Not Without God

It was a rainy October morning in 1994. Zina Hermez, 16, woke up late for school and missed the bus that came in front of her house. So she walked, as she normally did when that happened, down to her best friend’s house, where the bus came a little later. On the way, she had to cross a busy two-lane road on Middlebelt, between 10 and 11 Mile Road. That’s when a car, going 50 mph in a 30 mph school zone, hit her and changed the fate of her life.

“The month before the accident, the vice principal had asked me to represent Harrison High School on the Multicultural/Multiracial Community Council for that year,” said Hermez. “The council was a diversity panel being implemented for the first time and would include schools in our district.”

That, and everything else in her life, was changed instantly when the accident happened. She remembers lying there, unable to talk, see, or move, with chaos all around her. She was in shock, but as she lay there on the street, her body broken, she still felt God’s grace sustaining her.

“There’s a huge lapse of time that I don’t remember,” she said. “I don’t know if God took me somewhere to take my attention away from the pain.”

The ambulance took Hermez to Botsford Hospital but her injuries were so severe, a helicopter transferred her to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where she underwent twelve hours of emergency surgery.

Hermez stayed at Mott Children’s Hospital a little over three months, during which time she prayed often to God, asking Him, “What are we going to do, Lord? What is to become of me?” Her friends had started to visit less often and she feared she would be a burden on her family. She kept a journal and each night at midnight, she wrote letters to God.
“I don’t want to say that I found God through this experience because I already knew God,” she said. “I just felt the love of God in a more powerful way.”

While in the hospital, Hermez said that God sent many “angels” her way. She’ll never forget Dennis, an African-American man whom she worked with at Strawberry Hills Fruit Market in Farmington Hills. He was always happy and whenever he saw her in the aisles, he’d say, “Zina, smile!”

After the accident, Dennis came to visit her on the weekends, with flowers and prayer booklets, even though she hadn’t known him for a long time. He talked to her about God and faith. One day, he stood next to her bed, held her arm gently but firmly, and began to pray, speaking in “tongues.”

Her arm, which was stuck at a 90-degree angle started to get warm as he slowly stretched it. She didn’t understand all that was happening, but she knew he was a good man and trusted him. Dennis was praying and talking to God all the while, and after fifteen minutes or so, her arm became completely straight.

“Oh my God, Dennis!” she said, excited, but he told her to keep calm about this so not to startle the nurses and doctors. The next day, the therapists were shocked to see her arm so straight. He did in fifteen minutes what they hadn’t been able to do for over two weeks.

Dennis made about five or six visits and then he stopped coming.

“He did the healing work and was gone,” said Hermez. “If God didn’t heal my arm that day through Dennis, I never would’ve been able to get up on parallel bars. I never would’ve been able to use crutches the way I do so now.”

At that time, Hermez’s biggest fear was that she would never be able to walk again. One of the doctors had told her that, and in return, she’d yelled at him, “Yes, I will! You’re not God!” Many others assured her that she would walk again, including her nurse, Regina. Regina received very prolific and spiritual dreams about her patients, one of which was that Hermez would walk again.

Hermez was very nervous to return to school in a wheelchair, but everyone lovingly welcomed her back and her principal and teachers helped her graduate on time. By 19 years old, she was able to walk short distances with a walker. By 20, she was driving herself to college to take classes.

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“This was pretty miraculous considering how bad my accident was,” she said.
In 2004, Hermez received a bachelor’s degree in English from Oakland University. Today, she teaches English as a Second Language at the Language Center International. She wrote a book, Not Without God, which was published in 2014, to share her experience of faith, perseverance, and determination.

“I wrote this book because I wanted to leave my mark in the world,” she said. “I wanted to do something more than ordinary before I leave this earthy. It was also a healing process and a way of helping other people overcome adversary.”

Hermez has spoken about her experiences at such places as Kensington Church in Troy and at Harvard University. Her goal is to continue to share her story and her message.

“No matter what you’ve been through, it doesn’t have to change you. Be better because of it,” she said, adding, “Life is not about how successful you become, it’s about the people you help while you are here.”

Sacred Medicine for Body, Mind & Soul

Deborah Epstein is a visionary artist, shamanic practitioner, and body worker. She recently created a project called “Life is Art: Conscious Creativity Summit” which launched last month. We’d met on Facebook and were connected through shamanic teachings. She’d studied at the Heart of the Healer organization with don Oscar Miro-Quesada, an internationally acclaimed shamanic mentor, ceremonialist, healer, and author. He’s a kamasqa curandero and altomisayog adept from Peru and originator of Pachukuti Mesa Tradition cross-cultural shamanism.

Deborah created this free online summit by inviting 21 artists and healers whose focus is fostering creativity and imagination to be the impetus for folks to heal, find courage and purpose to create change in the world and ream a new planet into being. She felt this summit was in alignment with my message so she invited me to be one of the 21 panel of experts to add my expertise to this project. I was happy to say “Yes” because this was obviously a meaningful and life-changing project.

