Saturday, April 30, 2011

Interview with Arthur Wooten, author of Birthday Pie, On Picking Fruit, and Fruit Cocktail

I recently reconnected on Facebook with my high school friend, Arthur Wooten, only to discover that he is a published author and playwright, whose works have been optioned for TV and movies. Arthur's new book, Birthday Pie, has just come out and is selling like hot cakes. Make sure you read what he has to say about traditional and self-publishing - he's one of the few writers who has experience with both!

Arthur Wooten, Author, Playwright and Humorist

MG: Arthur, in high school I knew you as Bobby. Can I still call you Bobby?

AW: Of course. My family still does. When I first moved to NYC I was an actor and joined the union, Actors Equity Association, in 1977. I chose to use my legal name, Arthur, and from then on, everyone knew me by that name. It’s funny now, when I’m with an old friend or a relative, and I see them pausing, trying to remember if the people with us know me as Bob or Arthur. It’s a bit schizophrenic.

MG: Have you noticed that "Arthur" sounds a lot like "Author"? Do you think that's a sign?
AW: That’s funny. And yes, it’s very close. One sad sign was that the “traditional” publishers, Alyson Books, of the hardcover edition of my first novel, On Picking Fruit, found the two words a bit too similar. It’s a collector’s item now and I laugh about it but when I initially received my copy, my heart sank. On the cover of the book, they spelled my name…Authur Wooten. So much for proofreading.

MG: Tell us about Birthday Pie
AW: Birthday Pie is about a family called the Martindales.

When Lex, the middle son, a writer from New York City, goes home to celebrate his birthday and say goodbye to his dying father, he struggles with whether or not to share with his eccentric Southern clan, news of his own life-threatening situation.

As we travel through seventy years of their lives, we are reminded that every family is unique and yet still recognizable to all of us.

What appears is a patchwork of their rich and colorful history for this reunion is a volatile turning point in all of the Martindales’ lives. Forbidden loves, shattered hopes and tenacious dreams are revealed but as anger, resentments and jealousies erupt to the surface, it’s their laughter and irreverent sense of humor that prevails allowing for a quiet healing in this bittersweet, moving portrait, of the all-American family.

MG: This is your 3rd book, how was the experience of writing this book different from the first two?
AW: The experience was quite similar. All three were written very quickly. But that’s just me. I might think about a project for months, organizing it in my head. Then I put it into outline form but that’s flexible. I think it’s important to be open as to how a story unfolds. Let it breathe and have its own life.

Birthday Pie is different in that its first incarnation was as a play. It won the Key West Theatre Festival competition and had its world premiere at the Waterfront Playhouse. So, the blueprint was already in place for the novel. And I know these characters so well that I can set them loose in any situation and they write the material for me. It’s like I’m a camera up in the corner of the room typing as fast as I can. And it was thrilling to discover the back history of these delicious characters.

MG: I loved On Picking Fruit and one of the things I realized while reading it is how universal the human experience is when it comes to finding love - whether you are straight or gay. Do you worry about appealing to a broader audience, or do you just write what you write?
AW: Thank you for your kind words. In fact, I write for the broader audience. Or should I say, I was hoping a broader audience would like the “Fruit” series. And they do! And yes…whether the coupling is male/female, male/male or female/female, the dating experience is universal. Dates from hell are still dates from hell. I just hope I presented them with a lot of heart and humor.

MG: You've had some of your books optioned for TV and movies - anything happening with that?
AW: Where do I begin? Charlie Sheen and Warner Brothers had me out to Hollyweird discussing the TV version of On Picking Fruit. Actually, the project was headed by Charlie’s brother, Ramon Estevez. But ultimately, and I think the Gods were on my side considering how Charlie has “melted down”, it’s a good thing that Warner Bros. found the material to be a bit too “edgy”.

Enter Showtime. Randy Runkle, head of new programming, then had me out there again to discuss On Picking Fruit but ultimately decided it wasn’t “edgy” enough!

What’s a boy to do? There is a newly formed production company that is now courting me, but this maid is getting old. Lucky for me, the material is not dated. I have everything crossed…my fingers, legs and eyes.

Birthday Pie was optioned for the past year as a feature film. Now the interesting angle to this is that it was slated to be done as an African-American family. I had already written a screenplay version that never indicated whether this was a black or white family. Just all-American. And the producers, director and star had me change very little. A nod to the material being quite universal. I’m proud to say that Phylicia Rashad was signed to star as the mother, Trudy Lee, and her sister, Debbie Allen, was on board to direct.

But the production company went bankrupt and the project is free again. However, Phylicia and Debbie are dear friends. Whether it’s with Birthday Pie or any of my other writing projects, I do hope I have a chance to work with both of these beautiful and talented ladies.

MG: You are fairly unique in that you have experience with both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Can you talk about some of the pluses and minuses you experienced with each? And which do you like overall?
AW: First of all, the face of publishing is changing drastically day-by-day. And that’s a good thing for authors.

