Book Review: My Way to Anywhere by Jean Lisette Brodey

My Way To Anywhere is a brilliant collection of poems written during a time unrushed by the madness of modern technology. It wasn’t written by a woman in pursuit of fast fame, but by Dr. Jean Lisette Brodey, a woman who wrote for the sheer joy and passion of writing. Though her earlier work has been included in national publication, life deferred her plans of publishing a poetry book of her own. More than fifty years elapsed and her cherished poems were feared lost until one day, like a sprouting young flower the collection reemerged in the Spring of possibility. Her daughter, Lisette, took the time to help her nurture and prune the vast assortment, eventually compiling the verses they felt worked best together.

Dr. Brodey’s intelligent and vivid prose paints a wide array of images in the reader’s mind and emotions in the heart. In each poetic verse she unfurls tapestries of reminiscence, heartache, love and loss. I found myself in awe of the masterful way she handled symbolism and metaphor while telling a story in each of her poems. By the time I finished the collection, I realized that I had been taken on an emotional journey. A number of verses carried me into territory I had never chartered, but was able to visualize and experience through Dr. Brodey’s eloquent recollection and vivid imagination.

Though I find the entire collection captivating, I do have several favorites—some of which stirred my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

Thursdays Demand Existence deeply resonated with me. It gave a clear glimpse into the mind of an artist who longs to create, but is tethered to a world filled with obligation.

An Ending and Funeral both struck a heartbreaking chord. It felt as though somehow the author and I were united in mourning, though our respective losses took place in vastly different eras.

In some cases, Dr. Brodey’s poems served as a vessel through which I revisited moments of passion, wonder and despair that have occurred in my life. My Way to Anywhere is a book in which I believe many people can find some sense of comfort and understanding since at some point or another, many of us have faced the topics covered in these poems, though we don’t always find the bravery to face the intense emotions they sometimes stir up. Bravery, it seems, is something she has in large supply and perhaps some of it has rubbed off on me, as I’m sure it will many readers as they continue on their way to Anywhere.

My Way to Anywhere is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook and paperback editions.

Click here to read an in-depth interview about Dr. Jean Lisette Brodey and the fascinating journey that led her to publish her first poetry book after over 50 years!

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Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future

2013 has been perhaps my most inactive when it comes to social media. I guess that’s because I’ve had many obligations beyond the realm of cyberspace that demanded most of my attention. Nonetheless, I’ve greatly missed my online family, friends and loyal supporters and I hope you’re all doing well. For those who are enduring hardship, I wish you much strength , faith and patience as you work your way through life’s challenges. As we approach the threshold of 2014, most of you are probably reflecting on the past year. I know I certainly am.

For me, and I’m sure many others, 2013 was like a temperamental lion that exhibited sporadic moments of tenderness between fierce rampages. I wish most of it could have gone differently, yet I understand that time is a force that acts independently of human desire. All the same, the journey from this year’s inception to its waning hours has taught me many lessons—painful, humbling, enlightening and inspiring. And though reflecting on them disturbs some fresh wounds, I realize how much they have pushed me to grow.

Numerous events brought about such lessons. Among them:

Three ER visits (my father was the patient—thankfully, he’s fine now).

A few frightening, but minor intrusive physical setbacks stemming from my, and Max’s, fitness goals. On the bright side, we both shed over thirty pounds! I also picked up the skill of bicycling—something I never got to learn during my childhood.

However, my biggest lessons came about this past Fall when I learned of the violent death of Miriam, a former classmate. We hadn’t been in touch since junior high, but I always remembered her to be among the sweetest people I ever met. She was among the few who treated me with kindness during my awkward early teens. I was still processing the news two days later when I received word that my longtime friend and mentor Harriet had also died. As I type these words, nearly three months later, they seem foreign. I’ve been avoiding doing so since I felt that somehow it would change the fact that she’s gone, at least in the physical sense. I guess I’m still processing the fact that the dynamic of our friendship has undergone the ultimate change. She was a no-nonsense woman who lived her life extremely well and was always generous with her time and compassion. She had a great appreciation for the fine things in life, but was also very down to earth. So many lives were changed for the better because of her, including mine.

