November’s Featured Blogger: Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha

It’s my pleasure to introduce Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha  as my featured blogger for November.

She is the creative force behind ‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ and ‘The Art of Beautiful Expressions,’

How did you decide on the name ‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ for your blog?

Choosing ‘a cooking pot and twisted tales,’ is as literal and as mundane as it gets.  Following weeks of coining names for feel and size, I failed to find anything that settled with me. One Saturday afternoon as I prepared lunch with my children, we swapped stories whilst cooking – it’s the way that my mother raised us. She entertained my siblings and me with folk tales or songs, somehow that made the chores lighter, happier and faster – that was when the name came to me, and as it settled in my heart it felt just right.

You write in the about me section of your blog: “If I blog successfully throughout the next year, I would have cultivated the discipline of settling down to write and ramble. I would (hopefully) have finished the drafts of the three novels that I am working on.”

Have you achieved those goals?

I have blogged consistently for two years and I must say that I am glad that I started. From my younger days, I journaled my thoughts in a diary, wrote stories and poems on scraps of paper. I started stories I never finished. I hoped that cultivating the habit of writing daily would give me a disciplined approach to my writing. I’ve written far more than I expected in the past two years. My novels are still in draft form because I am still reluctant to go the route of self-publishing for my novels – not just yet.

In two years, I’ve successfully published two of my poetry books – Out of The Silent Breath and Unbridled and the third poetry book is practically ready to go. I aim to release that in January 2018 because I have another book that sits in my soul and presses for my attention. Surprisingly, it’s a self-help book and inspirational. I have a need to get it out because I know it will help people.

Photograph of blogger Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha holding a copy of her book of poems, 'Unbridled'
My poetry book ‘Unbridled,’

Did you always want to be a writer, or did writing come to you as an adult?

My love for words and expressions led to my participation in school dramas/dance, writing dramas and short stories, and lead speaking at debates.

As a child, I didn’t know a lot of black writers except a few like Buchi Emecheta, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Flora Nwapa and the esteemed late Chinua Achebe who happened to live a stone throw away from my folks at the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus, even then, I simply knew him as Nwando’s daddy – Nwando Achebe was my school mate. Most of the books available to us were written by Westerners and I had no idea that one could become a career writer.

I grew up in a place where a child’s course of study was determined by the parents and my parents thought my flair for the written and spoken word was better channeled into Law as opposed to Mass Communication or Theater Arts, which were my choices. In fairness to my parents, back then our actors and journalists were not well paid and I guess my folks worried about my future. Out of deference, I started out reading Law, then French language and my career has evolved over the years. Now, I am finding my way back to that which always had my name on it – writing and communication – though I must say that I’ve gained more from my diverse career background.

You mention that as a child in Nigeria you loved Nigerian Folklore: do you have a favorite story?

I was raised in a loving, Nigerian family; I was fed the staples of folklore and proverbs. Words of advice from my parents and grandparents were always accentuated with proverbs that puzzled my young mind.  Being that our life was always busy with many chores and farming, to make these duties less cumbersome especially when peeling cassava, shredding the corn heap, making pap, weeding the farm etc, my mother told us stories and most of the tales were underlined with a moral or two.

These tales helped to hand down tradition and customs and I remember that tales of the clever Tortoise and the animal kingdom always made us laugh, while ‘AGABA, the eater of liars,’ firmly planted the moral to tell the truth in my mind.

 

book cover for Out of the silent breath
Out of the silent breath by Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha

What other kinds of art shape your writing?

My writing is influenced by a keen observation of things that go on around me daily. I am an avid people watcher and a people’s person. Sometimes, I simply take a seat and as people pass by, I formulate stories in my head about them. I love nature – who doesn’t. The wonders of the world that I see leave me in constant awe and appreciation. I draw from life’s experiences, past and present, from the handiwork of others, painting, photography, conversation with total strangers and music. Music kindles my spirit.

