Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Interview with memoirist Sheila Hageman

My special guest today is Sheila Hageman and she’s talking with me about her new book, Stripping Down: A Memoir.

Sheila Hageman is a mother of three and author of Stripping Down: A Memoir, a meditation on womanhood and body image, and Beautiful Something Else, a novel.

Please tell us about your current release.
At twelve years old, everything changed for me with the discovery of my father’s porn collection. Found locked away in a corner of the basement, the glossy images ignited in me an unrelenting desire for attention and adoration. I lost sight of my dream of being a writer and became obsessed with exercise, working out every day for hours and barely eating. I became that which I thought men adored—a stripper and a nude model.

Many years later when I discovered my mother had breast cancer, I was faced with who I had become and what I had used my body for. I quit stripping and returned to college to graduate as valedictorian; I also became a yoga teacher through which I learned how to take good care of my body and not be obsessive in my looks. I began writing again and then went to graduate school for my MFA in Creative Writing. At that time, reflections on my past as a stripper permeated my thoughts as I took on the new roles of mother, caregiver and wife. While helping my baby daughter take her first steps, I nursed my mother through the final stages of breast cancer and truly faced who I had become and who I had been. The resulting memoir was Stripping Down. I am living my dream of writing everyday and helping other women to reach their own dream through exploring their lives in words.

What inspired you to write this book?
I always knew I would write about my stripper past because I felt my experiences might help other women to understand their own choices in life. I also felt that for me to come to terms with my past and poor choices I had made, I needed to explore my journey and try to figure out what set me on the particular path I ended up on.

Excerpt from Stripping Down: A Memoir:

I feel the weight of the hammer from the dusty workbench in my sweaty palm and hit the padlock. My heart thumps in my bony chest. I listen for the humming sound of my mother’s car backing into the driveway. I hit again. I listen. The lock pops open.

I lift the musty boxes from the top of the chest and set them aside. I pull the lock off, claw my chewed fingernails under the thin lid and push it up.

What was this? Stacks of magazines with women on the covers. I reach my pink fingers out toward the first one. A busty, brunette Mrs. Claus bending over, offers me a shiny wrapped Christmas gift. Her breasts squashed together, lopsided. She is not smiling; she is opening her moist lips. Years later when I would be told “Lick your lips, no, don’t smile,” for a Leg Tease cover photo shoot, I will remember her.

The magazines had various titles. There was Hustler and Penthouse, Playboy and Oui.
In them were women in various states of undress, but not like the images from our educational book upstairs that showed black and white images of males and females standing nude, stoic from babies to senior citizens. Those models were lined up, standing in the same basic pose, completely desexualized. The porn women sucked their fingers, licked their lips, opened their legs, and crouched in unusual positions.

I tasted orange juice in my throat. I couldn’t swallow. Women weren’t supposed to appear like this. Something was not right. My father was straight-laced, ordinary. Didn’t only dirty men look at nudie pictures?

One spread stopped me—a young woman with pigtails wearing denim shorts and a tied gingham shirt. She was on a farm, leaning against a fence. As I flipped through the pages, she lost her clothing, piece by piece, and ended inside a barn lying naked on trampled bales of hay. She looked out at me, called me to enter her world. Her pubic area was completely smooth. In another shot, she straddled a man’s bicycle with the bar just beneath her stripped crotch. This was one of the pictures I went back to and looked at many times as I developed into a woman. She was young like I was. Innocent.

This was right after my parents’ divorce and amid impending puberty. My mother, my older sister, Peggy, and I had moved into my grandparents’ house for three months while my father packed up his stuff, searched for a condo, and moved out. As part of the divorce settlement, my father got almost all the furniture.

A search of the house revealed there was one thing my father didn’t take—a locked green chest in the basement. When I asked my mother, she said it was definitely his. Peggy laughed. I wanted to know what I was missing.

“There’s probably a dead body in there,” I said.

“Or something.” Peggy slammed her bedroom door.

“Photos of monkeys,” my mother said and went to lie down.

What could be such a secret that it had to be locked away? I would run downstairs after school every day, head for the mildewed corner. Whatever was in there was important enough to my father that he kept it locked up, but not important enough to take with him when he left.

I was a girl entering the age of womanhood, entering the real world, the adult world. All at once. No slow entry, rather a flinging open of the doors.

