Wednesday’s Book Look, and a Wee Pause

Wednesday’s Book Look: Emily in the Wall: Twelve Chilling Tales of Horror and Suspense by Neil Davies (Thanks to Grinning Skull Press for the review copy!) https://grinningskullpress.wordpress.com/

Spoilers lie ahead.

When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend that lived in our attic. Except that our attic was more like a crawlspace. Still, I would go visit her in her airy-eyrie attic room, via dreams, and we’d hang out all night until I woke up in the morning. Sometimes, we’d go on adventures, and sometimes the adventures would be a little spooky.

But being spooked in dreams is different than being afraid in real life. It’s a fascinating experience to be fearful in a dream, or while you’re reading a book. It takes your mind off the things that cause you fear in the real world.

And I wasn’t alone, because I had my imaginary friend with me, most times. Pretty much my only friend.

Having a pretend sister helped with the isolation, until the day I woke up from the dream where we said goodbye and I knew she was gone.

And so the short story, “Emily in the Wall”, from the collection of the same name, was probably my favourite. I related to so much in the story–the main character Anna Kolton, the “smarmy” therapist, the people in the walls that Anna kept seeing–but in this story, the therapist begins to support her rather than discount her, and she is able to make contact with “imaginary” Emily in a very real way. 

The rest of the stories, while all different in regards to characters and settings, seem to have a similar theme. Or one that I just want to embrace while reading this haunting collection–that we really aren’t alone as we move through our worlds, our families, our social circles–we have company, for better or for worse. 

We have books that give us other lives, other worlds, other adventures.

And we will always have at least one imaginary friend by our side in the darkness, no matter how alone we feel. And Neil Davies’s stories remind me what I sometimes forget–that it’s still possible to move through time and space and into other worlds, or bring those worlds home to us.

I am keen on reading more of Neil Davies’s works.

….

Also, if reading this book (I’d highly recommend Emily in the Wall to chase away the summertime blues) whets your appetite for more great spec fic-ish reads, check out Priscilla Bettis’s one-sentence reviews over at her blog: https://priscillabettisauthor.com/2021/06/30/one-sentence-reviews-my-2nd-quarter-2021-reads/.

And, last but not least, I’m going to taking a wee pause from the blog while I navigate an exciting adventure of my own. I’ll be back within two or three weeks–posting, reading, commenting (speaking of “for better or for worse” *laugh*), and with some real-life tales of my own to tell. Or so I hope! 

Enjoy the rest of July!

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author (and Dragon!) Nenekiri Bookwyrm

This week’s “Five Things Friday” interviewee/dragon is Nenekiri Bookwyrm!

Willow Croft: What’s the best convention you’ve attended? And what’s the oddest, fantastical, and/or wonderful thing that’s happened to you at a convention?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: One of the best was Anthrocon 2018 for sure. I was only able to go for Saturday the previous year and in 2018 I was able to go for the full convention. It was also the first time I had been published and the feeling of getting to see my name in the contributors to the con book was something magical. It made my entire weekend and the con had just started.

I’ve had a lot of adventures in my many con trips, but this story from my first ever convention is still one of my favorites to tell. I had never been to a convention before but went with my group of friends to Magfest 2016. We had just gotten to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center after checking into our hotel rooms and thought it would be a good idea to get something to eat. The problem was that we didn’t know the area very well. So after wandering around the streets just outside of the convention center, and nearly getting lost looking for a restaurant, we settled for Subway. We grabbed our sandwiches and headed back to find a place to eat them. We decided on sitting around the fountain that was set up next to the entrance on the lower level of the building. It was around supper when we sat down to eat our meal, close to 6PM but not quite. Everyone was glad to be off their feet for a while and the conversation was light and jovial.

Then the clock struck 6PM. And the music swelled behind us.

Instantly, we were all showered with water as the fountain came to life and started performing a laser light show while alternating spraying water from different fountain jets. There was screaming, laughing, and a good deal of soggy bread as we rushed to get out of the way of the musical water works. I tried to cover a friend with an outstretched wing, but the water just splashed off and into their face. We found out later that apparently the fountain turns on and does a show at set times in the day. It certainly made for an unforgettable start to my first convention!

Willow Croft: There’s a saying that dragons like their snacks “crunchy, with ketchup”, so–what’s your favourite snack, with or without ketchup?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: I’ve been eating a lot of Cheez-its lately. Or really any kind of cheese cracker. I like the crunch (without ketchup) and it reminds me to drink more water to offset all the salt I’m eating. Some folks have a sweet tooth, but I’ve always had a salt fang.

Willow Croft: When you need a break from all the game-designing, salt-laden snack munching, and writing, where do you and your other dragon friends like to go for vacation?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: Conventions are usually where I go to meet up with my other dragon friends, but outside of that I’ll sometimes take a trip to Pittsburgh to visit a long time friend and his fiancé. The last time my roommate and I were out that way they took us on a tour of the city that was lovely. We toured the Phipps Conservatory, rode the incline all the way to the top of the city at night, and walked around a college that looked like an old castle had sprung up in the middle of the city. There’s still a bunch of places I’d love to visit for the next time we get a chance to go out that way.

