Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In The Mix With Joey Stuckey

 
Readers, it would take an entire blog post to list the awards, affiliations, and celebrity clients and collaborators of this guest. I'll just have a little talk with him, then you can visit his website. Trust me, you'll do that.
 
Madame Perry: Hello, Joey, and welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon. Please make yourself comfortable. Joey, I had heard people rave about your mad talent as a musician for many years. Actually our mutual friend, musician, songwriter and vocalist Sue G. Wilkinson was the first person to tell me about you. When did you begin to play music, and on what instrument?

Joey Stuckey: Sue is amazing and a true one of a kind talent, we have a lot of respect for each other and I am honored she brought me to your attention.

I first took piano around seven years old, but, only took for six months. As a kid I had a lot of health problems, the result of a brain tumor, and just wasn't ready to give of myself to make music. I was more interested in feeling better and doing kid stuff. My Mom also tried to give me guitar lessons at around five years old from a local college professor; that lasted one lesson, again, I just wasn't ready and again, I had to overcome so many health related obstacles. At that age I had yet to understand the power of music.
Joey Stuckey

My Mom was convinced that I was a musician. My parents played non professionally, by that I mean it wasn't their profession, just something they loved to do when the opportunity presented. My Dad believed that when I was ready to play, if I ever was, she wouldn't have to make me practice. They were both right!

My first real foray into the world of music was about the age of fifteen as the sound tech for a local planetarium. I had started recording and fooling around with recording gear at thirteen and found I had an affinity for it. Many of my co-workers, who were about eighteen and had bands, asked if I would record them. Once I heard the power of original, live music it was my epiphany! Music was my destiny. 
 
James Brown with Joey Stuckey
My career as a recording engineer and producer was born, and at seventeen I started taking guitar lessons from guitarist and teacher Terry Cantwell.

Terry had never taught a blind person before--oh, did I mention I am blind? Well that was another result of the brain tumor. Anyway, Terry said he would and could teach me and that he would find a way to impart the information I needed to be a musician. He did and he is truly one of the people I love best in this world and part of my family. He even went so far as to draw in a box of sand the musical staff and notes so I would have an understanding of what they looked like.

So that is how it all started on the guitar. I also found over the years that I was handy on bass and vocals and had an adequate amount of talent on keys and percussion.

In most of the full productions I produce in my studio these days, I often play all instruments for my clients. 



MP: You’ve had quite a career playing and producing music. What are the achievements of which you are most proud?

JS: Hmmm, that is a hard one. I have had so many wonderful opportunities and experiences, but, I'll tell you a few quick things that over the last few years have meant a lot. First, I love to teach and take true pleasure in feeling like I am assisting others reach their potential. So teaching at Mercer University where I also attended college is a real highlight. I also travel a lot and do guest lectures--this year I had an amazing time in Hattiesburg, Mississippi  with the students and faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi.

I have also been blessed to work with two outstanding young ladies that are starting their musical careers at the age of sixteen and are amazing talents. I am proud to be their co-writer, producer, engineer and have played all the instruments on their releases, you should for sure check them out, in the genre of country Savannah Alday and in the genre of pop Katherine Daniel.

Finally, my last album Mixture which is my first full jazz release, charted at number nine on the CMJ top 40 Jazz charts for North America and got a lot of great reviews in fusion magazines across the globe.

My friend and co-writer on the project Tom Rule who performed piano/keys on the album and is a long time band member in the Joey Stuckey band was a big reason this record was so successful and I can't thank him enough. We also had two masters of percussion on the record, Marcus Reddick and another long time Joey Stuckey band member and ARC recording artist Miguel Castro, again, the record wouldn't be the same without them. 
 
JS with Trisha Yearwood and
his father, Talmadge Stuckey

MP: Would you tell me a story about a situation or gig that turned out quite differently – for good or bad – than you expected?
JS: Well, this is one of my favorite stories!

I was playing in my mid twenties at a bar in Milledgeville, GA. This was a rock and blues version of the Joey Stuckey Band which brings a new definition to the word eclectic. Anyway, we were performing the Steve MillerBand song  The Joker. I love this song and the lyrics that say "I really love your peaches want to shake your tree" I always smile a lot when singing this line, it just fits my sense of humor. 

