An Interview with Tim Applegate

Tim Applegate is the author of three poetry collections–At the End of Day (Traprock Books), Drydock (Blue Cubicle Press), and Blueprints (Turnstone Books of Oregon).

Born in Georgia and raised in Indiana, ​ Tim has lived in Boston, Sarasota, Florida, and for the last twenty-four years on two acres in the foothills of the coastal range of western Oregon where he owned and operated a commercial contracting business specializing in furniture and wood restoration for the hotel and cruise ship industries.

He is the author of the novels Fever Tree (Amberjack Publishing) and the recently released Flamingo Lane (Amberjack Publishing).

You can visit his website at

Ed Battistella: Tell us about your recently released novel Flamingo Lane and your series The Yucatan Quartet.

Tim Applegate: In my new novel Flamingo Lane, to pay off an exorbitant gambling debt to the ruthless Mexican drug lord Pablo Mestival, an expat named Chance agrees to locate – and possibly eliminate – Mestival’s former lover Faye Lindstrom, who has fled Mexico and returned to her hometown. Like the other books in the Yucatan Quartet, Flamingo Lane is a standalone novel that explores the classic noir themes of greed, betrayal, and revenge.

EB: You are a writer of Southern noir? How is Southern noir different from other noir styles?

TA: Southern noir novels, exemplified by writers like Ron Rash in North Carolina and Tom Franklin in Mississippi, are often set in rural or small-town locales, and tend to feature poor or working-class characters. That said, the major elements of traditional noir – a money trail, a femme (or in many cases these days) a male fatale, a dupe – remain firmly in place.

EB: When did you first begin writing? Have you always been a writer?

TA: I began writing poetry and short fiction in high school and never really stopped. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey, but I can’t imagine what else I would have done with my time.

EB: What is your writing day like?

TA: I’m usually planted in front of my keyboard by 7 a.m. And I generally write/edit/revise for the next three or four hours. Of course when you’re working on a novel the story stays with you 24 hours a day, so sometimes in the afternoons I go back to the keyboard to add notes, ideas, descriptions. It’s a bit obsessive really, but there are far worse obsessions than writing books about crimes. Like committing those crimes!

EB: It’s poetry month and you have also published several collections on poetry. What does poetry mean to you?

TA: That’s an interesting question. For me, writing poetry is a way to slow the world down and focus in on something specific, a canoe trip with one of my daughters or the funeral of a friend or a memory of how cornfields looked on summer mornings in Indiana when I was a boy. It’s a way to slow down, take a deep breath, and rediscover what counts.

EB: Who are some of your poetic influences?

TA: I could name a hundred influences. But to keep the list short: Frost, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Robert Bly, Kenneth Rexroth, the Oregon poet Clem Starck. Issa, Basho, Charles Goodrich, Carolyn Forche…

EB: Can you tell us a little bit about the rest of The Yucatan Quartet?

TA: The Yucatan Quartet chronicles the lives of a group of expats who meet in a village in the Yucatan in the 1970s. Over the years, their lives continue to intersect because of certain unfortunate incidents that took place back in Mexico. Like all noir, the books go to some dark places. But there are glimmers of hope and redemption too, a faint light at the end of a long, scary tunnel.

EB: Good luck with you new book, Flamingo Lane. Thanks for talking with us.

TA: Thanks, Ed.

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The History of The Mid-Atlantic Accent and the Golden Age of Hollywood, a guest post by Riley Hamilton

Riley Hamilton is an English major and an Honors College student at Southern Oregon University.

Language is a cornerstone of culture. The language a group of people speaks is a way of expressing their cultural beliefs, customs, and values. Similarly, dialects and accents define culture as well. The way in which people speak is a method of unification and expression. Languages, dialects, and accents evolve and shift over time, revealing certain aspects of society. The varieties of speech favored by a society are reflective of social stratification and the standard for language, and these ideas can often be seen portrayed in media. The Mid-Atlantic accent, a non-rhotic style of speech found in New England and along the East Coast, has a rich history. After its rise in popularity after the elocution movement in the 18th century, it took to the big screen and ultimately became a defining factor of the film industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Analyzing the Mid-Atlantic accent and its history through the lens of the film industry reveals its role in reflecting the ever-changing class relations within society.

In November of 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in New England. These religious separatists fled England in order to practice their religion and worship God freely, and their arrival in New England can be regarded as the epicenter of what would become American English. As more and more Europeans began infiltrating America, the English language was being used and taught along over a thousand miles of the eastern coast by the end of the 17th century. Rather than adopting Native American languages, the English retained the “proper”, aristocratic speech influenced by the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare. There are fewer than a dozen borrowed Native American words found in the writings of the Founding Fathers. Though there was a mixing of dialects due to people immigrating from various European countries and British regions, the colonists were content to use English rather than learn the Native tongues. Historians speculate that Native languages were too difficult for the English, and that they simply preferred their own words. Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North and South Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were all colonized and each given-other than Massachusetts and Connecticut - English names rather than Native American ones. English took the west by storm, and a myriad of dialects began developing in the various colonies. In 1664, the Dutch colony New Amsterdam was taken by the British and became New York (Bragg 147-153). And the British occupation of America’s east coast, especially New York, resulted in the development of the Mid-Atlantic accent that has characterized the region since.

The Mid-Atlantic accent, sometimes referred to as the Transatlantic accent, is a byproduct of the blending of American and British accents. More specifically, prestigious British speech influenced early American English, thus creating this hybrid of distinguished talk. In the Mid-Atlantic accent, vowels are more thoroughly expressed. For example, in the cot-caught and Don-dawn distinctions, each of the vowels are distinguished. In other American dialects, cot-caught and Don-dawn are merged with no audible distinction between words. Additionally, the Mid-Atlantic accent also makes a distinction between the words wine and whine. Whine, and other words beginning with wh are pronounced with a “hw” sound. The accent also retains the yod, which is the “ew” sound found in words such as news and music. The Mid-Atlantic accent’s use of these distinct pronunciations is reflective of its British roots. Another defining feature, and perhaps the most notable, of the Mid-Atlantic accent is its lack of rhoticity. Accents and dialects are considered rhotic when the letter r is pronounced at the end of words and before a consonant. Many British accents typically drop the pronunciation of r sounds at the end of words. For example, the word card often sounds like cahd when said with a British or New England accent. This non-rhotic speech shaped American English during the colonization of New England. Non-rhotic speech became “associated with upper-class whites” as speech standards of the British aristocracy bled into America (Wells 542). In contrast, rhotic speech was initially seen as characteristic of poverty and the lower-class. The high social standing associated with non-rhotic speech sparked a major emphasis on elocution in America.

In the 18th century, the United States experienced an elocution movement in which the rhetorical skills of pronunciation and articulation were heavily valued. An elocution movement had already been established in the United Kingdom, and the United States followed suit. Elocution was a core principle of classical Western rhetoric, and the desire to increase one’s elocutionary skills became increasingly popular. Elocution classes, which taught students how to properly speak, give oral presentations, and read aloud became customary. These lessons were modeled after the elocution standards found in the United Kingdom, which resulted in the Mid-Atlantic accent maintaining its status as proper speech. These elocution lessons were integrated into public school systems in hopes of teaching children to speak elegantly and properly (Moran 1994). Oratory abilities were thus associated with suitability, which further perpetuated the social stratification surrounding the Mid-Atlantic accent. During this time, many
books were published on the topic of elocution. An actor named Thomas Sheridan wrote Lectures on Elocution in 1762, and another actor named John Walker wrote Elements of Elocution in 1781. These works instructed readers how to use gestures, control their voices, and emphasize words. Society’s emphasis on elocution remained relevant through the mid 20th century, and began to play a major role in media.