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After learning more about Deborah’s work, particularly her art, I decided to interview her on my show so others can discover it as well. Deborah has been making unique bodies of work inspired by her journey as a healer and a client of many varied alternative healing modalities. Her passion for healing and creative expression are the basis of the work found here at Deborah Epstein Studio. Using a variety of media, Deborah explores topics such as:  healing physical and emotional pain, the nature of the fascial system which is a weblike structure connecting all other structures and systems in the body, and the fractal nature of the universe.  As a shamanic practitioner,  her recent work explores non-ordinary states of reality that have a dream-like quality to them and also have initiatory “light codes” within them. Light codes are symbols that are a language of light from the heart that are channeled from source for healing the relationship between humans and the Earth Mother.

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EMBODY WORK

WHAT is it?

Embody work is a blend of modalities that addresses body, self, soul, and spirit. Barnes’ Myofascial Release, Craniosacral Therapy, Core Belief Work,  Reiki, Expressive Art, and Peruvian Shamanism are used in combination to achieve embodiment, healing, and deep connection to one self and all that is.

HOW

The client and practitioner understand that they are in partnership with one another and work together to bring the body, self, and soul into harmony and balance with one another. Utilizing the container of the Mesa and employing energy work, Cranioscacral, MFR, and creative expressive practices and exercises, a safe space is created for expressing, imagining, and creating health in the body.

WHY

There are many reasons for a disconnection or disassociation from the  body. We can also be connected to the body and disconnected at the same time. Pain or trauma, whether it is emotional or physical is a major factor and “being out of our body” becomes a subconscious pattern. 

As our world is changing and evolving, our soul grows and the body needs to “catch-up”. Embody work helps to integrate the changes that occur as our soul grows and evolves. Our body is our connection to the earth and we need to be in it in a functional, healthy way. Embody work helps to build connection to the body, self, soul, and all that is.

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Deborah offers the sacred medicine Journey, a 30 hour experiential program that combines hands-on bodywork, creative expression and shamanic ceremonial practices to  clarify intention, open channels of creation, release pain and dysfunction, and create easy to adopt rituals to sustain peace, quiet the mind, increase creativity and flow in life.

For more information about Deborah’s work, visit https://deborahepsteinstudio.com/

The Blessings of Taking Care of Our Elderly

The most rewarding and precious work I’ve ever done was taking care of my mom. I was sad when last year this time, I no longer had that work. She went to rest in God’s hands, to enjoy all that heaven has to offer, and I’ve thanked her daily for the blessings she brought to our home since she moved in with us.

My mother spent the last five years of her life living in my home. She had dementia and was bound to a wheelchair and taking care of her was challenging, but it was also a huge blessing. The memories and teachings she left behind helped me understand why Chaldean family and friends always said to me in our native Aramaic tongue, “Ittagh edjal” which translates to something close to “You have points in heaven.”

I brought my mom into our home for numerous reason, the major one being that I wanted her to be surrounded by the thing that was most dear to her – her family. I wanted her to leave this earth feeling loved and wanted. I also wanted my children to get to better know their grandmother and for them to learn compassion – not through books and other intellectual ways that have no real substance, but through experience. 

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That’s why after I learned about Manish Patel’s book, I invited him on my show. He wrote Second Childhood, which talks about the importance of taking care of the elderly, especially our parents. Manish was driving from his home to his office on one of the most beautiful sunny days. At the time, he was so busy with his work and family life that he didn’t make time to write, even though his mind was full of thoughts about Second Childhood. Instead of trying to find time to write, he decided to record his thoughts while driving.

While driving that day, Manish discovered the true meaning of the word “Parent.” He heard a whisper from, and was thankful to, God to learn that the word symbolized our duty to “pay rent.” He writes in his book, “We never forget to pay rent for our house, office or other services, so how can we forget to pay the most important rent to our parents? Like other collection agencies, God is the highest special collection agency. Rent can be paid in the form of respect and love.” 

Chapter after chapter, Manish shows the importance of us looking at what really matters and not getting lost in our busy daily lives. He reminds us that if we fall short of interaction within a circle, we no longer are part of a circle. At some point, without attention, our circles and cycles are broken and compromised. He warns, “Let’s not reach a point where we have to say, If only I gave a little more effort, if only I tried harder, things would have been better. If only I paid more attention when I needed to…”

Taking my mother into our home was one of the best decisions I made. She and I learned so much from each other those last five years. We served one another, each in our own special ways. My conscious is at rest. I am at peace as I continue my relationship with her in Spirit and as I enjoy those “points in heaven” here on earth. 

The Art of Living on Purpose

Satori is a Buddhist term that references Sudden Enlightenment. It’s a term that Detroit-based artist Nina Caruso uses in her coaching platform SatoriShift: the art of living on purpose. Nina’s work spans many mediums but her primary focus has been abstract encaustic and oil painting as well as mixed medium sculpture.

Nina has 20 years of teaching experience working with students from Pre-K to senior citizens. She currently shares her love of art while teaching senior adults and adults with disabilities and other challenges. She believes that all forms of art are a response to our existence and are best expressed through exploration, play and curiosity.

As a Whole Life Healing Coach, she uses art as a means to help others to explore, express and expand. Through her SatoriShift platform, Nina facilitates a variety of holistic modalities including art, yoga, diet, self-care, and mediation to infuse and unfold conscious purpose into the lives of individuals, communities, and organizations.

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Q: What type of healing work do you do?

I work with individuals or groups to bring to light and expand upon their specific or united purpose.

Q: How do you incorporate holistic healing into your artwork?

I consider each person holistically. I look for instability and offer methods to restore balance through a variety of holistic modalities including art, yoga, nutrition, brain health, self care, mindfulness, intuition and meditation.

