Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Day at the Library

I know it's not like a celebrity sighting, but I was in the mood to get a library card and spend a couple hours roaming the stacks at the Glendale Central Library.

As a kid I loved the library and would walk over a mile to go hang out in the Little Falls Library. OMG! I sound like when your grandparents tell you they walked a mile in the snow, with no shoes, to school. Anyway. I've been trying to get back to the simple things in my life and I've always enjoyed a good book.

And just so you know - the Dewey decimal system is alive and well:) Check out my quick video below and go get yourself a library card if you don't have one.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shout Out to Busboys and Poets

Since I launched GirlChild Press Busboys and Poets Teaching for Change has been a huge supporter of the books. They constantly keep a stock of the anthologies on hand and seem really interested in the press continuing. So, when I got into town I was excited to stop by and soak up the energy and possibility of the place. Check out my little video as I rave about one of my favorite places in DC.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blog Spot Radio Interview

Had the opportunity to be a guest on Sippin' On Ink and chatting with host extraordinaire Kat. We talked about GirlChild Press, the future of publishing girls and women, and following your dreams!
Check it out and leave some comments.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Just Like A Girl is a rough-and-tumble, sassy, kick-ass travelogue through the bumpy, powerful, action-packed world of GIRL. A world where girls and women know how to pick themselves up and brush themselves off. These are the clever girls. The funny girls. The girls who know there is no sin in being born one.
The anthology is now being used as a textbook at Michigan State University.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Day at the "Happiest Place on Earth"

We all knew this day would come. HOMESICKNESS! I have been moping around for the last few days wishing for all things east coast: friends, Busboys and Poets, my king sized bed, and familiarity. Nothing could seem to shake me from this foul mood until I got a call this weekend that resulted in an all-expense trip to DISNEYLAND. My friends Carmen and Jacqui are in town and they have the hook up in the form of Carmen's very pregnant sister Valentina. The most awesome Disney Cast Member (that is what everyone who works for Disney is called) treated us to a day at the park and we had a frickin' blast! If you are a Facebook friend you can check out the pics from the day or check out my video below of some of the things we got into while at the "Happiest Place on Earth." If Disneyland can't help you shake the blues, maybe you need meds...lol

Five Things I learned while at Disneyland

1. No need to go to the gym that day. You will walk your ass off!
2. The Screaming roller coaster is truth in advertising.
3. The Soarin' aviation ride proves how innovative the human mind really is.
4. It is best enjoyed with friends
5. The 8:45 fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom is AWESOME!

According to Mary Poppins - we are practically perfect in every way.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Writing Tip #59 - Create a Word List

Okay, let me say up front that this tip came from a book that I am rereading. A Manual of Writer's Tricks: Essential Advice for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers by David L. Carroll is full of little tidbits that can get your through almost any writer's block or creative downturn.

I am currently digging on Chapter 1 - Finding the Right Word. Carroll is of the opinion that a thesaurus, or word finder, is more valuable to a writer than a dictionary. He cautions us to get away from the myth that great writers don't use any of these tools to produce their work. Sure Toni Morrison has a big vocabulary but I bet she also owns a thesaurus.

So before you start your next writing project consult your thesaurus to compile a list of words that you will expect to use during the writing. For example, if you are writing a piece on cars, you should be looking for synonyms for that word such as "sedan," "clunker," and "automobile." This trick will save you lots of time, maintain your flow of writing because the list is right there on hand, and bring a richness to your writing.

Let me know if this tip works for you.

Until Later

Friday, August 14, 2009

Full Scholarship Available for Writing Workshop!

GirlChild Press has always been blessed with generous and enthusiastic supporters so I wasn't totally surprised when I opened my email inbox to find an offer to provide a full scholarship to a woman writer for the DC writing workshop on October 4, 2009.

If you or someone you know is interested in securing the scholarship all you have to do is complete a one page, double space essay on why you want to attend the workshop and what you would like to accomplish as a result of your attendance. All essays should be submitted by August 28, 2009 to girlchildpress@aol.com. We'll make a final determination by September 7, 2009.

If anyone else is interested in providing a scholarship for a woman writer please feel free to contact us at girlchildpress@aol.com


Monday, August 10, 2009

New Writing Workshops (L.A. and DC)!

I can't believe the summer is almost over, but I am looking forward to some amazing things for the fall. One of those things is the return of the Woman's Work Writing Workshop! I'm excited to announce that we will be hosting the workshop on both the west and east coast. See information below.

GirlChild Press
Woman’s Work Writing Workshop
Los Angeles - Sunday, September 20, 2009 1:00pm-4:00pm
Facilitator: Michelle Sewell

D.C. - Sunday, October 4, 2009 – 12:00pm – 3:00pm
Facilitators: Yael Flusberg and Michelle Sewell

This interactive 3-hour workshop is designed to strengthen your ability to access your original voice, take creative risks, and move your writing to a deeper level. Writing exercises and feedback from your instructors and fellow writers will allow you to expand your powers of observation, imagination, and language. The workshop is perfect for writers at all stages of development.

Writing Exercises to Produce Draft Work

Discussion on:
Writing Habits and Tools
Craft Elements
Revision Techniques

A Workbook
A copy of Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta!
After workshop opportunity to submit up to 2 excerpts/pieces to GirlChild Press for a written critique

The final hour of the workshop will allow for discussion and review of existing projects. Writing should take no more than 10 minutes to read aloud.
Class size is limited to allow for maximum feedback and review. Registration will close when the class is full. Register Now!

The $50.00 workshop fee is due no later than the day before the class. Early registration is encouraged due to limited class size. For more information: girlchildpress@aol.com

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sonya Renee Taylor: Making Poetry Smart, Sexy and Funny

(originally posted on Velvet Park)

I caught up with Sonya Renee Taylor at L.A.’s famous Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle restaurant this week to get the low down on what has been happening in her poet's life. We have recently switched coasts (She back to east and me, newly here, on the west.) and I wanted to compare notes about living the artist's life – fulltime. Sonya is an HBO Def Poet and National Poetry SLAM winner and over the last couple of years has taken the leap to make her living as a fulltime artist on the road. Her verbal acrobatics have taken her from Texas to New Zealand and back again.

I first saw Sonya do her thing at a venue in Washington, D.C. about five years ago. D.C. is one of those places where you can literally go to a venue every night and hear some amazing work being delivered. From the moment Sonya hits the stage, you can’t take your eyes off her. She is this voluptuous, confident sister armed with take-no-prisoner poetry. That particular night she came with an over-the-top, part erotic, part public service announcement piece on using condoms. By the time it was all said and done, the audience was left begging for more. I didn’t know Sonya at the time, so count me shocked when a few months later, while attending the March for Women’s Lives on the National Mall, I heard her distinct and booming voice coming from the main stage. Her call to arms piece “What Women Deserve” energized the 1.6 million people in attendance in a way few of the other headliners were able to.

About a year later we ended up sharing the same stage at MotherTongue, a women’s open mic, and after the show we formally met. I was not surprised to discover that Sonya has a master's degree in non-profit management and has devoted a good chunk of her adult life to issues impacting a great many marginalized populations. She has lent her expertise to educating and protecting sex workers, getting the word out on HIV prevention, and protecting women’s right to choose. No wonder her poetry comes off so real. She is at ground zero on many of these important issues and knows the ramifications if we remain silent and do nothing.