I don’t know what I hoped to accomplish by looking at the magazines. I was a girl—I wasn’t supposed to want to see other women naked. Was I trying to understand who these women were and why they did what they did? Who they were as little girls? Why my father collected them? Why he hid them down in the basement? Did I think about my father looking at them? Did I wonder what my father got out of looking at them? Or was it simply curiosity that drew me to look?

Now, where blankness has been for so long, a specific cover emerges. There is a meat grinder. A woman is being lowered into it, underneath is hamburger meat. I felt sad, awful. I wasn’t stupid. This image was trying to say something, but I didn’t know what.

Today, a quick Internet search reveals: Hustler’s June 1978 cover. I look at it now and feel the same fascination as my twelve-year-old self.

I go to the basement in my mind, and the images come more quickly. Me crouched on the floor with a magazine on my lap. Me seeing women pretending to be furniture. A woman on her hands and knees, a desk that a man stacks paper on. A woman as a chair. A woman as a horse, a bridle in her mouth. I want to see more.

The corner where I squatted was shadowy, dank, as I pushed through the stacks.

The women look like they enjoy it. They looked like they wanted to be treated that way, and I don’t understand. Is it the attention that makes the humiliation worthwhile? Or do the women actually enjoy being photographed nude? My parents raised me to believe that as a girl I am worthwhile and I can be anything I want to be. I am equal to boys in every way. But I never really believed that, and perhaps I didn’t because I suspected that my parents didn’t believe it either. These photos confirm that girls are different. These photos teach me that a woman is prized for being naked, dumb, and subservient. Boys have power over girls. If girls want to be loved they have to make sacrifices of the flesh. And then men will look at them. And then men will love them.

The world I had known no longer existed; I did not fit in anymore. I was stuck somewhere in the middle—no longer a little girl, but not yet a woman like I saw in the photos.

My father left and began again without me, a new life. I would have to learn to leave my old self behind, too—start a new life.

I took a stack of magazines and hid them in my closet. The magazine women, always waiting there for me, brought a sense of safety. They modeled a possible way to know myself, which I hadn’t yet found on my own.

I felt a sense of fear, I could feel the two parts of myself separating, the innocent girl from the bad sexual woman.

I learned from the magazine women. I could showcase my beauty, and then maybe I would be admired. Maybe I would be loved.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on another memoir dealing with body image and eating disorders. I’m also working on fiction. My romance Beautiful Something Else was published in June and I’m now working on something more toward the erotica side of romance.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was a girl I fully saw myself as a writer. In my late teens, I got distracted by acting and kind of forgot that vision of myself. It wasn’t until I returned to college in my mid-twenties that I began to see myself as a writer again.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
At the moment, I work at a college full-time as an Academic Mentor; I also adjunct teach at a few colleges. I’m almost to the point where I want to trust myself enough to write full-time, but it’s a scary step for me.

I write in the little moments of time in between my job and taking care of my three kids. It is not easy. I’m usually very tired! I brainstorm new ideas on my daily commute by talking into my mobile phone email app, which transcribes what I say and then I can simply edit later.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My interesting writing quirk is that when I’m on a roll I can write up to 8,000 words a day. Well, 8,000 was my record, I think. But I can really pump out the words for a rough draft quickly. I’ll go full-out like that for weeks and then just be resting for a few weeks before I start editing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer all the way. Also a horse jockey for a little while because that’s what my sister wanted to do.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I encourage everyone to write, even if it’s just for his or her eyes. We can learn so much about ourselves and the world by following where our thoughts lead us on the page.

Thanks for being here today, Sheila!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Interview with novelist Adina Sara

Debut novelist Adina Sara is visiting me today. We’re chatting about Blind Shady Bend.

Oakland author Adina Sara’s debut novel, Blind Shady Bend, tells of a woman whose life takes a sharp, unexpected turn when she inherits a rundown piece of country property. She has also published two collections of essays and poetry. In 100 Words Per Minute, she offers a look into the heart of clerical workers. In The Imperfect Garden, she explores the elements of determination, disappointment and surprise that shaped her landscape and life. Her essays have appeared in Persimmon, East Bay Express, Pure Slush, and Peregrine Press. She was the feature garden columnist for an Oakland, California newspaper, and currently divides her time between pulling weeds, making music, and writing.

