Monday, June 29, 2020

Telling Their Stories - by Sharon Sterling

Honoring and supporting local writers brings a special pleasure. Sharon Sterling.

Maybe I did it, in part, because as the subsequent news story said, I have "a soft spot for authors." That is just a pale shadow of the reason that in March of this year, I organized and conducted an Author Event/Book Fair in Arizona's Green Valley.

A more explicit reason for organizing the event was that throughout my childhood I was an enchanted reader of books, and as an adult I realized how much I respected the intelligent and articulate people who wrote them, as well as those who write the books I read now

Soon after beginning my job as psychiatric social worker at the La Posada retirement community in Green Valley, I met my first resident author, Carolyn Ingle Filigenzi. Her book is titled, In Defiance We Call Them Mangoes. “Why become defiant over mangoes?” I wondered.

Reading Carol's charming memoir, I learned she was born and lived in Defiance, Ohio, where the grocery store produce clerk persistently labeled the green bell peppers—you guess it—"mangoes." One can only guess about the culinary concoctions that may have inspired!

The next resident author to amaze me with her published story was Doris Steffy, a retired college professor whose mother had been a mortician. Her book, titled appropriately, is Mrs. Steffy: Our Mother the Mortician.

Steffy, who is also a Book Women subscriber, was among four children aged six to sixteen when her father, who had been a funeral director in Montezuma, Iowa, died in 1937 at age forty-three. With children to care for, Doris's mother went to embalming school and took on her late husband's role in the business. "She felt strongly that she wanted to continue his work," Doris said of her mother, who created forty scrapbooks of obituaries during her career.

Subsequently, I met and admired more resident writers, including a former psychotherapist who writes poetry, two gentlemen who wrote textbooks, a dedicated blogger of "Wise Words From Grandpa," and several others. However, I think I was most amazed to meet Helen Hanselmann, who had written and produced a comic operetta in fairytale style that was inspired by her reading of Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment.

Creativity flourishes when there is time and opportunity to express it. In our retirement community, there are painters, potters, quilt makers, jewelry-makers, woodworkers, Zen-tanglers and other artisans and artists of a dozen mediums. Most have the means to share their creations with others through exhibits in conference rooms, common areas, libraries and galleries. I have been happy to view their works and to support the artists. The authors here, however, were as good as invisible, incognito, their works unknown and unacknowledged.

In today's publishing world, authors are expected to market their own books through what has been described as "shameless self-promotion." That is definitely not the style of the resident authors at La Posada. So, through talking with a close friend who is a writer herself, I hatched the idea to hold our own author event. 

It would allow these special people to tell their stories, share their ideas and their histories and become acquainted with new residents as well as with each other. Seven authors took part.

The event was held on the patio of the La Posada community's coffee shop, where writers sat at a long table with copies of their books around them, ready to talk with people about their books and sell copies. The comic operetta played on a TV in the background.

As a social worker, I had little experience in event planning and the process was exhausting and sometimes frustrating. I made mistakes and the outcome was not perfect but I believe it was imminently worthwhile. A half-page story about the event ran in the main section of the local newspaper.

There must be many other unsung wordsmiths out there who are too modest for self-promotion. I hope this account may inspire their delighted and respectful readers to celebrate them in whatever way they can.

About the author:

Sharon Sterling is a psychotherapist/social worker and author. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and her Master’s degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, and began her social work career as a crisis counselor. Over the years she worked in Cottonwood, Yuma, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Prescott. Her work experiences include community mental health agencies, psychiatric and medical hospital settings and private practice. The intense experiences and fascinating people encountered during those years inspire and inhabit her books, while the flavor of Southwestern locales spice her writing. Her mystery/thriller novels include Fatal Refuge and The Well. Both are set in Arizona and feature a young Apache woman and a mental health counselor. Ms. Sterling completed her Arizona Thriller Trilogy with A Killing at Lynx Lake. Find out more about Sharon HERE

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Is writing fiction appropriation or sharing the human experience? That’s a question I’ve been facing for years. Certainly, each of my novels and stories contains an autobiographical element, but in no way are they memoirs, not even Memoirs From the Asylum, which does reflect my career in mental health, and certainly not Widow’s Walk, the story of an Irish-American widow. If I am not writing about me, who are these characters and do I have the right to use their stories? For example, the drunks and hangers-on found in the pages of Tales From the Dew Drop Inne—yes they are fictional characters, but—have I invaded their privacy and appropriated their stories? That is a question with which I wrestle as an author.

In the last year that issue has grown even more regnant.

First, there is my newest novel Red and White, which explores not only Native American culture but also examines the Black experience in the years after the Civil War. Preparing to write Red and White involved not just a lot of reading but also talking with many Native American friends. From them I learned a great deal about Native American history and culture. However, I didn’t want to appropriate what they told me. If I couldn’t come up with something more, something that I created, I was determined that the book should not be written.

