Sunday, December 26, 2010

Interview with Sybil Baker

Today, I am delighted to share an interview with Sybil Baker, author of Talismans, an anthology of short stories inspired by Sybil's travels around the world. Sybil is participating in a Blog Tour with Women on Writing.

Sybil Baker spent twelve years teaching in South Korea prior to accepting a position as an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after earning her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her extensive travels throughout Asia, she became increasingly interested in the allure and alienation of American travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced her writing. She is the author of Talismans (C and R Press, 2010) and The Life Plan (Casperian Books, 2009). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Transnational Literature, Upstreet, The Writer's Chronicle, and elsewhere.

Learn more about Sybil by visiting her website, and her blog, An Ex-patriate's Musings on Writing, Teaching, and Travel.
Sybil's writing captivates the reader, drawing them in.  I started scanning her first story, but before I knew it, I had read the first three stories!  I hope you enjoy the interview.  Leave a comment and be entered into a random drawing for a copy of Sybil's book.

Hi, Sybil! I am so excited to have you visiting my blog. I read in your bio that you have traveled extensively. In fact, your travels heavily influenced your book, Talismans.

Travel is a wonderful way to learn about other cultures. Travel breaks down the barriers of “them and us.” Travel allows people to find the sacred in each other. Could you speak to these statements?

Travel is a wonderful way to learn about other cultures—IF you get out of the tour bus and engage with the locals. If you stay on a carefully planned tour where you look at cultures through your bus window, you might end up reinforcing stereotypes, instead of really learning anything about that culture.

Travel breaks down the barriers of “them and us.” Again, I think this is sometimes true, especially if you can develop friendships or encounters that go beyond the basic tourist experience. Sometimes traveling can increase barriers—through language misunderstandings or culture shock. Many Americans have no idea how differently most of the world lives from us.

Travel allows people to find the sacred in each other. I think that any encounter or experience—even one in our own neighborhood or backyard can allow us to find the sacred in each other. It really depends on your awareness and your attitude. Travel can enable us to see the world and ourselves in a different way, which then opens up possibilities for different approaches and interactions that we might not have been aware of.

In your travels, where did you find connections to other cultures?

I found many connections to cultures in surprising ways. Two were through family and food. For example in Korea, people refill glasses before they are empty, and they share side dishes from the table—both reflect their group-oriented culture.

Families are important in every culture, but that importance is expressed in different ways. When I first came to Korea, it was important to put the well-being of the family over any personal interests a person might have, while in the States, finding your own personal happiness was considered more important than how that might affect a family’s dynamic.

In general, I found that people in other countries are eager to share their culture with visitors, but do expect us to respect their differences.

What are your fondest memories of your travels abroad?

I have so many! My fondest memories are those when I spent time with local people in a setting beyond a prescribed itinerary. For example, I went on a jungle trek with two local boys as guides—we rafted on a boat made of old tires and boards and slept under a “tent” made of bamboo stalks and garbage bags. Another time, I spent two weeks with a guide and driver going through Mongolia—because it was just me and my husband on the tour, we were able to have a lot of good conversations with them.

What was most difficult about traveling abroad?

The most difficult thing with traveling is learning that you will have ups and downs. Not every day is a great adventure. Some days you’re frustrated—with yourself, with the locals, with bureaucracy. It’s important to be patient and appreciate the difficulties and setbacks.
Can you describe how you wrote as you travelled? What made writing easy or difficult for you during travels?

I actually didn’t write much at all when I traveled. I may have written a few journal entries here and there, but the fiction writing comes after the travels. It takes a while for me to process a new experience, to think about how I can or if I should write about it.
I have read the first story of Talisman (you pulled me right in!) and glimpsed at several others. How much of the character, Elise, is you?

This will sound like a cop out, but it’s true: there’s some of me in all my characters, yet they are definitely not me.

Elise feels disconnected to the world, and I have often felt that way, especially when I was her age. I, also like Elise, have traveled around Asia and the countries I write about (S. Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar). Unlike Elise, I have two brothers, and my parents were happily married until my father died a few years ago. So, I didn’t have the abandonment issues that she has.
For my readers who are also writers, could you tell us what you see as the most essential elements of a short story?

Again, not to sound trite, but you need a beginning, middle, and end. This advice is not as facile as it sounds—it’s actually easy for a story to fall off course and lose its momentum.

In other words, stories should have a character with a want or goal (the beginning). Then create obstacles to reaching the goal (the middle). The character does or doesn’t reach the goal (the end).
What advice would you give young people about traveling in today’s world?

Don’t be afraid or intimidated. You’ll be surprised at how many people travel widely with little money. The more you see the more you’ll want to see. Start off small—perhaps go to a new town or city or even a new neighborhood. Get a decent guidebook. Be open to new people and experiences. Learn to travel without air conditioning and other amenities most of the world doesn’t have. You’ll be surprised with how little you need.

