Month: April 2012

Memory’s Wake

In Memory’s Wake, Derek Owens lovingly revisits his mother’s troubled childhood to offer a hopeful and moving meditation on the relationship between the past and the present. Early in the book, Owens sets the stage for this meditation by explaining that his mother’s memories of the events in question lay dormant for years until the gradual departure of her grown children allowed for their return. Soon the author is traveling in his own mind back to the house where his mother suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his grandmother to interrogate his own memories and also to ask what it really means to remember.

Reconstructing his mother’s flight from the abuse in question, Owens overlays the young child’s journey with a narrative recounting the violent extirpation of the Iriquois who once populated the same lands his mother wandered as a child. The effect is both chilling and intriguing. We are a species, this telling juxtaposition suggests, that is capable of great cruelty. At the same time, however, our resilience knows no bounds. Still later, similar historical parallels drive home the point that our ghosts — or at least our history — will always be with us, but the fact that his mother did not perpetuate the cycle of abuse with her own children bears silent testimony to our collective ability to change for the better. Haunted though we may be by the past, the narrative insists, the present is what we make of it.

Stylistically, Memory’s Wake offers a highly engaging blend of history and personal narrative that suggests the two are less discrete than we might normally imagine. Throughout, Owens displays a talent for homespun yet telling imagery, as when he describes an average dinner with his grandmother: “ashy potatoes, smears of applesauce. peas grainy from freezer burn. slices of pot roast pearly gray, fibers on the ends sticking out like frayed wires. in the middle of the table a gravy boat, mud colored skin, thick as a bathmat. if you dropped a pea on top it would have sat there, tiny green planet.”

Heartbreaking and hopeful, Memory’s Wake will appeal to anyone interested in exploring the borderlands between history and personal narrative and will also make for an excellent text in any creative nonfiction course.

Women on Poetry – Review by Christine Redman-Waldeyer

Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching is the handbook every poet and teacher of poetry should carry. This book brings awareness to not only the art of poetry but also to the voice of women.  It is a tool for both the seasoned poet and for the new poet trying to make their way.  Jenny Sadre-Orafai challenges the poet to enrich their writing life and consider other genres. Others guide us through family and career demands to make time for writing.  We are nurtured to find our writing tribe as Kate Chadbourne suggests and given the tools to promote experimental poetry.  It’s about finding voice, digging into life experience, and as Tracy L. Strauss suggests knowing how to “take the truth of tragedy and turn it into an art form.”  Doris Lynch instructs how to cast our fishing line into the pool of ideas and begin our poems.  Bonnie J. Robinson prompts us to “write a poem of protest; then, write a poem reconciliation.” Women on Poetry is an invitation to introspection and creative self-actualization, inspiring us to be both practitioners and mentors.

Christine Redman-Waldeyer, founder and editor of Adanna, a journal about women’s topics and issues is the author of two books of poetry, Frame by Frame and Gravel, Muse-Pie Press.

Women Writing on Family – Review by Vera Gubnikskaia

Striving to be politically correct, we avoid expressions such as “female writer”, or “female poet.” And yet, we cannot ignore the distinctiveness of the female literary voice. Women have historically been preservers of the language, and as society’s storytellers, it is only natural for them to record and retell family memories. This volume, however, goes beyond the subjects of female writers and their family histories. Women Writing on Family covers issues and processes familiar to all authors, from the original conception of an idea to the delivery of a final product. Though focusing primarily on family history writing,  it also addresses more general aspects of the craft while devoting much of its attention to the unique experiences and challenges faced by women authors.

One of the most helpful things that a beginning author will take away from this book is – you are not alone; others face similar struggles and doubts. How should you deal with pitfalls of emotional over-involvement? How do you handle potential skeletons in your family closet, embarrassing secrets, upsetting discoveries? How do you distance yourself as an objective author while staying closely connected to your family? Will you face legal challenges or ostracism? What are your rights and responsibilities as an author and a family member? “How do we, as writers, tell our truth about the disappointments and failings of family members who have died and also honor humanity?” asks Carol Hawkins in her chapter “Telling Our Truth: Writing the Legacy of the Dead”. Should you start writing as means of healing as Anna Saini points in her chapter “Using Writing as a Means of Surviving and Transgressing Family Violence and Trauma”? Contributors to the anthology invite you to be a special member of their group, sharing experiences, reassuring you in your doubts, and offering paths to survival and solutions.

Once they have addressed emotional and legal issues, aspiring authors encounter a new set of challenges. How do you juggle writing, family responsibilities, and a full-time job? Writing is a commitment involving multiple deadlines and contributors share tips, failures, and successes in managing their time.

There is no shortage of practical advice included in the anthology. Contributors offer suggestions on keeping a diary or a journal, techniques of writing poetry, fiction and non-fiction, selections of appropriate genres, and finding your own writing style. Publishing, marketing and promotion, working with editors, networking, participating in conferences, and self-publishing are not overlooked. Recommendations range from traditional to unconventional and include a variety of available avenues for writing, publishing, and marketing such as email lists, web, blogs, and Facebook.

Co-editors Carol Smallwood and Suzann Holland share a remarkable body of work between them. Contributors come from different walks of life, approaching a multitude of writing aspects from their distinctive perspectives. They are professional writers, college professors, school teachers, psychologists, sociologists, journalists, political scientists, nurses, and business owners.

The author of the Foreword, Supriya Bhatnagar, states “ I so wish I had a book like this while I was working on my collection of personal essays, my memoir.”  I am sure many aspiring and established writers can share this sentiment.

Vera Gubnikskaia, Librarian, Orange County Library System, Orlando, Florida

New Issue of Shelf Unbound Available

The latest issue of Shelf Ubound is now available — and it’s free! In addition to covering all the latest news in independent publishing, this issue includes articles on two recent projects that are near and dear to my heart: my forthcoming novel, The Grievers, and Nicole Monaghan’s collection of anonymous flash-fiction, Stripped. This issue also offers commentary on several books investigating the Jazz Age, and an excerpt from Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking in a French Accent. Don’t miss the recipe for slice and bake hazelnut chocolate chip cookies on page 31!