I self-published On Picking Fruit because I just knew the story would have appeal but I couldn’t find a publisher. And when I did publish it…bam…it took off. A couple of months later, Alyson Books, a traditional press, contacted me and offered me a book deal that would republish On Picking Fruit as is and then follow it up with a sequel, Fruit Cocktail.

Self-publishing I love. You’re in complete control. You’re in control of the material and the design of the book. People say, “Doing it yourself is not for those who don’t want to deal with marketing.” But when I was with Alyson, I had to do all of the marketing. Granted they are a small boutique press but with most traditional publishers today, the author has to foot the bill for publicity, if you’re not a celebrity. And if you pay for it, services start at about $6,000.00. That’s a lot of books you have to sell to break even.

I did it all myself. I like the challenge and embraced self-marketing. I treat it like a game. Like, today I am going to reach out to 10 more editors of magazines and see if they’d like to read a copy of my work and possibly offer a review. You have to be disciplined. Or obsessive. Lucky for me, I’m both.

I also make more money self-publishing. With Alyson, I averaged about 70 cents a book. God that sounds so sad. And it was! Self-publishing I receive approximately $5 per hardcover, $5 per ebook and $3 per paperback. Do the math!

MG: I think you had said that you had shied away from Twitter but now you tweet all the time. How important do you think social media is to promoting your book?
AW: It’s not so much that I shied away from Twitter, I just didn’t know much about it. Or how to do it.

When Fruit Cocktail came out in 2007, Myspace was the social network. And I met great professional and personal connections, all over the world. Now, with the release of Birthday Pie, we have Facebook and Twitter (and probably others that I don’t even know about).

Twitter is tricky. There’s an etiquette I feel one must follow. You have to tweet but not too much. And although I think it’s totally cool to self-promote, it can’t come off as hard-sell. Balance your tweets with other interesting things and promote other people. In the long run, you will benefit from it too.

And for writers, you must embrace the “book bloggers”. They are your lifeline for your books. Each and every one of them, whether they have 30 followers or 30,000, I love them all. And they all tweet.

A side effect of tweeting? Since joining Twitter, On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail have found a new life. Especially in the UK. People checking out info about Birthday Pie, discover the other books and they’re all selling like hotcakes!

And I’m so happy that On Picking Fruit sold out it’s printing with Alyson Books. Its rights reverted back to me and the Author’s Guild has republished it, free of charge! And Fruit Cocktail has just sold out its printing and will go the same route. The exciting thing is, in a few weeks my self-published ebook versions of both novels will be released and I’m pricing them at the very attractive price-point of $2.99. And the more exciting thing is that I get 70% royalty.

MG: That sounds awfully good! Okay, now tell people how they can buy your book.
AW: You can purchase all of my books everywhere online – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ebay, etc – and in your favorite bookstores. There’s plenty of more info on my website.

MG: Thanks Bobby, you are totally my idol, a great writer who also knows how to market. I know this book will be a huge success and I can’t wait to be a witness to that.
AW: Thanks Melissa – and so great to reconnect with you after all these years!
~ Bobby, uh, um, Arthur

Z is for Zee End of Zee A to Z Challenge!

On the island of St. Maarten, in Marigot on the the French side, there was a hole-in-the-wall breakfast place, where the owner would call out to you as you passed, "We have ZEE BEST BREAKFAST here!" He was a French Canadian, transplanted to the island, and his exuberance always made us laugh. It also got us to eat there.

For me, the A to Z Challenge has been at times an anchor and at other times a chore. But on the whole, it gave me something to connect into each and every day during a very difficult month (Mom passed away on 3/31, I was on that jury thing, and I've had a cold for two weeks). Best of all, it brought me more than 20 new friends who now follow me and whom I follow. I am grateful to those of you who stopped by regularly and left comments - that was definitely the best part - getting to know you and to see the creative things you came up with on your own blogs.

I have a commitment to supporting other writers, so if any of you have something you would like to promote, please let me know. I am happy to do a blog interview with you, as I did for Arthur Wooten (W is for Wooten), to review your work, spread the news of your successes or give you a chance to be a guest blogger. You know where to find me.

So, with the exuberance of the man from Marigot, I say unto you, it is Zee End of Zee Challenge! I wish you all Zee Very Best and look forward to following you into Zee Future!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for the Wisdom of YOGI

So I bet you thought that my post today would be all about Yoga. Ha! Fooled ya! Sure, in yoga, there is much great wisdom and philosophy handed down from the ancient Yogis.  But when it comes right down it, you can't beat the wisdom of one of our greatest modern-day philosophers: Yogi Berra.

The brilliance of Yogi Berra lies in the fact that, while the things he says come out just a bit wrong, they are also somehow just right. I don't know about you, but to me, that seems a lot like real life!

