Category Archives: Non Fiction

5 prompt Friday

         Here we go again…

  1. The empty feeling in my stomach spread to my chest and head, threatening to pull me inside out.
  2. How do I say this to you?
  3. On her wrist was a bracelet made from multi-colored paperclips.
  4. His voice crackled through the walkie-talkie, “The Eagle Has Landed.”
  5. Are you ready to do this?

Have a story or prompt to share? Post it here : ) Happy writing!


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Interview (and book GIVEAWAY) with Melissa Hart, author of Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood

Melissa Hart

Please welcome author, Melissa Hart, as she shares her experience as a journalism teacher, finding that balance in life and the writing process of her memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood.

One lucky reader will be selected to receive a copy of Gringa – but you must post a comment or question before end of day Jan. 22 !

Interview by  Mary Jo Campbell

Tell us about your writing process: do you start with an image? a conversation? an idea for a theme?

I generally begin with an image.  For instance, I just wrote a piece of social commentary about quitting my C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) program in favor of buying local produce at farmer’s markets.  In my head, I had an image of my husband holding up a bag of moldy greens from the refrigerator, and I wanted to explore my inadequacies as a domestic goddess and my inability to deal with a box of fresh produce every week.

Other times, especially in the case of social commentary, I begin with an issue that I want to explore.  I wrote a piece a while back for The Chicago Tribune, in which I wanted to examine my feelings about adopting a child and wanting, irrationally, to be seen as the “only” mother.  In that case, the issue came before the images in the essay.

Your website showcases a lengthy list of published articles and essays. Can you tell us how you know when the seed of an essay has the potential to grow into a full memoir?

I knew when I wrote “Wanting What I Have,” an essay which appeared in both Brain, Child and Mothering Magazine (online), that it had potential as a full-length memoir.  The essay examines the two and a half years I spent waiting to adopt a child; the wait was excruciating, and I distracted myself by learning to train permanently injured owls at Eugene’s Cascades Raptor Center.

I shy away from writing pure “mommy lit,” but the very real presence of owls in my daily life during this period is unusual and I’d like to offer it to readers along with stories of my own angst and amusement at the process of international and domestic adoption.

Your latest memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, has a list of questions for book club discussions. How cool is that! How does it feel to relate/connect with your readers? Have you ever been invited to book club discussion on your book (in person or via phone?)?

I’m attending my first book club discussion for Gringa this Thursday in Seattle, and I’m honored to think that I’ll be sitting in a room full of people who have taken the time to read this book.  I’ll be attending similar discussions in February.  It’s one of the most gratifying aspects of being a writer—to get to meet and talk with readers, whether in person or online.

Still, I’m a bit nervous.  I’ve just reviewed Cindy Hudson’s fine “Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs,” in which she suggests to  readers who didn’t like a particular book that they might want to refrain from noting this to the author.  I worry that people won’t like Gringa, of course, and that they’ll refrain from telling me why.

I tell my journalism students that they’re free to dislike a piece of writing that I assign, but they must explain why they disliked it as eloquently as possible.  To me, this is sometimes even more interesting than hearing why someone enjoyed a book!

If you read my first post of the year, I’ve dubbed 2010 The Year of Clarity.  Tell us how you balance all that is on your plate: wife, mom, teacher, essayist, memoirist, and journalist, to name a few!  While writing longer projects (books) do you still write and submit articles and essays? Do you write only during school breaks? Or do you streamline your energy and focus only on one large project: writing, revising and marketing one piece at a time?

I admit that it’s difficult to balance it all, and I have chronic insomnia.  But I’ve dubbed 2010 The Year of Letting Things Go.  I have a few unfulfilling paid obligations that I need to quit, so that I have more time with my daughter.  I’ve almost got my work to a point now that allows me to write one short essay a week and work on one chapter of my new memoir.   look forward to breaks between university semesters as weeks which offer a great deal of clarity—this last break, I wrote four essays and three travel articles and spent wonderful time with  my daughter.

You asked about my process; I’m a slow writer.  I love to scribble down a rough draft by hand, and then type it up and let it sit for a few weeks.  I pull it out again and revise, then let it sit once more for a while.  Finally, I look at the piece again and revise, read it out loud, and then, when I think it’s perfect, I give it to my husband.  He’s a professional photographer with a background in philosophy, and he’s my most trusted critic.  He inevitably reminds me that when I feel something’s polished, it usually needs a bit more work.

Speaking of teaching, you are a Journalism and Intro to Memoir Writing teacher for at the college level and teach creative writing to H.S. students.  What is your biggest challenge? What is your best advice for helping young writers find their true “voice” and bypass those nagging editors (especially their own parents!)?

My biggest challenge is finding enough time to devote to each of my students.  Some terms, I have 50, and I want to give them so much individual attention and support.  At times, though, that’s just not possible.  We keep in touch via e-mail, and on Facebook once they’re no longer my students.  That’s immensely gratifying.

My advice to young writers is to get a notebook and write every day.  I’d also use the notebook as a repository for photos, compelling quotes, lists, sketches, movie ticket-stubs—whatever has energy and helps to recall an event or era.

I remember meeting the novelist E.L. Doctorow when I was eighteen.  I went up to him and timidly asked him for advice.  He told me to write every day.  At the time, I thought that was awfully simplistic advice, but now I see that it’s the only practice which will train a young writer to develop and trust his/her voice.

Can you share with us your favorite collection of essays, favorite memoir or best book on writing in either of these genres?

I adore Sue William Silverman’s “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir,” as well as the “Best American Essays” series and “Creative Nonfiction Journal.”  Anyone writing memoir will want to check out all three for inspiration and practical advice.

What’s next on the horizon for Melissa Hart?

I’m working on a memoir tentatively titled “Learning to Triangulate: A Pregnancy, an Adoption, and a Baby Barred Owl,” as well as honing my skills as a travel writer.  I really love quirky natural history and unusual places around the world, and I’m having a good time writing short travel essays and selling them to magazines and newspapers.

I’m also hoping to get a job as a teacher in a low-residency M.F.A. program.  I graduated from this type of program (Goddard College, class of 1996) and I’m excited to work with writing students and guide them toward publication.
Read more about Melissa Hart and purchase her books here:

You can view the book trailer at

Melissa Hart grew up in Southern California. She teaches Journalism at the University of Oregon, and Introduction to Memoir for U.C. Berkeley’s online extension program.She’s the author of The Assault of Laughter, a memoir.  Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Advocate, High Country News, Horizon Air Magazine, Hemispheres, Orion, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

She lives in Eugene with her husband, photographer Jonathan B. Smith, and their daughter Maia.

Melissa Hart grew up in Southern California. She teaches Journalism at the University of Oregon, and Introduction to Memoir for U.C. Berkeley’s online extension program.

