So I received and read this book this weekend. It was excellent. Chris Thomas was one of the last juveniles sentenced to death in Va. He and his girlfriend murdered her parents. She was 14, he was 17. She was sent to Juvie & freed at age 21 (with no felony record), he was executed in January 2000. This took place close to where my hubby grew up. I think this book is used as a textbook in some law classes. It was very informative about Virginia’s death penalty and also very moving, a good story of redemption.

Another very interesting book I read about Virginia’s death row is Dead Run by Joe Jackson.  This chronicles the life of Dennis Stockton, who helped mastermind the infamous 1984 death row escape, although he didn’t escape himself.

I highly recommend both of these books, if you are interested in the death penalty, and its effect on, well, everyone.

I took a class on deviance at U of Richmond awhile back, and the instructor used to work at the old Penitentiary. She worked there when this escape occurred, and talked about it in class. It was so funny. A lot of the criminal cases she mentioned were events with which I was familiar. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing!

I do find human nature fascinating.

Toddler Memory

2014/07/17

I think the subject of memory is fascinating. I’ve repressed unpleasant memories; I can think of 2 I definitely suppressed, only to be reminded of them later, and remembering it happening. Huh-suppressed or repressed? Not sure.

Anyhow, I used to have this flash of a memory. In the memory I’m at my great Aunt Mary’s river cottage, and my view is out the screen door, ground level. That’s all the memory was. I loved Aunt Mary’s cottage. There was a ladder leading up to a balcony that surrounded the whole place, where all the kids slept.

About 8 years ago an aunt passed, and my Mom’s cousin, who is a bit younger than her told me when she saw me she remembered she and her husband babysitting me at the cottage when I was about 2. She said I crawled out the screen door. As soon as she told me that I “remembered” the scene and realized that was what I was remembering all these years. I was surprised a memory from that age would be even a little conscious.

Verrrry inter-esting, lol!

I leave you with a picture of a couple of felt bowls I made in a wet-felting class a few months ago.

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Here are books in my Nook library I haven’t read yet:

Stealing Secrets – H . Donald Winkler, about female spies during the American Civil War.

South of the Big Four – Dan Kurtz, a novel

Divide – Matt Taibbi, about the wealth gap

Dangerous Ambition – Susan Hertog, about authors Rebecca West & Dorothy Thompson

The Kingdom of God Within You – Tolstoy

As A Man Thinketh – James Allen (more a story)

A Little Revenge, Benjamin Franklin & His Son – Willard Sterne Randall

Sister Queens – Julia Fox

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen – Leanda De Lisle

The Everlasting Man – C.K. Chesterton

Several true crime books, which I try to always have on hand.

Lancelot – Walker Percy

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons – Sam Kean – read about 2/3 of it.

Fire Shut Up In My Bones – NYT’s Charles Blow (pre-ordered, coming out in Sept)

Time Warped – Claudia Hammond

Hollywood – Charles Bukowski

And All the Saints – Michael Walsh

An Uncommon Education – Elizabeth Percer

Appetite for America – Stephen Fried (about restauranteur Fred Harvey)

Jungleland – Christopher S. Stewart (adventure tale)

13 Years in America – Melanie Steele

Orthodoxy – Chesterton

Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan

Adams: An American Dynasty – Francis Russell

I’ll See You Again – Jackie Hance

Hallucinations – Oliver Sacks

Several books by Edgar Cayce

The Fifth Child, The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing

Faithless: Tales of Transgression, Marya: A Life – Joyce Carol Oates (Love her!)

Stuffocation – James Wallman (our materialistic society)

To Die For – Joyce Maynard

Biographies of Henry James & Amelia Earhart

Anatomy of An Execution, The Life & Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas – Todd Peppers (on its way)

Epilogue, A Memoir – Will Boast (a writer who has suffered the most unimaginable loss. I’ve read a few of his stories & like his writing.–pre-ordered)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

So, what do you think? Tackle one of the above, or be lazy and read a longform magazine article?

