Blue Zones & the Power of Nine

In 2008, author Dan Buettner introduced the world to the Blue Zones, five pockets of civilization where people live for really long times, longer than most.

The Blue Zones are:

Ikaria, Greece

Loma Linda, California

Sardinia, Italy

Okinawa, Japan

and Nicoya, Costa Rica

In Buettner’s research, which was facilitated by National Geographic, he sought reasons why people in these areas live up to ten times longer than people elsewhere. Out of that research he came up with the “Power of 9,” nine characteristics these communities share that lead them to live long, healthy lives.

I looked up the Power of 9 because I had a scare recently, two scares really. A cousin was rushed to emergency and was told her kidneys were only operating at 10%. She is now on dialysis. And, I was recently told that my kidneys were trying to lock on me. I was drinking water but not nearly enough and I was ingesting too much sugar. My body was not happy about this neglect.

So now I am drinking more water and ignoring the siren call of ice cream, but with these improvements I was curious about what else I could do to improve my longevity and health. After all, I have many more books to write and many more stories to tell so I need to live as long as possible. Additionally, as a writer, I need the use of my hands, the creativity of my mind, the connectivity of my soul to Spirit to carry out my life’s work. So I perused the Power of 9 and you can too. Just click on the link below or keep reading.

http://www.bluezones.com/live-longer/#power-9-reverse-engineering-longevity

POWER OF 9

1. Create an environment where you move without having to think about or plan for it.

2. Know your purpose. Know why you get out of bed every day.

3. Shed stress as much as possible.

4. Control your eating.

5. Eat healthy:  beans, fruit, less meat, avoid processed food, drink water.

6. Wine is fine. Drinkers outlive non-drinkers when the drinking is done socially. (I promise I didn’t make this one up.)

7. Faith-based living, attending faith services (regardless of denomination) is crucial.

8. Family first; keep grandparents, grandchildren, other loved ones near.

9. Surround yourself with people who promote healthy behaviors.

Happy Mother’s Day

A mother’s day short story for the women who invest in the lives of others.

Between 2:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M.

by Ann Fields

 -1-

I remember the first time it happened. It was a Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning, when my eyes popped open at 3:14 a. m. My mind was alert even though I had just released sweet sleep. At first I laid there, relaxed, staring at the ceiling sorting through reasons why I was awake. But, the longer I laid there fully awake, the more agitated I became as my thoughts shifted to the loss of sleep, my early morning workshift, and whether I would be any good for my patients or the surgical staff. After about an hour, I finally gave up on sleep and my unproductive thoughts and rolled out of bed.

I aimlessly roamed the house from room to room, making out shapes in the dark but not really focusing my eyes or my thoughts on any one thing. Deciding my mindless wandering might wake Mother, I headed for the kitchen, thinking along the way that a cup of chamomile tea sounded heavenly. As I passed Mother’s grandfather clock in the hallway, I noted I still had over an hour before time to prepare for work. So after putting some heat under the teakettle and while waiting for the water to boil, I began sorting a huge stack of junk mail that I had ignored for months. Minutes later, I fixed a cup of tea and while enjoying it finished with the mail. Then I took the tea to my bedroom where I wrote a couple of long overdue thank you notes. At 5:45 sharp, I put away my stationary and turned to dressing for work. I was surprised that I didn’t feel sleepy or cranky. Inclined to be a pessimist, I thought for sure I would have a bad day at work but thirteen hours later when I left the hospital, I realized it had been a good day.

And so started a new routine in my life—waking between two and four in the morning, rising to do variations of housework, light organizing and handling correspondence while enjoying a hot drink. I didn’t wake every morning but at least four or five of the seven days. Sometimes I would catnap before turning to the task of dressing for work, but most times I just called the lost sleep what it was—lost.

One morning, about a month after I had settled into my new routine, something happened that adjusted my routine and made my life richer. That morning in the breakfast nook, while polishing silver and repeating Spanish phrases after a heavy-voiced man on a language CD, I glanced up and was startled by the presence of my mother who looked just as surprised to see me.

“Mother,” I gushed in a shaky voice as my heart pounded in my chest, “You scared me!” I paused, taking deep breaths to slow my heart rate. “What are you doing awake? Did I wake you?”