But Sonya knows how to keep it fun and sexy on stage as well. She wants people to enjoy themselves and for those who come to her performance with a certain set of expectations she wants to shake them of those. “People who are new to slam/performance poetry sometimes believe it’s not as good as 'page poetry' or worse, that it is just plain bad,” she shares. Five minutes into any of her sets and they quickly abandon those notions. She says she loves to watch the looks on her audiences’ faces when she goes to some taboo place through her work. “First, they are always shocked, then self-conscious and eventually they loosen up and go along for the ride,” she says. During her performances she brings as much of herself to the stage as she can. She references her blackness, her womanness, her thickness and strength. “People know when you are faking it. They know when you are just pushing the words out and don’t care whether or how they land.”

So how does she keep her work and herself fresh when she is performing at such a constant pace? She says she has over 800 poems in her catalog to pick from (about 200 of them memorized) and tries to read her audience at the very beginning to get a sense of what they need to hear. She admits there are times that she gets bored with doing her “top 10” – she gets a lot of requests for her signature pieces – but figures there are worse ways a girl could make a living than telling her truth through her poetry.

Sonya’s recent move back to the east coast is also inspiring her to take some new risks with her work. She wants to adopt a new tone for her poetry and address subjects that she might have neglected in the past. She is also putting together a poetry book, A Little Truth on Your Shirt, that will debut in early 2010. (Her latest CD, Thick Girl, can be purchased at www.PoetCD.com.) Any trepidation she has about switching things up on her fans she keeps in check by recognizing that, as she grows, her work grows, and that’s good for everyone involved.

I recently discovered a video performance of one of her poems that I’ve never heard. I don’t know if “Slices” is in her top 10, but it should be. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's Talk About Love (Languages)

(originally posted on Velvet Park Magazine on July 14, 2009)

Half way through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, I thought to myself, “where the hell was this book three relationships ago!?” When I checked the copyright page, I discovered that this book has been in print for at least 17 years. So this review is for the other nine people in the country that have never heard of Chapman or his insightful book.

If you are lucky, you have been in love at least once in your life. That butterfly feeling in your stomach when the object of your affection walks into a room and you can’t wipe that big ass grin off your face. But at some point those butterflies turn to moths and suddenly, when your ball and chain shows up, you can’t help but roll your eyes. What happened? For many of us, we never figure it out. We just call it quits and move on to the next relationship. Well Dr. Chapman has an answer for all those interested. All the news is useful, but not always easy to hear.

Case in point: The “in love” feeling that is present in the beginning of most relationships lasts for about two years for the average couple. That’s why you hear folks saying, “The first couple of years were great, but then he/she just started to change.” According to Chapman, the euphoric “in love” feeling is a necessary function, but the way we act during that period can be confusing to our intended and set up a series of expectations that we will not be able or willing to fulfill later in the relationship. This is the time when we tend to throw caution to the wind and do things we normally wouldn’t. We eat foods we hate. We watch movies we think are stupid. We tolerate their obnoxious best friend. We are so enamored by this new love that we convince ourselves that what they like we like. And they are doing the same thing for us.

I have a friend that is married to a firefighter. When they first started to date, she would go to the firehouse and sit with him on the nights he was in charge of the “watch.” She would make him his favorite dinner, bring it and a big thermos of coffee to the station and they would sit from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. talking and getting to know each other – and keeping the inhabitants of the firehouse safe. At 7 a.m. she would go home, take a shower and go to work. She did this for a year, never missing a Thursday that he was on watch. During the second year of their relationship, she cut back to doing the watch with him maybe twice a month. By the time they moved in together during the third year of their relationship, he had to practically beg her to come down to the fire station.

According to Chapman, my friend and her husband experienced a normal shifting in their relationship. He says that after the “in love” period starts to cool, the couple starts to feel like they need to return to their individual habits and idiosyncrasies and here is where the poop hits the fan. Suddenly your partner starts to wonder who is the evil, cold, messy, inattentive, always late doppelganger that has taken your place. You are no longer on the same wavelength with your honey bunny. But if you take the time to learn your partner’s love language you have a better than average chance of moving your relationship to the more solid foundation of “mature love” and avoiding the pitfalls that plague so many relationships.

Chapman defines the five emotional love languages as Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. During the average falling in love period, we tend to do all these things consistently and frequently. But, in reality, only one or two of these languages actually speak to the person you are with – everything else is just gravy. When the cooling off period begins and the relationship begins to settle, there is a high probability that your honey might stop doing the one thing you value the most.

Back to my friend and her firefighter husband. My friend’s primary love language is Acts of Service (so is mine). So when she was showing up to the firehouse with dinner and coffee and taking care of him, that is how she was showing him she loved him. In reality, my friend is a huge fan of sleep and it was a big sacrifice for her to spend all those Thursdays (after a full day of work) with him. On the other hand, her husband’s primary love language is Quality Time. He relished having this special alone time with her every week and missed it terribly when she stopped coming to hang out with him. The food and coffee were nice, but he wanted her time.

It is not unusual for a couple to speak completely different love languages. How we express our love is informed by our family of origin, where we grew up and cultural determinations. Because you and your one true love most likely grew up in very separate ways and places, you will express your love differently. It is like a New Yorker and a Southerner getting together. Sure, they both live in America, but they see and experience the world very differently.

Besides the assessment profile in the back of the book that is designed to help you determine your love language (Warning to my same-sex loving brothers and sisters - the profile uses the traditional terminology of husband and wife, but don’t let that distract you from answering honestly.), the other most interesting chapter in the book is entitled “Love Is a Choice.” For most of us, we think that love is something that just happens to us. We either love the person we are with or we don’t. But I think Dr. Chapman is rather radical in asserting that we have more ownership over our love lives than we act like we do. That ownership is even more necessary when betrayal or hurt comes into the relationship. So, if your love boat is heading toward the jagged rocks of break up, Chapman says you can take control of the helm and steer yourself into smoother and calmer waters.

Some romantics among us will push back against the notion of having to work at being in a loving relationship. They believe it should just happen. But these are the same people who find themselves blindsided when the natural ebb that happens in any relationship shows up and they’re left wondering where all the love went.

Is this book going to be the magic fairy dust that resurrects your relationship? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will give you some new tools to talk with your love puddin’ and get a better understanding of what they are trying to say to you.


Monday, July 6, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (The Wrap Up)

Amanda got on a 1:55pm Southwest flight to Baltimore Washington International Airport today. That means our week of laughs and adventures has come to a close.

We had a blast! We had more of a blast the more of L.A. we got to see. I almost thought the child wasn't going to get on the plane the way she was raving about wanting to live here. Between pedicures and Pinkberry I continued to learn tons about my "little sister." She is truly wise beyond her years and a very sweet and kind spirit (I already knew that part).

My mother called as I was dropping her off and inquired how I was going to feel now that my last tie to home was getting on a plane. I told her I would let her know tomorrow. For now - yall can check out the Michelle and Amanda Show wrap up video. Lots of food, giggling and some sweating...lol


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Michael Jackson: My Sister's First Love

(originally posted at Velvet Park Magazine)

When I got the news last week that Michael Jackson had passed away at age 50, the first person that came to mind was my sister Lisa “Pebbles” James.

I immediately knew that had she lived to hear about this moment she would be devastated. Her love affair with Michael Jackson lasted well into her 20s — after he was morphing into some other version of himself, after he no longer looked like the Michael Jackson from her prized Off the Wall record.