So, being blind is always an adventure and on this night while singing this song and smiling like I do, I attracted the attention of a young lady that wanted to take someone home with her that night. She thought I was smiling at her. Of course, I wasn't, I had no idea she was there, I was just singing. She thought I was flirting with her and started dirty dancing for me as part of her mating ritual. 

After that song, she thought I started ignoring her. I of course wasn't--again, I had no idea she was there. Four or five songs later we took a break and then came the smackdown! 

She stormed up to me and asked me who the hell I thought I was. I was shocked.

The Breakdown
 
Me: What are you talking about? 

Solid Gold Dancer: You started flirting with me and then after I danced for you you decided I wasn't good enough and just started ignoring me! 

Me: I am blind, I didn't see you. 

Dancing Queen: Whatever! 

My friends: No, he really is blind.

Well, after telling me some more of how little she thought about me she stormed off and ended up finding someone else. Likely a more appreciative candidate. 

This story exemplifies how no one ever thinks of me as blind and some people never believe it. We should recognize our limitations so that we are able to compensate for them, yet not define ourselves in terms of those limitations. Just as I am more than a musician, I am also more then a blind man, though both things are a part of me and should be acknowledged.

MP: You’ve added another career as a teacher. I believe when I saw you last you had a class of your students from Mercer University coming into your studio for final exams. How do you like teaching?
Joey Stuckey and band perform
Give Five from Mixture

JS: I love it! It is something you need to have a passion for or you can't do it effectively as there are many frustrations that go with the job. Fortunately I love educating others about music and also enjoy the role of inspirational speaker about living a successful life and overcoming adversity. I teach at the college level here in my hometown of Macon and of course as I mentioned above, I travel the country teaching at other colleges and have a cadre of private students that I love!

MP: Give me your impressions of the younger group of musicians who are coming into their own now with such a wide range of influences.

Joey with Omar Hakim

JS: For sure the music biz has changed and of course many of the sounds have changed as well, though I think for the most part they are reiterations of the past--like the big-synth sounds of Lady Gaga, really just modern sounds of the late 70s and early 80s. But, that being said, I love music of all genres and time periods and am glad that there is so much talent in the biz still. I am most especially proud of the talent here in Georgia! I just wish we had the same kind of infrastructure that Los Angeles or Nashville has to get that talent exposed to the world.

MP: Tell us about your show Studio 41.

Joey with Diana DeGarmo
JS: If you are fortunate enough to get a slot performing on a local TV station, the audio can be quite challenging. TV studios, at least at the local level aren't usually set up for musical performances. I was tired of not sounding like I knew I could when I performed on TV and I knew that I wasn't the only person not having the sound they deserved. So instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it. 
I produce the show which is broadcast on the local NBC affiliate. I am set up for music production and TV stations typically aren't, so it just made sense to tape it in my studio. However, I don't try to get a recording studio sound, but keep it live sounding so the audience knows what the band really sounds like with out a lot of studio trickery.
Joey with Gregg Allman

It is important to me to support local/indie music from GA. I've been doing that in print, on the radio both web and terrestrial and it was time to do it on TV.

We have wonderfully talented folk here in GA and I encourage folks to check out the program via web if they don't live in our broadcast area. You can look for episodes on YouTube and also on Shadow Sound Studio and at Studio 41 NBC.



Joey and Carole King
MP: Let’s talk about your newest CD, Mixture, which has a permanent place in my car. It has a pop jazz feel and yet I feel like I’m listening to a soundtrack for a 70s or 80s television show with a private investigator and several glamorous guest stars. So, yeah, what was the inspiration for the songs and are you a fan of vintage TV actions shows?

JS: I love TV, though I am blind. So many TV shows -  Magnum PI and Night Court just to name two - have great theme music. And who doesn't like those sexy guest stars, or in my case starlets.

There was no conscious effort to bring that kind of sound forth, but, I care about good melodies. As a 70s baby my musical influences really began in the 80s. Still, the music is really about trying to find melodies that folks could hum along with or get hooked on.



Joey with Michael Stipe
MP: What’s next for you, Joey, musically and personally? 
JS: Fame, fortune and then retirement! Seriously though, I am happy as long as I can continue doing just what I do now.

I am always on the look out for the next adventure life has in store. One thing is for sure however, I will continue with music and the recording sciences in some way. My intention is to serve as a source of inspiration and assistance for others and never let my light go out.


