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.

Growth and Self-Care through The Wheel

By Guest Blogger: Sonya Julie www.SonyaJulie.com

This present time is perfect for honoring ourselves through the act of self-care, and not just the materialistic kind that you might read about in a pop-culture magazine. We need to authentically care for ourselves in all our many aspects and one way to approach this is to use The Wheel.

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It’s the perfect time to explore and tap into feeling from our hearts and living from our higher selves. If we are to gain personal freedom, we must learn to understand and balance all our aspects so that through healing and growth we may become sovereign beings. Accessing our inner wisdom allows us to move forward on our paths.

What does that mean? Many of us start on our healing path because we want to feel better, overcome trauma, or find more meaning in our lives. As we begin to explore our gifts, manage our energy, and stop focusing on our problems, we open up the space to start pondering the mysteries of the Divine. This is when we truly begin to awaken to our higher selves, tapping into the universal collective and innate wisdom.

Our human ego-self is limited in vision and scope so it is important to remember that we can overcome this smallness. You are invited to release self-imposed limitations and to cast off the illusion of lack. Seeking to clear ourselves of limitations and negativity can be done through the ongoing development of a deep understanding that reflects love, compassion, strength, and patience.

All indigenous cultures have used a form of The Medicine Wheel – traveling from one direction to the next, exploring all the facets of the human existence. The term medicine does not refer to medical matters, rather medicine represents the inherent life force found in all of nature. Travel occurs in the South, West, North, and East as we circle through the seasons and phases of life.

There are numerous variations of the medicine wheel, yet they all drive us to reflect on similar principles and ideas. As we journey through the wheel, we tend to all our aspects – physical, emotional spiritual, and mental. This allows us to honor ourselves by integrating all our aspects and to connect them with the present emphasis on manifestation during this time of the Lion’s Gate.

You can read more about the wheel by reading 

We begin to travel through the Wheel from the South, where we consider physical aspects. Self-care can take on the form of exercise, massage, diet, and other self-care modalities. Also be aware that the south represents manifestation. Tend to your finances, make lists of what needs to be done, make plans for your business, nourish your dreams, care for your living spaces and belongings, and give care to all areas of physicality in your life.

Next we travel to the West, the place of emotion. It is here where we watch for our inner cycles for understanding of the subtle tides that regulate the inner workings of self. When we take time to examine, understand, heal, and grow our emotional selves, it allows us to heal and grow in other areas of our lives as well.

Society often teaches us to block out our emotions or to dwell on negative emotions such as hate, jealousy, judgement, and greed. By examining and learning to direct your emotional health, you can make major changes in our life. Carefully select what media you consume and find time to connect with nature all year long. Eliminate anything that does not honor your sacred soul and embrace that which gives you joy, hope, courage, and confidence.

Take time to examine your emotions, seeking to clear out anything that feels less than benevolent. This often requires hard work and determination. You might decide to seek out a life coach, therapist, counselor, past life reader, energetic healer, or another professional who offers insight. Be sure to select someone who intuitively feels like a good fit. You might also seek out self-help books, videos, workshops, resources, and materials that resonate with you.

The North is the place of the spirit and connects to our soul’s journey. Every step we take is sacred and offers us the opportunity to learn and grow. Understanding that we are one with the universe and connected to every thing and every living being helps us to align with our higher selves and our life purpose.

Walking into Our Center

Seeking out spiritual wisdom and experiences are a part of the north path. Deciphering the messages in our dreams, delving into a yoga practice, meditating, visiting an Energy Healer, and paying attention to the messages of the universe are ways to connect. Incorporating positive affirmations, creating inspiring spaces, working with the elementals, and spending time in nature connects you with your spirit; we may assimilate elements from the other directions in developing our spirituality in the North. These are tools that help us to transform. Our goal is to find that place of stillness, where we are divinely connected. We absorb this energy and then spread it out into the world around us, sharing our light.

