How was it?

It was the first public outing for Acquisition and me — a scheduled reading and book signing at Simply Serendipity on Tenth Street in North Wilkesboro, NC.  And it began with grey, overcast skies and snow!

Author Renee Johnson with poster of her novel

Thankfully, it didn’t stick.  It was the kind of snow which looked beautiful falling but melted as soon as it hit the ground.

The poster of Acquisition filled one of the front windows — striking to say the least.  Thank you Rae Monet!  She designed the cover for my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, and I am totally happy with  it.

Author Renee Canter Johnson, on right, with Julie Baird in center, and Paula Eller on left

As it was a store, there was less reading and more shopping, signing, and buying. And the shop owner, Julie Baird, had brewed a lovely Pumpkin Spice Coffee from the Owens Family Coffee Company in Wilmington, NC. The aroma was homey and celebratory — welcoming the visitors.

Author Renee Johnson signing copies of her novel Acquisition

There were questions for me, mostly about my journey, how I became published, and my recent trips to Massachusetts and Orvieto, Italy — both of which were directly related to writing projects.

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Family and friends stopped in, some strangers, a shop owner from a neighboring store. It was delightful!

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Thank you to everyone who came out to support me and Acquisition, Julie Baird and Simply Serendipity, and local authors and artisans. Signed copies of my novel are still available at Simply Serendipity and the drawing for the gift basket will be held on Christmas Eve. So stop in, chat with Julie and Tori, check out the wares, and drop your name in the box for a chance to win!

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Simply Serendipity and Me!

I have been invited by Julie Baird and her daughter Tori, owners and operators of Simply Serendipity at 304 Tenth Street in downtown North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to give a reading from my novel Acquisition.

Simply Serendipity

And we’ve scheduled it for this Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.  If you have a chance, please stop by and support this shop.  They are featuring arts and crafts, authors, and other products made in North Carolina.

Give unique

There is sure to be someone on your shopping list whose perfect gift is just waiting there.  And they do beautiful wrapping as well.

If there is a reader on your list, copies of my novel will be available.

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Hope to see you there!

Simply Serendipity

304 Tenth Street

North Wilkesboro, NC  28659

Saturday, December 20, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

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Interview with Author Mark Wiederanders

Mark W signing a book

Mark Wiederanders, a Sacramento-area author with a background as a research psychologist, is another author I had the privilege to meet and work with at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard during our brief stay.  He is sharp, curious, witty, and has the best sense of humor — in a dry, intellectual, and totally creative way.

In my opinion, it is his sense of curiosity leading to some of his most acclaimed works; including a screenplay – “Taming Judith” – about William Shakespeare’s family, which was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ annual writing competition, and “STEVENSON’S TREASURE” – about Robert Louis Stevenson and his romantic, though ill-advised, quest to make Fanny Osbourne – an already married woman with children – his wife.Mark W book cover

Read an excerpt here!

This wasn’t Mark’s first stint at Noepe.  A returning alumnus, he also has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, and the New York Mills Cultural Center.  And he is quite entertaining.  Click here to hear him being interviewed by Capital Public Radio’s Beth Ruyak. Mark W with Stephenson's Treasure

RJ:  This is your second time at Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. What is it about being out here on the island that feeds into your creativity?

MW:  It’s a beautiful setting, different from my usual surroundings in California, and hard enough to get to that I don’t feel like I can easily be called away and back into normal concerns. It’s inspiring to learn things I don’t expect to from the varied other writers who are simultaneously gathered here, including my interviewer.Mark W at Noepe

RJ:  Thank you for that, Mark.  Your novel has been pegged in a few different categories but is selling best as a historical romance novel. Is that an accurate statement or do you see it as a different genre?

MW:  It is an accurate statement, but I actually saw it more as a biographical/historical fiction because of the research into the real people living within that particular time in history. I wrote a blog about it and posted it on my website if your readers are interested.

RJ:  When do you know you have stumbled upon the right character for a novel?