The novel, which was channeled from a Sioux warrior Plenty Horses, centers on Lonely Cricket, a Ho-Chunk youth who was among the first students at the Carlisle Indian School. I have never been one to focus on reincarnation, and if I were to have lived before, I’m quite sure it would not have been as a Sioux warrior. Why and how the spirit of Plenty Horses decided to reach out to me is a mystery for which I have no answers.

Filled with a newly created series of Native American stories, Red and White is, in my opinion, not an appropriation but a reflection built on Plenty Horses’ speaking to my heart and my empathy for the young men and women taken from their homes and sent to such schools. As I thought about those youngsters, it occurred to me that there would be a natural affinity between them and the Blacks they would meet in that “White world.”

Having grown up a member of a minority and having gone to a boarding school designed to make me not just a “White American” but an old-fashioned New England Yankee, what I call a Broody New Englander, I have great empathy for the marginalized and rejected. I guess in some ways I identify with Steinberg, an author whose characters are often outside trying to see into society.

I think that sense of empathy has also connected me strongly to Africa, a part of the world to which I have never been

My first connection was an on-line friendship with a South African writer, a connection which helped my books to sell well half-way around the world. However, that was only a beginning. A few years back, I met a man from South Sudan. He had been a child soldier, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Deng wanted to write a memoir and was looking for help. I ended up co-authoring that volume, which is yet to be published, and became involved with his magazine, Ramciel. The goal of Ramciel is to connect the South Sudanese who are scattered around the globe with those still in their homeland. Since South Sudan is a young nation, still suffering civil conflict and driven by multi-tribal identities, and since so many South Sudanese are dispersed around the world, the role of this magazine in helping to create a national and cultural identity is important.

Then, there’s my friend Tendai Mwanaka from Zimbabwe. A publisher, Tendai was looking for essays about the African-American experience. He read one of my essays about discovering racism as an adolescent and asked to include it in a collection. I was delighted. Only later was I more delighted to learn that I was the only White author whose work was included.

With such connections and with an active presence on social media, it seemed more ordained than coincidence that I became friendly with Nigerian playwright Umar Abdul. Umar and I decided to write a play together. Ashes is the story of an African-American who, with his mother, brings his father’s ashes back to Nigeria to scatter them in the ancestral homeland. Of course, identifying that homeland so specifically involved both oral history and DNA analysis. 

Writing Ashes, which recently had its first performance in Nigeria, was a great experience. I learned how the people of Umar’s community looked at the world and how they used metaphor. I provided more of the plotting. Between us we wrote a play that has something to say. However, we also needed it published. Re-enter my friend Tendai who offered to publish Ashes. 

The experience was so rewarding that Umar and I are working on a new play, one that is more surrealist and hopefully more universal in its insights, even more encompassing of the human experience.

The goal of my writing is to find that which encompasses not my personal experience but the universal, that which makes us all more nearly human than otherwise. If I cannot go beyond that which I have personally experienced and connect to the collective and archetypic, I have failed in my goal as an author. I create characters who live their own lives and my job is respecting their existence while celebrating their connection to us all.

To answer my original question: no, to create a work of fiction from the perspective of another person and even a culture is not appropriation but rather a celebration of our human connection.


Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he has to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald's drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.

Ken’s stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and he has a number of books which can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets.

More about Ken can be found at:  

Monday, June 22, 2020

Discrimination, Repression, & Sexism from the Sixties to Now

by  Toby Heathcotte

Non-Fiction - Anthology 126 Pages
Reviewed on 04/03/2020

Book Review
Reviewed by Shannon Winings for Readers' Favorite

Women Wronged: Discrimination, Repression, & Sexism from the Sixties to Now is a collection of stories from multiple women. Edited, and partly written by Toby Heathcotte, each story details another woman's account of growing up in a world of discrimination, repression, and sexism. Each one shares how they were perceived solely for certain qualities, like beauty, or for what they lacked, namely male anatomical parts. They missed jobs and opportunities because they were women. Family and co-workers felt entitled to their bodies. They were looked at as individuals with no intellect. Even today, women's rights are still lacking and incidents such as the above are prevalent. Where do we go from here?

Women Wronged by Toby Heathcotte is a great read, especially given the increase in women's rights advocates and movements. I loved how articulated the stories were and how they explained feelings so well. I was angry, sad, and ready to fight for them. While I may not have lived during the same time period as some of these women, I found the stories relatable. As a woman, I have lived through aspects of each story and each touched my heart. Despite their trials, however, the authors provide hope and understanding to women today who are going through their own ordeals. Their messages spoke volumes - being a woman is not just about being beautiful, conforming to how others think you should be, or being less than others. I think these messages can reach more than just women and I am sure it can inspire many individuals.