MP: Thank you for being here at Madame Perry’s Salon. Please visit again.

JS: Thanks so much for having me, it is a true pleasure to chat with you any time!

MP: Click on over to Joey's website, his facebook page, and tweet with him. And get your very own copy of Mixture and Joey's other CDs.








Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mermaid Picnics, Computer Gaming, and Dismembering The Past! Yes, We Have The Award Winning Helen Ginger In The House!



Settle in, folks, this is going to be a ride with a lots of twists and turns with this fascinating guest. Helen Ginger is the author of five books: three non-fiction, a short story anthology and a contemporary fiction, Angel Sometimes which won the 2013 USA Best Book Award For Fiction. She maintains an informational and interactive blog for writers and a weekly e-newsletter that has been going out to subscribers around the globe for thirteen years. She is an owner-partner and Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®, which specializes in creative networking opportunities for companies and groups.

And how could I not be enchanted with someone whose blog is titled Straight From Hel!

Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Helen. We’re delighted to have you here. 

Helen Ginger: I am so glad to be here, too. Thank you for inviting me. 

MP: It’s remarkable to find that after following your blog and being twitter pals for years, plus reading about you and your work, I’m still astounded at all that you do. Among the list is blogging, ghostwriting, public speaking, author, editor, and you teach most every skill that you do. How many times a day are you asked how you do it all?

HG: Rarely does anyone ask me how I do it all. I think authors are all busy every day. If we're not writing, we're promoting, or connecting with readers or plotting out the next book or the next book tour.

MP: I love your book Angel Sometimes. Angel was taken 800 miles from her home in Oklahoma to South Padre Island, Texas and abandoned with only $50 just before her thirteenth birthday. Years later she hitchhikes to AustinTexas where she makes a life and makes plans for revenge while working as a mermaid in a restaurant/bar. 
The mermaid part of the story was a window into a world completely unknown to me, and quite captivating. The training, extraordinary tricks like eating underwater, special contact lenses and even getting in costume pull the reader in to a world as strange to us as being homeless was to Angel. I learned you were also a mermaid. Please tell us about it. How did you start, what were some of the best – and not so fun – parts?

HG: I gave Angel the job of swimming as a mermaid because I knew she could do it. Although I swam while I was in college, you don't have to have a degree to be a mermaid. You just have to not be scared. When I wrote Angel Sometimes, I gave her the job that I knew the most about and I knew she could do. She wears special contacts. I did not. The mermaids at AquarenaSprings wore goggles. We took them off during the picnic.  

When I started college, I needed a job to help pay for books, classes, etc. I worked as an assistant for one of my instructors. Then I went and applied to swim at Aquarena Springs and got the job. You go through quite a bit of training, such as synchronized swimming, and eating and drinking underwater. We mostly ate celery, strings removed (nothing pretty about celery strings caught in your teeth) and drank punch (not carbonated). 

To tell you the truth, I can't think of anything that wasn't fun about the job. Well, there was one time it wasn't fun. The swimmers came in to work and were told that a huge wall of water would be coming in that day (The river that Aquarena was on was fed by hundreds of springs and where that water comes from had been having a flood of rain.) So we all got together to move what we could to high ground and anchor down what couldn't be moved. The Ralphs were moved. (If you were a visitor to Aquarena you probably thought there was only one Ralph, there were several. Unlike the swimmers, the Ralphs could only swim one show, then they had time to recover before doing another show.) So…after all that, we were told to get in the water and swim the show. The water was so murky that we could hold a hand up in front of our face and not see it. We had to move the synchronized swimming close up to the window of the submarine. For picnic, we held onto the screws on the submarine while we ate. After the show was over, we, as usual, went out on the volcano to wave goodbye to the visitors. One man came out of the sub. 


Aquarena Postcard with Mermaid
and Author Helen Ginger (Lower Left)
MP: You’ve written three books in TSTC Publishing's TechCareer Series on Computer Gaming, Avionics, and Automotive Technicians. We likely can see what differentiates these from your novels and short stories, are there similarities in writing techniques or skills needed?

