June 23, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Interviews


I knew from the day I started my blog that I wanted to conduct author interviews. I am fascinated by the creative process, and love that every author has found their own way to nurture their muse. And they are all so different!

I am also mildly obsessed with desserts, so out of curiosity (and to get some good ideas/recipes), I decided to ask every author I interviewed what their favorite dessert was.

My first interview was with Mari L. McCarthy at, and her favorite dessert was sublime: dark chocolate, especially in the form of mud pie. Yum!

My own creative/dessert junkie muse kicked in and I came up with a fabulous idea. From then on out, I would make the author’s favorite dessert and present it virtually along with the recipe. I thought it would be a win-win: they’d get a virtual version of their favorite dessert, and I would get to try something new to add to my dessert arsenal. Besides, I have this great Pinterest Dessert Board and I’m just looking for a reason to try any one of them.

It hasn’t worked out this way at all.

For one thing, there is a fundamental difference between males and females when it comes to dessert:

Mari L. McCarthy: female. Loves dark chocolate and mud pie. Yes! Good answer.

Garth Stein (author of The Art of Racing in the Rain): male. Likes strawberries and cream or a good cheese plate. Umm…a cheese plate? That’s not a dessert. There is no chocolate on a cheese plate.

Noah Scalin (author of Skulls): male. Likes frozen grapes. Again, not a dessert. If I remember my food pyramid correctly, grapes are a fruit.

Raymond Z. Ortiz (author of We Had More To Say): male. Likes a New Mexican form of bread pudding. Hmm…questionable. Plus, he’s a great cook. He certainly doesn’t need me making bread pudding for him. (Do I even like bread pudding?)

My grand plan was hitting a brick wall…until along came Karen Pokras Toz, author of Chasing Invisible and the Nate Rocks the World series. She likes cannolis. Finally! A legitimate dessert item that I have never even tried. Let the dessert adventure begin!

I perused the internet for cannoli recipes. There are a lot, like Recipe Girl’s Cannoli recipe and of course Alex Guarnaschelli’s Homemade Cannoli recipe on They both looked good, so I decided to combine them into one recipe (perhaps that was Mistake #1?). But  here’s the thing about cannoli: making the shells is a high maintenance endeavor. You need special cannoli rings to wrap the dough around (which I didn’t have) and then you have to fry them (and I don’t have a great pan for that). Surely they could be store bought?

Of course they can, at Italian specialty stores, which are…where exactly?

I needed an easy plan B. I picked up some mini phyllo cups from my local grocery store’s freezer section plus all the ingredients for the filling, which was delicious: sweet and creamy with the hint of cinnamon and allspice…yum! But was it supposed to be this runny? I spooned the soupy mixture into the cute phyllo cups and studied them. These were no cannolis, my friends, nor could they even be classified as cannoli-esque. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had made, but I knew it wouldn’t be gifted to anyone, virtually or otherwise. Even my kids declined to taste them.

I am sure my Italian ancestors are rolling in their graves.

I am not giving up. I will revisit this process again and figure out where I went wrong. In the meantime, I continue to hope that someday I will interview an author whose favorite dessert is a plateful of brownies. Now that I can make.


Basement Brownies from


June 21, 2013 in Book Reviews, Interviews

I am so pleased to have award-winning author Karen Pokras Toz stop by today to celebrate her latest release Chasing Invisible!

Chasing Invisible is the story of quiet, bookish Julia Alexander who needs little more than her family, her books, and a few close friends to be content. But her life takes a 180º turn when she meets Chase, a budding musician. When the song he writes for Julia becomes a hit, Julia’s quiet life becomes a faint memory. She finds herself being proposed to in front of thousands of fans at Chase’s concert and her photograph plastered across every reputable and non-reputable magazine and newspaper on a daily basis.

Standing strong against unkind remarks about unflattering photographs taken of her and salacious stories that she knows are lies, Julia forges ahead the best she can. But things change again when her children are born and she is no longer sure that every printed rumor about Chase is a lie. Now she needs to stand strong to protect her children and herself from the harm the paparazzi causes. How far will she go to keep her children invisible?

Reminiscent of Princess Diana and her life in the limelight, Chasing Invisible is a compelling story of how ravenous the paparazzi can be when it comes to news of celebrities. Harassment, lying, and children are all fair game in this business. Julia questions it all, especially how she became the target. After all, she is not the famous musician: her husband is.

I enjoyed this novel: my first on a Kindle! Julia is a likable character surrounded by good friends I wouldn’t mind hanging out with myself. The struggles she goes through to keep her children’s lives private will resonate with any parent, and I gasped out loud at times reading about the horrifically unkind judgments passed on everything about her. I cannot imagine what it must be like for today’s celebrities that have to survive that kind of scrutiny. While this is an adult novel, I can’t help but think it would jump start a dialogue with teenagers about what they say about others on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and the harmful impact it could have.

This novel has a heck of a twist at the end, which is just icing on a great piece of cake!

My Interview With Karen Pokras Toz

1)    Congratulations on your release of Chasing Invisible! You got your start writing novels for middle grade readers, and this is your first adult contemporary novel. What prompted you to make the change?

Thank you so much, and thank you for hosting me here today! Actually, I wrote the first draft of Chasing Invisible about a year before I started writing my first middle grade novel. In that draft, there was a flashback scene where I wrote the main character as a ten year old. That scene has since been cut, however, I learned that I loved writing in that young voice, and it was that scene that inspired me to go on to write middle grade.

