Monthly Archives: February 2012

Local Writer of the Week (an Extra Gravy Feature of Biscuit City): Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Good morning and welcome to Extra Gravy, a Harrison Bergeron Production coming to you from the glass-enclosed studios in Biscuit City, a wonderful magical land where all your dreams come true, everyone is intelligent and beautiful and has a ton of money! And it’s 72 degrees and sunny year ‘round. Our guest today is Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, local activist, writer for the News and Messenger, novelist, poet and mover and shaker in the local writing scene.
Dan: Welcome, Katherine and I should have asked before we went on the air, do you prefer “Katherine” or “Kathy” or something else?
Katherine: “Katherine”!  Thank you.  : )
Dan: I first became aware of you on Facebook with your connections to Write by the Rails (a Facebook group for local writers) and to Writers with a Cause and the News and Messenger. You had good posts about writing and social issues, so I friended you (or you me, I forget) and we went on like that for a while.
Then I saw you were having a book signing at the Mayfield Bazaar in December and I wanted to meet you in person so I went to the Bazaar and met you and also Nancy Kyme, a local novelist. We talked about writing and writers for about an hour and I got your books and Nancy’s.
I’ve never done a book signing so I don’t know how they go. Do people walk by and stare with an occasional interested party such as I stopping by? I love talking to authors when they are sitting at their little tables with their books spread out. I always try to buy a book even if it’s something I don’t particularly care for like recipes for road kill or the like. So please tell us about book signings. Is that how they generally turn out?
Katherine:  Well first, thank you for buying my books!  I was very flattered and appreciated your interest.  You are atypical at a book signing, I’m afraid.  It seems book signings don’t always get the attention they should…unless you’re J. K. Rowling, of course, (so says the struggling writer). Seriously, though, between Amazon, the plethora of books available in e-format, readers’ hectic schedules and the tough market for new authors, book signings can be pretty sparsely attended.  But you have to go in with the mindset that these signings have other value, especially when they are held at community events like the one you attended.  Connecting with the general public, other writers and readers can lead you in unexpected directions.  I’ve had some terrific conversations at signings and besides, I got to speak with you in person!  What’s bad about that?  It was also wonderful talking to Nancy who had some great ideas on writing and marketing.  She is a very talented author.
Dan: Thank you. That was very interesting. I don’t know where to start first on the other subjects. Can you tell us something about your involvement with Writers with a Cause?
Katherine:  Sure.  I started Writers for a Cause when I realized there were so many authors donating book sale proceeds to charities and non-profits.  Writers for a Cause is made up of these authors.  Readers can select from a variety of genres and feel good that their purchases support the community.  We have 21 titles for sale through our site (www.WritersforaCause.org), representing seventeen authors who are doing things to fight poverty, homelessness, and cancer as well as support historic preservation, the arts and education.  I’m really proud of our authors, not only because they are great writers, but because they are great people who have a vision of a better world.
Dan: And about the Write by the Rails group? I think you were instrumental in starting it along with Cindy Brookshire, who also was there at Mayfield and Leigh Giza. Is that right? How did it begin?
Katherine:  Write by the Rails was another one of Cindy’s brilliant ideas. If you know anything about Cindy’s past, you will recognize Write by the Rails as one more facet of her commitment to community.  Among other things, Cindy runs study circles to improve neighborhood understanding and relationships.  Those circles have won state awards.  Cindy was also Woman of the Year in Manassas recently because she has done so much for so many.  AND Cindy is one of our authors at Writers for a Cause. 
Anyway, Cindy wanted a way to raise the profile of writers in the Manassas/Prince William Area.  She was instrumental in getting individual writers accepted as members of the Prince William Arts Council, and then established Write by the Rails as a group that hosts events highlighting artists. 
There were many other people who helped get this group rolling, including Pete, Sheila, Leigh…Cindy would have the full list.  All I did was help get the word out and assist in arranging logistics.
Since its inception, WbtR has sponsored organizational and networking meetings, public speaking opportunities as well as book signings.  WbtR is a fantastic organization for any local writer who wants to get out of the isolation and into the real literary world.
Dan: Now please tell us about your work with the News and Messenger
Katherine:  I’ve written for News and Messenger for about four years now.  I started out as a community columnist reporting on Gainesville and Nokesville communities.  I also wrote feature articles and took some okay-but-not-great photos.  : )  When the newspaper reorganized, I was assigned to News and Messenger’s magazine PW Business, to which I contribute articles on local businesses.  At one point, I was subcontracted to the Quantico Sentry on the marine base, an awesome experience for me, since I had never been on a base or worked closely with the military.  You could say News and Messenger and the editors there really launched my public profile as a writer.  I am grateful for that opportunity.
Dan: I know you teach adults in the ADC (Adult Detention Center) here in town. How did you get started doing this?
Katherine: In 2006, I started teaching for Prince William County’s adult education program.  I taught English as a Second Language and an accelerated GED course.  I moved from teaching to assisting with registration and assessing students’ verbal skills as well as working on projects such as piloting an online ESOL program.  My boss, an incredibly supportive and lovely human being, kept trying to recruit me back into teaching, which I finally did.  However, most of the classes were at night, and my brain just doesn’t function as well at night. : )  An opening came up at the ADC, and I jumped at the chance, not only because it was during the day, but because I have always been interested in law enforcement.  However, since I am not fond of guns, teaching seemed like a more obvious choice. : )
