Freebie Friday! Literary Salve for today’s War on Women

It’s bleak out there today. As a woman, a feminist and as the mother of two lovely young women and one budding adolescent girl, I’m more than a little concerned and enraged about our backsliding to the dark ages with regard to women’s sexuality. Anyone remotely concerned about our kids getting accurate, evidence-based sex education, about women’s access to health and reproductive care via agencies such as Planned Parenthood, and women’s rights to make private, personal decisions about their bodies should be alarmed and aghast by recent campaign vitriol and inane laws passed by states like Arizona.  It’s enough to make you want to dive into a good book, or better yet, a quick and sassy, provocative novella.

It’s your lucky day, thanks to Beaufort author Lisa Annelouise Rentz.  On Friday, April 20, Rentz’s imaginative and compelling book, Dr. Aa’s Pennyroyal Tabules, is available as a free Kindle download at Amazon.

Rentz’s slimy Dr. Aa is a Limbaugh-lowlife villain and his blackmail scheme hawking alleged-contraceptive “Pennyroyal Tabules” embroils three college-aged girls and their beaus in a hot and steamy South Carolina summer-to-remember. Expertly and cleverly crafted as a prologue and a five-part epilogue, Rentz’s agile narrative is told from multiple points of view over multiple decades (the 1920s seem frighteningly like today) in a multimedia flare, incorporating newspaper clippings, letters, and vintage photographs to add texture to her historical fiction.  But it’s the timeless themes of love, longing, fear and consequence that drive the novella.  Highly recommended as a balm for today’s embattered women — and anyone who appreciates a good read.

More about Lisa Rentz ~

In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction (published by the Oxford American, Liars’ League London, Versal, Salon.com, Alternet.org, Charleston Magazine and Skirt!, among others)  Lisa promotes all things creative as the PR coordinator for ARTworks, the arts council for Beaufort county, and teaches creative writing in elementary schools.  Her arts education app, “Pencils, Words & Kids” was published by Sutro Media of San Francisco. You can read more about Lisa and Dr. Aa at Lisa’s website, eatgoodbread.com.

She was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

You talked about writing as part of your advocacy for causes you care about. Tell us a little more about how that shapes your work and creative drive.
Writing takes energy. That means I have to be more than interested in or capable of my work, I need to be pissed off and vengeful about it too. I need to work on something for fuel to spark the ideas and then sustain the entire writing process, which can be grueling (and carpal tunnel-inducing.) This anti-contraception issue in the news (and on the agenda for the past hundred years) is a control issue, and writing about Dr. Aa is one way I exert my control and fight back. In 2008, I organized a “Literary-Visual Art Show with Issues” soon before election day. That made the election season more bearable to me. Writing is my bid for change. I’m occupying my desk.
What feminist authors are your role models, and/or what novels or characters speak to you because of what they say about women’s issues?
I think reading is the best thing that anyone of any gender can do, it’s like yoga for your mind. Reading and writing are intrinsically feminist, equality-pursuing acts— using your brain, forming opinions, sharing opinions, making choices for yourself. Making good choices requires this practice. In places like Afghanistan, and who knows where else, schools are burned because some people think that women shouldn’t read and write. Women in the United States have the specific responsibility to persistently choose to read and write. I don’t care about what. And not just to compensate for horrors like those Afghan schools, but because we can, because the best way to defend our rights and privileges is to use them. And because control freak fundamentalism spreads faster than print technology. I do recommend The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. One of the epilogues in Dr. Aa’s is my homage to her. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and it’s frustratingly relevant today. I also envy Kristin Schaal her position of being able to share her comedy routines (the formulation of which I bet includes writing) on The Daily Show.

How did you become a writer? What is your creative process/writing discipline like? 

