In Artist: Awakening to the Spirit Within, revered acting coach to the stars Jocelyn Jones combines her personal story, the techniques she’s used for legions of students in her thirty years as an acting teacher, and her tried and true spiritual insights. In her book’s introduction, Jones says, “This book is a humble attempt to wake up the artist in everyone—to connect you to your own source of inspiration and the solutions that live in the ether waiting for you to tune in and listen.”
Artist is a combined memoir and tutorial on the mechanics of acting that lay bare the line between art and artist while making a strong case in suggesting that the well of inspiration an actor draws from is the same source for creating an abundant life. The author shares, “Using the same techniques I give actors, I believe anyone can discover and connect to their own depth of joy… It is the structure you create in life that lays the groundwork for an exciting existence.” Continuing with the idea of structure, Jones says, “The more confident you are in the structural choices you make for your life, the more freedom you’ll feel living in the moment. The more freedom you feel living moment to moment, the more joy you invite into your life.”
The daughter of Tony-award winning, character actor, Henry Jones, Jocelyn Jones grew up in the midst of theatrical royalty and intuited that “Acting is about creating a life where there once was none. It’s about manifesting,” and “We are what we believe. We need to wake up and take responsibility for our thinking.” Equating skills for three-dimensional acting with life-skills, Jones suggests that “thoughts and feelings (inner life) color how the actor does the behavior; after they connect to all that, the words come.”
A bi-coastal youth, due to her parents’ divorce, Jones divided her time between New York City and a beachside community in Los Angeles. Preferring to live as a student of life, as opposed to pursuing scholastic achievement, Jones found divine inspiration in nature, learned to trust synchronicities in affirming her life’s path, and realized that the core of an artist is not so much talent as an acute sensitivity.
The author has much to say on the idea of being present in one’s own life and suggests that time speeds by because most are not actually in it, and that to slow down time, there is merit in being “in the moment” to fully experience “what is.” The author places emphasis on appreciating life’s day to day variables. “Oddly, it is the mundane details of life that bring the truth to both acting and living… When you fall in love with the mundane details of moment-to-moment living, you fall in love with the miracle that is life.”
Interspersed throughout the book are exercises the author uses to teach actors that are equally important techniques to use in life: Meditation, objective observation, and communing with nature to name but a few, and each exercise is designed to help us make decisions about what we want in life, while focusing a keen eye on what we choose to do. Jones recommends asking questions. She recommends finding fulfillment in discovery, and says, “Art is the expression of that which you have personally discovered…It’s the joy of discovery that permeates the expression.”
Artist: Awakening to the Spirit Within is an insightful, accessibly written book that hits all the high notes of art and creativity with an aim toward helping us lead an inspired life. For the actor and the layman, it’s an uplifting, life-affirming book sure to inspire all readers to create and discover the art in their own lives.
For the last 15 years Ms. Jones has served as a confidential “Creative Consultant” on some of Hollywood’s highest-grossing pictures. Known as a secret weapon to industry insiders, she has advised clients on everything from acting, to which projects to choose; to doctoring scripts; to developing their future projects. Her consulting work has been considered an invaluable asset by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
An in-demand Acting Coach for over 25 years, Jocelyn has shepherded hundreds of actors from novice to starring careers at The Jocelyn Jones Acting Studio, where she works with a handpicked group of actors, directors and writers.
She began her teaching career at The Beverly Hills Playhouse, where she taught for Milton Katselas for over 17 years. She has her own studio (The Jocelyn Jones Acting Studio) in West Los Angeles.
Hear Jocelyn Jones Interviewed by the inimitable Grace Sammon of Storytellers Podcast here:
THE STORYTELLERS! Jocelyn Jones remarkable woman, storyteller, acting coach of the stars, author of ARTIST!
Legions of authors adore Narrator Theresa Bakken, who produces and hosts The Desideratum Podcast. The ultimate in author-talk happens on Desideratum, and I’m excited to share that I just got booked to record for an appearance on this wonderful Podcast in late August. Watch this space! Desideratum is available now on Anchor, Spotify, Apple, Google and more! Now also carried by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network!
Desideratum is a Latin word meaning things that are desired as essential. Longing for stories to share and wishing for moments with gifted storytellers inspired this podcast. Each episode features a recorded short story or excerpt from an author’s latest book or audiobook, and a conversation with the writer about their craft and what they believe is essential. Tune in to hear an author you love, or to find your next favorite storyteller.
Meet Theresa Bakken, a multi-talented Podcast host and audiobook narrator!
Congratulations to Author/Artist G. Claire on Dreaming in a Time of Dragons!
-When is a dragon not a dragon?-When is a prince not a prince?-When do you burn evidence of your royalty and run, disguised as a boy? Eva finds her royal birthright has come at a high price, one that could cost her life. In the middle of dark intrigue, she must decide what to do: Trust the words of a mysterious traveler; or stay in the castle, hoping to restore the ruined Kingdom of Dunmoor. She knows one day she must face a danger sprung to life from the most frightening tale she knows . . . or forever be looking over her shoulder. Her choice means everything. For her. For the Kingdom. This story is stitched between the lines of supernatural realism, with medieval fairytale underpinnings.
I Love This Photograph of G. Claire at work!
Born and raised in Florida, I have loved writing and drawing since I held the first crayon and decorated our living room wall. My parents quickly realized I would need large paper and supervision – and lots of both.
I grew up, married, and moved to Atlanta. There, working as an artist/illustrator, my work was published and bought by private and corporate collectors.
Later, during my career as an art teacher for middle-grade and high school students, I felt the tug to write. After going to seminars and devouring books on the craft of writing, I took the plunge and joined a writers’ group. Creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them is now my place of bliss.
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Claire currently lives in the metro Atlanta area with her husband, and is working on Dreaming in a Time of Dragons, an epic adventure.
