I Won A Wonderful Book!

An exciting day here in Cathy C. Hall World ’cause I won a book!

I tore into the envelope and then I…well, I just stopped in mid-rip because the book is so gorgeous.


And I wanted to tear into the book right then and there but I stopped again because…well, it’s Irene Latham and her wonderful poetry and that’s something that one doesn’t tear into. One pauses and finds a nice spot–say, the sunny deck outside the kitchen–and then one sits and drinks in the poetry.

Ahhhh. And then one reads the interesting facts about Antarctica and feels snobbishly superior to all those folks who think they know Antarctica. Finally, one sighs and goes back to the beginning to read again. (One might even sit there pondering when one’s kidders will have kidders so that one can read wonderful books of poetry to said kidders…)

Anyway, if you have kidders or grandkidders, treat yourself to When the Sun Shines on Antarctica by Irene Latham. ‘Course, my book is extra special because I won it!

I almost don’t want to tell you how I won it because then maybe you’ll win the next book that I want, but Sheila’s so generous…so, okay. Get yourself over to Sheila Renfro’s blog where she gives away at least one wonderful book a month. You’ll find picture books, middle grade books, writing books…well, just a bounty of books! All you have to do to win is…

Hmmmm. I think you’ll just have to zip over and find out for yourself. I mean, I don’t want to make it too easy for you. After all, I’ve got my fingers crossed for this month’s book!


There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (And a Bit of Writing Advice, too)

dog coverI’m so happy to have David Berner here today, along with his charming book of essays, There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (A Life in Pets). Every essay is a charmer, for sure, but I’ll sappily admit that he had me from the very first story he told, about his boyhood pet, Sally. Because as many of you who’ve followed me for years know, Sally the Crazy Dog was Youngest Junior Hall’s pet, and even though it’s been three years, there are moments when I forget and think Sally is under my desk.

As I read about dogs and cats and a squirrel and even ants, I remembered all the pets who’ve padded through my life, and my children’s lives: Albert the cat and Sally, Fluffo the rabbit, Hermie the hermit crab, and even the not-named-but-still-pet horny toads (that’s what we called the horned lizards we found in our yard in Texas).

It was nice to remember some of my best friends, and I loved hearing about David Berner’s friends; I loved his voice as well as his viewpoint. And when he sent me some writing words of wisdom to share with my readers, I loved that, too. (And I kinda needed some of that discipline, here in the middle of the summer. Bet you could use a little, too!):

Here’s the thing about wanting to be a writer…you have to write.

There is no way around it.

You want to eventually run a marathon, a 5K, or just jog around the block? You have to train for it; get up and do it. So you run. A lot. You want to play better golf? You have to play the holes and go to the range and you have to do it often. You want to lose weight, get in shape? You have to workout and you have to do it on a regular basis, even when you don’t feel like it.

David Berner

It’s the same with writing. There is no muse to wait for, no inspirational moment that hurls you into the work. It’s hard. And just like your day job, sometimes it’s tolerable, sometimes it’s arduous, sometimes it’s a very nice experience. And if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s utter joy.

“There is nothing to writing,” Ernest Hemingway said. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

That may be hyperbole. Let’s put things in perspective. Writing is not digging ditches, not physically. But maybe it is metaphorically and emotionally. You are digging holes to find your best words, your best narrative, and to find the time.

So, how do you find time?

Just like running, golfing, or working out, you have to make the time. There is no mystery. Get up an hour earlier each day. Got to bed an hour later. Write during your lunch break. Write while you wait for the commuter train, while you wait at the doctor’s office, while your children are on a play date. Keep a notebook and write when something interesting comes into your head, when you overhear an attention-grabbing conversation. Write it down. All of it.

I have a friend who wrote an entire novel on small slips of paper he kept in his shirt pocket. Little by little, when he had five or ten minutes, he would write. When he had hundreds of those pieces of paper, he organized them on his laptop into a story, a full-length book. It took a long time, but he did it, inch-by-inch.

I wrote the personal essays in my latest book—There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets—one small story/chapter at a time. I squeaked out an hour over a weekend, week after week, until a draft was complete. Any Road Will Take You There, my memoir of a father-son road trip was written on consecutive Sunday mornings for more than a year. A couple of hours just as the sun came up. I was lucky enough to finish the manuscript as a Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. But you don’t need that opportunity. It’s nice, certainly. A luxury. But writing it still about finding the time and sticking to it.