Here are some words to ponder from The Great One:

"You can observe a lot by watching.
If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.
If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
It ain't over till it's over.
It's like déjà vu all over again.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
I never said most of the things I said."

Namaste, everybody! Just one more A to Z post to go!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xenodocheionology

So probably like a lot of A to Z bloggers, I googled "words that begin with X" in order to do today's post. I scanned through the list and saw a number of words that had an association with yellow:

xanthopsia: a visual condition where things appear yellow
xanthous:   yellow or red-haired
xanthoderm:  yellow-skinned person
xanthodont: one with yellow teeth

Hmmm.. what's up with that? I guess "xantho" must mean yellow! I'm starting to understand where Chrys-xantho-mum got its name ... So already I've learned something new!

Anyway, further down I spotted XENODOCHEINOLOGY, which, as everyone knows, means "a love of hotels." Now that's more like it!

I LOVE hotels - nice ones anyway. One of my favorite things is to get a really good deal on a nice hotel room. Most recently, I got us a fabulous room on the 19th floor of Loew's in Quebec City - smooshy king bed with a zillion pillows, huge flat screen TV, living area with a comfy couch, and a spectacular (did I mention 19th floor?) view of Jean D'Arc Park and the Plains of Abraham. I booked the room well in advance and got an internet special price of $150 a night.

When we checked in, the desk clerk smiled and said, "Do you know how much this room usually goes for?"
I said, "No! Tell me!"
He said, "$650 a night!"
I said, "Then I got a darn good deal, didn't I!"

Call me crazy, but call me a Xenodocheionologist!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Verdict

This is the final chapter of a three-part post series about a trial on which I was an alternate juror this month. If you are joining in for the first time, please read the previous two posts, "T is for Trial by Jury," and "U is for Uncertain."

On Monday, April 18th, the jury returned for closing arguments and deliberations. Judge Vigil read the charges: four counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of causing great bodily harm. He explained again that the burden of proof fell on the prosecution and that it was the jury's job to decide if Scott Owens was "a significant cause" of the accident. If the jury had reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, it must find him, "Not Guilty."

Chief Assistant District Attorney Doug Couleur went first for the prosecution: There was no doubt that Scott Owens was driving drunk in the wrong lane and caused the crash. The defense theory just didn't hold up - there was no physical evidence that the teenagers caused the crash - that was just a theory unsupported by facts. Differences in testimony by the teenage witnesses was to be expected, given the chaos at the scene that night and their states of emotion and shock. The crash re-enactment done by the prosecution expert was the only one that fit with the crash damage and the road evidence.

For the defense, it was equally simple: Scott Owens was drunk, yes, but he didn't cause the crash. The teens were driving too fast and a minor collision between their vehicles sent the red Subaru spinning into Scott's path. It explains the mysterious damage to the right rear tail light of the red Subaru and it's supported by the 911 call, in which the teens seemed to be blaming the driver of the second car for causing the crash. And, even if the two crash-reconstruction experts cancelled each other out, you couldn't ignore the testimony of the final defense witness, a man who, as Attorney Cron put it, "doesn't have a dog in this fight." Mr. Armjillo, a humble and soft-spoken mechanic and alignment expert hired by the prosecution, determined that the wheels of Scott's Jeep had to have been going straight at the time of the crash.

Mr. Cron told the jury that to say that Scott Owens was a significant cause of the accident, you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving in the wrong lane. "If you even hesitate," said Mr. Cron, "then you must find him not guilty."

For a week now, jurors had listened intently to witnesses and considered the evidence. Every day, the courtroom had been full on both sides of the aisle - families and friends of the deceased teens, family and friends of the defendant. Now it was in the hands of the jury. There would be heartbreak no matter what the verdict.

The judge instructed the jury to go to the deliberation room. But first, he dismissed the alternates - four people who had participated fully as jurors throughout, and who did not know they were alternates until this moment. I was one of them. My initial reaction was relief that this burden had been removed from my shoulders. But there was some let-down, having been intimately part of something for over a week and then suddenly being shut out.  The best analogy I can think of is if you are thinking about breaking up with someone, but then they beat you to it.

But the feelings of relief grew with every hour that the jury deliberated. They began at about 2 p.m. on Monday, and had not reached a verdict by 5:30 that day. They began again on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. I was able to get updates on Twitter, as reporters covering the trial tweeted any time something happened. The day dragged on. By noon, Tuesday, there was still no verdict. Mid-afternoon, the reporter tweeted that the jury had notified the judge that they would deliberate until 5:30, and return again the next day.

Then, around 4pm, something new happened. The reporter tweeted that the jury had asked to view the vehicle evidence that was in the courtroom. This would be the right rear bumper of the red Subaru, with its unexplained damage, and the white Subaru side panel from the car the defense said had hit the red Subaru and caused the crash. I said to my husband, "That's interesting. It tells me that they are still considering the defense's theory."

