Rhonda Browning-White on her first book: The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

It’s always exciting to be interviewed, but it’s doubly so when you’re interviewed about your first book by an institution you’ve long admired and with which you are so pleased to be associated!

Converse College Low-Residency MFA

Tell us a little about your book and the process of writing it. How long have you worked on the collection?
The nine stories in The Lightness of Water & Other Stories feature strong characters such as West Virginia miners, Florida bikers, Tennessee granny women, and Virginia professors, who grapple with—and sometimes overcome—harsh issues that many of us face; loneliness, loss, grief, and guilt. I began work on this collection during my studies at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. Some of the stories (in earlier form) were part of my creative thesis, while others are newer. Overall, the collection has taken about nine years to come together in its final form. The “10,000 Hours Rule” certainly held truth, for me, and I’m now looking forward to finding out what the next 10,000 hours of study will do for my writing. 

The+Lightness+of+Water+by+Rhonda+Browning+WhiteWhen and where can we find it?
Pre-orders…

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Summer 2019 Reading List — Four Books You #MustRead

Books Summer 2019 (2)

Whether you spend your summer days reading on the beach, in a shaded hammock in the mountains, or curled up in your own climate-controlled living room, you won’t want to miss grabbing one–or all!–of these Summer 2019 #MustReads! There’s something in the list below for everyone!

NOVEL –
Valerie Nieman’s To the Bones  is a murder mystery, slash romance, slash ecocritical novel, slash ghost story, and it deftly blurs the lines between these seemingly unrelated genres with page-turning skill. Y’all, this novel kept me up late, and the ending caught me so off-guard I know you’ll never see it coming. With equal parts Celtic mythology and Appalachian folklore, the twists and turns will have you laughing, gasping, and second-guessing what you think you know until the very last page.

SHORT-STORY COLLECTION –
The Sound of Holding Your Breath 
is Natalie Sypolt’s debut collection, and wow! What a way to start a writing career! These stories are set in modern-day Appalachia, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll relate to each of the fourteen stories herein, because these characters deal with emotions you’ve felt or feel, they’ve faced challenges you’ve faced or are facing–or shoot!–one might even be you! These stories will test your courage and your mettle, and you may find yourself at the end of this stunning work asking yourself if you would have behaved in the same way these characters did, if you would have responded in the same manner in which they did, should you be faced with what they are facing.

MEMOIR –
Dawn Davies writes “A Memoir in Pieces,” Mothers of Sparta, and even if you think you’re not a fan of memoir, prepare yourself to be struck to the core by the gorgeous rawness of these stories. It’s rare for me to cry over a book, but this one turned me inside out. I giggled, I shook my head, and I truly wept over the course of these sixteen stories, each even more powerful because I know it is true, I know Davies bared her weakest, strongest, and most honest self to us in these pages. We see Davies navigate her nomadic childhood, marriage and divorce, pregnancy and postpartum depression, and the beautiful heartbreak of motherhood. With blade-sharp prose, Davies bisects and dissects her life for us, and in doing so, she lays bare a path that leads straight to the heart.

FORTHCOMING NOVEL –
Though you won’t be able to order Jon Sealy’s latest, The Edge of America, until September 11th, you’ll want to go ahead and pre-order today and keep it at the top of your to-be-read list. This action-packed political thriller is set in steamy 1980’s Miami, Florida, and man, is it hot! The CIA is keeping their eye on employee Bobby West, who when in need of easy money succumbs to a money-laundering deal with the devil himself–if the devil is named Alexander French. West’s obstinate teenage daughter skips town with French’s millions and a small-town Southern boy who is merely looking for his own shortcut to riches, neither realizing an Israeli hit woman has been hired by Cuban exiles to find French’s money and exterminate them both. You’ll hold your breath on this one through to the very last page.
NOTE: Be sure to look for my detailed review of Sealy’s novel forthcoming in South 85 Journal later this year!)

 

 

Four Writers (and One Painter) Resolve: New Year’s Resolutions

Champs Resolution 2019

What good is a New Year’s Day without a juicy resolution or two? I mean, even if we let our resolutions fall by the wayside on January 30th or 3rd, we’ve at least thrown a pebble into the pond and cause a mind ripple to form, expand, grow. There’s always the chance that the seed we plant today—even if left in the dark ground—will germinate, receive rain, eventually surface to sunlight, and bloom into beautiful being.