You have kids? A spouse? A job? Still, find a sliver of time that is yours. Tell your family that during that one hour, you will be locked inside your room with a laptop and unless the house is on fire, do not bother me. This is YOUR time. They may moan or complain, but they’ll get used to it. And when you have some tremendous stories to share, they will be amazed, proud. They will envy your discipline. My first book—Accidental Lessons—about a year teaching in a troubled Chicago-area school district was written when my children were young. But I got up before six o’clock on Saturdays and wrote for an hour or two until I heard the tapping on the door and the whisper, “Dad, are you up?”

There is no secret formula for finding the time to write. You just have to decide if you are willing to make the sacrifices. For me, it was worth it. And if you are one of those writers who feels you must write, that you don’t feel complete unless you put words on paper, then certainly find your little moments in your busy day and write, write, write.

So here’s the official book summary if I haven’t sold you yet:

A book of essays by award-winning author and journalist David W. Berner is the next best thing to storytelling around a bonfire. In There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard, Berner shares stories of “a life in pets”—from a collie that herds Berner home when the author goes “streaking” through the neighborhood as a two-year-old, to a father crying in front of his son for the only time in his life while burying the family dog on the Fourth of July. And from the ant farm that seems like a great learning experience (until the ants learn how to escape), to the hamster that sets out on its own road trip (but only gets as far as the dashboard). Along the way, Berner shows that pets not only connect us with the animal world, but also with each other and with ourselves. The result is a collection of essays that is insightful and humorous, entertaining and touching.

And here’s where you can pick up your own copy of There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard:

Print or Ebook: Amazon

Print copy only: Dream of Things

But I’ve got a surprise for all of you who’ve read all the way to here: I’m giving away my copy of There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard! If you leave me a comment about one of your pets, I’ll enter you in the drawing (You must be a continental US reader). And if you share about the book on Twitter (#HamsterDash), I’ll add another entry for you. In fact, if you mention David and his book anywhere, I’ll give you another entry. Just let me know where you shared. I’ll keep the drawing open till Thursday and post the winner on the last day of July for Friday’s Fun Find.

‘Cause really, y’all, I found a true gem when I opened There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (My Life in Pets).

Timely Reminder(s)

ImageOver at the Muffin today, I opined about a timely reminder, courtesy of my stars. 

The LIbran stars, that is. Every once in a while, I’ll read my horoscope and think, “Wow. That’s pretty sage advice.” And then I wonder who actually writes the horoscopes and if I could get that job.

Anyway, now that I’ve piqued your interest, you know you’re sitting there, wanting to find out the sage advice. So go and read the Muffin and feel better about yourself and your writing. But then come back here if you haven’t commented on the Sneaky Art giveaway. 

Well, technically you’ll have to comment here if you want to be entered into the drawing. Remember that there are two giveaways, so you have a swell chance of winning either the book or a fun rainy day pack. You have till Fun Friday to enter!

And now I shall leave you with yesterday’s Libra horoscope (which is also pretty darn good advice, especially for the writer type):

“It’s one of those rare times when it’s actually positive to dwell on the past. You’ll learn something. There’s a bit you missed, and when you look back, it will click into place.”

(Seriously. Who writes those things? It’s like a sparkly gem of Zen writer wisdom.)

You Better Watch Out! (Writer-ly Things Are Coming to Town! Er, the Blog)

I’m making a list here, so you can check off each of the writerly things!

1. I love lists. And I wrote about the writer who makes a wish list over at The Muffin today. I managed to work in W. B. Yeats and one of my favorite poems, …hold on a tic. I’m not just going to tell you. (But I think it’ll be worth the read!)

2. Remember, I’m giving away a copy of The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton on Fun Friday! Dash away here to read more about this fun middle-grade novel and how you can win!

3. I have a surprise guest visiting tomorrow with another middle grade novel and she’s giving away…well, you’ll just have to drop in tomorrow to find out. But trust me. You will squeal like a kid on Christmas Day if you win it!

4. I have an Etsy Christmas bookish thing coming in the mail and I hope it will be here in time for a giveaway. Because,  in the spirit of Scrooge and the gang, I would like to say thank you very much to all who drop in every day. I only have the one gift, but the sentiment expressed is for each and every on of you!


The Divorce Girl: Five Questions for Author Caryn Mirriam Goldberg and a Giveaway!

Today on the blog, as part of her WOW! Women-on-writing book tour, I have Caryn Mirriam Goldberg and her novel, The Divorce Girl. And one of you will be the lucky winner of this engaging novel! But first a little something something to whet your reading appetite.