MW:  When they are larger than life, more expressive, more daring, more optimistic, when they feel things more deeply than ordinary people might, they jump out at me. Stevenson and Fanny both had those qualities and inspired Stevenson’s Treasure.

RJ:  Would you tell me a little about your process?

MW:  I spend lots of time on getting the storyline and characters, which can be frustrating. Sometimes I actually abandon a project I’ve spent months on but the factual meat is too thin. Then I immerse myself into the research, which involves travel, getting old letters, photographs, newspapers – original sources. Then roughing out the storyline, key scenes, and the conflict and agenda for each character within the scenes.

RJ:  Do you complete your research first and then let the creativity develop from what you’ve discovered, or do you like to toss in your elements of fiction as you are immersed in the documents for your research?

MW:  When I get to writing a chapter, I like to arrange objects, photos, letters on my desk and have my plan in mind with these visual prompts. I see it as a play, almost and let it happen organically. Then of course, rewriting.

Mark W staring at Blank Page

photo by Howard Romero Photography, Johnson, VT

 

RJ:  When did you first discover your love of writing?

MW:  At the age of 9. I liked to draw and I wanted to be a Disney cartoonist and I would draw characters and try to design comic books and at 9 entered a contest to name a father of the year. You were supposed to write about your own father, and I won the contest because of my honest portrayal. He got a Bulova Watch and I got a $25.00 savings bond, but I had to wait ten years for it to mature.

RJ:  Who is your favorite author and why?

MW:  Ernest Hemingway. He had a strange magical way with words and his writing could be unsettling and yet surprising tender at times and I think that Farewell to Arms is one of the best Historical Romances ever written.

RJ:  If you could spend one hour with anyone – living or deceased – who would it be and why?

MW:  William Shakespeare. I had some other ideas first, but I want to ask him where did all of that stuff come from? What is your process?

RJ:  Do you think that is because of the screenplay you wrote Taming Judith which was about Shakespeare’s daughter?

MW:  Yeah, I traveled to England to the village of Stratford and combed through their libraries and his old wills and the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC. There are so many original manuscripts of his works there.

Mark W with bookshelves

RJ:  How long does it take you to get a rough outline for your novels?

MW:  A rough outline – how rough? A working outline would be about 2 months.

RJ:  How can the readers find out more about your work?

MW:  Further details about Stevenson’s Treasure including book cover and other images, historical photos, author blog, reviews, etc. are available at my website.

 

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Do you want normal, or do you want crazy? Experiencing Zeppelin Restaurant in Orvieto, Italy!!

 

Orvieto - Renee in window  Renee at the window in Hotel Duomo, Orvieto, Italy.

Sometimes you hear a phrase, a question, or a comment, and it sticks in your mind like a barnacle to the bottom of a boat — forever glued to your psyche.  Such was the question asked of my dining companions and me during a recent trip to Orvieto, Italy.

Zeppelin Sign                                      Zeppelin Chef

Do you want normal, or do you want crazy?”  — Chef Lorenzo Polegri

And there are few dining experiences in one’s life so spectacular as to rank among the most memorable.  But when you find yourself immersed in one, you know it is special.

I was in Orvieto, Italy to study the Monastic Approach to Writing under the tutelage of Justen Ahren from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Zeppelin Justen 2

Ristorante Zeppelin had been recommended to him, thus our eagerness to give it a try.

Zeppelin interior                                       Zeppelin interior 2

Shunning menus, Justen asked for Chef Lorenzo Polegri, a handsome Italian with a personality almost too large to fit inside of the stone walls of the restaurant.  He rubbed his chin, a sparkle emanating from his eyes.

                         Zeppelin Chef and Justen

“So, do you want normal — or do you want crazy?” 

This is our invitation to tell him how cooperative we are with innovative dining.  Who would say normal, we asked ourselves, as we replied, “Crazy!” in unison.

Clearly pleased with our answer he retreated to the annuls of the kitchen, bouncing off to the beat of the rock-and-roll music playing in the background, and the dining adventure began.