I can’t in good conscience climb on the Michael Jackson bandwagon and call myself a true fan. Sure, he was talented and clearly had an amazing work ethic, but I liked him better when he was still a Jackson 5. However, when we were kids, my sister Lisa was a fan to beat all fans. At 10 years old she knew everything there was to know about Michael Joseph Jackson - without the aid of the Internet. A relatively “obedient” kid, she would risk a butt-whipping so that she could hang out at the local mall, past curfew, in the People’s Drug (later to be CVS) magazine aisle reading every publication that had his face on it. On other days she would torture our younger sisters for hours by making them watch her deconstruct his latest dance moves and replicate the entire routine in her tiny bedroom.

Although she was clear that I thought her crush was stupid, she still engaged me every morning as we got ready for school with a dozen Michael Jackson questions before we ran off to catch our bus. Do you think Michael Jackson has to wear deodorant? Do you think Michael Jackson gets lonely? Do you think Michael Jackson has to clean his own room? Do you think Michael Jackson goes to the bathroom? To that last question, I told her, "No. I think he pays someone else to do it for him." Even now I can’t help laughing to myself thinking about the look on her face when she actually contemplated that possibility.

There is only 16 months between me and Pebbles, but those months seemed like years as it related to our personalities. At 12, and as the oldest, I was already building sarcasm and cynicism into my personality. Not her. She was the “feeler” in the family. The quiet one who thought deeply and could cry at a moment’s notice. I think there were days that she felt like an outcast in the family, this dark-skinned girl that didn’t feel attractive, as she entered her teens, and lamented that she didn’t have anything that made her "special" in our loud and demonstrative Jamaican clan.

As the second born, she had the misfortune to have an older sister who stayed in trouble. If I wasn’t breaking curfew or stealing something, I had the bigger personality that easily dwarfed her more mild-mannered and contemplative energy. I think that’s why she was so attracted to Michael Jackson. She recognized a loneliness in him that she thought was a part of her life as well. She saw a kindred spirit in her beloved moonwalker.

Pebbles gave a lot of thought about who she thought this young man was and how this sensitive soul was making it through the world. Sometimes she would construct these elaborate stories of how she knew that his older brothers were jealous of him and that they were probably mean to him after the curtain came down on their performances. She was convinced that she would one day meet him and they would be best friends. Even at age 10 she sensed that Michael Jackson was short on those.

One distinct memory stands out as it relates to my sister’s love affair with Michael Jackson: When she was about 12 years old, she started to develop a strong relationship with God. We had been raised in an ultra-religious home and she was the first one to seriously take on the charge of “accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” One of the first things she did was to purge her record collection. This was a sign that she was relinquishing all ties with her worldly obsessions. In the dumpster went the latest Stacy Lattisaw, Prince, Anita Baker and some New Edition. From my heathen perch on the living room couch, I noticed that the only records to survive this Christian rebirth was the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and every Michael Jackson record that she owned. I questioned why he was spared. She informed me, without a hint of irony, that she thought God would not mind if she loved Michael Jackson, too.

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 5)

We decided to make another minor detour this morning and head over to see the Grand Canyon. I've actually seen the Canyon before so this trip was for Amanda. Oddly enough I didn't know she was scared of heights. The things you learn on long road trips. So you can imagine what her face looked like when she saw the Grand Canyon. Part awe, part horror. I forgot how spectacular it is. It was great to remember that through Amanda's eyes. Again, we took tons of pictures, so if you are on Facebook you can check them out over there.

NOTE: While watching the video check out the people on the rocks behind our heads. They were actually throwing a football at some point on a ledge with no guard rail. You can only see this kind of stuff if you leave home...lol.

After hanging out at one of the "Wonders of the World," we hit the road around 11:00am our time. It was more of the same. Desert, heat, wind, desert, heat, more wind. We crossed into California around 3:00pm (PST). The Mojave Desert greeted us with 107degrees! As we drove toward Los Angeles it got cooler - 88 degrees by the time we got into L.A. proper.

We arrived in Los Angeles, California at 6:42pm (PST)! I am still sort of in denial that I am here. There has been a lot of planning regarding this relocation, but I don't think I gave much thought to how I would feel once I was actually here. I am both frickin' excited and scared. Now that I am here - what now? I don't mean what now like there is nothing to do. There is plenty to do. I have a script that needs to be finished in the next week. I need to buy a new printer. I need to surrender my sister Debyann's GPS and buy my own. I need to buy a desk for my room. I need to put said room together. I need to send out rejection and acceptance notices for the next anthology. But after all the tasks are done how does one go about living and connecting in a new place like LA?

I'll let you know how I'm doing:)

Check out our latest video. I think we will keep doing them until Amanda leaves on Monday.

Friday, July 3, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 4)

We are exactly 382 miles from Los Angeles! We have stopped in Williams, AZ for the night.

We could have made it to our final destination today but we decided to do the tourist thing. Dana recommended that we visit the Acoma Sky City Pueblo in New Mexico. We took tons of pictures (if you are a Facebook friend you can go and check them out) and some footage of the land leading up to site (you are not allowed to take video of the actual space on the mesa.

I am always leery when I sign on to be a tourist, especially when I am in someone else's actual living space. There is always the possibility of someone saying or doing something stupid. The folks on the tour didn't disappointment.

Fred was a our tour guide for the 80 minute excursion. He was basically responsible for entertaining 20 adults and making sure we didn't break any traditional rules or fall off the mesa. I was surprised how many times he had to redirect grown folks. They acted like because they paid twenty bucks they could just trample all over the land and do whatever. By the end of the tour the irony of their behavior was not lost on me.

Any ol' way

The tour was fascinating. The history(the Acoma people were invaded by the Spaniards and made to accept Catholicism in very brutal ways). The ruggedness and beauty of the land (being on top of that mesa made it clear why it was called Sky City). Fred's pride in the accomplishments of his ancestors (the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680).

The minor detour was definitely worth it and driving through the desert of the Southwest is absolutely breathtaking. We ended our night at a restaurant with a singing cowboy (see end of the video) and a juicy steak.

Check out our video for the day.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road - Day 3

600 more miles closer to L.A.

We are in Albuquerque, NM tonight. The ride didn't feel as brutal today. The landscape continued to get flatter and the temperature hotter, but we wouldn't trade in this experience for anything.

Everyone kept warning us about the drive through Texas, but Oklahoma was the state that just kept on giving. I swear we drove from one end to the other. We just kept saying, "are we still in Oklahoma?" For most of the 600 miles it seemed the answer was YES! We drove through the panhandle of Texas and felt like we were in the state all of five minutes. We did get to see the "biggest cross in North America" while driving through the state. It was quite the sight.

Our day ended with dinner with the lovely Dana in the equally lovely Albuquerque, NM. Dana and I have never met but are Facebook friends. She invited us to dinner when she heard we would be passing through her neck of the woods. This was our first opportunity to sight see on this trip. Albuquerque is a city with a whole lot of personality.

We are actually a day ahead of schedule and we might slow things down a little tomorrow. Dana suggested some places we can check out and we might just hang out in Arizona a little. We'll see how we feel tomorrow.

Here is our video for the day. Don't judge us too harshly on not using sunblock...lol


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 2)

We logged in about 600 miles today! Amanda did all the driving so that I could write my blog for Velvet Park and read the remaining short stories for the Woman's Work project (and make final decisions). I was supposed to have rejection letters out tonight but that doesn't look like it is going to happen. It doesn't help that the hotel internet is tre shakey! Hopefully I can send them out tomorrow night.

Interesting note about the submissions this time around.Not as many young writers (21 and under) as before. More speculative fiction. More women of color. More clustering of east coast submissions. More repeat submissions from writers from the previous anthologies. Equally as hard making selections:)

We are bedding down in Tulsa, OK. Another day of flat lands and high temperatures. It is 93 degrees at 10:30pm. I am sure as we continue west it will get hotter and hotter.