Who are the authors who have most influenced your writing?
There are so many, as I go through phases, and I often forget ones in the moment. But this is the list I came up with recently of my top 15 influential fiction authors:

James Baldwin
Virginia Woolf
Flannery O’Connor
Franz Kafka
Simone DeBeauvoir
Thomas Bernhard
Herman Hesse
William Faulkner
Ernest Hemingway
Milan Kundera
Jane Austen
Paul Bowles
Samuel Beckett
James Joyce
Cormac McCarthy
How did you find a publisher for your short stories? Do you have any tips on how to go about publishing short stories for the readers?

The first thing someone should do who has a short story collection is to abandon hope of it getting published. Then, when you’ve done that you can approach the publishing business with a bit more equanimity.

The second thing you need to do is get your stories published individually. I think eight out of the ten stories from Talismans were published in either anthologies or literary magazines. If you publish in a top tier journal, you might attract the attention of an agent—who will probably ask you if you have a novel written.

Only after you’ve published some stories from the collection (preferably all of them) should you think about approaching an agent or publisher. Small presses are more amenable to publishing short stories, so I’d start with them.

For my part, it was fortunate that C and R Press, which has previously published only poetry, was open to publishing short fiction collections. I submitted my manuscript, and luckily, it was a good fit for them.

Thanks so much, Sybil for your visit. I wish you great success with your book, Talismans. Are there any last thoughts you would like to share with the readers?

Thanks for having me! I’d love to hear from anyone who does read, Talismans or my novel, The Life Plan. Please send me an email (, friend me on Facebook, or put up a review on Amazon. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Wishes

Santa Claus with a little girlImage via Wikipedia

This is the time of year for Christmas wishes. You know the drill, it's been asked of you since you were old enough to speak.  

"So, what do you wish Santa to bring you this year?" some well-meaning adult would ask.  

I would lower my eyes afraid to say what really was on my mind, whispering, "Oh, whatever he brings will be fine."

Had I my druthers, I would have answered, "I would love peace and quiet.  A total day where people didn't yell at each other, where there is plenty of food to eat and where love is the gift that everyone gets."

But, what does a kid know?

It's been more than half a century since those days.  My Christmas holidays have become quieter.  No one yells, or says mean things.  

My beloved and I usually spend the morning happily sharing each others company over cups of tea, breakfast and meaningful gifts we have gotten each other.  What is actually quite funny, is that we often get each other the same thing. Last year we both gave the other incense, a book on Native American Healing Plants (different book, same topic), dark chocolate and warm socks.

Just the other day, someone jokingly asked, "So, what are you wishing for this Christmas?"

In a heartbeat, I turned, smiled and said, "I wish that the entire world could come to understand the Christmas message of 'Goodwill, Peace on Earth.' I wish that not one child would go to bed on Christmas Eve not knowing that they are loved beyond measure.  And, I wish that our leaders would stop fighting about who is right, who has more, who is stronger and realize that the only thing that matters is that we take care of each other, that we work together and that we share what we have so everyone has enough."

A little shocked, this person stepped back, shook their head, saying, "Whoa! You don't want much!"
When my girls were young, they would write a Christmas Wish List.  Their wishes were usually very simple.  Here are a few examples Christmas wishes from their teen years:
  • Snow pants (w/o bib thing...I hate those!)
  • Long sleeved shirts - nice ones
  • CD's (Ask my sister to help you.)
  • Wool coat - casual length preferably toggle style with hood
  • Pretty clothes
  • A funky wallet - you know, something silly and colorful...or pretty
  • Giant Lego Set
  • A can of tomato soup
  • A Redrider BB gun...hahaha...this is from the movie!
  Needless to say, the girls had a sense of humor.


It's exactly four days from Christmas.  I still have presents to make, bags to back, food to cook.  Is it worth the stress?  Let me answer that after I have sat for a wee bit with my grandchildren climbing all over me.

May this season of Love, Light and Peace fill you with its riches and bring you the joy of knowing you are loved, and that we are all connected, one to the other. 

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Kindergarten Bullies

A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, OhioImage via Wikipedia

The last thing I thought I would be writing about today is bullies at school in kindergarten.  But, that was before I read a post by my daughter on how my granddaughter didn't want to go to school for fear someone would make fun of her.  This is not an isolated incident.  She had stopped wearing a shirt because someone started teasing her when she wore it.

My mother cat spirit immediately shows her hackles when things like this happen.  It makes me so sad to hear stories of children being abused by their peers.  Immediately, my mind starts looking for a way to end this problem.  Wisdom tells me, though, that we must find a reason why the problem begins in the first place.

Great minds in child development feel that bullying stems from insecurity and the need to feel powerful.  I understand this, but why do kindergartners need to feel powerful?  What is it in their environment that causes them to need to hurt others verbally, emotionally and/or physically?

Perhaps, we need to go back to the daily lives of children.  If you look critically at what children from the age of infancy to six experience daily, you will see that there is an overabundance of the word, "No," in their lives.  

As adults, when we are told, "no," we feel powerless, right?  Why wouldn't children feel likewise?