Right now I teach students whose second language is English. I have students who have no English skills whatsoever, all the way up to students who got their GED and are ready to prepare for college.  It is an incredibly rewarding job, and I could talk about it all day, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time.  So I will end by saying my students are some of the most respectful, hard working people I have ever worked with.  They are also among the most needy on several levels.  Their lives have been full of challenges we can’t even begin to imagine, and all we as teachers can do is contribute to their rehabilitation, help them keep from becoming depressed, keep their minds busy and help them achieve something in spite of their circumstances.  I love my students at the ADC.  I do not condone what they have done, but I love them.  
Dan: I’m getting a little ahead of myself. How did you learn to write, and who encouraged you?
Katherine:  My mother has worked as a paraprofessional in public school systems for years.  She taught me to read.  As soon as I learned to read, I started to write.  I soon discovered I had to write.  It was just part of my personality.  I’m very much an introverted person, believe it or not, and writing has been a way to help me synthesize my thoughts and perceptions.  It is how I process, and I thank God for the gift my mother and teachers gave me.
Dan: Tell us about writing your first novel, please.
Katherine:  Approaching Felonias Park is what I would call an accidental novel.  In 2006, I took  part in National Novel Writing Month, during which authors are challenged to write 50,000+ words in thirty days.  Well I did, and I thought it was crap, so I didn’t do much with it.  A writer and editor friend of mine, Better Hileman, convinced me to show her the draft, and she said I needed to work on it, but that it was publishable. She edited the whole thing for free.  Had it not been for Bette, I would not have ever published a novel.
Dan: And how did it come to be published?
Katherine:  Ross Murphy of Aberdeen Bay Publishers did a presentation on publishing at Central Library.  I attended.  Ross was straightforward, gruff and honest about the state of publishing and what it takes to make a book successful. He expects authors to market their books.  He said if he wasn’t interested in a book by the first two pages, he tossed the submission.  In spite of myself, I submitted my book, and he accepted it. I couldn’t believe it, really, considering I had only submitted it to one other place prior.  Aberdeen Bay is an independent, small publishing house that really supports new and emerging writers.  Their authors have won national acclaim and have been highlighted on public radio, as well as through other media. 
Dan: How has your book been received?
Katherine:  Readers have loved this book.  The characters are real people facing real challenges, including poverty.  The protagonist works at a payday lending company and slowly realizes how terrible it is.  She has a mystical experience and, hence, an entire life change.  This book very much advocates for the poor, against predatory lending and encourages social change.  However, it’s not didactic.  Readers love the message, say it’s easy to read, interesting and enlightening.  That kind of feedback is hard to dislike!
Dan: You also write poetry based on the places and people involved in the two battles of Manassas. How did that happen?
Katherine:  You know, inspiration comes from different places, places we don’t always expect.  I lived the first 27 years of my life in Massachusetts where everything is about the Revolutionary War.  Sure, we learned about the Civil War, but that wasn’t the conflict that was closest to home.  The reenactments I went to were of Paul Revere, the first shots fired in Lexington, that kind of thing.  So coming here where everything is Civil War centric was a real historic culture shock—not only was the war focus different, I was now Yankee living in the South.  Somewhere around 2003-2004, I started hiking the battlefields and reading the placards and asking myself what really happened. I wanted to understand the people of the times, the sentiment of the south and the feelings of the soldiers and families on both sides.  The more I hiked, the more I was inspired to write poetry, and that’s where Poems from the Battlefield came from—another book, by the way, that I didn’t necessarily plan to publish. 
Dan: How do your husband and family regard your writing career?
Katherine:  My family and close friends know me as a writer, but it’s more than that.  Writing is part of my personality.  They expect me to write.  My husband says it’s interesting because he never knows what’s going to come out of me—one moment, it’s poetry, the next, it’s a kids’ book, then it’s a novel, then a newspaper article.  He doesn’t always understand what I write, especially when it comes to poetry, but he’s always supportive.  It can’t be easy living with a writer, because, as you know, Dan, writers tend to be quirky.  We’re a loveable lot but we are sometimes hard to figure out, hahaha!
Dan: We are indeed! 
I want to thank you for being with us of Extra Gravy from the Biscuit City studios today. I wish you well with your novel and your poetry. You’ve been a delightful guest and we’re learned so much from you.
We’d love to have you back to talk about any future books you write when they come out. Do you have anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Katherine:  First, I want to thank you so much for having me!  This has been great. Besides getting publicity, which is always fun, interviews like these make me step back and think about aspects of my writing that I hadn’t considered.  Questions are the best way to jump start thinking, so I appreciate the jump start!
I do want to mention that proceeds from Approaching Felonias Park support a local food pantry.  With the growing numbers of people living beneath the poverty line, pantries are often a first line of defense for families trying to hold it together.  So if for no other reason, I hope people will buy the book to support that mission.  They won’t be sorry—it’s really a good book, so I hear.  : )
Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.
Katherine: HAHAHA!  That’s great.  You’ll have to post pictures of your guitar collection.  As for me, I’m going to have to say an oak and give you a copy of the very first poem I published in an independent magazine…give you a sense of where I am from.
Remembering Thoreau

“I did not wish to live what was not life.”