Mother recovered much quicker than I. She smiled a small smile and touched me lightly as she passed by on her way to the cooktop. “I see I’m not the only one God woke up.” She spoke in a hushed tone as if there was someone else in the house to be mindful of. There wasn’t.

Stopping at the cooktop, she suspended the lukewarm teakettle in the air. Lifting a brow she asked, “More tea?”

I nodded yes and while she added more water to the kettle and placed it on the flame, I stripped off the yellow house gloves, ejected the CD, then powered down the computer, complaining the whole time. “I don’t know why for the past months I’ve been sleeping so poorly. Almost every night I wake up at this ungodly hour.”

Mother joined me at the table and I moved my cleaning supplies to the side, launching into a narrative about my sleep—or rather, sleepless—habits and nocturnal activities. I ended my monologue with a fact. “I didn’t have this problem in my twenties.”

Mother’s smile reappeared and curved appreciatively. “Age can bring on changes we never anticipate.” Her smile faded as her face took on that serious look she adopts when she’s about to tell her children something once and only once. “There are a number of reasons you could be waking. You’re either too worried, too busy, or you need the stillness and silence of the night to learn something. I suspect for you, all apply.” Her eyes narrowed and seemed to laser straight through me, forcing me to fidget a bit. “You’re always busy, Ellen. Working long hours at the hospital, volunteering at church, helping out family and friends. Worrying about others. When do you slow down? When do you relax or just take time to sit and think and be still?”

“I have down time,” I protested.

Mother deadened her stare then shifted her gaze to the computer and silver cleaner. I followed her eyes and it hit me like a sledgehammer to the brow. She was right. I was busy, constantly on the run, shuffling here, there and yonder, checking off items on an endless ‘to-do’ list. Never sitting still. Never “being.” Always “doing.” Even in these quiet hours.

Convicted, I looked at Mother and her expression had softened, a sign that she was proud of me for coming into truth, for learning an important life lesson. One I would have missed had I been sleep. Through Mother’s challenging words I learned that life was not meant to be filled with “doing” every single minute of every single day. At some point, at some time, I was supposed to “be.” I was supposed to dream and rest and enjoy the things I loved such as facials, going up against Mother in Monopoly, and line dancing with the girls. The other things–responsibilities and obligations–were not supposed to rule my life; they were not the things that qualified me as being engaged in life.

This life lesson shook me and I sat there in dismay, wondering how my life had tilted so out of whack. Why, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d read a book or identified the constellations through my telescope or toured small towns in the Hill Country. And yet, those were some of the things that made me feel alive, that made me “be.”

I sank deeper into my mind, still wondering, and missing the act of Mother getting up to answer the call of the kettle. She refreshed my tea to which I absently said, “Thank you.”

Her reply, however, was not offered so carelessly. “God doesn’t wake everybody up, Ellen. Consider yourself blessed.” The seriousness of her words and tone baited me out of my private thoughts and held me. I stared at her, understanding there was a deeper meaning to her words, which at the moment evaded me. I could have taken the shortcut and asked Mother to explain herself, but I’d been raised by the woman and knew shortcuts weren’t her way. She expected her children to think and this she emphasized now by picking up her teacup and heading for her bedroom.

I sat there, alone, tossing and turning Mother’s words and finally after a few minutes, I got it. Her meaning. I was being given a chance to enact my new lesson, a second chance to get life right, to reorder my life, and I tell you, I didn’t waste one minute taking that chance. Smiling, I stood and hastily put away the silverware and cleaning supplies. Since I was still far from sleepy, I went to my bedroom with tea in hand like Mother, and selected one of the many unread books on my bookshelf. For the first time in a long time, I escaped into another world and loved every minute of it.

-2-

Several weeks later on a Thursday at 2:10 a. m., I languished on the sofa, reading a New York Times recommended thriller when Mother walked into the living room. I had gotten used to seeing her at this time of morning. Not every morning or even weekly, but often enough that her presence didn’t startle me anymore. Nor mine her.

“I’m putting water on for tea. You want some?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered, rising from the couch and following her into the kitchen. While she handled the water and kettle, I secured cups and tea. Then we parked at the table, waiting for the whistle.