She’s the author of The Assault of Laughter, a memoir.  Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Advocate, High Country News, Horizon Air Magazine, Hemispheres, Orion, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

She lives in Eugene with her husband, photographer Jonathan B. Smith, and their daughter Maia.


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Non Fiction

Author Interview & Book Give Away: Chynna Laird, “Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Journey with Sensory Processing Disorder”

With a New Year, New Authors (new to this blog, at least.) Please join me in welcoming Chynna Laird today, as she discusses her role as an author, a student and a mom who holds everything together for her “special needs family.”  Please leave a comment or question for Chynna on writing or SPD as she’ll be popping in to reply! And, one lucky reader will have a chance to win her newest book!
About Chynna….

Chynna T. Laird is a mother of three beautiful girls Jaimie (six), Jordhan (four) and baby Sophie (ten months) and a gorgeous baby boy Xander (two). In addition to living her dream building up her at-home freelance writing business (Lily Wolf Words), she’s also studying to obtain her B.A. in Psychology, specializing in Early Childhood Development.

Her hobbies include writing, reading, playing piano and violin and crafting with her girls. A lot of the material she writes about includes childhood experiences, her adventures as a Mom and her personal observations.

She’s won writing contests in ByLine magazine and her work has been published in various Christian, parenting, writing and inspirational magazines in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. As well, she has a personal essay featured in Chicken Soup For The Soul: Children With Special Needs as well as one in Cup Of Comfort For Special Needs. Last year she released a children’s picture book she’s written called, I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD where she describes–through the voice and perspective of four-year old Alexandra–what it’s like to live with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Sensory Processing Disorder).

Chynna is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Writers-Editors Network, Christian Writers’ Guild, The Canadian Author’s Association as well as The Writers Guild of Alberta. She has Press Cards through the PWAC and the Writers-Editors Network.

Chynna’s third book, The Sensory Diet: Setting Your SPD Child Up for Success will be released in January 2011.

Find out more about Chynna by visiting her websites:
Lily Wolf Words:

About Not Just Spirited

What would you do if your child suffered with something so severe it affected every aspect of her life?

And what if your cries for help fell on deaf ears at every turn? You’d follow your gut and fight until someone listened. And that’s what Chynna Laird did. When she was just three months old, Jaimie’s reactions to people and situations seemed odd. She refused any form of touch, she gagged at smells, she was clutzy and threw herself around and spent most of her day screaming with her hands over her ears and eyes.

By the time she turned two, Jaimie was so fearful of her world they spent most days inside. What was wrong with Chynna’s miracle girl? Why wouldn’t anyone help her figure it out? Jaimie wasn’t “just spirited” as her physician suggested nor did she lack discipline at home. When Jaimie was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) at two-and-a-half, Chynna thought she had “the answer,” but that was just the start of a three-year quest for the right treatments to bring the Jaimie she loved so much out for others to see. With the right diagnosis and treatment suited to Jaimie, this family finally felt hope. Not Just Spirited is one mother’s journey to finding peace for her daughter, Jaimie. As Chynna says often, “Knowledge breeds understanding. And that’s so powerful.”

Genre: Memoir/Children with Special Needs
Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: Loving Healing Press (November 2009)
ISBN: 1615990089

Not Just Spirited is available through, B&N, and independent or chain bookstores.

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell

Ten years ago, we’ve never even heard the terms ADD, ADHD, or SPD. As a parent, how difficult has it been finding the answers you need to help your child with SPD?

Great question. Jaimie was diagnosed over five years ago and, at that time, we didn’t have access to the amazing resources there are today. The most frustrating part for us as parents has been finding the right form of treatment for Jaimie. It astonishes me that we can be given this diagnosis but then encounter so many barriers with getting her into the proper treatment, and coverage for that treatment, because some people don’t recognize it as an actual disorder. SPD and sensory issues are felt to be a symptom of Autism and therefore part of that treatment. But a lot of kids have the sensory issues without the Autism diagnosis. Let’s just say I did a tremendous amount of online and in-person research, talked with many experts and interviewed many people until I was guided to those who know, understand and work with children who have SPD. What a relief it was to find a community who ‘gets it!’ It can still be frustrating but at least I have the resources (and research!) to back up what I try telling people about Jaimie and her needs.

Can you tell us about a “typical” day in your home: the unique struggles you, your husband and children face as a family dealing with SPD?  Also, what can we do as a community of parents to assist families dealing with SPD?

A “typical” day for us actually starts the night before. Jaimie’s sensitivity levels the next day greatly depend on the amount of sleep she gets the night before, which often, isn’t much. We get up in the morning and Jaimie needs to be able to sit on her part of the couch with her weighted blanket or vest on and “wake up”. After she’s had her milk she gets dressed then does a bit of computer stuff. Then we usually get her to either swing in one of her swings or bounce on her mini-tramp, depending on what her body needs. While all this is going on, I have to get my other three kids going. Our son, Xander, has a few issues as well (which we’re in the process of investigating) and can be rather difficult to get ready and keep calm. Let’s just say if Jaimie is, what we call, ‘up’ or seeking sensory stimulation, she gets everyone else going and then it’s utter chaos around here.

Steve (my partner) helps out with getting people dressed and giving some direction before he goes to work. Jaimie won’t let him do much for her so I usually have to do most things for her. (He’s always triggered sensory issues with her that we still don’t fully understand.) I take the older girls to school (Jordhan is in Kindergarten, Jaimie is in Grade One), give Jaimie’s teacher the run-down of what her evening was like so she’ll know what sort of vestibular/proprioceptive stimulation to give her during her day, then I come up with the younger two. Jaimie comes home for lunch to have her calmdown time—it really helps her to have a break. After school, Jaimie is usually very cranky because she’s held it together all day long and then releases everything. We’ve learned to help her do that in better ways. I give her a bit of quiet time on the couch and, if she isn’t too tired, we do her “Kathy’s Games” (that’s the name we give her Sensory Diet. Kathy is her OT.)

Jaimie needs a lot of vestibular input with auditory input as well. Her upper body is quite weak while her lower body is very strong because when she’s stressed she jumps, spins, runs and stuff. We don’t always know what exercises will work so we try a few things until she says, “Oh, that makes my body feel great, Mama!” Usually we do something in her swing, some sort of gross motor exercise and something where she needs to pull, push or drag something. These things organize her body so she calms down. If she doesn’t get enough exercise, she is even more cranky and won’t sleep well. If Steve is home, he watches the other three and if he isn’t then come into our Sensory Room and do other things. (Xander gets a lot of comfort from particular exercises so I let him join us, even if Jaimie doesn’t appreciate her brother joining in!)

We have bathtime at the same time and do the same routine every night. That’s essential.

