From the Front Porch: Interview with Susan Bernhardt

Susan BernhardtFrom the Front Porch: Creativity Interview with author, Susan Bernhardt. Susan writes cozy mysteries, is a follower of this blog, and has been a writer friend for several years. I’m honored to introduce her to you. Welcome, Susan!

Interview questions:

Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?

My name is Susan Bernhardt. I’m the author of The Ginseng Conspiracy and Murder Under the Tree, the first two holiday novels involving amateur sleuth, Kay Driscoll. My hometown in northern Wisconsin was an inspiration for the quaint setting of my mysteries. The Kay Driscoll mystery, Murder by Fireworks, is due out this Fall.

An avid reader of mysteries, I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. and the Wisconsin Writers Association. My holiday mysteries are listed on Cozy-Mystery.com and Cozy Mysteries Unlimited under Halloween and Christmas.

When not writing, I love to travel, bicycle, kayak, and create culinary magic in my kitchen. I work in stained-glass, daydream in my organic garden, stay up late reading, and eat lots of chocolate.

When are you the most creative?

I’m most creative when out among people. I love to people watch and get inspiration for my writing from real life, drawing from my own experiences and those around me. I love to travel and visit art museums.

What inspires you and why does it inspire you?

Art inspires me. There is art in everything. Nature inspires me. People inspire me.

Share a favorite quote:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Martin Niemöller

What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?

I’m currently writing A Manhattan Murder Mystery and have just finished my first draft. I’m looking forward to self-publishing this novel. My other mysteries are traditionally published.

Share a photo that has meaning to you.

A couple of years ago we took a road trip back to Colorado with my son and daughter-in-law. We used to live in Boulder County in Colorado. This photo was taken during that trip when I am climbing in the beautiful Flatirons.

susan bernhardt

Name one or more of your favorite books. What do you love about it/them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.

I met two friends in a writing group who literally changed my life by introducing me to a new world of literature. I had mostly read cozy mysteries books and even though my new interests were still mostly mysteries, they were vastly different. The first book was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. To this day, it is my favorite book and to sum it up in one sentence, it is a novel about the love of literature. I have read other books by this author, and went on to Gabriel García Márquez, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Donna Leon, and many others.

Name one or more of your favorite songs or pieces of music and tell us what you love about them.

I still love and listen to the music I enjoyed in college: Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, etc. Luckily my husband who is into classical and jazz, also enjoys my favorites. We have many duplicate albums.

Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture, etc.) and tell us what you love about them.

I love Edgar Degas’ ballet and bath paintings. I love his focus on the movement of the ballet dancers. They have such life. I talk about Degas’ dancers in my WIP when the protagonist goes to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His bath paintings are simple, yet beautiful. I also love Vincent van Gogh’s art. Again, the movement, the colors, his genius, the brushstrokes, his art captured me.

What were you like as a child?

I was the youngest of seven children. My siblings would say I was spoiled, but I wasn’t. I think I was incredibly sweet…lol. I loved playing outside with friends and games inside with family and friends. I visited my library on a weekly basis. A pretty normal childhood.

What is your favorite place to be in nature? (In general, and also one or more specific places.)

I love the beach, more specifically Lake Michigan. It’s beautiful. I have many great memories spending time there with family and friends growing up.

Tell us about something you’re proud of having created, participated in, etc. (not your offspring, please! 😉

I’m proud of my Kay Driscoll mystery series.

As a public health nurse, I started the first Health Check in the Home in the State of Wisconsin. I’m proud of that. Also I have been a volunteer RN at our local free clinic since its start, eight years ago.

I work in stained-glass and have made many beautiful lamps, vases, and pictures. I made the inserts for our kitchen cupboards.

Is there somewhere you’ve traveled that has influenced your creative life? If so, tell us about it.

Everywhere.

My husband and I have been fortunate to have traveled to many countries in Europe and most of the states in the United States. All these experiences have influenced my creative life and me as a person. Travel opens one’s mind to new ways of thinking.

What are you grateful for? (Today and/or in general.)

I’m grateful for what I have, for being alive, for my life lessons, for laughter, and for choices. I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, family, and friends. I’m grateful for new experiences.

A favorite show on television? White Collar

A favorite meal? A Thai dish.

A talent you wish you had? Playing the piano.

What’s on your nightstand? Book, Kindle, lamp, notebook and pen for jotting down writing ideas.