I was fifteen, a sophomore, that year
I learned about you and went to the woods
to live deliberately. I climbed an old
Oak, lit up a Marlboro, slowly inhaled the
rebellious air, watched drops from the misty
day balance on green leaves, and bark
turn suede on perspiring branches. It didn’t
matter that I was skipping class. It was
Civil Disobedience–you could smell it
everywhere: in the gray ripples that cut
Walden Pond to pieces, in the pounding heart
of the Pines swaying in disarray–Oh,
yes, this would be worth even getting caught.

I was, of course. Suspended for a week.
I slouched in a chair in the indoor suspension
room, wrote the punishment essay on the many
evils of skipping school, tossed crumpled balls of
notebook paper into the barrel nearby, counting
the times I missed. Nothing there by the deep
voice of the six-foot dean what would grab my
ear whenever I even imagined an exit.

But I fooled him–because part of me did escape.
I am sure it walked back to Walden. I am sure it
traveled the same brown patch I shared with you that
rainy spring day. I am certain it walked to the water’s
edge and set one green foot into that sharp pool.

–Katherine Mercurio
Published Winter, 1992
ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum
Tonawanda, NY

Dan: Wow! A bonus poem for us. Thank you, Katherine!
We’ve been talking with Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt , novelist, poet, mother, wife, activist, and newspaperperson.  This has been the Local Writer of the Week feature, brought to you on the  Extra Gravy Show on the  Biscuit City Network. The Local Writer of the Week is a Harrison Bergeron Production and is sponsored by Molly Bolt molly bolts, the best bolt there is for being securely anchored. Remember, if it’s not a Molly Bolt, it’s not going to hold! So hold on and insist on the best—Molly Bolt brand molly bolts! This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu from the glass-enclosed nerve center of the Biscuit City Network  until next time when we’ll talk to another local writer.

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Bob Tale #2: Uncle Jim and Noah’s Ark

My college friend Bob’s stories about his Uncle Jim might have given the impression that the man totally lacked any sense at all. Bob told us that, despite lapses from time to time, Jim was an intelligent, widely-read man who was a prize-winning farmer.  His livestock and crops on his land in western New Jersey consistently won awards, and other farmers in the area sought his advice.  It was just occasionally he had one of his ideas.
Bob went to the farm during winter break one year to find Uncle Jim in the middle of one of his brainstorms.
“Bob,” he said, “Are you still dating that young women who was here some last summer”
Bob had a series of rather attractive girlfriends although he looked like he was dressed by a committee and had few social skills beyond telling outlandish stories.
“No,” said Bob.  “I’m between girlfriends right now. Why?”
“Hmm,” said Uncle Jim. “I had been looking for a way to thank people in the area for their kindnesses to us over the years and wanted to have a living Nativity. I just need someone to play Mary.”
“I am NOT playing Mary,” shouted Aunt Dot from the kitchen.  She was normally a quiet woman, except when she believed strongly in something.  Playing Mary in a Christmas pageant was not something on her bucket list, apparently.
“You’re too old,” Jim shouted back, although he probably meant it as a statement of fact rather than an insult.
“So are you!” came the reply from the kitchen.
This minor setback threw Jim off for about a day.  Bob was splitting wood in the yard the next morning when Jim came up to him. “Bob,” he told him, “I have the answer to our casting problem. We’re going to stage a Noah’s Ark pageant.”
“Noah’s Ark?” Bob returned.
“Yep, got everything I need right here—animals, people, a barn we can make look like an ark. Kids will love it.  Older people will, too.”
At that moment Dot shouted from inside the house: “I am NOT playing Noah’s wife!”
Jim sighed and went back into the barn. Over the next few days the elements of the pageant came together. Jim was to be Noah and Bob one of his sons. The idea was that they would give visitors a tour of the ark. They only had one horse, and Jim wanted to put a mirror in its stall to make it look like two horses, but Dot refused to let him take one out of the house.  She did agree to sell tickets, and all the money they collected would go to charity. They put up signs at the farmers’ co-op and other places they frequented in town.
Bob and Jim fixed up some old boards to look like a prow of a ship on the end of the barn and built a ramp for people to walk up. Jim insisted on putting a sign over the door which read “Noah’s Ark,” although Bob told him Noah probably did not name his boat.
The first night of the pageant they were ready.  They had their horse, cows, pigs, chickens, goats and a couple of ducks. Jim was disappointed that his daughter Emily, who had moved to the city when she finished college, no longer was there with the doves she raised when she lived at home. They had rigged lights along the length of the stalls so everyone could see the animals.
Jim and Bob dressed in their costumes they had made from feed sacks. Jim had a beard left over from the time he portrayed Abraham Lincoln in a Fourth of July pageant. They took their stations inside the ark and waited for their visitors.
One feature of the tour that Jim had come up with was to fill four or five 55-gallon drums with water and send it coursing down the length of the stable.  Bob pointed out that the flood was outside the ark, not inside, but Jim said he liked the effect.  Who was to say that there wasn’t some water inside the ark?
Their first guests of the evening happened to be a Brownie troop of about twenty little girls. Bob and Jim could hear Dot talking to them. The troop walked in, herded by their leaders.
“Welcome to Noah’s Ark!” exclaimed Jim. “I’m only dressed as Noah—I’m still Jim.” Jim was nothing if not honest.  “This is my son Shem, who is actually my nephew Bob.” That was Bob’s cue to go around and pull the lever that would tip the barrels of water.
The troop of Brownies was about halfway down the line of stalls when the barrels fell over with resounding crashes and about 2500 gallons of water came rushing along the floor. It wasn’t enough to wash even the smallest girl away, but it frightened them. And they did what frightened children do: they screamed.  The animals, startled by the high unearthly noise, slammed against their stalls. With strength born of panic, they broke out and stampeded down the ramp.  Fortunately, the girls were far enough removed from the larger animals not to be harmed by them.  They were still shrieking as their leaders removed them.
Bob and Jim straggled out of the barn. “Flood must be over,” Dot observed.  “Guess it’s time for Noah to round up his animals.”
Bob and Jim gathered up what animals they could that evening, and the rest came back when it was feeding time. Jim’s only comment was that they wouldn’t have to clean the barn floor that week. Bob was glad.