Q: What makes your work different from other healing work?

I believe that we all have purposeful work to accomplish while we are here. Our mission is innate within us whether we know it or not. Often anxiety and discomfort may arise within us if we are not in tune and true to ourselves. I serve as a guide to assist in bringing clarity and tools in support of manifesting one’s purpose. Satori is a Buddhist term that references Sudden Enlightenment. Making the shift to sudden enlightenment is truly living with purpose. It is through this platform that I provide creative coaching through process based art experiences and conscious healthy living choices.

Q: On your website, you address five healing aspects. Can you describe each one:

These are suggested offerings of the creative coaching that I offer. One may choose from this menu or I can create a unique recipe in support of my individual clients needs. These menu items can be expanded upon or combined for a greater impact.

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* Shining in to Shine Out

Sankalpa painting is a meditation on canvas. Where one can explore the pathway to self through this meditative painting approach. Through this process you will find yourself in the space where your head and your heart are in agreement while helping to restore focus and harmony in your world. Group or individual offerings are available.

* Celebrating Identity

This is an opportunity to explore and celebrate group or individual identity and purpose through artful means. Through this practice you will unleash your authentic self in order to live your passion. You will explore, express, and expand while inspiring others to do the same.

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* Take Good Care

This is all about self care. Clearing any obstacles that are in the way from being healthy in body, mind and spirit is key to living on purpose. I work together with my client to position them in a place where their head and heart are aligned with the direction that they are taking. This can be acquired through having awareness of self care and what that means personally for an individual or organization. Together we will explore creative options to support individual or group well being.

* The Power of Story

Because our stories are so powerful it is important to be aware of them and make sure that they are servicing us along our path and not sabatoshing us. In this practice we will explore, create and manifest your story through artistic modalities. Your story is exactly that; yours to edit and rewrite according to your purpose. Let’s explore your story together making sure that your head and heart are aligned, we will omit any fear or lack and colorfully illustrate the pages with love and abundance.

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* Be the Change

This is a practice in social justice. Art is and has always been a visual language. It has the ability to deliver messages on a soul level. What shift would you like to see in this world? Here we will join together in bringing your message to light.

* Creating Community

Art unites communities. We can work together as individuals, families, organizations, or whole communities to create personalized artful offerings to foster unity. Allow SatroiShift to assist you in creating unity within your community

* Placemaking

Placemaking is a powerful way to explore how art and artful practice can enliven your world. Through Placemaking we create a sense of place within a community or personal space through artful expression. Arts based placemaking manifests in many forms. It may be site specific permanent or temporary art in public and private spaces or present as site specific events all fostering artistic movement creating culture within our lives.

For more information, visit www.ninacaruso.com

A Heroic Doctor, Author, and Activist

Watch the half-hour interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha 

“Its’ one thing to point out a problem… it’s another thing altogether to step up and work to fix it. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a true American hero.” – Erin Brockovich

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Influential People in the world. She authored the book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of  Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, an expression which she first heard ruing her pediatric residency. It’s based on a quote by D.H. Lawrence.

What the Eyes Don’t See reveals the inspiring story of how she, accompanied by a distinctive team of researches, parents, friends, and community leaders, proved that Flints’ kids were exposed to lead and then fought her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. It begins with stories of her early Chaldean family life and throughout, she interweaves the influence of that culture in her upbringing. Born in England, it was her grandfather Haji who came up with her name Mona, which means “hope, wish, or desire,” thinking it would be easy for both English and Arabic speakers to pronounce. Her family lived in England as her father, Michael David Hanna, studied at the University of Sheffield for a doctorate in metallurgy.

Trained as a chemist in Iraq, Dr. Mona’s mother was an avid reader who at bedtime, entertained her children with stories of the ancient capital of Baghdad, once the most advanced, prosperous, and progressive civilization in the world – the center of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. She would weave stories of Mesopotamia’s history with strands of mysticism and fables, the romantic tales of Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Alad­din as told by Shahrazad.

Dr. Mona’s parents always assumed they’d be returning to Iraq one day, but over time, they realized that “the Iraq they knew was lost, replaced by war and ruins.” Eventually they immigrated to the United States, and lived in Houghton, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where her father was a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan Tech University. Mona started elementary school at age four, after her parents mistakenly wrote her birth date in European style on the school forms; it was misunderstood as September 12 rather than December 9, so she was always the youngest in her class.

After her father finished his postdoc and was hired by GM, the family moved to Royal Oak where they lived for the next fifteen years. Mona and her older brother Michael were only a handful of other minority kids in their schools and experienced their share of being called “camel jockeys” and other ethnic slurs.

Mona writes that though these incidents were infrequent, they did seem to coincide with U.S. military actions against Arab countries, usually Iraq, that kids were hearing about in the news. “Even though we didn’t talk about them, they stung.”

But she confers that the promise of America worked for her family like it did with so many immigrants over the centuries. Her mother eventually returned to college to validate her chemistry degree from Baghdad University, getting a master’s in chemistry and a teaching certificate at the same time. She ended up working in school districts. As for her father, he never really stopped working.

Dr. Mona had wanted to be a doctor as far back as she can remember, attributing this desire to several factors: obsessively watching M*A*S*H reruns growing up; the story about her grandfather Haji when he fell out of a tree and doctors took care of his broken leg; the family car accident that led her, as a child, to the hospital where a caring physician made it seem like everything was going to be okay.