In conclusion:

Susan Bernhardt is the author of the Kay Driscoll mystery series. Her hometown in northern Wisconsin is the inspiration for her mysteries which include: The Ginseng Conspiracy, Murder Under the Tree and Murder by Fireworks coming out this Fall.

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Thanks to Susan Bernhardt for giving us such a wonderful peek into her creative life. Below, you’ll find more information about her books and how to connect with her. In the meantime, feel free to comment about what you liked about this interview or ask her questions.

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Tthe Ginseng Conspiracy-largehe Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1)http://amzn.to/1oPTsiw – On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls. With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.

 

MurderUndertheTree_1600x2400__LargeDullMurder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) –  http://amzn.to/1tC5krR – While Kay attends a Christmas tea at Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home, a beloved caretaker dies from an allergic reaction to peanuts. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental, a small group of residents suspect foul play and call upon Kay to investigate. Kay uncovers sinister plots of fraud, revenge, and corruption at the Home. During this      season of peace on earth, good will to men, additional murders occur. Despite multiple attempts on her life, and with the support once again of her best friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, Kay continues her quest for bringing justice for the victims. Kay’s first Christmas in Sudbury Falls is an unforgettable one, with equal amounts of celebration and danger. ‘Tis the season to be sleuthing!

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/TheGinsengConspiracyBySusanKBernhardt?fref=ts

Website: www.susanbernhardt.com

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Your host: Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including her latest comic novel Temple Secrets. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.

Got Muse? Joseph Campbell on Where to Find Inspiration

Joseph Campbell on Muses

What is your view on muses? Do you have one? Want one? Need one?

The following quote by American mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell has some really interesting things to say about where inspiration comes from.

As for me, I think of my muse as a part of me that waits for me to sit, get still and open myself to whatever story I’m working on. I’ve had years of practice calling on my creativity and imagination in the service of a novel, so it doesn’t seem all that magical to me anymore. But I’m totally open to expanding my view.

Here tis’. See what you think:

 

Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the Muses—or, in biblical language, ‘God.’ This is no fancy, it is a fact. Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone. So when one hears the seer’s story, one responds, ‘Aha! This is my story. This is something that I had always wanted to say but wasn’t able to say.’ There has to be a dialogue, an interaction between the seer and the community.

From Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” (with Bill Moyers). (Thanks to my friend, Nancy Mason, for sending me this!)

I love the part about the “seer and the community.” My translation of that would be that there has to be a dialogue between the writer and the reader. That’s the ultimate. To write is a lonely endeavor and only half the process. To share it with readers completes the circle whereby the community is hopefully enriched. In other words, readers rock my world!

Comments? Questions? I welcome your thoughts. xo

Monk Manifesto: How to Live a More Creative Life

Monk Manifesto

Want to become a monk with me? I ran across this Monk Manifesto on Krista Tippet’s blog over at OnBeing a few days ago and loved it. The subtitle for the post is: Seven Principles for Living With Deep Intention. If you know me even a little, you probably know that a title and subtitle like that is something that will draw me right in. I write with deep intention, and I like to live that way, too.

Like many of us, I then started thinking of all the people I wanted to email the Monk Manifesto to with a personal message. Something along the lines of: Want to become a monk with me? I wanted to send it to people I love and care about–the kindred spirits I’ve met on my journey as a writer and beyond. Then I thought:

Oh, I have a blog. I have a way to spread cool things to the people I love and care about. 

So here it is, dear ones. See what you think:

The Monk Manifesto: Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention

Monk: from the Greek monachos meaning single or solitary. A monk in the world does not live apart but immersed in the everyday with a single-hearted and undivided presence, always striving for greater wholeness and integrity.

Manifesto: from the Latin for clear, means a public declaration of principles and intentions.

Monk Manifesto: A public expression of your commitment to live a compassionate, contemplative, and creative life.

The Monk Manifesto

1.   I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.

2.   I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.

3.   I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.

4.   I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.

5.   I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.

6.   I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.

7.   I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

The Monk Manifesto was created by Christine Valters Paintner. You can find out more about her at Abbey of the Arts. This is the first part of the post. You can go to her site to read more.

In the meantime, I think we should seriously think about becoming monks together. Are you in? xo

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Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and wants to become a female monk.

 

Juliette Binoche on Regret and Jealousy

juliette binoche

If you loved films like Chocolat, The English Patient, and more recently 1,000 Times Goodnight, you are no stranger to Juliette Binoche. She has acted in over 40 feature films and has won all sorts of awards. An acclaimed actor, she is also a versatile, intelligent and creative woman.