HG: Usually, for both fiction and nonfiction, you have to do research. For my non-fiction writing, I had to do a ton of research on each topic, including interviews with instructors or people in the business, finding as many of the schools in the US that teach that degrees, finding what classes are needed to get that degree, and more. I had a three month turnaround time for each book. I did quite a bit of traveling and spent hours transcribing what I had recorded. For fiction, you mostly make it up. Angel Sometimes was based on my experience to a certain extent. But my second fiction book, Dismembering the Past, is not based on me or my experience. One thing about Angel is that I know her more deeply than any other character. I started writing her years before the book came out. I wrote her at twelve years old. Around that time, I received a scholarship to the Vermont Studio Center and spent a month rewriting her as a young adult. I literally felt as though she was talking in my head.
 

MP: I learned from your website that you are owner/partner and the Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®. Could you tell us what this is and what sparked its creation? 

HG: Legends is a company my husband started. We do hunting, fishing and golfing expeditions. Mostly, what I do is maintain the website.
Helen Ginger

MP: Your newest book is Dismembering The Past. Dare I ask what it’s about? Just looking ahead to October when I plan to feature a suspense, thriller, or horror novel every day. 


HG: Here's the back cover blurb: Private Investigator, Matti McAllister, is searching for a missing 67 year-old woman who got on her bicycle and disappeared at the same time The Texas Butcher came to Mesquite Cove. The Texas Butcher has already killed twelve women around the state, dismembering them and displaying the body pieces. While hiding among the thousands of visitors in town for the Texas Teacup Sailboat Festival, he'll add three more -- unless the FBI and Matti can stop him.

If he doesn't kill her first. 

MP: You offer so much information on your blog about technique, events, resources and advice for writers. How can writers retain your services as an editor or advisor on their work?

HG: I’m doing very little editing now. I have one or two returning writers whom I edit. My focus at the moment is on writing. I'm open to talking with other writers, though. Sometimes if you're stuck at a point in your book, it helps to just talk it out.
 



MP: I know I spoke of this earlier, Helen, but just reading your website makes me feel like a total slacker. You definitely make the most of your talents! Thank you for spending so much time with us here. I hope you’ll return.

HG: Thank you for hosting me! If anyone has a question, I'll try to answer.

MP: Naturally a person as busy as Helen has all the good social media so we can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, read her blog Straight From Hel, and learn more about her books, newsletters, coaching, and her long time vices. I have an Amazon link on the upper left corner of this site so you can order Angel Sometimes, or go straight to Helen's Amazon author page.

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice" by Lori St. John





Today I welcome attorney and author Lori St. John to talk about her book The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice.

Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Lori. We met last year at Book Expo America and I was delighted to see you again this year. I believe you are on another book tour at the moment.


LSJ: Yes, it was lovely to meet you last year at the Book Expo and again, this year. I am promoting my book in Australia and Japan where future publication and speaking opportunities are opening up for me to share my life’s work.


MP: The Corruption Of Innocence is a powerful non-fiction legal thriller documenting your steadfast resolve to prevent the execution of an innocent man. The story begins when you are at a crossroads in your life after years of marriage, motherhood, and a career as a CPA. Shortly after you began working as a volunteer for Centurion Ministries you are assigned a case that took you halfway around the world and set in motion a journey of discovery you could not have expected. Did you have even the slightest clue in the beginning of the effect this case would have on your life?


LSJ: I had no idea what I was about to embark upon in this journey. At the time I was simply a volunteer looking to do something meaningful to serve others. Some of our most rewarding gifts in life are when we step out of our comfort zone and follow our heart through a mission. Had I known the extent of the battle I came to take on I would have possibly run the other way. However, it is these moments that define us by challenging and inspiring in us an inspired purpose. As you know, this case consumed my life for almost four years and took me on a roller coaster ride through a very powerful and corrupt legal system.

Lori St. John And Sister Helen Prejean
MP: Joseph Roger O’Dell, III had been arrested and convicted on charges of rape and murder. Though he had a criminal record prior to this, it seemed that even an armchair detective who never got closer to a crime scene investigation than a television set could have ruled him out in the beginning. Why do you think he was pursued and evidence pointing in other directions was ignored?