It’s strange, how the mind develops temporary amnesia until an event prompts one to look back far enough. As I take a hard look back to nearly twenty years ago, I recall the darkness Harriet helped pull me from. I also remember how she took me under her wing and introduced me to opportunities that set me on a path that eventually led me to where I am, though I diverted from the career she encouraged me to pursue. Nonetheless, she was always supportive and that will forever remain in my memory and she will always have a special place in my heart. I remember her so fondly and vividly that sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed, that I could pick up the phone and hear her voice on the other end. Then reality sets in and I find myself wishing I had done so more often as the tears reemerge then evaporate in the brightness of her memory.

Since October, I’ve also lost two family members, the most recent just the day before Thanksgiving. Both showed signs of fading prior to the end, we weren’t entirely prepared—who ever really is? Yet, like my dear friend, their bodies had become prisons. And though I’m saddened that they have passed on, I understand that their suffering is over. As I take solace in the memory of their strength, wisdom and compassion, I am reminded of a quote from the Shawshank Redemption. In it, Red laments his friend’s departure from the prison, but notes:

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

All of this has taught me to make more of an effort to live, laugh, love, learn and explore, not just merely exist. As trite as it may sound, it has taught me not to take anything or anyone for granted. I have also learned to ease up a bit on my perfectionism and to shelve my fear of appearing foolish. After all, I’ve had plenty of experience exhibiting awkward behavior. In spite of the hardships faced this year, there is still no doubt that I remain blessed to be surrounded by loving and supportive people, including my loving husband Max, with whom I recently celebrated sixteen wonderful years of partnership.

Now, as the yawning lion that is 2013 prepares for slumber, I extend my wishes for its awakening successor to be a gentle giant, ushering a year of peace, love, happiness and prosperity for everyone. And as we step into 2014, let’s do so with an open mind full of hope and determination to make it better than the year we’re leaving behind. Let’s enter the year with the knowledge that we, alone, are in command of our happiness, that it is something we build with however many moments we are allotted. Here’s hoping that the structure you build will withstand life’s turbulent weather and serve as an inspiration that this world desperately needs. As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

 

2014 Leaf Image courtesy of Chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Yawning Lion Image courtesy of Tratong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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When Real Life Interferes With Creativity



This is an oldie, but goodie originally posted on my former WordPress blog in August 2011.

Over the course of the past year or so I’ve experienced an increase of abhorrent behavior on the part of some of my neighbors. At first, this frustrated me beyond measure. Then I learned to cope. If you’re going through a similar situation, don’t feel powerless. There are options when it comes to dealing with a noisy environment and even working peacefully amidst the chaos.

If the noise level is serious or extreme, throttle politely talk to your neighbors

Quiet please! (Photo credit: m_bartosch)

A perfect example would be when my former next door neighbors blasted rock, heavy metal and techno during all hours of the day, I’m talking ungodly hours like 12am, 2am or later. How loud was the music? It not only filled the public hallway, but it could be heard two floors down. On one occasion the superintendent tried knocking on their door so he could inspect their plumbing and he nearly had to kick the door down to get their attention. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. I think I was the first to inform the noisy tenants of the inconvenience they were creating. I politely asked them to keep it down. It worked for about a day or two. Then it started up again:

BOOM-tsk… BOOM-tsk… BOOM-tsk… BOOM-tsk…

When a different neighbor addressed me about the issue (thinking I was the culprit), I decided that further action was needed. No, I’m not talking murder, though some nights the thought was tempting. Several neighbors on my floor came up with the idea to leave them a letter on behalf of the whole floor. In it, we civilly requested that they consider the other tenants (some with newborns), and keep the noise down. We also voiced our confidence and desire to resolve the manner respectfully, but that we’d alert the authorities if given no other choice. As an added bonus, I included the NYC Noise Ordinance and highlighted the section pertaining to loud music. We decided against throwing in a pair of headphones, figuring they should buy their own. Even so, the noise immediately stopped. Although I think I heard a collective sigh of relief from everyone else on the floor. Much to my shock, they moved out by the following week. We saw signs shortly thereafter that arose suspicion that they had been living there illegally, but that’s pure speculation.   