“What Scriptures you reading?” I asked Mother, pointing at the large, black Bible which she’d carried into the kitchen and placed on the table.

“I was reading Paul’s letter to the church…” She patted the heavy Bible. “…the part about not forsaking the assembly of men. It made me wonder why you joined St. Barnabas.”

I scrunched my face, perplexed by Mother’s comment. She, of all people, knew St. Barnabas was my…our home church. I’d been raised in that church as had my brother and sisters. Why wouldn’t I be a member? “What do you mean?” I asked, needing more information before even attempting a response.

“After college… Why didn’t you visit other churches, other denominations before rejoining?”

Now I was really confused! Why would I need to visit other churches? St. Barnabas was not only the church base for our immediate family but also our extended family. It was full of aunts, cousins, grandparents, nieces, uncles, nephews, and more, including ex-family members who were exes because of divorce or common-law separation. In addition to family, there were a fair number of professionals and “working Joes” who mixed well with our people and so, too, were considered family. So why go anywhere else? And as for other denominations, well, the Episcopal doctrines suited me just fine. Even Redeemed Episcopal—the church in Houston I had joined and attended during the six years I lived there to study surgical nursing—playing lax and loose with the doctrines and practices didn’t dissuade me from the Episcopal way of life.

Speaking hesitantly because of my confusion and my uncertainty about where Mother’s line of questioning was taking me, I answered, “Because St. Barnabas is home. It’s…it’s family and I’m surrounded by love.”

Mother’s facial expression remained bland, giving no hint or clue to the point behind her words. The teakettle sang and she stood, snagged it. She poured the boiling water into our cups and returned the kettle to its resting place. I sat impatiently throughout and even afterwards as she sank into her chair and then dunked her teabag up and down several times before letting it rest inside her cup. Finally, just as questions were about to erupt out of me, she sat back and pinned me with that same serious look from the last time she challenged me to think about my life. I had enough smarts to squash my impatience, sit forward and wait for the lesson. It didn’t take long.

Mother leaned forward and curved her hands around her cup. In a low, thoughtful tone she said, “Sometimes, Ellen, love is not enough.” She shook her head, saying, “Oftentimes tradition is not enough.”

I crooked my head, frowning, and feeling like a parrot asked, “What do you mean?”

“Some people do things because that’s the way it has always been done. Some people do things because others tell them to. Some do things from the heart. I want you to be a heart person.” She laid a hand against her heart, repeating, “I want you to be a heart person.” She let her hand fall and sighed sadly into her cup. “Unfortunately, the problem with being a heart person is it requires you to be courageous, to say no sometimes, to risk looking like a fool at other times. Not everybody is that brave especially when it comes to family.”

“Are you saying I should join another church? …that I shouldn’t worship with family?” I still struggled with Mother’s lesson.

“Ellen, only you know if St. Barnabas is where you should be.” Mother paused to blow steam out of her face before sipping cautiously. She replaced her cup in the saucer and said, “But if God directs you elsewhere, it’ll be a hard break. But you’ll survive, and love will continue to surround you because you’ll be living from the heart which is where real life is lived.” Again, she placed a hand over her heart and in the unfilled moments that followed, I noticed Mother’s hands. Really noticed them—the length of her fingers, the white crescent-shape at her cuticles and the darkened knuckles. I looked down at my hands and saw that they were identical to hers. Indeed, as I considered our similarity further, I conceded that of the four of us, I had more of Mother’s features and ways than my brother or sisters. Even though it’s never been discussed, I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why Mother agreed to move in with me after Daddy died. Another reason was her diminishing health, which I, as a healthcare professional, could better manage than my siblings. There were other reasons but the important thing was they all combined to make it possible for Mother to be here in our kitchen at 2:35 in the morning, with me staring at her hands.

For a few moments longer I continued to study Mother’s hands, then suddenly, the full meaning of her words opened to me. I, not family or friends, was responsible for making my life one of truth, and truth could only be obtained from the heart. My heart. I sat back, amazed that yet again Mother had taught me a valuable lesson, one that would forever guide and shape my life. And yet again, it was a lesson I would have missed had I been sleep.