Welcome, Adina. Please tell us about your current release.
Blind Shady Bend is my first novel. It tells the story of a woman approaching her 70th birthday, who has lived a pretty uneventful life, taking care of her aging parents, allowing the years to thicken around her so she has very little energy to see beyond the drooping houseplants in her faded living room. But an event occurs that puts her life into a state of upheaval – the surprising inheritance from a runaway brother whom she had not heard from in over 30 years. The inheritance, - a piece of run down country property – forces her to reach past her comfort zone, and examine possibilities that she never thought possible. Exploring this rundown piece of land, and meeting the surrounding neighbors, she uncovers parts of her own life that she had long since abandoned.

What inspired you to write this book?
I had purchased a piece of country property 20 years ago, and sold it shortly thereafter. (It turned out to be a bad idea.) But the land with its barely standing shack, the smells of its landscape, and the twisted dusty roads and hidden away neighbors stayed with me. I started to write about it, and realized that the 5-acre parcel was becoming the first character of a novel. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, the main character, Hannah Blackwell, came to me, fully formed. The neighbors followed shortly thereafter, all fictional, bearing no resemblance to people in my life. The story kept unfolding as I wrote. I had no idea how it would end, following Hannah’s discoveries right along with her. I loved the idea of that someone’s life could begin again, just as they thought it was over.

Excerpt from Blind Shady Bend:
I took a good long look around my living room. Square windows, square tables, square pictures on the wall. All I could see were the squares. I kicked off my suddenly aching shoes and one of them tumbled sideways against the ceramic vase covered with seashells, of all things, that served as a doorstop next to the front door. The shoe tipped the vase onto the tile entryway and the thing split into three neat pieces. I was thrilled to see it come apart.

I stumbled into my kitchen, hot and thirsty and filthy. My hands were cut up in places where I must have grabbed before looking -- wild rose thorns caught under the stones, not to mention the sharp slate edges themselves. The sweat under my armpits had come and gone, leaving behind an acrid scent of dust and excess. I went to the sink, watched the mud break loose from my fingers, and bent over to let the water cool the top of my head, run down along the sides of my neck, my road map of creases. I was tired, but a different kind of tired than I was used to, the kind of tired that made me feel alive.

I wandered from room to room, closed my eyes and counted eight steps to my kitchen counter, didn’t even nick my hip on the chair on the way over, and decided that I had been living most of my life as if blind-folded. Now the blindfolds were off, and the bright light stunned me silent.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am back to writing essays – which was always my favorite genre. Mostly stories of my family, friendships, marriages, divorces, all the stuff that fills the decades and needs to be recorded. I may or may not weave the essays into a book – I’m trying to stay away from end goals and simply enjoy the being in the moment of writing whatever memories rise to the surface.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Always. I used to write when I was a young child, keeping the stories hidden in the bottom drawer of my desk. I wrote to escape, and as I got older, I wrote to chronicle my life. It wasn’t until I was much older, and realized that my writing was worth sharing with others, that I began to call myself a writer, out loud, to others. I have published 3 books and continue to write for no reason other than it makes me feel profoundly alive.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Heavens no. I don’t do anything full time. I love to work (or rather, play) in my garden. I love to sing and am actively involved in 2 performing groups. I write when the spirit moves me, and participate in writing groups to ensure that the spirit gets fed. I am committed to and nurture many interesting, loving relationships, and couldn’t possibly choose between any of those powerful connections.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Ideas generally come to me when I’m half asleep, or walking in the woods, or in a place where I’m nowhere near and pen and paper – and I have to hold on to them and keep them safe in my head until I find a way to transport them on to the page. It is both frustrating and entertaining. But I’ve managed to complete 2 books of essays and poetry and a novel using this method, a method I do not recommend.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no idea. I never had an idea. I followed whatever interesting, or necessary path presented myself, and carved out a life where my creative world managed to stay afloat and be productive, while I earned a living doing mundane tasks. Somehow it all worked for me, maybe because I never loved to do any one thing to the exclusion of others, which left me time to pursue a number of interests, talents and responsibilities at the same time.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I started writing my novel the year after my mother died. The novel has nothing to do with her, but I think some kind of creative energy was released (she always told me I was a writer and I never believed her), which translated into writing a book about an older woman whose life was about to take a radical turn. My message to any writer is that it is never too late to begin – that you are never too old to be young, and to change the course of your life.

Thanks for being here today, Adina!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Interview with mystery author Rita D’Orazio

Mystery author Rita D’Orazio is helping me kick off a new week. We’re chatting about her new mystery romance with paranormal elements, Legend of the Coco Palms Resort.