Do you see blogging as an art?

If art is defined as self-expression, then blogging which is a form of self-expression is an art and the blogger becomes part of the art he creates.

I see your blog as a centering influence, has anyone ever said that to you before.

Robert, words like yours keep going. I must tell you that when I started my blog, it was purely born out of the need to make some sense of my life, broken as it was. In real-time, I am attuned to community and society around me and for some reasons unknown to me, I draw others easily to me; I could say that I’ve unwittingly managed to carry this over to my blog.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about success as a blogger?

Blogging success for me is writing stuff and finding that it resonates with others. It still amazes me till tomorrow that people bother to read what I write. I will say that most times I’m tickled pink. If truth be told, I only expected a handful of humans to pity me and read an occasional post. I didn’t anticipate connecting with as many people as I have, and I must say that it humbles me.

Blogging has shown me latent parts of me that I had no idea existed. I knew that I had things to say, but I can’t believe that I have this huge well of untapped resources in me. What I’m learning is that the more I dig, the deeper and richer it gets. That I could take up blogging and stick to it has helped my self-belief, determination, and courage to grow. One thing I will say to anyone having self-doubt in their capabilities as a blogger or writer, ‘work through the doubts; they may never go away, but your can-do attitude will quiet them.’

You have a separate blog, The Art of Beautiful Expressions: how is it different from A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales?

‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ is my first blog baby and the second blog baby ‘The Art of Beautiful Expressions,’ is a self-hosted blog set up to serve as a resource center for bloggers, writers and photography. I focus on the rudiments of blogging, writing and photography.

Please share a short piece of writing, a poem, or perhaps an excerpt from one of your books.

 

Excerpt from my poetry book ‘Unbridled,’

Us 

There are us.

Born at the edge of a void

where there is no beginning;

early memories blurred

by recollections of bouncing on uncle’s laps

where turgid erections caressed our baby butts.

 

There are us.

Sitting alone all night

erasing ourselves and playing cracked records

from torturous nightmares of useless rape

forcefully fucked and threatened with grim death

where safety is far, and we can’t seem to get away.

There are us.

Who have felt emptied

by those who take want they want

leaving us feeling less than whole

plotting their demise in inconceivable ways

where we pray for peace to find us.

 

(c) Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha 

 

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October’s Featured Blogger: Looking for the Light

Our featured blogger for October is blogger, artist and mental health advocate, Melinda Sandor of the Looking for the Light Blog.

Melinda is also the driving force behind SURVIVORS BLOG HERE, a collaborative of online mental health advocates who write and make art.

If you have questions about in joining the Survivors Blog, send a tweet to @SurvivorsBlog2.

Digital painting of a bridgr in muted tones by Melinda Sandor
Harbor Bridge by Melinda Sandor

When did you decide to start your blog?

I started my first blog, Defining Memories, in 2005 when my Granny had a stroke. Defining Memories was an outlet for the pain and frustration of caring for my grandmother.

Why did you name your blog the ‘Looking for the Light Blog’?

I wanted to find me. I have a psychiatric diagnosis, heart disease and for the last four years Chronic Lyme disease. To move beyond illness I decided to write about other topics. I am good at research and learning, so I started the ‘Looking for the Light’ blog.

Was the decision to be open about your history of abuse a difficult decision to make?

Writing about the trauma that caused my mental health problems is not painful. The response from other bloggers was amazing; I think sharing my worst moments might help someone else to hang on another day.

Do you see some of the stigma surrounding mental illness beginning to lift?

 In 1941, John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary suffered from an agitated depression. The procedure used to control her outburst was a Prefrontal Lobotomy. The surgery went wrong. At the age of 23, Rosemary was institutionalized. Her father never acknowledged her mental illness; she was called retarded. Today the stigma continues. Too many people see the fiction in movies as the truth. I want to scream when someone refers to ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. People believe what their fed. I was scared of my first ECT treatment but not because a movie but because it was the first time. I have since had 22 ECT Treatments and can say each one was essential to my health. Am I going to cry why me, or blame or question God? No. I have to use the treatments that work and do my best.