I looked up, smiled at Mother and she smiled back.

“How did you get to be so wise?” I teased. But she and I both knew there was honesty in the teasing.

Mother didn’t reply immediately. Still smiling, she stood up, tucked that heavy Bible under her arm, picked up her drink, and said, “I’ll let you and the Lord work out the rest.”

“Goodnight, Mother.”

“Goodnight, dear.”

She left, leaving me a priceless gift—time to sort out how to incorporate it, the lesson, into my life.

Because living a life of truth based on heart decisions didn’t just apply to church membership, I thought about the other areas of my life—relationships, career, lifestyle, home, neighborhood and more. I wanted to know if I had made heart decisions in those areas or if my decisions had been influenced by other people or circumstances. Unfortunately during my short review of those areas, all of my major decisions began stepping on one another, entangling themselves and confusing me, so I reached for paper and pen. I wrote down a few questions that I hoped would help me analyze my past decisions and guide my future ones:  How does it feel? …right? …wrong? …indifferent? What’s influencing me? Have I prayed about it? I sat back and reflected on those questions, decided they were good guideposts, and then went to work, retreating backward in time to evaluate 32 years of living to determine if I was living a life of truth.

-3-

Over the next several years, I had plenty of opportunity to apply those questions to life decisions, and they worked beautifully. I felt good about the life I was living. I also felt good about the new dance Mother and I had naturally fallen into:  frequently rising before dawn, meeting in the kitchen, drinking hot tea, and exchanging words that sometimes led to me learning another life lesson. I should be one hundred percent truthful and admit that not all of our shared time occurred in the kitchen. Some mornings we met in the living room. Like the morning after my thirty-eighth birthday, which also happened to be three months to the day that I was to marry Dwight Araylio Grant, a great man I had met at work and fallen in love with. We planned to marry at St. Barnabas; it remained my church home, a decision that had passed the questions test, and a decision that Dwight fully supported. When I walked into the living room, Mother was seated in her recliner with the richness of Nat King Cole’s voice serenading her.

“Your favorite?” I asked and as soon as I did I admonished myself, I should know my mother’s favorite singer. And her favorite candy, hobby, dress, Scripture, and so on. But I didn’t and why was that? The answer shocked me and made me feel an inch tall. Sadly, I had never taken the time to see Mother as a woman or as an independent, multi-dimensional being. All these years, Mother had been simply the vessel that had birthed me, a stick figure with no emotions, dreams, or interests outside of nurturing her children. How selfish of me to not see that Mother was a real person who, like me, had goals, fears, peeves and preferences. How crazy and lacking on my part to have taken her for granted, to have dismissed the woman behind the “mother” label.

Stunned and shamed by my answer, I drifted unconsciously into the seat across from Mother and studied her—the slight rounding of her shoulders, the dark veins that scribbled across her legs, the silver-white of her hair that had been gray at some time and dark-brown before that. I stared at her tight face, which made a lie of her 69 years and marveled that at 69 she moved and lived like one much younger. With her eyes closed and her head tilted back, rocking in time to Cole’s smooth piano playing, I could almost imagine her as a young woman, my age, with a husband and four small children. Almost. And since I couldn’t quite get there on my own, I asked, “Mother?”

Mother, or rather Vera Jo Jones Askey, her birth and married name, opened her eyes and raised her head, meeting me eye-to-eye. “Hmmm?”

“What was your life like at my age?”

Instantly there appeared that secret smile of hers, the one that hinted at something magical to come. Closing her eyes again and laying her head back, she answered, “It was good. It was busy, hectic at times, but full of love. Good memories.”

“Tell me about it,” I requested, curling my legs under me and settling in as if anticipating a bedtime story.

Her smile widened as she rewound her life’s tape to 31 years in time and began sharing her sunup to sundown days, telling me about the joys and challenges with Daddy’s career as a policeman and her own as a restaurant cook, and rewarding me with tales about the happiness in raising her children as well as the difficulty in releasing them to themselves and a topsy-turvy world.

Mother talked for hours and I hungrily gobbled up every word that came out of her mouth and fired off one question after another. For the first time in years, I was late reporting to work and didn’t care. Mother, opening her complete self to me, gave me something far greater than a job that I loved. She gave me herself.