Tomorrow we are looking at 1200 miles. No, we will not drive them all! Our goal is to make it to New Mexico. We have a dinner invite so we hope to break bread with cool folks on the third day of our trip. At this rate we might be in California by Thursday, but I still think we are looking at a Friday arrival so we can do some sightseeing.

Thank goodness for unlimited phone and text services because we are getting calls/texts from all over checking in and wanting to chat us up. Too bad you can't put positive energy in the gas tank, 'cause we getting that in abundance.

Note: Amanda keeps referring to Marriott because she works for them and we are using her major employee discount to have a nice place to sleep at the end of these long days!

Check out our video for the day.


Monday, June 29, 2009

GirlChild Press on the Road (Day 1)

The GirlChild Press Express has pulled into Louisville, KY for the night. We did ten hours today. Actually, I drove ten hours. The kid sister talked and slept (see video below).

We started out a couple hours behind schedule but the road conditions were great so we made good time. We spent most of our day in West Virgina and Kentucky. Nothing interesting to report. Mostly rolling hills and long roads. I'm sure folks from both states will let me know there is tons to see in their respective states. It just wasn't apparent from my vantage point (going 75 miles an hour).

Tomorrow we will hit the road at 8:00am. We will be tackling St. Louis and Oklahoma. More videos and pictures to come.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Here is the cover of the new anthology Woman's Work: The Short Stories. I am working with the wonderfully talented Kendra Kuliga (again) and as always she is working her magic with this project.

The cover model is Melani N. Douglass. She is both a striking and confident young woman. A perfect cover model for this project!

Tell us what you think about the cover.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The End of Overeating and the Food Conspiracy

A couple of weeks ago, Diane Rehm had Dr. David Kessler on her NPR show promoting his new book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Dr. Kessler believes there is an active and growing conspiracy against the American people, spearheaded by the agencies that are supposed to be protecting us.

Dr. Kessler is no weirdo food crackpot. He has a million credentials, but his most notable is his tenure as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (under the first George Bush’s administration and a repeat performance during Bill Clinton’s), and he is a self-declared food-aholic. By the time the show was over, he had altered how I look at my local grocery store and I was half-way to the nearest bookstore.

Dr. Kessler’s new book touches on two very clear and hard truths. The first is not necessarily shocking, but I don’t think our egos would allow us to readily admit it. Here goes: We are fat because we eat too much. Earth-shattering, right? But most Americans, spurred on by the diet industry, believe that if you try a magic food or pill or drink we will be “cured” of our fat. But the reality is much plainer and harder than that. Fewer calories in, more calories out. If you eliminate 400 calories from your diet on a weekly basis, you would lose weight or at least stave off any additional gain.

Second truth: The food industry is aiding and abetting in the expansion of your waistline. Specifically, the folks responsible for the processed food that most of us consume on a daily basis. Three simple ingredients, utilized in consistent and amplified amounts, keep us addicted to food like your local heroine addict. Sugar, fat and salt are the building blocks for most of our diets. Even if you are not adding them to your food directly, often they are being added during the processing. Dr. Kessler likens this “adding during processing” to what the tobacco industry has been accused of in making cigarettes addictive. Tobacco smoked in its purest form would not have you chain smoking a pack a day, but the additives are what make you crave it. The same goes for processed food. The double helping of salt, fat and sugar (often in the most unlikely recipes) keeps you eating long after you should be satisfied.

Along with the three magic ingredients, the food industry has hired an army of savvy and creative folks that market food to you in such a way that it literally becomes irresistible.

Now according to Dr. Kessler, there are 15% of you out there that this all sounds ridiculous to. You are the folks who could take your food in pill form and go about your day. For whatever reason (genetic, culture, trauma), food just doesn’t get you off like us 85%-ers. For the rest of us, food is a valid way to nurture, reward, soothe and celebrate. We connect with food in a way that goes beyond our biological needs – and that’s how the food industry has engineered it.

Example: How many of us have been at a restaurant and returned a soda because it has been deemed “flat?” Technically nothing is wrong with the soda, except it hasn’t arrived at your table the way that that giant billboard that you pass every morning says it should. It is not cold and powerful and full of pop! Because a can of soda is more than a can of soda. Madison Avenue is selling you something besides those 16 ounces. It is selling you refreshing, sexy, thirst-quenching goodness. They have assigned a set of attributes to that soda that goes beyond the 200 calories in the can.

As I finished reading the book, I realized it was a great argument for going raw or, at the very least, eliminating all the things that your supermarket sells in those middle aisles completely out of your diet.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman (during a talk at Ted 2007) has come to the same conclusion. Take a look.

Friday, June 5, 2009

7th Annual Women's Words Slam - $300.00 Prize!

Sisterspace and Books and GirlChild Press
The 7th Annual Women's Words Slam
$300.00 Grand Prize
Friday, June 19, 2009 - 7:00pm
Hosted by Michelle Sewell

Come out and celebrate the fiery and phenomenal women poets
of the Washington Metropolitan area!
Over the years this slam has seen the very best artist step up to
the mic and blow us away. This year will be no different.

Porscha "Lyrik" Coleman, Jade Foster, Joanna Hoffman, Bassey Ikpi, Natalie Illum, Kanikki, Sarah Lawson, Dehejia Maat and more!

This will also be a farewell celebration for Michelle Sewell
as she heads off to the west coast to follow her Hollywood Dreams.


Festival Center
1640 Columbia Road
Washington, DC
Cover: $10.00
Interested in performing contact us at girlchildpress@aol.com


We have 300 first edition copies of Just Like A Girl left from our 1,200 copy run. It is cost prohibitive to ship them to the west coast when we relocate so we are asking that everyone buy a copy. Simple as that. They are $20.00 a piece. Go to www.girlchildpress.com/products.html to make your order. We have about 20 copies of Growing Up Girl if you are interested in that anthology. If you would like to make a bulk order of 12 copies or more please email me at girlchildpress@aol.com for a special rate!

If you can't afford to buy a copy pass this announcement to someone with deeper pockets:)

Thank you for your continued support!
Michelle Sewell
Editor/Founder of GirlChild Press

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Interview: what it means to be a girl

Did an interview with Rainbow Collective and had the opportunity to talk about the press, the process of developing anthologies and what it means to grow up girl.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Writing Tip #207 - Thou Shall Not Covet Other Writers' Skills

Last weekend I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a robust and engaging women’s writing workshop. Halfway through we started talking about what writers fear. The list was long and involved, but the fear that rang true for most, and something I’ve been thinking about for a while, was the idea that some writers just have the natural skills/talents for the vocation and the rest of us are delusional posers.

But let’s be for real, do you really think Toni Cade Bambara, or Barbara Kingsolver never had to use a dictionary or thesaurus to find those beautiful words that litter their stories. Or that Harper Lee or Toni Morrison didn’t slave over the manuscript, that shot them to fame, and it all just magically landed on the page. No matter how the story of any writer’s rise from obscurity is told, it will always be a shorten version that is lacking all the pitfalls, false starts, blank pages, and piles of rejection slips. What I think keeps the myth of “naturally talented” going is once a writer reaches their pinnacle only words like masterful, exceptional and brilliant seems to be allowed in their hemisphere.