That’s how ideas often work for writers. Sometimes our ideas are a lightning strike, and we rush to the keyboard and pound out an entire chapter. Other times, one perfect sentence comes to mind, and we jot it in a journal, and every week or so, another joins it, and one day it’s a poignant story. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that tings in the air like the toast of crystal goblets, and we scribble on a napkin, to find it later and craft a poem that resonates and, yes, ripples, from our heart into the hearts of others.

Have I convinced you to make a writing resolution? I hope so! Nothing ventured . . . right!

A few weeks back, I was thinking of resolutions and wondering if writers other than myself toyed with them, made them, avoided them, broke them. I asked around, and a few friends shared their own writing resolutions with us. (Thank you for playing along!)

I hope you’ll find one—or more—of their resolutions inspiring.

Writer David Davis subscribes to the seed germination philosophy of writing. He wrote as a youngster but let writing fall by the wayside. It didn’t matter: The desire to write had taken root, and it later grew into a gig as a feature writer for the Daytona Sun Times. After the magazine went out of publication, David stopped writing. It was a job, after all.

Or was it? After seeing a Facebook post about (imagine this!) writing resolutions, David felt a powerful tug, and he dug out some old story snippets written years earlier about his grandchildren. He picked up his pen, and he’s resolved to write those stories. See? Even broken resolutions have a way of reaching sunlight!

Author, poet, essayist, blogger (need I go on?) Tovli Simiryan adopted a more Pomodoro-esque resolution, using a Fit-Bit app to jolt her into submission—both figuratively and literally. “From the once cluttered and disorganized mental office of Tovli Simiryan,” here’s her step-by-step resolution to put more of her gorgeous words into the world.

Katie Piccirillo Sherman, a journalist and journalism instructor in Chicago, believes in success through failure, as evidenced by her resolution to rack up one-hundred rejections. “The more you’re getting no’s, the more you’re submitting.” Don’t you love her positive spin and sassy attitude? Cheers to your one-hundred, Katie, and to an equal number of acceptances!

My own resolution? Ahhh, I almost hate to share it, because I expect I will no doubt one day have to admit its failure.

I resolve to Write. Every. Day.

Yup, even though I’ve been writing for over a decade now, I’ve never written every day, not even during my deadline-crazy Converse MFA years. (Don’t tell my profs!) No, I’ve always taken solace in my former mentor Robert Olmstead’s words to our small workshop group that, “Sometimes serious writing is sitting quietly, staring out a window for an hour.” Indeed.

This morning, as I thought of the writing resolution I wanted to make—because I certainly intended to make one (or two—I’m also resolving to network locally with more writers: We all need a nearby tribe), I came across poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s Twitter post, an article shared from The Rumpus, written by author and artist Kelcey Parker Ervick who resolved to paint every day. A painting—every day. Ervick asks, “What happens when you commit to painting—or to any form of creating—every day for a year?

“You exist in the world differently.”

Wow. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if that isn’t inspiring, what is?

Yes, I want to exist in the world differently. So, this year, I’m going to attempt the actual, hands-on, practical (though perhaps impractical is the better word) task, and write every day. Whether it’s a blog entry (checkmark today!), a chapter, a poem, or just one fine sentence that sings, I’m going to do it.

C’mon, writer. What’s your resolution?

Three Simple Ways to Attract Opportunity: Recognize, Magnetize, And Seize

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” –Sir Winston Churchill

All you need is one great opportunity, and your life will be all you’ve dreamed of, right? But isn’t it sad and unfair that opportunity won’t present itself to you?

Hogwash!

Here are three simple—simple!—ways to attract opportunity. It’s up to you to open the door, because opportunity is knocking right now.

RECOGNIZE – Opportunity is all around you. No, don’t scoff at this. It’s true. Too often, we’re so mired in our current situation—our heads down in depression, shame, or disgust—that we can’t see what’s in front of us. Strive to live in the moment. It’s important to be self-aware, but equally important to be aware of what life is presenting to you right now. Stop thinking about what you don’t want, and concentrate on what you do want. Envision your goal, but don’t stop there. Take a step toward it every day. Even baby steps will eventually take you to where you want to be.

MAGNETIZE – To attract opportunity, be the best you can be right where you stand. Maybe you hate your job. Maybe you’re in an unhappy relationship. Maybe you’re facing financial strain.

Dig in.