The signature non-rhotic sound of the accent was very prominent in the arts and high caliber careers. This style of speech was used on the radio, by politicians and lawyers, and was heavily featured in the film industry. The Golden Age of Hollywood, which followed the silent film era, is notorious for its use of the Mid-Atlantic accent in films during the late 1920’s to 1960. Iconic actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Vivien Leigh all mastered the accent for their films, and its unique British-esque sound became a defining feature of films made during this time. Golden Age actors and actresses were trained in the art of elocution and speech delivery. In 1942, vocal coach Edith Skinner wrote Speak with Distinction. Skinner was a consultant to actors, and she used her text and methods to train them in the Mid-Atlantic accent, which she referred to as “Good Speech.” Skinner’s coinage of the term Good Speech was very prescriptivist, and most modern linguists reject the idea that certain types of speech are better than others. Nevertheless, Skinner’s guide to the Mid-Atlantic accent became the standard for actors both on the screen and the stage. Speak with Distinction, a quite dense text, contains instructions for the proper pronunciation of thousands of words. Good Speech has a multitude of rules, the most recognizable being the dropping of the r at the end of words, the clear expression of all vowels, and the pronunciation of t in words such as water and night (Skinner 1942). The transition from silent film to sound film allowed for the new dimension “of speech to register more subtle differences in social class, ethnicity, and educational or geographical background” (Beach 2). The start of sound film coincided “almost exactly with the beginnings of the Great Depression,” and amidst the rising class struggle, social structure became a common theme in the expanding film industry. The Mid-Atlantic accent was used by actors to portray upper-class characters and societies. Over the decades, however, the association between non-rhotic speech and the upper-class has shifted.

Non-rhotic speech is characteristic of the famous New York City accent, but the dropping of the r that defined upper-class New Yorkers for decades has lost its high standing. Over the course of the 21st century, American English has begun to favor “rhoticity in all positions, gradually displacing the New York City pronunciations” (Mather 2). While non-rhotic speech used to be indicative of the upper-class, rhoticity is now the preferred manner of professional speech. Linguists have tracked the societal shift regarding rhoticity, and in 1962 linguist William Labov conducted his New York department store study, in which he investigated whether or not New Yorkers pronounce their r’s depends on what social class environment the speakers are in. He analyzed the language of the employees in three different department stores: Saks (upper middle class), Macy’s (lower-middle class), and S. Klein (working class). Labov found the employees “from Saks used rhotic r most, showing that the overt prestige form in New York City favored rhoticity. Those from Klein’s used it least, likely because they identified more with their working-class clientele, and because it reflected their own frequency of use in their local communities,” and employees from Macy’s used a constricted form of r (Mather 2). Labov concluded that “the pronunciation of r increased both socially and stylistically toward greater rhoticity…and the more careful the speech, the more likely the r was to be pronounced” (Mather 2). This study has been recreated twice in New York City, and the results have been consistent. Rhoticity has usurped the long, prestigious reign of non-rhoticity. The non-rhotic New York City accent is still depicted in film and television, but it’s portrayal has shifted. For example, characters such as New York City lawyers are often presented with formal, rhotic speech, whereas New York City police officers are typically portrayed with a non-rhotic accent. Lawyers are shown using a more “proper and professional” sort of speech, and the police officers represent the everyday New York City speech they hear and use in the streets. The Mid-Atlantic accent, particularly its use in media, has had a long history reflective of constantly evolving class relations.

The English language has experienced many modification as it has developed in America over the centuries. A multitude of accents can be heard throughout the country, some of the most notable hailing from New England. The Mid-Atlantic accent has defined the region for decades, and representations of it are often used as a stereotype for New Yorkers and Bostonians. Before the Mid-Atlantic accent evolved to what it is today, it was a reflection of the upper-class, wealth, and intelligence. The elocution movement transformed the accent into a desirable achievement; the golden standard for proper speech and delivery. The Golden Age of Hollywood perpetuated the accent’s association with high social standing, but in the last century its prestige has all but disappeared. Though the implications of the Mid-Atlantic accent have shifted, its relevance and usage has not. The accent is still alive and well in New England, and will continue to evolve as it has been since the 15th century.

Works Cited

Beach, Christopher. Class, Language, and American Film Comedy. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language. Sceptre, 2016. Mather, Patrick-Andre. “The Social Stratification of /r/ in New York City.” Journal of English
Linguistics, 40(4): 338-356, 2012, pp. 1-19.

Modiano, Marko. “The Americanization of Euro-English.” World Englishes, vol. 15, no. 2, 1996, pp. 207–215.

Moran, Michael G. Eighteenth-Century British and American Rhetorics and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources. Greenwood Press, 1994.

Skinner, Edith, et al. Speak with Distinction: the Classic Skinner Method to Speech on the Stage.Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1990.

Wells, J.C. Accents of English: Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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An Interview with Young Adult and Romance Blogger Shelee Juarez

A 2019 graduate of Southern Oregon University, Shelee Juarez is a Young Adult and Romance book blogger. You can follow her blog and Facebook pages at Book Reader Chronicles and on Instagram & twitter at @brcbookblog

Ed Battistella: Tell our readers a little about your blog Book Reader Chronicles?

Shelee Juarez: My blog features book reviews and cover reveals for books in both the Romance and Young Adult genres, and will hopefully soon include a master list of books I recommend in every genre—that last part is a goal of mine now that I’ll be done with school shortly and can devote more time to creating that aspect on my website. I generally only feature positive reviews on my public forum—anything with a star rating of 3.5 and above—and books that I can positively recommend to my followers. My reviewing style is more of a ‘deep-diver’ as I like to flesh out my thoughts in more of a professional capacity than one more focused on my feelings. I like to delve into the characters, the writing, the relationships, and the overall arc of the plot before I touch on my feelings. And, of course, I try very hard to keep all of mine spoiler-free.

EB: You’ve been blogging since 2014. How did you get started?

SJ: It was happenstance, really. The owner of the blog put out a post on Facebook around end of Summer in 2014 asking if anyone was interested in blogging. When I reached out to the her, she told me she was interested in selling her entire website, social media channels, and books to get out of the blogging industry to pursue a new career in the publishing industry. It happened to be around the same time I had quit work to go back to college, so my husband and I decided to take the leap—both financially and creatively—to buy her out. I had always wanted to get into blogging prior to that, but was overwhelmed with the entire idea of starting everything from scratch, so thankfully I had the great benefit of gaining an already established fanbase and product. But it was a crash course of teaching myself how to use WordPress, to learn coding, and my reviewing process in the month she worked with me before leaving completely.

EB: Book Reader Chronicles specializes in Romance and Young Adult genres. What does that include?

SJ: I read sort of all over the place in those two genres as each have many subgenres. In Romance I read anything from romantic suspense to historical romance to new adult to contemporary and fantasy. With Young Adult I read anywhere from fantasy to sci-fi to contemporary books. If it has good writing and plot, I don’t much care where it falls under, but those two genres are where I read from ninety-five percent of the time. I love a good love story and both tend to always have one somewhere in it.

EB: Do romance and YA share some things in common in your view?

SJ: Absolutely. The only real difference between the two is the age of the characters and the overall heat of the romance. But the characters generally have the same wants and needs, just at different points in their lives. And some YA is quite explicit, it’s just author and publisher preference.

EB: How many books do you read or review in a month?

SJ: Depending on my workload outside of reading, I generally read around ten to fifteen books a month. Most of those are to be published that same month or early in the next, but sometimes I’m able to get ahead of my schedule and read a book that isn’t out for a few months. It’s often that I am reading a book two weeks ahead of its release, though I wish I wasn’t that close to publication so I could drum up interest for the title sooner. Without school taking up so much time, I’m hoping to get ahead and stay there.

EB: How do you manage to fit in all the reading? I know you’ve got a busy life.