And finally, we visit the East, the direction of the mind. Ancient wisdom allows us to create using wisdom, knowledge, and our mental abilities. The east is represented by the Eagle who flies high over the land with courage and swiftness. This represents an expansive view that offers great detail as well as an understanding of the overall picture. It signifies an awakening of the mind that represents our visionary selves. It is here that we learn about tools of personal alchemy and how we can harness the natural forces of the universe.

Having a balanced life means having more fun in life. Here I’m with Weam Namou at Colombiere retreat center, planning for the first Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing retreat.

Working to reduce and eliminate mind chatter strengthens the mind and provides us with the freedom to be our authentic selves. Purposefully utilizing the mind is most helpful when you are first and foremost connected to your heart. Living through our heart and soul is the path to living a life of purpose. When we recognize this, we can then utilize the mind as a tool (a computer essentially) and understand its purpose.

Travelling through all the segments of the Wheel allows us to be more thorough in our self-care efforts and affords us greater opportunity to manifest. The Wheel also represents peaceful interaction between all living beings on earth. This is a reflection of that which we wish to achieve within and without ourselves.

People have celebrated the cycle of life through circles and wheels throughout all of time. The wheel is an integral part of our spiritual heritage. As we grow, we change like the seasons as we pass through layers of the wheel, learning from each segment.

We live at the center of the wheel and we want to be in balance. We want to be at the center of knowledge and the rhythm of life. We often circle back around in layers to certain people and situations throughout our life, each cycle offering a lesson and an opportunity. It is your choice to take responsibility to face your fears, overcome your shadows, and to know that you have the power to heal yourself and set the course of your direction.

The present is a powerful time to conquer our shadows and honor the divine as we grow and create. I invite you to take time to examine your aspects through the directions of the wheel, to care for yourself, and to embrace the manifestation of that which brings divine love and positive self-empowerment into your life.

Sonya is leading a workshop at the Path of Consciousness retreat (Oct. 4-6) taking you around the Wheel through journaling.

Sonya Julie

Sonya Julie has been writing creatively for decades. She has published columns in company newsletters and created freelance content for print and digital publications about health, spirituality, ancient wisdom, lifestyle, travel, adventure, and community. Sonya facilitates workshops, creates jewelry, and is currently writing her memoir, due to be published by the end of 2019. She is the executive administrator for Rochester Writers and loves interacting with the Michigan writing community. She enjoys crafting social media content and marketing for select entities and teaching, sharing, coaching, and encouraging people to find their inspiration. Find her at www.SonyaJulie.com and https://awakeningthecore.com/

 

 

The Shaman School that Healed my Writer’s Block

I had scheduled a phone session for literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart.

“Were you abused as a child?” Lynn asked.

The temptation to hang up the phone burnt my fingertips as if I had touched a car bumper that had been sitting under a hot sun for hours. I did not call Lynn Andrews — a shaman healer, mystic, and an internationally best-selling author with 20 books to her name — to talk about my childhood as if I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist or a talk show host. I hoped that this one-hour phone session could resolve some issues I had been having with my writing career.

“I actually had a safe and healthy childhood,” I said, wondering if I was once again being stereotyped because of the origin of my birthplace, Baghdad, or if I had been swindled by a con artist. Since Muslims are usually the ones who get a bad rap, I wondered if she would change her perception of me if I told her that I am Chaldean. Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis whose ancestors date back over 7,300 years.

“Did you have to be careful as a child?” she persisted.

I began to feel uncomfortable, and yet the conversation had an earthy and intimate hand that disrobed a garment off my character with each word. I laid down my resistance and said, “My parents never spanked me if I did something wrong. The first time anyone ever laid a hand on me was when I was in third grade — I had missed Saddam’s parade. It was mandatory to attend, but my niece, who was my age, begged me to spend the night at her house, and my family did not take the mandatory bit too seriously. The next day at school, as punishment, the school principal slapped me so hard I fainted. The second time someone laid a hand on me was that same principal. The teacher sent me to her office because I couldn’t answer a question in science class. Other than these two incidences, I led a pretty happy childhood in Iraq. I didn’t know what unhappiness was until I came here and felt alienated and isolated.”