Given that her parents are both scientists who raised their children to love multiplication and periodic tables and the majestic order of the natural sciences, it wasn’t difficult for Mona to enter a field that dealt with biology, chemistry and math. “Education was the religion of our family, embraced as a way to a better life but also a richer, more intellectually alive existence.”

In high school, Mona had powerful experiences as an environmental activist so she created an environmental health major at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, merging environmental science and pre-med courses. That’s where her passion for activism, service, and research were solidified, followed by four years of medical school at Michigan State University, where her last two clinical years were in Flint.

Mona beautifully describes her love for attending to children and helps heal them and make them feel better. “A crying baby gives me a sense of mission. Deep inside I have a powerful, almost primal drive to make them feel better, to help them thrive. Most pediatricians do.”

Her husband, Elliott, is also a pediatrician.

In her book, Mona mentions the story of her distant cousin, a bacteriologist named Paul Shek­wana, one of the first public health scientists from the Middle East, from Iraq, to work in America. After studying at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in England, he was hired in 1904 by the department of pathology at George Washington University in D.C. Shortly afterward, he was called to Iowa City, where a deadly outbreak of typhoid fever had struck.

He was brought in to work with the Iowa State Board of Health Bacteriology Lab, where an entire floor of the new Iowa City Medical Building was given over to his lab team. There, Shekwana investigated, among other things, the tie between unpasteurized milk and typhoid. But he didn’t stop there; he promoted new public health regulations in Iowa and beyond. His most important contribution, Mona writes, may have been an article published in the New York Medical Society Journal in 1906, urging all doctors to wash and disinfect their hands throughout the day, particularly before and after seeing patients.

Over a century later, there are undeniable similarities between Shekwana’s and Mona’s careers. After a friend told her that researchers found high levels of lead in Flint residents’ homes, Dr. Mona performed her own research and discovered this to be true. In a September 4, 2015 press conference, she urged residents, especially children, to stop drinking the water. This was a risk to her career as traditionally her research had to be scientifically peer reviewed.

Not long after, the City of Flint, the State of Michigan, and the United States made emergency announcements. Dr. Mona initially received some backlash from the State of Michigan, but after The Detroit Free Press published its own findings consistent with hers, they backed down.

Dr. Mona writes, “We each have the power to fix things. We can open one another’s eyes to problems. We can work together to create a better, safer, world.”

She’s right.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha has a number of upcoming literary events, including at West Bloomfield Library on April 23rd. This event is in collaboration with the Chaldean Cultural Center. For more information, visit https://monahannaattisha.com/public-events

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Mastering the Craft of Writing

I interviewed Barbara J. Rebbeck on my show and for this article about her novel, teaching, and mastering the craft of writing. She has quite a bit of wisdom to share!

Barbara J. Rebbeck  is a teacher, consultant and author who holds degrees from Eastern Michigan University and Oakland University in English, French, and the teaching of gifted and talented students. She has published poetry, essay and professional articles. She is currently a writer-in-residence for the Beverly Hills Academy and a member of Detroit Working Writers (DWW).

Barbara’s father was born in England so she loves to visit there to see lots of theater and her British relatives. The WWII romance of her mom and dad is the basis for her second novel, The Girl from the USO.  Her first novel is Nola Gals, a tale of Hurricane Katrina, which was a semi-finalist for the Kindle Book Award and a finalist for the IAN Award. It also won bronze medals from Readers Favorites and Moonbeam and has been adopted in several school districts.

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When did you decide to be a writer?

I never really decided, it just happened. I was fortunate enough to have a fourth-grade teacher, Miss Lillian Downes who was a drama teacher placed back in the classroom due to budget cuts. She picked up on my early scribblings and gave me free reign to write and produce little plays all year long. I expanded my audience to the neighborhood and worked on plays there, too, using my family and neighbor kids as cast and set designers.

When I moved on to junior high, I had the legendary, Mrs. Vestal Hartwig, a gentile southern lady for English, American History, and Homeroom for grades 7-9. Every week on Friday she would give us a topic for our composition due Monday. That Friday she would read what she considered to be the best of show, so to speak. I was honored to have many pieces read. For those three years, I was also editor of the “Lincoln Leader.” I still get a kick out of the blast from the past I feel when I read these newsletters.  She also had us do a term paper each semester. Our last year with her we wrote career books on our future professions.

By the time I left her classroom, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. I still have that career book. The front and back cover are two real slates. My dad painted the title, School Daze which sat above the lush red apple he added. Vestal Hartwig was a superb teacher. In fact, when I wrote my master thesis years later, I sent her a copy, saying I had all the skills I needed to write it before I moved to the high school.

What inspired you to write NOLA Gals?

Like many Americans, I was stunned with the vehemence that Hurricane Katrina drowned the city of New Orleans. Even worse was the incompetence on all levels as city, state and federal resources all failed. I wanted to write the fictionalized story for teens to read so it was not forgotten. As I wrote, I felt the novel deepen as I wove in the importance of reading by having my two teens, Essence and Grace read To Kill a Mockingbird. From the classic, they learned powerful lessons of survival.

What influence does your British background have on your writing?