Reviews: I cannot remember my kids not I bring this enthralled in a book as much as we were this one. Ever. We struggled to stop reading every night and go to bed at a decent time, we couldn’t put it down. My daughter says she’s never envisioned anything in her imagination like she did while listening to me read this aloud. The author isn’t only an artist with images but also with words, invoking such beautiful imagery in the imagination. The good messages learned through this adventure are so beautifully and powerfully interwoven into the story. Learning to trust God, listen to intuition/the voice, bravery and forgiveness…there’s so much I could say but don’t want to spoil it. We are EAGERLY awaiting the next book and will probably reread this one while we wait. My daughter has been telling all her friends about it and how they HAVE to read it.
I loved this book! It was a great escape from all that’s going on in our world today. This book spans generations where pre-teen, teen, and adults alike will all enjoy this book! You can even read it to your children! It’s worth your time! Plus, I love the fact that the author also did the drawings and cover! She is multi-talented! Don’t hesitate to buy and read it!
I loved this book!! It was recommended to me, and now my niece is reading it. The chapters are short and story moves quickly. I liked the mystery and than the discovery of plot line. It was so clever. The drawings in it were also very well done. I could easily see this been made into a movie…I really look forward to that!
A Crooked Tree is a sonorous ode to youth with all its innocence, angst, disillusionment, and unfiltered honesty. Author Una Mannion tells a coming-of-age story in its full expression as told by clear-eyed, 15-year-old Libby Gallagher, the third of five siblings born to a family most would call dysfunctional, yet with Mannion’s deft handling, we experience the family as normal; we accept as plausible the frame of reference in this heart-tugging cause and effect story.
It is the early 1980s. The five Gallagher siblings, whose ages span a decade, jostle, and spar with each other in the back seat, while their distracted mother is behind the wheel, on the eve of summer vacation. It is coming dusk as they drive home to bucolic Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Mountain, and divorced mother, Faye, has had enough. Twelve-year-old Ellen tests Faye’s last nerve by giving her lip, and in a stunning fit of pique, Faye stops the car and demands that Ellen get out. Libby recounts what becomes the pivotal, repercussive scene, “We were still five or six miles from home. I hadn’t said anything to make my mother stop. We careened down the road, went through the covered bridge, past farmland, and fences. Beside us, the shadows of dogwoods blurred in the dark as my mother kept driving.”
Una Mannion’s debut novel A Crooked Tree will be published by Faber and Faber in the UK and Ireland and by Harper Collins in the US in 2021. It will also be published in Germany with Steidl publishing house and in Italy by Astoria.
Una has won numerous prizes for her short fiction and poetry including The Hennessy New Irish Writing Poetry Award, The Cúirt International Short Fiction Award, Doolin short story prize, Ambit fiction award, Allingham short fiction prize among others.
Her work has been published in numerous journals such as Crannóg, The Lonely Crowd, Bare Fiction, Ambit and her stories have been included in recent collections: Galway Stories: 2020 edited by Lisa Frank and Alan McMonagle (April 2020) and The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories edited by Sinéad Gleeson, (autumn 2020).
Along with writers Louise Kennedy and Eoin McNamee, Una edits The Cormorant, a broadsheet of poetry and prose. She curates The Word, a monthly author series hosted by Sligo Central Library and the BA Writing + Literature at IT Sligo.
Una is represented by Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge & White
The Pat Conroy Literary Center is near and dear to my heart, as I had the immense pleasure of meeting Pat Conroy in person at his 70th birthday party in Beaufort, South Carolina. Pat Conroy, my favorite novelist of all times (The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Great Santini and others) was everything you’d want him to be in person, and more–magnanimous, big hearted, self deprecating, and above all, sincere. That October, 2016 weekend I spent in his presence with hundreds of his literary fans who came from all over the world to celebrate him as an author and, more importantly, as a person remains one for the archives of my life’s standout moments, and I, along with legions of others, mourned the loss of this literary giant who died the following March. The Pat Conroy Literary Center was created in homage to Pat Conroy, Beaufort, South Carolina’s favorite son, and I was thrilled to come upon the article below just this morning. It showcases the Pat Conroy Literary Center and a bright, young woman named Holland Perryman, who’s making significant strides with the center in such a manner that it bodes well for the future on multiple levels!
A Great Love of Language, the Arts, and Living Life
story by KAREN SNYDER photos by SUSAN DELOACH
It goes without saying that Beaufort’s much beloved literary legend, Pat Conroy, will forever represent all that is good about life in Beaufort and the Lowcountry. Well, much like Conroy, who made an indelible impression upon his peers and teachers at Beaufort High, there’s another local high school student doing much the same — meet Holland Perryman.
This vibrant 16-year-old Beaufort High School (BHS) student in many ways represents the finest qualities that Pat Conroy nurtured in others, especially young writers. It seems more than fitting then that Holland serves as the Pat Conroy Literary Center’s first official intern.
Holland joined the Center in the Spring 2019, after already being the recipient of the creative writing award for a competition inspired by the Center’s March Forth partnership with BHS. Later that summer, Holland was selected to attend the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities for their two-week Creative Writing Academy. And in 2020, she was named a finalist in the inaugural Ann Head Literary Prize for Short Story competition, established in honor of Conroy’s first creative writing teacher at BHS.
Accolades and accomplishments aside, for Holland, being a teen is really about “living and learning.” A reader and writer from an incredibly young age, Holland has a passion for language, whether written in print or spoken on stage. It is a part of her soul, she says.
“I’m so grateful for this internship,” says Holland, explaining she first was introduced to the world of publishing during a shadow-day assignment as an eighth-grader at Riverview Charter School. “I visited the Center and briefly met Executive Director Jonathan Haupt, but it wasn’t until I was a sophomore that I approached him about an internship. Mr. Haupt had mentored college students for years elsewhere, but the Conroy Center was still new, and they had never had an intern, so it was a clean slate of possibilities.”