SJ: It’s been a delicate and stressful process to find a balance between classes, schoolwork, reading, reviewing, promoting, and being a mother and homeowner, but I’ve managed to find some harmony in it—some months being harder than others. I know that I have put a lot of unnecessary stress on myself over the past four and a half years because I couldn’t make myself turn down any book I was interested in, and that left me overbooked on that side while also having a full-time schedule’s worth of schoolwork on the other. There were plenty of days I was up late doing one or the other. One element of my life that became easier was when my son started kindergarten in 2016 and freed up a lot of my time. Depending on my class schedule, I’d take him to school and then read a bit. Then I’d find spaces to read before my husband brought him home on his way home from work, and then staying up late to read before bed. Being a night owl helped keep that going for as long as it did, but it was always an internal battle of being responsible in choosing which actually needed done first—and not choosing the book simply because I wanted to read it. And, yeah, deciding how much sleep I wanted that night to function for the next day. When I first started blogging I was reading and reviewing 200 books a year, but as schoolwork became more involved I’ve gone down to around 130-150, which is still more than most people.

EB: How do you decide what to review?

SJ: Over the years I’ve gotten really picky with what books I request or have sent to me for review. I used to be able to read a book’s synopsis and know that I’ll enjoy it, but with the market in the indie romance industry being oversaturated with writers, I’m less able to predict if I’ll actually like the writing of the author or their storytelling. That’s not an attack to that market at all, but with so many writers all vying to stay relevant, you find a lot of books written too quickly and the quality suffers because of it. Now I try to stick with what my gut says when reading the synopsis—it’s still wrong sometimes—and try to stay with authors who I’ve read and loved before. Almost all of what I review on the YA side is traditionally published, so I have a better chance at reading a well-written, well-edited book since they’ve gone through the rigorous process of a publisher buying and working on them, but there are still duds. In either genre it’s all about the synopsis pulling at me as well as the cover—you can tell a lot about a book with those two things.

EB: What do you look for in a book?

SJ: I look for elements that haven’t been done before, or fascinating decisions the main character must make. I look for different dynamics in couple relationships that present a particular problem I either haven’t read before or is part of a trope I love. I’m a cover snob, too, so sometimes I won’t even look at the synopsis of a book if the cover doesn’t grab me. I basically need to feel that excitement in my chest when I read a synopsis to want anything to do with it because it’s a lot of hours to invest in that author’s imagination.

EB: What sort of authors are easiest to work with. I’m asking for a friend.

SJ: (laughs) Ones who truly appreciate everyone in the book industry—from us bloggers to the paying readers and all of those paid to promote or create the book in some way. If an author truly appreciates those who buy or promote their work, they’re good people. Those that do will appreciate the time you’ve spent reading and reviewing by commenting on your review or sharing it to their followers—all of which make my day every time it happens, even years into it.

EB: I notice there are some pretty specific blog polices too. What do those involve?

SJ: Most of my policies are pretty standard in that there may be sensitive content within my posts, not to reproduce any of my reviews unless express consent and credit is given, that giveaway winners are given a specific amount of time to respond before a new winner is chosen, and, because I prefer an open policy, that any purchase on a link on my website to a title on Amazon will earn me a very small percentage from Amazon as an affiliate of theirs. Much of this is to protect me as a business, but thankfully I haven’t run across an issue where I needed to refer to one of them.

EB: What do you enjoy most about book blogging?

SJ: The books are what I enjoy the most. I enjoy the storytelling, the transportive world-building, and the love stories they create—either with friendship, family, or a romantic partner. None of the effort of spending hours to read a book, hours to write one review, the time spent promoting it in the blackhole that is social media now, or the effort spent reaching out to publicists—sometimes having to prove your worth as deserving of an early copy—would be anywhere near worth it if my passion wasn’t in books themselves. I originally fell back into reading in 2012 as a form of escapism with my PTSD and panic disorder, but they quickly became more than a lifeline and are now my way of life. It’s why I always carry my kindle or a physical book with me. Also knowing I’m helping an author succeed, in some small way, makes my heart happy.

EB: Will you be reading more now that you’ve finished your college experience?

SJ: I truly hope so. Once the constant of “I have schoolwork to do” falls away, I’m really hoping it’ll level out to the same number of books read as before now that all of my free time can be spent with just books. But working full time presents its own challenges and I’m hoping to be able to find a balance with that quickly because I have many books to read.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with your work.

SJ: Thank you so much!

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An Interview with Joe Biel, author of A People’s Guide to Publishing

Joe Biel is a self-made autistic publisher and filmmaker who draws origins, inspiration, and methods from punk rock. He is the founder/manager of Microcosm Publishing and co-founder of the Portland Zine Symposium. He has been featured in Time Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, Art of Autism, Utne Reader, Oregonian, Broken Pencil, Punk Planet, Bulletproof Radio, Spectator (Japan), G33K (Korea), and Maximum Rocknroll. He is the author of A People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business, Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business on the Spectrum, Manspressions: Decoding Men’s Behavior, Make a Zine, The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting, Proud to be Retarded, Bicycle Culture Rising, and more.

He is the director of five feature films and hundreds of short films, including Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland, $100 & A T-Shirt, and the Groundswell film series.

The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy described Biel as “not trained in pedagogy.” He lives in Portland, Oregon and his work can be found at

Ed Battistella:
What is A People’s Guide to Publishing?

Joe Biel: After twenty years of publishing, I met Sidnee Grubb, who is one of the smartest and most promising young people that I’ve ever met. In fact, she’s two months younger than Microcosm! She completed an internship here and asked what to read to further her publishing education. I thought long and hard about this and ultimately felt like all of the books were outdated, too academic/jargonified, or promising to teach how to get rich quick on Amazon. It made me really sad to think that if I was getting started today—despite millions of books in print—there wasn’t a single definitive book written about publishing written in plain language. So I wrote one for Sidnee because I saw so much promise in her.

EB: What prompted you to write the book?  There is plenty of nitty-gritty detail—about covers and book design, margins and printers, sales, contracts, fulfillment and more.  But you also talk about having a mission and a vision. How important is that?

JB: Around the same time that I met Sidnee, I had just read Publishing for Profit, which is truly an excellent book. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t been publishing for 20 years, there is no way that I could have made sense of what the author is saying in it. It’s very complicated. I wanted to make publishing sound as simple as possible. Publishing is very contextual and there are many moving parts but very little changes quickly and I feel like there is still great opportunity—more than ever—for new small presses to thrive and carve out their own microcosms. And I think you’re astute to notice that mission and vision is why small presses and midlists are growing and thriving now while the market share of the majors is shrinking. There is a strange aversion to having politics in publishing as the rest of the world is increasingly politicized. I think this is a tremendous misstep.

EB: You mention something called “long-tail development”.  What is that?

JB: After overprinting, the number two mistake that I see in publishing is creating a book that will appear outdated in a few months or a year. Most book sales resemble a half sine wave and the greatest sales are in the first three months with sales hovering around zero after a year. Small presses shouldn’t be publishing current events books like Fire and Fury. We need to be focusing on evergreen books that will be just as relevant in two years, five years, and two decades. Another trick here is to publish books that you can introduce to multiple markets, from trade to gift to special sales to mass market to international to digital. If you follow my advice and ensure that there is sufficient interest and lack of competition, it’s very easy to launch a series of long-tail titles that sell each other.

EB: You also discuss the future of publishing.  How do you see that? What’s the role of small independent publishers?

JB: This is about the cheeriest news that I found in all of my research: the future of publishing belongs to the small press. If you pick a niche that isn’t occupied following my formulas, there is tremendous room to grow and own that platform. From all of the data it appears that the role of major houses will increasingly become solely about buying rights for books that are already successful and outside of the bounds of a midlist or small press. Increasingly, the role of the small press is to take chances, do interesting things, create trends, and change the world.

EB: You’ve been in publishing now for almost twenty-five years.  What’s your favorite thing about the business? Your least favorite thing?

JB: I still really enjoy group development sessions and editorial meetings. I involve the whole staff, including the warehouse and the warehouse workers always have the best editorial, marketing, and development ideas. I do find the increasing volume of paperwork and corporatization as well as the resulting demands of the industry to be tedious, pointless, and migraine inducing. When I was a kid I hated corporations because I was a punk rocker and that was en vogue. Now I have substance and specifics that I can point to explain how those has effectively crippled the industry across Sidnee’s lifetime.

