Friday, June 23, 2017

MAUREEN O'BRIEN

Maureen “Moe” O’Brien, who is originally from Mamaroneck, NY, and Bethel, Conn., has lived in Myrtle Beach, SC, for the past 28 years and now considers herself a southerner. Her “claim to fame,” as she likes to call it, is having played pro basketball with The Texas Cowgirls and toured with The Harlem Globetrotters in 1959. An avid golfer, she is a two-time SC Senior Golf Champion. Her book, Who’s Got the Ball? (And Other Nagging Questions About Team Life), published by Jossey-Bass, is a “how to” for team members in all types of work environments. Her poem, “A Prayer for Newtown,” was published in The Shine Journal.

A passionate dog lover, “Moe” lives with Miss Maggie Malone, her “precious” redheaded toy poodle. She’s President of Animal Advocates of Horry County and works tirelessly with local rescue groups to find homes for abandoned and abused animals. She’s also a proud grandma to eight granddaughters and one great granddaughter, all of whom share her love for dogs. She is the author of Waggin' Tales: Bogey's Memoir, about a very special dog she owned. You may find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Waggin-Tales-Bogeys-Maureen-OBrien/dp/150061582X

When did you decide about dogs?  What inspired you?
     
Actually, my book, Waggin’ Tales: Bogey’s Memoir is not about dogs in general but about one very special dog. Bogey was six months old when my husband and I adopted him from a local shelter. When his prior owners were asked why they were surrendering him, they said he was stupid and untrainable. Having had dogs all my life, I knew those labels had been misplaced.
    
As it turned out, Bogey was the most brilliant and loving dog I have ever had the honor of parenting and became a legendary therapy dog here in Myrtle Beach, SC.  He was not your typical therapy dog, offering pet-pets to patients in nursing homes and hospitals but a bit of a circus dog, resulting in his being in great demand to perform tricks for children and adults alike. 
    
Unfortunately, at age eight, just three days after one of his gigs, he crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. Two weeks later, I started to write little stories about his life.  It was the only thing I could think of to ease the sadness. Writing has always been my go-to panacea when life gets challenging.  It just so happened that I was enrolled in a Writers Roundtable at the time and decided to bring in some of my Bogey stories for critiquing. The group and the instructor loved them so much, they suggested I publish them as his memoir.  At first, I was hesitant but once I made him the narrator and changed from past to present tense, I experienced the richness of his life all over again and knew others would as well.
     
It’s amazing how things turn out.  Here I had started all his stories to help me mourn and now I get messages and comments from readers saying how much it has helped them work through the passing of their pet. Makes me feel good, that’s for sure. 

How do you tackle the issue of promoting your book?  Any words of advice?

I learned so much about marketing and promotion when my first book, Who’s got the Ball? (And Other Nagging Questions About Team Life) was published in 1995. Naively, I actually thought Jossey-Bass, now Wiley & Sons, would do all that stuff and I could sit back and rest on my laurels.  A tough but valuable lesson. The book did quite well and I am still receiving royalties, enough for a K-cup of coffee every now and then. But it could have done even better had I been more involved in promoting it.     

When Bogey’s memoir came out, I threw a book signing party at a local restaurant and set it up as a fundraiser for Grand Strand Humane Society, the shelter where we found Bogey. Since I had decided to donate the profits to the shelter, I invited the Shelter Director to write the foreword. The beauty and benefit of self-publishing. It was a huge success, not only in terms of the monies raised but also in getting word out about the launch of the book. 

I have always loved creating things but abhor any aspect of selling.  It has been a completely different story with this little book.  I am a passionate dog lover and currently head up “Animal Advocates of Horry County” in addition to working with a few rescue groups in town. Because I know Bogey’s memoir can influence folks to adopt rather than shop for a dog, I am shameless, even devious, in my ploys to sell the book. Like the Fuller Brush man of long ago, I have a box of books in my car at all times, business cards displaying the book cover in my pockets and bookmarks in my purse. When I’m in the grocery store in the pet food aisle and hear customers talking about their dog, I chat them up, mention the book, hand them a card and ask if they’d like to buy one.  My bookmarks also sit on the counters in the local libraries.  I also donate books to many of the local rescue group fundraisers. 

These grass root efforts (sounds better than devious ploys) have proven more successful than renting a vendor table at a fair or doing small book signings. There’s nothing worse for me than sitting at a little table, donning my very best manufactured genuine smile and pleading silently with my eyes for people to approach and engage in conversation.