Within an hour, the reporter tweeted that the jury had reached a verdict. The jury told the judge that they did not want to talk with anyone after reading the verdict, and wished to be allowed to leave the courthouse unhampered. The families were notified and given time to get back to the courtroom. After listening to a trial that lasted seven days, and having deliberated for almost 12 hours, the jury announced their verdict: Not Guilty on all counts.

The defendant and his lawyer cried. His parents cried. The families of the deceased teenagers were in shock. Headlines described the verdict as an "upset" and many in the community were stunned and even outraged by it. But opinions were strong on both sides - many felt that the teens had a role in causing the accident.

Scott Owens left court that day a free man, having spent two years in jail awaiting trial.

Many lives were changed as a result of what happened on the Old Las Vegas Highway in the early morning hours of June 28, 2009. Four children died, one was gravely injured and many more were traumatized. A young man who chose to drive while intoxicated may or may not have been the cause of their deaths. Even he doesn't know, and he will live with it all his life.

In all the details and drama of a trial, it's almost easy to forget about the young people who died. So that we don't forget, I want to tell you their names:

Alyssa Trouw
Julian Martinez
Kate Klein
Rose Simmons

June 28, 2009, 2:09 am.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Uncertain

This is Part II in a three-part post series about a trial on which I was an alternate juror this past month. If you are just arriving to my blog, please read the previous post, "T is for Trial by Jury," for background on the case. Tomorrow I will wrap things up with, "V is for Verdict."

The trial was riveting from the get-go. In opening arguments, the prosecution laid out its caseThe driver of the silver Jeep, Scott Owens, was drunk; his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit. Scott told police that he "must have blacked out." Avery Koffman, the 15-year-old driver of the red Subaru that Scott hit, had not been drinking. A witness would testify that he saw the Jeep's headlights coming at them in their lane of travel and that he then saw the Jeep swerve back into its own lane and slam into the red Subaru. An crash re-enactment expert would recreate the crash based on road evidence (skid marks), damage to the vehicles and where the vehicles came to rest, showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott had to have been driving in the wrong lane prior to the crash. Other experts would refute the defense's theory of how the crash occurred.

It sounded like a slam-dunk for the prosecution. But defense attorney Dan Cron shattered that illusion in a matter of minutes. He maintained that, though inebriated, Scott was driving the Jeep straight, in his correct lane of travel. The accident was actually caused, he said, by the first two cars in the party train colliding, sending the red Subaru veering into Scott's path. Supporting this contention would be not only a crash reconstruction expert for the defense, but also the tapes of the 911 call, in which it sounds like the teens at the scene were blaming each other for the crash immediately after it happened.

Well, it's one thing to make assertions in opening arguments and quite another to back them up with hard evidence. For five long, full days, the jury saw and heard this evidence:
  • The 911 call made by one of the teenagers in the minutes following the crash 
  • Police video of the scene within a half hour of the crash
  • Testimony from eight of the teens who had been in the party train vehicles
  • Testimony from police who responded to the scene and took statements
  • Photographs of road evidence such as skid marks and fluid spills
  • The actual wrecked vehicles - they were brought from impound to the courthouse for viewing
  • Testimony from an FBI expert on paints, polymers and epoxies
  • Parts of the vehicles (bumpers and side panels) that had been removed for additional analysis
  • Testimony from two crash reconstruction experts - one for each side - each presenting a different scenario as to how the crash occurred
  • Testimony from a mechanic who specializes in alignments
Ultimately, the case really came down to whether the jury would believe the crash scenario as laid out by the prosecution or the one presented by the defense. 

Both experts were professional and believable. They both used the damage to the vehicles and road evidence to do their analyses and explained their findings in layman's terms. What complicated the analysis and allowed there to be more than one interpretation was the fact that, while the red Subaru left long, curved skid marks on the road that made it easy to track its path, the Jeep left no braking or skid marks in either lane. Or, perhaps it did - the defense maintained that a very light tire mark in the defendant's lane, heading straight into the accident, was made by the Jeep.

But the defense's theory that the Jeep was in its own lane, going straight, seemed to be at odds with the fact that when the Jeep came to rest, its front tires were turned hard to the right. That's how the tires were at the scene, and that's how they were when the jury viewed the vehicles.

The very last witness was a mechanic who specialized in alignments. He was originally hired by the prosecution to check the steering on the Jeep. He became a defense witness though, because what he found was that the Jeep's Pitman arm was locked into the position it had been at the time of the crash, and with the Pitman arm in that position, the wheels would have to have been going straight. He found that, as a result of the crash, the vehicle's frame had broken, causing the wheels to turn to the right.

The defense rested.