Being raised by two immigrant parents has allowed me to open my eyes to many different cultures. When I travel, which my husband and I love to do, I always tend to immerse myself with the local people‑it’s the beauty of travel. I’m the youngest of three siblings and the only one born in Canada. I have a great passion for cooking, which I love to share with family and friends. As far as sports, I’d have to say that summer recreational actives outweigh the winter for me.

Welcome, Rita. Please tell us about your current release.
My current book is a fictional story about the one time lavish and popular Coco Palms Resort in Kauai, Hawaii. The story revolves around the fact that the resort was struck down by Hurricane Iniki back in 1992 and was never rebuilt. It has sat dormant for what will soon be 25 years. Also, knowing that the land was once home to Kauaiian royalty, the body of the last reigning queen has never been found. I felt that I wanted to bring the resort and the queen to life for the older generation, that remember it, and also to bring awareness to the younger generation who haven’t heard about it. The book depicts a heart-warming story of the Kauaiian people and what the coconut grove, where the Coco Palms lays dormant means to them. It’s a story about love, romance, mystery, and a sense of loyalty.

What inspired you to write this book?
Let’s just say a gentleman I met two years ago, who doesn’t quite know I exist. A chance encounter with him had gnawed away at me until I started to tap my keyboard.

Excerpt from Legend of the Coco Palms Resort:
Mike was starting to get choked up. It took him a few seconds to gather his thoughts and composure. “First of all, I want to say that I don’t expect forgiveness for the things
I’ve done. What I do want is for you to have an open mind. We are all `ohana here as the queen stated. And as a family, we need one another more than ever before.”
“Mike, I can only speak for myself. No matter what you tell me, I promise I’ll be objective,” said Kanoa.
“I appreciate it, son, but maybe you should hear me out first.”
Mike started to pace back and forth. “I’m going to go back a few years here. You see, in the late ’60s, I would frequent this very property we are standing on. One could say that I was a regular. I got to know the owners and the management team, which was made up of Genie and Gerry. I was particularly fond of Genie. We became instant friends.
            “Anyhow, when Genie and Gerry decided to retire, Genie asked to meet with me privately. I thought she was going to tell me she was ill. Rather, she had something to
give me. I went up to a private room, which no one ever used and Genie produced an ornate box. The box was for me. When I asked Genie what was in it, she said she didn’t know. She was just the messenger. I questioned her over and over about where she got it, but Genie was embarrassed to tell me the truth. She feared that I’d think she was lōlō. Well, she’d have been right. I thought she had early signs of senility by the way she was behaving. She told me that once I opened the box, I’d have all my questions answered. She begged me to never tell her about the contents. Genie was told that her life would be in danger if she found out about the contents. Upon opening the box, I knew it was from Queen Deborah.”
“Queen Deborah died in 1853. This is preposterous. Come on Mike,” said Kanoa. “Are we back to this again?”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I may continue doing a series revolving around Legend of the Coco Palms or another family saga like my other novel Driving in Circles—both are at the swirling in my mind stage.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’d have to say the moment that my fingers first started to tap out paragraph after paragraph, which was about four years ago. My life had come to yet another new phase. My girls were up and gone, both my parents had passed away—leaving quite a big space in my heart. After decades of getting up and rushing to the rat race, which was the corporate world, it no longer made me happy. I knew then that it was time to leave it behind and pursue what filled my heart up with joy everyday my eyes opened. Of course, I owe a big part of that transformation to my husband. I think he recognized it in me before I admitted it to myself.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’m a very early riser. I get up at 5:15 every day, feed my cats and make myself a cup of coffee. I love the first hour of my day where I am alone with my thoughts. Then it’s seeing my husband off to work and I sit in my home office and write. I’m definitely a morning person. After hours of writing I try and fit a workout in. It always helps rejuvenate the brain. Saying that, my mornings are pretty much routine up until noon, and some days I will continue into the supper hours, but nothing is routine for me in the afternoon. I try not to beat myself up about how many hours I put in. I go by how productive I am feeling and if some days I’m not there I don’t waste it by staring blankly at my screen. I’d rather be out doing something and feeling refreshed.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Never fully satisfied until I can feel the emotion behind every one of my characters.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be so many different things that I don’t even know where to start. My very first career was to be a nun. Definitely not because of any religious connotations, I liked their outfits. What can I say I was a child of the 60s. I was always told I had a bit of a wild imagination.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
For those of you who want to take a virtual tour of Kauai, please do read Legend of the Coco Palms Resort. I promise it will transport you to paradise and you will not be disappointed.


Thanks for being here today, Rita!