodes were probably a warning, my body’s way of telling me to adopt healthier eating habits, exercise more or quit smoking.  At the time, all I knew was that the onset was swift.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Oddity of a Second-Person Narrative

You write a story in second person, and you think you will have your audience experiencing all that you desire, bending to your every whim, tripping old folks on the subway, eating aged Gouda and drinking three martinis without ever feeling a buzz.  You direct your character to enter a house, which you don't explain is that of his ex-wife, and you don't tell him that she will soon chase him around with a meat cleaver and demand child support because otherwise, why would he have entered the house in the first place?

Your reader is pissed that you are making him do such horrific things.  The Gouda was bad, his stomach hurts, he has a fresh cleaver wound two inches above his navel, and now an outrageous sum of overdue child support is being taken from his Starbucks paycheck.

You tell your reader that it's too tempting to not give his customer 2% milk in her "skinny" latte because it's already steamed, and she'll never know the difference, right? But she does know. She is a regular customer and her eyes narrow as she rolls the slightly-too-thick liquid around in her mouth before spitting it out in your character's face, and he's angry at you again.

He thinks he won't read any more, but you tell him that things are about to turn around in his life. You tell him that he had a bad childhood, and this is his reasoning for tripping old folks, for slighting his barista oath to give the customer what she wants.  You tell him that once he begins therapy, everything will be better--life will blossom and he will find love, find himself, find purpose.

But, you can't think of a good ending, one that won't seem contrived, so you have him show up to the psychiatrist's office late.  A prescription drug salesman is just leaving, having left pamphlets for the newest, greatest anti-depressant on the market.  It is the one that the FDA got a big payoff to fast-track to this very office, and the payoffs have trickled down to the new psychiatrist, who presses it on your poor reader's character.  You tell him to take the pill, to see what happens.  And, because he's at your whim, he wants to see what happens, he does.  He takes the pill and, you decide, he becomes addicted.  After seeing three women with boob scarves on, he quits his job and takes up the medication full-time.  When the stuff shows up in advertisements for lawyers offices, as an opportunity for group lawsuits, he begins to feel tight pains in his stomach that double him over in front of the TV.

The drugs make him feel better, you decide, and so you have him take more.  His head spins with the possibility that he will ultimately be happy, if only he can get off these drugs, get his life back.  His cleaver wound throbs, but he can't afford to go to the ER because his money is all spent and even if it weren't, his prescription is running low, and any money he would inevitably go to refilling it.

You decide that the drug is now illegal, and your character is forced to live on the streets.  He must sell his body to get a fix, and some of the elderly people he so loved to trip on the subway drop coins into his hand when he asks them for spare change.  You tell him to think about his situation, how it all came to this, and then you leave him.  You think his story is over because it's come around full-circle.  But you forget that he never reconciled his past, he never found awakening, and so you tell him to get clean, to give back, but then your ending is too sappy, and you can't stop there.  You tell him to seek revenge on his ex, that her mark on his gut cannot go unanswered, and so, you have him kill her.  He is not caught, and you decide that he must pay.

You allow that the court system placed his six children, who to this point have not seen ink or page, back into his care.  They are bad kids.  He is a good father.  He is miserable, and yet, he has purpose.  You end the story during a highly symbolic parental moment that reminds him of his own childhood, and you end with this image because you are tired of your character.  Does this mean you are tired of your reader?  Perhaps you should revise.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teacher Woman: Notes on the Internet

I'm employed!  I have what in teacher lingo equates to a highly-fulfilling, part-time job without benefits: I'm an adjunct.  And, although I would never disclose details about the classroom, I have to say it's a job that I already love because I am in a position to teach others how important and rewarding the craft of writing, not to mention the prerequisite for excellent writing: a love for reading, truly is to future successes.

It's apparent, already, that the value of writing skills is more important than ever before, especially for young people, who will be doing more internet communication (written communication!!!) than any previous generation.

I've read many articles about the perils of high internet usage, many of these articles by writers who have a sort of Chicken Little worry that the instant gratification of online publishing might be a hinderance to the quality of written art.  To me, however, this is silly.  What the internet will provide, and has already begun providing, is greater access to written communication, across social and economic borders.  For this reason, the benefits far exceed the costs.

Here's my thinking: What online business and social interaction mean to society is that the gamut of opportunities to make money, to express beliefs, to tell personal tales and make enterprising advancements are now available to anyone with access to a computer.  Moreover, these opportunities require, more than ever, a competency of language and communication that goes above and beyond the norm.  True, it also means that a lot of arguably bad writing will see online print, but let us not forget that if we see bad writing, we stop reading.  What this means is that those who work diligently toward an exceptional level of written communication will now have more access to a platform and audience of folks with whom they can share their stories.

It is my feeling that a person's ability to compete in business, be it writing or otherwise, will be forced to rely more heavily on the merit of written communication skills than on predetermined resources.  In other words, the best writing will prevail and those who choose not to challenge themselves to excel and stand out will not be read.  So the sky will only be falling, in a sense on those who don't develop a love for reading and writing. So there, perils averted.

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...