A silence followed.

“You were oppressed by and had to be careful of an entire nation,” she said, “and then you came here and you had to be careful of another nation, in a different way. You had to be careful of two nations.”

Her words pinched my waist so hard that it shook my roots. Growing up under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I learned that there was a boogeyman to fear and avoid through silence and good behavior. When I came to the United States, I discovered that it was best to remain silent in order to avoid ridicule.

“So, my dear, why have you called me?” Lynn asked. “What is it that you want me to help you with?”

We finally arrived at the subject I was anxious to talk about, writing, but now I was interested in further dissecting the role my two nations played in my life. I wanted to ask her what all of this meant. Why was I born in Iraq, yanked out of my birthplace at the age of 10, and placed in the United States? Being uprooted from my home made me feel as though I were a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they struggle to adapt to the new environment.

If only there was enough time.

Ch. 5 - Receiving Wisdom from a Mentor

“I have lost my literary voice, and I want to get it back,” I said. “Last summer, I came across your book, Writing Spirit. I was in a really bad place with my work. I no longer loved it and half the time I woke up wishing I had the sense to quit and find a different profession.”

Writing Spirit had called for me to pick it up, as if it were a child, off the bookshelves. It was an odd-looking book about writing. The last thing I wanted was a book on writing. I had been writing for over 20 years, and the journey had proven so futile, I wanted to bury the pits of this desire into someone else’s backyard and start a new garden, one that resembled those in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where the hero ends up with breathtaking trees bearing pears, apples, figs, pomegranates, and apricots made of real gold, diamonds, and rubies.

Yet the book stuck to my hands like glue. I bought it, even though I barely had time to take a shower or eat a meal sitting down, let alone read a book. I was raising two young children and doing a lot of freelance work as well as trying to write a book.

The moment I read Writing Spirit, the fragrance of that Arabian treasure garden raced out of the pages, and I remembered all the reasons I’d become a writer in the first place: the calling, the sacredness of storytelling, the freedom this profession provides, in my case allowing me to raise my children without having to abandon my career. I had scheduled a phone session with the author for a bit of literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart; how the loss of my agent threw my career off track.

I sat on the carpet and told Lynn all about it, adding that shortly after these events, I got married, had kids, and attained journalism jobs and other writing-related opportunities. The jobs led to wonderful experiences, but they also scattered my thought process. Trying to return to my literary voice since then was like trying to get to a very faraway place on foot.

“Don’t get upset at some of your past mishaps,” she said. “They made you who you are today. As for your stories, there’s a time for every story. When you live through life-defying experiences somewhere in your life, you come out on the other side with incredible abilities, abilities to survive, abilities to comprehend a higher reality. The Mystery School could help you make the right decisions regarding your work.”

“What is the Mystery School?” I asked.

“It’s a four-year school that will teach and awaken the beauty and power within you. It will give you the direction you need.”

 

Four years? It didn’t take me that long to get my bachelor’s degree.

“I have children,” I said. “I can’t leave my home to go study somewhere.”

“This is a school without walls. I created it so that anyone, anywhere in the world could do this work without having to move to a campus. I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn through their own experiences, not to try to be their teacher.”

“I’ll check it out on your website and consider it,” I lied. Yes, she said some profound things that stirred me, and yes, I felt a connection with her that was ignited as easily as one lit a match, but no, I was not going to fall for this gimmick.

Yet after we hung up, I spent a moment staring ahead.

For a long time, I had struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. Then, not knowing what shamanism is or who Lynn Andrews was, I stepped into a four-year shamanic school that dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light.

I ended up completing the book I had trouble writing, called The Great American Family, which in 2017 won an Eric Hoffer Award. I also produced and directed a documentary with the same title, which this year won two international film awards. Sometimes it’s not writer’s block that’s preventing us from achieving our dreams but old wounds, patterns, and stories that need to heal and help us transform.