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Free Man in Paris


I was listening to Joni Mitchell’s Hits CD the cover of which shows Joni stretched out on the pavement with her body outlined in chalk  as if she had just been hit by  a car and not survived (parenthetically, the best career move a singer can make is to die. It seems crass to say it, but their sales go through the roof. Small comfort to their family and fans, I’m sure). (She also has a CD called Misses which featured songs that were not successful. In this cover she is bending over with her back to the camera in front of the car which putatively hit her on the Hits cover.  I like the humor of both these CD’s. 
Mitchell is, uh, artistic to the extreme in her music. She essentially invented a bunch of open tunings when she taught herself how to play the guitar. Figuring those out and then being able to play the instrument using them is a sign of genius, I think.)
Anyhow, one of the songs on Hits was “Free Man in Paris,” which was first poplar in 1974. Of the song, Wikipedia wrote,
“Free Man in Paris” is a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. It appeared on her 1974 album Court and Spark, as well as her live album Shadows and Light. It is one of her most popular songs. It is about music agent/promoter David Geffen, a close friend in the early 1970s, and a trip they made to Paris with Robbie and Dominique Robertson.
You might remember some of the lyrics, including
The way I see it he said
You just can’t win it
Everybody’s in it for their own gain
You can’t please ’em all
There’s always somebody calling you down
I do my best
And I do good business
There’s a lot of people asking for my time
They’re trying to get ahead
They’re trying to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song…

I deal in dreamers
And telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for
If l had my way
I’d just walk through those doors
And wander
Down the Champs Elysées
Going cafe to cabaret
Thinking how I’ll feel when I find
That very good friend of mine
I hadn’t listened to the CD for a while, but as I did and the song came up, I remembered something a friend of Becky’s had said to me when the song was first popular. She knew that I had spent some time in Paris as a student during a semester abroad program that ran from August 1966 to January, 1967.  She said, “That song reminds me of you.” And it should have, I thought.
Our semester abroad program put me and thirty other young fellows in Tours (France) for language instruction for six weeks and then on to Paris at the end of September. I had the time of my life. We attended a few classes for foreign students at the Sorbonne and had a weekly seminar with a professor on sabbatical from our college. Norm Rudich conducted the class, which was a discussion (in French) of a play we had seen during the week. Norm was a socialist in his interpretation of literature and, while he was an enormously learned man who spoke at least three languages fluently, we made fun of the way he saw the conflict in every piece of literature he talked about as a symbolic conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Toward the end of the discussion, he invariably said, “So you see, gentlemen, the main conflict in this play is a conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.” We got so we would roll our eyes and mouth the words as he said them. He couldn’t see that we did this because his vision was terrible. I feel incredibly bad about mocking the poor man, especially because we were essentially making fun of him behind his back. We had no respect for his position and learning, and there was no excuse for our behavior. We thought we knew it all. 
It never occurred to me to wonder how Norm did the reading he needed to for his encyclopedic knowledge of literature. I found that out when we returned to the campus for second semester. I became a reader for him. He had an incredible memory and could repeat entire passages back after I had read them to him. He taught me a ton about the interpretation of literature during our times together. I should add that he also spoke German and seemed to favor it, calling me “Herr Verner.”  He was, hands down, the best professor I ever had, and I had some great ones.
Other than the occasional class at the Sorbonne and the seminars with Norm, we were pretty much on our own. I had a ball, travelling all over Paris usually by subway, but I walked a lot as well. I hung out in cafes, went to movies, ate the cheapest thing on the menu in restaurants and cafeterias, inhabited bookstores and just poked around and looked.
I have precious few physical mementoes of my time in Paris then. I have the dinner menu from the Air France flight over there—my first flight, aboard the Boeing 707 Chateau de Chenonceau. And I have a picture I can’t find—I don’t remember who took it, but it shows me standing in front of a café, wearing my long coat, 19 years old, looking confidently at the camera. When I look in the mirror, I know that 19-year-old in Paris is in there behind my eyes, and I want to say back to my image, “You’re not me…That’s me in that picture, in Paris, so long ago.” 
Back then, before I had a job or a wife or a house or children, before time and worry and responsibility changed how I look and who I am, I was, at 19, indeed a “free man in Paris.”