I almost hesitate to call it dining.  It was a full sensory romp of food, music, wine, writers, and staff — as symbiotic in relationship as that of the truffle to the tree — each giving something of value to the other.

Please keep in mind as you scroll through this visual memory, this was one meal — only one — a single dinner.

It began with wine and bread — naturally — skillfully maneuvered by our adorable waiter, Constantino.          Zeppelin Constantino

Zeppelin First Wine                                      Zeppelin Bread Course

“We’ll start with dessert,” Chef Lorenzo said, and plates of puree swirls landed in front of us.                                         Zeppelin First Course   Savory, with a whisper of sweet, creamy, decadent — the “mmmms” began.

Next was a frittata, followed by the pasta, which had a sinfully generous mound of shaved truffles (just go ahead and hate me now) piled on the plate.  I was in culinary heaven.

Zeppelin 2nd Course - Frittata                                       Zeppelin Pasta Course

“We are the last dinosaurs, still belonging to a lost world of flour, hands and greasy knives.  Where your art is simply making good food to please someone else, to turn a bunch of vegetables, powders and blood into a new creature, a new Prometheus made of energy and flavors.” – Chef Lorenzo Polegri from The Etruscan Chef

A new wine was served — my favorite — a little tannic, mouth drying, rich and full-bodied.

Zeppelin Second Wine

The steak course — if one can call the tender, juicy, perfectly seared meat sitting in a sauce with notes of chocolate and cinnamon simply a steak –was next.  Ribbons of zucchini bookended one side.     Zeppelin Steak Course

“We are authors of small masterpieces, and if the muses of our hell or heaven are around, we will create the best form of art you will experience.  You will be the admirer of that gem, and you will be part of it.”  – Chef Lorenzo Polegri from The Etruscan Chef

And we are not even close to finished.  Out came the dessert…

Zeppelin Dessert

….then cheese.                              Zeppelin Cheese Course  And we couldn’t forget about the digestive.  It was especially important after such a large meal.

Ahhh — Lemoncello!

Zeppelin Lemoncello

We applauded the staff wildly and asked them to introduce themselves.  One, the furthest on the right — Sean Ragusa — was from Chicago, Illinois, and had lived for a time in North Carolina. Zeppelin Staff  He was in Orvieto studying with Chef Lorenzo, who also offers cooking classes.

Zeppelin empty glasses  We could hardly believe the stash of empty glasses marching across the table.

Sated and nearly delirious, I was able to convince my dinner companions to pose for a snapshot or two.

Jarita and Kim                                                                 Kim and Mary

Zeppelin Jarita and Kim                                      Zeppelin Mary and Kim

Mary and I were fascinated with Chef Lorenzo’s book, The Etruscan Chef, and he was kind enough to sign a copy for me.

Zeppelin Book                                       Zeppelin book dedication

Wow!  What an evening.  Justen’s large effusive smile says it all.

Zeppelin Justen

“A chef has to be ready to sacrifice many things, such as time with the family, your son, yourself.  You wonder if one day you will be paid back with a little bit of gratitude…” — Chef Lorenzo Polegri from The Etruscan Chef 

So here is my gratitude Chef Lorenzo Polegri!  A full page dedicated to you and your staff.  Thank you for being a lovely part of my experience in Orvieto, Italy.  I’m coming back for the Truffle Hunting Excursion on your farm!!

“Are we what we eat?” – Chef Lorenzo Polegri from The Etruscan Chef

If so, this meal just turned us all into beautiful sculpture infused with color and texture from the entrees and brought alive by the heat of the wine.

Your turn, dear readers.  What has been your favorite meal, restaurant, or book on cooking, and why?

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Meet Margot Douaihy

Margot Douaihy

MARGOT DOUAIHY, MA, RYT
PhD Candidate (Lancaster University)
http://www.margotdouaihy.com

WHO’S THE BOSS?

All journeys start by leaving, that’s what Tony must have said
to Sam, packing the van, closing the door, the way epics begin.