This is not to say that you should entrench yourself, but that you should be boldly aware of your current situation, and take whatever steps you can to remedy them in this moment. What can you do right now to make the situation better, even by degrees? Firstly and most easily, you can have a better attitude. Laugh at the situation, ala Tom Hanks in The Money Pit. If you can laugh at a problem and smile at yourself in the mirror, then you’ve already cleared your mind enough to recognize the opportunity for improvement in your current situation.

No matter your present job, be the best you can be at it. So what if you’re a janitor? Be the janitor with shining sinks and faucets, shimmering mirrors, and gleaming tiles. Soon you’ll be recognized for your exceptional work, and fresh opportunity will present itself.

Stay positive.

Positivity attracts positivity, and the opposite is equally true. Case in point: Two of my best friends and I began to work on our attitudes, striving to be more positive even in frustrating, infuriating, and unfortunate situations. None of us were truly unhappy with our jobs, but we each had realized that what we have to offer was being overlooked, ignored, or unappreciated. Instead of feeling unhappy or despairing, we each tried to put a positive spin on our different difficult situations. What can I do today to make my workplace better? How can I improve my relationship with that difficult coworker? How can I make my boss’s job easier? How can I raise our company’s bottom line? We each listened to or read positive affirmations every day. We studied the law of attraction. We worked to improve ourselves, and most importantly, our attitudes.

Out of the blue, each one of us received a new career opportunity in our various fields—each within the same three-week period. These opportunities practically fell into each of our laps, as we really didn’t seek them! The opportunities seemingly appeared out of nowhere. In truth, perhaps they’d been there all along, but none of us, until then, had been aware enough to see what lay in front of us.

SEIZE IT! Courageously take the hand of opportunity when it appears. For some, this may the toughest part. Change can be scary. We may think it’s better to remain secure where we are, even if we’re not ultimately happy.

Understand this: The only secure thing is that there is no such thing as security.

Economies collapse. Bubbles burst. Jobs move overseas. Relationships end. Homes are foreclosed, and money is lost. But life moves on. It’s up to you to move on with it. When opportunity presents itself—and it will if you recognize and magnetize it—be brave enough to step out and grab it.

I can tell you that my two dear friends and I couldn’t help but hesitate when opportunity presented itself to each of us. We each had made some improvements in our current jobs, largely because we’d become more positive. Still, there is little, if any, growth in standing still. We each seized the opportunity presented, we each expanded our reach and our knowledge base, and we each are excited and emboldened to enjoy our success, while watching for even more new opportunities as they come our way.

If you’ve already let a great opportunity pass you by, don’t dwell in the past. Recognize, magnetize, and be ready to seize the next one coming your way!

She Thinks I’m Fierce!

There’s nothing quite as satisfying to a writer as having your work published; that is, except having someone else mention your publication in their own work! This week I’ve been twice honored:

First, by Hospital Drive who pubbed my short story “Things Long Dead” (read it here).

two trees in the fog

Second, by award-winning poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman who interviewed me for her #FierceFriday feature on her website!

Cover art and design by Dawn Surrat

Thank you to the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Hospital Drive and to Gabrielle Brant Freeman for believing in me and supporting my work! You’re FIERCE!

 

 

Smile! You’ve Disconnected!

Life’s hard, y’all. And in today’s rabid political climate, it seems to be harder than usual. Some days, it’s difficult to even force a smile.

Is there any way we can make our lives softer, rosier, more comfortable?

Absolutely, there is a way.

Unfortunately, it requires doing something uncomfortable: disconnecting.

We live in a modern world where our fingers seemingly exit the womb with smartphones attached. We carry laptops home from work to complete tasks after hours or over the weekend. Television and newspapers bombard us with report after report after report of recycled and regurgitated news. We spend “downtime” scrolling Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Instagram and . . . [insert any name from a plethora of social media sites here].

In short, we have no downtime.

According to Genesis in The Holy Bible, even God rested on the seventh day. And I’m not God. I’m a weak human, so I need a break more often than that! I’m betting you do, too.

Try something with me—for me. C’mon, it’ll only take a second!

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a nest. Maybe not a sticks-and-weeds nest, but perhaps an uber-soft, form-fitting, super-sized chair that nestles your body like a second womb. Add a soothing blanket. Or choose a hammock filled with plump pillows, gently swaying over the sea. In your mind’s eye, curl up in that cocoon; take a deep, cleansing breath, and exhale all the workday woes, media mayhem, and social stress that’s surrounding you.

comfortable-hammock

Feel better?