 
LSJ: This is not unusual in cases in wrongful convictions. In the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations reports 1,281 known exonerations during the last quarter century, with over 363 documented cases in which DNA was used to exonerate the innocent. This is significant. I have said, and will continue to state, that as long as we fail to address the core issues in cases of wrongful convictions we will continue to see them unfold in our country. Truth, integrity and accountability are essential components to a fair and just system. It is not unusual for prosecutors and/or Governors to seek higher political aspirations, as in the O’Dell case, where the prosecutor was seeking a judgeship nomination and the Governor sought a seat in the Senate. A wrongful conviction would look bad on their political belt. It has been documented that once the police focus on an individual, and there is a heinous crime being publicly debated, the government is pressured to solve the case. Sometimes truth is not at the core of the game. It should be. Whether a prosecutor or defense attorney, our system is designed to discover the truth- but only if we share ALL evidence, don’t intimidate witnesses and if we afford indigent defendants competent defense attorneys. It was clear in the case of Joseph O’Dell that the truth was not an issue in an otherwise wholly circumstantial case, and that personal motives by those in authority took precedence over justice.
 
 
MP: Among the harsh tragedies in this story seems to be that O’Dell was doomed on all sides. His own attorneys appeared to not be working in his best interest, the justice system didn’t seem to keen on getting the actual facts straight, and even family and friends were out to condemn him. It’s amazing he had the strength to continue fighting for himself. Can you explain how he managed even a tiny glimmer of hope through this?



Joseph Roger O'Dell
LSJ: You touch upon something quite compelling. That fact always amazed me as I walked the journey with him for almost four years. When you are innocent you never give up hope. Faith is what carries you through the hell you live on a day to day basis. It is the only thing that can
sustain the human mind through such mental torture. I was astonished at the roadblocks which challenged Joe every step of the way; not incidental roadblocks, but massive and continuous roadblocks strategically placed in the path of justice. It was mind boggling to me, a novice prior to my having studied the law and litigating as a criminal defense attorney myself. I have always thought it was not only O’Dell’s innocence, but mine, that drove this case to international proportions. I, too, always believed the truth would prevail. 


MP: During the time you worked on this case, you also were attending law school and expanding the reach of your battle against the justice system. Your commitment develops into an international cause in which you and O’Dell receive public support from Sister Helen PrejeanMother Teresa, the Pope, and both the Italian and European Parliaments. How did it feel to bring together such high profile support?

 
LSJ: I was functioning on pure adrenaline during that time, simply fighting with all I had to get the world to listen when the prosecutor threatened to sue the newspaper, ultimately shutting down the only median to expose the truth in the U.S.. It seemed logical to take Joe’s cause to the world. I did not look at it in that form at the time. In retrospect it was quite amazing the way it unfolded. I believe that when you have truth in your pocket and are authentic, an inspired woman on a mission is a force to be reckoned with, as the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote when they referred to my tenacity.


MP: I’m certain I am one of a huge number of people with great respect for the hard work, perseverance and sacrifices you made on behalf of Mr. O’Dell and your belief in his innocence. As I continued reading I imagined times when you were utterly overwhelmed. Still you could have pulled back and handed the work over to someone else, but you didn’t. How did you manage to keep the strength, of body and mind, to continue for so long?

 
LSJ: Thank you so much for you kind words. It was not easy, and yes I was overwhelmed to say the least. In the end I was mentally and physically exhausted. But as I mentioned earlier, when you are on a mission you will embrace both support and challenges equally. You don’t give up. I was determined not to give up because what I saw was so very unfair and was a distinct concerted effort to dust the truth under the carpet of the grave. The harder the opposition fought me, the harder I fought back, the greater my perseverance allowed me to find strategic ways to sustain the battle. More than once I felt I was “chosen,” so to speak, to do this work, as I did not know where my strength came from. I was simply a vehicle of justice for O’Dell and the hundreds of others who have been wrongly imprisoned for decades and decades of lost years.
 
Lori St. John In Front The Vatican
MP: It has been such a pleasure to have you here. I wish you much continued success, and hope you’ll return.

LSJ: Thank you for having me and for caring about this issue.
It is in fact a worldwide issue, not contained to the United States. It is my goal to continue to pursue my mission to expose the backstory of this highly controversial case, both to inspire and to educate others with the knowledge and experience I acquired over the past quarter century. Thank you using social media to reach millions of people around the world. Together we make a difference.

MP: This interview was more difficult for me than most because I wanted to ask questions to share the intensity and magnitude of the entire story without giving too much away. After interviewing many authors of true crime books I was accused once of glorifying criminal actions. I was grateful for the question so I could explain that though I'm rather curious about human behavior I had quite another motive. The authors reveal, in every book, incidents where people had an opportunity to intervene and prevent a crime but did not. A frequent excuse is not wanting to get involved, yet I believe strongly that if you see something, or know something, you are already involved.