I for one appreciate when writers come forward and share how they developed their craft and keep the stone sharpened. A few years ago, I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and was impressed with how average he seemed and how his story ideas came from very mundane things in his life. Here was the “King of Horror” sharing “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work.” From that perspective, young writers are correct when they say they could never write like Amy Tan, because they don’t share the same life experiences and would present those moments of story inspiration very differently.
Another stumbling block for aspiring writers is looking at a seasoned writer’s career and lamenting that they will not arrive at the same place. Even a mid-tier writer receives the same kind of scrutiny, but mainly in the form of scorn: I know her and I can’t figure out how she got a story in that magazine.

I say save all that coveting energy for all the work you need to do, to get your skills up to the level of when people forget to mention all the strife and rejection you went through to get where you are. As with all skills it is about time, practice, practice, time, and a little bit of luck thrown in when you are ready.

Here is an exercise to help you see how far you’ve come since that first time you dared to pick up a pen and call yourself writer.

Exercise: Put together an “Artist Resume” that records every achievement you’ve experienced in your “writer’s life.” List the poem that appeared in the school newspaper, the blog you keep, the feature you did at Mocha Hut with Drew Brokeballer Anderson, and the writing workshop you did for your Sunday School class. Anything where you put your writing skills on display and at least one person saw you do it. You will be surprised how impressive you are becoming.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Writing Tip #113 - Give Yourself Permission to Suck!

That’s right, allow the first draft of whatever you are writing to stink to high heaven! Let it be cliché, improbable, ridiculous, common. Something a publisher wouldn’t release if you were the last author on the planet.

So many writers get stuck in the trap of not writing because we want the first draft to be perfect. For all the characters, stanzas, plot twists to come out perfectly whole. Or worse, we’re scared we wont finish what we started, so why even make the effort? With that kind of pressure no wonder we get stuck looking at blank pieces of paper.

Speaking of blank paper – go get a piece. I’ll wait.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
You’re back!

Okay, here is a 10-minute freewrite exercise to get those brain cells firing.

In the middle of the day Gail walks out onto her deck to find a peculiar scene. A young Asian man, dressed in ratty clothes, is passed out in the yard. A few feet away, a blond, diaper-clad baby is crawling around eating dandelions.

1. What happened right before Gail walked outside?
2. What will Gail do now?

Feel free to share what you came up with.

For more writing prompts try


Friday, May 1, 2009

The Five Items

The FIVE things I always have with me
1) journal
2) pencil case (don't be a nerd hater)
3) digital camera
4) laptop
5) ruler (recent weird habit)
Bonus answer - brads for scripts.

What items make the daily trek with you?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing Tip #324 - Take a Risk

Not that you need the visual, but I was standing in my shower this morning and the idea to write a horror movie flooded over me. I almost said out loud, “yeah, right!” I’m a person who does not do horror movies. I haven’t seen one since my boyfriend begged me to go with him to Nightmare on Elm Street when it was in the theatres. You do the math. I did accidentally see 28 Days Later (mostly with my hands over my face), but I’m told it is not really a horror movie, but more of a social commentary on world order… blah, blah, blah. I would like my social commentary with a little less zombies and gore. But I digress.

I shouldn’t be surprised that this seemingly random thought visited me this morning. Last night at mothertongue more than a few poets, who had taken a writing workshop with HBO Def Poet Regie Cabico, stated that they were sharing a poem that they were initially afraid to write (apparently a nudge from Regie). The one that struck me the most was from a Jewish poet who wrote a letter to her hometown (that turned out to be Israel) and ultimately a critique of their actions as it related to the Gaza Strip. The poem was devastating and raw and honest. By the last line I could absolutely see that this was a poem worth being afraid of, but the poet released it anyway and pushed it out into the world.

Now I know you are wondering why am I making such a big zombie mountain out of a horror movie molehill? Because writing is about taking yourself out of your comfort zone, about taking the risk and wrapping yourself around an idea that absolutely terrifies you. Maybe it’s a taboo subject or hits too close to home or you have to slip into some character’s skin that repulses you, but you feel compelled to tell his truth. Maybe the risk-taking will be a little more public: getting up on a stage and reading that poem that has been rattling around in your heart or finally sending out that manuscript that has been preened and perfected a hundred times.

What is the worse that can happen? In the nine years I have been going to poetry venues I have never heard an audience boo a new performer. In fact they have been over-the-top supportive of some poets that should never write another poem in their life! And if you are worrying about rejection from a publisher (including GirlChild Press), it is inevitable. Some of the most successful writers share how their work was initially dismissed with little fanfare or were encouraged to take up another vocation. But they kept plugging away, eventually broke through and now their publishers sit around hoping they’ll write another book.

Grab a piece of paper and make a quick list of all the artistic things you’ve been avoiding or at the very least hoping you would build up enough courage to try. Now make the commitment to try one of them on every week. I guarantee you will not get anywhere unless you put yourself out there.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Writing Tip #44 - Build Community

Claudia Jones: Black Feminist Reading Group

It is easy to let yourself get caught up in the isolation of being a writer. You spend a great deal of time by yourself (working on that next great blah blah blah) and before you know it days have gone by since you've engaged other people in any meaningful way. But I submit to you that this isolation is actually harming your writing. What can live and thrive without air, light, and stimulation? That is exactly what community provides to artists of every strip.

As you take the leap and try to find the right community, you must be clear about what exactly you are looking for. Is it feedback? Friendship? A sounding board? A great group of people to procrastinate with? You need to figure this out before you join up with artists that are not a match for you.

Join a writing group. Visit a few (you can find info on Craigslist, Facebook, library bulletin boards) to get a sense of how they operate and if the other members have the same goals and expectations as you. If you can’t find an existing group that works with your writerly quirks, start your own group. This is a perfect way to bring together a group of like-minded folks that will be helpful to each other. Now keep in mind, just because you started the group, folks may not be interested in a hierarchical system where you are the boss of everyone. Again, check in on expectations.

Get into a writing class. Almost every city offers classes. You can find free ones at the library, paid classes at community colleges or writer’s centers. Looking for a shorter commitment? Local authors and facilitators are always offering workshops in your area. Again, check out Craigslist, local libraries, and bookstores for leads. If you are in the D.C. area on May 2, 2009, I am offering a one day workshop from 10:00am – 1:00pm. Check out www.girlchildpress.com/workshops.html . We have two slots left.

Volunteer with younger writers. There is nothing like helping someone to recognize their skills and discover their voice. You would be surprised how many kids don’t consider the vocation of writer because they believe only certain kinds of people are allowed access to that world. I work in partnership with the Prince George’s County Women’s Bar Association to provide writing workshops for the young women at Waxter’s Detention Center in Laurel, MD. Every workshop is an extraordinary expedition into these young women’s lives and I am always the better for going along on the journey. Off the top of my head, here are a few organizations that would love your time and talents: Girls Write Now, New Moon Girls, Write Girl, and DC Writers Corps. If there are any other groups you think folks should know about, send over a link and I will post it on the blog.

Book clubs are still cool. They are not just for your granny anymore. There are thousands of book clubs operating all over the country. They specialize in sci-fi, Christian, mystery, erotica, African – American authors, women or whatever suites your fancy. They tend to meet once a month and spend a couple hours reviewing the selected book. Again, this is one of those communities that you need to really investigate before joining up. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who found themselves in groups where the memberships’ reading taste was so different that shouting matches and crying jags were a routine part of the book selection process.

Check out online writing groups. This route doesn’t necessarily get you from in front of your computer, but it does connect you with other writers (and sometimes in real time for a cup of coffee). A general Google search will yield literally hundreds of options. I personally belong to a screenwriter’s group, a publishing group, a local writers’ association, and a filmmaker’s resource group. Online memberships really allow you to express a lot of your writing interest and build up resources without having to run all around town.