-4-

As our dance between two a. m. and four a. m. continued so, too, did Mother’s sharing of herself and teaching of valuable life lessons. Our time together was the icing on my cake of life; a life of overflow and abundance, more than I could have dreamed or wished for. Five years into marriage, Dwight and I were solid in our partnership, yet evolving as a couple and family unit year by year. We had made my house into our home. We had a beautiful daughter, Chloe. And Dwight loved Mother as if she were his own. I lacked nothing, including personal growth which I attributed in great part to Mother’s expert teaching.

Through her sometimes direct and at other times indirect instruction, I learned the lesson of quality over quantity. She taught me the difference between church folks and Christians; between religion and spirituality; between preaching and the inspired words of God. I learned that being patient with people and circumstances truly yielded the best results, and that multi-tasking is foolish; it simply creates opportunities for “do-overs.”

I learned more lessons than these over the years but interestingly, the place of our dance changed from the various rooms in the house to Chloe’s room. In the two years she’d been in our lives, Chloe had brought a deeper, broader, more loving dimension; one we could not have achieved by any other means. Mother, too, was deeply awed by Chloe and although she told me that often, she showed it more.

The first morning we met in Chloe’s room, the weather was terrifying. Lightning, fast-paced rain, and loud smacks of thunder awakened us shortly after four. After registering the lack of danger, Dwight rolled over and fell back to sleep. I couldn’t. With Chloe on my mind, afraid that Nature’s fury had woken and frightened her, I sped through the dark house to her room. Mother was already there, standing quietly at her bedside, staring down at Chloe, who slept peacefully–her tiny fists curled in defenseless balls; her rounded stomach rising and falling steadily; her pouty lips slightly parted. That morning, the lesson was not spoken, but was no less clear—a heart grows larger when it encounters love in its purest form.

After that morning, we became regulars in Chloe’s room. Sometimes, Mother would take charge of making and serving tea; most times, I did. When we spoke, we used small, timid voices and rarely did we wake the little one. Ohhhh, but those times when she awakened, Mother and I raced to her to love on her.

One morning, Mother did not meet me in Chloe’s room, but that didn’t concern me since our meet-ups weren’t scheduled. There were often mornings when she slept while I hovered over Chloe and vice versa. So I didn’t think anything of caressing and praying for Chloe by myself.

I picked her up out of her bed and transferred both of us to the rocking chair. I had not been rocking and touching her long when she stirred awake. To Chloe, a simple touch meant time to eat or play; this time she chose play. I happily obliged and sometime later when I happened to glance at the pink and yellow bunny clock on her nightstand, I knew I was in trouble. I had spent far too much time playing with Chloe and with Dwight out of town at a conference I would need Mother to prepare Chloe for daycare while I dressed for work.

With Chloe on my hip, I rushed to Mother’s room.

Knocking, then barging in, I pled, “Mother, Mother, I need your help.” I crossed to her bed and rubbed her shoulder, hoping to gently wake her. She didn’t respond to my voice or my touch so I shook her and repeated, “Mother,” and seconds later, “Mother?” I bent lower, examining her face. I saw that it had taken on a more heavenly glow and her sleep, well, it had become eternal. I straightened and stared down at Mother’s profile, hugging Chloe closer to me.

I don’t know how long I stood there before I backed out of Mother’s room to call 911, my husband, my siblings and my job. But I do know the tears and anguish didn’t come then. They didn’t come when Chloe and I returned to Mother’s room to sit on the side of her bed to memorize her peaceful, lovely face. The tears didn’t come during the funeral preparations or the homegoing service or the burial.

The heartache and loss finally hit me months later when I woke between two a. m. and four a. m. and without thought, shuffled to the kitchen, put the teakettle on the heat, and pulled down two cups. Looking at those cups, the tears came and came and kept coming, filling both cups and more.

-5-

Many, many years later when Chloe moved back home after completing her undergraduate studies, I happened upon her one morning between two and four. She sat at the table in the kitchen with her head in her hands and with what looked like reams of paper before her. I knew without flipping through them that the papers related to her as-yet-unmade decision to either return to college for an advanced degree or find an entry-level position in her chosen field of study—psychology.