Our days are a bit different from one day to the next (even one hour to the next some days) because Jaimie’s needs are different. And it really does affect all of us. But we try our best to stay in a routine, give Jaimie TONS of warning and visuals for when things will be different, and include everyone as much as we can. That’s what “special needs families” do. =)

As for the community, what’s most important is understanding. Learn about SPD and how it can interfere with a child’s ability to interact with you. These kids aren’t “bad kids” who just act out for attention or because they are told “No!” They’re reacting to things around them and how those things/people/situations make their bodies feel. Parents should feel strong enough to give the information to folks and those folks need to be willing to hear it. Understanding is definitely the most important thing families with SPD want because that leads to acceptance. Really it’s just being willing to look beyond the surface—what you see the child doing…what you may think is going on—and not being afraid to ask questions. Most of us would have no problem answering questions as that’s how to get people talking about issues and raising awareness for those issues.

Let’s talk about writing! You’ve published a children’s picture book: I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD and now your memoir, Not Just Spirited…  Can you compare your writing processes for each book? Which did you enjoy writing more?

The writing processes for each, for me, were really different. The children’s book I wrote in about half-an hour after an upsetting experience at the park. Jaimie was struggling at the park because there were too many children there at the time and they interrupted her usual routine there. When a child came over to talk to her she screamed, covered her ears and ran away. I overheard a couple of other kids asking what Jaimie’s problem was and calling her ‘weird.’ I basically wrote it as a way to (a) help people, like those children, understand what was really going on with Jaimie; (b) help Jaimie understand that she wasn’t the only person out there who felt the way she did; and (c) help to verify her feelings. It’s tough having something going on inside of you that scares you so much but you don’t have the words to explain it to others. That’s what I hoped to do with the book. But I had to make sure that I wrote in the voice of a child the same age (four years old) and describing things the way a child of that age would. It was fun!

The memoir was a bit more difficult because it was like reliving everything all over again. It was tough enough the first time! But it needed to be done. That book I had to make sure that I was being respectful to my family and my kids because they are all still here and will see the finished book out there one day (Hopfully!) and I don’t want them, especially Jaimie, to ever be embarrassed or ashamed of anything I shared. Jaimie has never been very keen on my sharing stuff about her. But she’s starting to feel better about it because it’s her way of helping other people just like her. She even chose the cover photo!!

I’d have to say I loved writing the children’s book the best because it finally helped Jaimie understand and feel better about her SPD. Plus, because she has such high tactile sensitivity, I’ve never been able to calm or comfort her the way I wanted to. The book gave me a chance to do that without touch! Extraordinary!

When you began writing your memoir, did it help to have a picture book publication under your belt, or did one not affect the acceptance of the other? (Same topic, different avenues?)

For me, it didn’t make any difference. What’s funny is that I actually finished the manuscript for the memoir before I wrote the children’s book. It took that long to get it out there! It helped to have the children’s book out there because it showed that I’m serious about writing. At the same time, a lot of agents/publishers don’t consider a self-published book “published,” so it hindered me in some places. I’ve always found that authors, or authors-in-waiting, should be proud of all of their accomplishments and put them proudly in their brief bio with their submission. If nothing else, it shows your determination and passion about writing as well as the subject matter you’re writing about.

You stated in your recent WOW! interview that in addition to being Mama to four young children and writing books, you’re pursuing a BA degree in Psychology. How do you find that balance between self, family and writing? Do you have scheduled writing time? Do you check emails/blogs while cooking dinner or focus on one task at a time?

Oh boy, this is a great question. While doing this, I’m scanning the time so I can run off to get Jaimie from school. I have Jordhan right here doing her computer time and my two “babies” (Xander, three; and Sophie, nineteen months) are napping—which is a rare treat!

I don’t have a set writing time anymore because my kids’ schedules seem to be a bit different from one day to the next, especially when it comes to sleeping. So I just balance out the time I DO have between school and writing. On days when I have more reading to do in school, I can do more writing. I just read while rocking the babies to sleep or while they’re doing playtime stuff they don’t want me to be involved in (HA!) and do the writing when they’re asleep. Yes, I do check/return emails and post blogs while making dinner and stuff! It sounds crazy but I’ve always been someone who needs to do many things at the same time. When my mind is still, I get crazy. LOL! (You must also know the art of juggling!)

I must stress though that it’s very, very important never to take on more than you can handle. Keep your top priorities TOP then balance out the rest. And ALWAYS take a bit of time for yourself each and every day. An unhappy Mama makes an unhappy family. =) (Santa brought us a Wii system for Christmas and I enjoy sneaking in a bit of Yoga and Kung Fu and fun stuff like that!)

Please share your plans for any future writing or projects in the works!

Right now I’m working on writing a book about the Sensory Diet. It’s basically a parent’s perspective with the experts’ tips and suggestions mixed in. I was hoping to get some success stories from parents but, sadly, didn’t get very many. I understand, though. It’s hard to write about something when you’re still going through it. We’re still working on what works and what doesn’t for Jaimie.

I also have two fiction projects—a thriller and a YA—and am working with someone on editing another memoir about my mother. She had bipolar that she never acknowledged or got properly treated. The book will show what happens when families don’t face these issues and deal with them TOGETHER.

Hopefully, I’ll be out there again one day soon. =)

Thank you so much for your time and insights!

One lucky commenter will be randomly selected to receive Chynna’s book: Not Just Spirited. Must post before midnight on Jan. 14 and must have a US address.

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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, emotion, Give Aways, Inspiration, Non Fiction

Book Blog Tour & Giveaway: Celia Rivenbark

CeliaPhoto2Celia Rivenbark dishes essays about the old south, the new south, and everything in between in her fifth book You Can’t Drink All Day If you Don’t Start in the Mornin’. In addition to a collection of essays so funny you’ll shoot co’cola out of your nose, Celia gives readers a treasure trove of Southern recipes and the hilarious stories behind them.

For eight years Celia wrote for her hometown paper, the Wallace, NC Enterprise. She covered everything from weddings to funky fruit to dead bodies(sometimes all in the same day). But the big city beckoned so Celia packed her bags and headed to Wilmington, NC and the Morning Star. More weddings but eventually she achieved every Southern girl’s dream. She was paid to be a smart ass(a.k.a. write a humor column).

Along the way she found herself a husband(the sports writer, of course– they are the cutest guys at the paper!), a beautiful baby daughter, and a gig as a stay-at-home mom. After her 3,000th diaper change, Celia starting writing a humor column for the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, SC. After all, what’s funnier than 3000 dirty diapers? Laugh along with Celia on her WOW Blog Tour– dates are listed at

YouCantDrink_coverCelia will be popping in today (between Bloody Marys) to answer your questions and comments about her books or writing in general.  One lucky winner will be randomly selected to win a copy of You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Mornin’. (Posts must be made before 12 midnight CST and winner must live in U.S.)