Willow Croft: Now that you’ve finally taken a vacation, what game (board game or video game) do you bring along while you’re “sunning your scales”?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: Magic the Gathering is a game that a lot of my friends play, so I usually have a deck for that packed in my suitcase somewhere. Since it’s been around so long there’s a lot of different formats and play styles to choose from. I usually play a format called Commander with a deck that runs five different colors of dragons. It’s chaotic and silly and getting to see all the different color cards make a kaleidoscopic rainbow as I play them is a good deal of fun. And the idea of having a spellbook that you curate yourself over time, adding or subtracting pieces as you learn and grow is one that is very interesting to me.

Due to the portability of the Nintendo Switch, I’ll occasionally bring that on trips where I think I’ll have the time to play it. The game I play on it varies, but right now I’m snout deep in Monster Hunter. It has a very satisfying loop of fight big monsters->make snazzy new pants for outfit->repeat, that’s hooked me over the last few months.

Willow Croft: What’s your favourite song that you like to strum on your ukulele, and why?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: I’m still a beginner when it comes to playing songs since for a long while I would just strum the ukulele idly as a way to relax. But recently I’ve been learning the basic chords and decided to start practicing One Big Bed from Not Another D&D Podcast. I’ve not heard the podcast itself, the song was a recommended video for me on Youtube based on my interests in tabletop. But as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to learn how to play it. There’s a gentleness to it that really spoke to me. Like a song you would sing to someone after a hard day as they fell asleep. The lyrics are a little silly but I find it has a nice balance of schmaltz to offset the message that rest is an important part of the adventure too. The chord progression isn’t too difficult as well, which gives me an excuse to practice switching my claws into the next note without too much trouble.

Nenekiri Bookwyrm would love to meet you! Visit their blog at https://www.nenekiri.com or on Twitter https://twitter.com/Nenekiri_Dragon

And, Nenekiri Bookwyrm would like to remind you all to “curl up with a good book and be kind to yourself”. 

The wisdom of dragons, right?

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author, Editor, and Publisher Diane Arrelle

This week’s “Five Things Friday” interviewee appears to be quite the “busy bee” too–Diane Arrelle is an author, book publisher, and editor!

Willow Croft: One of the first stories I read of yours was before we even “met”—in an anthology called Crafty Cat Crimes: 100 Tiny Cat Tale Mysteries. How has your own cat(s) influenced (or hindered!) your writing?

Diane Arrelle: Wow, I grew up very rural on the edge of the NJ [New Jersey] Pine Barrens. We never used the term feral cats, they were just cats that came and lived in our garage, our yard, the woods all around us. I’ve had cats around since I was born and over the years, I always had my special kitties. I have always loved cats and I find them fascinating.
After college I traveled too much to have a pet and then I became the suburban wife and mommy and my husband didn’t want a pet. The cat from Crafty Cat Crimes was the sweetest kitten I found stuck in a tree one day while visiting a friend. We got her down and then I made my friend keep the kitten because we didn’t have pets. But I went over to visit my foster cat often.
One day I got annoyed at my husband so I took my kids to the animal shelter and brought home a six-month-old kitty, who just happened to pick us out. Just like that I became a cat person again. Bonny, who was a male, lived for almost 18 years and influenced many stories, most of them on the dark side. Seriously, where do they disappear to and how do they magically reappear like that?
After Bonny died, I decided to wait before getting another cat. Every time we heard a noise in the house my husband would say, “Cat’s back.” It was funny, but the man who hadn’t wanted a pet told me we needed another cat about two months after Bonny had passed. I immediately dashed out and got a rescue named Tabby, and she is definitely my husband’s cat. She is a very flighty animal with an intense stare that sometimes scares me and she likes to stalk me. I have to say she has inspired several scary stories in the four years we’ve had her. She, as well as Bonny, have hindered my writing in the usual way, sleeping on the keyboard, yowling when I’m writing, just being cats.

Willow Croft: I don’t know about you, but I always get the munchies when I’m writing. What’s your favourite snack(s) or comfort foods when you write?

Diane Arrelle: Oh no, I am the picture of self-control. I never eat and write. Ok, so I’m lying. I don’t eat and write. No, I eat and in between stuffing my face, I write. The year in quarantine changed my pattern completely and I have to have food nearby. On a good day I crunch on carrots and veggies, but mostly I eat about four pieces of sugar-free chocolate and lots of popcorn mixed with nuts. Oh yeah, I always have a Wawa coffee next to me which I reheat all day long. And for those who don’t know about it, it’s an Eastern convenience store that started in the Philly area. Wawa coffee mixed with Wawa cappuccino is just a wonderful, creativity-inspiring beverage.

Willow Croft: As an editor/publisher, you also host calls for anthologies by way of your co-owned publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink. How do you and your co-owner come up with the themes for your anthology calls?
We’re friends and talk a lot on the phone and in person. Just about every conversation one of us will say something offhand and the other will respond. “Wow, that would make a great story.” Sometimes that leads to stories and sometimes one of us will decide it would make a great anthology. Bev loved the idea of a mystery anthology and I fell in love with the term “crypt gnats” when we were talking about cemeteries. We both came up with the newest anthology called Trees while we were at RavenCon in Williamsburg, Virginia and were walking around the Olde Town taking pictures of some really creepy, gnarled trees.

Willow Croft: As one of the founders of the Garden State Horror Writers (as well as a past president), what’s the most terrifying and/or unexplained thing that has happened to you?