“Holland is an inspiration. I learn as much from her as she does from me. She embraces life with genuine empathy, wondrous curiosity, and heartfelt gratitude for every opportunity to learn, to teach, or just to lighten the burden of another. Over the course of his storied life, Pat Conroy championed hundreds of writers, including me, entrusting each of us not only with the lessons he learned from his experiences and inherited from his pantheon of teachers, but also with the responsibility to teach those lessons to others in our own ways. It’s an honor and an absolute joy to now mentor Holland in that same spirit, and in full knowledge that one day she too will pass on what she’s learned.” -Jonathan Haupt, Executive Director, Pat Conroy Literary Center
Holland’s new role would become an expansive one. It would include everything from assisting with events and teaching workshops to TV news interviews to becoming a co-host and presenter at the 5th Annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival held virtually in November 2020. Just as Pat Conroy offered his mentorship and guidance to many burgeoning writers, Holland finds herself “inspired by all the wonderful and passionate people and writers” she’s met at the Center.
“Mr. Haupt has been the most wonderful mentor. I am constantly learning about the writing and publishing worlds. Sometimes it’s through intentional conversations and other times through workshops and author events I’ve attended.” Though she’s grateful for these learning opportunities, Holland admits, “I’ve come to find that there is so much to learn from every moment, and some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been in casual conversations. He’s always teaching me something even when I don’t realize it!”
Much like any high schooler, Holland says she likes to “live in the moment and not dwell too much on the future.” Yet, exuding appreciation for the opportunities before her, she explains, “I try to focus on the present and what I can learn from the people around me. I find that when passionate people get together, amazing things can happen!”
That optimism has served her well as opportunities for Holland have continued to present themselves. She was a virtual camp counselor at the 2020 Camp Conroy, where she worked with kids from around the country. She was also the first writer to be featured twice as part of the “Lowcountry Poet’s Corner” segment of ETV’s Telly Award-winning series By the River.
Holland had her first book review published last summer in The Post and Courier, of the young adult (YA) Lowcountry adventure novel Spellbound Under the Spanish Moss (Lucid House, 2020) by Kevin and Connor Garrett. As part of the Bluffton Book Festival this fall, she and Haupt livestreamed their interview with the authors of this action-packed tale. According to Holland, she’s hoping to continue fine-tuning her “live interviewing” skills together with Haupt as part of a future endeavor featuring more authors. That opportunity may include interviewing Sara Shepard of Pretty Little Liars and debut YA novelist Kalynn Bayron, author of Cinderella Is Dead.
Holland and her older brother Walker moved with their parents to Beaufort in 2010. Holland says, like most Lowcountry kids, she’s grown up, climbing trees with feet covered in pluff mud. “My earliest memories of writing were sitting in the church pew listening to my dad’s sermons, taking notes, and writing about them.” Holland’s father is Reverend Dr. Patrick Perryman, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort. As a self-proclaimed book nerd, Holland says, “My parents always read to me,” also recalling that in her family, there has not only been a love of books, but music too.
Holland’s mother, Sissy Perryman, introduced her to musical theater. “I was in second grade when I went to my first audition” at USCB Center for the Arts Beaufort Children’s Theater. Holland laughed, recalling her audition that included an impromptu rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” with a lot of hip shaking and finger wagging. Since that time, Holland has been in 18 shows, most recently appearing in Little Women. Of all the roles she’s played over the years, she shared that the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz was her favorite.
Despite a remarkably busy schedule, Holland seems to have achieved a happy balance among her school, extracurricular, and work commitments. With a course-load of AP classes, Holland hopes to make the most of her high school academic experience. She is also a student leader, serving as the Student Body Vice President and playing Varsity Lacrosse. She is also a proud member of the Beaufort High “Voices” auditioned choir.
Outside school, you’ll find Holland enjoying time with her friends or working at The Kitchen selling gourmet home-cooked meals. She also loves to spend time with her church’s youth group that has a deep commitment to service to others. Holland says, “At the end of the day, I want to learn from those around me and be a part of the good in the world.”
It’s no wonder this driven and caring teen says the most impactful part of her internship experience “is witnessing the relationships within the literary community, both locally and beyond. I’ve learned how much good can be done when people lift up one other and take the time to listen to what each person has to say. It’s empowering to know that there is so much more to do in my own life and for others around me.”
Grateful for Haupt’s mentorship, Holland acknowledges, “He has taught me how to be engaged in every moment and conversation, both as a writer and as a person.”
Notwithstanding a global pandemic that no one predicted would have such far-reaching impact, Holland admits, “My world as a student looks a bit different now. I’m grateful that I’ve been surrounded by a loving family, supportive teachers and mentors, and amazing friends through all of it. If anything, this time has taught me not to rush through life, to be grounded, and live in the moment.”
It seems Holland’s writer’s voice has been found with such wise words to live by.
It has been my great honor and joy to align with author and book-blogger, Sally Cronin, who lives in County Wexford, Ireland and spearheads the wildly popular WordPress blog, Smorgasbord. If you’re unfamiliar with Smorgasbord, don’t miss out. Look into it here!
Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general
Recently, Sally released an E-Book that I want to tell you about:
Book Description: Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a collection of short stories with scattered poetry, reflecting the complexities of life, love and loss.
The stories in the collection dip into the lives of men and women who are faced with an ‘event’ that is challenging and in some cases life changing.
Even something as straightforward as grocery shopping online can be frustrating, and a DNA test produces surprise results, the past reaches out to embrace the present, and a gardening assistant is an unlikely grief counsellor. Romance is not always for the faint-hearted and you are never too old for love. Random acts of kindness have far reaching consequences and some people discover they are on a lucky streak. There are those watching over us who wish us well, and those in our lives who wish us harm.
I enjoyed this e-book immensely and left this review on Goodreads, Amazon, and Book Bub!