I should mention that for the first few months after publication, I did send the book out to magazines dedicated to “everything dogs,” asking for reviews.  I did land a few and I’m sure that was helpful but only minimally so. Of course, I posted on Facebook on and off  for about eight months, even including customer reviews from Amazon, which I’m sure got some traction. 

What are you working on now?

I have a few projects in the hopper right now.  One is a children’s picture book about a teddy bear and a butterfly.  The working title is “How do you Hug a Butterfly?”  The story is in outline form and I think I’ve found a lovely illustrator so I’m pretty excited about it.  Colorful illustration is vital for this type of book.

For years, friends who are familiar with my past have been encouraging me to write my memoir.  There’s no doubt I have lived an interesting, exciting and blessed life, with enough conflict and resolution to fill many pages.  Then again, who hasn’t?  Recently, I did an open mic reading at a local theater, a short piece I wrote in fairy tale form about a slice of my life. It was very well received, so although I’m not committed to writing my memoir, it is simmering on the back burner.  In the meantime, I volunteer at an assisted living center and am helping a few of the residents write their memoir. This is a lot more fun for me and the folks and their families seem to be enjoying it.  
     
I am also considering writing a sequel to Waggin’ Tales: Bogey’s Memoir. This book will be all about the escapades of my current fur baby, Maggie, and will be called, Maggie’s Diary. She is a redheaded toy poodle, a personality kid on steroids who steals the hearts of everyone she meets.

How do you marry your roles as animal activist and writer?

Here is an interesting question. Because of some physical limitations, I can’t do as much as I’d like to assist in rescuing animals. What I can do with my writing skills is edit Rescue Newsletters and write up biographies of animals looking to be adopted. And I am constantly writing letters to our local and state legislators to seek their help in reducing the kill rate at our county shelter. Since I can’t physically get out there and help trap feral kittens and get them spayed and neutered and can’t foster abused and abandoned dogs, it does make me feel better that I can contribute in some small way.   



          
MAUREEN O'BRIEN

Friday, June 16, 2017

STEVEN REESE



Steven Reese is a poet and professor in the English Department at Youngstown State University. His poetry book Excentrica: Notes on the Text, has just been published by BlazeVOX publishers. He resides in Youngstown, OH.

What are your concerns as a poet, the themes to which you keep returning, and why?

I think I’m often writing about the rhythms of experience, whether the experience is personal or historical, private or public—in fact, those terms define part of the rhythm.  And I’m interested in the language we use to describe those rhythms, which can be limiting or expansive, punitive or encouraging, inherited or self-made in some fresh way. The “why” is at least partly because these elements are what poetry is made of: language and rhythm. Poetry is sometimes associated with flights of fancy, obscurity, some kind of “out-there” element that divorces it from common experience; but the poems I value and that I try to write are very directly connected to lived experience, its rhythms, its music. The best book I know on this matter is by the American philosopher John Dewey, called Art as Experience.

Tell us about your recent book. What inspired it?

The book coming out from BlazeVOX publishers, up around Buffalo, is called Excentrica: Notes on the Text, and it’s a strange little bird.  Its left margin reproduces passages from a book of poems called Excentrica, by a poet named Renate Stefan, whose first language is German but who writes in English and Romanian and French as well.  The right margin—also in verse—provides commentary (or tries to) on the passages in the left margin.  The real poem—or verse-essay or lyric criticism or whatever name it might go by—is in the right margin, generated by the prompting of the text on the left side.  It’s like footnotes on drugs.  But good drugs.  I have forgotten to say that both the book of poems Excentrica and its author, Renate Stefan, are complete fictions.

What inspired Excentrica may best be expressed by this line from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Circles," from which my book of poems quotes frequently: "the life of [human beings] is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end." 

I've always loved how literature takes me out into the world, expands my own world--I think this is one of the best reasons to be an English major!, or at least read widely. Etymologically, the word eccentric means away or out from center; conventionally, that means not normal, not what most people do. But, if Emerson is right, the ex-centric is the person who expands his or her circles with energy and delight, and so much of literature confirms and applauds that expansion. That's what inspired the book--in some ways, it's a love letter to literature.

When did you first start to write poetry? Has teaching been a boon or hindrance to your art? Please explain.