“Chloe?” I called quietly, hoping I didn’t scare her.

She jumped even though I’d been gentle with my voice. I understood. It had been that way with me and Mother our first time.

“Mom,” she gushed, “You scared me. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

I smiled, thinking, almost my exact words. “No, dear, this is my usual haunt. Welcome.”

She looked confused and my smile grew. I crossed the room, turned the heat under the teakettle, and pulled down two cups.

THE END

Poetry Out Loud

April marks the observance of National Poetry Month and an explosion of “Poetry Out Loud” events. Poetry Out Loud is a contest that encourages young people to learn about poetry, enhance their public speaking skills and increase their appreciation for poetry’s impact on society. It is cousin to the highly acclaimed “Brave New Voices,” which if you haven’t witnessed it, you must. It is truly something special.

Although the focus for both Poetry Out Loud and Brave New Voices is on young people, many adults have embraced Poetry Out Loud especially and twisted it into spin-off events. These events have included poetry discussions, readings, open mics and more. One such event occurs this Friday, April 24, in Dallas, Texas. The Writer’s Block, a neighborhood or block of African-American writers, presents this event, bringing to the stage Slam Master Rock Baby.

Rock Baby

Roderick “Rock Baby” Goudy is viewed by many as a natural performer. His explosive performances, built on his distinctive style of comedic poetry, captivate audiences from beginning to end. A combination of thoughtful words, upbeat rhythms and amazing vocals has earned him headliner as well as supportive roles at events held at colleges, comedy clubs and poetry venues. Rock Baby is a HBO “Def Poetry Jam” favorite, and the recipient of numerous awards and rankings, acquired in performance poetry and slam competitions. For ten consecutive years, he has served as Slam Master for the Dallas Poetry Slam and consistently earns a position on the Dallas Slam team representing Dallas at local, regional and national competitions.

I have seen Rock Baby perform and was blown away. He is truly engaging and amazing! If you’re in the area, come on out and enjoy the show. If you’re not, check out these clips of Brave New Voices performances.

Event Details:

Friday, April 24, 2015

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Half Price Bookstore – 5803 E. NW Highway, Dallas, Community Room

Free admission; Family-friendly fun

MC’d by Gary L. Hawthorne, Poet and Author of Poetic Rhythms for Life’s Moods

D.E.A.R.

DEAR

Welcome to D.E.A.R., a month long initiative that encourages everyone to Drop Everything (cooking, shopping, Facebooking, texting, gardening, video gaming, etc.) and Read. D.E.A.R. kicks off every April 12, the birthday of author Beverly Cleary who immortalized D.E.A.R. in her Ramona Quimby books. Although D.E.A.R. is celebrated throughout April many continue the enjoyment throughout the year.

To celebrate D.E.A.R., schools, communities, individuals and families call a halt to other activities, grab books, and read, read, read. Some even organize read-a-thons, book discussions, reading trees, book drives, and more. Personally, I plan to drop as many errands and lunch commitments as I can get away with as well as non-essential housework (Who likes housework anyway?) and read the three poetry books (it is National Poetry Month also!) I recently purchased as well as a tribute book to Dr. Maya Angelou, whose birthday was April 4.

Ann’s D.E.A.R. Reading List

“The Walmart Republic” by Quraysh Ali Lansana & Christopher Stewart

“Poetic Rhythms for Life’s Moods” by Gary L. Hawthorne

“Abide in the Spirit of Change” by Hayward Bethel, Frances Phillips Lee & Antoinette Franklin

“My Journey with Maya” by Tavis Smiley & David Ritz

How about you? What activities are you willing to give up to drop everything and read? What books are waiting for you to crack open and enjoy?

Hear Becky Roar!

Unfortunately Women’s History Month (March) has ended but I’ve found a way (aha!) to keep the spotlight on women history makers while also acknowledging National Poetry Month (April).

National Poetry Month

I am blessed to have met several women poets who are amazing wordsmiths and lovely survivors. Two in particular are Becky Baggett and Serena Wills. I asked these two poets the same question I asked Lovenia Leapart and Carol Balawyder, two women writers that I featured in March. That question: what woman/woman writer influenced you and/or your literary career? Both Becky and Serena agreed to answer the question in article form and share their articles with me. I, in turn, am happy to share them with you. First up is Becky.