2)    What challenges did you encounter in writing for an adult audience that you did not expect?

As I mentioned above, I wrote the first draft of Chasing Invisible many years ago, and have since changed focus to middle grade. Going back to that adult voice was very difficult. My ten, eleven, and twelve year old voices kept trying to creep through which as you can imagine did not mesh well with adult themes. It took me quite some time to tune them out and focus on the adult voice, which thankfully I did finally find.

3)    Chasing Invisible is about a family in the media spotlight, where every facet of their lives is splayed out for the world to see. How did you research what the effects of that kind of scrutiny would be on a person, especially one as private as Julia?

I wish I had some glamorous answer that I travelled to Hollywood and interviewed celebrities, but really all I did was observe. As a child and even as an adult I watched so many “rise and falls” of celebrity families. I was particularly fascinated with Princess Diana (as so many others were) – it was during her marriage that I began to question her right to privacy and the ethics of it all.

4)    Julia’s journey through her life in the spotlight was compelling, and the ending…well, let’s just say I did not see that coming! Without giving anything away, did you always know that was how your novel would end, or did it come to you as you wrote from Julia’s point of view that this would be the solution to her paparazzi problem?

The ending was actually the prompt for the entire story. At times I wanted to start the story from the ending and move backwards, but I knew I had to tell Julia’s story from the beginning or the readers wouldn’t have any connection to her. Plus I think the reader gets more of a shock factor having it at the end. (and that’s all I’m saying there!)

5)    Nate Rocks the World was your first middle grade novel that has since blossomed into a series. (I loved it! Read my review here.)  I know we briefly talked about reluctant readers. As a writer, how do you engage a reluctant reader?

For kids, I think humor is key. If your kids are laughing while they are reading, then they are engaged, and if they are engaged, then they will want more. In between the humor, I throw in adventure and learning – yes – don’t tell them, but I squeeze in messages about respect, self-confidence, friendships, and anti-bullying.

6)    Now that you’ve written for both adults and children, do you have a favorite audience to write for?

Hard question! They’re so different!! I’m working on another adult contemporary book and two other middle grade books right now and I love them all. I guess it’s like asking me which of my kids I love best. I love them all!

7)    Coming from a finance/law background to writing seems like a dramatic switch. Is writing new to you, or has it always been a part of your life?

I know – it’s crazy, and nobody is more surprised than me! I can’t even explain it. I always loved to read, but hated writing. Math was always my thing. For the past twelve years I’ve been a number cruncher. My writing was limited to emails asking for people’s tax information. I honestly have no explanation and even now when I say I’m a writer, I still can’t believe I’m saying the words. It sounds completely absurd.

8)    As the mom of three children, when/where/how do you find time to write?

They are horribly neglected. Kidding!! I write mostly during the day when they are at school. I’m lucky to have three great kids.

9)    What is next for you on your writing horizon?

I’m working on a book called “Pie & Other Brilliant Ideas” which is a middle grade book I’m hoping to release in the fall. Then I have the 4th Nate Rocks book slated for early 2014. A surprise for the summer of 2014 and another adult book for late 2015 (tentatively titled Woven Wishes) about three sisters.

10) What is your favorite dessert?

About a million things just popped in my head – but I think I love cannoli’s most of all!


Thank you so much for stopping by Karen, and best of luck on your tour!

Visit Karen Pokras Toz here:


Tour Schedule:
June 18 In the Land of Dreams Excerpt
June 19 Tyrneathem Top Ten List
June 20 Cu's e-Book Giveaways Character Guest Post
June 21 Muddying the Waters Review & author interview
June 22 Rayborn rambles Review
June 23 The Journey Continues Review & Author Guest Post
June 24 The Book Connection Review
June 25 Pavarti K Tyler http://www.PavartiKTyler Excerpt
June 26 Library Girl Reads & Reviews Author Guest Post
June 27 Lubs Book Chatter Review and Character Guest Post
June 28 Fiona's Book Review Blog Http:// Author Interview
June 29 Kats Read Author Guest Post
June 30 From the Bootheel Cotton Patch Book Promo
July 1 fuonlyknew Excerpt
July 2 Fresh Pot of Tea Excerpt
July 3 lindsay and janes views and reviews Review & Character Guest Post
July 4 Girl Who Reads Tips on Thursday
July 5 The avid Reader Book Promo
July 6 Lissette E. Manning Review & Author Guest Post
July 7 Ohana Day Academy Review
July 8 Ali's Bookshelf Review



October 29, 2012 in Interviews

Photograph by Bill Wadman

Noah Scalin is the author of Skulls, 365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Everyday and Change Your Life!, Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in Your Studio, and The Design Activist’s Handbook: How to Change the World (Or at Least Your Part of It) with Socially Conscious Design. He is also an artist, a designer, and an activist and founded his own design firm Another Limited Rebellion. Read more about him and his year of making a skull a day for 365 days here.

 1. In 2007, you began your personal challenge to make a skull every day for 365 days. Why skulls?

At the time it was a truly arbitrary decision. I really just had the fully formed thought, “I should make a skull a day for a year,” and I didn’t question why. Realistically I’d been a fan of skulls since I was kid and already had several tattoos of them when I started the project. Of course when I think about it after the fact I realize they were the perfect image for the project since they are generally used in art as a memento mori: a reminder of death, but not a negative one, instead one that encourages you to live more fully each day!