Author Sally Cronin wields heartwarming magic in this delightful collection of short stories, each written with a keen eye focused on the nuances of human nature. Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a series of lovely vignettes written with a clean hand as Cronin builds her common man, everyday stories. It’s the little things in life that matter, and Cronin depicts such topics as random acts of kindness, unforeseen good fortune, falling into and out of love, and the magic of animals in such an optimistic way that the reader is morally encouraged and given great hope. Each story lulls the reader with neat, simplistic beauty even as it takes an unexpected turn. In Cronin’s The Scratch Card, Elsie Thompson wins twenty pounds on a scratch card, which she puts to use in such a way that events are set in motion and change a young man’s life. In Friday Night, a young woman is taken for granted by her clueless boyfriend, until a stranger whispers a line that puts her life on another course, and in the satisfying The Gaffer, a duplicitous wife-abuser gets creative comeuppance. Interspersed throughout this e-book are poems and photographs that poignantly highlight the collective spirit of the book. The characters persevere, help each other, and come to their senses in a manner suggestive of hard-won insight, and written with all the impact of a parable. A pleasurable, enchanting read with a heart of gold, Sally Cronin’s latest release is nothing short of a charming assembly of uplifting stories.
Behold: the delightful Sally Cronin!
Here’s a little something about Sally you’ll want to know! She writes:
“I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996.
My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another twelve books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. My latest collection is Life’s Rich Tapestry : Woven in Words.. verse, micro fiction and short stories.
I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books.. as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.”
I read and enjoyed Sally Cronin’s book, Tales from the Irish Garden!
My Review of Tales from an Irish Garden:
I was attracted to this book because of its title. Show me a title concerning Ireland, and you’ve got my attention! I had seen good reviews of this book and, as are legions of others, have been a devoted fan of author Sally Cronin’s blog Smorgasbord on WordPress for years. And so it was that I bought Tales From the Irish Garden, not fully knowing what to expect. To say I was roped in from the onset puts it mildly! I was immediately bowled over by the minute details in this highly creative story, one part fantasy, one part fairy story and all parts sheer, delightful suspension of belief. Only, and here’s the kicker, as I read this engaging story, lured along by its romantic, magical undercurrents, I began to intuit the deeply human parables! Sally Cronin is a writer gifted with insight, humor, whimsy, and unparalleled story pacing abilities. Tales From the Irish Garden invites the reader to enter a plausible, magical realm so real as to make the reader want to stay there
I also read and enjoyed Life’s Rich Tapestry:
My Review of Life’s Rich Tapestry!
We come to know a person’s mind through the words they speak; their personality through what they create, and their heart through what they write. Put this all together and you’ve been gifted a glimpse into an artist’s soul. This is how Life’s Rich Tapestry Woven in Words impressed me. Author Sally Cronin’s precious gem of a book is nothing short of fluid insight into all that it means to be human in a round-robin way as to address the entire sphere in bits and pieces that leave a lasting impression. These are musings delivered artfully, the perfect melding of heart, mind, and soul. In sharing her personal views, the author invites us to examine our own impressions of the day-today by shining light on life’s rich nuance. There is something profound in these meditative pages, something joyous and real that takes nothing for granted by sheer virtue of the fact that Sally Cronin has called them by name. In addressing the natural world, celebrating pets, seasons of the year, and random thoughts, Cronin speaks to the reader conversationally in such a manner that told me I’d revisit the pages. Her flash fiction, speculative fiction, and short stories are vignettes to savor—all told, this book is a work of art at its finest. All praise to author Sally Cronin, who has earned a constant and significant place in the blogging world by selflessly serving as the fulcrum of focus for so very many. That she has stepped forth by assembling and publishing this collection of letters has gifted us all with the awe-striking opportunity to see a writer’s career shine at its brightest.
Many of us who follow Sally on Smorgasbord are familiar with the storied life of her collie, Sam, of whom Sally wrote ANOTHER book!
Another of Sally Cronin’s 10 published books!
Sally has a grand total of 10 published books, which you can learn about on Goodreads:
A former teacher and journalist, Johnnie Bernhard’s passion is reading and writing. Her work(s) have appeared in national and international publications, including: University of Michigan Graduate Studies Publications, Southern Literary Review, Houston Style Magazine, The Mississippi Press, the international Word Among Us, and the Cowbird-NPR production on small town America. Her entry, “The Last Mayberry,” received over 7,500 views, nationally and internationally.
Her first novel, A Good Girl, is a 2017 finalist in the national Kindle Book Awards, a Pen/Bingham nominee, and shortlisted for the 2015 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. It was chosen for panel discussion at both the 2017 Louisiana and Mississippi Book Festivals.
In 2018, A Good Girl was nominated by the Institute of Mississippi Arts and Letters for Fiction of the Year and accepted into the Texas Center for the Book permanent collection.
Her second novel, How We Came to Be, was released in 2018. It is a finalist in the 2017 Wisdom-Faulkner international Writing Competition. Chosen for panel discussion by the 2018 Louisiana Book Festival and the Mississippi Book Festival, it has received stellar reviews, including being named a “Must Read” by Southern Writers Magazine and listed as a 2018 Summer Reading List choice by Deep South Magazine. It was awarded the Summerall Book Prize by Lamar University in 2019.
Johnnie’s third novel, Sister of the Undertow was named a book of the month by the international book club, The Pulpwood Queens. It was a featured novel for panel discussion at the 2020 AWP and chosen as Best of the University Presses, 100 Books by Literary Hub and the Association of University Presses.
Johnnie was selected to be a speaker for the TEDWomen 2020: Fearless series.
Johnnie’s Third Novel, Sisters of the Undertow is making waves in the literary world,
Sisters Kim and Kathy Hodges are born sixteen months apart in a middle-class existence parented by Linda and David Hodges of Houston, Texas. The happy couple welcomes their “lucky daughter” Kim, who is physically and mentally advanced. Following several miscarriages, Linda delivers “unlucky” Kathy at twenty-nine weeks, ensuring a life of cognitive and physical disabilities. Kathy enters public school as a special education student, while Kim is recognized as gifted.
Both sisters face life and death decisions as Houston is caught in the rip current of Hurricane Harvey. Kim learns the capricious nature of luck, while Kathy continues to make her own luck, surviving Hurricane Harvey, as she has survived all undertows with the ethereal courage of the resolute.
Sisters of the Undertow examines the connotations of lucky and unlucky, the complexities of sibling rivalry, and the hand fate delivers without reason.