I’m going to leave you with a picture, just not sure which one yet. Ahh, here is a pic of my son with his future bride. Love!

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Reading, read

2014/07/16

So, I haven’t posted since February. For some reason I haven’t had the urge, although I’ve been reading. A lot. Here is a list of what I’ve read over the past 5 months since I last posted. Lots of nonfiction, as usual. For some reason basic true crime soothes my mind. I don’t know why. Escape I guess.

I have highlighted the ones I would recommend you read. Usually they are ones that are written well, and tell a very interesting story. Unless I said I hated it, the others are definitely readable, especially Caitlin Rother. Anyhoo, here it is:


The New Colossus
-historical fiction by Marshall Goldberg, who is also a very interesting person. I read it today. Instead of doing anything else.

Missy’s Murder-Karen Kingsbury

And Then She Killed Him – Robert Scott

I Forgot to Remember – Su Meck (so excellent, stayed up all night reading it.)

Deadly Pretender – Karen Kingsbury

Murder-Murder – John White

Empty Mansions
– Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (about heiress Huguette Clark–very good)

Wishing for Snow – Minrose Gwin (a memoir, very good read.)

I’ll Take Care of You – Caitlin Rother

One To the Wolves – Lois Duncan (part 2 of her memoirs about the murder of her daughter. She is a tween author.)

Death Sentence – Jerry Bledsoe (about Velma Barfield, serial killer)

Benghazi “The Definitive Report” editors of Sofrep.com Jack Murphy & Brandon Webb–interesting take on John Brennan’s culture in US defense, but I don’t trust the authors. (don’t recommend)

Beyond His Control – Linda Hale Bucklin (memoir, pretty good)

Marked For Death – Brian J. Karem

Informally Educated – Kennesaw Taylor (memoir, pretty good)

Die, My Love – Kathryn Casey (about a murder that occurred here in Richmond, interesting)

Brain on Fire – Susannah Cahalan (excellent read about her experience with a serious illness.)

The Death of Judy Huscher - Laura McNeal

Eye Contact – Morrison Bonpasse & Chad Evans (this book was weird, but I read it.) (don’t recommend)

Little Girl Lost – Tammy Mal

Fourteen – The Murder of David Stukel – Bill O’Connelli

Pop. 1280 – Jim Thompson (good book, Thompson was an inspiration to Stephen King.)

Prisoners of Fear – Gera-lind Kolarik (don’t remember anything about it)

Righteous Carnage – Timothy Benford, James Johnson (about the John List murders. I think I also read it years ago but didn’t remember.)

My Stolen Son – Susan Markowitz (sad story, excellent representation of grief)

Son of a Grifter – Kent Walker w/ Mark Schone (this was good, it was about Sante Krimes & Kenneth Krimes, written by Sante’s eldest son, who had a hard time escaping his mother’s clutches.)

I’ll Be Watching You – William Phelps, who titles some of his books after Police songs.

Murderer with a Badge – Edward Humes I would recommend it. Humes is a good writer.

Lost Girls – Caitlin Rother

Shattered Justice – John Philpin

The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese – Daleen Berry & Geoffrey Fuller

Sister of Silence: A Memoir – I re-read this by Daleen Berry. I love this book. She is such a survivor

My anger and frustration over the murder of Jordan Davis is what made me decide to blog about this today.  The man who shot and killed him wasn’t convicted of murder.  Thankfully, it was a mistrial and he will be tried again.  Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses it here.

I chatted with a co-worker named Bea today.  She, like me, was born in the Tidewater area of Virginia.  A lot of eastern North Carolinians ended up in Tidewater.  She lived in Edenton, where one of my sisters was born.  I mentioned fondly the town of Belhaven, where I spent a lot of time as a child.  Bea is African American, so I realized she may not have fond memories of North Carolina.  I mentioned this to her.  She was surprised to hear me acknowledge that.