A digital painting of a purple blossom
Flowers by Melinda Sandor

Is there a political dimension to your blog?

The ‘Looking for the Light’ blog is about education and advocacy. I get angry when politicians make uninformed decision that hurt people.

What advice do you have for bloggers who write about mental illness and trauma?

Write about what you know and be comforting. Most of us are not professionals so don’t tell people what to do but guide them to good sources of information. The best way to help others is to work on yourself, and avoid platitudes. The Sun will come out but not every day.   

Tell us a little about The Survivor’s Here.

The ‘Survivors Blog Here’ was born of frustration.  I believe in consistent focus on ones mission. I decided to turn the Survivor’s Blog Here into a group effort and invited other mental health bloggers who seemed to share the sense of mission to the group.

Thank you Melinda!

A Photograph of a lounger in front of full bookshelves
Melinda’s Study by Melinda Sandor

Looking For The Light Blog

Survivors Blog Here

All images (c) Melinda Sandor All Rights Reserved

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Featured Blogger: Teagan’s Books

This is a re-boot of a monthly feature on Art by Rob Goldstein, the Featured Blogger.

This month I’m honored to feature Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene of
Teagan’s Books.

Marketing Graphic for Thisledown
Thisledow

When did you start writing?

Answer: My seventh-grade teacher gave us an assignment that truly inspired my young mind — Write a story.  However, we only had two options about the story 1) Write it from the point of view (POV) of a cartoon character, or 2) from the POV of the shoes of a famous person.  Well, 12-year-old me watched talk shows after school, not cartoons.  So, I saw plenty of “famous people” and “used to be famous” ones too, on Merv Griffin’s TV show.  I liked the ones who talked about their pets.  So, I wrote my story as a pair of red pumps belonging to actress Doris Day.  (Back then I don’t think she was still making movies, but she was known for all her dogs.)  I had so much fun that I also gave half the class verbal outlines for their stories.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I did a few stories on my own.  My teacher wanted to see them.  She said good things about the one for the assignment so (not that I thought I had any choice) I let her have the stories.  They were Twilight Zone-ish stories and one was about child abuse.  They got a lot of attention…

My teacher spoke to my parents. 

My parents told me very sternly to never do that again!

That said, I guess I started writing in my late thirties.  Throughout my life novels were my only escape from the personal difficulties (yes, abuse too) that I faced each day.  I had read a couple of interviews with writers, and decided to write a fantasy novel.  I did a lot of research and work, read more interviews, and then I dove into it.  With that start, I never stopped.

Marketing Graphic for Teagan's Books
Teagan’s books

You started your blog as an adjunct to self-publishing, how do you define your blog now?

Answer: I’m sure you’ve seen the same advice I always see for us IndiesYou must have a blog to promote your work!  Well, I couldn’t bear the thought of droning on about my novel with every post.  Instead, I modified a writing exercise I created for myself long ago.  I brought that exercise to my blog (Teagan’s Books).  I had the readers send me three random things.  I let the random things drive every detail of a serial story, setting, plot, and characters.  That resulted in  The Three Things Serial Story, which gave birth to my current release, a culinary mystery.  However, this time the “things” are food related — or ingredients.  So that one is Murder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I.  I’ve published both of those serials in book form.

That “pantser” style of writing, combined with engaging my audience (having them send “things” or otherwise promoting them) seems to have defined my blog.

I also mean for my blog to be a sanctuary for everyone.  I keep it free from religion and politics, even though there are issues about which I feel strongly.

Where were you raised and how does that affect your style?

Answer: I’m a southerner by birth, but I was “enchanted” by the desert southwest of the USA when I moved to New Mexico.  Like the old John Denver song, I had come home to a place I’d never been before.  The truth is, I wish every day that I had never left.  However, many things about the southeast – the deep south made an impact that remains with me.  Following the advice, “Write what you know,” many of my stories have a southern setting.