If the problem is more of a nuisance than a major issue and can’t be resolved, try not to sweat it
More recently one of my neighbors, who lives two doors down from me, has developed a habit of slamming his door whenever he enters and exits his apartment. The force reverberates through my walls and can be quite startling when it ruptures the dead quiet of the late evening hours. Now, at least a few others have begun to follow suit. I guess it’s a new trend, but I’ll pass. Anyway, I realize that though it’s annoying, there’s not much to be done other than politely ask them to mind their doors. I understand that sometimes it’s not possible to prevent door slamming when a person has their hands full once in a while, but this behavior is frequent. Anyway, I’ve learned to accept that:

  1. The soundproofing in the building is subpar and seemingly non-existent at times.
  2. Not everyone places the same value on manners. Sad, but I can’t change what should have been instilled in them during their upbringing.
  3. The frequency and duration of the noise created by the slamming is relatively short compared to the problem we used to have on the floor.
  4. Sometimes you have to choose your battles wisely and know when it’s a lost cause to complain.

Headphones. Gotta love ‘em! (Photo credit: Michal Marcol)

Oddly enough, the most irritating, obnoxious people in your life sometimes lead you onto a path to personal growth. Had I not experienced the above issues I wouldn’t have met the wonderful people I encountered while seeking advice from my fellow writers on Twitter on how to better combat these distractions.

My online friends and fellow creatives mainly suggested what I had already done or was currently doing, namely drowning out the noise with my music via headphones. One of the people I met as a result of the whole ordeal is Lisette Brodey, a fellow author and an all-around great woman who would later set up an interview with her lead character, Molly Hacker.

My advice to you is that no matter how distracting your environment is or may seem, you ultimately have the power to determine how you react to it and how it shapes you as a person. Rather than remaining angry or upset, convert that negative energy into something useful and channel it into your craft. It takes practice, and it won’t always be easy, but you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll fuel your determination as you retake the helm of your inner-focus.

Have you experienced similar issues that have threatened to hinder your creative process? If so, what were they and what did you do to resolve it?

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Book Review: Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! by Lisette Brodey



Reporter Molly Hacker prefers to write obituaries rather than report on the overwhelming minutiae of high society weddings. It’s only a temporary project she takes on in conjunction with her usual reporting assignments, but it facilitates the beginning of relationships that could have a permanent effect on her love life and future. Could it finally mean wedding bells? Will she have to set aside her “pickiness” in order to take the trip down the aisle? Does one have to sacrifice their standards at the very altar at which they’re married?

Beneath the refreshing humor and amusing situations that take place in this romantic comedy is a story of the human heart, the connection it desires, and the fear of taking that first step to achieve it, a fear of possibly having to resort to self-sacrifice in the process. This is perhaps most brilliantly illustrated during a poignant discussion between Molly and her good friend Randy toward the beginning of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between the colorful characters as well as the ease in which the author injected wit and humor into the story. The plot twists were quite clever and I enjoyed the creative way the novel’s conclusion was handled. The main characters are smart, sassy and endearingly human with all the quirks and flaws that come with being human. Molly winds up in scenarios that had me thinking, Well, this could get messy, and in some instances my premonition was proven correct in both humorous and humiliating ways for the protagonist.

Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! is an intriguing read that comes at a time when marriage, for some people, is more of a finish line in a race to boast about their status rather than a sacred ceremony to declare one’s loyalty to the person they truly love. Lisette Brodey has done a remarkable job at executing an intricate plot while folding in the complex elements that often accompanies matters of the human heart and the pursuit of a compatible mate. For some, it is an endeavor that means having to explore different kinds of relationships to discover with whom they truly envision themselves for the long haul.

Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! is available in print and ebook editions at the following online retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

For eight months, Lisette blogged as the main character at www.mollyhacker.com  (Check out her cool interviews of fascinating authors, artists and other special guests.)

Be sure to learn more about Lisette Brodey and her other titles on her website http://lisettebrodey.com/

You can also follow Lisette on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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Reflection and Metamorphosis

 

As demonstrated in nature, sometimes isolation is a necessary part of the developmental process. There’s nothing wrong when a person chooses to occasionally go into seclusion (unless they’re doing so for criminal reasons). The danger, however comes when the place one retreats to serves more as a coffin than a chrysalis. My online activity has grown increasingly sporadic in recent months as my the wings of my creativity undergo metamorphosis. Yet, I feel it’s important to give my online friends, followers and readers an update as to what I’ve been up to.

Lately I’ve experienced things that, for a while, made me feel as though my world had been thrown off its axis. The exact details are too painful and personal to present to such a public arena, but I can say that it was enough to reevaluate many aspects of my life—past and present—as I contemplate my plans for the future. After the clouds of confusion cleared, I was left with a better sense of how I should proceed going forward. Though life-changing as those events were, they have led me to appreciate all that is right in my life and all that is beautiful in the world (which still spins resiliently), despite the attempts by some to disrupt the aforementioned in some way or another.

Furthermore, recent national and world events have prompted me to dig deep and examine the effectiveness of what I’ve been doing up until this point as well as contemplate what I hope to accomplish in the future and how I hope to affect the world around me. I’d like that affect, no matter how great or small, to be positive and powerful enough to inspire others to recognize and perpetuate the goodness life still has to offer. This led me to consider my humble oeuvre to date and whether or not my method adequately conveys my desired message. Admittedly, my work features darkness and psychological horror despite the fact each piece is generally born from a desire to uplift and motivate the discouraged. I’ve found that the most effective way to accomplish this is to include familiar themes pertinent in the real world in order to make my stories more tangible to the reader. The downside, however, is the danger of getting lost in reality and losing one’s way to the realm of their imagination. This is what has happened to me. My creative purpose remains as vivid as ever, but the path to reach it has been obscured by reality, itself.

Through it all, I’ve been jotting down exciting ideas in addition to working on projects that will undoubtedly demand much time and research in order to execute properly. I’m still working on dozens of short stories as well as a few novels and on top of all that, I still have to revamp two of my websites and I’m getting the itch to work on some new sketches. The creativity and desire is still there, I’m just a little apprehensive as to how I’ll ensure that the final products will adequately reflect my intent.

I have also grown to understand that while some real-life mysteries are alluring, too much introversion can make a person appear, as one acquaintance put it, intimidating. The same could possibly be said of my chronically introverted demeanor. Therefore, I’ll do my best to share a little more of myself in the future while loosening my grip on perfectionism. I know it won’t be easy to break habits that have taken root over the course of many years, but I know it’s at least worth trying. In the meantime, I’ll continue to gain insight and inspiration from life and attempt to convert it into something magical.

I’ll close by expressing how much I deeply value each and every one of my online friends, followers and readers who remain patient and supportive regardless of how frequently I’m able to blog or connect through social media. You reinforce my desire to persevere through any challenge that comes my way and to produce the very best content my mind can conceive. Thank you!

 

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Never Too Late

 

“It’s like riding a bike.”

Whenever I’d find myself at the receiving end of that popular idiom, I’d smile politely to offset the crushing embarrassment over the fact that in my adulthood, I still lacked the skill.

That’s right, I, Shykia Bell, have never learned to ride a two-wheeler (don’t judge). That is until this past Sunday when I attempted to face this demon head-on (with a helmet, of course). Max was beside me every wobbly step of the way and offered sound guidance and even documented the occasion on video. Being the dynamic duo we are, with his practical instruction and my steadfast determination, I went from stumbling every few inches to actually getting the hang of balancing and pedaling within the span of a couple hours. Best of all, I didn’t fall once, but I did bang up my knees and shins just a little while getting used to the pedals on the small (too small) bike I rented. I was also a bit overzealous with the brakes (my butt paid dearly for that over the following two days). Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable experience and I even managed to do a bit of sight seeing…

Watching out for stairs and benches.