2. How did you get through the days where you just didn’t want to make a skull?

I never didn’t want to make a skull, that was the fun part of my day! The hard part was finishing a skull and realizing I wasn’t done and still had 8 hours of work to get through!

3. Did you ever worry that you would run out of ideas? 

Nope. Pretty much from the start I had plenty of ideas and as I used up my existing skills and materials to work with I was given a constant stream of new ones from friends and strangers! I actually ended the project with a list of ideas that I never got to!

4. Of all the skulls you’ve created, do you have a favorite? A most difficult?

Ha, that’s like saying what’s your favorite child to a parent! If I truly had to choose though, it would have to be the one I actually tattooed on myself on day 101, I’ll definitely have that one for the rest of my life! As for the most difficult, I guess if you consider time consuming to be difficult, it would be a tie between cross-stitch and latch hook. Neither is a difficult skill, but generally they are the types of projects you don’t try to complete in a day, and doing them non-stop for nine hours (minus migraine headache induced naps) is not really that fun.

Day 101:Tattooed Skull, Self-Inflicted

Day 161: Latch Hook Skull

Day 258: Cross-Stitch Skull














5. You also have a blog entitled Make Something 365 where people are invited to create their own year-long challenge and share their efforts. Do most people complete the challenge? What do you think the key is to following through on such a big commitment?

You know I don’t keep a tally, but I think only a small percentage of people that set out to do a 365 project complete it, but really that’s not the point. I know people that have gotten a ton out of doing just a 100-day project or even 52 weekly projects over the course of a year. In fact pretty much across the board people who start a daily project feel the effects with in a couple of weeks, and no matter when they stop they will benefit from the experience they’ve had. That said I think the people who succeed in making all the way to the end are people who have chosen to do something they’re actually passionate about and been forgiving about the results, not hoping or trying to be perfect every day.

6. Congratulations on your new book The Design Activist’s Handbook: How to Change the World (Or at Least Your Part of It) with Socially Conscious Design! How did being socially conscious become such a big part of your life? Is there a particular area in which you are most hoping to effect change?

Thank you! I was actually raised as an activist, being pushed in a stroller by my mother at ERA rallies in the 70s! So activism is in my blood and I always assumed I would work from an ethical perspective as an adult, only to find out that that wasn’t really considered a realistic thing to do when I got out of college! So I set out to show people that it was possible by starting my own socially conscious design firm. And what I’m trying to do with my work, teaching, and this book is to help people see that they can do what they’re passionate about, make a living at it, and make the world a better place in the process! Sounds like a good deal right

7. What is your favorite dessert?

Lately it’s been frozen grapes! I only just discovered them this year and I can’t believe no one told me about this earlier. They’re so good; like little individually wrapped sorbets.

Noah, thank you so much for this interview! I am so intrigued with the idea of doing something every day for 365 days. You have given me a lot to think about!


September 12, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting, Interviews, On Writing

Last night I was standing in a long, slow line consoling my 9-year-old son. He had just burst into tears because I, as a newbie to book signings, did not plan my attack very well.

I thought I had it down. Complicated carpools were coordinated and a babysitter was arranged for my two sons unable to attend due to soccer practices (my middle son, with the earliest practice, was not so lucky). We made it to the local high school auditorium with time to spare and even managed to snag decent seats. But instead of looking around the room with a dopey grin on my face waiting for Garth Stein to arrive, I should have been in the lobby buying books for him to sign afterwards.

It was the culmination of our city’s first One City, One Book program and Garth Stein was scheduled to speak about his books The Art of Racing in the Rain and Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. I was thrilled! My son, less so. Like a good parent, I bribed him with a stick of gum. He took it, but it was clearly not enough. So I upped the ante, promising a McDonalds milkshake afterwards because I wanted to listen to what Garth had to say.

The second sentence Garth spoke was this:

“If anyone feels the need to dance, please let yourself loose.”

What kind of author begins an evening with a statement like that? I’ll tell you: a funny one. And he was funny, and enthusiastic, and comfortable on stage.

He began with his background: where he grew up, where he went to college (Columbia University), and how he was living in New York with his small children when he and his wife decided to return to the Seattle area.

They had just moved back and were stumbling around with everything in boxes when (I believe) his mother-in-law called and told him to turn on the TV. Garth replied that he didn’t have one. She advised him that he’d better get one. That day was 9-11-2001.

He bought a TV only to see the city—his home—that he had just left in ruins. In front of us all, he choked up. He suggested we all take a moment to remember those that were lost on that horrific day.

He was a class act.

Garth was an engaging storyteller. He told stories that made us laugh and some that made us issue a collective “Aaahhh.” He poked fun at himself and answered questions thoroughly…so thoroughly he sometimes forgot what the original question was. He was a pleasure to listen to, especially when he was reading one of my favorite sections in the book: that of Enzo flying around the racetrack with Denny on a hot lap. Plus, he made inspired remarks like this:

“Reading a book is not a monologue, it’s a conversation.”

He advised the younger ones in the audience (like the one lying in my lap sprawled across two chairs) that if they really believed in something and wanted to accomplish it, they have to put in the effort and make the sacrifices to get it done. Life is too long to do something because someone else says you should do it. That’s great advice for them, and I’m stealing it for myself as well.