Don’t look back. In stations of the cross, you move on.
It’s time to go, he smiles, pulls the key from his ripped jeans,

hard muscle line in his arms, like a sea wall
meeting sand on a Brooklyn beach

too polluted to swim. There’s an open road and a road that’s hidden,
brand new life around the bend. A theme song’s being sung, just for them.

He’s not sure who sings it, but he knows a thing or two: boxing, cooking,
secret blend of wind and lip to make a whistle. He’ll teach Samantha

to dance, steps only the old folks know. She’ll need to learn
how to speak Connecticut, make friends, shake off headaches

after crying. He’ll vacuum curtains upright, iron a sandwich for uptight
Angeler. Strange how it makes him feel like a man. Isn’t every departure

a return to who we want to be? He’d never admit
he is scared, he might not even know what to call it.

All that matters: they’re together, going somewhere in their beat-up van,
hands taking flight out the windows, future as go as the green light ahead.

(Reprinted from Philadelphia Stories, 2013.)

I Would Ruby If I Could

Margot-Douaihy-i-would-ruby-if-i-could

Margot Douaihy and I met at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  She is lovely, bright, cheerful, fun, and quite intuitive.  Because she had to leave early to receive an award, Pennsylvania’s Belin Arts Karen Blomain Memorial Award, the other ladies of our session and I decided to treat her to dinner at The Black Dog Restaurant.

The Black Dog Tavern                                               Margot, Nan, and Me

There was a lot of food, fun, and stimulating conversation.

RJ:  Where do you get your inspiration?

MD:  First, I would just like to say a sincere Thank You for inviting me into this wonderful community of writers, readers, and seekers. As for where I find inspiration: The frisson of a typo. An itemized receipt. Ingredient list on a perfume bottle. Street signs. Subway signs. An odd line-break. The quotidian. I’ve always been inspired by poetry and fiction that brings me into a specific world, a world with its own logic and rules, whether it is — Jorge Louis Borges or Theodor Seuss Geisel. I love poems that tell stories and invite readers into a snowglobe of a moment: a 3D sense of space, place, voice, mood. What’s the weather in this poem? Do I need a scarf? Is there glitter? Great. I’m in. Where are the fissures and contours of consciousness? I like poems that let me fall. I like strange poems that almost don’t work, but do. I like literary Rube Goldbergs. When things are too perfect or too abstruse they are meaningless. What can be sensed in the speaker’s peripheral vision? How can we stretch time or speed it up? Layered storytelling is a bridge between my verse and fiction.

RJ:  How long do you spend perfecting your poems; to get them to the place where you know every line is just right for the imagery you are creating?

MD:  The magic question. Some poems, e.g., my series “Reality Show,” take one day to write. They flow out in a surprisingly complete form. Other poems, like “Kimono,” have been in some agonizing stage of revision for nine or ten years. It’s not the length of a piece that determines when it is “finished,” it is the deep feeling of inevitability. I know when a poem is done the way you know fruit is ripe. Does it feel ready? Does it honor its own rules and elective affinities? Like in Wallace Stevens or Eliot, is the poem’s aesthetic helping to drive it forward like another motor? Is there music? Is it transcending the page? Some work has a life of its own; a poem that may have begun in one form might need to gestate and evolve to reveal meaning. More than once something I started as a sestina has ended up as a prose-poem. And vice-versa.

RJ:  Can you tell me about your current project?

MD:  My slipstream literary mystery, “The Stradivarius Listening Test,” is currently the hands of an agent. My amateur sleuth novel is “Sister Holiday’s Divine Mysteries.” These books are my weekend projects that live in concert with my full-time job (as a magazine editor). I need the dynamism of multiple forms.

RJ:  What interested you most about creating a world around a Stradivarius violin?

MD:  Each Stradivarius instrument is a work of art. Nothing sounds like it. No one can recreate it. There are unending theories about Stradivarius. I wanted to write a mad romp of a novel with a Stradivarius at the heart of the mystery as well as a shadow narrative for the protagonist’s journey. The question mark of Stradivarius serves myriad purposes in the book.