Buy Kindle from Amazon and support National Organization for Women.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Brief history of the written word - Part one - by Vijaya Schartz

I was always fascinated by the multiplicity of languages, cultures, and different kinds of writing. My research about the origins of the written word only proved that not all the experts agree, but this is what I gathered. 

In every Asian country, there is a legend saying that writing was a science of the gods, and they taught it to man as a means to impart their knowledge. This explains why the most ancient writings are religious in nature and tell of the life and exploits of the ancient gods, as well as ancient teachings, like the knowledge of medicinal plants, acupuncture, etc.

In China, Cangjie, who, according to legend, brought writing to the court of the Yellow Emperor, was a very unique individual. He was described as having four eyes. Not your typical human being. 

A Chinese character is an entire word in itself, often a graphic representation, an image that evolved over time. The pictogram for rain, for example, represents a stylized window and the falling rain seen through that window, with a flat cloud above. The writing is read from top to bottom and from right to left, allowing continuous writing on long scrolls. 

Since Chinese is an agglutinant language, it doesn’t use prepositions or other small connecting words. The placement of the word inside the sentence clarifies the meaning (who is doing what to whom, how, why, where, whether it’s a noun, a verb, an adjective, etc.)

In the late 6th Century AD, a mass political exile saw large numbers of Chinese emigrating to Japan. They took with them the teachings of Confucius and their system of writing. Since the native islanders of the time (the ancient Ainu tribes) didn’t have writing, they used the Chinese ideograms to write their own language. Then different emigrants came to the islands and mixed with the Ainu and the Chinese to form the Japanese people. They wrote with Chinese characters, same meaning, different pronunciation, using the same brush strokes. 

However, the Japanese used a number of one-syllable connecting words to form sentences, and there were no phonetic syllables in Chinese. So, they added a number of small, simple connecting characters, called Hiragana, representing phonetic syllables, which are also used today to teach children to read and write, before they can memorize the thousands of complicated pictograms or ideograms (Kanji) necessary to read and write the main language.

Legends of India say that the Mahabharata, an ancient epic depicting the exploits of the gods during their time on Earth, was recited by the sage Vyasa from the oral tradition, while Lord Ganesha himself (the Elephant God) penned it down… implying that only the gods could write.

Other legends of India also portray the gods teaching writing to their people. Sanskrit is one of the oldest forms of sophisticated written language, used to write the Vedas. But it doesn’t use images, only letters linked together to form sounds and words. Sound is very important in India. Some sacred sounds are so powerful (like the mantras) that they are believed to manifest divinity.

In 3400 BC a cuneiform type of writing developed in Mesopotamia. Legend says it was given to the Sumerians by their Anunnaki gods, those who from the heavens came. The oldest tablets tell of the interactions of the Anunnaki with their human workers, stories of the flood, etc. The characters represented stylized Sumerian or Akkadian objects. Soon, these symbols were also used to represent specific sounds.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seem to have derived from Sumerian cuneiform writing. Sometimes they represent an object, an animal, a river, a sacred symbol. However, a bird doesn’t necessarily mean a bird, but the phonetic sound of the bird’s name, which is used as a syllable in a longer word or name. To indicate that, the full name of a Pharaoh, for example, is enclosed into a cartouche. 

Since I want to keep this post brief, I will continue this history of the written word in parts 2 and 3, in the next two months.

In the meantime, you can read my CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series, where history and Celtic legends collide. Years of research went into it, and the result is an edgy medieval fantasy saga. Find it at - Amazon - B&N - Smashwords and more.  
From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse. For centuries, imbued with hereditary gifts, they hide their deadly secret, stirring passions in their wake as they fight the Viking hordes, send the first knights to the Holy Land, give birth to kings and emperors... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.


Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Show Will Go On - by Craig Sodaro

Kids can get really passionate about their school activities, whether it’s sports, debate, or student council. One of the most passionate groups are the drama kids—the ones involved in their school plays and musicals. So when COVID-19 slammed the school doors shut as the busiest school performance season got underway, there were thousands of very disappointed actors and crew members.

That’s when Debra Fendrich, my editor at Pioneer Drama, called and told me she’d just finished a call with a teacher in California who was directing one of my plays which now had been cancelled. Would there be any way the actors could video a bit of their performances and email them to me so I could watch them? That way they’d have an audience—of sorts—and not feel like all the work they’d put into the show was a total waste.

After being in contact with the teacher, I’ve found out they’re doing a lot of zooming and putting together a virtual version of the play—shortened, but still acted—that I’ll be able to watch. That’s exciting! As an old drama teacher myself, it’s great fun watching student performances as they’re developing their acting chops.