In tomorrow's post, "V is for Verdict," I'll wrap up with a summary and let you know the jury's verdict.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Just before midnight on June 27, 2009, a young man climbed behind the wheel of his silver Jeep Cherokee and headed down the Old Las Vegas Highway toward Santa Fe, New Mexico. Back in Santa Fe, a group of teenagers that had been hanging out at Sonic decided to drive to a party in El Dorado, about 20 miles away. They formed a "party train" - a caravan of four cars holding a total of 18 kids, and turned onto the Old Las Vegas Highway.

All of the young drivers in the caravan were 15 or 16 years old and held provisional licenses, meaning that they were not allowed to drive after midnight and they could not drive with more than one other teenager in the car. The lead car in the party train was a red Subaru that held five teenagers.

At approximately 12:09 a.m. on June 28, 2009, on a straightaway on the Old Las Vegas Highway, the red Subaru suddenly swerved at a hard angle into the opposite lane. The silver Jeep smashed into the passenger side of the Subaru in an almost-T-bone fashion. The red Subaru spun out and came to rest against a guard rail. The second car in the party train swerved to avoid the collision and swiped the rear of the Jeep as it bounced back across the yellow line.

The crash was over in milliseconds - literally, in less than the blink of an eye.

The four teenage passengers in the red Subaru were killed instantly and the 15-year-old driver barely clung to life. The driver of the silver Jeep was bounced around, but sustained only minor injuries.

The driver of the silver Jeep was drunk. His blood alcohol level three hours after the crash was .16 - more than twice the legal limit. He told police officers at the scene that he must have "blacked out." The wheels of the Jeep were turned hard to the right, implying that he had been turning back into his own lane at the time of the crash.

The blood alcohol level of the teenage girl driving the red Subaru was 0.00. All the teenagers in the red Subaru were wearing their seat belts.

For 7 days this month, (from 4/12 to 4/18), I was a juror on the trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the driver of the silver Jeep, who was charged with four counts of vehicular homicide and one count of great bodily injury. It was alleged that he had been driving in the wrong lane at the time of the crash, had blacked out, that the red Subaru veered into the other lane to avoid a crash, that the driver of the silver Jeep tried to correct at the last moment and slammed into the Subaru.

The defense stipulated to the defendant's intoxication - that was never in question. The legal question put to the jury was this: "Was the defendant a significant cause of the crash?" If the answer was yes, the verdict would be "Guilty." If the answer was no, or if there were reasonable doubt that the answer was yes, the verdict would be "Not Guilty." To answer this question "yes," the jury had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving in the wrong lane just prior to the crash.

There were 16 of us on the jury, including four alternates who did not know they were alternates. Immediately following closing arguments, the judge released the alternates and the 12 jurors went to deliberate. I was one of the alternates, so I ultimately did not participate in determining the outcome of this case.

From what I've told you so far, it probably sounds pretty cut and dried. It wasn't. Sure, you could jump ahead and read the end of the story by googling some of the information I've given you here. The case wouldn't be hard to find. Or, you can come back on Monday and Tuesday, when my posts will be "U is for Uncertain," and "V is for Verdict."

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Stay the Course

When people tell you that writing isn't a "real" job: Stay the course

When people tell you you're too old (or too young!) to start your writing career: Stay the course

When you get another rejection on that story you believe to be wonderful: Stay the course

When people tell you how incredibly difficult it is to find an agent/get a publisher/sell your book: Stay the course

When you're not sure where the story will go next and you think that everything you wrote today might just be crap: EAT ICE CREAM! WATCH A FUNNY MOVIE! GO TO BED! Then, tomorrow when you wake up: Stay the course

Add yours in the comments below!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Restore

At this point in the A to Z Blog Challenge, some of you may feel tired, worn out, depleted - as though you are pushing yourself, through sheer willpower, to finish the last leg of a marathon. If so, today's post is for YOU! I'm going to tell you a little bit about Restorative Yoga, and even show you an easy and restful pose that you can do at home.

Restorative Yoga is my area of specialization as a yoga teacher, and it is very different from our active yoga practice. Yoga is like everything else in life - we need to balance the periods of powerful, active strength-and-flexibility-building practice with periods of passive practice in which we allow our bodies to rest, to relax, to restore. Sound good so far? Well, keep reading ....

What is Restorative Yoga?
In Restorative Yoga, we place the body in comfortable supported positions that are completely passive. The goal is to reach a deep state of relaxation and rest, enabling both body and mind to heal.

What are the Benefits of Restorative Yoga?
The deep level of relaxation achieved through the poses has been shown to lower blood pressure, to soothe and aid digestion, to reduce muscle tension, fatigue and insomnia and to relieve stress.

Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Lay a blanket on the floor, snuggle your hips close to the wall and swing your legs up. It can also feel nice to place a neatly folded blanket under the hips for elevation, but not if it makes your back feel "archy."

This pose can relieve fluid retention in the ankles and feet. It stimulates the immune system by reversing the flow of
lymphatic fluids. And, it helps lower blood pressure because blood is sent back toward the heart, so the heart doesn't have to work as hard. 

