Category Archives: Biography

Interview: SJ Driscoll « Live Wonderstruck

Interview: SJ Driscoll « Live Wonderstruck.

Today S.M. Hutchins was kind enough to interview me for her Wonderstruck blog. Previous interviewees include writers Carrie Daws and Shay Fabbro.

If the interview were about someone else, I’d think it was excellent. If those accomplishments had been achieved by someone else, I’d be impressed. But this is me, so nothing I do is good enough. Why is that?

Maybe I’d better go back and reread some of Louise Behiel’s series about the coping strategies of children that carry over into adulthood.

Thank you, @smhutchins!

Wheelbarrows have no feet

This morning I mulched the vegetable garden again. That means I lugged four 5-gallon orange paint buckets out the gate, across the concrete path, over the foot-thick live oak limb, under the fig tree, over the stone wall (duck to avoid the branch in the eye), through the rocky gullies where the rain runs down to the creek, past the deer scat, over the limestone shaped like fingermarks dragged through wet clay, around the cactus, and past the twelve-foot spiderweb (which I did not walk into) built by the green and gray spider big as a Cadbury Creme Egg. Finally, I arrived at our waist-high pile of ground-up cedar trees.

After filling the buckets, I carried them back and heaped the cedar bits around the squash and tomatoes and blackberries and mulberries.

On my last trip, muscles taut, gut sucked in, Huck Finn straw hat damp with sweat, a neighbor driving to her retail job number two stopped her car and ran toward me. Continue reading

Overture, curtain, lights? Live it.

One of my greatest pleasures in high school was when I’d go with a bunch of friends to see a Broadway show on a Saturday afternoon.

We’d take the Long Island Railroad in to Penn Station and walk to Times Square, to the trailer in a little grassy area where last-minute tickets were sold. We’d wrangle with each other about which show to see at which price. One of my friends, who now reviews for Variety®, usually had the last word but, as I remember, we usually chose whatever looked good at $2 a seat.

My friends and I went to some of the grand old New York theaters, like the Helen Hayes, the Schubert. The feel of those red velveteen seats and the scent of theater dust alone were worth the $2.

The best moment was when the curtain came up and the lights went on. I always experienced that electric sense of anticipation: something wonderful was going to happen.

The play itself might turn out to be bad, but I always took away that wonderful feeling of anticipation. It kept me alive through the train ride home, through the rest of the weekend and through the long, boring weeks at school.

This morning at seven, I sat on my back steps. The sun came up behind me, shining into the dark forest deeps, highlighting individual tree trunks, vines, branches, the way golden footlights pick out the set on a half-lit stage. The first songbird trilled, another answered, then the valley was full of music.

I felt a wonderful sense of anticipation, the same feeling I’d had just before the curtain came up in the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Do we voraciously consume books, movies, television, music, video games, not for themselves, but for that wonderful feeling of anticipation as the entertainment starts? Are our lives so constrained and boring that we need that artificial jolt to feel alive? This one will be great. This one will fulfill, justify, empower me.

We think the feeling comes from the media, when it really comes from the dawn.

It’s the feeling of a new start. The feeling of the birth of one of the wonderful days of our life.

Take it back.

By S.J. Driscoll

Farewell, My Lovely—Volvo

“I have a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.”

I learned that old New York State folk song in elementary school. Ever since then, I’ve wanted a mule. Maybe because my name is Sal.

I’ll probably never have a mule, but I did have a Volvo.

In January 1991, my then-husband and I paid $19,256 cash (don’t ask me why cash–it’s a long, stupid story) for a new, 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission 1990 Volvo 2.4 L 240DL, a silver station wagon. We lived in Northern Maryland at the time. I didn’t like the white one the dealer had available, so he found me this one in Pennsylvania.

The Volvo was the only constant in my crazy life for the last 21 years. That’s a whole generation.

I packed her with my own and my kids’ belongings when I left my first marriage. She was filled to the roof when I moved from Baltimore to San Jose. That trip cracked the front brake rotor, probably while going over the Rockies. My new husband and I filled her to the brim again when we peeled out of San Jose on the way to our new home in Texas.

In Northern California, we used the Volvo to transport our seakayaks to the water, from Monterey Bay in the south to Bodega Bay in the north. Here she is with four kayaks on top and one inside. She was 15 years old then, but still handled like new.

My Volvo 240DL

We drove that car all the way up to Vancouver, Canada, and down to La Bufadora on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California, southwest of Ensenada. Continue reading

Changes

Guest post by Prudence MacLeod

I have seen a lot of change in my lifetime. This was brought home to me the other day as I was sitting on the boat, waiting for inspiration to strike. It wasn’t happening so I went back to my default, people watching. There weren’t a lot of folks on the boat that trip, so not much was going on. K was knitting and I was re-thinking my decision to leave my knitting behind. Oh, wait there we are.

A big man, mid thirties maybe, walked down to the observation window and stood gazing out at the water. He was careful to stand close to a young girl sitting near the window. He was also careful to keep his gut sucked in as he tried to look cool. “Dude, the girl is about twelve or so and far more interested in that phone in her hand than in a guy older than her dad.” I didn’t say it, but I wanted to. Eventually her indifference caused him to lose interest and walk away.

