Sunday, February 28, 2010

CHAMP - A Special Interview

Several years ago, I met a wonderful, creative woman, Kathleen Fearing (Kath). We took to each other instantly, having very similar interests. One of our shared dreams was to publish our writing.

I am so excited to announce that Kath has not only published her book, but has also honored me with an interview to promote it.

Before our interview, let me give you a little bio of my dear friend, Kathleen Fearing.

Kathleen Fearing is a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators(SCBWI ), The Knoxville Writer’s Guild, and the Tennessee Mountain Writers Association Kath has had four stories and a poem published at www.storiesforchildrenmagazine.org.

She won fourth place in the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in the children’s category. Another of her stories was chosen by the Maryland State Department of Education for use in their 2011 assessment testing.

She has a doctorate in education and taught children’s literature, as well as other courses at various colleges in western Massachusetts, including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She reviewed newly published children’s books for local newspapers and radio stations in western Massachusetts for many years. As a radio producer, her children’s radio programs won first and second place awards from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association.

Currently, Kath lives in east Tennessee north of Knoxville. She has three children and three grandchildren.


Kathleen Fearing, author of CHAMP

Hi, Kath! It is wonderful to have you visiting my blog. Congratulations on your new book, CHAMP! Before we discuss the book, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you, Linda. I'm really pleased that you invited me to be on your blog. Well, I'm a native of Massachusetts. A country girl, one of seven children, I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, just south of Boston, then moved to western Massachusetts for my education.

I have three children of my own: two daughters, Chris and Beth, and a son, Jude, and three beautiful granddaughters.

I spent about fifteen years in radio and produced several award-winning children's radio programs. In addition, I reviewed children's books for both radio and newspapers. That, in part, fueled my desire to write for children, although I've loved children's literature since I was a child. After I retired from teaching college, I moved to east Tennessee and married my life-long love, Ed.

As an educator and writer, how do you see writing affecting your teaching and teaching affecting your writing?

I'm not currently teaching, but my experiences with young children helped me to enter, if only briefly, the world of the child. And, I do remember what it was like to be a child; in so many things I was unsure of myself and sometimes afraid of the world around me. I try to remember just how I felt as a child when I write.

I recently visited a first-grade classroom here in Tennessee to try to slip back into that wonderful world of children. I found the children to be open and accepting of me (as a complete stranger), and some even confided in me. It reminded me of how trusting, open and vulnerable children are and how we, as writers and teachers, should remember and respect that.


CHAMP is your first book. What inspired you to write it?

I'm not sure anyone in particular inspired this story. When I look back at several other stories I've written, they all seem to have that same theme - a young person trying to find his or her own identity. I don't know if any writer can say why she wrote a story. It just came to me.

I've been working on CHAMP for a few years now, and although I put it aside several times, it kept insisting that I go back to it and finish.

CHAMP is the story of Todd Allen, Jr., who recently lost his dad to a sudden heart attack. Now, Todd is not sure who he is anymore. One thing he does know is that he likes being called champ by his best friend. So, he tries to reestablish this identity by becoming the bike racing champ, again.

The story is about how Todd finds out who he really is.
Todd is a great kid. He was lost and, hopefully, I helped him find himself.

I don't know. Perhaps it's because I've spent most of my life trying to find me. And I think I've finally found myself in writing for children. It's extremely rewarding.

Kath, was there a particular writer or teacher that inspired you to write?

I have been inspired by several writers of children's books. Patricia MacLachlan, who gets inside a child's head better than any writer I've ever read; Han Nolan, whose books feel incredibly real, Karen Hesse, who writes in simple, compelling verse, Gary Paulsen, whose book "Dog Song", I think, is one of the most beautiful books-almost poetic when read aloud-that I have ever read. These writers, and others, have been powerful inspirations to me. I keep their books next to me when I write.

The intro to this blog states, “Words are power...” The words in your book have a great deal of power...to enlighten, to challenge, to inform and to nurture. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I would be thrilled if even one child (boy or girl) who read CHAMP would take away from this book the feeling that no matter what happened in his or her life, they have the power to overcome whatever goes wrong in their lives. Also, that each of us has a unique talent, if only we would stop and listen to what's going on inside us.

Another powerful message I tried to put in the story is how important family is. For children, and all of us, I think this is a huge part of life. Family is family; and even if it gets all mixed up sometimes, it's okay. Todd realizes this in the end of the book when he puts his arms around his grandfather and says, "I love you, Grandpa." It takes a great weight off of his shoulders to realize how much he loves his family.


I understand that you self-published CHAMP. Could you tell us a little about that experience? Why did you choose self-publishing? How was that experience?