Watching out for trees and bushes.

Watching out for joggers, bikers and children.

The next day I popped two Aleve and staggered out for round two. Rather than rent our bikes, Max and I ended up investing in some cool bikes, mine being my first two-wheeler ever. We tested out our new rides on the 3/4 mile bike path at Marine Park. After a few false starts and nearly hugging the vegetation (and a few random strangers) I made a full lap. Granted, I still have to become more comfortable with steering, but I think I’m off to a fairly decent start. 

I always figured if I didn’t know how to ride a bike by now, I never would. As I have with many other things, I’ve proven myself wrong. I’m looking forward to incorporating my bike into my fitness routine and getting back in shape. I also look forward to the increased mobility and accessibility that comes with cycling.

Here’s a link to the video Max took of my progress on day one. No footage of day two. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zh4NF0jFdU

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My Opinion on the Gun Debate

 

Watching the back-and-forth exchange of the whole gun debate I cringed upon witnessing how nasty people have been treating one another for simply having conflicting opinions. It’s absurd that so many people have the mentality that “I respect your opinion as long as it’s what I want to hear.” It’s okay to disagree with one another, but there are ways to do so respectfully. Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of the contrary. Perhaps that’s why I’ve kept my thoughts to myself until now since I value peace over ugly conflict.

The vicious fear-mongering and name-calling from both sides of the argument has made it clear that there’s a deeper issue beneath the debate itself. There’s been so much talk about gun control and so little about self-control. Not everyone who opposes guns is a frightened sheep and not every legal gun owner is a trigger-happy lunatic. 

There have been a number of things I have noticed that have been doing more harm than good when it comes to resolving the problems that plague our society. The negative influence of the media is at the top of my list. It has become virtually impossible to find bipartisan coverage on any news event. Therefore, it’s extremely important that the public take it upon themselves to realize that what the news broadcasts has been edited and filtered to some degree.

Recently, I witnessed a young boy’s character being tarnished for the sake of sensationalizing a particular story regarding guns while instilling a sense of hopelessness in the viewers. Here’s a link to the video in case you haven’t seen it.

This greatly disturbed me since by omitting a few lines they presented the child’s intent as criminal as opposed to his desire to work in law enforcement. If a child isn’t safe from the media’s distortion, then who is? Furthermore, how dangerous is it that the public blindly hangs on the media’s every word, not knowing how much of it is truth or propaganda?

The presentation of current events by the news media is often distorted in that the airing of stories about gun violence outweigh those in which crimes were deterred by the presence of the weapon. The recent incident of the Texas college stabbing rampage didn’t receive nearly as much airtime as some of the incidents in which guns were involved. Yet, had there been firearms involved the story I’m sure it would have been continuously aired for days. So, why haven’t we been bombarded with that story as we’ve been the others? Maybe because reporting the incident does nothing to fuel the argument for gun control. I wonder, if all stories of violence, regardless of the medium used, were aired equally, perhaps people might begin to think that maybe there’s a deeper issue. Perhaps, people will get closer to the root of the problem of violence itself and work proactively and collaboratively to find a solution. Perhaps crime will subsequently drop as a result, giving the media fewer crime stories to sensationalize and capitalize on.

Now, I’m sure some people reading this might automatically surmise that I’m against gun regulation and background checks. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have no problem with the concept of strict gun regulation and I live in New York, which has among the toughest in the country. However, such regulations should be implemented in conjunction with a more progressive education of our society. After all, people are taught to follow rules. It isn’t something that happens innately. And those who are determined to break the law will do so regardless of how much legislation is passed.