Most people find this pose soothing and relaxing. If you try it, stay in for just a few minutes the first time to see how it feels. You can work up to 8 or 10 minutes, but come out of the pose if your feet start to fall asleep - afterall, it's meant to be comfortable!

A few more things:
The keys to deep relaxation in a restorative pose are:
Comfortable support (use as many blankets and pillows as you need to be comfortable)
Warmth (you'll become surprisingly cool lying down, so cover up)
Darkness (if it's light, place a folded facecloth lightly over your forehead so it just shields your eyes)
QUIET (complete silence is preferred, but if that's not possible, listen to soft, soothing music)

It only takes a few minutes to transport yourself to a soothing and healing place. If your mind wanders, say the Metta Mediation to yourself (See M post). So go ahead, Restore yourself!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quiet

That's all I got today
Feel free to hang out under my chickee and
Enjoy the Quiet!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for POPPIES (and Poems about Poppies)

Poppies have held a special place in my heart since childhood. On Memorial Day, our town parade paused in front of East Junior High School, where someone would read the poem, In Flanders Field, by John McCrae, and a lone bugle played Taps. Even though I was just a child, the image of red poppies blowing in a field of white crosses, coupled with the plaintiff melody echoing through silence, moved me to tears. Ever since then, for me, poppies have symbolized defiant resilience in the face of loss. Here is the first verse of McCrae's poem, In Flanders Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

When I was small, we had bright orangey-red Oriental poppies growing in our garden. They multiplied gaily year after year until they overtook the side yard. Shortly after my father passed away in October, 2009, I wrote a poem about those poppies.  The poem won 10th place in the 2010 Writer's Digest Annual Poetry Competition.

When my mother passed away in March,  a dear neighbor of 50 years sent me a lovely note, in which she remembered fondly many things about our lives as neighbors on Central Street. At the end, she added this p.s.: 

"Gwen's red poppies bloomed again on Memorial Day 2010!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

O is for Ogden Nash and Opossum

O. Nash

Ogden Nash wrote wonderful, usually very short, humorous poems about some of the most seemingly inconsequential things in life: The Ant, The Centipede, Guppies. So, in honor of Ogden Nash, for my "O' post, I have written an Ogden-esque poem called, Ode to the Opossum.

O. Possum

by Melissa Ann Goodwin

Opossum are omnivorous
not vegan
or carnivorous
they play at night
don't like to fight
and if provoked
by other blokes
pretend to be Oblivious

Friday, April 15, 2011

N is for Namaste

At the end of yoga class, we usually place our hands together in prayer position in front of the heart, bow to one another and say Namaste. But what does Namaste mean anyway?

Well, surprise surprise, it means “I bow to you." When saying the word and bowing, what we are really doing is reducing our own ego in the presence of another person. Outside of a yoga class, how often do we do that??

Of course we won't walk around the office or on the street greeting each other this way (as they do in India) but perhaps once or twice a day, we can make this gesture in our minds when dealing with someone else. It's just one simple way of reminding us of the humanity of other people, especially the ones we find to be difficult!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Metta is a Sanskrit word that means Loving Kindness 

There is a lovely meditation called the Metta Meditation, and it goes like this:

May I be physically happy
May I be mentally happy
May I be safe
May my day go easy

Notice something important about the Metta Meditation - it speaks of sending these kind and loving thoughts to ourselves - not to someone else. This is intentional. So often we focus all our attention on taking care of and being kind to others. Metta says that we have the cart before the horse, that we must first treat ourselves with loving kindness before we can be kind to others.

We should always say the Metta Meditation to ourselves until we really feel it, and only then can we then send the same loving thoughts on to other people.

It's a simple meditation that you can say anywhere, anytime - around the house, in the car, at your desk in the middle of a busy day.

Don't worry about the exact words - you can use your own. It's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Today my post must be short, so I am just posting something that I hope is lovely and uplifting.

When I was little, my mother and I used to look for lady slippers in the woods. They were rare, so rare that you were never supposed to pick them. To me, finding a lady slipper was as magical as spying a fairy in the garden.

I hope that you happen upon something today, just one simple thing, that fills your heart with as much delight as finding a pink lady slipper hiding among feathery ferns by the edge of a sparkling brook.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The practice of yoga isn't just another form of exercise - another way of "working out."  Yoga encompasses much more than just the physical poses we do in class. It also encompasses a system of beliefs - not religious beliefs - but beliefs about how we present ourselves and operate in the world - how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.

Karuna is the Sanskrit word for Compassion. In yogic philosophy, it is one of the Four Brahma Viharas, also known as the Four Divine Emotions, which are essentially principles for engaging in the world in ways that will result in contentment and happiness. The other principles are:

Metta: Loving kindness toward ourselves and others
Mudita: Sympathetic Joy (being happy for others)
Upekkha: Equanimity (acceptance and contentment)

A person who practices compassion - Karuna - is one who has an open and emphathetic heart that cares for everyone.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

J is for Jellybeans

Something important has come up for me this week (hint: it's another "J" word) that will mean I have very little time to come up with cool posts, so my posts this week will be wicked short.