You may find this a bit funny, but part of the reason I decided to self-publish is my age. I'm 64. I've sent out stories to publishers and waited six to eight months for them to get back to me with a decision as to whether or not my story was right for them. I don't blame publishers. They are in the business of making money, and they, necessarily, have to be sure that the stories they publish will make them money.

I decided long ago that I was not writing for children to make money. So I looked at self-publishing opportunities that were available and chose Create Space, which I found on the Amazon.com web site.

Create Space is a print-on-demand service. I'm very pleased so far with how professionally they handled everything for me - a novice at this. I have generated a list of book stores and schools that I sent out notices to about the book. And, of course, friends like you, Linda, are greatly appreciated for giving me this opportunity to talk about my book.


You are so welcome, Kath! I am thrilled to help you launch CHAMP.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about writing, or your book?


When I was a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved great stories about children overcoming obstacles in their lives and being successful. I guess, in part, that's what drives most of my stories. I want to give children the opportunity to realize their own, unique potential, that they don't have to be (and should not try to be) like anyone else. There is something special inside all of us. If my stories help children to realize this, then I will consider myself very successful.

CHAMP is available at https://createspace.com/3426373 also at www.amazon.com


Thanks, again, Linda, for giving me this opportunity to talk about writing for children.

Friday, February 19, 2010

When Words Hurt


Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

The premise of this blog is to share the beauty of words, however; we often need to be able to compare the opposite in order to appreciate truly the beauty. Words are not always beautiful. They can cut deeper than a surgeon's scalpel; destroy someone's life faster than a natural disaster; and leave them with scars that last longer than time itself. Verbal abuse is the worse form of abuse because while the pain runs deep, it is invisible.

As an abuse survivor, it has taken me many years to realize that the words that were yelled, thrown, hurled my way did not have anything to do with me. I was not those words. It was a long and often painful journey to this discovery. Gratefully, it is one that I can now share without fear, hoping that others will benefit from my discoveries.

One of my earliest and most painful memories was being told that I was never going to be "pretty" because of a scar I have on my shoulder and my broken nose. The scar was the result of scalding water that splashed out of a pot and landed on my shoulder. The broken nose came (the first time) via a cast iron toy truck, my baby brother hit me with in his exuberance to play with me.

I settled for never being pretty. It was easier than trying to prove I was. I never primped like my friends. I seldom wore makeup. Most of my clothes until I was grown and working full-time I either made myself or bought second-hand. My feeling was, "To know me is to love me." If my looks mattered that much to people, then they didn't need to be around.

However, for all that conviction, I still felt ugly, constantly wishing I could somehow disappear from everyone's view. As a teenager, this wasn't a great place to be!

Add to the cruel, unconscious comments about my looks, the fact that I was nearsighted and had a learning disorder that never was diagnosed and you have a recipe for disaster.

I hid my inability to see by asking to sit at the front of the class because I was one of the shortest kids in my grade. Around my tenth birthday, however, I couldn't hide it any longer. Sister Superior sent me to the eye doctors where I was fitted for my first of many pairs of glasses.

As with all hardships, there are also benefits...gifts that are unexpected. Stepping out of the doctor's office on a beautiful autumn day, I realized I could see, for the first time in years, each individual leaf on the trees. It was like seeing the world for the first time.

While the adults in my life tried to assure me that I looked very studious and intelligent in my new glasses, my peers were typically cruel. I learned to not listen, or at least appear not to listen. I guess my lack of response to the taunts made it no fun. After a few times, the kids left me alone.

My learning disability was another thing, though. The easiest way to describe what would happen when I was young was that information would go in on a three lane highway, but when I was asked to give it back, it came out on a dirt road. It wasn't that I didn't know the work; it was that I couldn't unscramble all the information on the spot to answer in a logical way. If I was allowed time to think and process, I got it correct every time. Needless to say, standardize test were a horror.

In elementary school, I struggled, especially with oral reading. I knew my flash cards, but a page of text looked like gobbly-gook! A memory that still haunts me from time to time was my second grade teacher yelling at me in front of the class, telling me I was a lazy, lazy girl because I couldn't read my Dick and Jane book aloud without making mistakes. It took me years to get over the fear of making mistakes when I read aloud.

Interestingly, I have chosen positions in life that celebrate words. I am a writer, a teacher and a potential minister. How did this happen?

The best I can explain is that it is all about choices. I could choose to feel sorry for myself, or I could find ways to deal. I became really good at coping. But, coping can become a curse when it becomes a way not to face our dragons.

As the oldest child of alcoholic parents and the only girl, I became the "peacemaker." Little did I know that my ability to cope was simply enabling the alcoholism. When I finally realized that my baby brother was in danger, I stood up to my parents. It was the first time I ever felt empowered. The end result, after several years, was two sober parents.

I spent most of my adult life not feeling as if I would ever be "enough." This feeling was fueled by constant correction of my speech patterns (I had a heavy Boston accent.) and frequent comments about my weight, ability to hold conversations, keep house, cook, raise children, etc.