This article is an extract from “Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School” by Weam Namou and was originally published by xoJane and later by Yahoo.com https://www.yahoo.com/news/unusual-phone-conversation-led-attend-210000076.html

 

The Mystery School

Throughout the ages, as the ancient and indigenous cultures were colonized, the teachings for an enlightened and empowered life had to be kept hidden to preserve the teachings’ powerful wisdom. Without this ancient wisdom, much of the world fell prey to strife and confusion. For over a hundred years, necessity has caused the Mystery Schools to emerge, releasing the teachings once again to the public. Today, there are many mystery schools that exist in plain sight. There are Buddhist, Hindu, and even Christian mystery schools. The school that drew me to it was Lynn V. Andrews’ Shaman Mystery School.

I stumbled upon this school in 2011 after reading Lynn’s book, <em>Writing Spirit</em>. Hugely influenced by this book, and because Lynn is an internationally bestselling author of 21 books, I called her up. An author and journalist, I wanted advice on how to move ahead with my writing career. Little did I know then the journey I’d be embarking upon. I had no idea who Lynn was let alone what shamanism meant. Looking back now, I see that was a blessing. Many people get caught up in names and labels and will solely pursue or reject a study based on the definition and popularity, or lack of, rather than what their instinct tells them about it.

Like magic, the Mystery School began transforming my life as a writer, wife and mother. It freed me of so much guilt and self-esteem issues, I ended up writing over a dozen books, which include a four-part memoir series about my experience in the school.

The ancient teachings were not strange to my ears. I come from a tribal nation called the Chaldeans, which are thousands of years old. My people are from Mesopotamia, where once upon a time long ago, similar types of teachings were the norm, causing that society to create incredible inventions such as writing and the wheel. When that land was stripped of those ancient teachings, it became a hell on earth.

On her website, Lynn describes shamanism as the oldest form of healing on Earth. It has been practiced across the globe for at least 50,000 years. She writes, “When you look at shamanic cultures today, you discover people who live with joy and a sense of purpose and knowing in life, people who do not contract the serious stress-born illnesses that we in the modern world do, even though they face a world that is encroaching on them and threatening to take away their very existence. It’s not that they don’t encounter the stresses of the modern world, it’s that their way of knowing life and resolving that stress is very different from ours.”

When Lynn lived in Beverly Hills, a spiritual quest led her to her apprenticeship with Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs many years ago. At first, she did not know that they were part of a very private ad anonymous gathering of shaman women of high degree from several native cultures around the world – the forty-four women of the Sisterhood of the Shields.  Nor did she have any idea that her life was about to change forever, that their work and their teachings would become her life’s work and her soul’s quest for enlightenment and that she would become initiated as a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields and their public face.

Lynn’s initial meeting with Agnes and Ruby came after she attended a La Cienega art exhibit and became obsessed with a photograph of an Indian marriage basket. After repeated dreams about the basket and unsuccessful attempts to track one down, she was led by a chance encounter with a Native American author to the two medicine women.

Lynn spent her first six months in the wilderness with her teachers. She wanted to stay with them, didn’t want to return to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. But her teachers insisted she returns to the city and write a book about her experience with them. Agnes told her, “You are not Indian. The wilderness does not need you. Where do you think the world needs to be healed but in the cities? It’s very easy to be sacred with the trees and the wind. It’s very difficult to be sacred on the freeways of L.A.”

Lynn returned home and wrote Medicine Woman, the first of a long series that followed. In her books, she shares her travels around the world in the company and care to apprentice with the women of the Shields on four different continents and many, many different countries, from the jungles of the Yucatan to the Australian Outback, Nepal, Panama, the Solala region of Guatemala and the shores of Lake Atitlan, Egypt, the Hawaiian Islands and from the far North of Canada to South America.

Medicine WomanLynn describes these women as amazing and beautiful, many of them elders in their communities, all of them shaman healers of exceptional skill and personal integrity. “These are women who have survived the ravages of war, rape, the loss of children, the ruination of their countries by clashes between oppressive governments and rebel forces, the hatred visited upon indigenous peoples in so many parts of the world. And they are women who Know.”