When I was younger, English class was my best subject, a way to graduate from high school and college (in addition to German.) Since then writing has become of form of self-defense. I have a bad case of l’esprit d’escalier — in conversations, I always think of what I should have said later, when it’s too late. In writing I get to dwell and formulate and edit, and get closer to being clear. I could edit for years— that’s one aspect of the ebook format that I like, I can update it! I heard an interview once with Alice Walker, and she said that she’s marked up library books with her post-publication edits.
I am very deadline oriented. I read and write for my job at ARTworks, in media and public relations, so I literally have a deadline every other day. I schedule my creative writing just like everything else on my To Do list. I also schedule in do-nothing time because I require lounging. I am very fortunate to workshop with Amber Dorko Stopper, a well published short story writer and fiber artist in Philadelphia. She’s fantastic– in her stories she seems to know everything and in her feedback to me she’s always right. And I have a muse, my husband Irby. He’s so smart and is a great storyteller. He’s my go-to source.
What does teaching teach you about writing? 
I don’t have children myself, so the main benefit I get is simply working with them, being around their pureness instead of the toxins of many adults. Kids are really great people who deserve a lot more of our wealth and civic resources in this country– we have way too much childhood mortality, hunger, poverty and illiteracy here, in addition to a knack for crushing creativity. Teachers– not me, but real teachers– need to be better compensated and honored, because that is an important, tough job. I am glad to contribute. I love seeing the natural manifestation of the writing skill in kids. Even the 4th grade boys who still can’t do handwriting can tell stories. The skill is really in there, inside most of us, and I really like the fact that it’s genetic as walking.
 Dr. Aa is based on a real person, and real events. What do you like best about historical fiction?

Costume drama! Mainly for the time-trippy aesthetic differences. Like in The Return of the Native, I really enjoyed reading the walking scenes, everyone was always trudging across those heaths. I chose the 1920s for Dr. Aa’s because they had electric lights and still plenty of that old fashioned, train-travel slowness. Retrospect is a great way to slow down.

Order Dr. Aa, FREE today!

Katie and Claire

 

Here’s a Tax Day tip:  Get your refund’s  worth this Friday at Blue Bicycle Book’s Author Series Lunch (Wine AND yummy Italian fare) featuring Charleston darling, Katie Crouch. I’ve never met Katie, but my good friend Shirley Hendrix thinks she’s tops, and Shirley is almost always right–especially when she’s dishing out book suggestions, worldly wisdom and general get-your-ass-in-gear advice.

If you don’t take my word that Shirley’s word is on target, here’s more bio info (besides the important pedigree that she grew up in Charleston).

Katie Crouch is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Girls in Trucks,Men and Dogsand the Magnolia League series.Her writing has also appeared in The New York Observer, Tin House, Glamour,Slate, the London Guardian, and McSweeney’s. She received her M.F.A. at Columbia University, and was awarded a Sewanee Walter Dakin Fellowship and a MacDowell Fellowship, and her work has been translated into German, Spanish, and Turkish.

I’ll be there (so will Shirley!) and we’re saving you a seat, so  make your reservations now, via the Blue Bicycle Book site.  (She’s also reading/speaking at Wando and Porter Gaud, so tell your teens to tune in!)

~~

And now for something quick and cheery, fitting for Tax Day (and Poetry Month) — a poem by my 11 year old, Claire:

Dinner

Oh sweet flounder
I will catch you for sure

And then I will eat you my friend

Sorry

 

Not your Librarian Action Figure

You know Jennifer Berry Hawes.

She was one of the Post & Courier’s best feature writers, then an award-winning columnist, and always the prettiest smile of all those smiling stamp-sized head shots of P&C contributors. That was back when newspapers actually paid a newsroom full of journalists to do actual reporting and writing, but that’s another blog post….

Today Jennifer puts her love of writing to good use by nurturing readers. As a Library Assistant and the Young Adult (YA, in genre parlance) specialist  at the Calhoun Street CCPL main branch, Jen is shaping the Gen Next of readers, and I’m delighted to introduce her as Literary Charleston’s inaugural Meet your Librarian subject — an occasional series in which we’ll Q&A with some modern day Superheros (not Action Figures), those good folks at your local library who are always ready to answer questions and help you find whatever it is your heart desires.

So, in honor of National Library Week, here’s Jennifer, a Mount Pleasant mother of two and writer, with a completed YA manuscript of her own.  And if you’d rather meet her for real (highly recommended), stop by the YA desk on Calhoun Street for some great book recommendations, and check out her own YA CCPL blog here.)

Q: What was the book culture in your home growing up, and do you have a formative early library memory?

My family is very oriented around reading and learning. My mother is a retired librarian, my father a college biology chairman and law school professor, and my stepfather a retired superintendent. My dad went to law school while I was in high school, and I have great memories of sitting around while he studied and I studied, just hanging out together feeling like it was cool to learn. I also spent a lot of time in our town’s library, especially in the newspaper section reading papers from all over the world. It planted my love of newspapers and reading.