The Corruption Of Innocence has a similar lesson. Many people had the opportunity to stop this heinous miscarriage of justice before it went off the rails, but did not. Many had the opportunity to do what was right morally, but chose to do what took the least effort.

Joseph Roger O'Dell III was an average man who went about daily life as a middle class American. He worked, had dreams of better things but dealt in reality, made some bad decisions, had regrets and still maintained a measure of optimism. In other words, he was a real, feeling human being, and he mattered.

Lori St. John did not have to spend years of her life researching law, taking apart the case against O'Dell, knocking down brick walls and going where she wasn't wanted in order to stand up for an innocent man whom she'd never met. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, and from an upper class background, she surely could have enjoyed those years playing tennis, lunching with the ladies, being a trophy wife and such. Once you've read The Corruption Of Innocence you will understand why I am one of the vast number of people who greatly admire and respect Lori St. John, and why I wanted all of you to meet her, too. 

Please follow Lori St. John on www.facebook.com/loristjohnauthor and www.loristjohn.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Troy Blackford - Book Signing with Nobody There





I'm a Troy Blackford fan. Do you think he would visit Madame Perry's Salon?

Blackford is undoubtedly a good writer, and I appreciate people who can amuse themselves, just as he is doing here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Author BA Goodjohn Skillfully Enchants And Haunts Us In "Sticklebacks And Snow Globes"


Welcome again to my salon! Lately I've read some marvelous books where the authors let the story be told in a refreshingly different way. One that I'm about to share had me hooked before I realized the clever technique used. It is an honor to introduce you to BA Goodjohn.

Madame Perry: I am so delighted to have you here at last. Come in, take a comfortable seat, and let us talk about your work.
 
BA Goodjohn: Thanks, Jennifer. Don’ t mind if I do.

MP: Sticklebacks And Snow Globes, set in the 70s, is about a group of working class girls growing up in the UK. The story is rendered mainly through the point of view of children. They may not understand adult talk and problems, yet they know it has power over their lives which they can not control. Their knowledge of adult affairs is gained empirically and from rumors, and some deal in adult situations. How did you decide to write from the children’s perception instead of the adults?
 BA Goodjohn

BAG: I wrote the first chapter as a short story, and the predominant perspective was Donald’s, a thirty-something male. I found it interesting to inhabit this man’s body—I can’t write a character unless I somehow become the character: I have to want what he wants, be scared of his monsters, lust after his loves. If he’s addicted to something, I have to somehow feel that same need at the same intensity. If I can’t become the character, I can’t write the character. So Donald—a little overweight, scared, and living a “ghost note” of a life—was tough: I’m a skinny woman who at times is far too stoic for her own good. But when I got to Tot, his daughter, the writing wasn’t tough. I could sense her almost comfortable isolation and the ease with which she deals with her own adversities. She felt like a loose jacket draped around my shoulders.

When I finished the story, I discovered Tot wasn’t finished with me. She kept reappearing—in the cereal aisle of Kroger, on the sofa as I watched tv. She had more to say and I found it easy to assume her voice. I was intrigued by how Tot might react to the events of my own life—both past and present. So a revision of that piece of fiction became the first chapter—not of Donald’s story, but of his daughter Tot’s.

MP: Were any of the characters or situations based on people that you knew?

BAG: Yes, everything is based on people and places I have experienced (which scares the s*#t out of my mother—she’s convinced someone will sue!). But I don’t know how I could write in any other way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not memoir—it’s absolutely fiction. However, the landscape in which my characters move is very real: Stanley Close is the road I grew up on; the dump is the dump at the bottom of my parents’ garden; the hedge around Tot’s garden is the hedge around the garden of my best friend’s house; But the characters are all composites—fashioned from the ragbag of my past—and their situations are the stuff of imagination. And yet the “situations” are real in so far as they are real to my characters: Tot and Stacey are best friends. Tot’s mother is ashamed of living on a council estate. Mr. Damson has lost his job. Once the characters—ragbaggers or not—are on the page, they live real lives.

MP: I especially like the way the story feels it is being revealed rather than narrated. What writers do you believe had the strongest influence on your own style.

