Category Archives: Guest Blogs

A Corrective for Anxious Times

A Book Review of Carol Alena Aronoff’s “The Gift of Not Finding: Poems for Meditation”
Homestead Lighthouse Press, August 2020
110 pages
$16.95

By Devon Balwit

          Some days ago—162 to be exact—my HMO offered me a free download of Calm, a meditation app. An acerbic, opinionated Jew, I almost trashed the email without a second thought. I had tried meditation many times and decided it wasn’t for me. I told myself I actually preferred my busy monkey mind, preferred letting it ramble like what poet Carol Aronoff calls one of the “mice in the attic / of old news and yellowed paper…” And yet—something made me pause—a global pandemic, perhaps, with its concomitant upheavals of every aspect of life—and I downloaded it and began to use it every morning.

It took me weeks to tolerate the voice on the app, which I initially felt too cloying, too upbeat, too mobile—but gradually, gradually, I started to look beyond its timbre to the words being said, which I came to find strangely calming and helpful. Was I, as Carol Alena Aronoff writes in her collection The Gift of Not Finding: Poems for Meditation, starting to “Imagine life / without complaint / no matter what arises,” moving towards be able to say “…Whatever arises, I will / think, just so. I will not even want to not want…”? Such a shift was shocking to me, for whom to want is, immediately, to act!

Aronoff’s poems aren’t written in my usual go-to voice. I tend to gravitate towards poets who are urbane, wry, and dark, and towards works which reference other works. But, as with the meditation app, when I slowed down and read the poems with attention, I found them tidy koans that rewarded contemplation. Why not admit that it is helpful to reflect that “Sky has no past. / It doesn’t recall the clouds / from yesterday…”? Why not consider “…The thin shell / between us … where we hide what’s / most precious. Where we break.” Why not rest a moment “Beyond judgments / of good and bad, / right and wrong. / Free of all concepts…” These are useful practices, especially in an election year, in a pandemic year, in a year of forest fires and bleaching ocean coral. Aronoff’s poems remind us that there is value in slowing down, in breathing, in allowing.

Locked down at home, I, who have loathed the repetition of weeding and tending, have suddenly become a chicken farmer and urban gardener. Always appreciative of the outdoors, now that it is my sole arena, I find that I am looking at it with much greater attentiveness. Confronted by the scent and blush of dahlias and heirloom tomatoes, estranchia and clerodendron, like Aronoff, I am prepared to say: “Nature once again / has brought me / to my knees…” and to ask: “Where will my thoughts go when I give them the garden?” Aranoff’s poems reference the landscape in the American Southwest and in Hawaii—cottonwoods mingle with Kukui leaves and moonflower, geckos with peacocks. Referencing her daily practice, she teaches us, in the words of Emerson to “Adopt the pace of nature, [whose] secret is patience.”

For a long while, although certain of the upsurge of joy I was feeling during this pandemic, I downplayed my happiness and contentment when speaking to others, not wanting to minimize the very real suffering of those less fortunate. In a similar way, I initially hesitated to allow these gentle poems to work on and for me. But what do I gain by such resistance? Why not yield and repeat with the poet:

Without the need to label
anything
mind’s endless conversation
is a flower …
No need for misgivings
or even for dream.
Everything is
just as it is.


When not teaching, Devon Balwit sets her hand to the plough and chases chickens in the Pacific Northwest. For more regarding her individual poems, collections and reviews, please visit her website at: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet

Guest Blog: Scoring Big – Marketing a New Book by Chalise Bourque

Scoring Big – Marketing a New Book

What, Where, and… Hey, want a Candy Bar?

Sometimes we do something so “right” in the setup of a story but we couldn’t say why—until later, in that rear view mirror of life. I’m talking about getting lucky with the “what” “where” and “a candy bar” in marketing my new YA novel, One Right Thing. I’ll explain.

I knew my book’s title (any book’s title) was important. I just hadn’t focused on the reasons why. So, I hadn’t thought how helpful my title choice would be. One Right Thing is a character driven “family drama” that includes teen pregnancy and sexual abuse. A few months ago, in a fit of absentee-agent-desperation, when my beloved book hit my deemed quota of rejections (Can we say 4 X 10, everyone?) I considered changing One Right Thing to “Sex 101.”

Why?

Must you ask?

Put “sex” in anything, probably even a picture book, or a recipe, and you’ll double your hits! Swapping out One Right Thing for “Sex 101” would have been a sell-out. Worse, it wouldn’t have held the marketing magic One Right Thing offers.