My father came to this country as an RAF cadet in 1943. Not many people know that pilots were sent here and to Canada for flight training to avoid the German bombardments during the war. He met my mother, a USO hostess, and they married six months later in 1943. So, I grew up leading a double life. One of my earliest memories was getting up at dawn to watch the film of the coronation of Elizabeth II. Another memory was having my poor petite friend who lived down the street, pull me in the stake wagon around the neighborhood. I was the Queen, waving to the crowds. The biggest influence on me has been the rich heritage of British literature, including their enthralling theatre.

When I began to visit my British relatives in the UK, I discovered that nothing could beat an evening in the stalls in a London theatre. The warm welcome I always received from my dad’s brother, Ron and my aunt Jean on my visits added to my British heritage. I was able to experience family life and hear all sorts of accents and expressions on frequent visits. I loved every minute of my time in London, but also the trips outside to the beautiful countryside. A few years back I visited Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey was filmed. My record for seeing plays on a trip was 9 plays in 10 days, by the way.

When I wrote a play adaptation of NOLA Gals called Turbulence, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look to teens. I also write fiction as a play in my head. I visualize all my characters waking about, talking. Sometimes I act out the scenes to see if the actions make sense with just my cat as the audience. My British background and WII play a huge part in my new literary suspense novel, The Girl from the USO. My parents’ meeting and whirlwind courtship in Detroit form the basis for the beginnings of the novel. Then it veers away as the plot thickens like clotted cream in Cornwall, England. Fingers crossed as I have a couple publishers interested in the novel. My mother’s heritage was French which set up a triple allegiance for me and resulted in my undergrad degree in French and English and my advanced degree in French.

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What has been your experience teaching at Beverly Hills Academy?

I began their several years ago as a volunteer writer-in residence working in the middle school with teacher, Sara Coyle. The first year I worked just with her 8th graders when they read both To Kill a Mockingbird and then NOLA Gals. We worked on the writing technique of extended metaphor which I use in my novel to describe Hurricane Katrina as an angry teen. From that year I began to extend my work to the 7th grade working with memoir writing and then the 6th grade working with poetry. Along the way we began to produce an annual collection of student work. Mrs. Coyle and I always included pieces of our own writing. We dove deeply for family tales and heroes, making these anthologies powerful works of art. This year I cut back on my visits to give me more time to work on finding a publisher for my new novel. I will be back in March to work with this year’s 8th Hopefully, they’ll be able to read aloud Turbulence just as the 4th graders back in the 50s read my childhood plays. It has been a rewarding experience to work with students at the Beverly Hills Academy as well as Waterford, Hazel Park, and the Academy of the Sacred Heart. There can be no better review of a book than a 6th grade boy telling the class, he had never had a book make him feel so deeply.

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What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Writers are a strange bunch. Myself, I’ve always been a solitary writer during the process. In the last few years I have joined two groups, the Detroit Working Writers and Sisters in Crime. In education, I was respected and held some important post including such as President of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and Director of the Oakland Writing Project. I was also the language arts consultant for all the districts in Oakland County. The transition to author was a rough one. I published with a small press and definitely found a bias against my poor NOLA Gals. Things are getting better though. Among my author friends are Anne Marie Oomen who I’ve known for years as my teacher. She was kind enough to write a review for NPR for my novel. Terry Blackhawk is a goddess as a poet and a rare teacher and human being. Reading her books is always an inspiration. New friends are Cindy Harrison who unselfishly pointed me to her own publisher and the other Sisters in Crime, and Roberta Brown who has let me write a program for three nights of DWW authors reading their works next spring. And Weam Namou is a gem of a new friend. Thank you for this opportunity, Weam. 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Watch for the scam artists or unethical publishers out there. Don’t be so desperate to publish. You will lose friends and make friends on your journey. Learning whom to trust is tricky. There is more than one way to skin a literary cat. It took me five years to find a publisher for my first novel. I regret that choice. Study the market, and go to lots of conferences. It’s a business.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don’t think it changed it much. What changed it was working with so many kids in schools and sharing my writing with them along the way. As models for their own writing. I found a freedom in that process.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I have to return to that dimly-lit living room when I was an entranced 5-year old watching the coronation of Elizabeth II on TV. The film had been developed on the plane bringing it to the states for broadcast, my dad told us. Although never a royalist, he made sure we were up impossibly early that June morning. The regal clothes and jewels, the Latin words, the hymns. I was ready to swear allegiance as Prince Philip did that day. “Vivat, Vivat, Regina.” Yes, indeed, I was hooked on pomp and circumstance. Words had power.

What’s the best way to market your book?