I ran across a recent webchat sponsored by The Guardian where Juliette Binoche had this to say about regret and jealousy:

Regret is not a feeling I live with. I did make mistakes but I hope I learned from them. Usually the difficulties make you feel more what you need and what you don’t need. It allows you to grow and really follow your intuition. Making choices from your head is never a good choice but being in touch with your heart, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, you will never regret it.

 

When you see a film that has been acted by another actress and that is very well acted – I have always experienced joy. Because great art makes you feel better. It never diminishes you.

 

I went through times that were not always easy but I have always tried to be in a creative mode through theatre, films, painting or dance. When you make that choice, there is no need of jealousy.

 

I love the idea that great art makes us feel better and therefore never diminishes us or makes us jealous of the artist. I’m also intrigued by the idea that regrets come from the decisions we make with our heads instead of our hearts. I know my decision to pursue a writing career was a heart decision, and one I’ll never regret.

What do you think? (Or should I say, what do you feel?)

I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re feeling shy, consider sharing this post on your favorite social media platform.

Juliette Binoche is currently touring the US in a production of the play, Antigone. I am currently writing like crazy on a new novel, as well as the sequel to The Secret Sense of Wildflower. It’s all good. xo

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Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.

 

 

One Writer’s Heroic Journey

heroic journey

Susan Gabriel is an award-winning author of a seven novels and a Kirkus Best Book Award of 2012. In the month of August, The Heroic Journal takes a look at her personal heroic journey and how she found her way from being a psychotherapist to a highly acclaimed author:

This is the beginning of an interview I did recently for my friend Missy Bradley-Ball’s monthly newsletter. Missy’s newsletters are one of the few things I get genuinely excited about seeing in my inbox. Like her, they are full of depth and thoughtfulness.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the first person I asked to do the From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews. You can find her interview here.

For her August newsletter, Missy asked me some GREAT questions about my journey as a writer. I call them ‘great’ because they are questions nobody has ever thought to ask me before, so they were interesting for me to answer.

I’m not sure if I’d call my journey heroic (*blush), but it’s something to aim for at least. Click below to go to the interview:

 

Susan Gabriel: One Writer’s Heroic Journey

Susan Gabriel is an award-winning author of a Kirkus Best Book 2012 and six additional exceptional books. In the month of August, we look at her personal heroic journey and a … [Read More…]

 

I hope you’re having a wonderful summer! I took a little time off last week, but for most of the summer I’ve been writing my heart out as usual. I hope to tell you more about that soon. xo

 

Letters to a Fiction Writer

letters to a fiction writerI’ve been going through papers from different writer’s conferences and writing workshops I’ve attended over the years, and I found a short excerpt from a book called Letters to a Fiction Writer. I don’t think this advice is just for fiction writers, but for anyone who has something they need to express creatively. See what you think.

 

The … fiction writer–you–carries a burden of sorts. You are lugging something around that seems to be part of your being, or, as we would say now, is ‘hard wired’ into you, so much so that you have become its container, but the only way to express it–almost literally, to bring it out–is to write it. What ‘it’ is, in this case, is a piling-up of selves, of beings, and of stories that are being experienced from the inside. What is it like to be you, to be me? You can’t answer that question by answering it discursively. You can only answer it by telling a story. That’s not therapy. You’re not sick. You’re just a certain kind of human being. It’s exactly like the necessity the musician has in humming a tune or playing a piano, or the necessity as artist has in doodling and sketching and drawing and painting. It’s almost involuntary. Something needs to get out. Not expressed but extruded. As the composer Camille Saint-Saens remarked, ‘I write music the way an apple tree produces apples.’

—-Charles Baxter from Letters to A Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Busch, W.W. Norton, 1999.

 

Does this short passage resonate with you? I love the quote by Camille Saint-Saens. What would happen if we all did whatever creative endeavor calls us “the way an apple tree produces apples”?

Try it. Even if it’s for just an hour. Write an old fashioned letter to a friend, dance around your kitchen, hum a song that is yours to sing. Tell your story in whatever medium makes sense to you. If you do, you may find a spark of purpose that you didn’t have before.  xo

10 Reasons Why I Refuse to Read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

As a southern writer who has revered and admired Harper Lee for decades and considers her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the best southern novels of all time, I will not be reading Go Set a Watchman, the just published second novel by Lee.

go set a watchmanA few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was that a new manuscript had been found written by Harper Lee. Like many, I thought this was the best literary news of the century. Then pretty quickly, new information came to light. Miss Lee’s lawyer was the one who found the manuscript, after Harper Lee had already moved to an assisted living facility in Monroe, Alabama. Reports that she was nearly deaf and blind and a bit wobbly of mind and body, which most of us would be at 89 years of age, began to surface.