The power of choice is greatly underestimated. Not everyone with legal access to a lighter and gasoline becomes an arsonist, just as not everyone who legally owns a firearm becomes a murderer. Also, it has been proven that the internet contains a wealth of knowledge on how to create devastating homemade weapons, yet not everyone with access to the web uses it for that purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some disillusioned woman who doesn’t understand the destructive effects of violence. I was barely a teenager when I was first caught in crossfire. In that moment I thought guns were the problem. In that moment I wished all firearms could somehow vanish from the face of the Earth and that all war would be replaced by games of strategy. Yet, as the years have passed I’ve come to understand that an instrument is only as dangerous as the intent behind it. I’ve also come to realize that as peaceful as I wish the world to be, there will always be someone who will be determined to harm others, whether driven by hate or curiosity. Historically, that’s how the world has always been and sadly, there is no undoing the technology that has been developed, we can only do our best to manage what already exists and encourage one another to take a less hostile path when faced with adversity.

In this regard, I think it’s also important to take a look at the current state of our society. Everything has become so fast-paced that the need for instant gratification has all but replaced the concept of manners. People are encouraged to behave outrageously because that’s good business for the media and entertainment world (particularly reality television). Not only that, it seems that now more than ever, people have a tendency to use violence (whether with a firearm or otherwise) as a primary resort. It seems that people have shorter fuses than ever. It’s so easy to tick someone off and people such as internet trolls get off by doing just that.

Society has learned to place a higher value on objects than the feelings and needs of others. Human emotion is a delicate thing, when mishandled or neglected the results can be devastating. Every person has a breaking point and when they reach it, they can either choose to destroy themselves, the person(s) who triggered their pain or both. I’ve been at such a point, but luckily I had the right people in my life to help me see beyond the pain that had blinded me and realize that violence wasn’t the answer. Sadly, this kind of guidance is grossly lacking in our society. 

Additionally, the fact that a sizeable portion of the entertainment world glamorizes violence and amoral behavior has led me to carefully reevaluate the manner in which I convey my stories to the world. Some may argue that the entertainment world has no bearing on the conduct of our society, but I think it plays a part when it comes to social influence. If one can be inspired to become an astronaut, model, singer or otherwise based on what they observe in the entertainment world, then I think it’s possible for one to be inspired to choose a more destructive path based on the same premise. Of course the weight of this problem doesn’t fall squarely on the entertainment industry either. Parenting and education both play their parts as well.

I guess what I’m saying is that we need more patience, open-mindedness, compromise, respect, compassion and empathy in addition to whatever laws are put into place. And even as the government deals with political red tape and partisan discrepancies, there’s no bureaucracy holding us back from expressing these qualities or teaching them to future generations. We all have the power to make a significant change by simply being a little kinder and more respectful to one another while taking advantage of our ability to think for ourselves, not simply believe what we’re told.

Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion. I’m aware that some people may agree and others may not, but that doesn’t mean we can’t respect our differences and try our best to get along.

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Book Review: Thank My Lucky Scars by Ward Foley

The fact that Ward Foley was born with clubbed hands and feet in addition to Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC)—a disease that results in decreased joint flexibility—was just the beginning of the many challenges he would face throughout his life.

Not only has he endured numerous surgeries in order to help him function more efficiently, but he’s faced perilous incidents ranging from a car accident and severe burns from a deep fryer, to an attack from the very youngsters he was trying to help in a youth home. Some may argue that Ward was cursed with rotten luck, but on the contrary, as painful and disruptive as many of these incidents were, they propelled him along a path that has shown him, and others, many blessings. 

Through it all, Ward relied on his faith and the belief that it isn’t life that’s good or bad, it’s what we make of what we’ve been given. Furthermore, he has found his calling through his adversity and his desire to find peace. Despite all Ward has been through in his life, he has managed to keep his strong sense of humor, which he uses skillfully throughout the telling of his story. I went from fighting back tears while reading of his despair to laughing at his humorous recounts of the daredevil days of his childhood and the manner in which he handled crude comments about his condition. Reading about the miraculous occurrences in his life and the lives of those around him filled me with hope while reminding me that magic sometimes wears the mask of coincidence.