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Poem of the Week: I Hear America Singing



We went to the National Presidents Day Choral Festival at the Kennedy Center this past Monday where world renowned conductor and composer André Thomas of Florida State University led a festival chorus of six high school choral groups from around the country in performances of Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy and John Rutter’s Gloria, along with selections of his own compositions. Todd Nichols joined as guest conductor to perform Celebration Overture by Paul Creston and  Elegy for a Young American by Ronald LoPresti with the highly acclaimed Eastern Wind Symphony of New Jersey.
Thanks to Manassas Chorale’s accompanist Jon Laird’s family for providing us tickets and good company and to his sister Cindy for driving us to the Kennedy Center and back in her new Honda. It was an pleasant afternoon all around.
One of André Thomas’ original compositions was what promised to be a setting of Walt Whitman’s poem, “I Sing of America.” The song was original and stirring but only used the first half line of Whitman’s poem:  “ I hear America singing.” Both the English majors present at the concert wished Thomas would have used the whole poem, which more or less sings itself. Anyhow, for all the English majors out there, here is Whitman’s original poem.  In its entirety.
I Hear America Singing
  
 
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
     singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or
     at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of
     the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows,
     robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Also, English majors, lovers of great literature and readers of all sorts will want to take the opportunity to meet Woodbridge author Nancy Kyme at the 2012 Camp & Summer Fun Expo Saturday, February 25 from 10 AM until 4 PM and Sunday, February 26, 2012 from 11 AM until 4 PM, presented by Washington Parents magazine at the Dulles Town Center, 21100 Dulles Town Circle,  Dulles, VA 20166-2400. 
Nancy published her memoir, Memory Lake,  of her experiences at summer camp on Lake Michigan and a reunion years later at the camp years later. Published in 2011, the book has received considerable favorable notice. A review on Amazon.com called it “a luminous non-fiction work, destined to become a classic…” a , “finely measured, clearly remembered and richly imagined” tale of camp and coming-of-age. Take this opportunity to come out and meet this outstanding local author!

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Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

Here’s one answer:

(You might recognize this little guy from the Kaiser Permanente TV commercial about “Where do babies come from?” He’s the last kindergartener we see, shrugging his shoulders in puzzlement. This commercial and particularly this image cracks me up every time I see it. Hang on buddy, the rest of us are confused about things, too!)
Anyhow, to the matter at hand.  Sometimes people who read or hear my stuff ask me where I get my ideas for what I write. My quick answer is everywhere and nowhere, but that’s not a satisfactory answer so I want to examine the issue a little more closely and be more specific. If I can. If I can’t, this is the end of this post.
Ha! Gotcha for a moment there (depending on your screen display), didn’t I?
I humbly believe I do write a fair amount. I’m incapable of writing longer works such as novels like my friends Nancy Kyme, Heidi Willis, Sheila Lamb and Joelle Perry. I lack the wit and the attention span to write 100,000 to 180,000 words and revise and revise it and have it published and publicized and distributed. I salute these ladies for doing all these things (they all have been featured as Local Writer of the Week in Biscuit City—Joelle in the Global Village edition of that feature)—and it’s a long hard row to hoe as they will tell you. (I did attempt and finish one novel but it is so sorry I have it in a locked box in the basement so it can’t escape. It is truly horrible.)
No, I write short pieces of about 750 to 1500 words that might very charitably be described as Garrison Keilloresque essays. I do four of these a week for Biscuit City (Friday is Poem of the Week, which I don’t usually write, although I could if everyone would want to read a spectacularly uneven collection of poetry.), there have been about 200 of those. I also have about 150 columns I wrote for the News and Messenger over a period of three years. I have written a devotional for my church choir for the past ten years so there about 500 of those, and other things I wrote for my students during a 32-year teaching career, which number about 1000. So that’s a lot of little writings (about 1800 if my math is correct). Where do I get ideas for them all?
Sometimes the pieces are about things that happen to me. (I believe all my friends’ long works are based on their experiences to some extent.) I wrote about my day in traffic court which turned out well for me (charges dismissed because of my good driving record. I was innocent but took the plea deal!) turned into a post called, “The Quality of Mercy.” I have also written about the household projects I have going on. One of the most popular Biscuit City posts was the one about pruning my hollies. (Which were really pruned by the siding crew in November. The hollies will come back. I hope.)
Then there are the things I read and hear in the news. One I haven’t written about yet and am not sure how to go about it in a tasteful way came from a television news report that some pet owners are freeze drying their deceased pets to preserve them and keep them around…forever, I suppose. It takes a year to freeze-dry a medium-sized dog but the result is a dog that looks like it has been stuffed and mounted. But it’s freeze dried. I am not, as Dave Barry likes to say, making this up. I also want to write about Fauquier County Schools and how they close so quickly at the thought of snow. I’m sure there’s more to the story than I think, but I’d like to go into that.
Some of the best writing ideas come from people who read what I’ve written and tell me about their related experiences. When I wrote in the News and Messenger column that I did not like encyclopedias I thought I was going to be injured by people who have a close relationship with  their encyclopedias. If you are one of these, I respect your feelings. Just don’t come hurt me for bringing this up again. But I did hear a lot of good stories about using encyclopedias, owning a nice set of them and updating them (World Book) every year, and even selling encyclopedias from one fellow.
I also heard a number of good stories from people in connection with my first column for the Observer  newspapers about George Washington’s grist mill, about riding buses and packing lunches and going on field trips and falling in water and having a deathly fear of a large teacher. I love these stories people share with me—they’re the best part of writing for my Loyal Readers.
And then I have my writer’s notebook which I lost for a month in December and found in January. I wrote about it on Facebook and seemed to attract a lot of sympathy. I have decide to leave it next to my desktop computer and rely on squirrelly scraps (a term coined by daughter Alyssa) when I am out and about. I should add that I lost my iPhone for a couple of hours when I put it on the writer’s notebook because both are black. Stealth iPhone, invisible to its owner’s eyes. Anyhow I have about 200 writing ideas in the notebook of various sorts, and I’ll use some of them if I can read what I’ve written.
I believe, as Huck Finn said, there is “nothing more to write” on this subject, at least for me, at least for now. If you ever ask an author, “Where do you get your ideas?” you now have a head start on the answer. Maybe.