“No reason to market a book. If it’s good, it’ll sell itself.” Thus spake my first publisher. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to have a strong social media platform and so should your publisher. Join writing groups and get advice. Rochester Writers did an entire conference on self-publishing last spring. Explore what fits your work. One thing I did for my YA novel was to set up a website (with my nephew’s help) that offered all sorts of ideas for the writing teacher and classroom based on writing samples and photos of my work in classes. (Thanks, Sara.) I wrote an article in a local magazine that got me into Hazel Park schools. (Thanks, Toby.) I reached back to teachers I knew from the Oakland Writing Project to see if I could work with them. (Thanks, Sandy.) For my next book, the number one thing I’m looking for in a publisher is a solid marketing plan. Oh, and someone who will communicate with me, too.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research. For NOLA Gals I did about a year’s research. I handwrite notes in a large notebook, I share with kids. I had two crates of books, articles, CDs, and DVDs by the time I was done. I also kept a journal with sketches of “sets” from the scenes in my heads, the ones I acted out for my cat. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird My copy is covered with post-its I used to decide what quotes or scenes to refer to. For my second novel set in WII, The Girl from the USO, I ended up with two journals of notes on my research, and again two crates of media and novels. The classic literary suspense novel, Rebecca forms the basis for this novel. The heroine loves that novel and yearns for that passion in her life. I had to coordinate all the dates to decide on the year of their novel. I opted for 1941, the year Rebecca won the Oscar. I found a classic DVD of the film that also included a Lux Radio Theatre play that aired in February, 1941. It is a marvelous piece of quaint history, including the original ads for Lux soap and a Gone with the Wind brooch. A bargain at 35 cents. This research took about 6 months. I had a great deal of family history to write from. For instance, I knew my parents’ first date had been a concert by Evelyn and her Violins. Okay, so now I had to figure out which theatre in Detroit that concert might have occurred and what music they had played. It’s like a cat and mouse chase. One step leads to another. A big help for the second half of the book were my trips to Cornwall over the years, too.

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What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Early on when I first started writing poetry, I submitted my pages for a critique from poet, Naomi Long Madgett at an Oakland University Conference. I was brave, and she was kind. She gave me advise I will repeat and have done so often. She wrote on my pages that I did have talent, but I needed to learn my craft. Got that? Learn your craft. The best way to do this is read everything you can get your hands on in your genres. In the last year while writing suspense, I reread Rebecca, sticking it up with post-its. My novel begins with a poem from that novel. In question #5 above you asked about authors as friends. In the past year, I have been in touch on twitter with my new well-known suspense authors, Ruth Ware, Clare MacKintosh, and AJ Finn. Just casual, but reassuring tweets. Finn’s The Woman in the Window that I read half way through writing my novel, gave me confidence I was headed in the right direction.  Suspense needs twists that the author won’t see coming. You have to stay ahead of the reader. Teachers are everywhere.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Deciding when the book is finished. I think it’s all wrapped up. After all, I’m submitting it. But then I’ll be watching a British TV show and suddenly a character comes out with an expression such as “getting a leg over,” a euphemism for having sex, and my author mind kicks in. I have got to include that in my book. It’s a perfect phrase for my pilot to use. So I’m off, taking hours to skim the ms. and find the exact position for him to sling that phrase. I wasn’t finished after all.

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

I believe that the “writing process” has become so entrenched in schools and in writers’ minds that it has become a dogma. Everyone writes in their own style. I’m sitting here on my couch, still in my robe at 1:20 pm on a snowy day. Did I write anything yesterday? Or the day before? No. But I do have a draft of a memoir piece to type. I’ll get to it. I’ll never have Writer’s Block. It doesn’t exist for me. Go easy on yourself. And teachers, if you have a student who doesn’t need to do pre-writing activities, let it go. Start the story.

If you are interested in student work and Ideas for the Classroom, Barbara Rebbeck’s website is http://www.nolagals.com

#BRebbeck and Facebook.

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Respect: The Poetry of Detroit Music

M.L. Liebler is the author of fifteen books and has been on faculty in the English department at Wayne State University since 1980. I interviewed him over ten years ago when I was working as a freelance writer for the St. Clair Shores.  He’s St. Clair Shores’ (his hometown) first Poet Laureate. The next time I saw Liebler is when he was a keynote writer for the Detroit Working Writers. We’ve stayed connected since then.

Liebler’s recent book, Respect: The Poetry of Detroit Music, is a collection of poems and lyrics that shows the global impact of Detroit’s music scene – Grammy winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and poet laureates. Included are icons such as Eminem, June Jordan, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Rita Dove, Jack White, Robbie Robertson, Paul Simon, Nikki Giovanni, Philip Levine, Sasha Frere-Jones, Patricia Smith, Billy Bragg, Andrew Codrescu, Toi Derricotte, and Cornelius Eady.

Amazon (paperback)

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Here’s a poem from M.L. Liebler, called “Rhythm and Blues Fire.”

TONIGHT GASOLINE POURS

CREATING A FIRE OF RHYTHM

AND BLUES IGNITING AN ENGINE

OF SWEET SOUL DREAMS

WARM, DARK PRUPLE

LATE SUMMER NIGHT SONGS

THAT RESPECT THEMSELVES

HOT HARMONIES ON AN EASTSIDE DETROIT STREET

FALCONS SINGING IN THE FRONT

ROOM AND ACROSS THE STREET

AND A YOUNG BOY HEARS

THEIR CALL AND RESPONSE.

IT’S A NEW CHURCH

IT’S DETROIT. IT’S LATE 1959

AND IT’S OUR GOOD FORTUNE TO HAVE

NOT HYMNS FOR OUR NORTHERN SOULS.

I found so many other wonderful poets in this book, including a dear friend, Zilka Joseph. Zilka was born in Bombay, India, and grew up and was educated in Calcutta. She moved to Chicago with her husband in 1997 and currently lives in Michigan. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize.