And like a magician, Ward transformed a series of misfortunes into a rich life through which he uses his experiences to connect with others to help bring them peace, solace and compassion during times of difficulty; whether working in a youth home, hospice, delivering motivational speeches or coaching little league baseball. However, these transformations were not illusions, but lasting contributions that will remain in the hearts of everyone he touched.

I highly recommend Thank My Lucky Scars because through reading it I, too, was touched and moved by Ward’s experiences. He has demonstrated that the human mind can defy physical limitations and the human spirit can heal itself and others while forming remarkable connections. I believe Ward’s undeniably resilient spirit and his continued desire to bring peace to others will inspire anyone who has ever found themselves against seemingly insurmountable odds or has ever been tempted to give up or surrender to their adversity.

Thank My Lucky Scars is available online in ebook and hardcover formats via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can learn more about Ward Foley, his work and appearances on his website: www.wardfoley.com

Be sure to follow Ward on Facebook 

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Sci-fi & Cultural Evolution – Part 2

Last week, I left off with a question regarding the setbacks when it came to fairly including black characters in the sci-fi genre. If you missed last week’s post, click here to check it out.

Now, for my assessment:

When I was growing up, there was sort of a running joke as to who would die first in a sci-fi/horror film. Usually, it was the character with the most melanin. And if the character wasn’t killed off, chances were they’d be insignificant or would become the victims of racial stereotyping. What was the reason for these setbacks?

I think there are several answers to this question, but it all boils down to the studios’ desire for a maximum return on their investment. Although there may have been a desire among creatives to present characters fairly, executives didn’t believe the black community accounted for enough of the audience to warrant investing time, money or development of these characters. As a result, tokenism was a tool heavily relied upon in order to fulfill the social obligation of being more racially inclusive. And as author Gregory Walker stated at the 2012 Harlem Book Fair, African American audiences were, to some degree, initially complacent with that fact since they were finally seeing themselves more frequently included in the genre—albeit at a limited capacity. With little demand for an end to this trend, the executives saw no reason to change anything.

Thankfully, the trend has shifted over the years, bringing us important characters of color in sci-fi films such as Deep Impact, The Fifth Element and 2012 among others (It’s worth noting that all three films featured a black president). This, I believe, is due in part to the ongoing cultural shift taking place in our society. It is a shift that has an influence on everything from entertainment to politics.

Tommy Lister Jr. as President Lindberg in 'The Fifth Element'

In retrospect, I realize that the lack of truly equal cultural representation in the science fiction genre has had a multi-tiered effect on our society. It has led many to falsely believe that black people aren’t interested in sci-fi, let alone write it. In fact, I’ve encountered people who believed I’m the first black female sci-fi author since I was the first time they’d encountered such a person. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth and I could never claim that honor. Still, I’m just as proud to make my humble mark on a surface that has long before been traversed by the late, great Octavia Butler several other talented writers who still contribute to the genre today. Admittedly, there are but a handful of black sci-fi authors who were able to rise above obscurity and I walk along the path they’ve paved I can see the tracks of the hardships they’ve endured.

During my sci-fi panel appearance, a question was raised as to why novels and films like Twilight were so widely successful whereas other novels with similar themes, but featuring main characters of color, have gone overlooked. While some pointed to race, I had a different theory. Twilight was born in an age where advertising opportunities are more numerous than ever and the franchise’s PR attack was insane! It was impossible to escape the bombardment. It was everywhere: radio, television, theater trailers, internet, magazines, billboards, etc. I believe it played a big role in the success of the franchise which came just behind the remarkable success of Harry Potter. As one attendee pointed out, there were exceptions, namely Blade, which was a box office hit. Though some have wondered whether its success was mainly attributed to the star power of the cast. I’ve heard people wonder the same about I, Robot, I Am Legend and Book of Eli. Be that as it may, the concept of cultural equality is further advancing in the genre, and that counts for a lot.

Now, I’m not suggesting that art is no longer occasionally appraised with a racist view. As far as we’ve come, there is still more that needs to be done. George Lucas exposed this fact when he revealed Hollywood’s reluctance to fund Red Tails. Alas, though the project was ambitious, it wasn’t well-received.