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Local Writer of the Week (Global Village Edition)–Jolene Perry

Good morning and welcome to Extra Gravy, a Harrison Bergeron Production coming to you from the glass-enclosed studios in Biscuit City, a wonderful magical land where all your dreams come true, everyone is intelligent and beautiful and has a ton of money! And it’s 72 degrees and sunny year ‘round. This is Dan Verner, the host of Extra Gravy, and our guest today is Jolene Perry, a writer of romance novels from Alaska. She has published The Next Door Boys and will be bringing out Night Sky and Knee Deep this spring. Jolene, can you tell us what kind of books these are?
Jolene: The Next Door Boys is LDS Fiction, Night Sky is general YA fiction and releases March 1st. Knee Deep, also general YA fiction, releases May 1st.
Dan: Well, thank you for that. I’m glad you’re here, especially since you live in Wasilla, Alaska. I have to ask: do you know Sarah Palin?
Jolene: I know where her house is – and you can take that however you’d like to.
Dan: Could you tell us something about where you live?
Jolene: I have a love/hate relationship with where I live. I forget how harsh the climate is until I talk with someone who thinks 35 is cold, when 35 is sweatshirt weather. I love how many outdoor activities are at my fingertips. I hate that in February, when my lower 48 friends are getting ready to garden, we’re still two months away from the end of winter.
Dan: Fascinating! I would have to say that most of us in the Lower 48 don’t know much about Alaska. You were telling me earlier that you’ve had temperatures as low as minus 30 this winter. What’s it like to try to live in -30 degree temperatures?
Jolene: Just like living somewhere that it hits 110 – only opposite. There’s something cool about it, but it hurts your eyes, your lungs… I’ve frost bitten fingers, toes, nose, and cheeks more than once. But when it’s that cold, everything sparkles, and the kids and I go outside to blow bubbles, which immediately freeze and are much more fun to pop than the boring old regular bubbles.
Dan: That is so cool, but it makes me cold just to think about it! You Alaskans are real troupers. We get half an inch of snow and panic sets in.
So, I met you on Facebook when you commented on a profile I did of Heidi Willis, who has written a book called Some Kind of Normal, a marvelous first novel (Heidi, there’s your plug!) You wrote something that made me think you were a writer so I messaged you and asked “Are you a writer?”  Do you want to describe what happened next and how we got to know each other on FB?
Jolene: MWAHAHA – Dan here tried to get me to sew him a Napoleonic Era Naval Uniform (or something of the sort – I’d just finished one for my husband). It resulted in a few days of hilarity and banter involving jail time, cars that aren’t silver, and replacing lost buttons once a modern uniform was stripped from its royal owner.
Dan: I should add that I had put up as a profile picture on my FB page a Colonial Williamsburg person in a long blue coat playing a recorder. He looked a bit like me and Jo asked about my costume. I had to confess that the picture wasn’t me, and she returned, “So this relationship is based on a LIE.” This cracked me up and I tried to get her to sew a nice 18th century British admiral’s uniform for me since she said she had just done one for her husband. She kept wanting a car in return and I’m too cheap to do that, so I said I would mug Prince Phillip and take his uniform. Jo offered to come make alterations for me in prison. Hilarity reigned for days, as Jo noted.
Jo, I checked some of your websites and blogs. You have quite a presence there and have published The Next Door Boys, which is billed as a LDS romance. I had never heard of this genre. What can you tell me about it?
Jolene: The genre or the book? LOL. It’s simply that the characters are LDS. It’s a fun romantic story with LDS characters.
Dan: I’ve read the book (my first romance novel!) and it is well-written and exceptionally engaging even though I am nowhere near the demographic for the YA genre. How did you get started with this type of writing?
Jolene: I joined the Mormon church?? LOL.  Honestly, I started in this genre because I thought it would be easier to break into that market, and once I wrote one, it turned fun, so I wrote a few more.
Dan: I’m putting the sled ahead of the sled dog (a little Alaskan style saying there), so let me ask how you got started as a writer.
Jolene: I wrote when I was a kid, and then wrote songs when I learned to play the guitar (my husband was deployed in the military) and then my first book was written sort of by accident. I started on a story at the suggestion of my husband. When I got to 100 pages, I realized that I had a LOT more story left to tell.
Dan: How did you learn to write, and who encouraged you?
Jolene: It’s not that I “learned” to write, it’s that I found the confidence to write in my own voice – in other words – to make my writing MINE. That’s simply a practice thing.
Dan: Discovering one’s voice in writing seems to be a key for writers. Tell me about writing your first novel, please.
Jolene: When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t intend to write a whole novel, and then I did. That one is a great story with disastrous writing and is shelved. When I started The Next Door Boys, I knew it would be a novel, so the first draft of that one was a lot cleaner.
Dan: And how did it come to be published?
Jolene: It was a matter of finding some people with a lot more talent than myself to read it and tell me what I did wrong, and what I did right. Then doing research as to where it might go to be published.