She’s about 15 years older than me, and lived in Tidewater as a child.  She remembers going to the back of the town restaurant (Grant’s) to get food to go, because blacks were not allowed to eat there.  She remembers the insurance salesman (always white) who came to their house to sell insurance over the years, and her father never feeling like he could look him in the eye, even in his own house.

She said I was the first white person to ever mention things like this to her.  Bea is 65.  She couldn’t believe I knew about white privilege and sundown towns.  My beloved Belhaven was a sundown town.  I’m not sure if it was a posted rule, but here’s how it went:  Black people were expected to be at home by sundown.  There was a 4 hour window each week when black folks could shop downtown.  On Saturdays, by 2 pm there would be no whites downtown.  From 2 until 6pm, blacks did their weekly shopping.  These are things I didn’t notice as a child.  What I did notice was my grandmother lamenting black people walking by her house on Main Street.  She didn’t feel it should be allowed.  Belhaven is on the water and there is a public beach.  I do remember the beach becoming integrated.  I remember this because I wasn’t allowed to go to the beach anymore, and that was why.

Bea related a story to me about stopping in Tennessee en route to Oklahoma when her husband was in the service.  It was 1975, and she had young children.  First the owner of the restaurant called her husband “Boy.”  The waitress took their order and brought their food.  After they had eaten, the restaurant staff brought a trash can to the table and threw everything away, in front of them.  Plates, silverware, glasses and the trash.  Please imagine for one minute how that would make you feel.

Please read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article.  Please try to understand centuries of feeling less than a total person, or lack of awareness that others unlike us may have that feeling.  It doesn’t go away with the Civil Rights Act.  Or the Voting Act.  Young black boys have to be so very careful how they act in public, lest anyone become afraid of them without provocation, just because they are black.  That isn’t fair.  It isn’t right.  Awareness by white people is the only way this unfairness will ever end.  Just empathy and awareness.

As a white, it isn’t easy to hear.  I didn’t grow up “privileged”, I used to think.  But my baby dolls were always the same color as me, as were my Barbies.  So were my paper dolls, and the band-aids that covered my scratches.  When I go to a hotel, the shampoo is perfect for my hair.  When I go to the drugstore for shampoo, I don’t have to go to the Ethnic section to get it.  I have never been followed by security personnel in a store, nor have I been pulled over by a policeman or woman and been afraid of anything more than getting a ticket.

I could go on and on.  I’ll save it for another post.  Thank you so much for reading this.  If you are white, please try to educate other whites.  It is the only way we can heal it.  By the way, I don’t profess to not be racist.  I couldn’t be a woman from Virginia and not have that.  I can say I work on it.  I really try.  That’s the best I can do.  I’m not sure I will ever be free of it, but I will try to be educated and empathic.

Now, I shall leave you with a picture of Penny and Monkey, my son’s cat.  Penny wants to be friends so much.  It’s a new relationship and hopefully it will happen.

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Happy New Year!

2014/01/15

I’ve been a bit shy about blogging.  Did I mention I was harassed on line and it scared me a little?  Made me sort of reassess what I was putting out there, and I had to get over the self blaming for the incident, as well as the self loathing for allowing it to happen.  Anyhow, I heard something this week that inspired me so very much.  Franklin McClain was one of the original Greensboro Four.  Well, right here is NPR’s transcript of what Mr. McClain said about it.

Mr. McClain passed away this week.  He was only 73.  What he said is something everyone in this country should know was a reality for African Americans, not so long ago.  He said he knew he would leave there in handcuffs or in a box, i.e. he would be arrested or killed.  Do people realize how dangerous it was (and sometimes still is) for African Americans just to go about their daily business?

One of the things that made my heart 3 times bigger was that during this incident they were refused service, which they expected.  A little white lady approached them and they were expecting to be chastised.  She whispered in a calm voice, boys, I’m so proud of you.
 That really made me happy.  It reminded me to appreciate my Mom because my Mom would do something like that.  She was so instrumental in helping me open my mind about race in a divided south.