To learn more about the Shaman Mystery School or other programs led by Lynn V. Andrews, visit <a href=”https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/”>https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/</a&gt;

 

Unique Voices in Literature

Born in 1979 to a Palestinian-Lebanese mother and an Iraqi-German father, Rayyan Al-Shawaf lived in the UAE, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Lebanon, and the US. These days, he makes his home in Malta. Rayyan is a book critic whose reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, and other publications. He recently traveled to the United States, to visit with friends in Florida and to promote his first novel, When All Else Fails. His protagonist a Chaldean, I was delighted that he stopped at Michigan to be on my show and visit our home where we engaged in the most fascinating conversations about religion, politics, Europe and the Middle East. I’m currently reading his book and enjoying it.

What was the inspiration for When All Else Fails?

The realization, ironic and disheartening, that too often the only way for you to parry discrimination or bullying based on the illogical notion of guilt by association is by playing on its equally spurious flipside, virtue by association! As I mentioned on your show, we’re basically talking about hitching your sorry ass to someone else’s shooting star – and hoping that this serves to burnish your image in the eyes of your tormentors.

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing career?

Well, I suppose much of my fascination with communal identity and belonging stems from my status as an outsider wherever I go. As for my concern with non-Muslims’ increasingly precarious status in several predominantly Muslim countries, I think it owes much to the liberal and secular household in which I was raised.

How did being a book critic help / hinder your writing?

It helped by making me aware (often, not always) of vague or imprecise formulations as well as excess verbiage, meaning that I might need no prompting to remedy the situation. It may also, however, have restrained any impulse on my part to take off on creative flights.

Why did you choose your main protagonist to be Chaldean rather than other minority groups, such as Assyrians? What type of research went into this process?

Well, let me first tell you why I made him Christian. Hunayn is convinced that, were Iraq free of Saddam’s tyranny, it would come into its own as a democratic and secular country. This, of course, allows me to set him up for disappointment. Hunayn doesn’t seem to realize that the rot goes deeper than Saddam, whose ouster is a good thing in and of itself but is followed by the rise of Muslim supremacist parties and militias. Making Hunayn Christian meant that the upsurge in anti-Christian violence on the part of these groups would strike his very core.

Once I had decided that Hunayn would be Christian, the main reason behind my making him Chaldean had to do with a sociopolitical orientation. My thinking went thus: Hunayn’s affinity for the modern state of Iraq (i.e., not simply the Mesopotamia of a bygone era), as well as his solidarity with Arabs and Muslims who suffer discrimination in post-9/11 America, would both flow forth easily were he Chaldean. After all, Chaldeans (and Syriacs) have had a far less fraught relationship with both the modern Iraqi state and with ethnic Arabs than have Assyrians.

Amazon Link

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS.jpg

You emphasize that the novel is not autobiographical. Why do you think so many people assume that the protagonist, Hunayn, is you?

Some of it surely derives from the fact that the story is written in the first person. And, ironically, due to real parallels between Hunayn’s life and mine (for the most part in terms of where we’ve lived and when), people who know me and therefore recognize these limited commonalities may prove more inclined than others to view the story as autobiographical! They might well extrapolate that everything else about Hunayn goes for me, too.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about to begin a second novel, one in which a young Palestinian man whom the Nakba turns into a refugee devises what he considers an ingenious plan in the early 1950s; he will make his way back to his homeland – which is now Israel, and which is blocking the return of Palestinian refugees – via Iraq. Naturally, complications ensue!

Why have you chosen to live in Malta?

Why, because of all the Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians here, naturally! Just kidding. I took a job almost one year ago as an editor with a startup university keen on righting its course following a rocky start; I’m the in-house editor at the American University of Malta (AUM).

You have an interesting background and lifestyle and multifaceted views. Do you think you’ll one day write a nonfiction book, and if so, what would you like it to be about?

It’d probably be a collection of essays – which would mean that I’d have a devil of a time finding a publisher! The subject would most likely have something to do with the way that, for many of us, historical contextualization is not simply a means to better understand the motivations animating our national or religious forebears, but an instrument by which we redeem those of them who committed actions we would otherwise consider morally questionable.