Diane Arrelle: Personally, I grew up in a house that had a spirit. It appeared when I was about twelve and stayed until I was about seventeen. I was scared of it and yet, when I was home alone it sort of comforted me. I wasn’t afraid of the other monsters I used to worry about once the spirit came into the house. I used to talk to it but I always begged it to never appear, which it never did. I don’t think I could have handled seeing a ghost.
As president of the GSHW we went on a field trip to a haunted house on the Jersey Shore and we saw bunches of socks on the beach. They inspired me to write a silly horror story that won first place in the Killer Frog annual contest. On another group trip we went to New Hope, Pennsylvania, for a ghost walk that creeped me out and I came home and wrote a story in about an hour. I was so inspired.

Willow Croft: Since you write both mysteries and horror, what’s the oddest or most disturbing thing that you’ve had to research, either online or in a library?

Diane Arrelle: Well, when I first started writing I went to the county library because I wanted to write a novel. Demonic books were popular and I wanted to write a demonic novel but I knew nothing about angels or demons and had never really ever thought about them. I started looking up hell and just went deeper into the mythologies surrounding the underworlds and afterlives until I scared myself and by closing time I quit. I was so frightened walking to my car I kept looking over my shoulder and I constantly checked the review mirror as I drove the ten minutes home. I was spooked for a couple of weeks and since I’d already started the book, I turned it into a comedy about angelic sex aliens landing on a hedonistic earth. It was fun to write and after a few years I threw it away. But I learned not to research something that frightens me too much. I just don’t need to add to all my neurotic list of things that terrify me.

Seek out more about Diane Arrelle at her blog, and check out the publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink, via the links below!

https://www.arrellewrites.com/books

https://www.jerseypinesink.com/

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Eva Pohler

This week’s “Five Things Friday” author is Eva Pohler! Eva Pohler writes everything from “mysteries, thrillers, and young adult paranormal romance based on Greek mythology,” as mentioned on Eva Pohler’s website: https://www.evapohler.com/.

Let the adventure commence!

Willow Croft: I enjoyed the video tours of your house and writing space, and I read that you are also a HGTV fan. (I, myself, spend way too much time looking at homes on the Old House Dreams and CIRCA Old Houses website.) Which HGTV “Dream Home” would you have most wanted to win, and why?

Eva Pohler: The year I was most obsessed with the HGTV Dream Home was in 2010, the year it was in Sandia Park, New Mexico. (https://www.hgtv.com/sweepstakes/hgtv-dream-home/2010/hgtv-dream-home-2010-beautiful-room-pictures-pictures) Although the views from the home are more desert than mountain, they are nevertheless breathtaking. The southwest style architecture is also pleasing, and I love the layout of the floorplan.

However, looking over them all, I think I would most like the house in Merritt Island, Florida. (https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/15/hgtv-dream-home-merritt-island-sells/85961888/) This has more to do with the ocean views and the southern climate than the house itself–even though the house is gorgeous. Truly, there isn’t a dream home that I don’t love, so it comes down to location. I love warm climates and water views.

Willow Croft: The food question! I read in your interview on the Trinity University website that you were a Girl Scout troop leader once upon a time. What’s your favourite Girl Scout cookie?

Eva Pohler: It’s a tie between Thin Mints and Trefoils, depending on my mood.

Willow Croft: If you were magically transformed into a deity of the Greek pantheon, who would you be (can be an actual deity, or one of your own imagination). What divine power(s) would you have?

Eva Pohler: The serious side of me would choose Themis, the goddess of justice, mainly because I care deeply about social injustices and wish I had the power to right them. I would love to eradicate all forms of discrimination so that every person felt as valued and respected as the next.

The fun side of me would choose Amphitrite, goddess of the sea and wife to Poseidon. I love the sea and can imagine the pleasure of swimming with dolphins and sunning on beaches as I watched the sun sink beyond the horizon.

Willow Croft: Do you have a favourite(s) creator of fantastical or mythological art (can be a classical or modern/contemporary artist)?

Eva Pohler: My children are my favorite artists. My older son, who is twenty-five, is a computer software developer, but he has a creative side. He has created art for a number of Dungeon and Dragons campaigns–hand-drawn art. And he also uses graphic art to create designs for his computer games. His imagination is incredible. I’ve told him many times that he could be a writer.

My other son, who is twenty-two, is a painter and musician. He paints other musicians and celebrities. I am amazed by how realistic his paintings are.

While my older son creates fantastical art and my younger more realistic art, my daughter, who is twenty, creates both. She creates art with diverse mediums, but her paintings are the most brilliant, in my opinion. Both her fantastical and her realistic paintings are beautiful.

Willow Croft: Outside of your journeys within your books and your imagination, what’s the most interesting place you’ve visited in real life?