Other works by Liebler include award winning Wide Awake in Someone Else’s Dream (Wayne State University Press 2008) featuring poems written in and about Russia, Israel, Germany, Alaska and Detroit. He has read and performed his work in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Russia, China, France, UK, Macao, Italy, Germany, Spain, Finland and most of the 50 States. Aside from teaching at Wayne State University, he is the founding director of both The National Writer’s Voice Project in Detroit and the Springfed Arts: Metro Detroit Writers Literary Arts Organization.

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For more information and upcoming events, visit  http://www.mlliebler.com

The True Path of Consciousness

Sometimes Spirit gives us a little nudge and sometimes spirit gives us a big nudge when we are not following the true path of consciousness. I moved through my blocks in an unusual way for me. Along the way I found something that could lead me into living a more fulfilling life on all levels, especially helping me with my writing career. I found the four-year Mystery School, led by New York Times bestselling author and mystic Lynn V. Andrews. Eight years later, I’m still closely involved with Lynn’s teachings.

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Teri Williams interviewed me recently on her show Soulful Living about my experience in Lynn’s school.  Some clients describe Teri as a “Shaman for business.” She also works as a Reiki Master and Shamanic Practitioner assisting others to release and shift that which no longer serves their highest good. That’s why she invited me on her show. She realizes the importance of these teachings which have transformed my life so much that I’ve created an opportunity where others can do the same through the Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing conference and retreat which takes place during the first week of October.

The Path of Consciousness is an idea born from a little spiritual hideaway in the Riviera Maya, Mexico where shamans perform a Mayan ceremony using a Temazcal steam bath. This relaxing mystical old-age rite is good for the soul and mixes a spiritual journey with an encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind.

Similarly to the Temazcal steam bath in the Riviera Maya, this community is about reconnecting to our inner power, healing and transforming ourselves, and creating a better world for our families and communities.

A number of medical schools such as Columbia University now have Narrative Medicine master’s program, recognizing the power that practices such as the art of storytelling provides for people to heal and grow.

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https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-path-of-consciousness-with-weam-namou/id648639542?i=1000450909380

To learn more about the retreat, visit http://www.ThePathofConsciousness.com

Two Sisters Co-Author their First Book

As first generation Assyrian Americans, Josephine and Mary had one goal. They wanted to share their vision of Iraq with the world through the stories that molded their minds throughout their upbringing so people get a chance to see that Iraq is more than a place riddled with war, destruction, poverty, and terrorists.

The sisters were born and raised in the North Park area of Chicago, Illinois, for most of their lives until they moved to San Diego, California. They shared their lives with each other until they got married and now live on opposite sides of the country. This didn’t stop them from creating Before There Were Borders.

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The creation of Before There Were Borders started when Josephine wanted to write a book, a goal she wanted to mark off her bucket list. She wanted to write a story about her culture so people could understand that Assyrians are more than just a chapter in history books. She wanted to show that the Assyrian community is still alive in today’s modern world. Then she decided to reach out to her sister, Mary, and ask for her feedback. Once Mary came on board with the project, the story came alive. Mary’s creativity helped make the story and characters blossom and reach its true potential.

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Josephine and Mary overcame lots of challenges over the course of three months, in addition to living across the country from one another. But this didn’t stop them from completing their mission. Josephine and Mary’s writing routine consisted of waking up early and being on the phone several hours as they formulated scenes and character development while fulfilling their marital and maternal duties. This went on back and forth until the story was edited and finally complete.

In December 2018 Before There Were Borders was published. The novel is a coming-of-age story about an Assyrian-American female named Sara Georges, who shares her experiences growing up as a young girl in Iraq and how she dealt with its culture, patriarchy, and limitations. She tells her story to her American-born granddaughter, who is unaware of the harsh truths of her grandmother’s homeland.

Quite ambitious, the sisters were able to accomplish their goal despite their busy schedules. Josephine studied English at the University of San Diego and specialized in medieval literature along with philosophy and history. She is fluent in several dialects of Aramaic. She can also read and write classical and modern Aramaic. After college, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she lives with her husband, Victor, and two young boys. Josephine has a decade of experience in the building industry and project management. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration at Central Michigan University. Her passions include volunteering in the community, training for races, spending time with her family, reading books, writing, and cooking.

Mary has been married to Zaid for almost a decade and together they have a daughter and son. She currently resides in a well-manicured suburb of San Diego. Mary lives a life that consists of constantly improving herself spiritually, intellectually, and physically.  She hopes she can reach one person and make a positive change in his/her life, which would be enough for her. She’s first and foremost a humanitarian and believes change starts at home and with those within her reach. She tries to contribute to making a big difference in little ways. Mary’s passions include reading books and watching movies, listening to all kinds of music, cooking, decorating homes, and hosting big family gatherings. She is artistically talented with an unforgettable sense of humor.

Since Mary lives in California, I interviewed Josephine on my show about her journey.  Here are some insights she had about the writing life.

What inspired you to start writing?

I was inspired to write since I was a little girl. I used to read all the time and was fascinated in getting lost in a story. It was always a goal of mine to write a book ever since I was young. This also attributed to my English major at the University of San Diego.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, but have been “professionally” writing for over thirteen years.

When did you start writing?

Believe it or not, I started writing Yelp reviews when I was twenty years old. Then, I was asked to write movie reviews for new releases. I finally shifted to getting creative with different types of writing from screenplays, poems, list stories, and full-on research papers.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to be a writer. It’s a definitely a “calling” since I was 8.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

First, you have to read. Reading gives a writer mental exercise.