He gave tips to aspiring writers:

  • “You need to have stories to tell and you need to have something to say.” (Finally being older is paying off!)
  • Keep writing.
  • Keep reading.
  • Take acting classes. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)

He was amazing!

As soon as the final applause began, my son bolted out of his seat and I was right behind him, but we were operating on two different agendas. He wanted McDonalds and I needed to buy books for the signing. By the time we did that and got in the book signing line, it was well over ½ hour long. Hence the poor child bursting into tears.

A good mom would have taken him to McDonalds right then, but I had interviewed Garth Stein on my blog and there was no way I was leaving without saying a personal thank you. Instead, I grabbed a friend and asked if she’d drop my son off at home. But there was no way he was going anywhere except McDonalds for his milkshake. Again, two different agendas but the same result: we stuck it out.

I spent the time thanking the Gods of Dropped Treasures for helping my son find three pennies and two unopened Laffy Taffys in the adjacent bleachers and conversing with the sweet lady in front of me. She looked just like what she was: a kindly librarian with curly gray hair and a stack of books in her arms for Garth to sign. Then she confessed that she wanted to be reincarnated as a dog because she has a thing for tails. (It was a long line: intimate secrets were spilled.) I thought I had her pegged, but then she dropped a bomb on me: she and her husband own four Porsches (one is named Miss Plum) and were going to the track this weekend to race them. She works the pit crew. Wh—what? This tiny librarian who wants her own tail is a bad ass in the racing arena? Who would have thought?

She might be my new BFF.

Finally it was our turn! I told Garth who I was and I thanked him for the interview. He said something like “Oh, Muddy Kinzer. I put you on facebook. Your Q &A.”

Wh—what? I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page?

My son and I ran all the way to the parking lot: he for the milkshake, and me because I was shouting “I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page!” the whole way. (I can’t find it on there, but still…)

At home with his milkshake and my autographed copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, my son and I were content. I reached over, tousled his hair, and told him I was glad he came with me. He grinned and fell into my arms for a hug.

It was a perfect evening.


August 29, 2012 in Interviews

Garth Stein is the author of three novels:  The Art of Racing in the Rain (Harper, 2008)How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets (Soho Press, 2005), which won a 2006 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, and was a Book Sense Pick in both hardcover and paperback; and Raven Stole the Moon (Harper, 2010).  He has also written a full-length play, Brother Jones, which received its first production in Los Angeles, in February, 2005, and was described as “brimming with intensity,” by the L.A. Weekly.

After receiving his B.A. from Columbia College (1987), and his M.F.A. in film from Columbia University, School of the Arts (1990), Garth worked as a documentary film maker for several years, and directed, produced or co-produced several award winning films.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, Garth’s ancestry is diverse:  his mother, a native of Alaska, is of Tlingit Indian and Irish descent; his father, a Brooklyn native, is the child of Jewish emigrants from Austria.  After spending his childhood in Seattle and then living in New York City for 18 years, Garth returned to Seattle, where he currently lives with his family and his dog, Comet.


1)    You are definitely a jack-of-all-trades: author, director, playwright… How do you balance it all? Is there one that you’d identify as your favorite?

It’s not as complicated as all that.  I don’t do everything at once!  I made documentary films for many years in my twenties and into my thirties.  Then I wrote books.  I did kind of crowbar a play in there, too, but that’s because my passion when I was young was the theater.  I consider myself a storyteller.  Which medium I choose depends on the story.


2)    All of your books deal with themes of family relationships and loss, and The Art of Racing in the Rain is no exception. What draws you to these particular themes?

I don’t know.  And, frankly, if I did, I’d probably stop writing.  I mean, no one wants to read a book written by a totally well-adjusted, fully in control writer.  Part of writing is working out the dark things we don’t tell anyone else.  Clearly I have a deep seated fear of abandonment….


3)    When I remember the books that impacted me growing up, Where the Red Fern Grows tops the list. Old Dan and Little Ann, Old Yeller, Marley, and now Enzo has entered the list of dog stories that weave their way into our hearts. What is it about a dog that can touch us like no other character?

I don’t know, honestly, because I don’t really think of Enzo as a dog.  I mean, I know he’s a dog and all.  But I see his character more as a nearly human soul trapped in a dog’s body.  Now that’s a character with a conflict!  I’m not sure Yeller had a conflict, and I’m pretty sure Marley just wanted to get the heck away from his awful owner.  (World’s Worst Dog?  How about World’s Worst Master!)


4)    You’ve written two versions of this story: The Art of Racing in the Rain originally, and then Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog, adapted for younger readers. As a parent, I appreciate the need for the YA version, but as a writer, how difficult was it to give up the powerful plot between Denny and Annika and find an alternative that carried the same tension? What other challenges did you encounter in writing for a younger audience?

I was getting so many e-mails from middle school teachers and librarians telling me they loved the book and it has some great messages for the younger reader, but they simple can’t put it in their libraries because of community standards.  I understand that, so I spoke with my publisher about creating a Young Reader’s edition.  Taking out the bad language was easy, massaging the accusation of sexual molestation was more difficult.  The trick was lowering the degree of peril Denny was in.  I had to take away “criminal neglect,” and make it more of a domestic dispute/fight for custody.  I didn’t want kids thinking, “Oh, if daddy’s late picking me up from ballet, they’ll put him in jail.”  That would be awful!  So I added a couple of things, as you can see (the frostbite moment, for one), and think I made it so it works.  Naturally, I think everyone should read the original version, but if community standards or family values don’t allow for that, I hope kids will read the Young Reader’s edition.