EB: If you were to give new publishers one word of advice, what would it be?

JB: Develop.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I’m looking forward to using the book with students!

JB: Wonderful! Thanks so much for believing in this book! We had to delay publication three times because I kept missing my deadlines. I was too busy publishing!

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Women in Writing and the Literary Arts Gap, a guest post by Kelley Lusk

Kelley Lusk is a McNair Scholar majoring in English with a minor in vocal music at SOU. Kelley anticipates graduating magna cum laude in June 2019 with plans to teach English as a foreign language abroad.

Women in Writing and the Literary Arts Gap

The experiences of women, historically, have always been shaped by their gender along with the intersections of their class and race. By the 19th century, the concept of reform for white women became a salient topic in everyday urban life and journalism. Due to the shifts in views during this time, women began to take on larger roles in society outside the sphere of the home and project their voices through their writing. Throughout the progression of women’s writing from the 19th century to the present-day 21st century, women writers have always been subject to unethical and oppressive male critiques and a disproportionate lack of representation compared to their male counterparts. Since the 19th century, women writers have gained more respect and recognition, however, they are still subject to male criticism and gender inequality within the industry.

When considering women’s rights movements, it’s important to review the first female social reform that took place near the end of the 19th century. According to Sally Ledger, in “The New Women: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin De Siecle” the concept of the New Woman is a term that emerged during the turn of the century, and refers to an independent woman seeking radical change and pushing the limits set by the male-dominated society. More specifically, a woman with multiple identities, “She was variously, a feminist activist, a social reformer, a popular novelist, a suffragette playwright, a woman poet; she was often a discursive response to the activities of the late nineteenth-century women’s movement” (Ledger 1). The New Woman writers used their voices to incite changes in the unjust position of white women in society. Even though this first wave of feminist activism began as an abolitionist movement driven by the black women’s collective feminist consciousness – the New Women writers agenda excluded black women. The movement concluded with the suffragists’ successful passing of the Nineteenth Amendment; this amendment won white women the right to vote.

An example of a 19th century New Woman, is Fanny Fern, an American novelist and columnist who confronted issues of women’s rights and male domination by using humor. Fanny Fern was the pseudonym for Sara Willis, but also the name that she began to go by in everyday life. In her work Critics and Male Criticism on Ladies Books, she satirically criticises male authors and their the unjust and damaging criticism towards women authors (Lauter 2468). Eventually, gaining the respect of the male critic, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who in 1830 stated in his work Mrs. Hutchinson, “The hastiest glance may show, how much of the texture and body of the cisatlantic literature is the work of those slender fingers, from which only a light and fanciful embroidery has heretofore been required, ” hence arguing that for women writers, there had been no change in their status and writing since the 17th century (Howell 23). While Fanny Fern was one of the most powerful female writers of the time addressing gender inequality issues, it was largely only accessible for the white middle class woman.

In 1861, Harriet Jacobs published Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl, under the pseudonym of Linda Brent. This work addresses her experiences of sexual exploitation, mistreatment from slave owners, family relations, and her journey to freedom for herself and her children. The pseudonym was used in order to appeal to the white audience, and to hide her identity. Keeping her identity hidden was necessary due to the fact that she was subject not only to male criticism, but criticism from the entire white population. As Howell explains, “For most women writers at the time, the mere act of ‘picking up a pen’ held a great significance, but Jacobs challenged what was feared in order to reveal the corruption…” (24). For all women writers during this time, including Fanny Fern and Harriet Jacobs, the use of a pseudonym was common practice, but while they used feminine pen names for different reasons, other women authors felt obligated to use masculine pseudonyms in order to gain recognition. For instance, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Woman, was published under the ambiguous pen name A. M. Barnard in order to be taken seriously. Mary Ann Evans published her work Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, under the pseudonym George Eliot in order to distance herself from her critiques that call out fellow women writers for their formulaic romance novels.

By the 20th century, Karen Oosterhous a publisher at Firebrand Books explained the real reason that keeps women from expanding outside those expected genres, such as romance, “…the old cliche goes that women write romance novels and books about cooking and men write spy thrillers, and if women want to succeed at least financially, they often are forced to stick to that field” (Foster 30). The lack of representation of women in any other field except romance and cooking made it difficult for women to break out of of those genres. Oosterhous also explained that reviewers only want  to review books that they believe are of interest to their readers. This is problematic because not only are a majority of reviewers male, which automatically creates a bias, but reviewers also tend to “shy away from books that may be controversial or that relate to only a segment of the population. I think that books like that, books about feminist or the gay experience, have something for everyone, but many reviewers don’t think so” (Foster 54). These magalized stories, such as the gay experience or stories of different cultures and people of color, haven’t been taking seriously by the majority audience, which only leads to further marginalization. This, in part, could be helped by the reviewers expanding beyond the norm. Reviews are very essential for books and authors, especially ones being published by smaller presses (Foster 33). Today, the amount of competition out there is intense, and simply having a quote from a major reviewer, like the New York Times, can set a book apart from all the others.  

However, it is also important to acknowledge that during the 20th century some of the greatest advancements in the feminist movement were made because of women authors like, Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and Virginia Woolf, just to name a few. In “Publishing the Patriarchy: Reviewers in the White, Western Tradition Still Exclude and Trivialize Women Writers,” Chloe Foster explains that “In 1929, Virginia Woolf, the emblematic face of the female literary triumph, set out to unearth the reasons why her generation and the women before her, did not practice the craft of writing” (Foster 30). What she along with many other feminist have concluded is that “…women were prohibited from entering traditional male institutions and were regulated to childbearing and rearing, and because of this, women could not penetrate the elite world of the male literary property” (30). Because women were only represented as, and taught to be, domestic, they weren’t allowed any room to believe they could be capable of more. Further, not having anyone like yourself represented in a field that you are interested in, leads one to believe that someone like yourself is not fit for that position.

By the end of the 20th century, 1998, the groundbreaking article, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are Women Writers Really Inferior?” by Francine Prose, exposed the gender disparities in journalism and explained the harm that male critics have had on women writers. For instance, Norman Mailer in 1959, on his “expansive confession of gynobibliophia: ‘…I can only say that the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hay, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, fridged, outer-Baroque, Maquille in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn’”(62). This attempt, and attempts like Norman Mailer’s, sought to place women outside the literary field altogether. It is still not a wonder why writers like George Eliot, George Sand and the Brontes felt the need to hide behind their male pseudonyms. Edith Wharton, a Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist, who in 1930 was subject to criticism by the male critic, Ludwig Lewisohn who stated, “‘wars and revolutions, cataclysm and catastrophes of man and nature leave her hopelessly a lady’” (Foster 32). Regardless of Lewisohn’s criticism of her “triviality”, Wharton remains one of the great 20th century American writers. Prose explains that women writers used the domestic scene to symbolize larger issues, and that male reviews simply could not get past the literal interpretations (Prose 63). In the early 1970’s the feminist authors, “Susan Brownmiller and Nora Ephron held the first organized protest against the representation of women authors in the New York Times Book Review. The two made an appeal to editor Max Frenkel, but nothing came of it” (Gender Disparity and Book Reviews 1). Prose revealed that by 1997, the disparity and representation for women still was a problem in the New York Review of Books. That year they were recorded printing only ten books of fiction by women, and twenty five books of fiction by men (Prose 62).

 By the beginning of the 21st century, 30 years after the first protest organized by Brownmiller and Euphon took place, more results of the New York Times Book Review were exposed by Paula J. Caplan and Mary Ann Palko; between 2002-2003, they found that “out of 807 books reviewed, only 227, or 28%, were authored by women. Of the 775 reviews only 265, or 35%, were by women reviewers” (16). Following these results, in 2009 the VIDA: Women in Literary Arts was launched in the UK and in 2010 was launched in the United States. VIDA is a literary research organization whose mission is to “increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender inequality issues in contemporary literary culture” (Gender Disparity and Book Reviews 1). Since their initiative, in 2010 proved men take up most the space in literature, gender parity has become more and more possible with each passing year. In the most recent VIDA count in 2017, Amy King and Sarah Clark, the board of directors, found that of the 15 main publications in the VIDA count, only 2 publishers published 50% or more women writers than their male counterparts. Five others represented between 40-49.9% and the undeniable majority, 8 of the 15 failed to publish even 40% by women writers (King and Clark 1).