Fans of audiobooks! Johnnie Bernhard’s latest novel is out today for your listening pleasure. Narrated by Emmy Award winning book narrator, Theresa Bakken, Sisters of the Undertow will appeal to those who love stories about sisters, families, and the human struggle to fit in. Theresa’s voice is smooth and carries you right into the story. Come download your copy. A 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection and published by Texas Review Press.
SISTERS OF THE UNDERTOW has been chosen for the Texas Center for the Book Collection, State Library Austin.
Below: Ginger Smith, Johnnie Bernhard, Yours Truly, Kim Moon at The 2020 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas.
Johnnie’s 2nd, world-class novel: How We Came to Be
Here’s my book review of How We Came to Be:
How We Came to Be is a triumph of order from chaos as told in the most accessible first-person voice I’ve had the good fortune to come across in ages. I was under narrator Karen Anders’ spell from the first because author Johnnie Bernhard came out swinging by gifting the reader with this engaging novel’s premise by the third page. Karen doesn’t look good on paper. She is a fifty-year-old, high school English teacher living in Houston; a divorced, single mother facing empty-nest syndrome, well aware of her dependency on alcohol, but nowhere near ready to quit. Why should she? Karen’s life is a mess. One would think this is a recipe for a down on its heels story, but the reader is captivated by Karen’s tell-it-as-it-is persona and—dare I say it, identifies when Karen summarizes her circumstances by confessing, “I’m hating every moment, but pretending I’m having the time of my life.” When I got to this line, I knew I was hooked. We all have that sardonic friend who manages to smile through the egg on her face. This is Karen in a nutshell, and she keeps on keeping on, trying for the upper hand, while her adopted daughter, Tiffany’s first three months away at college become a study in bad choices, of which Karen has no say beyond putting out the fires. Karen’s dilemma is a common one and raises the question of how to be an effective single parent without chasing her daughter away. In the meantime, back at the empty nest, Karen knows she must forge a life beyond the rat-wheel of predictable sameness centered on her Houston high school’s schedule. In an uncanny act of timing, Karen’s world is widened when she is befriended by WW11 Hungarian refugee, Leona Supak from across the street, and an unlikely alliance is formed that challenges Karen to grow. Having been single for decades and barely hanging on, it probably isn’t the best time for a man to come into Karen’s life, yet when Matt Broussard pursues the surprised Karen in an Austin bar, she thinks, maybe? How We Came to Be is a brass-tacks, contemporary story without a moment of campy pretention. The events are cause and effect, but the story is what goes on in the likable Karen’s head. She is not so much a victim of circumstances as she is a neophyte at growing into her own. How We Came to Be is the story of a woman drowning in deep waters, who has the sense to learn how to swim. I applaud author Johnnie Bernhard for her wizardry in crafting this perfectly paced story in a voice so unique and compelling. This is a book to read and return to. It is perfect for book clubs because there is so much in it to discuss!
And Johnnie’s first novel, A Good Girl:
A Bible’s family tree and an embroidered handkerchief hold the key to understanding the past as six generation Texan, Gracey Reiter prepares to say goodbye to her dying father, the last surviving member of the Walsh-Mueller family. The present holds the answer, and the last opportunity for Gracey to understand her father’s anger, her mother’s guilt, and her siblings’ version of the truth.
The Walsh-Mueller family begins in Texas when Patricia Walsh leaves the famine of nineteenth century Ireland, losing her parents and siblings along the way. She finds a home, love, and security with Emil Mueller in a German settlement near Indianola on the Texas Gulf Coast. They begin their lives on a small cotton farm, raising six sons. From the coastal plains of Texas, five generations survive hurricanes, wars, The Great Depression, and life, itself.
An all-encompassing novel that penetrates the core being of all who read it, A Good Girl pulls back the skin to reveal the raw actualities of life, love, and relationships. It is the ageless story of family.
One of the highlights of 2020 for many writers was watching this!
When we publish a book, we want it to be read. Obviously. But what else do we want?
At the most concrete level, we want our book to be bought, liked, recommended, and reviewed. We want to see it on lists; we want lots of reviews (and stars) on Goodreads and Amazon. But we want something else, too—that connection with specific human beings who’ve been touched and changed by what we wrote.
When I published Queen of the Owls, I wanted all of those things, and I got many of them. The book earned awards, made it onto several “best of” lists. And yet, the most important outcomes are ones I never could have foreseen. They’re what I’m calling “unexpected, long-tail gifts”—responses from readers, often months later, that let me know how much my story meant to them.
My experience isn’t unique. When I reached out to other authors I knew, I found that all of them had a story (or two) about an encounter with a reader that left them humbled, honored, even moved to tears. Pondering what they told me, I’ve identified several themes that I’d like to share with you, along with some of their stories, as this year-to-end-all-years draws to a close. My hope is that these examples will help to remind us how much our writing really does matter and why it’s so deeply needed—especially now.
Finding the strength to go on
Therese Walsh tells how her novel, The Moon Sisters, found its way to a woman whose son had taken his own life. Though hesitant to read the book since she knew it was framed around a death in the family, the woman did read it and then reached out to let Therese know that it helped her to see a path forward for herself. She wrote: “What my heart appreciated the most was that the search eventually morphs into what the quest must be when answers remain elusive: Where do we go from here?” For Therese, “the book was written exactly for a person who needed hope after loss. That it found her, and that it resonated for her and hopefully brought some measure of comfort—helped her to find hope, despite the absurdity and sometimes even the brutality of life— well, gratified isn’t the right word for what I felt. It’s so much bigger than that.”
I’d venture to say that Therese is talking about the feeling of purpose, and of awe. There’s a sense of being of service—of playing a role in something that was meant to be—as someone picks up our book at just the moment when it’s needed most. As Caroline Leavitt, author of With You or Without You, said to me: “I got this astonishing email from a stranger who told me that she’d been going through a really hard time. She was stuck in a bad marriage and thought her life was over, but she read my book and told me, ‘I swear there was magic in that novel of yours’ because she suddenly felt that there might still be possibilities for her.”
