The Artist’s Corner – Arthur Miller, Woodworker

As a writer, I like to keep it simple. A spiral-bound notebook and a no. 2 pencil sharpened to a precise point are all I need to make my ideas a reality on the page. I love the sound of the pencil scritching across the paper. It’s the sound of progress being made. But every now and then, a writer needs to raise the quality of her writing instrument if for no other reason than the sheer pleasure it brings in owning a piece of artwork.

I cannot describe the thrill of writing with my custom-made fountain pen created by woodworker Arthur Miller. So far, I’ve saved my beautiful pen with its specially chosen color of ink for journaling. But art such as Mr. Miller creates is beautiful, functional, and durable. It would be a shame to keep my pen locked away for only occasional use. I simply love the feel of the pen in my hand and how the silky flow of ink makes even a humble grocery list look like a masterpiece of calligraphy.

Mr. Miller was gracious enough to share his passion for woodworking and explain the process behind the fountain pens and other beautiful works of art he creates in his studio.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I was born in Akron, Ohio. I attended Springfield Township Schools and graduated from Buchtel High School. The Vietnam War was on, so two years after graduating I joined the U.S. Coast Guard. My first airplane ride was from Cleveland to Philadelphia, where I boarded a bus for the trip to Cape May, NJ where I attended boot camp. I have been stationed in Ogdensburg, NY on the St. Lawrence River; Cleveland, Ohio; Honolulu, Hawaii; Cape May, New Jersey; Little Creek, Virginia; New York City, and back to Cape May thus completing thirty years, two months, and fifteen days of service and retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer, CWO4. Following retirement, I worked for a durable medical equipment company, at a hardware store, and at a destination resort in Cape May. I have always been interested in wood turning, and my hobby, now in full force, somehow got out of control.

I am married to my first wife, Diana (from Medina, Ohio), and have two married daughters who live close by, and one grandson.

How did you develop your interest in woodworking? Was it a career or hobby? How long have you been at it?

I have long loved wood. Our childhood home was made from wood of one form or another: barn siding in the kitchen, pine paneling boards in the living room and office, mahogany panels in the bedrooms. The only plaster in the house was in the bathroom. I loved the smell, the feel, and the look of wood since forever except when we moved and I had to remove all the green paint from the oak paneling and woodwork in our new city house. I loved to climb trees and build things from wood. In high school, I took wood shop from Mr. John McKay who further enhanced my woodworking experience.

Are you professionally educated/trained in wood working or self-taught?

While I have been exposed to several of the foremost wood turners in the country since starting my business, and I don’t make any claim to match them. I am largely self-taught beyond the high school years.

What tools do you use in the process of woodworking?

For tools of the wood working trade, of course there are the lathes of which I have three: two bench top (a 10 in. x 24 in. and a 12 in. x 24 in. capable lathes) and a larger 16 in. x 36 in. floor model. The smaller number indicates half the distance from the spindle to the bed x 2 which is the maximum turning diameter over the bed. Of course, the lathe can be reconfigured. The headstock can be moved to the end of the bed where by the maximum diameter is half the distance from the spindle to the floor—in my case about 7 feet. I am not turning 7 foot diameter items at this time!

Then there are the tools of wood turning. They come in two types: HSS (High Speed Steel) and carbide. The HSS come in several categories, gouges, scrapers, and specialty. This category of tool is sharpened on a diamond grinding wheel. Carbide tools are not sharpened. The cutting surface is replaced when it is no longer sharp. Both tools are important in the studio of Sweet N Round. Resins are another important tool used for casting.

What are some products you make from wood?

The product line at Sweet N Round is quite extensive. I make Pepper Mills, Salt Mills and Shakers, Coffee Mills, Platters, Bowls, Kaleidoscopes, Pens and Pencils, Sewing and Knitting items (Seam Rippers, Yarn Minders and Yarn Barns, Crochet Hook Sets), Marker Rings, Shawl Pins and Rings, Key Rings, Pill Boxes, Purse Hangers, Clocks, Garden Dibbles, Pizza Cutters, Bottle Openers, Wine Cork Extractors and Stoppers, and many other items.

Do you make furniture, sheds, toys, porches, framing, or other large items?

All items are made in my studio. Funny, in 1996, my brother-in-law and I built a shed. Soon, since I did a little mechanical work at that time, it was called a “Shop.”  Today, that same building is now called my “Studio.” I do make toys—toy tops and kaleidoscopes.

Describe the process of making a fountain pen.

How to make a pen: first and foremost, select the style pen to make—be it a simple ball point, an advanced ball point, a roller ball, a fountain pen (which also come in simple and advanced), or a dip pen.

Most pens share these steps: select the kit (metal parts which will make up the pen), match with the material (see more on material later), we will call this the blank. Mark the blank to maximize the probability the grain will match. Cut to length then drill a proper hole for the tube that holds the workings inside—ranging from 7 mm to 27/67 inch. The drilling is done on the lathe using a special chuck, which holds the material tightly on the lathe, and of course the proper size drill. All brass tubes used on the interior of the pen must be roughed up with sand paper. This process is also done on the lathe using a mandrel. Tubes which will be used in acrylic pens must next be painted white. When the blanks are measured, drilled, and ready, the tubes are glued into the blank using either CA (cyanoacrylate) or two part epoxy glue. You know CA by its more common name, Super Glue. When the glued blanks have set, the next step is to mill the ends of the blanks (make the ends of the pen square with the tube). Once squared, the blanks are almost ready to be turned. Each blank is marked inside to indicate the end. In my shop, the mark is either the nib end or the finial end. In the case of many high-end writing devices, the finial end is larger than the nib end. Finally, the piece is turned. The blanks are mounted on a pen mandrel and turned to the proper sizes—sanded to usually 5000 grit in the case of wood—and then an appropriate finish is applied. In the case of acrylic or other similar products, the blanks are finished to 12,000 grit, polished with cream, and then buffed on the buffing wheel.

If wood, the finish may be wax, wax and oil, or CA. If CA is used to finish, seven coats of CA are applied and cured, and then the blank is finished in the same manner as acrylics.

What types of wood do you work with? What’s your favorite wood to work with?

The most expensive exotic woods used at Sweet N Round are composites. A composite is wood or other material which, standing alone, has no value. The wood or other material is cast in different materials and then cut into blanks. Seashell blanks come to mind. The seashell material destroys regular cutting tools. Think of sanding sand in resin with sand paper.  It cannot be cut using a regular saw, drill, etc.

We work with local woods (maybe from my back yard), domestic and exotic woods, acrylics, Corian, antler, horn, composites, and other materials.

My favorite woods to work with are those that smell nice. Pau Ferro, aka Bolivian Rose Wood, of the Rose Wood family comes immediately to the front. Included in this family is Cocobolo, a wood from Mexico. Many people are allergic to these woods though once finished it poses no issues to the user.

What other materials do you work with?

I like to turn a variety of acrylic and Corian although at the initial turning stages the chips are shrapnel. One must protect oneself from the hundreds of flying sharp pieces. Also a consideration in wood turning is the dust.  Air filters are an absolute must in a closed shop and studios. Masks are also a must to protect the lungs from the dust. However, they also cause the eye protection to fog, so everything comes to a halt until I can see once again. Another wood I use is color wood. Grown in Maine, bass is cut, sliced into thin plies, dyed different colors, glued into slabs, cut to size, and sold to me for a ton of money. Colored wood items, such as mills, sell ten to one over the most beautiful grained cherry, oak, mahogany, maple, sassafras, etc.

What has been your biggest challenge with woodworking?

Finishing. Most of the time I use a finish called friction finish. It is mostly shellac and carnauba wax. I have no problem with small surfaces, but bigger surfaces are not always so good. I would like to learn lacquer and colors.

Many artists love turning a concept into a reality. What is your dream project?