RJ:  We met at the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. What is the one thing you have taken away from your time there which resonates as the most integral to your path?

MD:  MVWR was an absolute gift! Besides making dear new friends like you, my main take-away from the Residency is that I must trust and accept my own process. My tendency is to feel that I’m not writing enough (yes, I’m an Aries). I’ve struggled with self-confidence. I was reminded at MVWR that my quirky journey is my own; I’m slowly learning to embrace it.

RJ:  You spent four months traveling on a ship around the world as part of your education. Can you expound on that experience and what you gleaned from it?

MD:  During my senior year of college, I was extremely fortunate to travel and study with the “Semester at Sea” program. I completed 15 college credits on the SS Universe Explorer as we circumnavigated the globe. We sailed to and docked in Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Japan. I made life-long friends. I witnessed the interplay of geography, culture, and socioeconomics. The voyage was a seismic shift in my worldview; it fundamentally changed my perception of “how to be” in the world. A passport inked full of country stamps is heartbreakingly beautiful to me.

RJ:  If you could spend one hour talking with anyone – living or deceased – who would it be and why?

MD:  My maternal grandmother, Pasqualina Mangiola, who died of cancer when my mother was just a few weeks pregnant with me and my twin sister. I have always felt a deep, mysterious connection with my grandmother, as if her energy transferred into us in-utero. I would love the opportunity to ask her questions about her life and heart and dreams. Also, my mother is a remarkable visual artist; I would love the chance to learn—from my grandmother’s perspective—how my mom’s artistic sensibilities bloomed.

RJ:  You had to leave early to accept Pennsylvania’s Belin Arts Karen Blomain Memorial AwardWhat was it like to return to your home state and be honored with this recognition?Margot and her award

MD:  Oneiric! I was thrilled to learn that I was the 2014 recipient of the F. Lammot Belin Arts Foundation “Karen Blomain Memorial Award”. Karen Blomain was a Pennsylvania native who received two PEN USA Syndicated Fiction Prizes and published four volumes of poetry. A Trick of Light was her first novel, originally published in 2000. Sadly, she passed away from illness in 2012. Karen’s work has inspired me ever since I was a child. I remember reading her poetry about the beautiful sadness of Northeastern PA—the Anthracite region—and thinking “this is right…this feels right.” My favorite poem by Karen Blomain is “The Dancers,” a lyric about summer nights and dancing in roadside bars and drinking too much wine and baby sisters and growing apart. It’s a poem about the winding road of survival. Every time I read that poem, I feel Karen’s spirit reaching through the page. Even now my eyes burn thinking about her talent, and how all art outlives its maker. Maybe that’s why we make it. This is what poetry can do. This is what poetry should do. I like when poetry picks me up and shakes me.

RJ:  Your book Girls Like You is coming out in 2015 from Clemson University Press. Can you give the readers a brief glimpse into it and how they can obtain it?

Girls Like You is my first full-length poetry book being published by the terrific editors at Clemson University. Originally cast around Gaston Bachelard’s concept of “the intimate immensity,” my collection recalibrates collective memories. Judith & Holofernes, Laura Palmer, solipsism, wordplay, The Real House Cats of Beverly Hills, triolets, villanelles, text message mistakes, shopping cart surfing—all of this and more live in the apiary of this book. I’m grateful to Clemson University for bringing it to print.

Thank you so much, Renee, for inviting me into your blogosphere. And thank you, readers! Please stay in touch via www.margotdouaihy.com.

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Acquisition Blog Party

It’s here!  My novel, Acquisition, published by The Wild Rose Press, has been released!

The big day has arrived.  And just like a child awaiting Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, I awoke early and grabbed my e-reader.

With a smile and a sigh, I ran my hand across the screen, the cover appearing as the best stocking-stuffer ever.  Yes, overnight, a novel sprite had crept into my room and sprinkled its magic across my Kindle at exactly five minutes after midnight.