Several authors told of equally extraordinary moments, when a reader shared how knowing that someone else—even if it was “just” a character in her book—had not only survived, but found a path forward, helped them find a freedom and a hope that had seemed unattainable. Kathryn Craft, author of The Far Side of Happy, told me: “The most touching comments I received were from people who had survived family suicides that no one ever spoke about, or had attempted suicide themselves. One young woman admitted to attempting suicide more than once—and then, after my event, she posted about our interaction on her Facebook page, amazed that I had held up the signing line to come around the table and hug her, and how this simple act had meant the world to her.”
Validating their own experience
When a reader bonds with one of our characters—feels that the character is not only credible and alive, but is someone just like me—it can bring a powerful sense of not being alone, not being the only one who’s gone through something painful and difficult. Randy Susan Meyers shared her experience after publishing her debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters. “So many people wrote that they’d never told anyone about the domestic violence in their family, the murder of their mother, sister, daughter. Wherever I went, once people heard about my novel and the story behind it, family stories that broke my heart rushed at me. I learned that the only thing required of me was listening, bearing witness, and always giving the message that they were not alone, and the shame was not theirs to bear.”
So too, Barbara Claypole White, who writes about mental illness in families, told me: “I’ve received incredible messages from readers that often start, ‘I’ve never told anyone this before, but …’ Sometimes they see family members in my characters, or they’re in a dark place themselves and find connection and hope.”
This sense of validation can also help someone take an important step. Barbara related the story of an email she received shortly after The Promise Between Us was published. “A reader stumbled on a copy of the book. Through my heroine’s journey, the reader realized that she wasn’t crazy; she was suffering from postpartum OCD. My novel led her to a therapist. That’s a pretty amazing feeling, to see that fiction can and really does make a difference.”
Similarly, Randy Susan Meyers tells of an encounter when she was a keynote speaker at an event. “Afterward, a couple asked to talk to me as I signed books. They told the story of how they lost their daughter when her husband killed her, a story they had never shared before. They wanted to know how they could help to prevent other deaths.”
This sense of validation can also come from “finding one’s tribe” in the story world—reading a novel set in a place, culture, or social environment that rings familiar and true. Author Claire Fullerton set her book Mourning Dove “on the genteel side” of Memphis in the 1970’s. As Claire told me: “I wanted to depict a particular milieu and the price one pays for living in a culture where bad things are not discussed. Because I laid bare that side of Memphis, I couldn’t help wondering about the book’s Memphis reception.” Would it feel authentic?
Her concern abated when she received an email from someone she’d known decades earlier, asking if she had time to speak with him about the book. Claire wrote to me: “We had what turned into an hour-long conversation about the Memphis we knew in our coming of age. He said that my depiction of the social and economic strata we were raised in was as accurately described as anything he’d ever read and thanked me profusely for putting it into words.”
Bringing a new understanding and appreciation
Certainly, there are books that open us to cultures and eras we know nothing about, enriching us by showing other ways of living. At their best, these books do two things at the same time: they show us something new and different, while also helping us to see and feel that these “different” people are very much like us in their struggles and joys. Ellen Notbohm’s The River by Starlight, for example, shines a light of understanding and social justice on how the human experience in another era—the American West of a century ago— both differs from and mirrors our own. Ellen told me that at nearly every reading she’s done, someone has approached her with tears in their eyes, thanking her “for telling my mother’s story, my grandmother’s story—finally.” Through Ellen’s novel, they understood, at last, what the women who came before them had gone through.
Debra Thomas also relates how this “new understanding and appreciation” can be deeply personal. The most moving response she received to her novel Luz was from a young Latina woman who saw herself and her mother in the characters of Luz and Alma. As Debra writes: “Reading Luz prompted a discussion with her mother about her crossing, and for the first time, my reader learned intimate details of her mother’s difficult journey from El Salvador, along the length of Mexico, and then through a desert crossing at the border—including being lost in the desert for ten days. She came away with a renewed respect for her mother and an appreciation for the struggle she endured so she could provide her daughter—herself—with a better life. “
Literally, saving a life
I end with my own story, which is what prompted me to reach out to these authors.
In my debut novel, Queen of the Owls, the “bookworm” protagonist reveals, sees, and comes to claim her body through studying—and re-enacting—the nude photos that Stieglitz took of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
I’ve received many messages from people who found the book to be deeply liberating, but an email from a woman I’ll call Cynthia was by far the most important. Cynthia won a copy of Queen of the Owls in a Facebook giveaway. Weeks later, she sent me an email.
“My connection to your novel is so surprising and totally unexpected … I’m uncomfortable looking at nude photos of women and reading descriptions of them. Nevertheless, I did quickly look up the photos of Georgia O’Keeffe that you mentioned in the book. The bigger deal is the book prompted me to do a breast examination of myself, which I know I’m supposed to do monthly, but don’t usually do. I found a small bluish-purple discoloration and a slight indentation. I called and had the physician’s assistant check me last week. She said it was not my imagination and scheduled me for a mammogram. They will also do a biopsy, if necessary. I am extremely grateful that I won a copy of your book and it prompted me to do this.”
Indeed, the doctors found a lump, and Cynthia was able to receive early treatment, including chemotherapy. She wrote again, later, to tell me she would never have had this early detection, and subsequent life-saving treatment, if she hadn’t read my book and been open to what it offered her.
Her story brought me to tears, reminding me that what we do through our writing has far more important consequences than how many stars, awards, reviews, or sales our books might collect. There are profound purposes we serve, as authors.
Cynthia’s is one story that I learned about. There may be other stories that I’ll never hear.
Our work as writers really matters. It might even save someone’s life.
What about you? If you’re an author, was there an unexpected gift you received from a reader? If you’re a reader, was there an unexpected gift you received from a book?
Many of my friends and peers in the book world are all atwitter with the news that River Jordan has a new podcast on Spotify! River Jordan, an eminently applauded author known, paradoxically, for her common-man, every-day appeal and profound esotericism, is both a drink of fresh water and a taste acquired as in the most sophisticated of wines. A no-nonsense, laser-sharp writer of deep fathoms, she has an uncanny knack for bringing the world to its brass tacks in a manner that highlights the ordinary as extraordinary. Her versatility as fiction and non-fiction author has gained her legions of devoted followers, myself among them, and I’m introducing River Jordan here for the uninitiated!