Fast forward a few months and the president of HarperCollins shows up at the assisted living facility to give Harper the first copy of Go Set a Watchman, allowing for a perfect photo op of Harper Lee smiling at the cameras, the ‘found’ book in hand.

On July 14, 2015, Go Set a Watchman was released to the world and the reviews are coming in. They’re not good. But still I’ve been debating if I ‘should’ read it. Friends are asking if I will. Like many readers, I want to experience more of Harper Lee’s talent and her fine storytelling. But I’ve ultimately decided that I won’t read the book, and here are my 10 Reasons Why:

1. No writer I know would ever want an early draft of one of their novels published. No way. Never. Writers have been known to create bonfires in order to burn early drafts. Really big bonfires. In fact, this go set a watchmanis probably why shredders were invented. Perhaps it was summer and some mechanically-minded writer, who had a stack of early drafts, didn’t want to build a fire, so he or she built a shredder instead. Early drafts of novels are like diaries that you hope no one ever sees because they reveal too much. They are full of mistakes and dullness and undeveloped ideas and under-developed plot lines. This is why prominent reviewers are calling Go Set a Watchman a “mess.” Ouch.

2. Harper Lee was intensely private. Famously private. She was a literary celebrity. Everybody wanted something from her. A decade or so ago a neighbor published a book about her and she never spoke to them again. Why would she become less private in the last year? Why would she now allow people to get a piece of her? And an untidy piece, at that. This makes no sense to me.

3. This is not a “new” book. She did not write another book after she won the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird. I imagine she knew she couldn’t top what she’d already done. This is an early draft of Mockingbird. A draft that her editor rejected because it wasn’t good enough to publish. The editor then suggested she write the story from the point of view of a young girl. a.k.a. Scout. Sometimes editors and agents offer really GREAT advice. This advice changed her destiny.

4. Her older sister was known as her “protector,” which implies to me that Harper Lee wasn’t that great at saying ‘no,’ and her sister was much better at it. Her sister died a couple of years ago and I wonder if this book is now published because her sister wasn’t there to say ‘no’ for her. Her lawyer evidently didn’t see the need to protect her when she ‘found’ the manuscript in Harper Lee’s empty house. Does anybody know how much she is getting as a finder’s fee?

5. First novels are notoriously autobiographical. As someone who has edited a lot of first novels, trust me, this is true. Writers are usually working through their issues in their first novels. Go Set a Watchman is a snapshot of Harper Lee’s struggles at that time, as a young woman in her mid-twenties. Do you remember yourself at that age? Would you want your unrevised, naive thoughts to go in a novel that millions of people will read as your long-awaited NEXT book? I honestly don’t know of anybody who would, unless it was Donald Trump.

6. Writers, especially novelists, change things in a book through many drafts. Sometimes dozens of drafts. We change things even in the galleys, our last look at it before the book goes to print. Manuscripts are constantly evolving and (hopefully) getting better. Harper Lee did not revise any of this book. She wrote this early draft in the 1950s. She didn’t read the galleys last spring. She has no idea what’s in there. No writer does that unless convinced or coerced into thinking it is something of value in its raw form.

go set a watchman

Harper Lee speaks with documentary filmmaker and author Mary McDonagh Murphy 3 days ago

7. In the current publishing empire, it is common knowledge that “the bottom line” is all that matters. Profit and loss statements are created for every book published, and if they’re not guaranteed to make a certain amount of money, they are dropped. If Harper Lee had been an unknown writer who sent in this manuscript of an early draft I’m guessing she would have been rejected many times, and the manuscript deemed unsellable. The professional reviews I’ve seen call it a mess and uneven. That “mess” became something great. It became To Kill a Mockingbird.

All early drafts of first novels are a “mess.” That’s why writers rewrite and revise for years. That’s how self-publishing got a bad name, because of all the writers who put their messes out there without taking the time to rewrite and let the novel evolve.