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell:

MJC: Your humor and “voice” are so distinct. Can you share why it is so important to have a distinct voice and how you have worked to develop your own?

Celia: Everybody has a distinct voice. The difference is that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to practice mine every single day for a living for a long time. I discovered after writing “Bless Your Heart, Tramp” that a surprising number of readers really enjoyed the Southernspeak. They didn’t always understand it but they didn’t seem to mind. More than a few have written over the years to ask what a particular phrase means. The copyeditors who review my manuscripts always have questions because they didn’t grow up talkin’ “Souther-ren.” So they stumble through life like a blind mule in a punkin’ patch without so much as an “I swanee” or “pea turkey squat” to comfort them. One of my favorite writing exercises is to write a few pages of dialogue with different voices. Then I read it out loud and, if it sounds, authentic, into the book it goes.

MJC: I love your raw and sarcastic comments and tone, but not everyone shares the same sense of humor.  Have you had much “mommie backlash” from things you’ve written?  If so, how did you handle it?

Celia: I haven’t had much mommie backlash at all. Most of my friends feel the exact same way I do about the Crazy Mommies. Then again, I might not recognize a good stink-eye aimed in my direction. By and large, I think most mommies understand I write humor and, yes, sometimes I exaggerate for effect. If I’ve gored your ox with something I’ve written, it’s important to remember that this is supposed be for laughs.

MJC: This is your fifth book of humorous essays, but the first to include recipes.  What made you decide to add recipes and how did you decide which ones to add?

Celia: Sooner or later, everybody starts putting recipes into their books.  (Well except for Paul Krugman or smart people like that but then you just know he just eats Kraft blue box mac and cheese over a hotplate every night don’t you?) Jill Conner Browne’s “Knock You Naked Margaritas” were stuck in my mind along with Mary Kay Andrews’ chicken salad recipe, which is good but a bit labor-intensive. I figured if they could do it, so could I. My mother-in-law, to whom the book is dedicated, is a phenomenal country cook so it seemed even more appropriate. I wrote the book first, then added the recipes, which I selected based on how well I could tie them to a particular essay and, more important, how good (or how mom-friendly) they were.

MJC: Like many of my readers, you began (or continued) to write through the throes of new mommy-hood. Can you offer any tips to those who are struggling to make time to write as a new mom?

Celia: I always used naptime for writing my column. Sophie napped for exactly 2.5 hours a day, and that’s about as long as I can sit still and write anyway.

MJC: Your essays are so very current. How do you use the “power of observation” to gather these ideas into essays with universal appeal?

Celia: I’m a huge pop culture and news junkie. If something strikes me as something I could riff on and customize (as in The Southern Mama’s take on Paris Hilton going to jail), then I let it marinate for a day or two and then start writing.

MJC: You’ve written about celebrities, mommies, the South. Will you write a collection of humorous essays on the life of a writer?

Celia: No, because others have done that and done it very well. For instance, right now I’m reading “And Here’s the Kicker.” It’s a new book of interviews with humor writers that I’m just slightly bitter about not being included in. What’s interesting is how many of the writers were misfits and sad sacks growing up. Hmmmmm.

Feel free to tell us about any of your upcoming appearances or events:

Celia: Thanks for letting me yak. Please drop by for information on real and virtual book tours and more.


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, contests, Creative Essays, Give Aways, Non Fiction, Voice, writers

Book Blog Tour: Sue Silverman, author of “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir”

SueSilverman_headshotToday, I have the honor of hosting author, Sue Silverman, who will share her journey of writing a nonfiction book for writers on how to uncover our true stories in memoir form.

Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie.  Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction.  She teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (see video book trailer at  As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News.  For more about Sue, please visit


Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.

The rise of interest in memoir recognizes the power of the genre to move and affect not just individual readers, but society at large. Sue Silverman covers traditional writing topics such as metaphor, theme, plot, and voice, but also includes chapters on trusting memory and cultivating the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces–from family members to the media–who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts and views remain silent.

Silverman draws upon her own personal and professional experience to provide an essential resource for transforming life into words that matter. Fearless Confessions is an atlas that contains maps to the remarkable places in each person’s life that have yet to be explored.

Please enjoy this exclusive interview with Sue Silverman.  Feel free to post your comments and questions for Sue, as she will be popping in throughout the day to reply!

(Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell)

MJC: Obviously, a memoirist needs to recall their past from memory or recorded documentation (diaries, letters, etc.)  But, how beneficial is journaling in the life of all writers: memoirist or non-memoirist?

Sue: Journaling can certainly be beneficial in terms of recalling dates, specific facts and details. However, it is not a prerequisite!

I’ve never kept a journal.  I figure I’ll recall enough about the most important events.  And, for me, the best way to recollect the details of these events is to submerge myself in sensory imagery.

For example, say I want to write about a birthday party in sixth grade.  Maybe I remember some broad brushstrokes of the party but can’t recall as many details as I’d like.  In order to do so, I begin by asking myself the following: what did the birthday party sound like, taste like, feel like, look like, smell like?

By focusing on the five senses, it’s amazing how many seemingly “lost” details we remember!  In other words, by concentrating, I try to “re-enter” scenes, submerge myself in any given past experience, and see where that leads me.

MJC: When writing a memoir, beginners (as well as experienced writers) may become caught up in getting every detail correct. How important is this, especially in the aftermath of James Frey’s “memoir” becoming reclassified as fiction?

SUE: There is no way you can get every detail correct!  That isn’t even the aim or goal of a memoir.  A memoir is based on one’s (always faulty) memory.  Readers know memory is imperfect.

In short, a memoir is not an academic treatise.  It’s not journalism.  It’s not supposed to be.  The only requirement is not to break the contract with the reader—as James Frey did by deliberately misleading through invention.  What he did is not acceptable.  If, however, you’re recalling events to the best of your ability, then the reader knows this, understands this, and accepts it.

MJC: Can your book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir be a reference for non-memoirists, as well?  If so, how can creative non-fiction and fiction writers benefit from the information you provide?

SUE: Yes, I think Fearless Confessions can also be helpful to fiction writers, as well as to writers of other forms of creative nonfiction—such as personal essays, etc.

In all these forms, to varying degrees, a writer implements plot, scene, sensory description, metaphor, voice, character development.  My book explores all of these craft issues.  And, in both fiction and creative nonfiction, the characters (or personas) need to be fully realized and something has to happen!

But the book also deals with issues mainly relevant only to creative nonfiction writers—such as the use of reflection or how to craft your everyday voice into a literary voice, even as you tell your own story.

MJC: As a teacher to young adult writing students, I’m always encouraging them to dig deeper in their narratives, as well as their fiction.  What advice can you offer to teachers of creative writing and the students?

SUE: I would emphasize that writing is a process, usually a slow process.  If you’re taking piano lessons, you don’t sit down the first month or even the first year and play Mozart.