What a moment!  And now it is time to get this blog party started!!  Pink has joined Etta James and me, and I hope you’ll stop by too, have a glass of bubbly, do the happy dance.

I’ll be coming and going, greeting and meeting, snacking, reading.  Visit with each other and help me celebrate.

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Counting Down to the Big Day!

It’s almost here — November 7, 2014 — and the release of my first novel:

Acquisition!

NOVEL BY RENEE CANTER JOHNSON AVAILABLE 11/07/2014

NOVEL BY RENEE CANTER JOHNSON
AVAILABLE 11/07/2014

Get your copy here!

Exciting, frightening, dreamy — all the emotions one has when experiencing the result of seeing a goal come to fruition.

Months of working with editors, a cover artist, filling out paperwork and writing a biography for the website, have culminated in this final product.

And thank you all for your support during this process. I’ve been absent from the blog for days on end, and yet you have remained faithful. What a great tribe we belong to!! IMG_0788

So, dear readers, please help me celebrate. Let’s have a blog party and toast the finish line.

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Sitting Down with Justen Ahren

Justen Ahren 2

Photo of Justen Ahren by Rob Berkley

Shrive

                                              You turn me to rain with a sentence.                                                

Black and secret centers have me falling,

confessing. I know nothing but the crusts of

words,

the starvation we call living.

All day the earth broke open.

Under a furrowed brow of clouds,

Crows rose, smoke, and thin crocuses.   – Justen Ahren

   A Strange Catechism

A Strange Catechism 3

Justen Ahren is a person of many talents and aspirations. He’s a family man, owner of a landscaping company on Martha’s Vineyard, Poet Laureate of West Tisbury, and Director of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts.  His works have appeared in Fulcrum, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, BorderSenses, Comstock Review, and been nominated for two Pushcarts, as well as in his own collection of poetry – A Strange Catechism.

I was first introduced to his poetry when I began to research writers’ residencies in the spring of this year. Beautiful, stirring, dramatic, sensitive – his work thoroughly impressed and moved me in a way I found surprising.  It also struck a chord with similarities in my childhood, starting with the dedication page:

To those who have lost children, and to children who have lost childhood. – Justen Ahren, A Strange Catechism.

Somehow I trusted the knowledge that if he could share such raw emotions, so could I. And that is the beauty of being around other writers and communing with each other for a space of time devoted solely to the craft of creativity.  It is the gift he keeps bestowing on writers of all genres, and the headline of the Noepe website: Time, Space, Create.

Because I wanted all of you to become familiar with his work and the opportunities at Noepe, I hoped he would have time for an interview, and he generously made it happen.

Justen Ahren 3.3

Justen Ahren at Noepe Center

RJ: How old were you when you first started writing?

JA: I’ve been writing since I can remember.  At first, I wrote songs, entire albums, and recorded them on a tape recorder.  It was pure play and joy.  It was my first experience of making things out of sound.  It was a further investigation into how language, sound, equaled a thing, brought a thing to life.  Here was a currency.  Prior to this time, I was conscious of constructing an ongoing narrative in my head as a way of making sense of the life I was waking within.  I was constantly writing and rewriting this ‘story’, manipulating it, turning it into some thing, making it dramatic, artful or beautiful, or otherwise, an artifact.  I felt Life’s temporality, and even then, my own fragility. 

RJ: What inspired you to write poetry as opposed to another form of creative writing?

JA: I came to poetry via music, lyrics really. Ultimately, I was drawn to a quiet, private utterance.  I heard silences, deep chasms between words.  Lyrics just didn’t go here.  I am still very attuned to the music words make and how that music means.  I also love puzzles, and solving them.  I love turning things over.  Poems are like puzzles—physical, visual, auditory puzzles—I can tinker with until they click shut and open for me at the same time.

RJ: How long does it take you to write a poem and turn it into the type of artistic expression that is both eloquent and emotionally striking?