Eva Pohler: Probably the most interesting place I have visited is the Philippines, mainly because it is the most different of any place I have been. I lived there for two years when I was a child while my father was stationed there. The climate was lovely, except during typhoon season. The views of the ocean and of the volcanoes were spectacular. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to another culture so different from mine at such a young age.

~~~~~~~

Meander through Eva Pohler’s magically mystical universe. Mysterious adventures await!

https://www.evapohler.com/

https://www.facebook.com/evapohler

https://www.instagram.com/evapohler

https://www.youtube.com/evapohler

https://www.twitter.com/evapohler

https://www.pinterest.com/evapohler

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/eva-pohler

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4888434.Eva_Pohler

Wednesday’s Book Look: Wild and Wishful and Out of this World

Sometime soon, I’m going to check out a little artsy town here in Kansas called Lucas. I’m still trying to figure out how to decide where I want to spend…well, if not the rest of my life, at least the next few years. Kansas is (relatively) affordable. When compared to places I’ve either looked at or lived in (Portland, OR, Seattle, Florida, New Mexico, Vermont), that is. Anywhere in New England is pricey, too, though I love the idea of living in someplace like Bangor or Salem.

Lately, I’ve just wanted to laze about and read books (anybody else feelin’ this) or *gasp* do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

But a mid-life crisis or whatever’s preoccupying me lately, is no excuse to be slacking off! Right? *laugh*

Still, I did manage to sneak in some reading amidst the moving and relocation planning (on top of work and writing).

And I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Great Plains Nature Center. Well, the center was closed because of the holiday, but it was a wonderfully overcast and drizzly day to walk the nature trails out there. https://gpnc.org/

It was rad to see the efforts to “re-wild” the prairie and such, but also sad. The traffic noise from the nearby highway/street was not only constant but incredibly loud. Can you imagine having hearing way more sensitive than a human’s and having to listen to that all day and all night?

By the by, this week is #BlackBirdersWeek2021, as organized and hosted by Black AF in STEM (https://www.blackafinstem.com/). Check out the events on the Black AF in STEM or on the Twitter page: https://twitter.com/BlackAFinSTEM/.

I’ve got two short stories coming out in environmentally themed anthologies. One is a cli-fi anthology called Terraforming Earth for Aliens (to be released soon), and the other is called Shark Week: An Ocean Anthology which is now available for preorder: https://books2read.com/b/md79dZ.

So, in my dreaming of a better world and a better livespace, I’ve been reading myself into other worlds as well.

In addition to reading a few of Tess Gerritsen’s books for the first time (what could be better than to read about a who-I-might-have-been alter ego, Jane Rizzoli), I’ve escaped into worlds wrapped around horror, around the paranormal, and around science fiction and fantasy.

Quick reads, but no less immersive. And I even got to visit New England, by virtue of one of the spooky tales in the journal, Dream of Shadows (Issue 1, December 2019). https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B07ZTXLC9L

And, until I’m able to move into a haunted house of my very own, I can live vicariously through the ghostly encounters trapped in the bound pages of ParaABnormal Magazine (December 2020 and March 2021). Though, within those pages lie a book whose powers I may not want to channel. https://www.hiraethsffh.com/magazines

While all the stories in Space & Time Magazine (Issue 135, Winter 2019) were wonderfully escapist (and the articles interesting), there was one story that I really cherished. There’s a part of me that never really stops thinking about, and missing, the members of my cat/animal family I’ve lost over the years. But, as the years fly by faster and faster, I feel the presence of my bygone and, hopefully, once again, cats even more strongly. As a result of these feline ghosts swirling around me, I found Jennifer Shelby’s “The Feline, the Witch, and the Universe” especially poignant. https://spaceandtime.net/

Even though I have taken in some (former) feral cat rescues, and they fill the too-quiet spaces of my introvert-bubble of an apartment, I still feel lonely without them. They’ve each filled a special role in my cat family unit, and I hold onto some perhaps unrealistic hope that I’ll see them again.

That we won’t be alone, out there, in one of the universe’s parallel dimensions.

Wednesday’s Book Look: Haunts, “Hard Times”, and…animals, of course!

So, it’s going to be Steampunk Weekend at the Old Cowtown Museum here in Wichita!

The Old Cowtown is a living museum with both historic and recreated buildings that represent the history of Wichita.

And, according to the book I just finished–Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper–there’s plenty of ghosts and paranormal activity at the Cowtown Museum site. Here’s hoping they’ll be in attendance at the steampunk-themed event–better ghosts than a pack of hyped-up-on-sugar feral children running around! I’m gonna bring my copy of Wichita Haunts, and maybe I’ll get a ghostly autograph!

Seems like it will be a good pick-me-up for my case of the Springtime blues, either way! (Mild spoilers ahead. And, links for stuff in the post included at the end.)

Although, from the perspective of Les Egderton’s main character, Amelia Laxault, in his book Hard Times, I ain’t got no business having any kind of blues, seasonal or otherwise.

Amelia Laxault is a girl in rural, 1930s, East Texas.

Need I say any more? I mean, come on, the book’s title, Hard Times, should be a dead-drunk giveaway in itself. (Unless you didn’t have to read Grapes of Wrath in school, that is!)

Okay, okay: yes, it’s going to be just as dark, gritty, and gut-wrenching as you might expect. Put aside the box of tissues and just grab a dang bottle of whisky, already. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Also, there are dogs. You’ve been doubly warned.

As a PBR* chaser to Hard Times, there’s also dogs and cats (and a hamster!) in my short story “The Lights Went On In Georgia” which appears in the latest volume of the EconoClash Review (“Lucky Number Seven”, as editor J.D. Graves says in the introduction).

Poor animals. Even in fiction, their fates always seem to be at the terrible whims of humans. But you know, I was watching two PBS DVDs I got from the local library–A Squirrel’s Guide to Success and Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures–and I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic amidst how sad I always feel about animals and nature, stuck on this planet with us.