5)    How does it feel to have your novels chosen as our city’s first One City, One Book program?

It’s a great honor to be chosen for a community reading program.  I’ve done several of them and I always have a good time.  I think it’s important that communities come together around the arts, and, being a writer, especially literature.  I’m glad that kids see their parents reading and see that reading is cool.  And bringing a community out to celebrate libraries and book stores is always a good thing!


6)    What’s next for you on the horizon?

I’ve been working on my new book for three years now, and I just had a major epiphany which makes me very excited.  It’s not a quick thing, writing a book.  I have to constantly remind myself:  we’re making mountains here, not molehills.  Be patient!


7)    What is your favorite dessert?

I am so not a dessert guy.  But I have been known to take a swipe at my kids’ ice cream sundaes on occasion.  Usually I go for strawberries and cream, or even a nice cheese plate for dessert.  I’m more savory than sweet….


Thank you so much, Garth! It was my pleasure to interview you! To find out more about Garth, please visit

If you are in the area, please join us on September 11, 2012 at Eastside Catholic High School at 6:30pm for a visit with Garth Stein as a culmination of our city’s One City, One Book program. I’ll see you there!

My youngest, age 6

My oldest, age 12

My middle, age 9


August 1, 2012 in Interviews

Raymond Zachary Ortiz was first inspired by poetry as a child while listening to his grandfather recite poetry in the shade of a willow after chores. Poetry has been an integral part of his life since then, initially as he continued listening and reading, then as a student of literature. He received his BA from the University of Notre Dame, then lived in Costa Rica while volunteering as a social worker.  He then continued his formal education at the University of California Berkeley (Boalt Hall) where he received his JD.

After clerking for New Mexico Supreme Court, he practiced law for over twenty years, first as an associate, then as a partner in the same firm.  In late 2005 he was appointed district court judge by the Governor.  Long before becoming a judge, he found his voice as a poet.   Even with a demanding law practice, the hour before dawn would often find him at a table in a dark part of the house, writing out poems in longhand by candlelight.  He continues his poetic endeavors, although at shorter intervals before dawn.  Over the years, his poetry and short stories have been published in regional journals and anthologies. We Had More to Say is his first book.

He lives in Santa Fe with his wife Margaret who is also a graduate of Notre Dame and is a psychotherapist in private practice.  Their only child Zachary likewise graduated from Notre Dame, received his MD from the University of Arizona and recently began his first year of internship/residency in Family Medicine.


1)    What is the ghazal form of poetry and what is it about that particular form that draws you to it?

I was drawn to the ghazal because the form lends itself to rhythm and cadence, to the shifting of context which can emphasize a theme as well as to the use of images to help convey meaning.  As to rhythm, in a ghazal, a word or phrase is repeated in each stanza, often at the end.  Sometimes, in the hands of a master, what is repeated is a long vowel or concept.  As a result of this repetition, the ghazal form evokes a kind of song or chant, which is not surprising since early ghazals were, as with most early poetry, often recited or sung and were passed down in written form much later on.

In a ghazal, each stanza is essentially a short poem or meditation unto itself, somewhat akin to haiku.  But a word, phrase, sound or concept is repeated in each stanza in a totally different context, with a different but related meaning.  As a result there is a shift, an elevation in meaning between stanzas, somewhat akin to the volta or shift that occurs between the eighth and ninth lines of a sonnet.  Instead of only one transformation as in a sonnet, a ghazal gathers itself, weaves itself through as many levels or contexts as there are stanzas in the poem.  The power in a ghazal flows not only from each stanza but from the unusual connections between each stanza and the sequencing of the stanzas.

In addition, the power in a ghazal also arises from the shifting imagery that the form lends itself to as well as to the dream-like quality that the form can evoke.  A ghazal invites the reader into a world of images, and once you are into the poem, invites new images that may arise in the reading.  Occasionally, reading a ghazal is like remembering a vivid dream.  In this sense, a ghazal can also become allegorical.

The ghazal evolved and reached its height in fourteenth century Persia, with Hafez as the master of the form.  In its ancient form, it consisted of couplets containing thirty six syllables each, ranging to about ten couplets per poem, although some are longer.  In more modern times, the ghazal form has been modified from a series of long couplets to stanzas consisting of three lines of twelve syllables each.  The basic reason for this is that most U.S. publishers are unwilling to print longer lines that contain eighteen syllables.  In the early part of the last century, Federico Garcia Lorca introduced the form to the Spanish speaking audience.  More recently in the United States, the ghazal has evolved in form to six stanzas under the influence of Robert Bly.  He is one of the current masters of the ghazal and is responsible in large part for re-introducing the form and popularizing it in this country.