In 2015 the radical/liberal feminist “‘…Carol Anne Douglas, suggested that women’s books do not receive much attention because they focus on ‘soft subjects’ that men are not interested in’” (Gender Disparity and Book Reviews 1). This essentialist remark had many people questioning what is considered a “soft sobject?” Romance, nostalgia, sex, motherhood? To trivialize these topics as “soft” simply indicates that they are not understood. Women today are grappling with being put into a separate category all together with the arising “women’s literature” or “women’s fiction” genre. This issue comes up throughout many industries, for instance in athletics, women are often referred to as “women athletes” before simply an “athlete.” “The Second Shelf: On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women” in the New York Times, Meg Wolitzer addresses the instability and the controversiality of the “women’s fiction” genre and the rise of the “American Women Novelist” category. While searching online in Amazon, Wolitzer first came across the “Women’s Fiction” category that listed authors like Jane Austen, Toni Morrison and Louisa May Alcott, and notes that the occasional man like, Tom Perrotta who was listed, solely because he writes about relationships (Woltzer). Woltzer further explains that “…lumping together of disparate writers by gender or perceived female subject matter separates the women from the men. And it subtly keeps female writers from finding a coed audience, not to mention from entering the larger, more influential playing field” (Woltzer). Labeling topics like, relationships, as “women’s fiction” furthers a binary and insinuates that relationships or other related topics perceived as feminine, should have nothing to do with men. When considering the category “American Novelist” which only lists male authors, there is a subcategory labeled “American Women Novelist,” this subcategory was created by librarians. It is librarians job to categories in order make searching as easy as possible. However, moving women to a subcategory only isolates women novelist from the larger category and “others” women novelists altogether (Woltzer), as well as disregards any other gender from the larger category. Woltzer explains the “The Second Shelf” as the process of women authors being categorized as second best, while “The Third Shelf” affects people who are marginalized even more, such as women of color and people who identify as non-binary (Woltzer).

The development of the modern novel used to be largely viewed as a male occupation. Today, we see many more women addressing topics on nationalism, politics, war, and immigration than ever before. The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for instance has become an intersectional feminist icon who in The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), writes about the relationships between men and women, parents and children, in Africa and the United States. In the current political climate “amid the #MeToo era, we must ask if abuse and bigotry are anything but the norm in the world of American arts and letters” (King and Clark 1). The 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have had similar concerns regarding male criticism and gender inequality within the publishing and reviewing industry, and while these concerns are being taken more seriously and gender parity is becoming more possible. The rise of media has created different issues of concern for the present-day women writers. These present-day issues have arised due to deep history of popular beliefs about women, who historically, were forced into those categories to begin with. In order to move forward we need to, like Foster states, “Rather than trying to prove that women are equal, we should just assume it” (34).

Works cited

Caplan, Paula J., and Mary Ann Palko. “The ‘Times Is Not A-Changin'”: Your Impression of the ‘New York Times’ and Other Prestigious Book Review Publications (Present Company Excluded) Is Correct: The Women Are Missing.” The Women’s Review of Books, vol. 22, no. 2, 2004, pp. 16–17.

Foster, Chloe. “Publishing the Patriarchy: Reviewers in the White, Western Tradition Still Exclude and Trivialize Women Writers.” Off Our Backs, vol. 37, no. 1, 2007, pp. 30–34.

“Gender Disparity and Book Reviews: the VIDA Count” Jstor Daily, 2015,

Howell, Samantha. “The Evolution of Female Writers: An Exploration of Their Concerns from the 19th Century to Today” University of Hawai’i at Hilo, Vol. 13, 2015, pp. 23-26.

Lauter, Paul. “Fanny Fern, Immanuel Hawthorne.” Heath Anthology of American Literature: Volume a and Volume b, 7th ed. vol. B, no. l, 2013.

King, Amy and Clark, Sarah. “The 2017 VIDA Count” VIDA Women in Literary Arts, 2018.

Leger, Sally. The New Women: Fiction and Feminism at the fin de siecle. Manchester University Press, 1997.

Taylor, Ula. “The Historical Evolution of Black Feminist Theory and Praxis.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 29, no. 2, 1998, pp. 234–253.

Woltzer, Meg. “The Second Shelf: On the Rule of Literary Fiction for Men and Women.” The New York Times Sunday Book Review, New York, 2012.

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An Interview with Christina Ward, author of American Advertising Cookbooks

Christina Ward is an award-winning writer and editor. She is a featured contributor to Serious Eats, Edible Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, Remedy Quarterly, and Runcible Spoon magazines. She makes regular guest food expert on television and public radio and in 2017 published Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration with Process Media, Inc.
Her second book, American Advertising Cookbooks: How Corporations Taught Us To Love, Spam, Bananas, and Jell-O was released in January of 2019.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on American Advertising Cookbooks, which I am really enjoying. How did you get interested in the history of promotional cookbooks?

Christina Ward: I’m the Master Food Preserver for my county; which means that I’m charged by the State to teach the most up to date scientifically proven methods of food preservation. I’m also a book collector with a love of history. All my interests began to converge during the research of my first book, Preservation-The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation, and Dehydration.

My research into the history of preserving food leads me to the very interesting (to me at least—and now I hope readers!) place in American history where technology, food, immigration, and marketing all came together to create and define American cuisine. Promotional cookbooks represent the culmination of all those influences in a neat, garishly printed booklet.

EB: I was also fascinated by the role of home economics. What’s the story there? How did education and domestic science affect taste-making?

CW: The birth of Home Economics was a tangent of the Suffragette movement of the late 1800s that was, interestingly, heavily influenced by a very conservative cultural Protestantism. The women who advocated for equality made the case that the “domestic sciences” were of the same value as chemistry or biology. In an age where there was just the barest of understanding of food science and where women were barred from studying in universities, domestic science became a way for women to become both educated and independent.

Because the curricula were developed by a small group of foremothers who agreed on techniques and recipes for the most nutritional cooking, a sameness was spread across the country. At the same time, printing technologies advanced to allow for cheap and accessible books. Any home economist worth her salt and with a smidge of regional fame soon wrote a cookbook. This too helped spread recipes and ideas about what a “proper” cook should be doing in the kitchen.

EB: A lot of the food you mention I recalled from my youth, but I totally missed ham banana rolls. Can you explain the rise of bananas.

CW: Bananas tell a great story. They’re a relatively “new” food and wholly brought to consciousness by advertising. All food processing companies in the 1930s hired the newly minted domestic scientists to concoct recipes featuring their products. United Fruit just did it very very well. Ham banana rolls were introduced in 1941 (I think!) and featured a couple of food trends of the time. Firstly, white sauces!

In the first part of the 20th Century, starvation or at least the fear of it was very real. Food supplies were dependent on mostly local purveyors while the financial collapse of the 1930s meant people actually starved. Paramount to food educators was increasing the total caloric intake of workers. (How different we are today!) The solution to boosting the Kcal of any and every dish is slathering it with a flour-based cream sauce or better yet, cream and cheese sauce! Sliced ham was a cheap protein and bananas were the star of the recipe, and voila! Ham banana rolls. The actual recipe has its roots in Pacific island cooking where pork served with plantains is found.

It also pays to remember that just because these recipes appeared in an advertising cookbook, doesn’t mean that they tasted good or people adopted them! For every successful Green Bean Casserole (invented by Campbell’s Soups) there is a stinker of a recipe; those are the ones that tend to bring us a laugh.