And if all of that sounds way too stressful and formal, then drag a couple of your good writer buddies out to the park (they’ll appreciate being asked) and spend a few hours in the sun dreaming up new stories, talking each other off the “I’m not good enough” ledge or eating ice cream and getting a tan.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Woman's Work Call Extended - June 1, 2009

I have extended the call for submissions for Woman's Work: The Short Stories. I am looking for quality work from women writers. The submissions do not have to be about work or women. Let your imagination fly! See the call below.

Woman’s Work: The Short Stories

Part of the problem is that I treat writing like a privilege not an obligation. It comes after everything, after all my other responsibilities.
Maegan “La Mala” Ortiz
My Writing Life

Woman’s Work: The Short Stories is a celebration of what happens when women finally get to the page. About the extraordinary stories that spill out of these extraordinary, and often ignored, storytellers during those stolen moments when she surrenders to her burning desire to write, to create.

GirlChild Press seeks the fresh and exciting voices of writers that will entice the reader with intricate tales of shapeshifters and evil doppelgangers, rock and roll princesses in twisted fairy tales, broken gunslingers in deserted western towns, and political murder mysteries that lead to sex in illicit places.

We will follow her through rabbit holes and pop up as mermaids dressed in camouflage, all while reveling in a romance that bloomed on a long-forgotten battlefield in outer space. Surprises will await us at every corner. We will discover what is passionate, and pure, and complicated and be glad for it.

Ultimately, Woman’s Work is about women as master storytellers.

Submission Requirements

• Deadline: June 1, 2009
• No more than 2 previously unpublished short stories per submission
• Simultaneous submissions okay, but notify if your work is accepted elsewhere
• 4,000 words or less
• Double spaced

All contributors will receive a copy of the anthology and will be invited to read at the book launch in 2009.

Electronic Submissions

Title of submission should be placed in the subject line.
Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission.

Snail Mail
GirlChild Press
PO Box 93
Hyattsville, MD 20781

Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission

GirlChild Press publishes work that celebrates the triumph, defiance, and excellence of girls and women everywhere!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Writing Tip #16 - Tell the Truth

I was sitting at an open mic a couple weeks ago and the poetry was red hot, bawdy and funny. The poets had the audience eating out of their hands. We were clearly being entertained by some of the most talented and quick poets in town. The stand out pieces involved a zany coming out story that included motor oil, a game of ding dong ditch by a burly 42-year-old had us gasping for air, and the 21 year-old who realized her breast weren’t ever going to get any bigger was sad and funny.

Then a poet got up on the mic and did something that got my attention for a different reason. She disclosed that she had written a piece while she was sitting in the audience and wanted to share. Now before I tell you the rest of the story, I have to disclose that I am absolutely a snob when it comes to poets who share freshly minted venue poems. I simply have never experienced one that was worth writing down and sharing as a first draft. I think the whole thing is about showing off and trying to get in on the action. That being said - back to the story.

She let us know that the ding dong ditch poem had inspired this little ditty. The next two minutes were painful. The once rowdy and receptive audience became stone cold silent. At the end she got a tepid round of applause and we moved on as if she never even showed up on our radar.

I spoke to a few folks after the reading and every one of them brought up that poet. The unanimous feedback was that we did not believe her. Even setting aside the fact that she wrote the poem at the venue, it just didn’t ring true.

Now before everyone gets ready to hit the comment button, I am quite aware that poets/writers/painter/sculptors make up things all the time. Every day writers write about something that they have never personally experienced. But in order to be a really good weaver of tales, you have to remember, every story starts with the truth then the “lies” are smoothed on top.

Case in point: I was listening to a crime story novelist talk about his career and the interviewer asked had he had any prior experience in the law (or even on the other side of the law) because his work was so vivid and realistic. He said as an only child he created a private detective alter ego (he was/is a huge comic book geek) and he spent the summer of ’73 staking out his neighbors and “solving” crimes. That summer he saw all kinds of things; the woman across the street who was visited every day by her gardener as soon as her husband left for work. The college kids home on break that were growing and selling weed. The maid who had pool parties at her employers’ house while they were away on vacation. He wrote down everything he saw in his little detective steno pad. When he started writing crime stories/thrillers as an adult he decided to reach back into that summer and pull elements from it. As a kid he didn’t have the well of knowledge to guess what was going on behind the scenes once his neighbors closed their doors, but as an adult all that changed. He had developed language to go along with his imagination that allowed him to make up the rest of the story. This interview is a perfect example that at the core there is a nugget of truth that the writer can relate to and take that thread of truth through the entire piece. If you need a visual representation of this concept, rent a copy of The Usual Suspects.

I ran into the 42-year-old ding dong ditcher at a coffee shop a couples days ago. I teased him and asked if his ex-girlfriend ever figured out it was him ringing her doorbell at 2:00 in the morning. He laughed and reluctantly let me in on the secret. The poem wasn’t true. He had not ding dong ditched anyone in over 25 years. It turns out that Ashton Kutcher threatening to ding dong ditch Ted Turner’s house if he got a million twitter followers before CNN was his inspiration. The poet simply merged his experience as a 12 year old pulling this prank and fused it onto what he imagined the 30 plus year old actor would look like pulling the same stunt and changed Ted Turner into the unsuspecting ex-girlfriend.

Remember, the best liars always start with the truth.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing Tip #2 - Managing Fear and Doubt

Like all writers/artists (even the ones who don’t admit it) we wrestle with fear and doubt on some level through a good portion of our career. I don’t believe that fear or doubt is unique to artists, but I do believe it does a number on us that prevents us from doing some of our best work and can lead us down some self destructive paths.

The first level of fear (and probably the most legitimate): why have we chosen this often-lonely professional that you will probably starve from if you quit your day job? But then you can’t do what you need to do (to test out your writer's legs) from the exhausting and deafening self-defeating inner dialogue:
I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. What’s wrong with being a dentist (plug in your profession)? I don’t have to write/draw/dance/paint.

Then comes the fear of success. This is a complicated stew. When you have finally finished that poetry book, manuscript, painting, screenplay, you worry how the world will receive you and it. How dare you believe you are talented enough to spend hours perfecting your craft and that you have something to offer that no one has ever seen before? I think we get so caught up in what other people think about our work that we sometimes overlook the fact that we are our own worst critics and as Patti LaBelle likes to say, “blocking our blessings.” Or worst yet, that we have surrounded ourselves with people who we’ve unconsciously given permission to tear us down and are legitimately trying to sabotage us, and it is not the fear or doubt that is sitting on our chest.

And how can we forget about the quest for perfection. Trying to capture lightening in a bottle. Your first project took the world by storm, but how in the hell are you going to replicate that? You are a fraud, a one-trick-pony, or worse, a one-hit wonder.

What if all or none of that is true? Would it stop that burning desire in you to create? I think if you don’t attend to the fear, put it in its place, that ember will lose some of its heat. Ultimately, it is up to the artists to pull themselves out of this downward spiral. Reassess why you do what you do. If it is purely for the public accolades then there is something to be afraid of.

A few years ago someone introduced me to the quote “Do it like no one is watching.” The reality is that most of the time that we are creating and perfecting no one is watching. We are our only critics. We know when we have gotten it right. When we’ve put everything we have into it and done our best work. If we can live with that then what else is there to fret?

I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna here, I understand if you have decided to make this a vocation at some point you have to make a living. At some point the outside world will have to make a judgment whether they like your work enough to buy it, commission you, or write a glowing review. But why beat them to the punch, by beating yourself up before your work has even gotten the chance to see the light of day.