Since Debra’s call, a number of us playwrights have taken to writing short plays specifically designed to be performed online. The experience drew me back to Playwriting 101, the “elevator play” in which all action takes place within a contained area. The most famous “elevator play” has to be Sartre’s No Exit, a group of people trapped in a room, no way out, no way in. Often an “elevator play” is one of the first assignments you get in playwriting class and sometimes you have to set the play literally in an elevator. The idea is to learn how stage plays take place in a confined physical space where character development and human conflict become the most important elements of drama.

Because the “Virtual Plays” (as they are called) are ten minute sketches, I’ve had to go right to the heart of the matter quickly with only the barest of exposition. “Uh Oh!” is a rom-com of sorts with two kids, Jaxon and Addie, trying to put together a class project. Suddenly, a new girl enters the picture and complications arise. It’s all for fun and the good thing about a virtual play is the actors find that everything is about their character. They can’t rely on a set or props or anything else to create the drama, only their own talent.

I’ve also done a fun spy comedy called “Spies R Us” featuring four spies, A, B, C, and D. Great for nonspecific gender casting! The most recent one I’ve written is called “Who’s There?” designed to be a bit spooky: Willow links up with three girlfriends because she’s home alone and scared. As they converse, each of her friends exits the conversation and doesn’t comeback. And that’s when there’s a knock at the door. A little bit of spooky fun!

These three plays are all available from Pioneer Drama Service and Eldridge Publishing Company. Needless to say, I’ll be writing a couple more soon. 

If nothing else, this horrible pandemic and our being sheltered in place have inspired a great deal of creativity in all walks of life. As a playwright, it’s brought me back to my roots, but, believe me, I am as anxious as the next guy to see theaters opening again with curtains going up. Until then, though, the show will go on. 

About the author:
A Chicago native, playwright Craig Sodaro has published over 200 full-length and one-act plays that have been presented all around the world, from Mongolia to Australia, South Africa to Norway. He began writing plays in high school and by the time he graduated from Marquette University, he was seeing his work presented at the University theatre. Publishing success came later during his 33-year teaching career. As an English and drama teacher, Sodaro had difficulty finding scripts that worked for his students, so he began to write plays that fit his classes. These plays turned out to be popular with schools and community theaters throughout the country. Plays coming out next fall include “A Play to Die For” from Heuer Publishing, “Brushstrokes” from Pioneer Drama Service, and “Frankenteen” from Eldridge Publishing Company. Find out more about Craig HERE.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Book review by Mark D. Walker - House Made of Dawn

I learned about the author of House Made of Dawn on an “American Masters” documentary, “Words from a Bear” that portrayed him as a voice of Native American Renaissance in art and literature, which led to a breakthrough of Native American literature into the mainstream. Like many Americans, my awareness of the Native American was raised by historian Dee Brown’s 1970 best-selling book, “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee,” which told about the massacre of several hundred Lakota Indians (mostly women and children) by soldiers of the U.S. Army. Scott Momaday was brought up around places I’d lived and worked in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, and this book received a Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

The main character, Abel, has come home to New Mexico from war only to find himself caught between two worlds. The one world is modern and industrial, claiming his soul and leading him into a destructive, compulsive cycle of depravity and despair. The author expresses a wariness of the white man’s world and language:

On every side of him, there are words by the millions, an unending succession of pamphlets and papers, letters and books, bills and bulletins, commentaries and conversations. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in upon him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language—for the World itself—as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the Word. 

In contrast, his grandfather would orient him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the Southwest, and the ancient rites and traditions of his people. 

These things he told his grandsons carefully, slowly and at length, because they were old and true, and they could be lost forever as easily as one generation is lost to the next, as easily as on old man might lose his voice….And he knew they knew, (his grandsons) and he took them with him to the fields and they cut open the earth and touched the corn and ate sweet melons in the sun. 

Considered by some as the “dean” of Native American writers, Momaday was proficient in fiction, poetry, painting and printmaking. He used his familiarity with both Native American life and legend as well as the modern world, building a bridge between the two.

The New York Times Book Review found this book, “as subtly wrought as a piece of Navajo silverware.” And I’d agree with the critique of this book from The Paris Review, “both a masterpiece about the universal human condition and a masterpiece of Native American literature.” 

Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He came to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make a Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking. 

Several of his articles have been published in Ragazine and WorldView Magazines while another appeared in Crossing Class: The Invisible Wall, an anthology published by Wising Up Press. His reviews have been published by Revue Magazine as well as Peace Corps Worldwide, including one on Paul Theroux’s latest book, Figures in a Landscape. His honors include the "Service Above Self" award from Rotary International. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. 

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Authors Association for nonfiction and according to the Midwest Review, “. . . is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery . . .”  You can learn more at