Likewise, with writing, be patient with yourself.  Everything I write needs a gazillion drafts.  It is only through these drafts that I discover the depth of any given work.  Writing is really all about revision.  Here is where the depth of any given narrative is discovered.  It took me five years to write Love Sick, six months to write a 16-page essay!

MJC: Teaching memoir in a classroom must be sacred.  How do you as an instructor establish the safe haven needed for students to develop and share their stories with their peers?

SUE: I teach at the low-residency MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I hope I establish a level of trust more by example than anything else.  Teachers need to learn to listen as well as speak.  For me, I try to listen to what any given student needs from me.  I also let students know that all their stories are important.

I don’t try to impose my will on a student.  Art is subjective; I hardly have all the answers.  We’re all writers—students and teachers—all still learning a lot about the process, the craft.

My job as a teacher is to guide—not to judge.  How can I best help a student find his or her voice or story?  What can I do to help a student fully realize any particular work?  If students know I care, then I think they feel safe.

MJC: In a culture of personal information becoming mainstream via social medias such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Reality TV, how do you see the memoir genre growing?  Do you think publicizing “all for the world to see” makes us more empathetic towards each other or just creates a Pandora’s box to be malicious?

SUE: Both! Some critics love to attack memoirists and call us, for example, navel gazers.  Others fully recognize the importance of the personal narrative and understand how it can make us more empathetic.

Even though the naysayers can make me angry (and I write about this in chapter 9 of Fearless Confessions), my sense is that the public can’t get enough of memoir.  Readers find our stories useful—in a really good way.  I receive hundreds of emails from people thanking me for telling their stories, too.

So let’s keep writing. After all, everyone has a story to tell.  And all our stories are important.

MJC: What’s next for Sue Silverman? Please tell us about your upcoming appearances and projects.

SUE: For a list of my blog tour and other events, please check out my website at

I am close to finishing another work of creative nonfiction—related essays—called The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew. And that’s pretty much what it’s about!

Thank you, Sue, for a wonderful interview!


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, emotion, Non Fiction, Voice

Exclusive Interview & Book Giveaway: Arnie Bernstein, author of Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing

Arnie_109Today, I have the honor of hosting Arnie Bernstein, author of Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing.  In his interview, Arnie describes his passion behind this book, explains how to conduct interviews on a delicate subject and the responsibility of portraying accurate details in a true-life story to honor the living and the lost.

Arnie Bernstein is a nonfiction writer based in Chicago. He is the author of three books on Chicago history, which won praise from the late United Stated Senator Paul Simon (D-Illinois) and Roger Ebert.  In his introduction to Bernstein’s book “The Movies Are” Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews & Essays, Ebert wrote:

 “Arnie Bernstein has performed an extraordinary accomplishment in bringing this book into being….(He) adds great knowledge and insight…providing background, orientation, historical information, helpful footnotes.  This is a book that reopens a chapter of journalism and history that might have remained closed forever.”

Bernstein has been interviewed by many media outlets, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, BBC Radio, television, documentaries and webcasts. He was honored for his work by the Illinois State Library, and won grants and awards from The Puffin Foundation and Warner Brothers Studios.  Bernstein is a board member of The Society of Midland Authors, one of the nation’s oldest writer’s associations which was founded by Harriet Monroe and Carl Sandburg.  He is also a member of The Author’s Guild.

Speaking engagements include presentations at DePaul University, the University of Chicago, Columbia College-Chicago, and many others.  He has given speeches and served on panel discussions at the Chicago History Museum, the Illinois State Library, the Gene Siskel Film Center, as well as numerous public and private libraries.

Bernstein is represented by Barbara Braun Associates, Inc.  Contact him at Visit his site:


On May 18, 1927, in a horrific conflagration of dynamite and blood, a madman forever changed a small Michigan town. Bath Massacretakes readers back more than eighty years to that fateful day, when Andrew Kehoe set off a cache of explosives concealed in the basement of the local school, killing thirty-eight children and six adults. Among the dead was Kehoe, who literally blew himself to bits by setting off a concealed dynamite charge in his car. The next day, on Kehoe’s farm, his wife’s remains—burned beyond recognition after Kehoeset his property and buildings ablaze—were found tied to a hand cart, the skull crushed and objects placed with macabre ritualism next to her body.


With the horror of Oklahoma City and 9/11 still fresh in Americans’ minds, the seemingly endless stories of school violence epitomized by the Columbine shooting, and suicide bombers around the globe, Bath Massacre resonates powerfully for modern readers and reminds us that terrorism and murder on a large scale are sadly not just a product of our times.

Bolstered by cooperation with survivors and their descendants, the book includes exclusive interviews with the people who lived through that terrible day in 1927.

Some illustrations in the book have not been seen in over 80 years.  Now published for the first time, you will find many of these exclusive pictures here along withother photos of the bombing and its aftermath.

As we mark the tenth year since the Columbine killings of April 20, 1999, there is no better time to learn and remember the incredible impact that such an act of violence can have on a community

Arnie will be stopping in throughout the day to reply to your questions and comments. One lucky commenter will be selected to win a copy of Bath Massacre.

So, grab a hot cuppa joe and settle in for a treat!

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

 1.      How did you decide on writing this book? Were you trying to find the story of  “America’s first school bombing?”


I wanted to write about a “forgotten story” in history. I felt this would be a real challenge as a writer.  How do you take something that fell through the cracks of time, and then make it come alive so it’s compelling and relevant to today’s readers?  That was my initial goal so I started poking around the Internet, finding things here and there but nothing that really grabbed my attention.  I stumbled onto the Bath story in May of 2005 on a history web site and knew immediately I found what I was looking for.  It had everything I wanted: a great story arc, a compelling cast of characters, and resonance for modern audiences (particularly in the wake of Virginia Tech, Columbine and other school murders). The Bath School bombing grabbed me from the start.  It was that “eureka!” moment; it was something I hadto write about.  (Rather than recount the story here, readers should check out the synopsis on my web site:


2.      During your reading at Columbia College in 2007, you spoke of the survivors you interviewed for this book.  How did you find these people to interview and more importantly, how did you handle probing for details with such a delicate subject?


 “Delicate subject” is a perfect description.  I knew I’d have to get the cooperation from the people in Bath in order to get the book done.  Keep in mind I didn’t have an agent or publisher at this point.  There is an excellent web site run by a great-nephew of one of the victims.  This site listed the address for the “town historian,” whom I contacted.  Essentially, the town historian was a resident who put together a scrapbook on the tragedy.  The Bath Middle School houses a museum about the bombing and this man sent me to a couple of their board members.  I called to introduce myself and explain what I was doing.  We agreed to meet and I drove up to Bath (outside of Lansing, MI and I live in Chicago, about a 3 ½ hour drive).  I did a presentation for the assembled board, explaining who I was and why I wanted to do the book.  That was one of the scariest days of my life!  I knew they would look at me as some kind of outsider coming to tell their story—and rightfully so—hence I had to tread lightly but firmly. 