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

Allocate some time to reading outside the fiction genres and nonfiction disciplines that intrigue you – not simply to learn new stuff, but to expose yourself to different writing styles, elements of which you may wish to incorporate into your own material. Also, read fiction from other cultures (whether in the original language or in translation), as well as from various eras.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

If you’re attempting to create something tightly structured, the elements in question are the musculature of the plot and the sinuousness of its trajectory. If, on the other hand, you’re fashioning a character study (in which case you can opt for an episodic approach when it comes to structure), the emotional arc of your protagonist/s is in my view paramount. In either case, try to leaven the story with humor!

An Author’s Journey

R.L. Herron once worked for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and had a long public relations/marketing career with an international Fortune 10 company. After he retired, he decided to be a full-time writer. Ron has published eight books since 2012, received fabulous reviews and has won multiple awards.

“I have to admit, it feels pretty good to know critics and reviewers like my books,” he says.

Reviewers have said about his characters that they become quite believable, a few adding that they couldn’t wait to find out what happens to some of them.

“I’m extremely pleased by that,” says Ron, “because the characters were obviously seen as real people with real issues, and not characters in a book.”

While his characters are not based on real people, there are elements of people he has known in most of them.

“For myself, and many writers I know, character usually takes the top spot in a story,” he says.  “Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest one’s self in characters and their conflicts. A place, though important, is a bit more difficult and, if you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting – I know I am – I’d like to share an approach that might help. Treat your setting like a character.”

Ron says that memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. You need to explore how to assign equally vivid characteristics to your suggests, and suggest those characteristics to your readers.

How does Ron plan out his writing? He writes at least 1,000 words a day, but, he says, “Life has a funny way of telling you what you need to do at any given moment. It often doesn’t include writing at all.”

He doesn’t plan an outline, doesn’t think that life is much like that, so instead, he starts by imagining a few personality traits for each of his characters. Then he asks himself some basic “what if?” questions. After, he tries to imagine how each character he created will react to the hypothetical situation he posed. “Then I let them surprise me and tell me their story,” he says.

Whatever his approach, his novels have been well received by readers. Reichold Street was a 2012 Readers Favorite Gold Medal Winner that Kirkus Reviews called “Skillfully written and emotionally charged…” and Writer’s Digest commented, “Readers are in for a treat when they pick up Reichold Street…”

His 2013 fantasy collection Zebulon was a Readers Favorite Silver Medal Winner. His novel, Blood Lake, a modern horror/thriller that begins with a Cherokee curse uttered in 1838, won The BookLife Prize in Fiction (Publishers Weekly), calling it “…strong prose and well developed characters… an atmospheric tale.”

“That’s nice to hear, but I think the best thing that has happened so far is having my wife say she likes the way I write.”

In his first book, Reichold Street, the dedication is written for three people, “… who didn’t come back…” and also “For Lucy, who believes in me.”

“The ‘three’ were school buddies of mine who were drafted and sent to Vietnam,” he says. “Sadly, they died over there and ‘Lucy’ is one of my nicknames for my wife, Mary Lu. She was my high school sweetheart. She’s still my best friend, confidante, and critic.”

R.L. Herron’s earliest known ancestor arrived in the colony of Virginia, from what is now Northern Ireland, in 1635. A mere 313 years later, Ron was born in central Tennessee.

His parents moved him north as an infant and, despite a monumental dislike of the winters in Michigan, he still lives there with his lovely wife, his youngest son and one <em>enormous</em> cat. A National Merit Scholar, he attended Wayne State University (Monteith College), where he worked on the college newspaper, and earned enough credits to be offered his choice of BA or BPh degree. He later earned an MBA from Michigan State. He submitted his first story at 17, maybe not imagining then that, decades later, he’d publish multiple works of fiction, including five award-winners.

You can learn more about Ron Herron’s work by visiting his website http://www.ronaldherron.com