Easter is coming, and I just love Easter baskets, and of course jelly beans are a big part of those.

So, what's your favorite flavor jellybean? Mine is black licorice!

I also like Peeps - yellow, pink, any color! Disgusting and yummy, all in one!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I is for I LOVE INA!

I want Ina Garten to adopt me. You know - Ina from the Food Network. Ina the Barefoot Contessa. She of the shingled home on the beach in the Hamptons, with the herb garden and fabulous kitchen. She of the sweet face with smooth white skin dotted with freckles, like chocolate sprinkles on vanilla ice cream. She of the soft voice as rich and warm as molten chocolate lava cake. She of the sleek black hair as silky as icing on a cupcake. Yes, that Ina.

If Ina adopted me, she would give me a beautiful bedroom with windows looking out to the ocean. The bed would have sheets of three million count Egyptian cotton and a thousand squishy pillows. Ina would bring me breakfast in bed  - Brioche French Toast with maple-pecan syrup, applewood-smoked bacon and the finest hazelnut coffee, with real cream. We'd have a picnic lunch on the beach with some of those handsome friends she always has over - the ones who look like models for expensive men's clothing catalogs, the ones with chiseled cheek bones, square jaws and surprising dimples. We'd have smoked turkey with honey-sweetened goat cheese on focaccia bread and homemade sweet potato chips and giant chocolate chunk cookies. If Jeffrey is home, for dinner we'll have oven-fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and salad, and peach cobbler for dessert. Jeffrey is nice too.

Sigh. Yes, I love Ina, with all my heart. She is sweet and kind and funny and she likes to spoil people, so why not me?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for HONK if you love Yoga!

So you may have noticed that my handle is writeryogini. That's because I am both a writer and a certified yoga instructor. Writing and yoga are the two things that have been with me since I was a child, two things I have always loved and to which I have always returned.

I first did yoga around the age of 10. It was 1965, and a woman named Sue Luby was starting up classes in our town. My mother wasn't a hippy or anything, in fact, she was a pretty traditional kind of gal. But she probably wanted some exercise, and it was something we could do together. Mind you, she was a big-boned, non-athletic English lady, and I was this chubby, non-athletic kid. But off we went.

I have a very clear memory of us both being in Halasana (another H word) or Plow Pose, lying on our backs on the dusty floor of a musty smelling community room, hips hoisted off the ground, legs slung back over our torsos and toes touching the floor behind our heads. I remember glancing over at my Mom and thinking, "Hey, we can actually do this!" For a kid who couldn't do a single chin-up and for whom running felt the way it does when you dream you are running but you can't actually get anywhere, being able to do the physical yoga poses was liberating.

Although I didn't always practice yoga regularly after that, it remained with me as a) something physical that I was good at, b) a fond memory of something Mom and I did together and c) something that kept calling me back. Mom would get a kick out of the fact that something that had seemed like a lark way back when we were young turned out to be such an integral and important part of my life.

I'll probably write more about yoga (Y seems like a likely candidate), but this is enough for now. 'Cause once I get started, it's hard to shut me up - that's how great I think yoga is for mind, body and spirit.

Anyone else out there love yoga?

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Great Characters and Gertrude

What makes a great character? Often the most memorable ones aren't even the hero of the story - think Wicked Witch of the West or Severus Snape or Fagan from Oliver Twist. And the most memorable protagonists usually come close to crossing the line between hero and villian - think Scarlett O'Hara.

Character actor Willem Dafoe was once asked if he found it more interesting to play heroes or villians. He answered, "I don’t know what hero and villain is. I like to think I play heroic bad guys and villainous heroes ."

The main "villain" of my childhood, was, sadly, my maternal grandmother. Her name was Gertrude and she was a narcissist and an emotional terrorist.  She demanded center stage at all times. If she wasn't getting it, she would make sure she did by any means possible - starting a fight, slinging cruel insults,  demanding to be taken home. Her main target was my mother, who had been cowed by her bully-mother since childhood. I envied my friends when they talked about their beloved Nanas, who spoiled them and showered them with gifts and love. In our house, it better be the other way around, or there would be hell to pay.

That's my story. Now let's hear her tell it:

"I grew up outside of Chester, England, the oldest of 8 children. For as long as I can remember, I had to help Mother with my younger siblings. I was more like a junior mother than an older sister. My father was a milkman and a drunkard. When I was 15, I found him hanging from a rafter in our barn, a rope around his neck, and a step stool kicked to the side.