JA: Years, sometimes.  I have poems that still aren’t satisfying and I’ve been writing them for 15 years. Though I’m learning to let go.  I’m learning that sometimes my experience of the moment that spawned a poem is itself limited, and impairs the resulting poem forever.  Occasionally, I have the pleasure of writing a poem in one or two sittings.  Those are gifts. 

RJ: Do you ever worry about what other people think of your work?

JAYes, of course. The things we make come from us or through us.  Rejection can feel personal.  But when I’m making new work, I try not to let that concern censor what I write.  I don’t think we can simultaneously express and be critical.  I want my poems to be understood, to communicate.  I have hopes for my poems like I have hopes for my children.  But I can’t control people’s response.  And I certainly can’t anticipate how people may feel about a poem that hasn’t seen the light of day.  My worry is more ‘Have I made myself understood?  Have I been true to the music and needs of the work? Have I fulfilled the imperative that first set me to work?

RJ: Tell me a little bit about your process. How does an idea work through you from the initial spur to the finished product?

JAI wish I knew how my process works. It is still a mystery. Why does some thing, a moment, an idea, a line of music take hold of me to the point I’m willing to live with it, allow it into my life and have a relationship with it for a period of time?  The mystery and the playfulness of ‘creating’ are so enjoyable, that I always want to be in that place.  I remember how free and joyous I felt as a child, making for the sake of making. It was a pure expression of the moment.  No permission was necessary.  It is what I did.  If it was raining, I’d write about the rain.  I’d imitate songs I heard.  It was all play and exploration.  At some point it became serious. Taking writing too seriously is something I now fight against. And so, any time I can create, I want to reproduce that early experience of being creative—being at play.  This is as close to feeling whole, a feeling of Oneness, as I can get.

RJ: Your works have appeared in Fulcrum, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, BorderSenses, Comstock Review, and been nominated for two Pushcarts, as well as being available through a published volume – A Strange Catechism – which deals with some emotionally raw subjects. When people express to you the effect your artistry has had in their lives, how does that make you feel?

JA: If something I write affects another, well, I’m speechless.  I think this touches an unquenchable longing: to communicate.  It is the fulfillment of the energy of a creation, the reciprocity of a gift.  It is the completion of the creative circle.  We give and receive and then must give again in order to keep the energy moving.  It is an exchange of energy.  This is what gives any work life.  If this exchange doesn’t take place, for example, as with the hundreds of poems I have in my drawers, there can be no life.  So, it is both humbling and gratifying to hear that something, some words I wrote were felt by another.  It is frightening, but I feel blessed that I’ve made some thing felt.  I don’t know how much control or credit I can take for this.  We seem to encounter what we are seeking.  I’m simply trying to interpret my experience, if others ‘get it’ and it resonates, amen.

RJ: What you are currently working on?

JA: Exile in its many forms; poetry as a machine for remembering, unearthing friends, lovers, the creek behind my house; violence, both intimate and public; and the music of long lines, short lines and couplets.  

RJ: Where and when did the idea to start a writer’s residency sprout?

JA: Around 2006.  I had just finished an MFA at Emerson College and a month-long residency in Costa Rica.  Both experiences were rich.  I was part of a writing community.  Back home on Martha’s Vineyard, I no longer had this community.  It was a selfish desire to start a residency.  I wanted to be around writers, talk about writing, share ideas, share food, and drink wine.  That was the totality of the idea at first.  

RJ: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency and is it becoming enmeshed within Noepe Literary Arts Center?

JA: Noepe is the new umbrella organization.  I had an opportunity to take over the space where the residency is held—a ten room, old whaling captains house on Main Street in Edgartown.  In order to make it financially viable, the idea had to expand.  The resulting non-profit offers workshops, readings and talks, in addition to 2-6 week residencies.  My hope is that Noepe, and the residency, will continue to grow as a community where writers come for support, to work on their craft, and for the time and space they need to create. 