I started to think how (we) humans have become disconnected from nature by all this technology (speaking of the industrial nature of the 19th century as reflected by Steampunk), and I wondered whether we’d actually dead-ended ourselves into an evolutionary stasis because of the artificially constructed environments we now move through almost primarily. Are we in a vacuum, binge-watching Netflix while nature and plants and animals are busy figuring out biochemical ways to evolve and adapt under our environmental onslaught?

Spec fic writers, get your pencils and paper out!

*PBR = Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you hadn’t figured it out.

Oh, and here’s the links I mentioned earlier. Unless you’re already dead-drunk on that there whisky, and haven’t made it this far in the post.

Steampunk Weekend at Cowtown: https://www.visitwichita.com/event/steampunk-weekend-at-cowtown/33057/ and https://www.oldcowtown.org/

Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738582870

Les Edgerton’s Hard Times: https://bronzevillebooks.com/portfolio-item/hard-times/

EconoClash Review #7: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/graves-econoclash-review-7/

The Squirrel’s Guide to Success: https://shop.pbs.org/XC8032DV.html

Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures: https://shop.pbs.org/WB7702.html

“Five Things Friday” Interview with Author Jnana Hodson!

It’s another “Five Things Friday” interview! This time I sat down to chat (well, if “chatting” involved exchanging emails) with author, journalist, and poet (and Quaker!) Jnana Hodson.

Willow Croft: Based on your blog(s) and author profile(s), you have both past and present ties to the “hippie” counter-culture, and the Quaker religion. How would you determine the place and/or the need for a like counter-culture and/or spirituality in today’s world? What societal trends would you identify that point to a need for such social, metaphysical, and character-based “sea change” in light of the recent/current events?

Jnana Hodson: Freeing ourselves mentally from advertising-driven consumerism would be a huge start. Just how much is enough for you to be happy and healthy? Or secure? Sometimes less really is more. Our unease is really a disease that sits atop fear.

The environmental crisis, especially, has been compounded by widespread denial. For one thing, it’s technically “climatic instability” rather than “global warming,” something the Texas deep-freeze demonstrates while exposing the real costs of high-level greed and hypocrisy. Closer to home, many of those monster pickup trucks we see are macho insecurity, no? A Prius or Tesla or bicycle becomes a defiant corrective act, as does an electric lawnmower rather than a conventional gas-powered cutter. Small steps can add up.

As my friend Steve Curwood contends, environmental actions are ethical, much more than economic. They can be lifestyle, too, as in choosing to live in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood or raise an organic garden.

Racism, another big issue, has its roots in a desire to get ahead – quite simply, ahead of everyone else. You see it in the compulsion to move in a better neighborhood– one with better schools. Or on to a better job, better clothes, a better car, whatever. And for many of us, racism includes an unacknowledged assumption of Northern European superiority. It’s even embodied in the myth of the self-made man, to the exclusion of all who contributed to his rise. Or should we call it his attempted escape? Racism undermines the shared commonwealth – meaningful community – we need.

Fear also underpins the growing and costly militarization of America. It’s accompanied by soaring gun ownership, which becomes a matter of faith for many who have no intention of hunting, along with rising domestic violence.

You mention my Quaker practice, which I came to as a young adult, not knowing it had been the faith of my Hodson ancestors from the beginning of the movement in 1600s’ Britain. The Society of Friends, as it’s more formally known, avoids dogma and creed and instead emphasizes personal experience of what we sometimes call the Inward Light of the Divine. For Friends, this applies to every facet of everyday life and is embodied in simplicity, equality, peace, non-violence, and a community of kindred spirits. Not that we don’t have our shortcomings, but it does come down to an alternative Christianity of a radical sort.

One thing that it’s taught me is that individually, we’re pretty powerless. But put us together, and it’s like those bundles of bamboo, as the illustration goes. Nothing, apparently, can break them.

Willow Croft: I always try to include a food-based question, so how has old food pathways (via recipes and traditional/borrowed culinary practices) influenced your own eating habits? Do you uphold specific culinary traditions or has it evolved based on your current geographical location (e.g. your moves from the yoga ashram to the Pacific Northwest to coastal New England)?

Jnana Hodson: Oh, what a delicious question! I’ll warn you, though, I’m married to one of the world’s great cooks and she’s greatly expanded my awareness.

[There’s been quite a] revolution that’s occurred in American taste. When I turned vegetarian back in 1970, broccoli was exotic, and nobody could understand the concept of giving up meat. When I was growing up in the ’50s, most of my food came out of cans – even spaghetti! Chinese? It was chop-suey. I even remember my first pizza. As my dad would say, it was EYE-talian. I was maybe six or seven, and the aroma of oregano was exotic – I still recall that, all these years after raising our own herbs.

So vegetarianism opened me to new flavors, especially once I moved to the yoga ashram and lentils and dried beans were added to the mix. There I soon developed a knack for making bread each week. One Monday, I produced about 120 loaves, with a lot of kneading provided by my fellow yogis. Oh, yes, we were lacto-vegetarian and raised our own eggs. There’s a vast difference between those and what you find in the supermarket.

Region has definitely impacted my eating habits. Living in the Pacific Northwest introduced me to Dungeness crab and salmon as well as wild asparagus, which grew along the irrigation canals. I glutted out every May, knowing there would be no more fresh spears for another year.

Around then I came upon the Confucian ideal of no food out of season or place, which essentially points to freshness. The secret of great cooking across traditions, by the way, is the matter of respecting the ingredients, and that’s where freshness is crucial, as is knowing the difference between butter and margarine or the oils we apply. As my wife repeats, fat carries flavor. Just make sure it’s not rancid.