Mr. McClain said, “What I learned from that little incident was don’t you ever, ever stereotype anybody in this life until you at least experience them and have the opportunity to talk to them.” 

I will always try to honor his words.  Rest in peace, Mr. Franklin McCain. 

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Poet Shaindel Beers asked me if I would like to read her new volume of poetry and do a review or interview.  I opted for an interview, because, well, I’m nosy!  I always have questions and want to know the background, where ideas originate, the creative seed, so to speak.  Shaindel sent the book to me gratis.

I read this book and was very moved.  The stories about the pictures created by children after experiencing the trauma of war are striking.  Shaindel has managed to give voice to these visual creations.

Here is our interview:

First, what gave you the idea to write poems about children’s drawings?

I just happened to come across a Slate.com article called “The Art of War” by Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault, who are researchers for Human Rights Watch.  They had traveled to Sudan and gave pencils, pens, and crayons to children while they interviewed their parents in the refugee camps, and Slate.com had a slideshow of the children’s artwork and some portions of the interviews in the article.

I pretty much became obsessed immediately and started writing the poems.  It was actually one of those artistic obsessions where you think you might be going crazy, where you can’t think of or work on anything else.

Where did you first encounter these drawings?

After using the artwork I found via the Slate.com article, I started looking online for other sources of children’s war artwork and ordered sourcebooks, including They Still Draw Pictures: Children‘s Art in Wartime from the Spanish Civil War to Kosovo by Anthony L. Geist and Peter N. Carroll and Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War by Leah Curtain.  Of course, there is so much artwork out there, there were many terrific sources I didn’t get to use.  I wanted the work to have a sort of immediacy, so I only used pictures that spoke to me right away, and I wanted to try to use artwork from around the globe to honor as many child survivors of war as possible.

I find it fascinating you were able to tell the stories of these children and their suffering by studying the pictures they drew.  Did you have background information (not mentioned in the book) on what happened to these children, or did you imagine what may have happened based on the drawings?  You certainly channeled the emotions of these children.  Did you feel like you were doing that?  Did you meet any of these children?  Did you speak to people who worked with some of these children?

It really varied depending on the sources.  Some of the pictures came with detailed stories, but many didn’t.  If a picture had a story, I stayed as true to it as possible, sometimes including quotations from the children.  But other pictures, I completely interpreted on my own.  For instance, in the piece that inspired, “Painting by a Child at the Landmine Education Center in Dong Ha (Quang Tri Province, Vietnam),” there was a number 13 in the painting, and I had no idea what it was, so I had to come up with an interpretation for it.  What I imagined in the child’s voice was:

…I do know the number I have drawn

on one mine.  13.  The number of children lost in our village.

What I tried to come up with first was the age of the child and then stay true to that age.  If a drawing was by a nine year-old, I tried to stay true to a nine year-old’s vocabulary and perspective.

I haven’t met any of the children or had any correspondence with them.  I did exchange a few emails with the founder and director of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, Claudia Lefko, asking for further information about some pictures from their website and a small translation question, but that is about the extent of the contact I’ve had with anyone who has been in contact with the children.

What was your process in translating what the pictures were telling you into a poem?

I guess I really tried to inhabit the work — what story is the picture trying to tell?  Is it witnessing?  Is it imagining a peaceful world outside of war?  If I were a child artist, why would I have picked this color, this style?

I picked up a lot of knowledge from reading the interviews and stories, which helped.  I learned that children, regardless of culture, seem to draw dead people with their heads at the bottom of the page or to not color them in because in their minds, this is a way of portraying something as “not right.”  I also spent a lot of time remembering what childhood was like and remembering how my mind worked at various stages to help fill in the blanks.  Most of all, I wanted to honor the children’s stories and be as authentic as possible.  If I did make changes, like putting a child on a train instead of a bus, I hoped they were small, artistic license sorts of changes that didn’t change the core of the story.