 Then there were the unfortunate racially charged online comments that targeted the character Rue of the Hunger Games. This incident made it painfully evident that there is still a cultural divide despite claims we now live in a post racial society.  

In my opinion, a post racial society is one in which our varying nationalities are no longer viewed in a negative context nor results in discrimination. I don’t think we’re quite at that stage. Still, I consider myself blessed to live in an era of increased multicultural acceptance and to witness the continuing advancements being made in the industry on this front. As a sci-fi/fantasy author, I believe I bear at least some responsibility when it comes to presenting the possibility of a more harmonious future in my work. I also believe that sci-fi serves as much more than entertainment. It inspires others to work toward a better social, technological and environmental future. After all, the future is something which we all play a part in shaping.

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” ~Rod Serling

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Book Review: IMARO by Charles Saunders



“I go…but I leave a warrior behind.”

These prophetic words are among the last five-year-old Imaro hears from his shunned mother, Katisa, as she leaves him with her people, the Ilyssai, who are reluctant to accept him. The reason; Imaro was conceived outside of the clan soon after his mother had avoided a forced marriage to the clan’s sorcerer. Though a warrior in Katisa’s eyes, her young son is faced with the perilous and turbulent journey of proving himself as such to the Ilyssai who alienate him and refer to him as ‘son-of-no-father.’ It is a journey that begins as he watches his mother exile herself from the clan, and his life, forever. In exchange, the Ilyssai grants Imaro the chance to earn his place among them.

Years elapse and as Imaro grows into manhood he displays remarkable strength, endurance and tenacity that are admired by some and envied by others. His path is lined with backstabbers who seek to either rob him of any chance of glory, or simply boost their own. Due to trust issues, Imaro is understandably slow to make friends, but makes fast enemies. Through it all, his keen intuition alerts him to an almost palpable presence of dark mystical forces that follow him like a predator, studding his path with unrest and peril, but why? A series of events leave Imaro determined to receive answers, poised for confrontation…and hungry for revenge.

IMARO, the first in a series, has been compared to Conan and I guess I can see the reason behind the comparison since both contain similar elements prevalent in sword & sorcery fiction, but Imaro is truly an adventure all its own. Charles Saunders has crafted a rich, classic tale that crackles with imagination. The scenery and descriptions are vividly described, but not excessively so—something I’ll keep in mind when penning my future work. Also, his adrenaline-inducing action sequences kept me glued to the pages. I found Imaro relatable in that he’s doing his best to survive a situation he didn’t choose for himself. At some point or another we all find ourselves in a position of either being an outcast or having to prove ourselves to our peers.

Imaro’s story is one that will resonate with anyone who has ever been an outsider at one point or another. He demonstrates that though difficult, being an outcast is survivable and in some cases preferable as he attempts to shape his own destiny. Imaro is as capable as he is strong, but he, too, has flaws and makes decisions that jeopardize those around him, particularly the few he comes to know as friends.

Originally written in 1981 (long before I realized my own desire to write) and revised in 2006, IMARO is the culmination of Mr. Saunders’ dedication, passion, patience and enthusiasm. These attributes are clearly reflected in the immense quality of his work. Initially, I was somewhat intimidated by the sporadic inclusion of the Swahili language, but the handy glossary Mr. Saunders included in the back of the book—and the immersive method in which he introduces the reader this rich lingo—makes for a comfortable transition.  As a result, I was rewarded with not only an engaging story and a few sleepless nights due to my piqued interest, but also increased knowledge of the fascinating lives, languages and customs the tribes mentioned in the tale. Imaro is an extraordinarily well-written novel that every fantasy enthusiast, particularly those of sword & sorcery, should add to their collection. I look forward to continuing Imaro’s journey and reading more of Mr. Saunder’s work.   

IMARO is currently only available in paperback, but it’s well worth the price and real estate on your book shelf. You can purchase your copy via amazon.com. You can learn more about Charles Saunders and his work at www.charlessaunderswriter.com

 

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