Regional influences include picking our own fruit in local orchards and obtaining unpasteurized apple cider, in season, as well as local cheeses. At one point, I lived near several large Amish communities in Ohio, where Swiss cheese was produced. In New Hampshire, a small country store a town away produces its own delightful cheddars and is well worth a visit. For several summers, we subscribed to a local sustainable fisheries delivery. Each week, we’d pick up a pound of what the local fishermen were harvesting rather than the common commercial varieties. Monkfish, anyone?

Gardening has had a huge impact, from asparagus to strawberries and buttery lettuces and early peas on to the range of real tomatoes – not those things you buy at the grocery. One year, we had fourteen varieties, each one distinctive. From the beginning of August till the first hard frost, I pretty much live on mayo-and-tomato sandwiches. Forget the bacon.

Joining in our Quaker Meeting’s once-a-month participation in Dover’s soup kitchen has also been eye-opening. Nobody serves soup these days, and for our turn, we do a chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw dinner, which seems to be very popular. Cooking for sixty or seventy is quite different than a home dinner, but we try. We’ll be happy when we’re back to table service rather than the Covid-induced takeout.

With the kids now gone, my wife and I are downsizing and moving on to a place where scallops and blueberries are major harvests. She’s already planning the garden, as well as autumn trips northward to Aroostook County for fresh potatoes, with skins that simply melt away in your mouth.

Willow Croft: As a former journalist, how do you feel about the state of journalism today, what with the digital news trends, the howls of “fake news” heard ‘round the world, and the role social media plays in the process of journalistic integrity (or lack thereof)?

Jnana Hodson: Former? Please make that “retired.” I might not be on the payroll these days, but it’s still in my blood – and my dreams, too, usually with frustrations of trying to make deadline or fit everything on a page or adjust to a new computer system. Besides, much of my blogging can be seen as small-scale journalism.

Widespread anonymity and the lack of face-to-face accountability in social media have so far eluded the legal redress of libel and slander laws. Often, avoiding basic civility, too. Reputations can be destroyed overnight, without penalties to the perpetrators. That has to change, and likely will with some big court cases.

On the other hand, the video on smartphones has lifted the cover on police brutality and other injustices. So we do have a mixed bag.

Journalism has been in a tailspin for some time, even before the Internet whammy. We’ve had a declining level of literacy – folks simply reading – on one side. In the newsroom we used to grumble about the “bean counters” who kept expecting more output at lower cost from fewer resources. One thing for certain – the watchdog function has been seriously wounded – with consequences that will prove costly to the public at all levels. Good reporting is hard work, and sharp editing is essential. It’s a fulltime job, not an amateur role, and often needs some strong backup when those in power seek retribution. 

For the right entrepreneur, there’s potential to create a revolutionary digital news vehicle, if enough subscribers can be convinced to pay what they now do for printed paper. It could be a hybrid of written and spoken, with no reliance on advertising. I have some thoughts, by the way, on how it might differ from the generic newspaper we too often encounter today. It could certainly give rise to some fresh ways of covering a community.

Willow Croft: As a poet myself, I am always intrigued about the sources of inspiration other poets draw upon to create their poetic works. With your own poetry, is the past and personal memories more of an influence, or is your current life experience(s) more of a muse?

Jnana Hodson: Very much the now, even when that has me looking back. It’s been a discipline for exploring what’s before me, often from quirky or playful perspectives, before I let go and move on.

The clearing of my mind through meditation has been a strong factor, allowing intuition to bubble up. Sometimes I’ll scribble a short note to myself during the silence of Quaker worship, something I’ll develop and explore later. Similar things happen while showering, walking, or even driving.

Much of my work was done as a reaction to the constraints of daily journalism – often on the fly, like graffiti I revised and distilled later.

Sometimes they stayed short, like a headline. Maybe I wasn’t getting as far away from the newspaper as I thought. Other times, though, they were thrown into a blender – there’s good reason I’ve been called a Mixmaster Supreme. 

What evolves is often something like a dream, which has one foot in the past and the other in the present, not that they’re always obvious.

Willow Croft: Some of your blog topics touch on economics. What sort of economic model, or revolution, is needed to help transform the dual worlds of employment and community (social structure)?

Jnana Hodson: The poets Donald Hall, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry are important influences here.

Hall sees work as an embodiment of passion or a meaningful engagement, even when it doesn’t reward you monetarily. Writing a poem is work, as we know. In contrast, a job is something you do to pay the bills, and chores are unpaid things you have to do as a matter of life.

Gary Snyder has what he calls the Real Work. He also titled an early collection Earth House Hold, noting the Greek meaning of “economy.” Shall we start with its environmental awareness?

And Berry looks closely at family life as well as agriculture and community.

As Hall says, we’re really blessed when our work and our jobs come together as one. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is a widespread denigration of the work aspect of our daily employment, and many of the higher paid positions are way out of line with their greater value to society.

Public policy has put labor and its compensation under attack for the past fifty years. All of the productivity gains have gone into the pocket of the top five percent of the population – much of that going to the one percent. People who still have jobs have been working longer and harder for less than before. And the reality is that most of those touted “entry-level positions” are dead-end jobs with no upward mobility. I’m really miffed when the employers demand “reliable transportation” while offering minimum wage. It’s an unhealthy situation, leaving many people desperate. Wonder why Megabucks are so popular? Or illicit drugs?