I would like to turn items frozen in ice. Assorted shapes, permanently mounted on a base of some type, and then frozen in a block of ice to hold the smaller pieces in position. The result would be perhaps a wood or other material ball with a concave shape cut into it or a pyramid or a box. I’m still thinking about it.

What has been your most complex project to date?

I’m thinking the most complex, which should be the simplest, drilling a hole through a baseball bat.

What do you enjoy most about woodworking and/or working with your hands?

I like taking a piece of wood, conceptualizing, mounting on the machine, and then have the wood dictate to me what it wants to be.

Does your chosen craft require practice? If so, how much?

How do ya get to Carnegie hall? Practice, practice, practice. I often get pieces of wood from someone’s family farm, or the yard, or something Grandpa always liked. The instruction: “I dunno, see what you can get from it”.

How critical are you of your own work?

I’m pretty tough. My quality control lady (wife) is way tougher. My burn box is full of items that did not make the grade.

Of what product/piece/project are you most proud?

I like my “Dark Side of the Moon,” my “Lunar Lander,” and my large “Natural Edge Cherry Burl Bowl”—I don’t know what to name it.

Do you teach your craft to others?

Absolutely. Belonging to the Cape Atlantic Wood Turners, an AAW affiliate (American Association of Wood Turners), one of the missions of our club is to spread the word. Each member has some private instruction arrangement and several of us teach basic wood turning at our local Technical Night School.

Do you participate in trade shows, craft shows, lectures, demonstrations, or conferences?

Shows are where it is at. I enjoy meeting the people, explaining, demonstrating, showing, and selling my work. It is a joy to see someone come to my table and their eyes just light up. One show, it was a Sunday afternoon, a lady came to my table, and tears immediately filled her eyes. I didn’t know what to think. Her son was about to graduate from college and her husband, a Vietnam Vet, had just passed away. She was looking at my wooden Sierra Vista Pen, which was a rendition of the Vietnam Service Ribbon, in wood. Something we enjoy but have not done a lot is the home parties.

Are all your pieces unique? Do you work by commission?

I tell people all the time that my pieces are unique. I never (well rarely) measure. If you find two alike, it was an error or a forgery. Bring it back!

I am honored when people ask me to do commission work. I once made a lid for the urn for Uncle Fred’s ashes.

When I do this kind of work, we understand we will aim for this or that goal. If my work misses your goal, we will try again until you are happy. However, woodworking is an art form.

Where would you like to go with your woodworking?

I’m pretty happy with where I am though not stagnating. There are items I must make to sell—that is what pays the bills—and there are items I call bait. Be they big or small, bait are items people want to drool over but really, where will they put it or how will they afford it?  I like to make captured ring items.  Typically a wine glass looking piece with a ring of the stem.

Does your skill set include carving or wood burning?

I burn my fingers all the time! I do not (have not) carved. Occasionally, I will burn a ring into a piece as accent.

What are you currently working on?

Pens, pens, pens. I make usually sixty pens at a time. Pepper mills for the summer.

Where is your workshop set up?

My shop is at the rear of my home. It is 12 x 16 feet. I have no radio because I want to hear the machines and the work as it is developing.

Where can people find you on social media?

We call ourselves Sweet N Round, and we can be easily found on Facebook.

Sweet: because we are honeybee keepers. We also honor my wife’s heritage as a Medina Bee. Medina is the honey capital of the world and home of the A. I. Root Company—formerly the largest honeybee supplier in the world and now the premier candle producer in the world.

N: for a conjunction

Round: well, I make round things.

Under Construction

Perhaps you’ve noticed some changes taking place at HL Gibson, Author. Just in case you haven’t, I’d like to take this opportunity to point them out. Under Edible Fiction, I’ve started grouping the food posts from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, in a sub file and started a new one for the novel I’ll be querying next, The Tedescos. There’s also a new sub file under Research Road for The Tedescos as I prepare to share information I used while writing. The Artist’s Corner is a new section on my blog where I published posts about some amazingly creative people. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about them if you haven’t already.

I’m sharing this to say that I hope the updated and/or newly grouped posts don’t blow up your e-mail inboxes. I only move a few at a time, and so far, per my husband, he hasn’t received notification regarding these changes. If by chance you do receive notification of an updated post due to a new tag, please forgive me. I must admit that I’m still learning the art of blogging, and when I launched my blog almost four years ago, I honestly did not foresee the need to reorganize it in this way. On the upside, I hope you’ll enjoy revisiting some older posts.

Thank you for your patience and please excuse the dust!

The Artist’s Corner – Tracking Down the Facts With Author Jane Turzillo

I first met author Jane Turzillo at an informal meeting for writers. Jane writes non-fiction that requires her to complete extensive research. Recently, she shared her research techniques and online resources at a presentation at the Hudson Library & Historical Society. After attending the presentation, I invited Jane to interview for The Artist’s Corner to share some interesting history about herself as well as the many links she uses when tracking down facts for her books.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I’m sure you’ll find the links Jane provided beneficial to your search for information.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything. I started out at college (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) on a vocal scholarship as a music major, but it just wasn’t my calling, so I quit. I’ve worked for construction companies, a cosmetic store, and a few clothing stores. I even taught piano for a while. Then I went back to school at The University of Akron to get a degree in criminal justice because I had dated a cop and became fascinated with police work. I realized I loved investigation, plus I knew I wanted to write crime and mystery. I also love going to school, so I went on to get a degree in mass-media communication.

I’ve worked in the development office of a private school and taught at a business college. I even worked at a travel agency for a few minutes. One of my favorite jobs was at the Akron Art Museum, where I was the public information assistant. Before I retired, I went back to the museum to work in the store part time. I also worked for two weekly newspapers. One of them, the West Side Leader, I co-owned. I was the police and fire reporter. That was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed riding with the police on weekend nights. One of those nights, I saw Jeffrey Dahmer sitting in the back of a cruiser, having been arrested for the first time. This was before we knew what a monster he was. Another case that I covered, and will always stick in my mind, was the murder of Dean Milo. The case stretched on for a year, but in the end eleven people were arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder.

I now work fulltime as an author and presenter. It is the best job in the world!

To which professional writing organizations do you belong?

National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime

How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write books?

Everything contributes to my desire to write books because I get ideas from my surroundings, whether it’s a person or situation I dealt with during my work experience, or a newspaper article that piqued my interest. Once I get an idea, I think “what if.” It just goes from there.

Why did you decide to write non-fiction?

I fell into nonfiction when I first started to write seriously. A friend and I had been to a writer’s conference given by Western Reserve Magazine. The editor told the group of wannabes how to break into the magazine. I was excited after that and needed a subject. It came in the form of an old-time counterfeiter whose story was in a book I picked up at the Summit County Historical Society. My first publication (that I knew of) was in Western Reserve Magazine. It was not on the counterfeiter but on a pioneer woman from our area. When I say “that I knew of,” years later, I got two contributor copies of a small magazine that published a short story I had written and forgotten about.

What are you favorite non-fiction topics to write about?

Crimes and trains in history. I’m in love with the research. I guess it’s the thrill of the chase.

Which historical figure did you most enjoy writing about?

Whichever one I’m writing about at the moment. This is something I’ve been asked lots of times, so I’ve had a chance to think about it. I always come up with the same answer. I like the madams:  Ardele Quinn in Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio and the four, Lizzie Lape, Rose Pasco, Clara Palmer, and Ginger Pasco, from my next book Wicked Women of Ohio. I’m also fond of “Akron Mary,” a bootlegger’s girlfriend, and Sarah Robinson and Annie George who shot boyfriends who treated them poorly all from Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio.  Sheriff Maude Collins of Wicked Women of Ohio joined the list this year.

What non-fiction title and/or topics do you enjoy reading?