8. Harper Lee’s legacy has been changed forever. A legacy she and her sister closely guarded until recently. If I read the book aren’t I giving the publishing empire exactly what they set out to get–my dollars? If they really have the best of intentions, why not donate all the proceeds of the book to fight illiteracy or world hunger?

9. Conscientious authors think of their readers above all else. They are out to write the best story they can because readers are out there waiting for them. Harper Lee has had legions of readers waiting for a really long time. If she were able to consider her readers, she would make sure it was as great a story as To Kill a Mockingbird. She would take the time to go in and rewrite and take it up a notch or two or three and make sure she delivered. Because of age, or for whatever reason, she wasn’t able to do that. Steps were skipped. Other people made decisions that she couldn’t make for herself. Forgive me, but I don’t trust these other people.

10. Finally, the tenth reason why I won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman: I don’t think Harper Lee would really want me to.

 

Well, that’s my 2 cents. What do you think? Have you read the novel yet? I welcome your thoughts. xo

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Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.

 

From the Front Porch Interview: Author Alison Ruth

Alison RuthOur latest guest on From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews is author, Alison Ruth. Alison’s publisher got in touch with me last year to do a blurb for her debut novel, Near-Mint Cinderella. Whenever I’m asked to do a book blurb, I’m a little afraid that I won’t like the book and that it will be hard to come up with something nice to say for the back cover. But thankfully, I LOVED Alison’s book, loved her writing, and loved the story. Whew! Here’s the blurb I created for Near-Mint Cinderella:

“Gritty. Gripping. Beautifully written…Alison Ruth is the writer version of a rising rock star.”

Please welcome Alison to our Creativity Interviews.

Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?

I’m a short story author and novelist, and my writing is based all across the United States. My first novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, is set in a tree-topped vista of the Appalachian Mountains; my second novel, Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society, is set on the carnival boardwalk of Asbury Park, New Jersey. My short stories are set in Los Angeles, the Catskills, Miami, and the Nevada desert. There’s a story everywhere, if I can just get there and find it for myself.

When are you the most creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)

Early in the morning, window open, pine trees and birds. I read Walden this year, and Thoreau’s concept that a person is a conduit for nature, and that nature in turn, is a conduit for ideas, really resonated with me. Words try to capture nature, even if nature can’t be perfectly defined.

Music is another way to connect with creativity. Songs become abstractions over repeated listening, so sound itself can shape a work. I listened to the first two Kris Kristofferson albums while I wrote Near-Mint Cinderella, and even when I wasn’t writing, his songs helped keep my story in mind, like an echo.

 

What inspires you and why does it inspire you?

Books, music, and film are inspirational to me. Art connects memory with imagination, and reflexively, imagination evokes memory. Music is the most abstract; film the most concrete, and books somewhere between the two. Imagination is the wondrous result of free association, and art, like a kite, connects a grounded person with dreams.

Share a favorite quote:

From my dearly beloved grandfather: “There’s a helping hand at the end of your arm.” You need to believe in yourself before you put pen to paper.

 What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?

I’m working on a short story anthology, a collection of antiheroes who struggle to grasp their last shred of their American Dream. From a carpenter defending his foreclosure in upstate New York to a wounded veteran trading his last dollar for a dream in Los Angeles, my short stories and novels speak for those who are mostly forgotten.

 Share a photo of something you find beautiful:

My Old-growth coast redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, California.

Alison Ruth

Name one of more of your favorite books. What do you love about them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.

S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. The writing has such honesty, such clarity. The greasers are so real in their time that they transcend it. It was a perfect example of what great YA has the power to do: make the specific experiences of youth universal.

Name one or more of your favorite films and tell us what you love about it/them.

Jane Eyre. My favorite version is 1943’s Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. A lonely antihero and a lonelier heroine; a Gothic castle juxtaposed on the English countryside; Welles glowering at Fontaine. Brontë’s beautiful black-and-white book mirrored on celluloid.

Name one or more of your favorite songs or pieces of music and tell us what you love about them.

Outlaw country: Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gram Parsons. It’s like listening to Western movies come to life. The songs are spare, stark, conflicted; they leave a mystery in the words they don’t sing. Cash’s “Man in Black,” Walker’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel,” are just a few of the countless tales that make the listener wonder what happened in the end.

 

Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture) and tell us what you love about it/them.

Clarence John Laughlin’s mid-20th century photography of the ruins of New Orleans. He documented what was considered lovely and turned it haunting: boarded-up mansions, Spanish moss, statuary. The absence of where people used to live, how they used to live, as if they still might live.