I first started to write poetry in grade school, but did a little "chapbook" of poems in junior high that I think was my first "serious" effort, guided by a very good teacher-poet in the Ithaca, N.Y. area whose name I've forgotten--and I'm sorry to say that because he was a poet who inspired not just by his writing but by his taking it out into the world--ex-centrically.

Teaching has been without question a boon to my writing, again for ex-centric reasons: in the classroom, your personal, inner pleasures in the text aren't work a damn unless you can carry them over (the literal meaning of translation) to others. In fact, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright wouldn't teach "creative writing" to his students, only lit. That's extreme, but it makes a point: nothing will better expand the circle of your own abilities than setting them beside the best of what's been done already.

                                   STEVEN REESE









Friday, June 9, 2017

RENEE BEACH



"Is it true that life moves in cycles?" Renee was born in Manhattan-- at Harlem Hospital. And, now nearly 50 years later, she is presently living across the street from . . .. Harlem Hospital!! Between those bookends, she and her sister were raised by "wonderful parents." She went to school in Manhattan, finished graduate studies in Boston. She has a daughter (third  generation of musicians!) and she is still at Pearson, an educational publisher, where she is a Supervising Editor. Pearson, said Renee, was the last stop after "a fine array of many publishing companies. It has been a great time." A wearer of many hats, Renee has a baking business at this website: www.lucillesdream.com

Can you please share how you made the journey from being a classical pianist to being an editor at Pearson? Can you tell us about the boons? The sacrifices, in terms of music/art?

The question suggests that there were two "journeys" as it were-- one as a pianist and the other as an editor. But, it is really a journey of parallel occurrences. I started studying piano at age three with my father -- he was a professional musician. He taught me those first notes on my little piano. From that beginning, I began the journey -- which still continues-- of studying, playing, and performing. I had a brief stint as a concert pianist and it was enough to ensure me that talent and soulful playing were not enough to guarantee steady income. But that was fine, while studying music, I was also immersed in reading-- I was and still am a voracious reader (add to that the compulsion to even read cereal boxes while eating breakfast!) and I wrote. Early on, before it was popular, I was writing in my journal and the highlight of my fourth grade was the production of my first play-- Mr. New York -- which had four assembly performances. I was a local celebrity. So my dual love for music and literature paved the way. It was a fine marriage and the result? Well, my first job at Alfred A. Knopf in New York City was a coup, so to speak. I worked with the Vice President of Advertising. She trained me to write jacket copy. I also had the opportunity to read and critique author submissions and I worked with the Music Editor writing and editing. . . . books on music theory. Bliss!!! Today, I still play the piano (my neighbors are especially gracious-- an evening without practice has been followed the next morning with a note beneath my door asking, "what happened to Brahms last night?" I write and develop textbooks (seven years of that was specifically music theory and music education texts), and I continue to read, read, read.

How have you managed to keep alive your creativity with such a demanding schedule for more than 30 years?

That comes without effort. I am not aware of actively "keeping creativity alive." I just do what I love and, as I pointed out before, I have my ongoing interests and in 2006, I added a baking venue to the roster. So, now, as many of my friends point out, I have two full-time jobs. Yes, it is work and time consuming but I don't see it that way-- most of the time. I admit I do thrive on intense activity. I seem to pull from a bottomless source of energy. Sure, there are moments when weariness kicks in, but I still cling to that silver lining--the joy that I will bring to customers as they take that first bite of a vegan cake. Often, there is a moment of silence and then the inevitable response of "What!!!! this is vegan????? Wow!!! It doesn't taste like it!" 

It's wonderful-- working with different ingredients to hit that perfect blend that will boost flavor and yet work within the confines of what "vegan" is in the culinary world. By the same token, when I play a sonata or concerto that I love or when I share the subtleties of a book with book club members or friends, it is just as warming and exciting. I guess it is the sharing-- and the full meaning of that which fulfills my heart. And, after all these years (geez-- more than 30 years?) I am just happy I still have a curious mind (and a functioning one!) and a willing spirit and body!

What direction do you see yourself going in at this juncture? What do you feel you need most to support that direction? What do you feel most confident about as you embark on it?

The direction will be to continue baking. I have had some offers to start a brick and mortar location but I am content at this point to just be the "supplier." I love the "simplicity," as it were, of creating recipes and baking. I have recently thrown some gluten-free delights into the mix. There are just so many palates to satisfy these days. And, it goes without saying, that I will continue to pursue past creative loves.

Beverly and Renee Beach