Remember when you first fell in love with your craft? When you couldn’t wait to get to it? Start your day with that passion, with that joy. I believe that light will help guide your work. Satisfy yourself first and the rest will come.

Today I’ve included a video of a wonderful talk given by the best-selling author of Eat. Love. Pray, Elizabeth Gilbert that speaks to the issue of artist fear and doubt (and a few other juicy tidbits).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell: Making a Case for Outliers

Since the first time I picked up Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, I’ve been a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker. Gladwell is one of those big brain guys who has a knack for storytelling. He makes computer programming, plane crashes and educating urban youth not only interesting, but compelling. I’ve gone on to read his first bestseller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and recently finished up his newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Outlier is a term used in the field of science to describe something that lies outside of a normal experience. Gladwell uses it to describe people (mostly men in his book) that are so accomplished and so successful they are considered outliers. Gladwell believes that it is not enough to be smart or driven, there must be a series of events that line up in such a way that makes success a possibility in these outliers’ lives.

Gladwell doesn’t go so far as to say that the individual plays no part in their own success; after all, preparation is critical in the face of opportunity. But he does make the reader consider the culture, community and generation that outliers are raised in in a more critical way.

The most fascinating “outlier” in the book is Bill Gates. Not because he is one of the richest men in the world, or that he has one of the most successful companies, but because of the way the stars aligned in his life to make it possible for him to become “Bill Gates.” I won’t ruin the chapter for you by laying out all the elements, but the fact that Bill Gates walked into his eighth grade class in 1968 and found a computer sitting there (when no other high school, including some colleges, had one) literally changed the course of history.

Another interesting element in the book is Gladwell’s fascination with the 10,000-Hour Rule: a concept that he returns to often throughout. In this extensive chapter, Gladwell provides page after page of research and examples that says simply: “10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.” So any “expert” that you can think of, if you were to interview them and find out exactly when they started on their path, without fail they would site the 10-year mark (10,000 hours) that they got really good at what they do. That goes for Michael Jordan, Mozart or Rachel Maddow. They each worked purposefully and single-mindedly in reaching those 10,000 hours of mastery and ultimately the top of their field.

One of the things that was the most difficult to accept in the 10,000 hours chapter was the idea that there are no “natural talents.” That being innately gifted in a particular task, sport, skill had very little to do with whether you would become a leader in that field. If you did not work toward those 10,000 hours, it would be quite easy for another individual, with average ability, to pass you, leaving you stunted with your “natural talents.” I’m still mulling that over.

As with all his books, Gladwell is trying to make us look at the world and each other in very different ways. To consider the impact we have on each other and how much control we really have to craft the kind of life that we want for ourselves and others.

Writing Tip #82 - Keep a Journal

The picture to the left is of all my journals I've been keeping since 2001. I favor blank journals (no lines), that aren't too weighty and that can be easily slipped into a backpack or tote. I use my journals for both personal recordings and projects. I've found over the years that my personal thoughts are great fertilizer for my writing projects, besides my life is too hectic to try and juggle and keep up with two journals.

Folks are sometimes reluctant to keep journals for fear that they will fall into the wrong hands, but I encourage you to at least consider keeping some sort of project/idea journal as you endeavor to give your writing life more structure and order. This journal is where you jot down story ideas, pieces of an overheard conversation, character names, peculiar sightings or pictures/drawings. I know it feels all Sylvia Plath to jot something down on the back of a matchbook, but trust me, you will eventually lose it and you won’t be able to recreate that genius moment.

Commit to taking the journal with you everywhere you go, you never know when inspiration or a wonderful meltdown by a five year old at the DMV will hit and you want to be able to record every vivid moment. My friends have gotten so use to me whipping out my journal to record funny conversations or bizarre people that they will sometimes email me funny notes of things they saw during their day. Cultivating the habit of journaling makes you very aware of your surroundings. Everything in your day becomes rich material for stories, poems, blogs, painting – or making a zesty pot of curried chicken.

For my techie people who consider pen and paper so yesterday; whip out those Blackberries (or whatever your poison) and tap out those moments of inspiration. You are already sending them to Twitter, but imagine how much more there is to say when you don’t restrict yourself to 140 characters.

Don’t feel like writing an electronic dissertation? Pull out those digital cameras, Flip Video Cameras, cell phone cameras and record away. Of course there is a higher chance of someone thinking your some crazy, paparazzi pervert, but do you.

And if you want to manifest that 1950’s private detective in you, get a voice recorder. There are some jazzy, digital models out there that are lightweight and allow you to plug into your laptop and transcribe away.

Don’t say I didn’t offer options.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Writing Tip #103 – ‘Cause Sometimes You Can’t Find the Words

This little tip comes courtesy of a note session I was involved in with a producer. He was not happy with the visuals (or lack thereof) I was using for the script we were developing. He asked me to spend a couple hours coming up with a picture portfolio for all my characters. I could put whatever I wanted in the portfolio – except words!

The portfolio had actors/models/every day people who I thought looked like my characters. There were pictures of cars and houses that they might live in. One had a Pomeranian. Another slept in his parents’ backyard in a green Army tent. Another had a thing for Mary Janes in various colors. By the time I was finished I had 20 solid pages of images that represented the lives of my characters.

The second half of the assignment was to integrate those images into the script using language that would pop and best describe what I had collected in the portfolio. I was surprised how much easier it was to write about an item once I had a visual representation right in front of me. My word choices were more vivid and spot on and improved the storytelling aspect of the script exponentially.

So go find those old magazines you have stacked up around the house and start tearing.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Writing Tip #653 - Dive Into a Hard Read

The old adage goes - Writers Write. Well good writers also read.
The more you read the more you open yourself up to other writing styles, concepts, and worldviews.

When looking for inspiration - try something out of your comfort zone. If you are into Zane take it up a couple levels and try on some Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude is sure to get those brain cells surging.

I attended a writing workshop a few years ago and the instructor offered a tip that she says really helped her improve her vocabulary when she was a young writer. She would get a copy of the New York Times, a highlighter, a pen and a note pad. She would spend a couple hours reading the various sections of the paper, highlighting and recording the $20.00 words that the NYT is known for, then look them up. She challenged herself to include the newly acquired vocabulary somewhere in her writing on a daily basis.

If you are feeling a little radical - dig into some reading from an author that you don't agree with. See how their mind works around the subject and how they've connected the dots and arrived at their position. There is always something to learn, even when you believe your positions are polar opposites.

I've recently taken up reading the Financial Times. Yes, I'm obsessed with the humungous financial crisis, but I also discovered that trying to keep up with the unfamiliar jargon, why "credit default swaps" are the work of the devil, and beginning to understand how the stock market works helped me work out the bugs for a complicated murder mystery that I had been struggling to write.

Reading work from an unfamiliar author or on a subject that you have no clue about can help you to think in new ways and absolutely improve your writing.

So go ahead, dive in!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bullying: Not Child's Play

I am still trying to internalize the idea that an 11-year-old boy hung himself in his home due to chronic bullying and gay slurs. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s mother found him hanging by an electrical cord from a beam in their home.His mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, reports that on the day of her son’s death, Carl reported that he was being suspended for five days for an altercation with a girl at his school.

His mother also reports that for the last six months she had been calling officials at New Leadership Charter School to report that Carl was enduring daily bullying and threats of violence. Some of his classmates believed he was gay and taunted him mercilessly for that. Ms. Walker says she never received appropriate support from the school and her child ultimately suffered due to their lack of responsiveness.