Since it is a difficult form to learn, the ghazals in my book such as “Journey Around the World” and “Gazing Towards the Horizon Of Hope” only involve the repetition of a word or phrase.  If I ever get past the intermediate beginner stage as a poet, maybe I will move into the repetition of long vowels, other sounds or concepts.  For your readers interested in the modern form of the poem, I would recommend two books by Robert Bly which collect his best ghazals: The Night Abraham Called To The Stars as well as My Sentence Was A Thousand Years Of Joy.  Still, the master is Hafez.  There are plenty of collections of Hafez poetry available, including his ghazals. Among the best, which also includes commentary on ghazals as well as the life and work of Hafez, is The Angels Knocking On The Tavern Door by Robert Bly and Leonard Lewisohn.

That was a long answer to a short question.  I promise that the others will be shorter.


2)    Do you write any other forms of poetry, or do any other type of writing?

Many forms of poetry are represented in my book.  At the suggestion of Garrett Hongo (one of my poetry teachers and a fine poet) I have experimented with other forms of poetry to lengthen and vary my line.  It was becoming too predictable since I was primarily working only with free verse.  So there are other poetic forms represented in the book besides the ghazal and free verse. Examples of these include the sonnet (“My Son Is Coming Home”), the prose poem (“First Train To Chicago”), narrative (“Finding My Father”), the number poem (“Blessings”) and the odes are, well, the odes.

Other forms of writing are attractive as well.  In particular, I have also written a number of short stories related to the time that I lived at my maternal grandparent’s home with some of my younger uncles and aunts, who really are more like my brothers and sisters.  These stories, taken together, are a type of memoir of my earliest days living out in the country, although each story can stand on its own.  There are a number of images which arise even in these stories, but they are in the context of a narrative so they are more restrained.  There was also some letter writing.  When I was younger, I used to write some involved letters on occasion, get into these long exchanges in longhand, but this is becoming a lost form with email and the internet.

Then there is legal writing of course: orders, decisions and opinions, all of which take up a portion of my day and which must be much more linear and analytic than any other type of writing mentioned here.  I won’t say more precise though because good poetry must be every bit as precise as good legal writing, where the choice and positioning of even a word or phrase, a comma or any other form of punctuation can significantly impact the intended meaning.


3)    With your busy career as a district court judge, when/how do you find the time to write?

Finding the time for creative writing, poetry in particular, is very difficult for anyone with a demanding career or job.  As a judge, I deal with tragedy and conflict in numerous cases on my docket so my days are quite long and intense.  There is not much creativity floating around at the end of the day.  More than that, because of the nature of legal analysis generally, during the day I am immersed in the linear, analytic frame of mind that is necessary for me to work effectively and efficiently.  This frame of mind is at complete odds with writing poetry which evokes a more free-flowing, free associative frame of mind where images come together, unrestrained by the normal conventions of daily life.  For these and other reasons, I keep my judicial career and my poetic endeavors as separate as possible.

So my poetry comes in the hour before dawn, after the previous day’s tensions have been cleared out by rest, reconciled by dreams.  I begin writing by candlelight at a small table in the darkest part of the house, while still in a dream-like state.  It’s important visually to have the outside world shielded by darkness so that I can focus only on the inside world.  I try to stay inside the emotion and the story of the poem long enough for images to arise, then try to outline hints of those images with a few words in longhand.  Capture is too strong a word since if I try to corral the image or thought, it quickly dissipates and is very difficult to recover.  In a sense, writing poetry in this way is a type of meditative or spiritual practice.  By the time that the light of dawn begins to flow into the room, I am slowly drawn away from the images into the outside world again, so I put my pencil down and move on.

When I first took the bench and folks would ask about the unusual juxtaposition of law and poetry, if the conversation was brief, I used to try and sum it up by saying that I’m a judge by day and a poet by night but this doesn’t fully describe either the substance or the process that is involved.


4)    What comes first, the poems or the collection? Do you have a theme in mind that you write to, or do you just write and find common threads among your poems later?

The poems always come first.  At times I begin with a feeling, at other times it is an image or series of images and on occasion a key phrase or even the title of the poem comes to mind and I work from there.  I’ll work and re-work a poem for a week or so, sometimes much longer, try to get it into as clear a form as I can.  Then I put it down and, if inspired, move on to another poem.  Eventually, I come back to those drafts and read them with fresh eyes and make further revisions as necessary.

It is only when I decided to pull together the manuscript that I put some thought to a theme to build it around.   Pilgrimage of course came to the fore since there were certainly images of pilgrimage and suggestions of trying to find a new path in many of the poems.  In the end, although each poem must stand on its own, I also tried to tell a story by the sequencing of the poems into what became the four chapters of the book: awakening to a new way of being in the world; reflections on various landscapes that had inspired me; looking back at various points along the way through imaginary letters sent home; and finally passage into a new way of being in the world.


5)    Your poetry is so personal. You write about your life, your loves, and your losses. Is it difficult to put yourself out there, or do you find it necessary for your sense of well being?

It is both.  Certainly it is very difficult in the first instance to even express emotions clearly.  It is all the more difficult because of my position as a judge to put my poetry out in the public forum.  The image that comes to mind is of being behind a microphone, first in the courtroom and then at a poetry reading.  As a judge, I am in complete control, of the surroundings, the presentations, even the outcomes for the most part (except in the case of a jury trial).  As a poet giving a reading it is completely the opposite.  I am vulnerable in expressing deep emotion, in revealing some of my innermost thoughts, vulnerable to the audience and its reaction, vulnerable to emotions that may well up in the reading of a particular poem.  All of this of course was magnified with the publication of my first book.