This year’s favorites are: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann about the murders of Osage Native Americans who discovered oil on their land in Oklahoma during the 1920s; Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson about two deep sea treasure hunters searching for the pirate ship the Golden Fleece that sunk during the seventeenth century; and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a first person account of an ex-marine/Yale-educated attorney growing up in the Rust Belt.

Which authors do you enjoy reading?

My reading habits go in spurts. I’ll find an author that I really like and read everything that he or she has written. I like mysteries the most. Right now, I’m into western mysteries, and I like Craig Johnson. I’ve always liked Tony Hillerman. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Grisham never disappoint me.

How have these authors shaped your writing life and/or style?

I pick something up from every book I read—whether it’s writing that I think works well, or something in the plot.

Tell me about the books you’ve published.

Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio—ten women who didn’t play by the rules, eight murderesses, a madam, and a bootlegger’s girlfriend.

Murder & Mayhem on Ohio’s Rails—ten train robberies and murders right here in Ohio.

Ohio Train Disasters—twelve of the worst train collisions in Ohio, including the 1876 Ashtabula bridge disaster, which still ranks as one of the worst in the country.

Unsolved Murders & Disappearances in Northeast Ohio—eight unsolved murders, plus the disappearance of two children.

Wicked Women of Ohio—twelve more lawbreaking women from the state. Due out in June.

Where can an interested reader find your books?

They are available at almost any independent bookstore in Ohio or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. Even Giant Eagle carries them.

Describe your research process.

That’s a tough one because every subject takes me in a different direction. I’ve been out on lonesome dirt roads, in cemeteries, libraries, churches, police stations, court houses. I read old newspapers, track down relatives, talk to other historians and townspeople. I go wherever the road leads me, and I love every minute of it.

Will you share your favorite research sites with us?

Genealogy Bank

Newspapers.com

NewsLibrary.com

Google News Archive

Newspaper Archive

Ancestry  When accessed through your public library, you can search more for free.

Find a Grave

New York Times Article Archive  Requires a subscription

National Archives

FBI Records:  The Vault

Library of Congress

Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works Archive

The Charley Project Missing persons

Ohio History Connection

Cleveland Public Library

Cuyahoga County Public Library

Akron-Summit County Public Library

Where can one find you on the Internet?

My blog is Dark Hearted Women

The Artist’s Corner – Author Cari Dubiel Stands Out in the Crowd

About a year and a half ago, I was invited to join an informal meeting for members of Sisters in Crime at a fellow writer’s home. Although I don’t write mysteries, the meetings were, and still are, extremely beneficial as we talked craft and industry across the genres. The feedback has been wonderful, and the friendships are invaluable.

I met author Cari Dubiel at these meetings, and right from the start I could tell she was an articulate, intelligent woman. Being a librarian, book lover, and writer definitely scored Cari high marks in my book, but since that first meeting, she and I have had the opportunity to discuss the joys and woes of the writing life in some detail. Imagine how pleased I was to find a kindred spirit who shared my passions and concerns. In fact, much of what Cari said precisely mirrored what I had been thinking and feeling and I realized she would be the perfect candidate for an Artist’s Corner interview.

So, without further ado, allow me introduce you to genre-bending author Cari Dubiel.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a lifelong Ohio resident, married with two young children. I’m the Adult Learning and Information Services Manager at the Twinsburg Public Library in Twinsburg, Ohio. I’ve worked there for 11 years, though not always as a manager. Prior to TPL, I worked for a few other public libraries in Northeast Ohio, for a total of 20 years in libraries. I also speak and write in the library field, and I adjunct at Kent State University.

When did you develop your love of writing?

I was a very early reader – I don’t remember it, but my mom said that I could read fluently by the time I was three. She used to take me to her work, open a magazine, and watch all her friends’ jaws drop when I was able to read any sentence she pointed to. And, of course, I loved to read. So by the time I was in third grade, I wanted to write my own stories. My first story was called “Trapped in a Video Game,” and it was complete with illustrations of Mario and the Princess.

Did your position as a librarian play into your career as a writer?

Well, I don’t do any writing at work, and I’m not allowed to use my position to promote my books. But there is a natural correlation. A woman I worked with years ago introduced me to her husband, who was an avid mystery fan. He introduced me in turn to Casey Daniels, who got me involved in Sisters in Crime. So I guess I have Bob Burke to thank for my connections so far! I also regularly host authors at the library, and I read and review their books. And of course, we have a fantastic collection of craft books that I’ve cultivated. I think it’s the best in our consortium.

Have you ever worked as a freelance writer?

In library land, I’ve written for Library Journal, Booklist, and several professional blogs. Occasionally, I also take on freelance editing jobs, but I only take those that I am really passionate about, as I don’t have a lot of extra time! I’ve had a few short stories published online and in anthologies as well.

In what genre(s) do you enjoy writing?

I love to experiment with genre. I don’t like to feel boxed into one specific type of story. My writing is mainly focused on the characters and their arcs, but I also like to have a solidly structured plot to keep the reader guessing. I like pseudoscience – taking existing scientific concepts and playing with them, saying “what if?” I also like to have a mystery aspect to everything I write. It may not always be a “whodunit” – sometimes it’s a “whydunit.” And sometimes both.

Which genres do you enjoy reading?  Who are your favorite authors?

I pretty much read everything. I’ll go through phases when I’ll be in the mood for just one thing, and then I’ll switch gears to a totally different genre or type of book. Right now I’m in a sci-fi groove, particularly funny sci-fi. My other favorites are literary fiction, psychological thrillers, traditional and cozy mysteries, and nonfiction of all kinds. I tend to pick up whatever strikes my fancy – working in a library definitely enables my reading habit – but I always look forward to new books by Ernest Cline, Peter Swanson, Jennifer Weiner, Jonathan Tropper, Kate Racculia, and Ann Patchett. I love to support my writer friends as well – I’ll read and review everything they send me, or I’ll buy their books after pub date if I can’t get a review copy.

How have your favorite authors shaped your writing?

I think each one brings me a different strength. Tropper and Weiner have strong male and female voices, respectively, with smart, flawed protagonists. Patchett writes so beautifully and subtly, and Swanson writes highly readable killer thrillers. Cline is the master of sci-fi intrigue. I can’t wait for the Ready Player One movie. Kate Racculia is a fabulous literary writer, but she also has a strong focus on plot and character that really drives her fiction.

Tell me about your novel, How to Remember.

I often have intense, realistic, bizarre dreams. I also sleepwalk, so I wonder if there’s something weird going on in my unconscious mind. I woke up from one where I had lost exactly one year’s worth of memory, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. In the dream, my phone had been wiped, and I couldn’t find my computer, so there were no clues to what had happened. My protagonist, Dr. Miranda Underwood, starts off the novel in that situation. Through the course of the book, she has to find those clues and follow them to the answers she needs.

Miranda narrates from 2017; secondary protagonist Ben Baker narrates from 2016, helping to fill in the blanks. He encounters Miranda in her job at a company called MindTech, where she helps patients deal with past trauma by looking at their mental maps and providing them with targeted therapeutic solutions. Ben’s mother has died under mysterious circumstances, and he’s looking for answers of his own. The two narratives dovetail to show the reader what happened.

The book is available for pre-order at Inkshares: How To Remember

Are there any comparative titles?

The concepts are similar to the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the style is completely different from that film. With its focus on suburbia, the setting is reminiscent of Holly Brown’s This is Not Over or Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. In that way, the book is strongly domestic suspense. There are strong themes of parenthood and exploration of the relationships between parents and children. However, it also has the science fiction component with a lot of nerdy appeal, which fans of Ready Player One and The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak would enjoy.

What has the editing process been like for you?

Not bad so far – I’ve had some reader input, as well as a professional critique from author Lori Rader-Day through the Hugh Holton Critique Program. That critique program spurred me to enter the Hugh Holton Award competition with the Midwest chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I won that award in December 2017, so that was a great experience!