EB: Is there a particular food that in your mind typifies the role of advertising and advertising psychology in developing our tastes. Do you have a favorite example?

CW: Orange juice! It’s about 100 years from its introduction to the national markets via advertising and how many generations consider it a morning staple. Why? Sunkist, a company that began as a consortium of Florida orange growers, worked very hard to create advertising that touted the health benefits of drinking the juice of oranges. Why not eat the whole orange? Because it was cheaper to extract the juice and can it than the cost of shipping fresh oranges.

EB: Why are we so easily manipulated by advertising, do you think?

CW: Advertisers were the first to adopt and adapt the new-fangled psychological theories of the early 1900s—the ideas of subconscious and motivation—that could not just make a product stand out but create actual demand. There is something about the human psyche that wants to want. Advertisers play upon that aspirational need.

EB: I was struck by the wonderful images in the book. Where did you find them all?

CW: So many cookbooks! I’m a collector, and I was lucky enough to inherit my mother-in-law’s pristine collection of advertising cookbooks. She didn’t keep them as a collection per se, but as a Depression-era housewife hung on and used those cookbooks throughout her life. I’m even luckier in that she kept them in meticulous condition. These are, with a few exceptions, printed on flimsy paper with cheap inks and processing. They were intended to be used and not really kept for over 70 years.

Those formed the bulk of the images in the book. I have a few friends who share my fervor for advertising cookbooks who lent some gems for scanning.

EB: You have a collection of cookbooks. Can you tell us about that?

CW: Cookbook collectors are sub-species of bibliomaniacs! I collect them first and foremost because I love them. But deeper than that, cookbooks are history. The story of what we eat and why is fascinating and informed by so many different events; cookbooks reflect an ideal self, that one cook’s vision of a perfect America in each and every volume.

EB: What was the most surprising thing you learned about food and marketing?

CW: The most surprising thing would be how short our cultural memory is. Recipes that many folks think were invented by grandma came from an advertising cookbook. Interestingly, recipes in and of themselves cannot be legally copyrighted, so publishers tended to pass along and tweak a core group of recipes. If you look at the bulk of the cooking from the 1930s to the 1970s, before Julia Child brought French techniques back to American kitchens, there is a sameness in most of the dishes. That sameness comes from the standardization of processed ingredients.

EB: Where can readers get ahold of your book?

CW: Publisher Process Media is an independent publisher with international distribution, which means that every indie bookseller in the US and Canada can get it for you. Larger shops like Barnes & Noble and of course, Amazon, both stock the book.

EB: You’ve also written about canning, fermentation, and dehydration in your 2017 book Preservation. Any future food-related projects on your plate?

CW: I still teach classes! It’s fun to lead a group of people in community food preservation projects. I get a great deal of pleasure from seeing people ‘get’ it and then take those new found skills home. As to writing, I’ve got a few new projects, but I’ll hold off talking about them until they’re closer to completion; I’m a bit superstitious that way.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

CW: Thank you for the opportunity to share my crazy obsession!

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An Interview with Sam Anderson, author of Boom Town

Photo: © Jeff Bark

Sam Anderson is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine.

An award-winning journalist, he has been a book critic for New York Magazine and a regular contributor to Slate. He lives in New York.

Boom Town, published in 2018 by Penguin Random House, is his debut novel.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Boom Town. You’re an Oregonian, originally, so what prompted you to write a book about Oklahoma City?

Sam Anderson: Thanks! You’re right — people often assume only an Oklahoman would write a book about Oklahoma, but I had zero connection to the place. I grew up in Oregon (born in Eugene, college in Ashland) and also Northern California; since then I’ve lived in Louisiana and New York. My interest in Oklahoma didn’t start until 2012, when the New York Times Magazine, where I’m a staff writer, sent me to OKC to write an article about its new basketball team, the Thunder. The team had just made the NBA Finals on the strength of its three very young superstars: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. So I went out to write about the relationship between this small city and its big-time sports team.

I’ve been waiting my whole magazine career for a subject to force me to write a book about it — and to my surprise, Oklahoma City turned out to be it. The place swept me away. There was this mixture of epic history and huge personalities and a unique landscape. I spent as much time as I could there, and everywhere I looked the connections and themes and material deepened. It became a magical project that consumed my whole life.

EB: After reading the book, Oklahoma City seems like an old friend to me, though I’ve never been there. Was part of your goal to make the city a character itself?

SA: I’m glad to hear it. Yes, the goal was to tell the whole story of this city, from the moment of its founding to today. Historically speaking, it’s a ridiculously young city — it was founded in 1889 — so I felt like I could get my arms around that whole history. By the end of it, the reader should know the place inside and out — not just the big flashy news events (the 1995 bombing, the rise of the OKC Thunder) but the low times and the boring times. This gives context to what those big flashy news events actually *mean* to the city.

EB: You’ve worked most of your career as an essayist and cultural critic. What was the experience like of doing a non-fiction book?

SA: It was exhilarating but also very, very hard. As I said before, I’ve been waiting for many years for a book project to come along and sweep me away. All of my writing heroes (John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Janet Malcolm, Joan Didion, et al.) have written great nonfiction books. So I knew I’d tackle one eventually. But it was a slog. I took an 8-month leave from my job at the Times Magazine to try and bang it out — those were very long, strange days: I’d wake up at 5 in the morning and go to my office and write for 8 or 10 or 12 hours. After all those months, I had some of the core parts of the book written — but there were still many years to go. My original deadline was one year. In the end, it took me more than five. There was a lot of agony. But I was lucky to work with a great, great editor at Crown, Kevin Doughten, and the project became a deep collaboration with him. And I’m really proud of the finished product.

EB: Basketball and the Oklahoma City Thunder play a part in the recent history of the city—you call it a purloined team. Reading the book, I had the feeling that your book was organized a bit like a basketball game—that you were passing the ball along among interesting topics and characters—Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Gary England, Wayne Coyne, and others. Was that in your mind as a structural device?

SA: That’s fascinating. No! I didn’t think about passing a basketball around as a structural device. But that is pretty accurate. The structure was really hard to work out and developed through trial and error over years of writing. I tried to impose various structures (for a short crazy time I thought about organizing it based on the underground architecture of a prairie dog colony) but in the end decided that the book should find its own shape, exactly like OKC did in 1889 — which is to say, it should be a ridiculous pile of chaos that eventually, against the odds, found equilibrium. Which I think is an accurate description of the book.

EB: One of the themes of the book seemed to me to be the idea of process—in characters like Sam Presti and Angelo Scott. You seem to be portraying Oklahoma City as the tension between orderly process and booming exuberance.

SA: Yep, you got it. From the moment of its conception, the place has been on the brink of spiraling out of control. And there have been these key figures who have stepped in, at crucial moments, as master organizers and held everything together. Presti with basketball, Angelo Scott as a settler who kept the place from exploding into civil war, Clara Luper as a Civil Rights hero who integrated downtown. My goal was always to find those master organizers and show them battling the chaos of their moment. Then of course the city would produce some other kind of chaos that had to be overcome, and someone else would have to step in to deal with it.

EB: Can you tell us about the title? The book seems to resonate with booms, literal and metaphoric.

SA: Yes — the place started as a literal “boom town,” a patch of prairie suddenly overrun with people looking to make a fortune. Since then it has bounced up and down on the boom and bust economy of the energy industry. It gets rich overnight, then poor overnight. So the notion of a “boom” runs through the history of the place, literally and metaphorically, in important ways and trivial ways. Russell Westbrook, the basketball star, used to scream “BOOM!” every time he made a three-pointer. And that’s all before we get to the defining trauma of OKC: the 1995 bombing of the federal building in the middle of downtown, an explosion that killed 168 people and scarred just about everyone in the city for generations.

EB: What surprised you the most in doing the research?

SA: There is a section of the book called “Operation Bongo” that contains the most surprising research discovery I’ve ever made, or (I’m convinced) ever will make. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a bizarre connection between Seattle and Oklahoma City from the 1960s — it seems to foreshadow OKC taking Seattle’s basketball team 40 years later. It’s like a Borges story. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t have invented it if I tried.