"When I was 18, I left home to make my way in the world. I met Arthur Simm - tall, handsome and a scrapper. I thought he would protect and take care of me. We married and decided to go to America. I was petrified at the thought of leaving my mother and my home, but I gulped down my fear and boarded the ship. We settled in New Jersey, and soon after, had a daughter, Gwen.

"Well, they say that women marry their fathers, and I guess that's what I'd done, because Arthur was a drinker and a rake. He worked as a duty officer on ships, so he was seldom home. When Gwen was 8, Arthur left and never came back again. Alone now with my daughter, I had to find work. But who would hire me, with no husband and a child hanging off me? So I sent Gwen to live with her grandmother in England."

There's more to her story of course - times of happiness, and many more times of sorrow and disappointment. But this is enough to make the point. Great characters are formed by complicated histories, by life's ups and downs, by triumphs and tragedies. They are never all good or all bad. It's all a matter of perspective really: To me, Grandma Gertrude was the villain in my mother's story and our childhood. But to Grandma, well, she thought she was the hero of the story. So don't be surprised if some complicated Gertrude-esque hero-villain shows up in one of my stories some day....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Have to work on my taxes today, so my post is simple:  I will FOLLOW the blog of anyone who leaves a comment and signs up to FOLLOW mine.

Look forward to making some new Friends
p.s Still LOVE my OLD Friends :-)


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E is for Eagles and Earth and Environment and Existence

Millions of people have been watching the live web cam of eaglettes being born in the wild. Why? I think it's because eagles are so symbolic, not just of freedom, but of survival itself. I think we are fascinated by the eagles because, as strong and proud as they are, their very existence seems fragile. And, as the eagles go, so go all living things, including us. We fear our own extinction, by our own hands, and the birth of new eaglettes reassures us.

Comments appreciated - how else will I know you've stopped by?

:-) M

D is for Day

It's a new day
Good day
It's a nice day
Having a bad day
What a long day!
Day is done
Where did the day go?
Tomorrow's another day

Monday, April 4, 2011


I live in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is famous for many things, including beatuiful weather, gorgeous scenery, mountains, museums, a mix of cultures, great architecture, fabulous food and amazing art. So today's post is a photographic feast for your eyes. Canyon Road is the most famous street in Santa Fe, lined with galleries and shops in old adobe homes.

C is also for Comments - Yours are Appreciated!

Spring in full bloom on Canyon Road

Always cool displays in the windows

Creativity of all kinds

That's me - trying to straighten out this darn crooked sculpture!

Always a sucker for taking a picture of a row of colorful mailboxes

Better do what he says!!

Typical Santa Fe style

I call it "The Secret Garden"

Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

Come walk with me down a garden path

Sure, but it is Art?

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Huh? What’s that, you ask? Brahmacharya is a term from yoga that refers to practicing “moderation in all things” as a means to keep focused on your true purpose in life. Simply put, it means that too much of anything is never a good thing. At first, we tend to think of this in terms of negative behaviors like overindulging in food, alcohol, sex or drugs. But Brahmacharya tells us that there is an equally negative effect from overindulging in activities that we think of as responsible behavior – like work.

How does this relate to writing? As writers, we often hear things said about our writing practice that sound very much like “rules.” You must write every day. You must write 1,000 words a day. You must write all the way to the end without stopping. You must this, you must that. We have to remember that writing is like everything else in life – too much is not necessarily a good thing. The risk is that we work too hard, or worry too much about whether we are working hard enough, or become too obsessed with getting it “right.” As a result, we can wind up stressed and exhausted. Worst of all, we may fall out of love with what we’ve been writing and throw it in the trash with disgust. Like too much yoga practice, too much writing, without Brahmacharya – balance, moderation – can leave the writer depleted and discouraged.

Yes, of course it’s important to write. And writing every day is a good practice to have. But it’s also important to rest, take a walk, read a book, see a movie, or even – gasp – do nothing. By practicing Brahmacharya, we are actually better able to stay focused on our true purpose in life, our writing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Alzheimer's Sucks

I get to say this,because my mother passed away from Alzheimer's YESTERDAY. She first showed signs of the disease 10 years ago, with short-term memory loss and repetitive questions. It was a long, cruel progression, but at the end, she went quickly and peacefully.  I am sad today, of course, but I have been sad about this for 10 years now, and enough is enough is enough. Today I'd rather just tell you my Top 10 Reasons Why Alzheimer's Sucks:

10. Because the person's body can live on and on well after the mind has shut down
9.   Because it hurts A LOT when they don't remember who you are, even though it's not their fault
8.   Because you are both robbed of the joy of reliving shared memories
7.   Because it sure doesn't seem like their minds are in a "happy place" thinking happy thoughts
6.   Because you worry that you are going to get it too
5.   Because you are torn between wishing their situation would end and not wanting them to leave you
4.   Because you miss them even through they are sitting right there with you
3.   Because you can only hope that on some level they understand when you say "I love you"
2.  Because it's just not fair
1.  Because it's just not fair