Q: How and when did you discover your interest in YA as a specific genre, and what is it about YA literature that intrigues you?

Okay, but don’t laugh. When my daughter was in fifth grade, she wanted to read Twilight. I was unsure about content, so I read it first. I got hooked! Halfway through, I accidentally left it in my daughter’s dance studio. It was a holiday weekend, and I could see my poor book locked in the lobby! I had to call the nearest teenager I knew to borrow her copy. How embarrassing. I guess the series reminded me of when I met my now-husband in high school. It was so fun to relive those amazingly, awkwardly intense feelings that come with being a teenager in love. That’s still what intrigues me about YA…the intensity of everything.

Q: What are your impressions about young readers today? Vampire cult or regular kids?

No more vampires, please! Thanks to The Hunger Games trilogy, many teens are hot on dystopias. However, I find that young adults in the library are like adults in the library — incredibly diverse. Some devour supernatural romances while others beeline to urban novels. Others seek out the slew of new books that tackle topics like homosexuality, drug addiction, peer pressure, and violence as pathways to understand what they or friends are dealing with.

Q: What’s your prediction about the next generation of readers, given the digital revolution, video games, and of course, vampires?

It’s all good. YA literature is a bright spot in the struggling publishing industry, which in turn means more and better YA books. We also are seeing more teens reading eBooks, which is a great tool for melding books with young people’s fascination with technology. There are great options both in how they read (on e-readers and tablets) and what they read (books on drug abuse, peer pressure, and other relevant topics). Never has YA literature been so accessible in form and content to younger readers. Our job is to show them this.

Q: As a writer, what does it mean to your creative life to spend so much time in the library?

I’m surrounded by everything from The Hunger Games to War and Peace to Zane’s The Hot Box. While I think the advice to write what you know is helpful, nothing feeds the muse like reading outside your comfort zone. It forces you to rethink the words you choose and the context you know.

Tell us a little known secret about the CCPL, or something you were surprised to learn on the job?

That the young adult staff is incredibly cool, savvy, and devoted (except for me, I’m not cool at all, at least according to my tween daughter!). We link with readers through our Reading Underground blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter, Pinterest, and all sorts of other means. We actually had to lock the Main library doors at our last big event because so many teens showed up.

If you could do one thing to improve literacy in South Carolina, what would it be?

Encourage parents to read to their children from day one. No, before day one. At one of my outreaches, I encourage pregnant teens to read to their babies even in utero and to continue throughout their children’s development. There’s something so special about that quiet time of reading together, especially at night after a long and tiring day. That investment pays off in bonding, vocabulary development, and a love of reading — all of which benefit children forever.

What are you reading now?  And what is your daughter reading now?

I’m reading Shine by Lauren Myracle. My daughter is reading Night by Elie Wiesel (for school) and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (at my insistence).

And of course, the desert island question — if you could take just 3 books with you to some desolate place with no wireless or satellite or vampires, what would they be?

Just three!?!? Considering my husband just held an intervention so I would reduce my bedside book pile, this is tough. But here goes: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Oh, and I’d really need Walden, too. Please!

Thank you Jennifer Hawes, Librarian extraordinaire!

And one further note from Jennifer:  On April 22, the Main library hosts Jenny Hubbard, the author of  Paper Covers Rock, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which is a big award in young adult lit circles. Pat Conroy endorsed her novel, which is ala A Separate Peace but the narrator writes poetry to deal with the death of his friend and his role in the tragedy. Here’s a Q&A Jennifer did with Jenny:

http://ccplteenunderground.blogspot.com/2012/04/author-interview-jenny-hubbard.html

 

National Lots-a Lit-stuff week/month

Now that Peeps have had their moment of fluffy artificial glory, and jelly beans are half-price at CVS, it’s time to bite into something beyond a sugar high, so why not a real Whitman’s sampler?

We’re well into National Poetry Month ~

And just kicking off National Library Week ~

And sliding closer and closer to National Silence Day and National Dialogue Day, which overlap and  interrupt each other on Tax Day — go figure….

So in honor of poems and libraries and our good words and  taxes that hopefully will keep both poems and libraries alive and kickin, here are a few links for your enjoyment:

  • Poetry lovers, check out the wonderful graceful choreography of Poem Flow. It’s the Cadbury Creme Egg of apps — delivering crisp verses and lovely lines in decadently smooth oozy deliciousness.

Enjoy!