I did want to ask you some questions about the 2nd part of your book.

It is my favorite kind of poetry, I guess of the “confessional” school, where you are putting your emotions into words.  Can you speak to any of your inspiration for that?  Were you addressing situations in your life that brought these feelings forward?

I really believe in the 1960s and 1970s feminist rallying cry, “The personal is the political.”  Women’s stories were ignored for far too long in our society and are still marginalized in many ways, so, for me, even if I’m writing work that seems personal, it is a political act because I’m asserting my right that the things that happen to me matter.  They are worth writing about, and they’re worth reading about.  And by extension, I’m writing for those women who’ve had the same experiences but who haven’t written about them yet.

I also process things through writing, sometimes years after the fact.  Everyone seems to remember Wordsworth’s quote that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” but they often forget the part that he adds, “it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”  I seem to have a lag time of a few years between an event happening and my writing about it.  I have some poems about my abusive marriage which I left several years ago in this collection.  I just couldn’t write about that experience while I was in it, or even shortly after it was over.  It took a lot of processing the events to even understand what had been happening to the point that I could write about them.  And, in turn, writing about those events helped me to move on and heal from them.

Liam, my son, is now almost three years-old, and this books ends with pregnancy poems and one poem in which he’s a baby.  I’ve always been curious if people who don’t write are just “faster” processors than the rest of us.

When did you know you wanted to write poetry?

The first poem I remember writing that wasn’t an assignment, I wrote when a grown cousin had shot my dog.  I wanted to process what had happened, so I wrote.  Poetry was my way of dealing with things.  That’s when I knew it would be my way of figuring the world out.  I was about ten years-old then.

Do you journal?  Did you journal as a child?  Can you talk about it a little bit?

I’ve never really been disciplined enough to keep a journal.  It’s one of those things I’ll start on and do really well for a few weeks, and then it slips by the wayside.  I wish I were a more disciplined writer.

I “journaled” as a child in the sense that some Language Arts teachers had us write in a journal every day, usually with a prompt they wrote on the board.  I remember that and sustained silent reading time being my favorite parts of school.

If left to my own devices (if I had a day off of work and an empty house), I generally like to use the cycle of read, sleep, write.  I like to read until I feel like my head is “full,” then I take a nap, and while I fall asleep, I think about whatever I’ve just read, and then when I wake up, I write something inspired by those thoughts.

Who are your literary “heroes”?

There are so many.  Since you asked about “confessional” poetry, I would have to say Anne Setxon.  She broke so many barriers of writing about deeply personal issues, and she also did the interesting work of reinterpreting fairy tales using events in her own life in her collection Transformations.

In a sense of this specific collection, The Children’s War, several of the poems came from prompts given to me by Carl Phillips, who is such a fine teacher and terrific poet.  He gave these crazy, specific assignments at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop that seemed impossible to follow, but they turned into such beautiful poems.  I learned from him both as a poet and as a teacher.

Of course, there are so many others, but I think we can leave it at those two in the terms of this collection.

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Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. Her second collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems, was released in February of 2013.

Shaindel was raised in Argos, Indiana, a town of 2,000 people. She studied literature at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama (BA), and at the University of Chicago (MA) before earning her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has taught at colleges and universities in Illinois and Florida but feels settled in the Eastern Oregon high desert town of Pendleton. Her awards include: First place Karen Fredericks and Frances Willitts Poetry Prize (2008), Grand Prize Co-winner Trellis Magazine sestina contest (2008), First place Dylan Days Poetry Competition (2007), Award-winning poem published, Eleventh Muse (2006), Honorable mention, Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Awards (2005), Honorable mention, Juniper Creek/Unnamed Writers Award (2005), and the title poem from this collection, “A Brief History of Time,”was nominated for a Pushcart prize (2004).

Shaindel loves meeting her readers. You can find her on Facebook or on Twitter.

Personalized, signed copies of  A Brief History of Time are available on the Buy Signed Copies page, too!

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