A few endorsements that will make a case in point:
PRAISE FOR RIVER JORDAN
“River Jordan is like Thomas Merton, Patti Smith, and Anne Lamott all rolled up into one compassionate, timely, and bracingly honest gift.” Silas House, author, Southernmost
”River Jordan is the South’s Anne Lamont.” Joy Jordan-Lake, author, A Tangled Mercy
“This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Souther tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.” Florida Today
”Author River Jordan conjures up the traditions of Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Peter Straub.” The Tampa Tribune
Above is one of River Jordan’s books that I highly recommend!
In my book review, I wrote, in part: “Praise for Confessions of a Christian Mystic! This is a writer who asks the big questions for us; who owns a steady faith base yet thinks outside the box. Confessions of a Christian Mystic is devout and dauntless. It is sonorous, beautiful, soul-deep, and fearless.”
A little background about River Jordan:
River Jordan is an author, speaker, teacher and radio host. As a southerner with a global perspective she is a passionate advocate for the power of story.
River’s writing career began as a playwright and she spent over ten years writing and directing. She is the best-selling author of four novels and a three spiritual memoirs. As a critically-acclaimed author her work has been most frequently cast in the company of such writers as Flannery O’Conner, William Faulkner, and Harper Lee.
Ms. Jordan lives on a hill just beyond Nashville city limits surrounded by her wild, southern family. When not on the road you’ll find her on her porch at night watching the moon move through the star-filled sky and contemplating all manner of things human and divine.
Her latest release came out in October:
The Ancient Way, Discoveries On the Path of Celtic Christianity is her most recent book written about her pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona in Scotland.
More on why so many are thrilled with the news of River Jordan’s Podcast!
I encourage you to listen to River Jordan on Spotify, where she gifts the listener with short, insightful, pithy insights that ring with universal resonance on subjects common to us all. Her offerings are short vignettes I find both delightful and deeply profound. I’ve made listening to Jordan’s podcast, titled Saints in Limbo, a regular practice. They are nothing short of uplifting messages. Saints in Limbo is on Spotify, Monday through Friday. The example below will give you an idea of the podcasts’ soul-stirring depth of field.
“A podcast to help get through these days that seem neither here nor there, before or after, what used to be or what will come after.
A poem, a prayer, a story, a few good words for all good Saints who feel they’ve fallen into a strange new place called limbo.
Some say your novel The Shores Of Our Souls is a romance. Do you consider it such? What genre did you intend it to fall under when you wrote it?
I believe my novel falls on a literary fiction shelf, or an upmarket women’s fiction shelf. I wrote it to open a conversation, so it’s great for book clubs. It’s cross-genre for sure, if you’re trying to label it. It’s about war, love, and international intrigue. It’s a bildungsroman for the female character, and parts of it are historical fiction.
What do reviewers miss about your novel?
My novel is a love story, not a romance in the strict sense of the genre. It’s about why and how we love. It differs from many other love stories in that it’s told from two points of view. It was a risk on my part, but I did it to give my readers a better understanding of Arab culture, religion, experience, and values. That’s what drives any relationship – perspective and values.
It also doesn’t fall into a traditional romance trope of “Happily Ever After.” Instead, it shows what two people, damaged and alone, can do to heal and catalyze each other if they share love, even if it’s short-lived. I don’t like tied-up-with-a-bow finales, although readers who want one may like my sequel better. My sequel A Thousand Flying Things opens a decade later, and my my protagonists Dianna and Qasim have had time and space to heal inside, come into their own, before they reunite again. We’ll see if their love survives the separation. (Hint: There are some surprises that even Dianna doesn’t know about in their decade of separation.)
Call it what you will, love conquers all, especially division. It can also lead to mutual understanding. The connection and empathy it evokes can resolve conflict. Every conflict we face teaches us about each other and the world we live in, but only if we feel enough compassion for others to walk in their shoes. Rarely, love leads to a lifetime partnership. Often, it teaches us who we are.
If there was one thing you’d like to tell your readers about Shores, what would it be?
If people read only the first few scenes, they won’t understand that these two characters have been broken. They want to love, but societal wounds have rendered them incapable of it until they heal. Damaged people don’t make the best decisions. If readers stay with the story, they will watch both characters heal, and heal each other. And as they heal themselves, they widen their hearts.
If they read on, they’ll discover the potential of love to heal and transform. Yet before that point, they’ll also see how secrets lead to distrust, cause love to recede and characters (and real relationships) to backtrack. Miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, but the love endures. And it’s the love that keeps both characters moving on their Life Paths.
What themes and questions did you want to explore in your series?
Love conquers all.
How to love during conflict, be it a marital separation or a world war. (A lot of my coaching practice is about resolving conflict.)
How parental love, familial love, friendship love differ from romantic love.
And the questions I pose:
Do we choose who we love, or does love choose us?
Can we love all those who injure us? Can we forgive?
How does fleeting love change us? Catalyze us?
Can unconditional love awaken us to who we really are and thus empower us?
How did you write from a male POV so vividly?
I wrote Qasim’s POV as backstory first, to better understand him. Then my beta readers fell in love with him.
I realize it’s controversial to write in a POV different from one’s own these days. Yet I think it’s what writers do, put themselves in a situation or a point of view to better understand it, and to show others how to understand. I was trained as a child and as a writing student to put myself in another’s shoes. I may make mistakes, but I tried to portray every character authentically, and especially Qasim, as a full, complex character, who has successes and makes mistakes. Just like we all do, if we are alive.
Yet I didn’t find his voice in a vacuum. I’ve lived and worked in Africa and traveled through the Middle East. And most importantly, I had a relationship with a Middle Eastern man long ago, although the true story, the true human I loved, is nothing like Qasim and his story. Yet that person created a launching place for voice and story.
Do you consider Dianna a strong protagonist, a strong female role model?