To answer the other part of your question, writing is indeed necessary for my sense of well-being.  It is a way that I try to make sense of the world, to try and understand what is going on beneath the surface, to reconcile conflicts and emotions that arise along the way, to try and work out certain issues.  As I stated earlier, writing poetry is a meditative, almost spiritual practice for me.  In a sense, it is also a kind of therapy, except much cheaper since I don’t have to pay for a therapist or a psychiatrist!


6)    Now that you’ve published your first book, has anything changed in how you view yourself as a writer?

Of course I’m happy to have the book published and gratified by the positive reactions to the poems, especially in light of all the effort that went into the writing.  What has also changed is a sense of accomplishment in having my poetry move out beyond the scope of readings in small poetry groups.  Bringing my poetry out to a broader audience also provides opportunities to interact with more of the public and more poets, to talk poetry, compare reflections, hear about new poets or poems that I should look into.

Although some things have changed, others remain constant.  I didn’t write these poems with an eye towards publishing. The purpose was to name and describe perceptions and emotions as clearly as I could as a means of working through them, of reconciling myself to them.  That has been the dominant purpose behind my poetry and remains so.  So once a poem is completed, there is still that sense of accomplishment, without regard to whether it is published.


7)    I have two favorite poems in your collection: “Ode to My Shovel” and “Floating.” What is your favorite poem in your book?

Every poem has a story behind it.  It is very interesting that you should mention these two in particular.  “Ode to My Shovel is the very first poem I wrote that appears in this volume.  My mother died in January, 2000 and it took me a number of months to begin to reconcile myself to her loss.  In October of that year, I went back to writing poetry while at a conference where I met my other teacher, David Johnson, who is a retired professor and a fine poet.  I had completely put poetry down in August of 1977 as a means of allowing more time for dealing with the rigors of law school in particular and the legal profession in general.  Trying to write about my mother’s death led me to memories of the death of my maternal grandfather Ramon who in many ways was like a father to me from the time my own father was taken from me at ten and placed in a Veteran’s mental hospital.  This was for treatment of a service connected disability attained in the front lines during the latter months of World War II.  Thus, “Ode to My Shovel” was born, with its many layers of sorrow and remembrance.

“Floating” was the last or certainly among the very last poems that I wrote and it is very comparable in the sense of layers of meaning that I tried to convey through all the difficulty of the emotion that I was holding while trying to convey the meaning of what my uncle meant to me and my family as a whole.  It is also memorable because of it time it took to write.  That poem went through quite a few drafts such that I had my doubts whether it was ever going to come into this world.

Your question is similar to asking a parent which child is the favorite.  Grandparents I suppose are slightly more inclined, or able, to answer that question because of the longer view that they are able to take.  I’m not quite there yet.  Each poem has its own personality, its strengths and shortcomings.  Certainly “Ode to My Shovel” and “Floating” are very close to my heart because they represent the beginning as well as the completion of a beautiful and intense writing journey.  But every other poem was part of that journey, the remembrance of that journey, so they are all close to me.  I will also say that I left quite a number of poems out of the manuscript so in a roundabout way of answering your question, the ones I picked are my favorites.


8)    Which one was the hardest to write?

It was “Floating,” on a few levels.   During the years that I wrote the poems in the book, in a sense I was pulling up tragedies and wounds,  joys and dreams, trying to make sense of them one at a time.  Each reconciliation built upon the other such that I was finally able to write about my youngest uncle.  Because of the situation with my father, my uncle was not only like a father to me, he was the brother I never had, as well as my friend. So the poem was one of the hardest to write in that it involved going back to such deep sorrow, not only dealing again with the sudden and tragic nature of his death but trying to comprehend what it meant for all of the family.  We all took it very hard.  After he died, my grandfather cried for weeks, so loud and mournfully that you could hear him across the courtyard from my grandparents’ home.  Shortly after my uncle died, I got sick with rheumatic fever and was in bed for an entire year, had to miss the entire fifth grade.  That was not coincidental.

The other part of the difficulty was in selecting the proper form, strange as that may sound.  I had started out to write a prose poem in order to facilitate the drawing in of detail that the prose poem facilitates, but it was not just hanging together.  In the first drafts, detail was getting in the way.  Then I tried the sonnet but the requirements of that form were not only too strict for that poem, I just couldn’t condense it to fourteen lines. So I went back to free verse because of its flexibility, still trying to preserve some of the vibrant, rhythmic tones.


9)    What’s next on your writing horizon?

Writing more poems, as they come.  For the moment, I am writing only episodically, as I have on some occasions in the past.  There was a time when I first started writing again back in 2000 that I would write virtually every day.  I had been away from writing poetry for so long that in a sense it was a new world.  At some point after a year or so, it seemed to be writing just for the sake of writing and the poems became somewhat stale, so I stopped.  It may well have been lack of true commitment or lack of ability to take my writing to the next level.  But at the time, I began to appreciate the fallow periods.  It was about putting down the pencil, just being in the world and appreciating that inspiration for a certain poem comes in its own time.

The ultimate test is to be able to consistently do all of this in a single day, on a daily basis.  With a long enough time away from writing, skill and technique, even the ability to view the world through a poet’s eyes, begins to erode to a certain extent.  So it is all about trying to find a balance between the demands of daily life and the demands of a writer.