I’ve read various newspapers, blogs and online journals about this tragic incident, and what has been as upsetting as Carl’s death is the response by those who comment on the story. I am appalled by the number of people who see bullying as a rite of passage or that somehow Carl brought on the bullying because of his perceived sexual orientation. One commenter was especially perturbed because “those people who want to teach our kids about being gay are now using this situation to promote their agenda.”

Are people on crack?! Are you telling me that folks are only willing to protect kids from bullying as long as they are not gay? Or that being shoved around or kicked or embarrassed by a peer in math class is just what some of the “weaker kids” have to put up with?

That is unacceptable! That is crazy! That is irresponsible!

There are very few people who can report a pristine educational experience, but I believe it is more than reasonable that each child that attends school (charter, public, private) should have the expectation that their school day be free from violence. That the people put in charge of their education and safety do their jobs! That whatever your baggage is you leave it at the school house door and do your job! No child should feel sick to their stomach at the thought of having to go to school because that is where they can guarantee they will be harassed and threatened for whatever differences they bring to the school yard.

School officials should take a “zero tolerance” approach to ALL forms of bullying. If hurtful or disparaging language is used, it is to be stopped in its tracks. It should not be allowed to escalate or become a burden for the child who is being victimized.

We have no idea if Carl Joseph Walker–Hoover was gay, but we do know that he is dead and that is unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Visionware: Poetry as Testimony

In celebration of April as National Poetry Month, this is a perfect opportunity to spotlight the work of the gloriously talented Cuban-American poet Caridad Moro McCormick. Her newest collection Visionware (Finishing Line Press), is simultaneously heartbreaking and devious. The work is exquisite, but not so fragile that it cannot stand up to the rough-and-tumble of the reader’s inspection. Her narrative poetry is a trip through time and history. Once you agree upon the voyage, you will discover universal truths on every page, challenging and pushing you along. The collection has a generous and cohesive selection, intertwining English and Spanish in its provocative verses.

My Papi was too cheap
and my Mami too weak
to celebrate my quinces

The themes of family, separation and sacrifice show up throughout and are tripping points and anchors for poet and reader. In the first few poems it is clear that this is McCormick’s personal testimony of a life that has been riddled with disappointments and hard-won victories.

First night of our honeymoon
fists swirled around your head
like wasps in a paper nest.
You pulled me from my sleep
blow by blow

Food is also a starring player in this revealing collection. It is both love and prison. In the brave “Compulsion: A Chronology,” food is all a 3-year-old is able to mark as a sign of her grandmother’s love, by the time she is 15 she eats because I cannot cry with a Whopper in my mouth. And 30 offers nothing but canary yellow Phentermine and nose bleeds as a way of life.

In “Grilled,” McCormick’s diligence in describing the making of a grilled cheese sandwich allows the reader to fully understand and digest the larger stake at hand.

white-bread braving direct heat
for the sake of cheese
dependent on a
framework of flour
to keep from burning
on the unforgiving surface
of a wounded frying pan.

My favorite piece, “Coming out to Miami,” reveals her ability to deliver her work with precision and hope. The remaking of a life is never smooth, even when it feels so necessary.

She taught me to conceal irregularities
to pin them down
beneath the sting of a staple gun,
smooth skin over battered innards

What is most impressive about the collection is its ability to deliver on the promise of resilience. Doing the necessary work of pushing everything to the surface, despite the pain or circumstance, and standing in it to exam and determine what is worth keeping.

her pale sinking
into my weight
in that borrowed room
where bliss broke
into minutes

For those who distance themselves from poetry, I am happy to report that McCormick’s collection is accessible in a way that does not require an MFA to truly appreciate the stellar and truthful work that she has done here. At the center of it all Visionware is about love — recognizing it and finding a way to keep it.

Caridad Moro McCormick is a 2007 recipient of a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship from the state of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. She was a finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award in 2006 and 2008. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as The Sun, The Pedestal, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Crab Orchard Review, MiPOesias, The Seattle Review, CALYX, Slipstream, Spillway, Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual IV, Her Mark 2009, Appleseeds, Or, How We Got Here, An Anthology of Americana Poems, Susan B. and Me, Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta and others. McCormick teaches English for Dade County Public Schools and is a Professor of English at Miami Dade College in Miami. She resides with her son and partner in Miami.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Anorexia 2.0

While indulging in a nonspecific visit on YouTube, I stumbled across an alternate universe named Thininspiration aka thinspo. Here is where the 2009 version of Paris Hilton “could stand to lose a few pounds” and Mary Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie are gods!

Encapsulated in these 4-minute videos, which number in the hundreds, are beautifully lit images of the emaciated women that the viewers there aspire to be. They are clad in bikinis, or short shorts, or nothing but a demure hand over almost nonexistent breasts. These are the role models for girls and women who want to achieve the “perfect body.” This universe goes beyond, “oh, I wish I looked like Halle Berry” (whose banging post-baby body is considered by one commenter as “chunky”), but where protruding hipbones and skeletal arms are the must haves. I was on Planet Ana (short for anorexia). Where one video proclaims, “this is a lifestyle not a mental disease.”

This is a self-designed, if not self-indulgent, space. You come here to commune and share tips with other girls who have seemingly embraced the disease with open bony arms. The videos, with soundtracks of the latest pop tunes or emo flavor of the month, dole out advice like “bones are beautiful” or “take control” or “don’t let the calories kill you!” As I made my way (or weigh) further down the rabbit hole, it got stranger and stranger indeed.

The most fascinating videos were the “real girl thinspo.” Here is where we get a true glimpse of how everyday girls are translating the images of celebrities (dubbed by some as professional Anas) onto their own bodies. Flat almost concave stomachs are the prize. Multiple shots of girls looking down at their feet without their stomachs interrupting the plane of vision appears to be the glamour shot de jour. Where low-slung jeans hang off of what is left of hips, and thighs absolutely never touch. There are tons of shots of girls standing on scales, throwing scales, scales randomly in the background as the girls put make up on their ultra thin faces; all of them striving for the agreed upon perfect weight of 74 pounds. Obsessed with how close they are getting to their goal, they constantly inspect their little bodies, paper-thin skin stretched over exposed ribcages, in front of full-length mirrors, digitally recording from every angle.

For those who need tough love to stay on the thinspo wagon there are plenty of videos that threaten if you allow yourself to let food “win” you might look like this – a grotesquely distorted image of a overweight woman eating a cheeseburger flashes on the screen. Or worse yet, “do you want to be the fat friend?” A serene picture of two girls walking along the beach, one skinnier than the other, serves as exhibit B. There is even an Ana list of 57 good reasons not to eat: #3 – Guys can pick you up without struggling. #6 – People will remember you as the “beautiful thin one.” # 11 – Bones are pure and clean. Fat is dirty and hangs on your bones like parasites. To the right lost soul, who is looking for an Ana buddy, all perfectly logical arguments.

After about an hour of consuming jutting collarbones and toothpick thighs I wondered aloud why YouTube had not shut down this sideshow. It wasn’t hard to get to. Start by looking for how to do the perfect sit up, turn left at juice fasting and viola - thinspo! Wasn’t letting these channels exist like putting a baby in a crib on its stomach, surrounded by stuffed animals – a recipe for disaster?

Occasional a do-gooder/interloper comes along and tries to convince the thinspo followers that they are crazy, or wrong, or delusional, but they are summarily drowned out by testimonials of how being thin saved user tbonee’s life or that user minime was once in denial like the “fat pig” party crasher. And just like that they return to regular programming. Swapping links and websites, and pats on bony, fragile backs.