 About The Divorce Girl:

 Meet Deborah Shapiro, a New Jersey teenage photographer whose parents’ outrageous divorce lands her in the biggest flea market in the free world, a Greek diner with immigration issues, a New York City taxi company, a radical suburban synagogue, a hippie-owned boutique, bowling alleys, beaches, and bagel shops. As her home explodes, a first love, a series of almost-mothers, and a comical collection of eccentric mentors show Deborah how to make art out of a life, and life from the wreckage of a broken home.

 About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg:

 Caryn is the Poet Laureate of Kansas and a long-time transformative language artist. As a poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, teacher, mentor, and facilitator she explores and celebrates how the spoken, written and sung word can help us live more meaningful and vibrant lives. She is the author of 14 books (yes, 14!), teaches at Goddard College, and facilitates Brave Voice writing and singing retreats.

 Whew! I have no idea how Caryn found time to squeeze in an interview, but here we have…

 Five Questions for Caryn:

  1. I know so many writers, myself included, who can’t find enough hours in the day to get the writing done. What’s the best advice you can give to us, to get the writing done?

 If you know you have to write, then you have to make it happen, setting aside time and not intruding upon it unless there are truly extenuating circumstances. This means you plan for and then protect a time that works for them, and then you don’t break any dates with yourself. You show up for your writing just as you would show up for a job each day or when the baby cries in the middle of the night. Sometimes setting writing dates with others will help because we’re often more apt to show up for a friend than for our own calling. As far as making the time, I suggest even setting aside 20-30 minutes two or three times a week — early in the morning, late at night, or in the middle of the day, but also making sure you’ll be successful by going where you can concentrate and focus. If you live in a household full of noise and activity, go to a library. If you live in a place that’s so quiet, it’s hard to shift to creating writing, then go to a busy coffeehouse. Wear headphones if you need to (blasting loud music to seal out others, or blasting no sound but making you look like you’re unavailable) also. Another tip is to write in the same place regularly so that when you sit at that table in the tea shop or chair in the bedroom or couch on the porch, you’ll be imprinted from past writing there to write more there today.

  1. I read that The Divorce Girl was 17 years in the making. Was there ever a time you thought of walking away from this story? And what kept you plugging away?

 I never thought of walking away because I always knew I had to write this book. There were times, however, when I wondered if I would ever get it published, especially after having literary agents who vanished on me or left the publishing industry after I worked with them extensively. What kept me going was the innate knowledge that this was a story worth telling, a healing story for me to write and for others to read — a story about breaking silences and finding new ground for miracles.

 3. I think people might be surprised to know that The Divorce Girl incorporates  humor. How difficult is it to weave humor in with such serious themes?

 It helps that the story is set in a time and place where there’s just a lot of innate humor — from the fashions of the 1970s to how people from New Jersey talk (and no, no one says, “Joisey”) to some of the tragic-comic elements of the story. I lean toward illuminating those moments because I think telling a hard and healing story means naming what’s part of making that story hard and healing (including the funny moments). I don’t trust whole memoirs or novels about difficult topics that don’t include a full view of life’s foibles and missteps as well as real depth.

  1. Your protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl but this is definitely a mature read.  How do you determine the reader for The Divorce Girl?

 One of the big questions every agent and publisher asked me was whether this should be for a Young Adult audience, but I always envisioned the book being both for adults and for teens (although more mature teens — ages 15-16 and up) because this is a story about surviving pain, loss and fear, and yet it’s also a story about coming of age. When people ask if this is a book they should buy for their teen, I tell them that the story does contain violence, sex and even sex ed (in what I think is one of the funniest chapters in the book), and because of who my narrator is, all she experienced is seen as she sees it. Since the main character is a photographer who is very attuned to the details around her, she narrates with an eye toward that detail.

5.  So if you weren’t working with words (and honestly, that’s almost impossible to imagine!), what would you be doing?

 Thanks for saying it’s hard to imagine! I think I could be immersed in music — piano or another instrument, composing, playing, practicing (and I do play and compose to some extent) or visual arts, but one thing I love about writing is that it’s half-way through the visual and the aural. Writing is very much a musical experience for me.

 So there you have it–a little something something that I hope will help you with one of your writing challenges. And a BIG thank you to Caryn for stopping by and offering The Divorce Girl for a giveaway! So leave a comment (and don’t forget your name and contact info) for a chance to win.

(Or P.S., you can get your own copy!)