I’m looking forward to a professional edit, although I’m also nervous about it since I’ve never been through one before. I do edit for other people, so it will be strange to be on the other side of the screen.

Describe your journey to publication.

I’m hoping the answer to this will be a lot more complete in the future! Right now I’m campaigning for a publication deal. I need to sell at least 250 copies of my book as pre-orders for the deal to be funded. I’m lucky that this book has won an award, and it’s also been backed by two syndicates on Inkshares, which means that it’s been endorsed by many interested readers. But it’s still not a guarantee.

I have many friends who are in this business, who run the gamut from straight indie to hybrid to traditionally published, and there are so many setbacks and trials for all of them. Every person hits different roadblocks and trials along the way. Mine is no different, and it’s not done yet.

Why did you decide upon Inkshares?

I read The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein, which was a fabulous sci-fi story with great character development. As I usually do when I’ve read a book I like, I checked to see how it was published. The concept of books being published by reader interest was intriguing, and when I logged onto the platform, I was impressed by its sharp look and user appeal.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing, but now I regret nothing. I’ve met so many cool authors on the platform, who are smart, warm, and kind, and their books are astounding. I’m writing an article for IndiePicks magazine in March to highlight my favorites. I love “selling” books I love to library patrons.

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a business model that relies on user interest to develop a product. Most people will be familiar with it from platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. When a user sees an item they like, they pledge money towards it to help the product become a reality. On the Inkshares platform, it’s a little different: readers pre-order copies, so they don’t have to spend more than $10 for an e-book or $20 for a physical copy. If they want their name in the back of the book, they can spend $60, and they’ll also receive 3 copies of the book.

What challenges have you faced in your writing and with publication?

Honestly, my biggest challenge has been due to my own fault. I haven’t been able to choose a direction. And that comes from my deep love of reading everything. With my writing, I want to echo and amplify other authors, and it’s impossible to put everything I love into one book.

My friend Amanda Flower gave me the best advice, which finally helped me focus. She said to write what you love, what speaks to you. The rest of it is all business. It may not be the right market for the story at the time, but eventually, if it’s a good story, its time will come.

How can interested readers assist your efforts?

Pre-order at: How to Remember! If I make that 250 mark, readers are guaranteed a copy at publication. If pre-ordering isn’t possible, share the link freely. Inkshares does occasionally publish titles that they determine to have organic popularity, and that comes from liking, sharing, and clicking on the link.

I’ve also released a short story collection for free at “Lost Memories.” I’m posting these stories as I write them, so if you follow me on Inkshares, you’ll get alerts when I add the new content.

What is your marketing plan?

I’ve already done two giveaways, and I’m planning more. I find that even if readers can’t afford to purchase the book, they’re grateful if they win, and they’re more likely to follow me and keep up on my work. With each giveaway, I’m hoping to spread the love of books and reading, and I want to get to know my potential readers.

My awesome graphic artist is developing new covers for both How to Remember and “Lost Memories.” I also have another fabulous artist who is working on line drawings of the main characters. Prints of those will be released in a giveaway as well.

I’ve done some video content, too. The book trailer is on YouTube: How to Remember

You can follow my channel for more updates.

Where can one find you one the Internet?

Inkshares: Cari Dubiel

Goodreads: Author Cari Dubiel

Website: www.caridubiel.com

Facebook: Cari Dubiel Author

Twitter: @caridubiel

Instagram: @cb1281

Email Newsletter: Sign Up

Thanks for reading!

The Artist’s Corner – Talking Poetry With Poet Carrie Tangenberg, Part 1

I met Carrie Tangenberg several years ago in a writing group for poets and authors.  Right from the start I could tell she was an intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken woman.  The best part was that Carrie never came across as haughty or unapproachable.  On the contrary, her elegance and calm reserve combined with her intellect positioned her to make the most constructive critiques.  I have also witnessed this in the classical literature book club to which we both belong.

When I realized I needed a poet for The Artist’s Corner, Carrie immediately sprang to mind.  I only wish you could hear her answers in her own sophisticated voice.  I know you’ll enjoy reading them as they are deeply informative, openly transparent, and incredibly encouraging for anyone who has ever had a passion for art.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Creative writing has been part of my life since early childhood. In kindergarten, I wrote a story about a stick of personified butter in its trials and travails. I think that was my first story. Then, it was poetry in elementary school, which has persisted to present day.

After college, I applied my writing talent in office settings of the publishing and higher education fields. Later, I switched focus to teaching English and writing, along with other humanities subjects. Now, I blog about non-fiction, poetry, and novel writing, as well as nature, travel, and film and TV storytelling. I also tutor writing and career help online.

Other ways I stay connected to the writing world include participating in a classic literature book club, a local writing group, and our region’s National Novel Writing Month program. I took a course in memoir writing earlier this year, and I won a local poetry contest in spring 2016.

I also garden, bird-watch, practice photography, and hike in the area’s metro parks. In reading, I favor Outlander, literary fiction, adventure, contemporary realistic fiction, and sci-fi, poetry, and non-fiction works of memoir, writing about writing, and satire. My film preferences are eclectic, but many of my favorites happen to be space/alien sci-fi adventure such as Star Wars.

See the “About me” page of my blog for more philosophical and literary hints to my personality.

What prompted you to begin writing poetry?

I’ve always had a strong sense of rhythm and musicality, so after dancing jazz in first grade and lip-syncing to tunes in the living room, I started writing rhyming poems about birds in fifth grade. Most of my life’s poetry is about nature or wildlife, from the first to the most recent attempts. I also love language and playing with the sounds words make.

Who or what is your inspiration for writing poetry?

Number one, as I said, is wildlife or wilderness, often birds, trees and flowers, landscapes, waterways, and even insects, soil, and rocks, or as broad as the cosmos. I’m fascinated by predator-prey dynamics, the beauty and indifference of nature, and I love all sorts of animals. Favorites include wolves, foxes, African wild dogs, otters, all sorts of birds, chameleons, and meerkats. In an alternate life where I’m better at math and science, if I couldn’t be an ornithologist, I’d be a wildlife or canid biologist.

Other inspirations are existential or spiritual contemplation often intersecting with language and meaning—in other words, the nature of life, death, perception, reality, motivation, and how we express and understand those. Occasionally, I’m inspired by current events such as the death of Leonard Nimoy, for which I wrote my first elegy.

How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form, or an image?

It varies. Sometimes I’m attempting to capture an image with description. Other times, I like a phrase or concept and want to see what I can make of it. Mainly, spare impressions guide me forward, and the end result can often remain rather impressionistic. I long ago developed the habit of gravitating toward nature imagery for my similes and metaphors.

I suppose I enjoy the challenge of urging fresh ways of looking at nature, since it’s been done so much by so many poets and songwriters for so long. Nature poetry is typically the first kind that non-poetic types think of or attempt to write, usually a piece of verse about autumn leaves, celestial bodies, or weather. I often aim to upend those expectations or write the usual in an unusual way. So, the prominent starting points are ideas and language, but I might set out to fill a form such as a sonnet, blank verse, or even a limerick—for added, puzzle-solving challenge.

What conditions help you with your writing process? Where do you write? When do you write?

Optimal conditions are the ongoing puzzle I have yet to solve. If only I could figure this out, I’d be in so much greater shape artistically, if not also in terms of publishing. I write mostly at home, but I also find inspiration in local parks, other green spaces, and the occasional cafe. Sometimes I’ll start on the computer, but I keep in touch with the fact that handwriting can boost my creative flow. I write in cursive as often as in print letters, and that lends its own enjoyment of beauty to the exercise. I can write at all hours, whenever the mood or idea strikes, but I’m most productive late at night. I’m not sure when I write best, though.

What is your creative process? Do you have any routines?

Typically, I’ll draft a poem long-hand, then either mark it up or type it up for revision. Next, I’ll try to apply my revision ideas. Often it helps at this point to set the poem aside and come back after a few days or even weeks to see if I still like it enough overall to polish it in its current basic structure. If not, I’ll file it unchanged. If so, I’ll put my best foot forward in finalizing the poem.