Of course you do! It only took fifteen seconds to take your mind and body to a more relaxed state of being. Now imagine what would happen if you relaxed like that for fifteen minutes. Or an hour. Or all weekend.

Disconnecting from the busyness of business, the network of news breaks, and the swirl of social connection might seem scary—I mean, what if you miss something important? What if Wells Fargo loses investors? What if Beyonce is pregnant with twins? What if an old acquaintance from high school sends you a friend request, and you don’t immediately respond?

Your life will go on.

And you will feel better living it.

And trust me: when you reconnect, the information you missed will again be in your face, but now your face will face it with a genuine smile.

smiling-cat

Self-Reflection: How I Checked Myself Before I Wrecked Myself, and How You Can Do It, Too

I can’t say I’m disappointed to see 2016 come to an end. This has been an incredibly tough year for my family and me. My husband of twenty years (the handsome man you see in deep contemplation above) was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. My daddy underwent cardiac surgery again. Hurricane Matthew tore apart the roof of my home. And, no small wake-up call, I turned fifty.

But I survived. To be honest, in retrospect, I think I have thrived, and you can do the same, regardless of the challenges you face. How? Follow my lead.

Facing health scares, financial loss, a natural disaster, and more, threw me into a tailspin—or twelve. Each of these awful events also caused me to look hard at what is important to me. And let me tell you, it isn’t material things. Don’t misunderstand me; I appreciate the security of my lovely little home, my dependable car, my paycheck. But I quickly learned that these things mean very little unless I am happy and content.

Enter self-reflection.

Turning fifty absolutely causes one to think about the fact that, in all likelihood, your life is at least half over. I realized—am still realizing—that now is the time to make changes that point me in the direction where I want to go, where I want to end up, what I want to accomplish. And since none of us knows our expiration date, we may be beyond the halfway point right now.

I realized I wasn’t happy with the three jobs I was working. Ten years of editing and ghostwriting, while enjoyable in the moment, left me feeling as though I was spinning my wheels, writing award-winning books for others instead of telling my own stories. Adjunct teaching left me feeling like my skills and education were not appreciated (read: low pay and no benefits). My sales job—the one I worked solely for health insurance—left me feeling undervalued, disrespected, even bullied, at times. In addition, it had been over a year since my family had been on vacation, or even enjoyed a long weekend together. No, I couldn’t simply quit work—I needed a paycheck more than ever—but I knew I had to take steps toward getting out of the situations in which I’d become mired.

I began to ask myself questions, keeping personal fulfillment in mind. What kind of job could I do that would help other people, yet still leave me with enough creative juices to write? If money were no object, what kind of work would I enjoy doing? And, since money is important to me, what could I do to ensure my family’s and my own financial stability? How could I change my weekly and daily routine to allow me to spend more time with my family? What hobbies bring me satisfaction, and how can I reintroduce them into my life?

Tough questions, indeed, but questions I began to ask myself daily. I wrote down these questions. I made lists of possible solutions. I prayed and meditated. I crunched numbers. I worked on these questions, and the more I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what steps I needed to take to make changes that would lead me where I wanted to be.

I made changes.

I spent four months completing a recertification class to return to a satisfying career path I’d once followed for many years, then left behind. I turned in a lengthy notice to leave my ghostwriting and editing job, which I’ve loved for years, but which keeps me from my own writing. Last week, I quit my “benefits” job; the one I disliked but stuck with simply for health insurance.

Monday I’ll begin a full-time job (with great benefits!) in a field I love—one that simultaneously fulfills me and helps other people. Soon I’ll be starting my final ghostwriting project, and when that one’s done, my writing time will be mine! All mine! And perhaps best of all, I now have weekends available to spend with my family, and vacations together definitely are in our future.

I’m not Superwoman. I’m not the best time manager, and I’m pitiful at remembering birthdays, phone numbers, and even names. But after facing some terrible, life-altering events, I took stock of what is important to me, and I made changes.

If I can ask and answer those difficult questions, so can you.

Don’t be afraid of introspection, and please, don’t wait for an illness or a natural disaster before examining your purpose in life and what it is that makes you happy. You may not be able to move away, or quit your job, or uproot your lifestyle today, but once you know exactly what it is that’s important to you, you absolutely can begin taking steps toward that goal—even if they’re baby steps.