BAG: Carolyn Chute is by far by biggest influence. I first met her work in an undergraduate fiction class. We were looking at her short story “Lizzie, Annie and Rosie’s Rescue ofMe with Blue Cake” and I was excited by how Chute used child voice. I realized that if you could get that child voice dead right, you could take a reader back …maybe not to her own childhood, but definitely to a real place in her memory: she’s back in the sandpit, on the sofa watching cartoons, at the dining room table forcing down cold cabbage and fatty bacon. It’s like time travel. Or it’s like one of those girls’ nights out when you all have a few drinks and start doing the “do you remember when” thing. They’re always fun. I think we can’t help ourselves but look back. Even if looking back is difficult.

MP: You have an impressive list of awards for your poetry and fiction. Do you enjoy writing in one style more than another?

BAG: I’m blessed to be able to do both, and I prefer whichever one is working best! For me, poetry is the miniature…like an exquisite meal served in one of those Japanese Bento boxes: the words are carefully arranged inside the poem’s container. It’s tiny and meticulous...but it has to be satisfying. The Bento box demands the care and attention of both the preparer and the consumer. I think the same can be said of a poem. So if the poem is the Bento Box, fiction is like one of those huge pot luck suppers! Everyone turns up with the best thing he or she can create in the kitchen--macaroni cheese, tuna casserole, strawberry cake, summer vegetables in aspic, pound cake—and somehow by the end of the evening, the partygoers are full and have had a great time. If you’re the organizer, you’re bricking it because you’re worried everyone is going to bring chicken and raw vegetables and there’ll be no mayonnaise. That’s how I feel when I’m writing novels. My characters are all turning up, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with the magic mix of dishes that create good story. I’m hoping one of them will bring the mayonnaise !

So I teach, and therefore the academic calendar tends to govern my writing. During the semester, poetry—given its “Bento-ness” works well: I can write in short bursts. I can snatch an hour or two here and there, and return to early drafts. The precision of formal poetry (I love the sestina and the sonnet) allows me to move in tight and to focus for a hour or two on language and on the strange and wonderful energy words create when they bump against each other in the tightness of the line. Once the summer break arrives, I feel able to stretch out and consider the marathon of fiction: the summer affords me the time to let my characters form on the page and to ask questions of them. I can play the “what if” game with each of them and that takes time. I might end up writing for a few days straight but keep only one or two paragraphs. I may keep nothing. I may keep it all. That kind of creative uncertainty demands time.

MP: I see on your blog that you have a novel, The Beginning Things, and a book of poetry, Love, Love – all that wretched cant, ready for publication. What bit of sneak preview can you share with us and when will we see them?

BAG:The Beginning Things will be coming out in May 2015. Underground Voices, a great independent publisher in Los Angeles, read the manuscript, loved it, and wanted to publish. I’m all for first-rate small publishers, so, of course, I said yes. Do you remember when I said that Sticklebacks and Snow Globes came about because that short story’s child refused to shut up? Well, The Beginning Things came about because even after I gave Tot an entire book to run around in, she still wasn’t finished. But I need to be clear on this: The Beginning Things is not a sequel: I hate sequels! However, it does deal with Tot and her family. Four years have passed and twelve-year old Tot, in the absence of role models, is struggling to make sense of love—both romantic and sexual. Her grandfather, Dan, has recently moved in and is struggling with his own bad decisions. Both have much to learn…and—unbeknown to them—much to teach the other.

MP: Thank you for sharing generous samples of two forthcoming works. Because I read them several times, and was quite speechless after, I'd like to go ahead and say how glad I am that you could visit.  Please visit again, soon.

In the Amazon carousel widget (top left) I have included Sticklebacks and Snow Globes. Dear readers, I believe you'll also love her website where our author has been keep many of us in tears from laughing over a 'catfish' experiment. It is pure gold!


 

Previews (just for us!)

Two weeks ago, in the hangover of bad news, Dan had stood in the doorway of his granddaughter’s bedroom clutching a portable record player, a man bearing gifts. Today, he stood by her window holding a vodka bottle by the neck as if it were a wild animal: unpredictable, irresistible, dangerous.
“You could tip it away, Dangrad,” Tot said again.

