February’s Featured Blogger: Author, Mary Smith

February’s featured Blogger is author, Mary Smith.

Mary is the author of No More Mulberries, a novel set in Afghanistan and a collection of short stories, Donkey Boy & Other Stories. Her non-fiction work includes a memoir of her time in Afghanistan, Drunk Chickens, and Burnt Macaroni.

Thank you for being here , Mary.

You write in your biography that you’ve always written, but was there a moment of inspiration?

Hi Rob, thanks so much for choosing me as your blogger of the month. Your first question stumped me because I honestly can’t remember any one single moment of inspiration – I just always wanted to write.

What did you read as a child and what was your favorite story?

I read a lot as a child. One of my favorite (sorry, I can’t do American spelling so you might have to change some words!) books was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I read it over and over again, couldn’t wait to get to the end so I could begin it again. I also read loads of Enid Blyton’s books – The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. As a child, I usually had my head stuck in a book.

You lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years and worked for a small health organization; what prompted your decision to live and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how does your work there inform your writing?

I drank too much whisky one night and under its influence accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan with two sisters who were returning to visit family in Karachi. While there, I visited the headquarters of the Pakistan Leprosy Control Programme. I had an introduction because in the UK I worked for Oxfam which helped fund the leprosy work. I was welcomed and spent three days seeing various aspects of the work and was really impressed. I wrote in my journal at the time that I knew I was coming back to Pakistan although I didn’t know how or when. Anyway, before I left I was asked if I would help set up a health education department. I came home, handed in my notice and returned to Pakistan on a three-year contract. During my time in Karachi, I met a number of Afghan students who were studying to be paramedics before going back to Afghanistan to open clinics. I spent a lot of time with them, teaching English, listening to stories of their mother country which they all loved with a deep passion. By the time my contract ended it was inevitable I’d sign on again to work, this time, in Afghanistan.

My time there has definitely informed my writing. I so wanted to share my experiences with everyone – all the people who will never have the opportunity to go there and see for themselves. I’ve written a memoir (Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni) which covers the latter part of my time in Afghanistan when I was setting up a project to train village women as health volunteers. I’ve also written a novel (No More Mulberries) set in Afghanistan and quite a number of poems.

 

cover of Burnt Macaroni
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by Mary Smith

Who are the writers you read for pleasure and study?

I love the novels of Kate Atkinson, Margaret Elphinstone, the late Iain Banks and so many more. And poets, Seamus Heaney, Tom Pow (who was my tutor on a creative writing course), Norman McCaig. I could fill this post with lists.

Why did you take up blogging?

My father had dementia and his wife (my stepmother – or stepmonster as I call her in the blog) left him because she felt she “was entitled to a peaceful life.” I did not want my dad to go into a care home so I moved in with him, which changed my life entirely. I had thought I’d have time to continue as a freelance journalist and doing the PR for a charity as well as work on a book I wanted to write. I soon discovered this was not going to happen. I was exhausted, especially when I first moved in and had very little professional help, and spent much of my time in a zombie-like state. Creativity went out the window. Blogging was a way to ensure I did do some regular writing and way of trying to make sense of the situation.

Who is your audience?

The majority of my audience for the blog (My Dad’s a Goldfish) are people who are caring for or have cared for a family member with dementia. Some are also blogging about it. So many lives are affected by this nowadays and I think many of the people who read my blog do so because it helps them feel they are not alone, others are going through similar situations. Until fairly recently, although dementia was on the increase, little was said about – about how it really is to be care for someone who spends the night wandering around the house looking for things, who needs help going to the toilet, who doesn’t know who you are. Blogging helps me – and my followers – to see the funny side of situations which, at the time, are far from funny. I also have followers who are friends, writers and other bloggers whose blogs I follow

the cover of Donkey Boy and other stories

Do you consider your audience when you publish a post? (Another way to put this is how much does your audience influence your work?)

Yes, I do and I have been careful not to dilute the Goldfish blog with posts on other things. I don’t think my Goldfish audience expect to find re-blogs from other posts unless they’re dementia related or travel pieces or whatever. For this reason, I have recently started a second blog on which I can post all sorts of other things which have nothing to do with dementia.

The cover of No More Mulberries

I admire the way you balance promotional and personal blogging. What advice do you have for other writers who want to use blogging for personal and promotional blogging?

Thank you for saying that. I think it’s mainly because, as I explain above, I try to keep the Goldfish blog about my dad and dementia – though I do sneak in the odd post about my books. I’d advise anyone who thinks starting a blog is going to help them sell shed-loads of books to forget it! I think writing is about our need to communicate with others. We want to share our words, our thoughts, with others but if we only blog about the books we’ve written followers won’t stay around for long. Does that make sense? I feel I’m waffling a bit here – just cut this bit if you want

Tell us about your latest Book.