EB: Any plans to take on another city?

SA: Nope. I’m happy having done this one city. Now I’m back to writing magazine articles, waiting for the spirit to move me for my next book project. If it’s another city, I guess I’ll have to write about another city.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. I really loved the book.

SA: Thanks so much!

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Clive Rosengren and Sharon Dean Interview Each Other

South Dakota native Clive Rosengren is a veteran actor with stage, screen and television credits that include the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, Ed Wood, Twin Peaks, and Cheers. He is the author of four novels featuring actor/private investigator Eddie Collins: Murder Unscripted, Red Desert, Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon, and most recently Martini Shot.

Sharon Dean grew up in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received a PhD from the University of New Hampshire, taught at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire. Having written four academic books as a professor, she has reinventing herself as a writer of mystery novels. Her thought provoking whodunits featuring literature professor Susan Warner include Tour de Trace, Death of the Keynote Speaker, and Cemetery Wine. Her most recent book is Leaving Freedom, a tale of a writer’s spiritual and personal journey from Massachusetts to Florida to Oregon.

Clive and Sharon are members of a writing group in Ashland. Literary Ashland asked them to interrogate each other about their work and writing process. Enjoy this innovative double interview.

Sharon Dean: Clive, how did your background as an actor benefit your writing? Were there any habits you had to overcome?

Clive Rosengren: One of the characteristics of the novels I’ve tried to accomplish is to have Eddie with one foot in the PI business and the other foot in the Film/TV business. So having spent 18 years in Hollywood in and around lots of sets gives me the opportunity to rely on personal experience. Habits? Trying to keep from being too cynical about the whole Hollywood circus.

Sharon: You situate Eddie so well in a Hollywood you know. Have you ever thought of bringing him into rural South Dakota where you grew up? What kind of challenge would that present?

Clive: As a California licensed private investigator, Eddie Collins wouldn’t be able to ply his trade in another state, but would have to be considered an amateur sleuth. I don’t see him going that route, at least for now. And except for some cousins, I don’t really have ties to South Dakota anymore. However, back in October, the recovering actor in me fell off the wagon and worked on a small, independent film project up at Hyatt Lake in the mountains above Ashland. While there, the germ of an idea popped into my head that would find Eddie—possibly as a favor to a director friend?—participating in a small film, during which something happens that would lure him into the need for a PI, and take him out of the confines of Los Angeles. Stay tuned.

Sharon: What’s the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest?

Clive: Easiest part? Dialogue, without a doubt. Hardest? Hmmm…probably forging a plot.

Sharon: What motivates you to keep writing in an era when so many good novels like yours don’t get the notice they deserve?

Clive: Well, first of all, thank you for the generous comment. Since the creative urge of my acting career has become almost a rumor, I’ve found it necessary and enjoyable to fulfill it with the writing. I didn’t venture into this arena with the intent of making a lot of money or becoming a best seller, but what keeps me motivated is a character I like (and am still learning more about) that I can put into the entertainment business which I’ve essentially left behind.

Clive Rosengren: Sharon, your first three novels dabbled in crime and mayhem, so what made you want to stray from that milieu in your fourth book? 

Sharon Dean: Leaving Freedom bridges the gap from my academic career to my foray into fiction. I wanted to write something like it before I got caught up in my Susan Warner mysteries. My scholarship involved writer Constance Fenimore Woolson, who traveled from Ohio to Florida to Venice as she became one of the leading novelists of the nineteenth century. She had a fraught relationship with her sister and was a caregiver to her mother.  I wanted to use these relationships to create a novel. When I started, I thought I might have my character Connie to go to Venice and jump out a window onto the pavement by a canal as Woolson did. But this felt too extreme. So I decided to bring my character to Oregon, especially to Ashland with a side trip to Rajneeshpuram. It was time for me to write about places beyond New England. Woolson, by the way, also generated my idea for Death of the Keynote Speaker

Clive: In the book you’re working on now, you’ve gotten back on the path of murder and mayhem. Your protagonist in this book is a librarian. Any thoughts of embarking on another series with this character? 

Sharon: Yes. Three, possibly four, books in this series. As a librarian my character, Deborah Strong, can move around. She’s in New Hampshire right now and will have to be in places that I know well. I’m thinking some kind of library retreat, still in New Hampshire–a locked room setting similar to what I did in Death of the Keynote Speaker; New Orleans where her friend Rachel lives and which I know from when my son lived there; Ashland, which I know better and better every day. A series will evolve as it will.

 Clive: Do you do a detailed background on your characters? Or do you pattern them after people you have known?

Sharon: People equate me with my character Susan Warner because she’s a retired English professor. They equate her daughter, Erika, with my daughter. The first name initials don’t help. They share some of our characteristics but they are not models of us. I’m finding that I need an image of a character as a starting point and I often find that image in someone I know or have seen. For my new protagonist, Deborah Strong, I found a model in a candid photo in my daughter’s year book. Right look, right era for the backstory of the novel. There the resemblance stops. The characters take on lives of their own as my novels develop.

Clive: As far as you’re concerned, what is the primary benefit of belonging to a writers’ critique group? Is there something about belonging to a writers’ critique group that doesn’t work for you?

Sharon: Our writer’s group is exactly what I need to improve my writing. The twenty page submissions every two weeks helps me stay disciplined. We all write different kinds of mysteries: noir, PI, cozy, international thriller. Reading and responding to different styles stretches us. Leaving Freedom branched away from what is technically a mystery genre, and I appreciated how everyone stuck with me through what is the longest novel I’ve written. The group works because we’re honest with each other. I’m pretty tough-skinned, so I always appreciate critiques. A group where people are afraid to criticize or can’t accept criticism would be disastrous for me.

Ed Battistella: Thanks to both of you!

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An Interview with Kayla Bush

Kayla Bush is a 2013 graduate of Southern Oregon University with degrees in English and Theatre Arts. She taught in China from 2015 – 2016.

Ed Battistella: Tell us about the program you taught in?  How did you find it?  What was the application and training process like?

Kayla Bush: The program I taught in is called EF for English First. It’s an international company with schools in several countries. They have their own teaching books, lesson plans and style already laid out. They are an after school, weekend and summer/winter break type of English school that is an extra addition to a child’s primary schooling. The student range in age as young as 3, up to 18, though the older students are more rare. A family friend had mentioned it to my boyfriend who was looking at working abroad, so he looked into it and found an application online. The application process was simple enough, they required a 4 year degree, but it didn’t have to be in English. They asked for pretty basic information with an attached resume and then it mostly came down to the interview, which was interesting. They send you an excerpt from one of their teaching lessons and ask you to prepare a type of lesson for the interview, which ends up being you pretending your interviewer is a child student, complete roleplay situation. It was a bit awkward and the lesson was out of context, but they give feedback and have you try again adjusting to what advice they gave you. 

EB: How did you get interested in teaching abroad?

KB: I’ve always loved traveling, so when the opportunity for this job presented itself I saw it as not only a way to travel and see a part of the world I might not normally, but also a good opportunity to see if teaching was something I was actually interested in.  

EB: Did you experience any sort of culture shock?   

KB: There was definitely a level of culture shock involved. I’d traveled before, but never to China. I knew ahead of time what type of things to look out for, but I was exposed to quite a bit on my first day. My visa was delayed so I arrived the week after the rest of my group and was thrown in to house hunting and training almost immediately, whereas the others got a bit of sightseeing and cultural introduction. I settled in pretty quickly overall, but did experience some homesickness. 

EB: What was the experience of managing a class like?

KB: This was probably the most difficult part for me. I realized it was super important to establish ground rules on day one and not to start out too soft, because if I did the kids would just walk all over me and it could be a real challenge to control. Especially because the classes I taught were after school and weekends, so to the students it’s more like a fun extra curricular than mandatory schooling. 