What writers give you inspiration?

Answer: Robert Jordan (the Wheel of Time series) inspired me with his detailed world-building.  Charlaine Harris influenced me with writing in first-person.  That was something I never cared to do until I did my first National Novel Writing Month and created my début novel, Atonement, Tennessee To my surprise, all the serial stories at my blog turned out to be written in first person as well. David Eddings influenced me with the way he showed his sense of humor, particularly in the Belariad series.

What are your top 3 tips for new bloggers?

Reciprocate.  Answer every comment, and try to do so with more than just “Thank you.”

Don’t “act/look like an expert” if you are not.  If you have credentials then say so – and make that information something the reader can find without digging.  If you found useful information, and you just want to share it, then say so.

Make it easy to read.  Light colored (or splotchy, speckled) backgrounds with medium colored text are hard to read, no matter how good your content.  Also, those horrid pop-ups, soliciting subscriptions.  If I’ve barely started reading and one of those things blocks me from that read, I don’t care to continue.

Thank you Teagan! A short section from one of your books would be great way to close the interview.

Marketing Graphic for Teagan's Books on Amazon
Teagan’s Books Header Image

Answer: Since I’ve been promoting the release of Murder at the Bijou — Three Ingredients I,  I want to share a short story.  It is not in the book, but it’s still from that “universe,” and features the heroine of that 1920s series.

Here goes:

Pip’s a Chicken

“Bock, bock-bock.  Bock!  Baaawk!

Of all the nerve!  My mouth dropped open.  I was speechless.  Granny Phanny bocked at me like a chicken.  She bocked.  She put her fists under her armpits and flapped her boney elbows — and she bocked at me!

Then, to make matters worse, she laughed.

Why that banty little old woman.  Of all the self-important, cockalorem…

“Oh Pip, if you could see the look on your face,” she said, still chuckling.  “It’s not like you to chicken out.  Now tie on your apron and we’ll look at this recipe together.

Granny hung an apron around my neck, and then put her hands on my shoulders to forcibly turn me around.  She tied a bow in back that I knew without looking was perfectly symmetrical.

“But Granny, I nearly set the kitchen on fire last time,” I complained, sincerely afraid of what damage I might cause.

“Hush that nonsense right now, Sweetpea.  We’ll not be having any fires.  Just because your fried chicken turned out as tough as an old rooster doesn’t mean you can quit.”

“An old rooster?” I exclaimed, mortified.

I looked at the recipe card.  “Chicken Fricassee…” I read aloud.  “Dredge chicken pieces in the flour mixture; coat well.  Oh Granny, this sounds pos-i-lutely like a repeat of the fried chicken disaster.  Granny?”

Phanny Ilene Peabody was gone.  Her purse was missing from the corner table.  I called out again and she hollered from the living room.

My eyes fell on the calendar that hung on the wall.  Wong’s Chinese Restaurant made one annually for Chinese New Year.  Granny was going to an early dinner with friends.

“No wonder she wasn’t worried about me ruining dinner again,” I grumbled.  “Granny!” I yelled.

“I’ll be back this evening, Pip.  Just keep the stove set to low while you fry that chicken, and follow the instructions for the fricassee.”

I blew a raspberry as the front door closed with a thud.  My hand plopped down on the plump poultry with a smacking sound.

“Old rooster, huh?  I’ll show her,” I muttered and went back to the recipe card.

***

Copyright © 2017 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved.