She stood on her bed, gathering up the snow globes from the shelf, and dropping them one by one, allowing each time and space to settle on the pink chenille bedspread. He watched her sit cross-legged on her pillows to arrange the globes in two neat rows. They were snapshots, strange events caught inside glass, each dome home to a frozen object: castles, animals, cartoon characters, pop stars. One was home to the moon and the Gemini spacecraft. Another contained a blue unicorn pawing at a rock. Each scene waited for snow, however unlikely, however impractical. She picked up the globes in quick succession and shook them hard until the entire bed was a flurry of obscuring snow.

“Dad drank,” she said. “Not much, but he drank.” She picked up the unicorn globe and spun it in her hands until the snow was an eternal blizzard around the blue, horned creature inside. “Mum used to tell him he had a P.R.O.B.L.E.M., but dad said the only problem was her.”

Dan fiddled with the curtain. “It’s not a problem, Tot. Just a drink now and then. It helps me sleep.”

“It’s blue,” she continued, “because it’s a unicorn and that’s okay. If it was just a horse, I wouldn’t like it being blue. But unicorns are magic. They can be any colour they want. This one has green hooves. Look.” She held it up for him to see.

“I’ll keep the bottle on top of the wardrobe. Inside the piano was stupid. I didn’t think.”

She handed him the unicorn globe and he took it, putting the bottle down on the rug. “You can wish on it,” she said. “You just close your eyes, wish, and shake it hard. If the snow falls on the bits you thought it would, your wish comes true. It’s my magic.”

He looked at the globe. The unicorn had one green hoof up on a rock, the other lifted in air. The rock was wide and low. That’s where the snow would fall. On the rock. He put the globe down carefully on the bedspread.

She picked it up before standing and—catching her balance for a moment—returned the unicorn carefully to the shelf. He helped, handing her the others one-by-one. As she reached up towards the ledge, her sleeve fell back, revealing a line of tiny, round purple bruises, each one fading into brown around the edge like an old flower. He took her by the wrist, pulling her arm out straight and pushing up the sleeve of her cardigan.

“How did you do this?” he said. He gently pressed one of the bruise-flowers with his finger. “Does it hurt?”

She looked at him for a long moment, saying nothing.

“How did you do this?” he repeated.

“I didn’t. You did.”

“Me? When?”

“When I asked you about the boy in the woods. When you were in bed.”

“Why would I do that? What boy?” Dan couldn’t understand what she was telling him. “That Keesal from number seven? Did he do this?”

She shook her head. “You did it,” she said again.

“I don’t understand,” he said, tentatively matching his fingertips to the bruises on her arm. “Why would I do this?”

She retrieved the unicorn globe from the shelf and held it out to him “Shake.”

He took the glass ball, closed his eyes, and shook it. When he opened his eyes, the rock was bare, the unicorn’s back legs lost inexplicably in a drift of silver snow.

** 

The poetry manuscript is currently doing the contest rounds. No takers yet, but my hope is it finds a home soon. One of my favourite poems in the collection is called “Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility” and is published with SouthernWomen’s Review (Volume 7, Issue 7)
I wrote it for a good friend who died from complications following an operation for appendicitis. We shared much: she was an alcoholic, an addict and an inmate. I was not an inmate—purely through good fortune.

Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility


For Vicky 1962—2010

Deaf Brenda’s telling us about the time

her husband smacked her with the cockatiel’s

cage stand, how sound closed down that night,

and yet her memory holds the parrot’s scream.

She recalls slow feathers—tiny gray curls—

landing on her yellow fun-fur slippers.

We lean in: she’s telling our story and we love

how they all start happy with sass and drinks.

She threw his sorry arse outside, piled furniture

against the door, then took her whiskey

and the kids to bed, slept sound despite

the ricochet of words against the trailer’s siding.

There is no recollection of clubbing him

with the iron, but there it was –bloody

and shining—on the deck. “What can I say?”

she said, her yard full of police and plastic toys,

her hands already clasped behind her back.

“Drink brings a crazy bitch to fuck up my life.”

My turn for tales, but I’m just here for plain old

DUI. So I tell the girls of Rita, Patron Saint

Of Suffering, whose mouth was home to bees

that buzzed behind her teeth, but left her tongue

unstung, a saint I’d forgotten till Deaf Brenda

described her tinnitus as bee song.

The rec room hums and we’re all lost

to joining drunken dots of our own

blacked-out biographies. We’re haunted

by mouths that have always swarmed with bees,

homesick for a time when we were too blessed

—or young—to know the treachery of swallowing.