EB: Did you have much experience communicating with English language learners prior to going abroad?

KB: Not specifically. I have some friends that were exchange students, but we didn’t ever talk much about their English learning process. The program I taught with though had everyone take a week long TEFL course before we started at our schools, so we got some training on what to expect and it was tailored specifically to Chinese students and their tendencies. 

EB: What was your most surprising experience?

KB: Hmmm… most surprising? Probably the fact that I bought a scooter to ride to work when I didn’t take the subway. I loved it, and it was a lot faster, but like the locals I didn’t wear a helmet and in reflection I’m grateful to have not seriously injured myself. It was a great experience though because scooters are a big part of living in Beijing and I feel like I really got a true Chinese city experience by doing it. 

EB: Is there anything you wish you had known or known more about before you started?

KB: I wish I knew more about the structure of the program I was teaching in and what is was actually like. The videos they sent out weren’t really an accurate representation of the environment. I also wish I knew more about the Chinese business model, their way of achieving success and the expectations in the workplace. Though where I worked had a lot of Western business influence, there was still a very particular way they wanted you to teach your class, the energy you bring to the room and the way you manage a classroom. There were Open Door class at the end of each course where the parents would watch you teach and see their kids speak English. It’s a fun idea for them to see progress, but they also fill out feedback forms for the teacher. In order to move up and be promoted you have peers watch you teach and give you feedback which they give to the Director of Studies who ultimately decides your score, which affects your pay. It was a really interesting system that I had no idea about going in. 

EB: How did the experience of teaching abroad influenced your career plans?

KB: So far it hasn’t influenced my career plans much, but it has definitely given me something on my resume that every employer wants to talk about. It doesn’t matter what field the job is in, employers want to know about the experience and what you’ve taken from the experience in terms of cultural awareness, adaptation, diversity and understanding. It’s been a really great tool for me in that regard. 

EB: Were you able to learn much Chinese?  Had you studied Chinese before?

KB: I had a friend who lived in Beijing previously and she taught me some key phrases. Otherwise, I didn’t know any Chinese. I’d studied Japanese in school, so I could read a few choice words, but it didn’t help me at all in speaking or listening. Ultimately I didn’t learn as much of the language as I could have, being in an English teaching environment, most of the Chinese local teachers wanted to practice English, my expat friends spoke English and we were told to only speak English in the classroom to create a fully immersive environment. So if you really want to learn the language you have to hire a Chinese tutor and spend the time and money really learning it. Some of the local teachers will agree to be a language partner, but that can be difficult to arrange. I learned enough to travel, eat, get directions and haggle, which was pretty good. I didn’t end up hiring a tutor, but I had friends who did and they learned a lot. 

EB: Any suggestions for others considering teaching abroad?

KB: Do it if you can. Don’t believe the stereotypes about how the children of that culture are going to act, because it’s probably not accurate. And really do your research about where you want to go. Make sure it’s a country you will enjoy being in, and a program that makes the process easy for you to get there and live there. 

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An Interview with Kayla Rapet

Kayla Rapet, 2012 graduate in English, received her Master’s degree in education in 2015. She is the Minority Outreach Programs Navigator for the SOU School of Education.

Ed Battistella: Tell us about the program you taught in? How did you find it? What was the application and training process like?

Kayla Rapet: My husband and I taught at Avalon Academy in South Korea. We went through Adventure Teaching–a group we would highly recommend. They guided us through each step of the process so that we knew exactly what we were doing from the first day we applied to the day we landed at Busan National Airport.

EB: How did you get interested in teaching abroad?

KR: Well, I learned that I could travel, gain invaluable teaching experience, and earn a salary generous enough to put a dent in my college debt; it’s just such an enticing opportunity. I can see why it’s becoming so popular.

EB: Did you experience any sort of culture shock?

KR: I did. It was subtle, to be honest, but it was present. In fact, I didn’t actually realize that I’d experienced it until I returned home to Oregon. Once I got back into my groove, I remembered what vitality felt like. The thing about culture shock is that it can be really sneaky. For me, everything about my life abroad required effort. I spent so much time processing information that I was constantly worn out. The little everyday things that I took for granted in the U.S. became magnified in a foreign environment. From processing language on street signs and menus to adapting to a new food culture (and thinking about how to communicate clearly and respectfully to strangers, interpreting social experiences with my boss and colleagues, setting up and managing bank accounts, finding clothes in my size, paying bills, grocery shopping, and so much more), you name it–it all required double the energy.

EB: What was the experience of managing a class like?

KR: Being in a hagwon, an academy, is a bit different from mainstream public education. My class sizes were small; sometimes I had classes with only one student. Most of my students came from affluent backgrounds, had parents with high expectations for academic achievement, and had ten to twelve hour days between school, music lessons, English academy, and any other extracurricular activities they were involved in. I found that my students had a lot in common, including their skill levels (as students were placed in courses based on their language needs rather than their ages), which made scaffolding a nearly seamless process.

Overall, my classes were wonderful. My students were curious, silly, witty, endearing, and sometimes even a bit mischievous. I felt pretty lucky to work at Avalon with my particular group of kids and colleagues.

EB: Did you have much experience communicating with English language learners prior to going abroad?

KR: I really didn’t. I had volunteered in an ESL classroom for a few weeks as part of my practicum, but that was about it. My husband and I started an online TEFL program before leaving for Korea. We were able to complete the 300-hour training over a couple of months. The program was really pretty affordable and I felt that I was able to use a lot of what I learned. That’s something else I’d highly recommend.

EB: What was your most surprising experience?

KR: That would probably the day three business men approached me in the street and asked for a hug. I obliged until they asked me to kiss them. It was really quite strange. That being said, it was such an isolated experience (you asked for the most surprising!).

Most favorably, I remember my trip home from our vacation in Seoul. We decided that we wanted to head home on one of the earlier trains, so we asked to switch out our tickets. When the teller said he had a “standing” ticket, I naively thought it meant someone else had cancelled and left the tickets available for next departing train (in retrospect, my interpretation didn’t make a whole lot of sense). I was rudely surprised. We found ourselves literally seatless on the train, standing for five and a half hours. Needless to say, I was extremely put off by the discomfort of it all. So there I sat, grumpy and unappreciative. Eventually I decided to sit on the floor. A few stops later, a team of elderly folks flooded the standing section, squishing me, unapologetically, into a corner. And just as the steam started flowing from my ears, a woman sat down on the floor beside me, smiled kindly, and offered me half of her persimmon. In that tiny moment I was brought back into myself, realizing I had missed the adventure of our adventure. My sense of humor arrived shortly after (and, not surprisingly, I survived).

EB: Is there anything you wish you had known or known more about before you started?

KR: No, I wouldn’t say so. I’m really glad we went when we did. My husband and I (engaged at the time) were only twenty-three when we left for Korea. I think reaching outside of our comfort zones was one of the greatest gifts we could have given ourselves at that age.

EB: How did the experience of teaching abroad influence your career plans?

KR: Early on, my time in Korea solidified my desire to become a teacher. Then, once I started my graduate studies, those experiences became a reference point that ultimately helped me discover where my strengths and areas of need were. While I did end up changing career paths, I know that, if and when I go back into teaching, my time abroad will provide a solid foundation for further growth.

EB: Were you able to learn much Korean? Had you studied it before?

KR: I am the worst at learning foreign languages. I’m excited by the dynamics of language, the linguistics and the grammar of it all, but my command of any second language I’ve ever studied is pitiful, quite frankly. With the help of a tutor, I was able to learn just enough survival Korean to make everyday life a bit easier. I highly recommend that anyone living abroad learn the primary language of the country in which they live. If you happen to struggle with foreign languages like I do, my best advice is to stumble through it with the best sense of humor that you can muster.

EB: Any suggestions for others considering teaching abroad?

KR: If you do decide to teach abroad, ask lots of questions before you go, while you’re there, and when you return home. Let your curiosity be your guide– and you will never cease to be surprised.

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