You want your title to be memorable and unique. And not overused! Run a check to see what other books, and on what other subjects, already have “your” title!  And you want your title to give away a bit of what your book is about. Even though mine is about pregnancy, it’s almost, not at all, about sex. And you want your title to issue a kind of invitation, a “Come take me off this shelf!” plea. One reason I think One Right Thing works is people instantly want to argue with anything so one dimensional and dogmatic. “Who says only one?” “Why only one? Why not two?” “What’s this author’s one right thing, anyway?”

NPR had an essay contest a few years ago called “This I Believe.” Their entrants were mostly adults. With the similarity between “This I Believe,” and “One Right Thing,” I decided to sponsor a national contest for the 12-20 age group. This contest will keep many in my target audience saying and thinking my book’s title over and over: “Hey, Joe, what’s your one right thing?” “I dunno, man; I’m deciding. What’s your one right thing?”

We want, our readers thinking about our titles—pondering them, looking through the pages, figuring out what the titles mean. Make your title work for you. My book also looks at abortion and adoption. The idea isn’t to proclaim “one right thing,” but to get people talking about what’s right. For them.

Can you make your title into a contest? Can yours get mileage by lining up with a product? Something going on in the news? Something people know, maybe want, before they even know they want your book?

The next stroke of genius… okay, luck… is the “where” in my story. Books with a firm locale, that name streets you could go and stand on, intrigue me. Don’t they you? So, without seeing what a coop this would be, I set my novel in the town where I grew up. I now find that I have a natural and eager audience in the readers in this area. And it gives me a launching pad for my book and contest with the teens in Manhattan and Junction City, Kansas, where I started out. I’m beginning my book tour there because many local readers will be already interested in buying it. They’ll want to see if they can decide where, exactly, Maggie and her father lived, with all his broken down cars in the drive. Which hill is it where Skylar takes Maggie the first night they stand beneath the harvest moon and kiss? Do you have a place that burns with memories for you? Might it be a setting for a book?

The third marketing coop is, again, pure luck! Now, fun! Skylar, my hunky, male protagonist, devours Score candy bars. Get the double meaning? In football, and in life, Skylar is a jock, a risk taker, a boy with a appetite. He’s always hungry and… he always wants to score. How am I making use of this food item in marketing? And how might you put something like this, on purpose, into a piece of writing? Everyone likes getting a free book. Even better if it comes with a candy bar!

One Right Thing is a “print on demand.” I jumped in the first day and bought 100 “seed” books, books that—often—I send out, gratis, upon the waters of the reading world. I also bought, on sale, a huge box of Scores. When I give a librarian, or a teacher, or a teenager, a copy of One Right Thing with a goal or request—“Might you review this for me?” “Can you “like” this on your Facebook?” I also give them a Score candy bar. “Why the Score?” they ask. I smile and say, “Read the book; you’ll know!”

Bonus marketing creativity… I ordered new business cards that have the book’s cover on one side and my picture and how to reach me on the other. I give out five cards a day, to five different people, even if that means, as night nears, I give one to my neighbor, walking his poodle. If spreading the word about One Right Thing does nothing else, it’s increasing neighborliness. Poodle and I are getting to be great pals.

Last: always—like your purse or wallet—carry your new book everywhere you go, every time you leave home. Studies show that the first time you see something (i.e. my book jacket) you only “see” it.  “Okay,”your eyes report, “that’s a book.” The second time you see something (again, my book) the information becomes: “There’s a book and I’ve seen it before.” The third time you see my book, your brain makes a leap. It says: “I see this book all the time. Maybe I should read this book!” And, of course, you should!

Good luck when it’s your turn to take on marketing.  Write and share with Lisa and me your creative marketing ideas. Lisa will, and I will, be excited to hear from you. I thank my generous friend, Lisa, for sharing her blog space with me this month.

For you Kansas City readers, you are invited to a book party for One Right Thing on Thursday, Oct. 18, at the party room of Sulgrave-Regency condominiums from 6:30-8 p.m. Please come!

Chalise grew up in Manhattan, KS, and graduated from Kansas State Univ. She freelanced for 20 years, but her two favorite works are: Rain Forest Girl, a nonfiction children’s book about adopting from Brazil, and her most recent work: One Right Thing, a fiction YA on sexual abuse and teen pregnancy. You can reach Chalise – and she welcomes being reached – on her website: www.chalisebourque.com