The Three Things Serial Story

Amazon USA, Paperback and Kindle

Murder at the Bijou

Amazon USA Paperback  and Kindle

Atonement, Tennessee Amazon Kindle and Paperback

You can also connect with Teagan at:

Amazon:    https://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM
Twitter:     https://twitter.com/teagangeneviene
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/TeagansBooks
Pinterest:  https://www.pinterest.com/teagangeneviene/
YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoM-z7_iH5t2_7aNpy3vG-Q
LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/teagangeneviene

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Featured Blogger: Josh Gross

Photograph of a Jaguar in Brazil
Jaguar-Brazil2010k-4049.jpg by Dagget2. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My featured Blogger this month is Josh Gross whose blog is The Jaguar
and its Allies.

I admire his passion for conservation and his dedication to saving the jaguar from extinction.

Josh is currently running a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for
research on jaguars in Guyana.

Q.) How long have you been blogging, Josh?

A.) I have blogged since June of 2015, so for about a year and a half.

Q.) What sparked your interest in conservation?

A.) I have always loved animals. As a child, I enjoyed looking for deer in local parks, going to the Cleveland Zoo, and learning everything I could about wild animals. I always wanted to contribute to their conservation, but figured I had the wrong skill set. So at first I settled on Psychology, specifically Mental Health Counseling. However, after carrying out some voluntary work for the Center of Biological Diversity, and after discovering Wild Safari Live, I knew what I had to do. So now, I’m trying to use my social science background to help wild animals.

Q.) Why jaguars in particular?

A.) Many reasons, with the first being where they live. Jaguars inhabit some of the most bio-diverse landscapes on Earth. In order to conserve top predators like jaguars, you have to conserve all the links of the food chain they depend on. They also perform valuable services by keeping the populations of large herbivores and smaller predators in check. By conserving jaguars, then, we can benefit entire tropical ecosystems.

Another reason I focus on jaguars is the social challenges involved in protecting them. These wide-ranging animals occasionally harm livestock, and every now and then humans. As such, it is impossible to conserve them without fostering strong relationships with local people. My training in Counseling, and Psychology more generally, makes me well suited for this task.

But most importantly, jaguars are extraordinary creatures. The more I learn about them, the more fascinating they seem. As Richard Mahler puts it in The Jaguar’s Shadow (2008), they are “miracles of evolution” that have “a right to exist.”

Q.) Why Guyana?

A.) Guyana is like nowhere else on Earth. This small, South American country is home to some of the largest tracts of unbroken rain forest in the world. This makes it a potential stronghold for threatened species like jaguars. However, reports of conflicts with jaguars are on the rise (J. Persaud, January 6, 2017, personal communication), It is therefore vital that I get in there now, in order to help address this conflict before it gets out of hand.

Photograph of a waterfall
Kaieteur Falls by David Stanley. CC BY 2.0.

Q.) Tell us a little about your campaign and research.

A.) For my thesis, I want to spend several weeks living among local communities in Guyana: learning about their beliefs regarding jaguars. Beliefs about large predators have been found to influence their acceptability (Inskip et al., 2016; Carter, Riley, & Liu, 2012; Slagle, Zajac, Bruskotter, Wilson, & Orange, 2013), making this an important topic to study. Communications with conservationists in Guyana have confirmed that it would be helpful to learn more about people’s jaguar-related beliefs. But in order to carry out this research I will need funding.

This is where my GoFundMe campaign comes in. When I was applying to Humboldt State University, all the information about my Master’s program stated that students perform their research during their second year. I assumed this meant I had a whole year to learn about conducting research, make contacts, and plan my thesis. But when classes began, my cohorts and I were strongly encouraged to do our fieldwork this summer. This gives me little time to get everything in order, while simultaneously taking on a full course load: compromising my ability to acquire grants. But I refuse to give up, and have recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for my research.

Q.) Will you blog while traveling and conducting research?

A.) I will try my best. I am going to have limited internet access while in Guyana, so I can’t make any promises. But I will take lots of notes and pictures, and will have plenty to write about when I return!

Thank you, Josh!

Photograph of Josh Gross
Josh Gross

The Jaguar and it’s Allies

The Jaguar’s Shadow

All referenced articles and images are cited here.

 

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