 

What is your favorite place to be in nature? (In general, and also one or more specific places.)

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Sandstone rock formations colored deep red by iron oxide. It’s outside of Las Vegas, but it might as well be on Mars.

 

What are you grateful for? (Today or in general.)

Freedom, literally and metaphorically. You need space to be free in, and America has so many highways. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. Onto the next scenic lookout and the next sheet of paper.

From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio 

  • What is your favorite word?  Spangle
  • What sound or noise do you love?  the whistle of trains going by; baseball games on AM radio

 

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  

Commercials that ruin great songs.

A favorite show on television?    

Breaking Bad. High-definition desert sunsets, high-fidelity ferocity.

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be?

“Professional stunt driver on closed course. Do not attempt.”

A favorite meal?

A table in the Caribbean Sea.

A talent you wish you had? 

Rodeo riding. The barrel races: the horses just fly, rounding barrels til they almost scrape the dirt sideways, then run flat-out to the finish line.

What’s on your nightstand? 

Les Miserables. Hugo leaves the reader hanging at the end of every chapter.

What’s something about you that would surprise us?

I love to watch drag racing. If I owned a 1970 GTO, I would take it to the track and give it a shot.

In conclusion:  

When you’re a writer, there’s beauty everywhere, if you look closely.

Alison Ruth was a feature writer for the popular music magazines Creem, Rock, Rock Fever, and Wavelength. Her short stories have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and are published in Confrontation, Curbside Splendor, J Journal, Kestrel, Southern Indiana Review, G.W. Review, Pamplemousse, and Tulane Literary Magazine. Her first novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, published by Aqueous Books in 2014, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her second novel, Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society, was published by Prizm Books in 2015.

Alison’s website.

twitter: @AERLit

Alison RuthNear-Mint Cinderella:

Important: Book Giveaway!!

Alison Ruth is giving away one autographed copy of her novel, Near Mint Cinderella. Please make a comment to get your name in the hat for a drawing on August 1st, 2015. You won’t want to miss this book!

Also, please take a moment to let Alison Ruth know what you appreciated about this interview. Be sure and check out her website, too.

Thanks! xo

————

P.S. A quick note about the title of this series, From the Front Porch:

Here in the South, we love our front porches. They are where we get to know our neighbors and take a load off with our friends. Ideally, I would invite Alison Ruth here to my house, we’d sit with a glass of iced tea, and I’d interview her while a cool breeze moved through the oaks, accompanied by the sound of two rocking chairs squeaking on the floorboards. Instead, I’ll ask you to use your imaginations. I hope you enjoy the breeze!

————

Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

Things to Do in the Belly of the WhaleIn this wonderful poem called Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale, South Carolina poet Dan Albergotti offers some practical and creative advice on how to make the best of the situation. I venture to say that even people who say they aren’t into poetry will like this poem, but I could be wrong.

See what you think.

 

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

by Dan Albergotti

 

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008

 

Well done, Dan.

What about you? Are you intrigued? Refreshed? Indifferent? All of the above?

As always, I’d love to hear from you. xo

—————-

Susan Gabriel, Author

 

From the Front Porch: Interview with John Grabowski

John GrabowskiThis week’s guest for From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews is John Grabowski. John has been following my blog since the early years (I started it in 2008!), and has been a frequent commenter. We developed an email friendship as he worked on his forthcoming novel, Entertaining Welsey Shaw. On his blog he has some really interesting things to say about the phenomenon of celebrity culture, which he addresses in his novel. John is one of the smartest and well-read people I know. Please welcome him to our Creativity Interviews.

Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?

I live in Northern California and I’ve been a copywriter, a newswriter, and a novel writer. Right now I’m on the Marketing and Development Committees of the Peninsula Symphony as we are working to attract a broader and more affluent audience to this truly excellent orchestra.

When are you the most creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)

I’m a night owl. That’s when I generally get most of my ideas and do my best writing. Doesn’t matter where, really, as long as I can get my fingers to a keyboard. I tend to like the “white noise” of coffee shops, however.

When are you the least creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)

Mornings. I am not a morning person and never have been. Doesn’t matter how much sleep I get or when I go to bed.

What inspires you and why does it inspire you?

Other great art. Great ideas, different ways of looking at common things.

I don’t write fantasy or escapism. Everything I write is deeply-rooted in reality—often the most mundane reality that most people don’t pay attention to. So when someone can see that reality in a fresh and new way, I am inspired and want to do the same.