Dan: How has your book been received?
Jolene: The people who haven’t liked it (a few), have been quiet, and the people who love it have been loud 😀
Dan: Let’s hear it for the loud ones! I see from some of the online reviews that some people fault the book for having Mormon elements although it is clearly labeled as a LDS  romance novel. You told me earlier that you found these comments amusing. Why is that? I find them evidence that people were not paying good attention.
Jolene: I find it hysterical when people don’t like a book based on something they could have learned while READING THE DESCRIPTION. It makes their opinion much less valid.
Dan: I should tell our readers that you have a wicked sense of humor, but you claim you’re not funny. Please tell us about this (and try to be funny)!
Jolene: Oh . . . the pressure of being funny . . . SO – three guys walked into a bar, and . . . Kidding. Mostly I think it’s cool when people use “wicked” to describe me, especially when it has nothing to do with ACTUAL 
wickedness.
Dan: Well, I find that you’re ROTFL funny. And Wicked was a boffo musical.
You have two small children. How do you find the time to take care of them and also write?
Jolene: They pretty much fend for themselves. I mean, it’s sort of like cats, right? Some petting, food, water, and a good place to sleep.
Dan: Wish I’d known that when our kids were small. We’ve always had at least one cat, and I could have just added another food dish and filled it with Cheerios.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing or taking care of your children?
Jolene: This is a LONG list. I’ll try to keep it down. I’m a bit of a daredevil on a snowmachine. I hike. I sew. I play the guitar. I sing. I take my kids to the museum. I love to take pictures. We have a raft for whitewater, that’s used most often on lakes.
Dan: How does your husband regard your writing career?
Jolene: I think the “career” part is just as exciting to him as it is to me. He’s a HUGE support, which I need with our small kids.
My husband was in the Army. He was Military Police, and we both gained a HUGE amount of life experience from that – part of which was living right on Prince William Sound, surviving a few military deployments, and gaining a whole new perspective on what military families go through.
Dan: And you’re from Anchorage. What was growing up like?
Jolene: My dad owned a bush plane, and we were out almost every weekend. I ate so much moose meat that I thought beef tasted funny. For a long time I didn’t know there was any other kind of fish to eat besides salmon. I went on my first camping trip when I was about 6 months old – I don’t remember this of course, but I also don’t remember a time when my family wasn’t busy doing something OUTDOORS.
Dan: That’s so interesting. Alaska really is a whole new world (that would make a good song title) for us.
You wrote that you would like to meet local novelist Heidi Willis. Have you considered coming to the D.C. area for a visit? I’m sure Heidi would be glad to have you stay with her. (Right, Heidi? Heidi?) You and your husband could drive here in the hot Mustang of yours. It’s only about 4200 miles and takes about three and a half days. So, what do you say? (Say yes!) (Only half kidding about this!) Heidi would also be glad to show you the sights!
Jolene: If you drive all day and all night, it takes three days to get to Seattle – so I’m guessing your time estimates might be off a tad ;-D I LOVE D.C.! I taught history and have only been there once. I was pregnant with my first at the time, feeling a bit queasy, and both the National Archives and the Capitol Building were shut down for restoration L The area definitely needs another visit.
Dan: I was going by the Google map estimate for the driving time. You mean that not everything on the internet is true? I’m so disillusioned…
I hope you and your fam will be able to make it back here soon. Everything is open except for the Washington Monument which is closed because of damage from the August earthquake. We could prevail on someone to throw a nice writers’ reception for you and invite local writers to meet you. I don’t do receptions but my daughters are dynamite at staging them.
I want to thank you for being with us in the Biscuit City studios today. I wish you well with your novel and your writing. You’ve been a delightful guest. Stay warm and please don’t break your neck snowmobiling!
We’d love to have you back to talk about your upcoming books when they come out. Do you have anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Jolene: Thanks, and even though you have been nice enough to have me on your blog for a day, I’m still not sewing you a uniform until a shiny new car hits my driveway ;-D
Dan: Dang! I was hoping…I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Jolene:  A Medrona Tree. They’re incredibly beautiful and the wood is just . . . unique and amazing.
Dan: We’ve been talking with Jolene Perry, novelist, mother, wife, wit, maker of period military costumes and Alaska resident. This has been the Local Writer of the Week feature, Global Village Edition, brought to you on the  Extra Gravy show on the  Biscuit City Network. The Local Writer of the Week is a Harrison Bergeron Production and is sponsored by Molly Bolt molly bolts, the best bolt there is for being securely anchored. Remember, if it’s not a Molly Bolt, it’s not going to hold! So hold on and insist on the best—Molly Bolt brand molly bolts! This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu from the glass-enclosed nerve center of the Biscuit City Network  until next time when we’ll talk to another local writer.