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, condoning the absence of discipline.  Children need boundaries to be safe.  They also need consequences when they do not heed those boundaries.  What I am advocating is that the use of the word "no" be minimized.  

How can this be done, you might ask?

First, react to issues by explaining why something should not be done.  Remember Pa on Little House on the Prairie?  He always explained to Laura and her siblings why something might not be a good idea. 

For instance, instead of immediately saying to your toddler, "No, don't touch that!"  Pick the child up, sit with them, allow them to see what it is that is so tempting to touch and explain that it is fragile.  Explain that if it gets knocked over it can break.  Explain that they can look with their eyes, but not touch.

Second, if you have set boundaries, do not suddenly lift them, unless there is good reason.  Consistency is important.  

Finally, build self-esteem by positive reinforcement.  Telling a child that they have done a good job, takes as much energy as telling them that they are "bad."  However, the later does damage that lasts a lifetime, while praise builds an adult who has strength of character.

I think that if we cut down on the constant "no's" our children hear, they may be less likely to feel powerless, thereby being less likely to bully. 

That said, parents need to take an active role in nipping bullies at school in the bud.  Do not wait for an incident to incite everyone's passion.  Request programming on bullying prior to anything happening.  Support programs within the community to stop bullying.

With the recent rash of suicides by students as young as middle school linked to bullying, teaching our children how to express themselves, and how to respect differences is one of the most valuable lessons we can give.
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Monday, December 6, 2010

A Mom, an Idea, a Booming Business

Today, I have as my guest, Karyn Climans, who is the entrepreneurial spirit behind Tail Wags Helmet Covers, a company devoted to encouraging children and adults to wear their safety helmets. 
Karyn suffered a serious ski accident but fortunately she was wearing her ski helmet. The helmet saved her life! One goal of her company is to help prevent unnecessary injuries and it is her passion for safety awareness along with her imaginative flair that are the key ingredients for Tail Wags’ success.
Karyn tells us about her business in the article below.  She is an inspiration to all!

Building My Business One Helmet Cover at a Time!

I always knew if I was going to return to the work force after being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, it was going to have to be in a job that provided me with the flexibility to continue juggling the needs of my two special needs sons. I was also determined to find a job, which provided an outlet for my creative side. As well, I wanted to ensure I worked for an employer who gave me freedom to decide my own hours and wouldn’t constantly watch over my shoulder because he/she trusted I was a self-starter and highly motivated employee. That’s a tall order by anybody’s standard! In the end, I decided the only job I would be truly happy in was a position I created myself. Now the big question … what kind of business should I start?

People are constantly asking me how I came up with the idea of creating helmet covers; in particular, animal helmet covers. First of all, I decided I wanted to create a product that encouraged more people to actually wear their safety helmets. I will always credit my ski helmet with saving my life after a serious accident where I skied in to a tree at full speed. I was distracted momentarily while skiing when one of my sons called out my name. My helmet shattered in the incident and the ski patrol that witnessed the accident told me I was lucky to be alive.

It’s been five years since the start of Tail Wags Helmet Covers and even I have to pinch myself on a regular basis to make sure it’s not all a dream. What started in my basement with me in charge of all cutting and sewing has grown in to a manufacturing company that is selling helmet covers internationally for ALL makes and models of bike, skate, ski, snowboard, toboggan and equestrian helmets. There are 40 different Animal designs including the Fairy Princess, Mighty Moose, Fifi the Pink Poodle and the Big Stinker Skunk. The entire product line can be viewed at

 Sample of Karyn's Helmet Covers: Sunflower, Bridal and Shark!

Definitely, the most enjoyable aspect of this business continues to be the design work! I am always writing down new ideas for animal designs.  I, also, love the contact I have with my customers (both retailers and individual consumers). When I receive customer testimonials and photos of customers wearing their favourite Tail Wags helmet covers, I am certain all of the hard work is worthwhile. And, the interaction of my customers on the Tail Wags’ Facebook site is proof that Tail Wags is a FUN product!

Owning my own business has had its difficulties too! The biggest challenge has been the adjustments my family has had to make to me working full time. Laundry was piling up until my husband took over that responsibility about 2 years ago, homemade dinners are a luxury rather than an every day occurrence and the house has been turned into a warehouse. My teenage sons are particularly frustrated they have to watch television in the basement family room between boxes of inventory. The good thing is that my sons have learned to be more independent – a totally appropriate response at their age!
Furthermore, I initially started with a domestic sewing machine but after breaking two machines in one day, I decided to invest in industrial equipment. Starting my own business required a great deal of personal investment. Fortunately, my husband believed in what I was doing and supported my efforts. As well, cash flow was a problem for the first 3 years. Fabric is purchased and seamstresses are paid long before I receive payment from my retailers.
If you had told me three years ago I would be the owner and creator of a successful company selling online and in retail stores across North America and overseas, I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to believe you. Goes to show you that anything is possible when you have a dream and are willing to work hard to achieve it. 

More about author, Karyn Climans and her products can be found at:

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