RJ: Martha’s Vineyard is a lively and bustling island with history, art, music, organic farming, fishing, water sports, beaches, and fantastic dining opportunities. Do you plan on developing a path at the Noepe Center that pairs available writers with these niches?

JA: A beach volleyball league for writersThe Novelists vs. the Memoirists. No, not in the plans.  But we are actively building partnerships with other island non-profits, The Farm Institute, for example.  Next year we plan to offer a residency to one writer interested in writing about local food production, sustainability and community supported agriculture.  We also are exploring partnering with a Choreographers residency. The residency and workshops always build in free time for participants to be able to explore what Martha’s Vineyard has to offer.

RJ: Who is your favorite poet – living or deceased – and why?

JA: I don’t have a favorite poet.  I return to many, and keep discovering others.  I want to feel the human in poems.  When I feel the heart beating, when the struggle to say is palpable, I’m there.  Recently, Joseph Stroud, David Baker, Eugenio Montale, Jane Kenyon (again and again), Mary Ruefle, Hayden Carruth.  

RJ: If you could spend an hour with anyone, from anywhere – also currently living or deceased – who would it be and why?

JA: Cleopatra. Is it necessary to explain? And Sappho. I’d love to know what is outside the extraordinary fragments we have of her work.

RJ: What do you read when you are not focusing on your own projects?

JA: Novels, newspapers, lists of ingredients.  I leave books all over the house so I can read when I am in that room.  Right now I’m reading about the Civil War, a psychology book on Spirituality, an anthology of European poetry, a memoir about an Arab-American growing up in Texas, and a collection of short stories. 

RJ: What is the best advice you’ve been given as a writer and what would you like to pass along to the readers?

JA: Years ago a friend told me, ‘a writer writes. If you want to be a writer, don’t talk about it, write.’  I used to think I could only write when inspired.  But I’ve come to realize that the act, the process of writing leads to discovery.  When we are writing we are demonstrating our preparedness to receive.  The act opens us to receive more.  To the contrary, not writing has a very strong inertia.  It is hard to get going once you’re stopped.  

RJ: Thank you, Justen, so very much. It has been a great pleasure to get to know a little more about you and your work and now my readers can share a bit of what I was so fortunate to receive over my time at Noepe on Martha’s Vineyard.

From the poem:

A Strange Catechism

in the book by the same title:

I feel inside a strange catechism

has begun, learning down the sound

of my love for God

into the dark of my body.

Justen Ahren, A Strange Catechism

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Bringing Noepe Center for Literary Arts at Martha’s Vineyard to You

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“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau

The best thing about having a blog is being able to share experiences — people and places — with others.  My recent stint at Noepe Center for Literary Arts at Martha’s Vineyard has given me the opportunity to introduce not only the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but also some of the wonderful writers I was fortunate to share a space of time with while there.  And when you have met them, you will want to attend a session there as well.

IMG_0733 I made a lot of progress with the Young Adult novel I was working on and I also learned a lot about myself.

For instance, I discovered the perfect rhythm of a day for me — write from 6 am to noon while guzzling coffee, take a l-o-n-g walk to the beach, IMG_1420light lunch, shower and dress for the evening, IMG_0754  stroll with writing friends to the wharf, shops in Edgartown, or other sightseeing spots, dinner, IMG_0957long group discussions, journaling until bedtime.  Doesn’t that sound like the perfect day?

I also discovered I could read from a section of my work-in-progress without breaking into tears although it resonated with a particularly emotional time in my life.

My First Official Reading

My First Official Reading

And I met and became friends with some amazing poets and writers.  Talent oozed from the doors and windows, and I just hoped a little of it would rub off on me.

IMG_1388  But here’s the best part.  You can do it too.  And over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing some of the people I met to you through interviews and excerpts of their work.  IMG_0978 IMG_0983 IMG_1444

You’re going to be so impressed!

The first interview I have planned is with the director of Noepe, Justen Ahren.  You can follow the links and apply for your own writing corner on Martha’s Vineyard.  And when you have read these interviews, you will want to do just that.

Where do you want your writing to take you?

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