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An Occupation I Never Knew Existed: Pediatric Pharmacist–an Interview With Andrea Matthews


A while back, I sat down with Andrea Matthews, a young woman who has recently joined our adult church choir. She brings a lovely soprano voice to the group. She sees her musical talents as a gift from God developed while growing up in various churches through the South.  Much of her training was received from her father, Joel Duncan, who is a Southern Baptist Minister of Music currently at St. John’s Baptist Church in Greer, S.C.
I talked with Andrea shortly after an early Sunday afternoon choir rehearsal.
Dan: Thank you for taking the time to sit down and share some of your background. This has been a full day with church this morning and a rehearsal this afternoon. I appreciate being able to talk with you.
Andrea: I’m pleased to be able to share what I’m doing. I enjoy being a part of the choir. It feels like home already!
Dan: I had never heard of a pediatric pharmacist until I met you. What does a pediatric pharmacist do that differs from a drug store pharmacist?
Andrea: I am trying to improve the safety of medication administration and appropriateness in the pediatric population. We work with a team of doctors and other health professionals at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg to make treatment appropriate for the age and weight of our pediatric patients. We take into account drug interactions and allergies. Children must be dosed differently from adults.
Dan: So how did this initiative come about?
Andrea: The hospital where I work has more adults in its population than children and the children were being treated by doctors who were used to working with adults. The initiative was begun as I have said, to make sure the children are being dosed appropriately with their meds. They are not simply miniature adults! We have to take that into account when working with them.
Premature babies in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) differ from full term infants in their developmental aspects and that must be taken into consideration in prescribing and administering their meds.
Reyes Syndrome in children when they are given aspirin is a prime example of what can happen when the differences between pediatric and adult patients are not taken into account. Antibiotics can have negative side effects in preemies. We need to understand our experiences and do research to understand these conditions, the pharmacokinetics—how the body processes medications—of children.
Dan: How did you become interested in becoming a pharmacist?
Andrea: I remember writing in a book in second grade about being a nurse. I participated in music at church—vocal music, handbells, piano and French horn, but my dad steered me away from music as a career. He said that I needed a career that made me more independent. Pharmacy makes my money, but music is my hobby and my ministry.
As a high school project, I interviewed a pharmacist and became interested in that as a career. I was good in math and science and a strong all-around student. And there was a couple in our church—he was a University of South Carolina pharmacy professor and she was a pharmacist, and they influenced me.
To become a pharmacist, one can have a four-year degree or a two-year pre-pharmacy certificate and then study for four more years for a Pharm. D. degree. I took my degrees from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. When I heard about pediatric pharmacy, I knew that’s what I had to do. I graduated in 1999. And I almost minored in music.
Dan: How did you get into pediatric pharmacy?
Andrea: I did a general practice pharmacy residency at Richland Memorial hospital in Columbia, South Carolina for a year. Then I worked as a general staff pharmacist at Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina for four years. Finally I became a pediatric pharmacist for  six years at a Medicaid Clinic in Easley, SC with the Medically Fragile Children’s Program for children who needed more care than the general pediatric population.
The program included a pediatrician, therapist, dietician, pharmacist and a patient educator. The children had to show a medical and emotional benefit and progress. It helped compensate for impact of their conditions. I spent six and a half years there.
Dan: So, how did you come to this area?
Andrea: In 2009, Medicaid changed the program’s method of reimbursement and eliminated the pharmacy program in 2010. I took some part time jobs until I moved here in June of 2011. My sister lives in the Manassas/Woodbridge area. I moved to Woodbridge on September 1, 2011, and started at MWH on September 26, 2011.
Dan: Please describe your work there for us.
Andrea: I have established procedures and protocols for pediatric patients and help in the NICU. To make it safer for both adults and children, we have a program to separate their meds. We push medication safety for the general pediatric population as well, of course.
Dan: Sounds like you enjoy your job.
Andrea: I do enjoy my job very much. I believe it is God’s calling for my life. I do not experience such enjoyment in other areas, except for church music.
Dan: We see you bringing your son to sit with you in the choir during the 9:30 service. He is very well behaved during the service.
Andrea: My son Cameron was a patient at the Medicaid clinic whom I adopted. I “hold the hymnbook” for him even though he is only seven to help him experience the faith and learn music and theology through the hymns. I think children can and should be a part of “big church” from an early age.
Dan: And how did you come to be with us at our church?
Andrea: We were visiting my sister and her family and liked the church. She takes care of Cameron when I’m at work. Typically I leave for work at 6 or 7 AM and get back around 5 0r 6 PM. I have to finish whatever work is there before I can leave. And we all know about the commute around here.
Dan: We sure do. Thank you for talking with me. I’ll put this up on my blog, Biscuit City as an  Occupation I Never Knew Existed feature. It’s great to know you and to have you as singer in our choir!
Andrea: Thank you. It’s great to be here and I enjoy singing with the choir so much.

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