Although some readers have encouraged me to write poetry full time—which is of course very gratifying—I’m not ready to give up my day job just yet.  That I suppose is one of the signs of true and complete commitment as a writer.  William Stafford, one of the fine poets in English of the last century, was an advocate of writing every day.  While I’ve been able to manage this in spurts of a year or so, there is clearly much more to learn.


10)   What is your favorite dessert?

My favorite is called capirotada, sometimes referred to locally here in Northern New Mexico as sopa.  It’s a recipe I learned from my grandmother and is basically a pudding made with toasted pieces of bread, with brown sugar, water, cinnamon and butter boiled into a broth and poured over the bread that has been layered in with some longhorn cheddar cheese and a few raisins thrown in for good measure.  Then I bake it for an hour to create a taste of home as it used to be when I was very young and living with my grandparents.

Raymond, thank you so much for stopping by! You can read my book review here.
I’ll be giving away a copy of Raymond Z. Ortiz’s book We Had More To Say. To be eligible, leave a comment below by August 7, 2012 12:00pm PST. The lucky winner will be chosen randomly and announced on August 8, 2012! Sorry…I can only ship to US addresses.

Questions, anyone?


May 30, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Interviews

I am excited to present my interview with Mari L. McCarthy!

Mari L. McCarthy is The Journaling Therapy Specialist, founder of CreateWriteNow, home of the Journaling for the Self of It™ community.  Mari offers guidance, counseling and encouragement to writerthrough her many journaling eBooks, her Journaling Challenges and in private Journaling Jumpstart consultations. She lives in an oceanfront home south of Boston where she raises roses and consciousness.

1)    How did you get started journaling?

In 1998, I had a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) flare-up and I lost most of my body’s right side feeling and function. My other MS episodes were short lived (4- 6 weeks) but I sensed that this was a biggie and that I had to find a procedure (I was an experienced left- brainer) to teach myself how to write with my left hand. Doing research, I came across Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way and started doing Morning Pages: 3 handwritten stream-of-consciousness pages of writing first thing each morning. Not only was it physical therapy, it was psychotherapy and a pathway to my spirit and my soul.

2)    What do you gain out of your journaling today?

I gain creative ideas for problem solving, goal setting, adjusting my attitudes, and changing my internal and external behavior. My journaling helps me discover more about myself and improve my relationship with Me.  It helps me be a better writer. It’s right here beside me helping me do the best job I can in writing answers to your questions!

3)    How can journaling bring about positive changes in your life?

By putting pen to page every day, Journaling helps us work through and discard all the erroneous, negative, overly self-critical messages that we’ve been carrying around in our bodies since childhood. Through journaling, we reconnect with our true Self; rediscover our power, intelligence, beauty, and all the talents we came into this world with. We work on converting our self-sabotaging thoughts and feelings into self-loving behaviors. We become more confident in communicating our wants and achieving successful outcomes in dealing with others.

4)    How can journaling help a writer become better at their craft?

Journaling helps a writer personally and professionally. It helps writers determine the causes of writer’s block, page fright, inner critic activities and other writer diseases so they can get to their pages easily and on time. It’s great for helping writer’s determine and stick to their own writing style and process. Our Journal is our 24/7 Writing Coach. In Journaling routinely, we are sending a message to the universe about our needs so that the universe can provide us with resources to meet our writing project deadlines.

5)    What’s the best way to start a journaling routine?

Whatever way feels best to you. Journaling is about feelings, self-expression, creativity and imagination not about thinking (or over thinking which we are so good at!). My best suggestion is to grab or buy a comfortable pen and notebook (I use Bic ultimates pens and Staples one subject notebooks) and ask your Journal a question like, “What’s the best way for me to start my journaling routine?”  or “How do I start?” or whatever words feel right to you. Then write, write, write, fast.  You might find your answers at our website on the How to Start a Journal page or at our Personal Journal Blog by entering a phrase in the search box there.

6)    How much journaling is enough to see results?

The key to seeing results is not quantity but continuity: daily journal writing at the same place at the same time.  It gives a message to your being that Journaling is part of your daily health routine as natural and normal as brushing your teeth.

7)    What advice would you give to an aspiring author? An established author?

Use your journal to help you with your writing arts and crafts challenges. At our website, authors can download a Free Cure Writer’s Block with Your Journal eBook.

8)    What other creative outlets do you enjoy?

Singing. Through journaling, I rediscovered my passion for music and that I always wanted to sing. Within weeks of writing down my singing goal, I read about a local music school that accepted adult students. The first time I appeared on stage, it was better than heaven. I’m currently preparing my first solo concert coming up in June.

You can hear our company song, “All the Time” here.

9)    What’s next in your life?

I’m working (with my Journal of course) on updating my website which will now be known as CreateWriteNow:  The Journaling Center.  I’m creating some new eBooks and journaling challenges. My personal priority is working with my Journal on overcoming my physical challenges and achieving optimal health.

10)  What’s your favorite dessert?

Anything dark, dark, dark chocolate, with mud pie topping my list.

Thank you, Mari! I enjoyed this very much and am looking forward to doing more journaling with you in the September 27 Day Journaling Challenge!

Visit Mari at CreateWriteNow. If anyone does one of her journaling challenges, I’d love to hear about it! Read about my experience with her Start Journaling and Change Your Life In Seven Days here.