I suggest finding your voice through journaling. Start out with a small goal like writing one word on the first day. I promise that you will end up writing more. I recommend getting yourself somewhere comfortable with limited distractions and the writing will come. Try to sit in the same place at the same time and before you know it, you will be writing effortlessly.

Once you find your voice, you can practice executing your voice by writing reviews or writing letters to your friends and loved ones. Then, get creative with whatever writing style that calls you.

How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I came up with my title while I was exercising. Running and exercising stimulates me.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a writer when I became a Yelp “Elite” member and got “Review of the Day” (LOL true story).

Describe your writing space.

My favorite current writing space is in my kitchen with the shades open. On my kitchen table. On the table is a cup of tea.  And the shades open so I can watch the sun rise whilst listening to acoustical classical music.

What time of the day do you usually write?

I usually write first thing in the morning before I look at my phone or talk to anybody.

Describe a typical writing day.

A typical writing day starts around 4 AM before I get influenced by anything. I wake up, force myself out of bed, and go downstairs to my kitchen.

I drink some water, make some tea, and put my laptop on the kitchen table with my journal. I review my affirmations of the day, start some initial journaling expressing gratitude, and review my schedule in my planner.

Then, I open my laptop and start writing once I hit play on my music playlist. It’s called “Focus on Work”, which consists of: Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian, Bach, Beethoven, Café del Mar, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart, Lindsey Sterling, Rossini, Thievery, Vivaldi, and so many others. Music is essential for my creativity.

What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

The difficult part of writing is continuing where you left off when life throws a curveball at you.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

My work schedule is flexible since I am currently raising my boys and helping my husband with his businesses. But, since my boys, husband and household are my job, I have to focus on writing early in the morning before anybody wakes up and needs me.

What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

To me, success means doing what you love whilst positively impacting the lives of those around you. The definition of success is working on a goal you are passionate about and getting it done. Success is simple. We complicate it.

To learn more, visit https://beforetherewereborders.com/

Unique Voices in Films

In 2009, Nabil Nona decided to study acting and filmmaking and felt it was one the best decision he had ever made. A year later he wrote, acted in, produced and directed his first short film. Since then he has been producing and directing other shorts, TV commercials, music videos and TV shows. His goal is to keep creating and making meaningful films or shows that entertain the audience but also make them think after watching the film.

Nabil, who’s on the Board of Unique Voices in Films, is a producer and director known for Nightmare (2011), The Summoner and Consequences (2017).  Born in Iraq in 1971, he was as a child infatuated with American cartoons, movies, and TV shows. He learned English by listening to American dialogue and reading subtitles in Arabic.  Nabil immigrated to the United States in 1994 where he found himself going to theaters to watch the latest movies, analyzing every performance by the actors, cinematographers, and directors. He would wait for the movie to come on DVD to watch it again but with the added bonus of behind-the-scenes footage where it explains how the movie was made and how the actors performed under whatever conditions and still gave their best.

I interviewed Nabil on my TV show (watch the youtube video) and here he tells us a little about himself.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Since I was a child, I was always interested in films especially how they were made. I would always look for extra footage of the film and see how the director made the film. In 2009 I studied acting, and after that I became more interested in making a film even more than being an actor in a film.

How did you start in film and what keeps you going?

In 2010 I made my very first short film. I wrote, acted, directed and produced a 2 minute slow motion scene followed by a 5 minute second scene 2 weeks later. It was a great experience and from that I decided to explore doing more shorts then music videos and TV commercials.

What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your work? 

I realized that team work is the most important aspect in making a film project. You cannot do everything on your own no matter how talented you are and you will always need the help of other talented people to complete your film project.

Making a film requires a team. How did you discover your team and how do you keep the relationship with them? 

When working on different projects, I meant many talented people in the film industry and I formed a solid relationship based on mutual respect. I stay connected with them and would love to work with them on future projects, hopefully.

How do you nurture your filmmaking skills and talents?

I keep myself informed and I try to learn from other filmmakers. I try new things even if I fail at times but I keep trying until something great comes out.

What makes a film great for you?

The story, the performance execution of the cast, the well-directed scenes, and the editing process which includes music and sound design.

What films have been most inspiring and influential to you and why? 

The Devil’s Advocate, The Matrix, Good Fellas, The Exorcist, Inception, The Dark Knight, Sleepers, Fight Club, The Mask, Reign of Fire, 300, The Hangover, and many more.

How did your love for movies start and what can be done to help others discover similar pleasure and appreciation for film? 

Since my early childhood, I would watch movies on TV. I was fascinated by all of it and I would be hungry for more films to watch, however, I didn’t have the resources we have today. Creative people love movies, because movies are the interpretation of our imagination, and in movies we see that imagination comes to life. The more we imagine the better chance we have into making it into a movie.

What failures have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?

Making a film project without having a budget is extremely difficult, but the good part you learn how to be creative and use whatever resources you can use that are not money.

What is the most important advice you can give a filmmaker starting out?

Do small but completed projects, even if you have the budget for your project, do not start with big long projects where you may not be able to complete or execute them the right way. Start small and bigger as you go, because whether you make a 5 minute film or a 2 hour film, the way you tell your story through the movie is what matters, not the length of the film.