Raising the minimum wage is a good step but hardly enough. Quite simply, drastic corrective income redistribution is necessary. Not that we’ve really been able to talk about that. Wages in general can’t go up as long as we’re competing with Third World labor – and that extends to those call centers overseas. Yet just think of the inhibiting, negative emotional whammy the label “socialist” invokes.

Meanwhile, high-tech is eliminating many employment fields – think of travel agents, local stockbrokers, professional photography and developers, or print shops, all already gone, along with the local video stores. I’m wondering how long most local retailers can hold out once we’re free of Covid.

When I look at young graduates entering the job market, I’m grateful I’ve made it to retirement. I have no idea what I’d do in their place or how they’re ever going to afford a place of their own.

Surprisingly, some right-wing economists are reluctantly coming around to admitting the necessity of a guaranteed minimum income for everyone. I would see that as including universal health care – as others have noted, pegging medical insurance to one’s employer greatly discourages entrepreneurs from stepping out on their own unless their spouse has independent coverage – and that becomes a damper on economic growth. The redistribution should also include higher education. Graduates today are saddled with impossible debt for skills their potential employers expect scot-free. And that’s before we get to non-competitor clauses.

I’m still believe in E.F. Schumacher’s “small is beautiful,” which was actually happening until cargo-container shipping from China, abetted by “free trade” deals in Washington, wracked the American economy. Bernie Sanders, drawing on labor union economists, nailed that one.

Respecting all honest work is important. Covid showed us how essential trash collectors and nursing home staff are in the big picture. As a cub reporter, I learned that secretaries and janitors often know far more about an operation than the suit in the corner office does. That hasn’t changed. I’ve long come to see a good carpenter or plumber as an artist. ‘Nuff said?

One big shift I’ll encourage turns away from accumulating more possessions – most of us have too much stuff anyway – and toward services and activities instead. That is, quality of life over quantity. Individually donating to local causes and volunteering run along those lines. In short, we can use our time and our money to enhance the place we and our neighbors inhabit.

I’m anticipating that when the Covid restrictions are lifted, we’ll burst out into renewed social connections. It feels like ages since I’ve been to a poetry reading, a contra dance, or a pub sing. How ’bout you?

If you’re keen to hear more from Jnana Hodgson, please follow his Jnana’s Red Barn blog at https://jnanahodson.net/ or check out his book(s) on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jnana-Hodson/e/B088BWJ35Y) or on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6916110.Jnana_Hodson).

Willow’s Wednesday Book Look: Phantastical Phantoms!

Okay, yes, that was probably a little cheesy. But I love the cheese!

But you’ll find very little cheese in the pages of “The Phantom Games: Dimensions Unknown 2020“*.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a story in this anthology.)

The book is separated into six parts, and each part has a theme.

When I read Phantom Games just recently, my first thought was how well my story nestled in among the other stories around it. I kinda forgot I was reading my own story.

And how there seemed to be a similar, otherworldly essence that ran through the rest of the stories. I could continue with a whole series of superlatives like “fantastically magical” and “hauntingly poignant” but then if you read the book, and it’s something else to you entirely, you might resent my purple-y descriptors. Reading the collection felt very serendipitous/synchronous.

And, like when I talked about Catton’s Voice of the Sword: Book One (https://willowcroft.blog/2021/01/13/wednesday-in-blue-minor/), everything is just confusing and out-of-sync and I both want a world of magic, and I know that it’s a seemingly impossible want. And yet a little voice of the child I once was still tells me magic has to be real.

That there’s more than all this mess out there.

This read was all wrapped up in crows and birds and feathers and the winter wind suddenly picking up outside the window and, I don’t know, a presence that was both familiar and strange at the same time.

And I was reminded why I love books, in addition to maybe-someday (soon!) magical worlds. They make me feel safe, like I belong–in a world where I’ve never had much of either.

[Speaking of synchronous, I literally just read Paul Genesse’s interview (as well as the other authors’ interviews) on the Exalibur Books’ page, where he mentions that the interview reminded him how much he loves books. It was a coincidence, I swear!]

I can reimagine a world where I was able to get to know Ernie Scribner better (the inspiration for my story). A world where dreams can come true, whether they’re Olympic-sized or the size of a small garden plot.

(*Note: This anthology is a collection of both fictional works and compelling, insightful non-fictional ones.) 

Magical otherworldly links below!

Phantom Games

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Games-Dimensions-2020/dp/B08KQP53X2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Excalibur Books Home Page:

http://johnpaulcatton.com/

The “Normal” World vs. Otherworldy Ones: A Mash-Up of Book Looks.

And then there’s the world that belongs to writers, who have to straddle both the “real” world, and the “unreal” ones.

Which leads me to the first book I’ll take a looksie at.

I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. (Link: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King | Goodreads) I loved the stories he shared. And I wished things were still “old-school” when it came to writing: pen, paper, hard copies, mailed-in submissions, things like that. But I don’t have much to say about the book, overall. Except my takeaway is that writing is private, until the day comes when it can’t be private anymore. And reading books on writing is also a private experience. I can’t share what I was thinking and feeling when I read his book. Maybe some can. There’s a whole bunch of people that have written about it on Goodreads. I think why I struggle in writing reviews sometimes is that my experiences with literature tend to not only be personal, but multilayered and multidimensional and that writing about how I felt when I was reading a book is like sharing that wonderfully vivid dream you had last night that ends up being profound and mystical and discernable only to you.