I explained what I was doing, what my approach would be and that under no intention was I going to exploit their tragedy for personal gain. I pledged that I would give a percentage of any royalties I might earn to the school museum. It was also important to me that I do this.  Let’s face it; a generation of Bath’s children was murdered.  If I didn’t give something back to the town, then I would be making blood money.  Obviously I had no interest in doing that!  


I couldn’t really tell how I was doing in this meeting, but they took what I had to say and asked good questions about my background and my goals with this book.  While they agreed to cooperate, they also asked me not to talk with any survivors, since they didn’t want these people—their friends and relatives, people in their late 80s/early 90s —disturbed by a stranger.  I agreed, although inside I was frantic!  How could I get to the heart of the tragedy without talking to survivors?


When the book came out this past spring, I learned that many people had come to the committee before with ideas on telling the story, but had received no cooperation because of various attitudes, mostly a lack of concern for the community.  Among those who’d been turned down was Michael Moore, who wanted to include some stuff on the Bath School bombing in Bowling for Columbine.  Apparently he and his people were rude—quite rude! 


But one person, whose late father was a survivor, told me something that really made an impact on me.  I was speaking to Bath high school kids about my book and the tragedy; after my speech I asked this man, “What did you think when I first came to town?”  His words floored me: “After you left,” he said, “we knew we had finally found the right guy.” 


Of course, I didn’t know this at the time!  I continued working on the book, doing research, making trip after trip to Bath, talking to the townspeople and working on building trust.  After about a year one of them said that perhaps I should talk to her father.  He was in the school that day and his brother was one of the children killed in the explosion.  The man was now in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  I sat with him and his daughter and we talked.  I was very careful, as you can imagine, because I didn’t want to upset the man and yet I wanted his stories.  His daughter and I went back and forth, gradually drawing stuff out of him.  Although it was clear his mind was not all there, you knew his memory was keen when he talked about that day.  I think we spent three hours talking.  He did repeat a few things over and over but I just rolled with it, figuring he might come up with something fresh each time he recalled the events.  In some cases that did happen.  In fact, he gave me one of the most compelling moments of the book, the last confrontation between Andrew Kehoe and Superintendent Emory Huyck.


Once this woman saw me in action with her father, I knew I’d made a major breakthrough.  I felt in my gut I’d finally proved that I could be trusted not to push survivors into painful emotional areas.  I was right; the floodgates opened and I was given the contact information for several people.  Ultimately, I interviewed four of the six or seven survivors left.  And the woman who sat down with me and her father became my best contact, providing me with plenty of information, answering the most obscure questions about the town, and many other things.  We’ve grown very close over the years; today I consider her to be one of my best friends.


I guess the bottom line for any of your readers who want to take on a difficult emotional project is take your time, be patient, be sincere, be sensitive, and give your all.


3.      (A question borrowed from your website’s Reading Group Questions List) Bath Massacre uses techniques normally found in fiction. In what ways is the book like a novel? How does this help draw readers into the story? How did you build suspense even though the readers know what is coming?


My two biggest influences on this book were a pair of creative nonfiction masterpieces: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer.  Though Capote and Mailer were far apart stylistically (to say nothing of their alleged feud and begrudging respect for one another), I think both of these books worked well in developing a dramatic and sometimes suspenseful narrative although the reader already knows how each respective story will end: with executions of the criminals.  Those books were my models; in fact, when I reread Bath Massacre after it was published, I could see exactly how much of In Cold Blood I’d absorbed and reworked into my own style as far as lengthier prose and The Executioner’s Song when it came to the shorter paragraph bursts. 


Knowing the outcome of the crime actually helps, I think.  It gives the reader a reference point, one full of dread and yet inevitable. Throughout the book, leading up to the bombing, you get to know not only Kehoe and his increasingly erratic behavior but also the people of Bath.  Some of them are going to die, mostly children.  You don’t want it to happen, but you know it will and it is going to be devastating.  The morning of the bombing, I fill the chapter with short scenes of children going off to school, classroom scenes, and other typical, normal, mundane activities.  Knowing what’s coming, knowing that these lives are going to be shattered in so many different ways counterbalanced by Kehoe’s actions in the final days and hours before the bombing builds the suspense.  Although Kehoeis behaving in a cold, calculating way, he doesn’t appear to be on the surface.  We know what is coming but his victims and the people he has interactions with obviously don’t have a clue.  These two worlds are about to collide in epic and inexplicable tragedy.  And that’s where the suspense comes from. 


I hope I’m not coming off as unfeeling here!  Obviously these are real events that devastated a community.  Through creative nonfiction techniques you’re drawn deeper into the action rather than you would be with straightforward police procedural or something written with histrionic language like you see in a lot of cheap true crime paperbacks.  Those kinds of books are designed to provide vicarious thrills to the audience.  I wanted readers involved and sympathetic, not simply stirred up.


4.      The varying processes of published authors always fascinate me. Can you share your research and writing process and timeline for this book?


My research was conducted on several fronts.  I relied on newspaper accounts of the tragedy; a transcript of an inquest conducted a few days after the bombing to determine the whats and hows of May 18, 1927; two previous books and other accounts of the tragedy, all of which were self published; and interviews with survivors.


Because I’m working in nonfiction, I like to immerse myself in as much material as I can on a topic so I know the story backwards and forwards and can cover all of its nuances.  Fortunately, there was a wealth of eyewitness accounts as chronicled in newspapers of the day: obvious choices like New York Times and the Chicago Tribune provided great information, but the meat of these stories came from the Lansing State Journal.  They had people on the scene first and hit all aspects of tragedy: rescues, heartbreak, fundraising, and events in the days after the bombing.  These accounts—particularly the Lansing State Journal—were invaluable resources.  They were filled with scenes that informed the overall story.  I also used newspaper accounts marking various commemorations of the bombing (I dislike the word “anniversary” to describe the date), such as the 75th year marking the tragedy.  A piece from the Detroit Free Press on how Bath offered lessons to the post-9/11 world was also very useful.


Next was the transcript of the inquest conducted by local law officials on the Monday and Tuesday after the bombing.  The official goal of this inquest was to investigate the circumstances behind the murder of Emory E. Huyckbut the real job was to provide an account of what led up to the bombing and what happened on May 18, 1927.  This document was nearly 300 pages and was packed witheyewitness testimony.  It was filled withscenes, withdialog, with the interior mindset of so many townspeople, eyewitnesses, rescuers, and victims. 