My latest book is a collection of short stories called Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It came about because I was feeling bad about not having published any fiction for such a long time. I always intended to write a sequel to No More Mulberries but somehow got sidetracked into doing other things – a poetry collection and a couple of local history books. The one day when looking for something on my computer (my filing system is a disgrace) I noticed a folder which contained some short stories. I decided they should be out in the world working for their living – or at least being read by a few people – and put them together. It’s an eclectic mix of stories about a diverse range of characters: a donkey boy (he drives a donkey cart for his father) in Pakistan dreams of buying luxuries for his mother; a mouth artist in rural Scotland longs to leave the circus; a visually impaired man has a problem with his socks; and a woman tries to come to terms with a frightening gift – or curse. I’m delighted by how well received it has been with readers and reviewers. And it’s only 99c – so much cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Book cover for Thousands Pass Here Every Day
Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith

Thank you, Mary.

Below are links to Mary’s blogs and books.

Blog links: My Dad’s a Goldfish: https://marysmith57.wordpress.com  New Blog – MarySmithsPlace: https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com

This is the smart url link for Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It will open at the Amazon site in whichever country the reader is: www.smarturl.it/dbaos

Drunk Chicken and Burnt Macaroni: http://smarturl.it/dcbm

No More Mulberries: http://smarturl.it/nmm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Revised February 26, 2018: Header update

January’s Featured Blogger: Hank the Hedgehog

I’ve never thought of Hedgehogs as pets until I ran into Hank over at Living a Beautiful Life. After I interviewed Danica, I researched Hedgehogs and decided to interview Hank the Hedgehog.

Hank the Hedgehog
Hank The Hedgehog

I sat down with Danica and Hank over a lunch of cold meal worms and
began our interview:

When did Hedgehogs start to become popular as pets?

Hank: Hedgehogs first became popular as pets in North America in 1980-90.

Are the hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. born in the U.S.

Hank: Yes, all hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. are born in the U.S.

How does Hank feel when Danica blogs about him?

Hank: When I first noticed Danica blogging about me I took over immediately    because I’m curious and like to explore new things.  Danica quickly realized that I prefer speaking for himself.  I’m small but I have a strong personality.

photograph og a hedgehog with stuffed animals
Stop with the stuffed animals already

What does Hank like best about Danica?

Danica: What Hank likes best about me is that I tells it like it is.  Whenever Hank announces that he’s going to live in the wild, I explain that he’d likely die within a week.  It would be 50-50 odds he’d wind up as dinner or as roadkill.

Hank: Danica means well but she’s wrong:  I have extraordinary survival skills.  I indulge her because she brings me meal-worms; but stop with the stuffed animals already.

While no pets should ever be released into the wild, I’m a special case.  I’m from the streets  and through a series of misadventures wound up on death row lock-up (i.e., the city pound).

Here’s my story:

I get these cravings for wild game!  I know it’s not PC but you can’t take the hedge out of the hog.  Danica does her best to prepare exotic gourmet meals for me — there’s this venison dish that’s quite tasty! — but I miss the everyday pleasures of my former life.  Ants, grasshoppers, flies, crickets.  I’ve left food out to attract ants and flies, but Danica is quick to clean up after me and she even picked up a couple of flyswatters.

What’s a wild-at-heart hog to do?  One day after she kissed me goodbye (she’s given up telling me to be good), I rounded up my boys:  Rabbit, Pig and Dog.  We flipped open the laptop near my crib and did some online shopping.  I ordered an ant farm and live fishing bait.  We clicked “next-day delivery”.  They couldn’t guarantee delivery time.  How could I make sure Danica wouldn’t be around?  Well, I couldn’t.  Then it hit us!  If you can’t get rid of them, distract them.  So, we added two dozen roses to the order!

Oh yeah, it played out like a bank heist.  She loved the flowers and the card really got her attention:  “All my love across the miles, from some dude who isn’t Kyle.”  LOL!  Oh man, it cracks me up every time I think of it.  She’s arranging the flowers trying to figure out, first, who is Kyle?  Second, who is this some dude?

We could almost see the wheels turning in her brain and she didn’t notice us bringing in the ants and live bait.  We managed to get the contraband rolled up in my new blanket — a pink blanket with flowers!  Bane of my existence.  That’s another story.

Anyway, what’s the lesson here?  Chicks dig flowers, man.  And secret admirers.  You’re welcome, bro.

Peace out.

Danica I’ve never thought of hunting.  I would like to learn how to fire weapons, outside of video games.  There aren’t any shooting ranges nearby so it hasn’t happened yet.  I’d like to fire rocket launchers and drive tanks too, but that may remain a distant dream.

Hedgehogs are carnivores and mostly hunt insects.  The domesticated hedgehogs that westerns love as pets are small, and to them insects are “wild game”.  Well, that’s that Hank calls them anyway.

Oh, and as for the “chicks” and “bro” references — Hank respects all orientations.  His experience using flowers to distract people is limited to chicks only, so he can’t speak to how it may or may not work on the bros out there.

Photograph of a hedgehog next to a potted plant
Hank the Hedgehog in the Wild

~ Hank the Hedgehog

All Material (c) Danica Piche 2018 All Rights Reserved

 

 

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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