And I was thinking about the need for a certain level of privacy, either as a writer, or as the person undergoing an intensive deconditioning process to find their real selves. Living in both my past livespace, and my current one, has helped me realize that, as much as I’d like to have the low-maintenance condo-type livespace to own, it’s just not private enough. I feel like I’ve lost an imagined, perhaps never-had, autonomy.

Then I was cleaning out some of my files on my computer, and deleting the blog posts I’d saved back from when I first started blogging. (Ouch!) And I realized that maybe privacy is old-school, but one habit I still like to indulge in, even though everything in today’s world seems to demand otherwise. But I had one thought while scanning through my old blog posts: “This shit belongs in a diary.” So I’m going to try to unearth at least one diary from my unpacked boxes, and have a place for my private thoughts. And for my dreams of a livespace surrounded by wilderness and animals and no neighbours that go bumping around in the daytime.

This talk of privacy is a segue in to my next book look: Normal People by Sally Rooney. (Link: Normal People by Sally Rooney | Goodreads )One of the characters, Marianne, is defined as a private loner in contrast to the other main character,who is one of the more popular kids in school. These two characters have an off-again, on-again relationship, and I wanted to relate to Marianne, but I couldn’t. Maybe just memories, the past, I don’t know. It has nothing to do with the writing or the quality of the book, which was excellent, but I felt so sad and sometimes irked reading about the characters’ fates and life choices. I have a hard time getting into literary fiction these days, despite the fact I loved reading the classics back when I was a kid. But maybe it’s the drama I struggle with. I can’t bear the reality, even as displayed through fictional characters, of their pain, their struggles, their heartbreak, their…drama. I can handle it through other genres but literary fiction is just too…real?…maybe. And Marianne reminded me of an certain friend.  With literary fiction, I come with oversensitivity baggage (I feel every little pinprick of people’s hurt and confusion and moods), and it’s difficult for me to read books, no matter how good they are, that vicariously provide an examination of emotional baggage through their characters and the story. So I’ll just have to leave the literary fiction analysis to more experienced, and, perhaps, more impartial readers. Readers who are okay with life being a little messy in their fiction.

Which is not to say I can’t handle messy loss and emotional upheaval or even messier blood-n-guts in genre literature. It’s different somehow, in genres like speculative fiction.

I read somewhere online that people are really turning to thrillers (Found it! Link: Now, More Than Ever, Is the Time for ‘Escapist Fiction’ ‹ CrimeReads) right now, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that not only do I like “escapist fiction” it’s okay to like it, and it doesn’t make me unintellectual and such (part of my current deconditioning process).

It’s okay not to embrace literary fiction right now, if ever. It has its place among readers, definitely!

So, in the words of the author of the above article, V. M. Burns (Link: VM Burns – Mystery Writer) I much prefer books that  “…create an imaginary world that the reader can escape into rather than focusing on the deeper realities/issues of the characters imaginary existence.”

And two books I recently read were perfect in that role.

Mrs. Perivale and the Blue Fire Crystal and Mrs. Perivale and the Dragon Prince–both by Dash Hoffman. They are the first two books in the series. I think there may  be at least another one coming, but I don’t have too much information on forthcoming books. I do know that I can’t wait to read the other books this author has penned.

The book series opens with seventy-three year-old Mrs. Alice Perivale who feels undervalued in the world, but is about to begin her biggest adventure(s) yet! Even better, she’s accompanied on this fantastical new adventure by her seven cats! Check it out to see if the knitting-needle-wielding Alice Perivale saves the magical village from a dire fate: Got-Moxie Bookshelf (got-moxie.com).

The only problem with escapist literature is that I haven’t yet found the key to a magical world of my own imagination…yet!

But I’ll keep looking…the portal has to be around here, somewhere!

Throwback Thursday’s Book Review: The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes

Throwback Thursday’s Book Review: The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes (published 1956)

I’ll read just about anything, so I’ll still plow through older books resolutely, even if they are a little more on the archaic side, unless they are so dated (*cough* sexist) that it’s hard to even read, much less finish.

*spoilers ahead*

To my surprise, The Wreck of the Mary Deare was a fantastic read. A little tropish characterization with at least one of the women in the story, but not anywhere close to as bad as my own bias led me to suspect. Probably better than some films and books we have even today.

In general, the author was fairly balanced with his depiction of women for the time in which the book was written. One of the directors of the shipping/trading company was a woman (if I’m remembering my history correctly, not so unusual), and she was called as an “important witness” to give expert testimony in the book’s pivotal court case. Of course, (or, even better!) she was not only knowledgeable and informed, but also devious and corrupt, and was an active agent in the company’s scheme to commit insurance fraud.

The book was just so well put together with its writing style that it holds its appeal even in 2021 (almost seventy years later). It’s exciting, suspenseful, and even spooky at times in its imagery and set-up to the climatic events of the book. It reads like a true-life adventure, but I didn’t realise until after I finished the book as to why–it had to have been based on the real-life events surrounding the Mary Celeste and her mysterious fate. (The Wreck of the Mary Deare was also made into a movie.)

My favourite line from the book? I’m glad you asked!

“He was a seaman. He was used to boats, not to the sea itself as an element in which to exist…”

And the ending is very…satisfactory!

1247535

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1247535.The_Wreck_Of_The_Mary_Deare