There were a few self-published books on the tragedy.  One was produced by a Bathresident about a monthor so after the bombing to honor the dead and chronicle what happened that day.  Another was a self-published history written about 20 years ago.  The design of this latter book was terrible and the writing was even worse, but the research was great and provided me with a lot of good information, particularly in the school board events that showed the growing tension between Huyck and Kehoe.  There’s nothing more boring than reading accounts of school board meetings and I had to wade through page after page of that stuff!  Despite the tedium, the book did do a nice job of setting the stage and also gave some good history on Kehoe’s early years.  The town historian also produced a pair of spiral bound books that collated a lot of articles and personal accounts and there was also a lengthy history of Bath written in 1976.  All very useful stuff.


Finally there were the survivors. The bombing was 80 years ago, yet to them it was yesterday.  Their memories, their words were far more eloquent than anything found in newspapers or books. One woman told me some particularly gruesome details about the scene and a family member who was killed.  As the stories grew bloodier and more personal, I was afraid of upsetting her and said, “You don’t have to tell me this stuff if you don’t want to.”  She said, no, she wanted to tell me.  She wanted people to know what happened and it was her duty to bear witness.  And that’s an awesome task to translate such personal stuff into a book.  The survivors emboldened my resolve to do this book right. I wanted to create the definitive account and hence had to tell it properly.



What I did was go through this stuff over and over until I felt like I’d really absorbed it.  Now comes the work! I write an outline and throw myself into the writing.  Having all that stuff surrounding me physically as well as stored in my head infuses my process.  I turn into a machine and churn out the material.  I don’t pay attention to things like style; I just write.  Then I go back and edit mercilessly.  Did I leave anything out?  Can I move stuff around?  What really belongs and what can be deleted?  How can I smooth out the work so it reads seamlessly?  Again, I don’t worry about style but getting the story told right and told to the best of my abilities. 


What I didn’t realize when I was writing was how violent and graphic the story was.  I just wrote!  In the editing phase, as I played with the material, I periodically would have to put down the manuscript; it got to be too much for me to handle emotionally.  It never occurred to me how hardcore I was getting in the writing.  Like I say, I turned into a machine, taking the research I absorbed and translated it to the page. Regardless, I knew during the editing that if I was this deeply affected, I was on the right track.  Odds were with me that the reader would see and feel the tragedy exactly as I did.



5.      As writers, we are told to have a readership in mind, especially when pitching an agent or publisher. Did you have a publisher in mind while you were writing this book? Can you tell us about your publishing experience?


I can’t say I had a readership in mind; all I knew was that I had a compelling story.  If it grabbed me, surely it would grab others!


As for pitching it, I was told at the beginning by one person to “dream big.”  To be honest, I had Devil in the White Citydreams about bestsellerdom, but agents and publishers had other ideas.  I had no agent when I started, but I wrote a damn good proposal (and I used a wonderful book by Elizabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals That Anyone Can Write to guide me in this phase; I highly recommend it).  Next I scoured the Internet for potential agents and sent out query after query.  I got plenty of rejections with the occasional nibble for the proposal.  However, the majority of people said the story was “too regional.”  In other words, because the story didn’t take place on the East Coast or the West Coast, it wasn’t significant!  But after 40 or so submissions, I got a wonderful agent who really believed in the material.  It took me only three months to find an agent, a much shorter time period than I anticipated. 


She sent out the proposal to publishers but again we ran into the “too regional” roadblock.  We both found this frustrating because in the post-Columbine world you’d think that the first mass school murder—particularly one with as many twists and turns as the Bath story has—would be a juicy plum for any publisher.  Finally University of Michigan Press picked it up.  Because the story took place in Michigan they were a natural choice and UMP is one of the most respected university presses in the country.  I asked a couple of author friends who had published with university presses what they thought, and they encouraged me to take the deal.  I’m glad I listened to everyone. I’ve been very happy with UMP; they’ve done a great job as far as production, editing, book design and promotion.  They’ve worked hard on my behalf and that inspires me to hustle in my own marketing efforts.  We’re now in our fourth printing.


Ironically, the Virginia Tech tragedy happened about six weeks after we sold the book.  I said to my agent that we probably could get a big name publisher if the book was still being pitched at that point since the subject would have been more “topical,” something people were looking at anew.  She agreed and she knows the business.  It’s a sick little racket, the publishing game!




6.      What would you like readers to take away after reading Bath Massacre?


Overall, I want readers to feel the depth of the tragedy in very human terms.  I’m often asked if the book has any lessons in light of modern school violence and I can’t say it does; the only thing it really shows is that these sort of tragedies are nothing new and realistically there’s nothing we can do to stop determined psychopaths.  I point that out towards the end of the book with a lengthy list of modern school killings.  It’s not a hopeful message, but it’s a realistic one and that’s something I couldn’t avoid.  But the final scene, of the 94 year old woman visiting her baby brother’s grave on the 80th anniversary of the bombing does—I hope—show the reader the importance of memory, of keeping the dead close to heart, of how connections of love are not diminished by the years, of how goodness and decency can emerge from unthinkable violence.



7.      Please share your upcoming events and readings of Bath Massacre.


On Saturday, August 1 I’ll be at the Bourbonnais (IL) Public Library Author Fair. Later in the fall I’m going to be in Grand Rapids, MI for a book festival on Saturday, October 17.  Other events are being scheduled as we speak.  The best bet is for readers interested in attending a reading is to check in on the “events” section of my website and/or become a “fan” of the book on Facebook.


I do participate in book club readings and discussions; there’s a readers guide people can download from my website.  Depending on location, I can meet with your group in person, or via telephone, webcast or Skype.  If readers want to use Bath Massacre for their book clubs I’ll provide them with copies (signed, if they want!) at a group discount.


8.      What is next for Arnie Bernstein? (Events/readings/classes/projects, etc)


I’m teaching basic college composition at Triton College in River Grove, IL.  I love teaching 101; that nuts and bolts stuff and the enthusiasm of my students really helps my own work.  If you can’t do the basics, you can’t write and teaching introductory stuff helps keep my own work fresh.


I’m currently researching a new “forgotten history” story that also has contemporary repercussions.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that!


Overall, this book has been a great experience.  Thanks for giving me this opportunity to talk with your readers.  I’d love to hear from people if they have any questions or comments.


One last thing: the best advice I can give Writers Inspired readers is that if you have a great story you believe in, keep fighting for it.  You will succeed in getting the work out there.

Please remember to leave a question or comment for Arnie for a chance to win a copy of Bath Massacre.  Comments must be posted before 12 midnight, CENTRAL, today, July 29.


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Non Fiction, Platform/Marketing

Writing of loss


A writer friend of mine had the esteemed honor of being published in Literary Mama, recently.

I say “esteemed honor”, because among our online support group of  women writers, we share near misses and not one of our group had made it into Literary Mama, until now.

Not only did Stephanie Dethlefs get the coveted byline, but had a remarkable story to share about a mother’s love and loss.  Please follow the link to read her essay, “Beautiful Friend.”