I once chronicled my verse writing process on my blog in a series of 4 posts. I learned a lot by doing that, but I don’t know if it helped me set any particular approach in stone or make significant changes to my routine. The posts are cross-linked, and the first one is “On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation.

What books (of poetry or the creative process) or poets have influenced your writing?

Emily Dickinson was my initial influence for imagery, rhythm, and the combined sounds of words. She wrote a lot about death and loss, as well as nature, in her reclusive solitude. As a child, I had few close friends, so I could relate to some of that desolation and loneliness. Those feelings linger with me, but they’ve also evolved as I’ve adjusted how I write about nature. I have become accustomed to melancholy and used it to my artistic advantage.

Other works I find myself imitating are the nature poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Amy Clampitt, Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, and Judith Wright. I also love poets Philip Larkin and Billy Collins. Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros, which I read in college, is simply stunning. Beauty drips from this post-colonial Caribbean take on Homer’s The Odyssey.

How often do you create a new poem? What style or form do you choose for your poems?

I write half a dozen or so poems a year, sometimes working on them for long periods and coming back after a break to revise further. The rest are brief impressions jotted and then affectionately released from my attention into the archives. Most often I write in free verse using internal or near rhyme.

Are there any forms you haven’t tried but would like to?

Let’s see. I’ve written one poem in blank verse, a few sonnets, a syllabic, an elegy, a sestina, a villanelle, couplets, limericks, a handful of concrete poems, free verse, songs with refrains, and I tend to play with line and stanza breaks. If I thought more about it, I would probably find lots of forms I’d like to try. I have a poster with a reference chart of poetic forms on it at home. Some of them are very difficult, though, and it takes real dedication, regular practice, or teaching poetry to be primed for those challenges. I tend to dabble and seldom tutor poetry writing, though I have enjoyed a few sessions.

How much of yourself do you write into your poetry?

That’s a good existential question if I ever saw one. For me, the way I’ve written myself into poetry has progressed in different stages, but sometimes I return to earlier ones. I used to write a lot of confessional poetry about feelings, anxieties, depression, situational impressions, my experiences during study in France, and some poems about playing soccer or about ideas in stories I’ve read.

Nowadays, I still write occasional complaints in poetic form, but I don’t consider those serious or publishable samples. I have a strong aversion to writing, or reading, political poetry. I prefer the essay form for that purpose. I find a lot of slam poetry and poetry focused on political viewpoints to be too whiny, with off-putting ideas or, most frequently, simply incomplete and unpolished. People tend to take liberties with form, clarity, and content when motivated by outrage or ennui.

I’m always somewhere in my own poems—as the speaker and observer, as a character made of shades of myself and my way of thinking and speaking, and sometimes as the subject. I think every writer is to some degree.

Do you find yourself returning to a particular theme in your poetry?

The most prominent themes include natural elements as expressions of mood, marveling at some specimen of the animal kingdom, struggles for personal freedom and comfort in my own skin, or a combination of these. I’ve also focused a lot on nature poetry in my blog, along with book and arts reviews, emphasizing Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book and the STARZ TV series. I recently added travel writing about our wonderful trip to Scotland inspired by Outlander. My blog title is a throwback to my philosophy roots, a nod to part of a nickname for me, and a portmanteau meant to capture that blend of writing topics: “Philosofishal.

Word choice in poetry seems so important. Do you write with a dictionary or thesaurus next to you or make words choices in the editing process?

I periodically refer to dictionary.com or thesaurus.com and research using the Internet. Word choice is extremely important—one of the most important aspects of poetry in particular and, I believe, any good writing. Precise meaning, the right sounds, the right shapes and lengths for optimal rhythm, and careful phrasing, punctuation, and line breaks all have to work in concert for the best effects.

Punctuation choice is highly under-appreciated as a conveyor of nuanced meaning in writing. In poetry, if it is to be used, which is not required, punctuation must be precisely and consistently applied. That was one of the most memorable lessons my verse writing professor had for me in college: “You really must study punctuation.” As an English teacher and poet, I pay close attention to grammar and mechanics standards. When you know the rules, you can more effectively bend, break or uphold them to fit a poem’s purpose and style.

What is your revision process like?

In a poetry reading event at the Akron-Summit County Public Library last year, former U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, of whom I have been a long-time fan, said his writing process is nearly effortless. This comes with experience, of course, but he also makes a point of intentionally abandoning the task early if it gets too unwieldy, cumbersome, or sticky. I haven’t learned that trick, or earned that freedom, yet.

As I mentioned earlier, if I think I have a good enough start, I’ll draft and revise until it’s finished or until it’s changed too much to salvage. This speaks to the importance of saving versions. It can be unavoidable to struggle, though, and to be disheartened by ruinous results. Revision is the fine art of learning when good enough is good enough, which is very subjective, especially for new or amateur poets or poets without good editors. Perhaps I also feel a sense of urgency to put out a product, abandoning my drafts only after a hefty, strenuous effort, long past the wisest point of letting go.

Writers need to learn to become comfortable with what we call sh**ty first drafts, to expect snags and detours, and to know when it’s time to switch focus to a new or different project. Several factors may need to come together to make a piece work well, so that means a lot can go wrong, too. First, you have to know what the different aspects of a poem are. Then, after carefully assessing each factor and addressing each as needed, you can get a more realistic sense of a poem’s or a painting’s potential.

It’s always going to be something of a process, but we’re better off if we can recognize when we’re courting futility. The key at that moment is not to view this as a failure, which can be quite hard for artists, me included. Instead, finishing may be a simple matter of using a different form for the content, pinpointing that missing language or concept, or waiting a while for it all to coalesce, but that doesn’t necessarily make finishing any quicker or easier.

Is poetry your only type of writing? If not, what other types of writing do you indulge in? What is the relationship between your poetry and other writing?

I write a lot of different things, but not as many as I should or could if I were publishing my verse regularly. I write essays and articles on my blog about creativity, book reviews, TV shows, travel, and nature. I write novels during NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. I write political manifestos I never publish, just to get things off my chest. I recently began trying my hand at memoir and may do more of that in the future. My main focus right now, though, is the non-fiction on my blog.

Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?

My standards for what makes a good poem have definitely risen with education, my own reading, and writing experience. I’ve also found poetry in the prose of certain novels and learned to appreciate different poetic forms and outlets as I’ve aged, realizing how rare poetry really is.

Do poets experience (mental/writing) block (or fear) the way a writer of novels or short stories does? If you have, how did you handle it?

Writing is writing. Working with words or any creative material, in whatever form, brings with it challenges and rewards, as with any job. Furthermore, good writing and holding oneself to a standard of good writing means that, chances are, there will be anxiety. Pressure is useful up to a point. It’s when my own internal pressure to perform and produce becomes too much that I have the most trouble writing.

For me, it’s a periodically recurring problem. I feel as if I’m always searching for ways forward, but that’s also my nature: I’m a seeker. I’m very interested in the “how” of life and writing, so I experiment a lot, resist routine, and tend to suffer the inevitable consequences: interesting process, fewer outcomes, more worry. It’s mentally and emotionally taxing, but it can be creatively fruitful, too, because I’m already slightly outside the box in my thinking sometimes.

What do you hope to achieve with your poems? Do you ask questions in your poetry? If so, are they open ended questions or do you resolve them?

I have several different aims that can either cooperate or compete with each other in a poem for both my audience and myself. Beauty is one. Insight is another. Cleverness and novelty, yet others. Sometimes I write my journaling in verse, but I may not realize it’s just artistic journaling until later. In those cases especially, one of my aims is to convey a certain message or answer a particular question.