Becky blogs at Sweet Alchemy Poetry Farm and there you can enjoy some of her poetry as well as her article on Adeline Hornbek, pioneer and woman history maker. Click here for a treat…https://sweetalchemypoetryfarm.wordpress.com/

Poetry

Hear Carol Roar!

I am continuing the Women’s History Month celebration by sharing an article written by Carol Balawyder.

Carol Balawyder

Carol is a fiction and non-fiction author who writes about things that matter to her such as justice, mid-life dating, grief and writing workshops. She also publishes several blog series: How I Got Published, Femme Fatale, Nobel Prize Laureates, Writers’ Desks and Ten Great First Dates. Her recent book-length works, Getting to Mr. Right and Missi’s Dating Adventures are receiving starred and high-praise reviews from readers. I know this reader (me!) personally enjoyed both books and can’t read more from this talented lady.

When I asked Carol which woman or female writer had the greatest influence on her literary career, she, like so many others, had a list yea-long. But after much thought, she settled on one person. Read on to learn about her greatest influencer…

Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky

Honoring a History Maker

by Carol Balawyder

There are so many women writers who have inspired me and from whom I’ve taken something and applied to my own collage of writing. They range from Jacqueline Susann to Nobel Prize Laureates. But no writer, whether male or female, has had such an impact on my choice to write crime fiction than Sara Paretsky.

In 2011 Paretsky was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. She is the recipient of many awards, including the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers’ Association. She is also considered the founding mother of Sisters in Crime, an organization which supports and promotes women in the mystery field.

Traditionally in noir fiction, women were either helpless sex symbols tempting the man (usually a detective) into illicit behavior or they were portrayed as cold and selfish. However, through her V.I Warshawski private investigator, Paretsky transformed the role and image of women in noir fiction.

V.I. Warshawski is no helpless femme fatale. Nor does she fit into the Chandleresque female role of vixen, vamp or victim. Warshawski is a woman who isn’t defined by sexuality and needs no rescuing.

She is physically tough but no bully. Courageous and yet self-doubting. She is introspective and has a strong moral conscience. Warshawski is smart and well-educated, having attended university on an athletic scholarship to earn a law degree and worked in the Public Defender’s office before becoming a private investigator.

Sara Paretsky created the first credible female investigator in American crime fiction –  a feminist detective with high ideals. One who is concerned about the effects of racism, classism and sexism. She is out to right social wrongs most often found in the crook and crannies of white-collar crime. Paretsky, through her sixteen bestselling V.I. novels (and still writing), has made it her mission to speak for those in society’s margins who are underheard.

For that, I believe, she merits honor in Women’s History Month.

References: (http://scholars.wlu.ca/etd/3/)

(http://www.saraparetsky.com/)

(http://www.sistersincrime.org/)

Thank you Carol for sharing your thoughts on women history makers, and specifically Sara Paretsky. I had no idea Paretsky challenged the noir crime fiction status and thereby changed the genre for all times. Good for her; good for us, women; and good for the world.

If you want to learn more about Sara Paretsky, visit her website by clicking here. To learn more about Carol, visit her website here.

Tour through Blogland

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Thank you, Carol Balawyder for inviting me to be a part of the Tour through Blogland experience. Wow! What a pleasure to participate. The exposure to interesting blogs, writers and writings has been enormously enriching.

Carol Balawyder Carol Balawyder, Writer/Author

Carol and I met, obviously through our blogging and in the year we’ve been online cohorts, I have discovered that she is a diverse writer with publishing credit in women’s fiction, memoir and crime writing, making her an accomplished fiction and non-fiction author. On top of her writing talents, she is also a welcoming and supportive person. I have enjoyed learning about her and her accomplishments, and I am so glad our blog paths crossed. I can’t wait for the day I meet her in person! I know it will be a blessing. Until then, I continue to enjoy her features on www.carolbalawyder.com and I hope you’ll take the time to link over and familiarize yourself with her and her latest works, Getting to Mr. Right and Missi’s Dating Adventures.

gettingtomrright_kindle_small15Missi's Dating Adventures

I’ve read both of her books and found them to contain insightful commentary on some of today’s relationship issues…and not just romantic relationships. Her works are important and engaging and I think you’ll agree with me once you have read them. Thanks Carol for inviting me into your world and for your contributions to the literary world.