And, if you have a story of mother’s loss to share, follow this link to a call for submissions for a miscarriage anthology, being printed by Catalyst Book Press.

1 Comment

Filed under Advice, Creative Essays, Deadlines, emotion, Non Fiction, writer markets

My Tribute to my Dad

As promised, here is my essay, written for my dad, Don Stepps.  Love you Dad, Dad-daddy-o!

Death Missions

At my grade school Halloween costume party, my dad was the guy weaving through the crowd of Catholic school kids and nuns shouting, “Adrienne!” Not only was he dressed as Rocky in his gray zipper hoodie, boxing gloves and fake shiner under his left eye – he was Rocky Balboa.  Dad always played the part, from his silly or scary folktales to the pranks he pulled with costumes or props. 


I adopted Dad’s sense of adventure and often joined in on the fun: in Tomahawk, WI where we vacationed with aunts, uncles and cousins, Dad and I finished up a day of fishing with a little “surprise.” I knocked on my Uncle’s cottage door and when they opened, Dad threw a very wet, very alive fresh-caught fish onto their kitchen floor then slammed the door closed. Off we ran leaving a wake of shrieks and screams as that poor fish flip-flopped on their floor!



Flash forward 20 years and here I am, Little Miss Big Eyes (as Dad calls me), mom of two boys who adore their Grandpa. Even at age 61, Dad still plays pranks, in the form of “death missions” with my boys.  Sneaking into the kitchen to “steal” more candy for their movie night or sending my boys to smuggle the toaster and waffles out to the pop-up camper for a midnight snack, all without getting busted by Grandma, is the essence of a death mission.


Adventurous, risk-taker, spontaneous and creative are all great traits for a dad or grandpa of young kids. But Dad’s knack for fun has also been my inspiration as an adult. As I take risks in my writing, be creative in my teaching and find the adventure in Mommyhood.  I only hope that the stories I tell are as memorable as Dad’s.


Words: 299


BIO: Mary Jo Campbell, married mom of two, is an award-winning published freelance author who has been inspiring young writers to reach their potential through writing workshops, classes and speaking engagements. She teaches for FRoG (Friends of the Gifted & Talented) through their Super Saturday Programs, hosts on-going monthly young writers’ workshops and was the key note speaker for the Chick Chat event sponsored by HGNA (Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence).   Mary Jo is also an Executive Board Member and the Secretary for Capitol City Young Writers.


Filed under Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Non Fiction, Perseverance, Voice, writing inspiration, Writing prompts

Father’s Day Essays: Honorable Mentions, Pt 2

The second Honorable Mention Award goes to…

Patricia Wigeland, for her essay entry on her “Pappy.”

       Pappy.  That’s what we three siblings called our father.  Maybe not the most intellectual man I’ve ever known, but definitely the wisest.
      Once, when maligning myself for something foolish done as a teen, my father chuckled saying, “Every one makes a foolish mistake once in awhile.  If they say they never have, they are either lying or fooling themselves.”
      “Pappy, you’ve never done anything foolish,” I had countered.
      “I did.  Once I bought a treasure map from a man for one hundred dollars when I lived in Utah during the Second World War.”
      My father then bought a horse and rode out, map in hand, to seek his fortune.  Taking food and water for himself and the horse plus a pistol for protection, he traveled for five days, the map as a guide, but found nothing.  Turning back, he became painfully aware he had misjudged the needed amount of water.  The horse stepped in a crevice after a snake spooked it and broke a leg. Pappy had to shoot the horse.
      Wandering through the heat, he found himself followed by a vulture for two days.  Walking until he found a river, he followed it to a bend and a miner’s cabin.  The miner took him in, gave him shelter for a few days and a horse to ride home.
      “What did you do with the horse?” I asked, amazed by the revelation.
      “I brought him back,” Pappy answered, “because whatever else you do, you live up to your obligations. The miner saved my life. It was my obligation to return that horse.”
      His wisdom wasn’t about never making a foolish mistake; it was about the consequences and a person’s obligations to correct them.
      Pappy passed away at one hundred one years old.  I guess he had the right idea. 
* * *
BIO:  I’m just an aging country girl from Iowa looking to make a career change to writing before I get too old.  If all else fails, I will have at least added writing to my personal “bucket list”.
I enjoyed Pat’s essay for its  story within a story format and the added adventure of following Pappy on his foolish gold hunt. Great lesson learned: fess up to your mistakes and do what you need to make things right.
Please come back tomorrow when I share an essay on my own Dad.


Filed under contests, Creative Essays, emotion, Non Fiction, writing inspiration

Father’s Day Essays: Honorable Mentions, Pt 1

The first Honorable Mention Award goes to…

Judith Quinton, for her essay on the memory of her father.

“My father, who art in heaven”

I don’t intend to be sacrilegious: My daddy died many years ago, when I was barely 12.

Losing my daddy, who adored me, was the shaping event of my life.  It made me who I am today. It made me who I was in all the intervening years between his death and now.

Daddy was bigger than life, a Texas farm boy who became a stellar preacher, and the hole his departure left was deafening and cold, swallowing me like the Grand Canyon had, on the pack mule trip he and I took when I was 10.

I thought I would never recover the sky again after they closed the massive lid of his casket and lowered him into the hard clay ground on a muggy June day.

Gone was the man who nicknamed me “tree frog” when I was a baby because of the clucking noise I made with my tongue.  The one who built a home-made cage for my real pet frog and helped me catch flies for it. Who stood above me in the pulpit every Sunday, sharing funny stories and vivid life-lessons. Who taught me to love roses and traveling and reading and charity toward others. Who made me and everyone else laugh at his Tall-Texan jokes.

Life after Daddy became a search for his replacement. . .in every guy that happened along.

But I never found Daddy again. The gaping hole he left didn’t close until I was 40 years old. That’s when I fully grieved his death for the first time—at a healing retreat at advent season.

That’s when I finally said goodbye to Daddy. . .and realized his greatest gift to me: the early lesson that life is a series of losses and it’s what you do with them that really matters.


BIO:  Judith Quinton has been a free-lance writer, editor, and newspaper columnist for the past 30 years. Since 2007, she has published many of her writings on her blog: Zany Life + Crazy Faith at  This summer she will be launching a new professionally designed site by the same name at She also looks forward to the publication of her spiritual memoir, 40 Days in Ordinary Time, in early fall.
I loved the poetic imagery Judith uses in her essay here:  ” tree-frog”; “the hole his departure left was deafening and cold; ” would never recover the sky again.” Her daddy’s bigger than Texas personality is apparent, as well as the hole he left after passing.  I’d be very intrigued to read an essay on Judith’s “awakening” experience at the healing retreat…
Come back tomorrow for the second essay that was awarded an honorable mention.


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