Be truthful with yourself. Ask the hard questions. Face the tough answers. Because what you know—really know—about yourself and your goals—is more important than what anyone else thinks. This is your life. Check it!

 

Call Me a Fresko Foodie!

While I frequently play at being an amateur foodie, it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a restaurant review about my culinary adventures. Fortunately, our recent meal at Fresko Restaurant & Grill on South Ridgewood Avenue in South Daytona proved scrumptious enough to bring my taste buds and pen out of hiding. Fresko recently opened their authentic Greek-cuisine restaurant in the space locals know as the old US 1 Restaurant.

My husband Randy and I stopped in relatively late on a Friday evening with friends Ron and Paula. Updated décor includes a royal-blue-and-white color scheme replete with Greek key motifs and traditional stoneware adding charm to rustic brick walls, plus tables graced with floral arrangements designed by a family member of one of the owners. Near the restaurant’s entrance, a Greek market is being built, and shelves were already lined with canned goods, sweets, and spices, and a glass display case promises freshly made offerings, as well. Outside, a tiki bar was temporarily closed, but we were told it would soon be open and staffed.

Fresko Market

The Fresko Greek Market (coming soon!)

Between the four of us, we sampled several dishes. From the orektika (appetizers) menu, I chose a personal Greek favorite, saganaki, a pan-fried Greek cheese topped with a splash of ouzo, flambéed and finished with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Because the ceilings in the restaurant are low, our server was unable to flame the cheese at our table (an initial letdown), but she served it piping hot—crisp on the outside and oozing on the inside—along with tasty wedges of warm, grilled pita wedges. After only one bite, we quickly forgot to be disappointed in the lack of a fire show.

Randy ordered soutroukakla (Greek meatballs) to share, and these light, flavorful, football-shaped meatballs simmered in a well-seasoned tomato sauce arrived topped with crumbles of melting feta cheese and several large cubes of fresh-baked bread. The order included four large meatballs—plenty to share with our famished group with a little left over.

Ron selected the gyros pikilia, a heaping platter of sliced, juicy gyro, surrounded by grilled pita wedges and topped with a hefty slathering of tzatziki ( a creamy cucumber and garlic dip made with Greek yogurt and onions). The lovely presentation included thinly sliced Roma tomatoes. The four of us worked hard to devour this yummy platter, but we still had enough to take home for lunch. This would be a perfect take-out dish to carry to a party. So cool and refreshing!

A cup of avgolemono (egg and lemon soup) arrived steaming and chock full of chunks of chicken. The soup was tangy and thick—more like a stew—and served with large, fresh bread cubes for tearing and dipping. Paula and Ron each ordered gyro wraps served in grilled pita bread. Each tzatziki-topped wrap could easily serve two people. Paula selected a side of over-roasted potatoes, which were a bit crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ron’s side of orzo was flavored with tomato sauce that gave the dish a comforting spaghetti-like flavor.

We arrived hungry, yet we never expected each of our dishes to be so generous in portion-size, nor so hearty and filling. We each took home boxes for lunch the next day, and no one had room to sample from the dessert menu that includes, among an impressive list of choices like baklava, rice pudding, Greek chocolate cake (sokolatina), and sweet Mavrodaphne wine.

Have I used the word fresh too much? I could say it a dozen times when describing each bite we tasted, and still not convey how truly fresh the food proved to be. We’re so impressed that we’re already planning our next trip to Fresko. Hope to see you there!

 

 

Rock Bottom Is a Firm Foundation

Woman-underwater-Kaare-Long-article

Sometimes when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you’re actually finding firm footing. When you feel stone-cold solid rock beneath your bare feet, curl your toes into it. Press hard. Wipe your tear-filled eyes, and look up. You may be surprised to see the many hands of true friends reaching down to pull you up, while others’ hands are folded in prayer on your behalf, and still others’ hands are lifted in praise for your abundant victories yet to come.

Take the hands reaching out for you. Feel yourself being lifted.

Share your gratitude and joy, as it’s contagious, and so many need your smile.

The bountiful blessing you’ve just received is wasted unless you share it.

Now is good.

Share it now.

And if you find yourself at rock bottom as you read this, reach up. Take my hand.

*

Thank you to those of you who’ve extended your hands, your love, and your friendship to Randy, Jacob, and I, as we toppled, keeled, and pitched headlong downward, found our footing, and looked up toward you for friendship, encouragement, support–and found love.

You know who you are! 

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