Carol and some of the rest of you know that I’m not big on rules so I was glad to see that there were only a few requirements to participate in a Tour through Blogland. They are:

1. Pass the tour on

2. Give the rules to the other blogger and a specific Monday to post

3. Answer four questions about my creative process

Okay, simple enough; I can handle that. So without further delay, I present to you a blogger/author who I greatly admire and to whom I am passing the tour opportunity, followed by my responses to the creative process questions. I hope you enjoy!

meet-the-author

Serena Wills:  Poet, Essayist and Inspiration/Self-help Writer

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When I thought of all the bloggers with whom I could share this experience, Serena rose to the top. Not only because of her recently released poetry book, Reconstruction:  Pieces of Life, Volume 1, A Poetry Book, but also because she is an amazingly productive, multi-faceted and inventive writer. Also, I settled on Serena because she lives her life as we all should:  combining grit, faith and goal-nurturing to overcome adversity (that occasional blip that happens in every person’s life). Read her poetry book and you’ll get a glimpse into the challenges she has had to overcome and how she overcame them.

Reconstruction

Click here to access her site, and we can all look forward to her Tour through Blogland post in April or May (set date to be communicated).

Questions about My Creative Process

  1. What are you working on at the moment? My friend Renita likens the job of today’s writers to the juggling team of Vova and Olga, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljnmYQ5NJjQ. Their job is to keep all of the balls, clubs or whatever they are juggling in the air. So, like Vova and Olga, I am juggling many items that include:  a blog; a memoir; marketing and promotions for “Fuller’s Curse” and “Voices from the Block;” a non-fiction personal development book; a children’s book; the programming for a non-profit organization; and involvement in three writers groups. I try to work smart to keep all of these from crashing to the floor, but some days it’s a real struggle. Now, really, truth be told, what I should be working on is “Tremont’s Curse,” the sequel to “Fuller’s Curse,” but that’s an entirely different juggling act that is too exhausting to think about right now.
  2. How does my work differ from others in my genre? This is a tough one because I write in so many genres. “Fuller’s Curse” is a horror fiction novel. “Voices from the Block” features two mainstream short stories. And “The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Again” is a dark short story to be featured in an upcoming anthology (spring 2015). Plus, as I shared earlier, I have a children’s book in the illustration process, as well as a memoir and a sequel in the drafting stage. So I’ll lump all of my works together, strip away the genre classifications, and say that the main focus with many of my works is to blur boundaries and pummel perceptions in an effort to make people think about the labels we attach to people, places and things. I attempt in my writings to push readers beyond the obvious to see what else can be gleaned even if it makes them uncomfortable.
  3. Why do I write/create what I do? Stories, ideas, characters, questions, titles come to me and will not depart until I have locked them down on paper. I have had an idea for a play incubating in my head for 10+ years and yet I cannot remember what I ate for breakfast. So why do I write? Because I don’t have a choice. I have to write. Even before I was born, writing chose me and I choose to answer the call. Why do I write what I do? Because I am a creative who is fed by life experiences, and those life experiences translate into written works that take the shape of different genres and forms.
  4. How does my writing/creative process work? The creative process is as mysterious as the Bible so I’ll just respond to the writing process. As stated earlier, ideas, questions, titles, characters and such flow to me like city water through pipes. Idea generation is the easy part. What’s hard is committing words to paper:  making myself sit down to write, anchoring myself to the chair, and creating the right string of words. So like other writers, I have learned tricks to make the writing process less strenuous. Like…ending a writing session at the height of dialogue or action; outlining the beginning, middle and end of a scene (I write scene by scene in linear order); reading a quote or inspirational piece at the start of a writing session; setting up a reward system for number of pages written, scenes completed, etc.; capturing story notes on a separate document that I refer to when I’ve written myself into a corner; writing and editing the same scene a minimum of four times; making my final story edits the old school way (on paper with red ink); and mostly, praying a lot for help.