Absolutely, although she’s young, naive and head-strong in the first novel. She’s left home and family to go seek a career in order to send money home. She hasn’t rented a brownstone with a bunch of friends and partied every night. She’s on her own. She’s striding forth in a male-dominated world and work force, and she holds her own. She holds her own when Qasim patronizes her. And I believe she evolves into a self-empowered hero, someone who paved the way for the women who came after her.
She, like Qasim, is a woman of her time. Women were just coming into their own. The employment rate for women rose from 38 percent in 1960, to 43 percent in 1970, to 52 percent in 1980, and finally reached 60 percent by 2000. Yet these stats don’t say where the women worked, or their entry annual salaries (mine was $10,600 before taxes), or the challenges they met in the workplace, or how much they earned to a man’s dollar. In 1980, women had a career map, maybe even a role model, but they faced a lot of hurdles. I asked for a raise after two years on the job, and my boss told me that the raise had to go to the man because “his wife had just had a baby.”
I’ve heard readers ask about an audible edition of both your novels? Are those forthcoming?
A strong maybe. Stay tuned.
Your book is full of visual and sensory imagery. Is that how you usually write a scene?
I start with a memory, an interesting person from my life or from history, and a question I want to figure out myself. Then I close my eyes and a story plays out in front of my eyes like a movie. I used to think that most people wrote that way.
And how do you write? Do you ever use an outline?
I write most scenes with incredible speed. Most of my language and voice comes from that very first draft, even if it does have a bad plot.
Then I outline.
Then I make sure I’ve written and approve of my beginning, middle, and end, that both the narrative and character arcs are solid.
Then I revise to the middle, then to the end.
And then revise until someone tells me I have to stop.
How much research did you do for your novels? How much comes from your life experience?
I’m including an informal bibliography in my next novel, because I’ve received this question a lot. I was a researcher for five years for National Geographic, so deep research is part of me. Also, I have a personality like a scientist’s, in that I’m incredibly curious and want to get the heart of things, to as near “truth” as I can. Shores is well-researched. I can provide a bibilography to anyone who requests it. Just sign up for my newsletter at https://shoresofoursouls.com, and I’ll send you a complete bibliography.
Yet I didn’t find the The Shores Of Our Souls story in a library. I was a humanitarian worker for nearly two decades, with a work focus in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. I spent this time meeting and interviewing immigrants, displaced people, people in war, both civilian and military. I was an international humanitarian law instructor for the Red Cross (ie, Geneva Conventions). I witnessed these people’s life stories and I shared them with the world. I’ve spent time in Beirut, the last time in 2006, six weeks before the last war, with bombing raids already happening up the coast.
So that’s why you chose to write about Lebanon?
Not entirely. My initial protagonist hailed from Alexandria, Egypt. Every country in the world has its unique sensibilities, though. Egypt is completely different than Lebanon. Qasim fit in Lebanon, not Egypt. By the way, the man I dated was not Lebanese. But Qasim just had to be.
Do you have a favorite line in Shores?
The lines most readers love just came to me one day. “We often lose ourselves in love. Rarely do we find ourselves there. Never do we see it coming.” They open the novel.
But my favorite lines are at the book’s end. They’re an homage to E.M. Forster’s A Passage To India. The last lines of all my novels in this series will be a tribute to him. He was one of the first to write about the divide between East and West. I also added a falling feather in the scene because my BFF Laura Schmidt, an amazing writer with an amazing life, passed when I was writing the first draft of this novel. She sends me blue feathers as signs that she’s still with me, and she whispers inspiration in my ear on a regular basis.
Who are your favorite authors? Your favorite children’s authors?
My all-time favorite book is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
My all-time favorite books on writing are by Eudora Welty: One Writer’s Beginnings and The Eye of the Story.
I’m an avid reader of fairy tales and myths from all over the world, and my very first book was The Three Little Horses, by Piet Worm, given to me by a neighbor when I was 2 years old. I knew I’d found the man I would marry when he introduced himself as a modern-day Druid, and told me he loved Tolkien.
I also loved C.S. Lewis’ The Narnia Chronicles, and E. L. Konigsberg’s The Crazy Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler changed my life – made me want to write about the world, cultures, history, and how my world related to it all. And it made me start running away from home, much to my mother’s chagrin.
My favorite contemporary authors are Isabelle Allende, Alice Hoffman, and Barbara Kingsolver.
But I almost always fall in love with any book that gets me past the second chapter with its voice and craft. Once I’m immersed in story, it’s tough for me to come out again.
What’s next for author Kathryn Brown Ramsperger?
The sequel to Shores, called A Thousand Flying Things, will be published next year. I’m working on the book cover right now. Then I hope to publish a memoir about adoption, teen suicide, and the mother-daughter bond. I have many books that are still works in progress, including a weird funny memoir on death.
I also host a Facebook Live called Story Hour most every Thursday @ 4 pm EDT on my Facebook Author page, with replays available on You Tube. I also am an intuitive coach at Ground One LLC, and a book coach with my own process. Most of my writing clients are memoirists. My method is called Step Into Your Story! (TM)
I love speaking anywhere, online or off, about story, the writing craft, global citizenship and peace.
Author Bio: Kathryn Ramsperger’s literary voice is rooted in the Southern tradition of storytelling and is informed by her South Carolina lineage. She began her career writing for The Roanoke Times and The Gazette newspapers and later managed publications for the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Switzerland. She has contributed articles to National Geographic and Kiplinger magazines.
Writing from a global perspective, her themes are universal yet intensely personal and authentic.
A graduate of Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.), Kathryn studied under several esteemed writers including—Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Eudora Welty; her mentor Richard Henry Wilde Dillard and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor. She holds a graduate degree from George Washington University.
Winner of the Hollins University Fiction Award, Kathryn is also a finalist in novel, novel-in-progress, short story, and poetry categories in the Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition. The Shores of Our Souls won the 2017 Foreword Indies award for multicultural fiction and also won an America’s Best Book Award.
Kathryn is a mezzo-soprano, has dined with artists ranging from author Marita Golden to musician and writer Kinky Friedman, and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica and Australia. She’s worked in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.