With nature poetry, as I mentioned earlier, a typical aim is to upset expectations, to open minds and hearts to new ways of seeing things. Along with these purposes, I’m mindful of craft and improving it. I might focus on developing a keener feel for line breaks or achieving tighter phrasing or using a different literary device than I might typically rely on.

As for solving or leaving unsolved, it depends. I think I often try my best to answer a question my poem poses, but more often than not, it’s only partially resolved or the question has changed or has been revealed to be missing the point by the end.

~~Part 2 of Carrie Tangenberg’s interview continues tomorrow at The Artist’s Corner

 

The Artist’s Corner – Taking Pictures With Rosita Larsson, Photographer

Several years ago, a collection of artists pursuing various art forms found themselves in a group message on Twitter complimenting each other’s work and wishing each other a great day.  This went on for some time, and out of this a few became particularly close.  They followed each other on Facebook and via blogs, and their friendships became closer.  Although they’ve never met (their relationships are still bound up in social media), their separation didn’t reduce the fondness they had for each other or the appreciation they expressed toward the individual’s chosen art form.

As one of those artists, I’d like to feature my friend, Rosita Larsson, and her amazing skill as a photographer.  Rosita was interested and willing to answer my questions for The Artist’s Corner.  The little bit of language barrier between us wasn’t a problem at all.  That’s probably because her English is much better than my Swedish!  Without further ado, allow me to introduce Rosita Larsson, photographer.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rosita Larsson.  I am a bighearted, international, Swedish autodidact and artist born in 1956.  I am the mother for four and grandmother of five.  I am a very kind person who expresses what is on her mind.  In my soul and heart, I hold the freedom and beauty that is art.  Creation has been a driving force and a salvation my whole life and through my own personal illness as well as my career spanning more than thirty years.  The best addition to creation is to put a smile on someone’s face, to inspire, and to help out!  I have always created in some form and began exhibiting intermittently for over thirty years, both as an individual and in group exhibitions.  I’ve exhibited worldwide in places such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Bulgaria, and France.

Do you put yourself into your photography?

I put my soul into my photography just like when I create.  And I have the eye as you might say.

What has your experience been?

I see myself as an artist first; one who photographs and does artwork, like painting or drawing.  I’ve always created in some form.  I worked in a laboratory with perfumes and essences, worked in stock and stores that sold beautiful things and clothes. I have worked with kindergarten children doing arts and crafts.  I’ve worked in offices, the latest being the Economy Department.  I’ve created brochures, layouts, etc. outside of my regular office work.  These are my ‘livelihood projects,’ and as I was the sole provider for my family, I created and participated in exhibitions in my free time.  In addition to the above, I’ve worked as a class Ma/PTA worker, a leader for leisure activities, in theater groups, and union work.

Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?

I was always the one who photographed all the conferences, company meetings, my family first and foremost, and quite a lot of people.  I seldom photograph people now days except my family, of course.  But I held back my passion for photographing abstracts and flowers, etc.  It was very expensive with film in addition to the specific camera I wanted.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

From when I was eight years old, I loved to photograph (borrowed my grandmother’s Kodak Instamatic).  I got my first camera a couple years later.  Since then, photography has been one of my major interests.  But things happen, and I had to limit photography to my wonderful family, a flower, or a stone or brick wall now and then.  I have always written, created, and primarily painted and drawn, but when the digital camera made its entry, I began more and more to photograph.  And guess what I always have with me:  my camera.

What or who is your inspiration?

Everything!  The experience rich life, and then I have a passion for flowers and architecture.  I see motivation and beauty in almost everything which makes the ordinary seem extraordinary.  I look upward and see angles to construct photo art.  I see subjects everywhere to the extent that it can be difficult which is why I prefer to be alone when I photograph.  When I’m with others, I give them the focus, show consideration, and listen, but when I photograph, I give the objects the focus!

What do you enjoy photographing?

Multiple POVs in reflections, in water, mirrors, windows.  Wherever I am on earth, I always have a camera with me.  It’s like a treasure hunt:  which designs, patterns, funny things, or flowers does my eye find today?  It doesn’t matter if it’s on a trip abroad or to the local grocery store; the treasure hunt is always there.  This applies to all aspecst of my life, too, when I’m in the woods searching for sticks and material to create with, searching for the best recipes or creating my own personal best.  At flea markets, secondhand stores, and vintage shops, I’m always looking for treasures.

That’s why my photos can be about almost anything.  Some things are my absolute passion such as flowers and stone in all forms (such as walls), water in all forms, and buildings (especially old houses and churches).  I get a lot of inspiration for my photographs, and a lot of people get inspired by my photographs.  It’s a win/win situation!

My photographs are completely true as you see it.  I don’t use Photoshop or other programs, no manipulation, alterations, or processing.

Where can someone find you online?  Do you have a website?

You can find me here:  Rosita Larrson

or here: Rosita Larsson Art Collections

In which contests have you competed?  What awards have you won?

Awards won in Design/Crystal Chandelier/Krebs 2006

Botanical and floral photographs have won awards in Sweden 2012

Photographers Forum/Sigma USA Awarded in 35th Annual 2015

Premio Drops from the World, National Civil War Victims Association

Culture and Peace Education/Honorable Mention

Witness of Peace and Solidarity, Italy, September 2016

Attestato di Meriot Artistico 2012 – 2017, many exhibitions in Italy

Conferisce il titolo di laurea ad honorem, Globalart Galleria, Italy, June 2017

Have you been featured in a magazine or other publication?

Libro Co. italia

The book is in English.  I have three works in this anthology along with other poets and artists from several countries.  The purchase helps supply filters to purify water in Bangladesh.  So far, it’s yielded pure water for three villages.

Right now, I am the Featured Artist of the Month in Sanctuary Magazine on the Internet.

Do you take photos for people?  How does a client contact you?

Yes, and I participate and use my art in different charities.  It’s a passion!  Potential clients may contact me here:  larssonzita@hotmail.com

What is your process for photographing people?

I rarely photograph people nowadays.  I go into photography focused as if in another world.  It’s calmer and almost like meditation for me.

How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you take for other people?

It’s painting with the camera, so no difference.

Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?

Not that I know of!

What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

Oh, dear—so many favs!  I have about 25,000 photos on my computer.  Not all of them are favs, of course, but many of them are in different ways because I photograph many different styles and objects, abstracts, macro, still life, nature, etc., etc.  Three is a charm, so I’ll take one of my still lifes, one macro, and my latest from this summer, a multiple POV/reflection photo.  (View Rosita’s photographers throughout the post.)

What’s your dream photograph?

The Aurora Borealis/ Northern Lights and the pyramids without the tourists.

What’s your biggest complaint with photography?

I take too many photographs, and I see too much motivation everywhere!  Also, I need a meaning with everything, so that’s a paradox.

Would you like to work full-time as a photographer?  If so, how do you see your business growing?

No, but as an artist whether it’s with a camera, brush, or pen.  I would like to do book illustrations and covers for example.

Do you work alone or with a partner?

Alone, but after I have done my artwork, I like to work on different projects with others.

The Artist’s Corner – Cooking With Priscilla Smith

I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to feed the characters in my stories.  In fact my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is replete with the mention of food prompting the sharing of recipes.  So when I began The Artist’s Corner, it made sense to feature someone who enjoys the art of cooking as much as I do.  I don’t believe Priscilla has ever cooked for a fictional person, but if she did, they would enjoy her talent as much as the real people for whom she cooks.

Hello and welcome to the Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’ve been married for fifty-one years, and I have two children and two grandchildren.  I have enjoyed being a homemaker for the better part of my marriage.  I was heavily involved in raising my family and my children’s schooling, but I also worked in the banking and legal industry as well as a volunteer at the fire department.

How/when did your love of cooking develop?

I learned to cook under my mother’s instruction, but growing up in West Virginia didn’t expose me to a variety of foods.  My basic cooking skills didn’t develop until my high school home economics class in Ohio.  My final project was to collect recipes, and I gathered some good ones, but they were basic.