Share a favorite quote:

The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. —Emerson

 What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?

Getting dressed. Seriously, it’s 11am and I haven’t gotten away from the computer yet today.

 Share a photo of something you find beautiful:

My wifeJohn Grabowski's wife

Name one of more of your favorite books. What do you love about them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.

Of course knowing me as you do you’d expect to see a title by Deborah Eisenberg here. But she writes short stories, though they’ve been collected into books, so we can just assume at least one of these would be one of her titles, probably one of her last two, All Around Atlantis or Twilight of the Superheroes. I think she is the most important fiction writer working today because she is doing things no one else is but at the same time she’s doing it with a vocabulary that wouldn’t stump a high school student and she has probed the fringes of consciousness without resorting to any trendy new writing styles. She shows that direct simplicity can also be complex.

 

I also enjoy many of Alice Munro’s stories, though I do think Eisenberg should have won the Nobel for her greater breadth and insight. And you, Susan Gabriel, have turned me on to Francine Prose!

 

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill is probably the best novel I’ve read that’s been written in the last ten years. I also enjoyed his follow-up The Dog, though the critics were pretty luke-warm on that one, for some reason

 

To The Lighthouse just blew my mind the first time I read it in the way it dealt with the most ordinary events with tremendous depth.

 

Richard Ford’s Bascombe Trilogy impressed me in similar ways. Or the first two novels did. I thought the third sputtered. There’s now a fourth Frank Bascombe book but I’m not sure if I’m going to read it. I think I’m sort of done with Frank.

 

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road is an understated tour-de-force. And I love Milan Kundera, especially The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and José Saramago, especially The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.

 

Name one or more of your favorite films and tell us what you love about it/them.

In literature I am drawn to realism—you might almost say mundane realism. Robert Altman’s films, or many of them, are of a similar nature. So are Ernst Lubitsch if you want to go really far back, especially the pre-Code ones.

 

Yet I also love the outsized aspects of Fellini, and 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita are two of my favorite films. They use fantasy to make a bigger point about realism.

 

So fantasy at the service of realism is fine. Fantasy for fantasy’s sake not so much, even if there’s a “moral” to the story. It’s usually a very simple moral.

 

Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture) and tell us what you love about it/them.

The Milk Maid by Vermeer, though to understand why you’d have to see it in person. The best prints don’t capture the impact. That’s true of any Vermeer.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits, especially the late ones. Same story. They seem to have a history that began before you entered the room to look at them and continue after you leave.

What were you like as a child?

God knows.

Tell us about something you’re proud of having created, participated in, etc. (not your offspring, please! 😉

This is going to seem ridiculously esoteric, but I intuitively figured out the “Circle of Fifths” in music without ever having it explained to me. I also distrusted a scholarly discovery that claimed a section of Beethoven’s music had been edited incorrectly all these years and had to be revised. Turns out I was right—the copyist made the “corrections” and Beethoven considered them wrong—they are!—and put back his original. But for several years Beethoven scholars thought the “wrong” way was right and doubters just couldn’t get used to the new way. I was never fooled, because that’s not how Beethoven thinks; it has nothing to do with taste.

What are you grateful for? (Today or in general.)

My health. A number of friends have had brushes with cancer or other disease and I have nothing to complain about. I am in good shape overall.

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  

Hip hop. But really most pop.

A favorite show on television?    

Don’t really have one.

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be?

The formula for the Unified Field Theory. I’d then win a Nobel in physics and be famous.

A favorite meal?

Sushi.

A talent you wish you had? 

Concert pianist.

What’s on your nightstand? 

Isn’t this a family blog?

What’s something about you that would surprise us?

Same answer.

 

Check out John’s blog here.

————

Please take a moment to let John know what you appreciated about this interview. Be sure and check out the link to his blog, too. If you’re feeling too shy to comment, consider sharing this post with your friends on your favorite social media platform. Thanks! xo

————

P.S. A quick note about the title of this series, From the Front Porch:

Here in the South, we love our front porches. They are where we get to know our neighbors and take a load off with our friends. Ideally, I would invite John here to my house, we’d sit with a glass of iced tea, and I’d interview him while a cool breeze moved through the oaks, accompanied by the sound of two rocking chairs squeaking on the floorboards. Instead, I’ll ask you to use your imaginations. I hope you enjoy the breeze!

————

Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.

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