Looking back, I realize that I had become so inundated with negativity, that I no longer knew I was a positive force in this world. Fortunately, I had several dear friends who kept holding up the mirror of Life for me to gaze in and see just who I was.

After half a century of Life, I can now look at myself without disgust. I AM enough. I AM intelligent. I AM a good mother. I AM a good person.

Words still hurt me from time to time...a careless comment, a supposed "joke" can come from anyone at any time. The difference is that I now have the tools to deal with them. I no longer absorb them into my being (well, most of the time), but let them bounce of my protective shell. When that doesn't work, I have a strong support system of love ones who remind me of who I really am.

In spite of it all, words are still a joy to me. I diligently strive to use them to uplift and heal, myself as well as others. I pray that all the world will realize how imperative it is that we chose our words wisely, with utmost compassion and reflection.

Namasté

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Love Letters



Back several years ago, my dear friend Barbara got tickets for our birthdays (We were born two weeks apart.) to see AR Gurney's Love Letters in Boston with Charlton Heston. It was one of my most memorable trips to the theater, not only because the play is one of my favorites, but also because we literally had front row seats. In fact, my seat was directly under Mr. Heston's podium.

Now, I must confess, I do not agree with Mr. Heston's politics, but the man has an undeniable presence on stage. The performance was wonderful; I cried at the end, which will surprise no one! Several years later, I had the good fortune to be able to perform Love Letters opposite my thespian friend, Tom at a local retirement community in Maine.

*******

What is it about Love Letters that is so intriguing? For me, it is the give and take of communication between two people over many years. Little notes that sometimes have few words but great meaning.

For those who do not know the play, the plot follows two people from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. Their love/hate relationship is sometimes funny, often profound and ultimately heartbreaking. However, for me, Gurney is able to show how love lost can still be found, unexpectedly.

******

Sending little notes has been a habit of mine for as long as I can remember. I enjoy taking the time to sit and jot a quick message to someone, just because. When my Mother was alive, I often sent her little cards or pictures with quick notes that said things like, "Thanks for being my Mom."

My daughters, when they were young, would leave love notes on my bed or bureau. Some of my favorites include, "Dear Mommy, Sorry you are sick. Get better soon!" and, "Dear Mom, I love you. God loves you, too. Love, love, love!" Not to mention, "Dear Ma, Thanks for everything." and "Dear Mom, Please don't ever, never, ever again leave my sister to watch us. She is crazy!"(This one I could do a blog post on all by itself!) I have kept everyone. When I am feeling blue, I pull them out and read them. I laugh, I cry, I feel so loved!

******

The man of my dreams leaves me love notes, too. His are found in the most unexpected places, like inside my purse, or wrapped in a zip lock bag in the bottom of my lunch, or even under my pillow. He once wrote to me on a block of wood when we were renovating our Enchanted Cottage, leaving it on the table next to my tea. Yes, I have kept them all. In fact, for quite some time, I had one of his notes hanging up by my desk. It read, "Linda is Love." What a beautiful testament to our life together! How wonderful if we all saw each other as "Love."

******


I know that with instant messaging, Twitter and all, sending hand written notes to those we love is not part of our day to day practice...but wouldn't it be nice to take a moment and jot down a sweet nothing for someone in your life?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't Regret What I Did For Love


Back in the 70's, I learned about the musical, A Chorus Line. It received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. The one song that touched me then, and still hits my heartstrings is "What I Did For Love," mainly because it says that no matter what, when it comes to Love, never regret. Love is more powerful than that; Love has more understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance.

I find myself humming the words to this song from time to time. It is like a subconscious reminder that if Love is at the center of what I do, then there are no regrets, even when things fail to materialize, as I would like them; even when relationships fall apart. If I lived my life centered in Love then there are no regrets. Love is always there, always remembered, and always ready to hold us up.

Of course, it
is sometimes like whispering sweet nothings into the ears of a manikin getting folks to understand that this is not the sickly-sweet-gooey-greeting card love that appears in the movies and between the glossy pages of various magazines . The Love I speak of is the kind that transforms. It is a Love that can change lives, and worlds.

St. Valentine's Day comes this week. It is not one of my favorite holidays. For me, creating one day a year to recognize those we love is ludicrous! Love is, to steal a saying from the corporate world, 24/7. You can't turn it off and on like a faucet. Love, the unconditional kind that we are all supposed to be striving for, is bigger than that.

So, in the words of the song, "Kiss today goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow...I can't regret what I did for love...Look, my eyes are dry! The gift was ours to borrow...I won't forget what I did for love...Love is never gone. As we travel on, Love's what we'll remember...we did what we had to do. Won't forget, can't regret what I did for Love!"