I honed my skills through my relationship with my oldest brother’s wife.  Inta is Latvian, and she introduced me to other foods and methods of preparation.  I fell in love with cooking and realized I could do this, too.

Do you consider the food you prepare art?

All of it.  From the first steps of preparation to the finished meal is the creation process resulting in edible art.  That’s why I take pictures of it and put it on Facebook!  At first I thought just the fancy stuff and my baking was art, but I realized it all is.  The quality of the food contributes to the finished product.  Homemade food is art with love infused.  In fact, something as simple as fried green tomatoes when made with good ingredients and love are impressive.

And don’t forget that the table setting is part of it.  Presentation plays an important role.  You eat first with your eyes, then your sense of smell, and finally with your mouth.  Sure, it’s the same food when you hastily prepare it and eat right out of the pans, but beautiful dishes, large platters, place mats, candlelight, napkins, silver, and crystal:  all this enhances the food.  You make it worthy of being presented in a magazine.

Do you put yourself into your cooking?

Absolutely.  How I season, what I choose to cook for a particular meal, how I approach the preparation process:  this is me infusing myself into the food.  I love to cook what I enjoy eating for other people.  It’s a small expression of my personality that I can share with others.  And you really can’t go wrong when you’re cooking something you like to eat; it’s like giving a present of yourself to someone.

My accent is on good, solid food.  Not necessarily fancy, but I’m not afraid to try something new.  Thai food has been of interest to me lately.  But if asked to prepare something that I’m not particularly fond of or have never made, I’ll still make every effort to please whoever I’m feeding.

I don’t consider myself a chef by any means, but I consider myself a cook, and a good one.  I have training in life experience with cooking.  My education comes from searching through cookbooks, vintage recipes, online, and word of mouth which usually provides the best recipes.  And I can never leave a recipe alone; I always tweak it!  Sometimes my recipes are never the same twice, but they’re always good.

What other cooking experience have you had?

On a whim, I took a cake decorating class with women from a craft club I attended years ago when my children were young.  A bunch of us went.  I fell in love with the art of cake decorating and started making my kids’ cakes, cakes for neighbors, cakes for family functions.  I realized I could channel my talent into a small business.  With a lot of practice, I worked my way up to wedding cakes and was quite successful.

Did your non-cooking work experience lead to the pursuit of cooking?

Not exactly, but cooking for my family fed my interest.  I’ve never even been a waitress, but I’ve been involved with hosting tea parties (in my home, at church, and in other people’s homes), guests breakfasts for Pastor Appreciation, luncheons honoring staff or administrators at schools, catered wedding receptions, wedding showers, baby showers, conference luncheons for two hundred people at churches, a week’s worth of meals for an equestrian group with special dietary requests, and company Christmas parties.  In each instance, I worked with my client(s) to create a full menu that would be visually pleasing and delicious, and then I prepared the food.

What or who is your inspiration for cooking?

Julia Child, Ina Garten, and Martha Stewart—they cause me to rise up to their standard of cooking.  I love watching them and reading their cookbooks.  Factor in Graham Kerr and Justin Wilson.

What do you enjoy cooking?

It would be a lot quicker to say what I don’t enjoy.  My favorite things to cook are my childhood comfort foods which are brown beans and cornbread, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Simple desserts like Crazy Cake and fudge.  Really, it’s hard to say any one thing since I like to make big meals and serve people.  I love to make pasta, beef roasts, chicken in many forms, roasted vegetables.  I love baking pies, breads, cookies, and cakes in that order.

Do you still cook for others as a business?

No, now it’s all for pure pleasure.  Well, actually, I’d take small jobs for close friends or family.  I’ve done everything I want to do business-wise with cooking.  I could turn all my handwritten recipes into a cookbook.  I could see a market for it based on people’s positive reaction to The Pioneer Woman and Paula Deen.  People like well-prepared, basic food that tastes good and isn’t difficult.  Food you already have in your cupboards.

Have you ever competed in a cooking contest or bake off?  If so, how did you do?

I baked for competition once.  When I was a young mother, I made candy apple pie for a local grocery store’s competition.  I took second place and received a ribbon!  I love watching the competitions on television and thinking, I could beat Bobby Flay, but cooking shouldn’t be under pressure or about throwing food around.  I’m not going to cook octopus, but if Bobby and I competed at potato soup or chili, I know I could take him down in a heartbeat.

How have you shared your cooking skills?

Lately, I’ve been teaching a young girl how to cook because she’s homeschooled.  Her mother asked me if I’d teach her to bake cupcakes and cookies because she’d tasted my stuff.  We slowly progressed into pies (double crust and with meringue), and she’s made palmiers, pudding, and angel food cake.  Next she’s going to make cheesecake.  We keep progressing with more and more difficult techniques.

What’s your opinion on the removal of Home Economics from school, specifically cooking?

It’s sad because young people don’t know how to cook.  They come home from work and buy something frozen or already prepared.  And I’m not talking about just girls.  Boys need to know how to cook, too.  My one grandson is prime example that boys can learn how to cook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need to learn how to feed themselves.  Breakfast and dinner are essentials because that’s usually when they’re home.  Lunch is often eaten out, so they need to learn how to choose wisely.

How is what you cook for yourself different from what you cook for other people?

If I’m making a grilled cheese for myself, I’m going to grab a couple slices of bread from the fridge, use American cheese, and the fanciest thing I’d include would be a slice of tomato.  But if I’m making grilled cheese for someone else, I’m going to use seven-grain or homemade sourdough bread, gruyere, fontina, or a combination of exceptional melting cheeses, spread one side with Dijon mustard, and put a slice of roasted red pepper on that baby.  Still grilled cheese, but see the difference!

No doubt you’d work presentation into this simple fare?

Absolutely!  And it’s not just dressing up ill-prepared or tasteless food.  Make no mistake; it all starts with delicious food, quality ingredients.  Even how you refer to it is important.  Simple things like cutting the crust off toast or sprinkling chopped green onions over an omelet and serving it on pretty dishes can go a long way to turning the eggs and toast you always have for breakfast into something special.

What’s your favorite meal to cook?

Passover.  I love cooking for Passover.  When I’m cooking the Passover meal, the whole experience becomes holy.  Of course the Seder is beautiful; it’s for Adonai.  It can be quite long, so people are getting hungry.  You’d better serve them your best, and I do.  What I hope they know is that I’ve given my best to them because of my love for Adonai.

What’s your dream meal?

To have lunch with Martha Stewart, but I prepare the food.  There’d be a salad involved, probably a soup and sandwich combination.  The time of year, whether spring or fall, would influence the menu.  And I’d make homemade pie, probably lemon meringue because my crust is excellent.

What’s your biggest complaint with cooking?

The cost of good ingredients can be prohibitive.  One meal could be outrageous.  I’ll buy organic when it’s feasible.  My concern isn’t just for myself, it’s for everyone.  We live in a country that wastes too much food.  The GMOs bother me, too.  Whole foods and organics should be available at reasonable prices to everyone.

So do you have a recipe to share with us?

You know I do!

Homemade Potato Dumpling Soup

6 – 8 Redskin or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

3 – 4 ribs of celery, sliced

Medium sweet onion, chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1 ½ c flour

½ t salt

Stick of butter

4 – 6 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned (enough to cover, depends on the size of your potatoes)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 quart half-n-half

Place the potatoes, celery, and onions in a large pot and cover with the broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover while you’re making the dumplings.

Combined the eggs, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly to make a thick batter for dumplings.  Take a large spoonful of dumpling mixture and cut off pieces with a butter knife, dropping them into the hot soup.  Add a stick of butter.  Cover and let the dumplings cook for 5 – 8 minutes.

Turn the heat off and add the half-and-half until there is plenty of liquid around the ingredients and the soup looks creamy.  Taste to see if you need more salt, then season further with salt and pepper.

My family likes to top the soup with small chunks of Havarti, let it soften ever so slightly, and then eat it!

The Artist’s Corner – Michelle Smith, Photographer

When I seriously started to hone my chosen craft of writing, one of the first things I noticed was how closely related the approach is too many other forms of art.  Whether it’s cooking, painting, composing, dancing, or taking pictures, we all start with desire and ability.  Where it goes from there depends on our level of commitment, how we respond to mistakes, rejection, and criticism, and how we allow ourselves to grow.  The great artists press on and realize that their success isn’t measured by fame or fortune.

In A Snapshot of Writing, I detailed one of my favorite crossover art forms, photography.  After re-reading the post, the idea came to me to feature other artists and discuss their approach to their chosen art form.  I decided to start with brilliant, budding photographer Michelle Smith.

Welcome to The Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a survivor.  My strength is my compassion.  I’m a pet person with a rescue cat addiction.  I’m destined to be the crazy cat lady, but my husband and son won’t let me.

Do you put yourself into your photography?

I do.  I’ve had some rough spots in my life, so I’m trying to tell a story through what I’m taking pictures of.  They reflect who I am and how I’m trying to find myself.  I want to be seen, and although it’s who I am now, it’s not where I want to stay, it’s not who I want to be.

Ankle deep in commitment.

What has your experience been?

I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years before I started my career at thirty-four as an EMT and then progressed to paramedic.  I worked for a private ambulance company for eight and a half years, three and a half years of that was in training and education.  I currently work in the ER Department of a hospital as an active paramedic.  I love it!

Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?

No, actually it didn’t.  My husband’s job did.  He’s a detective who trained in taking crime scene photos.  His experience piqued my interest in photography.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

I started going with him to take picture outside of the crime scenes.  He shot landscapes, objects, places, and eventually senior class pictures.  I found myself telling him what to take pictures of, and I started taking the camera from him.  He’d just chuckle at me.  Then he started explaining what I was looking for and how to work the settings, but I didn’t pay attention at first because it wasn’t my camera.  I let him move the settings, and I took the picture.

That lasted for about six months until he gave me a camera for Christmas.  We were going on vacation, and he knew I’d want my camera for the trip, so I got it in November.  It was either give me my own camera or lose his!

What’s your inspiration?

Spending time with my husband because it’s something we have in common.  Listening to him patiently tell me how to use my camera.  Taking long car rides to where we’re going to go take pictures and chatting about it on the way.

What do you enjoy photographing?

I enjoy taking pictures of abandoned places because I feel sad for them.  I think of all the things that took place there.  I don’t have memories of these places so I think what happened here?  I wonder about the families that were displaced, the moms who raised their kids there, and the people who lost their jobs.  Where are these people now?  Time has forgotten these places and no one wants to hear the stories, so I take pictures of the abandoned places and tell their story through my photography.

Where can someone find you online?  Do you have a website?

I have some of my pictures posted on ViewBug under the name Just4FunPhotography.  You can find them on the home page newest to oldest.

In which contests have you competed?  What awards have you won?

On ViewBug, I participated in peer-created challenges and received the People’s Choice award in the categories of Lanterns, Save the Rain Forest, and Toy Planes.  I also received the ViewBug Member Selection Award and Staff Winter Selection for 2015.  I took first place in Nature and also in Architecture at the Portage County Randolph Fair.  At the Lake Community Branch of the Stark County District Library’s Annual Photo Contest, I took first place in Nature and second place in Architecture.

Do you take photos for people?  How does a client contact you?

I haven’t yet for major events such as weddings, graduations, but I’m willing to learn.  I think I’m afraid to because you can’t have that moment back like you can with a landscape or object.

What is your process for photographing people?

Well, actually, my focus is on landscapes or objects.  I’m not a big fan of people pictures, so all the movement in my photographs is natural:  waterfalls, wind through the trees.  Right now, I don’t incorporate people.

How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you do for people?

When I shoot for myself, I look at the picture with a more critical eye because I am the photographer.  I’m harder on myself than when I’m shooting for others.  That’s not to say that I don’t put all my effort into shooting for other people.  I take their requests very seriously.

It’s a great satisfaction for me to be able to take a photo for someone and capture it exactly as they wanted.  Recently, I took pictures of pigs at a fair for a friend who grew up raising pigs for 4-H.  I wasn’t sure I got exactly what she wanted because I couldn’t get past the fences to take the pictures.  She loved them because that’s what she remembered:  looking at pigs up close through the fence.  It was a successful shoot because I made her happy.

Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?

No, but I’d definitely consider it.  For National Geographic; I want that shot!  It’s the dream.  I’d also like to see my picture of a baseball player on a card or the electronic billboard at the game.  Or maybe a hockey player because of their facial expressions.  If you have patience, and capture the right moment, they have some intense expressions.  But then I’d have to photograph people!

What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

I have to choose one?  I have two!  I captured it on my first day out with my own camera.  Picture this:  With butterflies all around, capturing just one was difficult.  I turned to notice the curls of a flower vine hanging just above my head.  As I admired its beauty, this butterfly fluttered right down onto the dangling vine.  I was filled with excitement and literally shook!  I slowly raised my camera into position, took a deep breath, and then snapped the picture.  Then I recalled my lessons; even though I took the picture, the settings may not have been correct for this situation.  I reined in my excitement and slowly changed the settings to capture the picture as you see it.  I smiled, thinking to myself, Wow that’s going to be amazing.  This photograph has no post-process editing.  I named it Curly Q.

My second favorite is of the 1792 distillery rickhouse in Kentucky.  It’s called Master Distiller Approved.  I applied the rule of thirds and vanishing points to the picture, but when I snapped it, it came out with too much backlight from the windows.  I closed the aperture, and it was perfect.  Plus the smell of bourbon in there was heavenly!

What’s your dream photograph?

Are you really ready?  People are going to think I’m freakin’ crazy.  I want to capture what was left behind after Chernobyl.  After viewing other photographers’ work, I became inspired and decided that’s one of my dream shots.  It’s part of the abandoned place thing.  So many lives were lost, these people had no time to pack, they were evacuated in forty-eight hours, and told they were leaving for just a short time.

The other, I’m claustrophobic so it’s never going to happen, is to photograph the abandoned hulls of underwater shipwrecks.  I’d like to do war ships, but you can’t get close.  Talk about stories to tell!

What’s your biggest beef with photography?

Photoshopping!  Lightroom, a program that fixes the picture and makes it more than it was to begin with.  It’s not real, and photographers are getting awards for this type of work.  The pictures are over processed, over edited.  There’s a minimum of allowable tinkering.  All I’ll do is sharpen, define, and noise reduction which fixes shaking.  If the picture is already good, it’s not even noticeable.  There is some post-processing no matter who you are (National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret, or Sports Illustrated), but you can’t make a bad photo good.  Well, you can, but that’s cheating.

My other complaint is photographers who steal other people’s work.

Would you like to work full-time as a photographer?  If so, how do you see your business growing?

Absolutely!  To enjoy your hobby as a career could be more relaxing than the grind of an everyday job that is so-so.  Not that my job is so-so.  Remember, I love being a paramedic.  Breaking in to the world of photography to make your name takes time and commitment.  There’s the investment in equipment unless you get hired in somewhere that supplies equipment.  So, I’d work for someone commercially to get started.

Then there’s the investment in your craft.  I’m still learning and growing my confidence.  I need to work at handling variables such as people (they’re so unpredictable!) and not putting a picture in my head and trying to make it happen.

Do you work alone or with a partner?

I prefer going with someone else.  I enjoy going with other people whether they’re photographers or not because when they see something they want a picture of, I can give it to them.  I don’t have to guess at what they’ll like.  It’s quite confidence building to deliver a picture right then and have them be pleased.  Plus I like to chat with people!

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