I returned my attention to the young miss, her pony tail swaying gracefully as she watched her thumbs dance over the phone in her hand. Hmm, the phone; I remember when I was her age the phone was securely attached to the wall of the house. When my daughter was that age we had the magic of cordless phones. Wow.

Ok, what else I wondered. Music. When I was her age I had a record player. As a teenager my daughter had a CD player. I’ll bet this girl has an I-pod with a play-list thousands of songs long.

Cars. When I was a teen we didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford one. Folks who did have them would sometimes get one with a radio in it. Luxury. My daughter’s first car had a CD player in it. Now they have cars with phones, computers, I-pod docking stations, TVs, movie players, and the damned things can parallel park themselves.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Change has happened more swiftly for my generation than any other in history, and the pace is accelerating. I cannot begin to imagine the wonders this young miss will witness by the time she reaches my age. Awesome. I hope I’m still here to see it.

So, how about you? What changes have caught you by surprise, stuck in your memory, or just messed with your calm?

***

Prudence MacLeod is a spiritual seeker, dog trainer, official Reiki Master and interior designer, and a writer with two dozen books available. “I have roamed far and wide for over sixty years in this realm, and I have seen much; some I wish I had not, and a great deal that I would love to see again. Some days I feel like Bilbo Baggins, for I have been there and come back again. No, I haven’t written a book about my wanderings, at least not yet, but much I have experienced, observed, learned, surmised, or imagined, is woven into the tales I have written.”

See books by Prudence MacLeod on Smashwords

Thanks, Prudence!

Rockaway, Far Away

The best thing in the world–one of them, anyway–is to feel sand beneath your bare toes when you walk on a sidewalk.

That’s what I thought when I was a kid visiting my cousins in Rockaway in Queens, New York.

They lived in a 2-story gray house tucked behind another house a block and a half from the water. The air smelled sharp, of brine from the ocean, and popcorn and hot dogs from the boardwalk.

You could walk down the block and go straight from concrete to the fine, warm sand of a Long Island beach. Turn left, and you’d be on the splintery boardwalk wood. I must’ve been small, because I could never see the top of the vendors’ carts, only the sides. I got only a glimpse of the pink cotton candy in white paper cones and the hot dogs impaled on spikes. The open doors of the arcades and other attractions were off limits.

I must’ve been very small.

When I told my parents we should move there, they laughed. They each came from the City–Mom from Brooklyn and Dad from the Bronx. To them, suburbia meant moving on up. To me, it meant deadly, deadly boredom.

At night, the pink and yellow boardwalk lights lit up the sky. I heard music against the background of the gentle surf.

Decades later, when I lived in Northern California, the feeling of Rockaway came back to me when I walked along the beach in Santa Cruz and entered the dark arcade with its flashing neon and ringing bells. It wasn’t a feeling of remembrance, though. Just a feeling of loss.

Why are children so powerless?

My cousins didn’t live in Rockaway too long. My older cousin went to live in Japan. My other cousin, an accomplished accordianist–we used to be so close–I’m not sure where he is. Somewhere playing his music, I hope.

My Rockaway is gone. All the little single-family houses were knocked down to build high-rise apartments. At least, that’s what I heard. I’m not going back.

As long as I don’t go back to find out, the sand will still be warm beneath my toes.

By S.J. Driscoll

Life Is for Enjoying

Guest post by Coleen Patrick

The fragility and courage of young men–why are these qualities so heart-breaking to me? Is it because men are supposed to be stronger than women? Or is it more personal than that, since my son survived cancer when he was a teen?

When I first read Coleen’s post, I knew her brother’s face would remain in my memory for a long time. That’s why I’m honored to have this as my guest post for today. Thank you, Coleen.

November 1st was the start of National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo.  This year I am participating and writing in honor of my brother.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo five years ago, and used the general principles to write my first middle grade story.  I’d been filling notebooks with stories for years, but I did it strictly for the fun of it.  Suddenly I wanted to do more and NaNo seemed like the perfect way to launch that spark.  So I started writing with more of a purpose.  The only person I told at the time (other than my husband) was my brother.  I remember him being fascinated by the idea of writing a thousand plus words a day.  He was a creative type–he drew, wrote, cooked (even went to culinary school), so he was the perfect person to understand the need to do a writing marathon in a month.

When I finished that first draft, I put it away to read it at a later date with fresh eyes.  Then, when the time came to go back to it, I decided I didn’t really want to write.  So I went out and got a job, leaving the story behind.

I was afraid.  Afraid to read the rough draft.  Afraid of what it would mean to move forward with my writing.  So I went about life and work without it.

And then a couple of months later, my brother died.

It was sudden–a brain aneurysm.  He was 31.

My brother was so funny.  He did the best Chewbacca impression ever.  He was also incredibly kind.  Maybe it’s the sharp finality of death that smooths away the rough edges of a life, but I truly can’t remember him ever being anything but nice to me.

But I think he was hard on himself.  He had unrealized dreams.  He had physical obstacles, like when he stopped working in restaurants because he couldn’t be on his feet for that many hours (he battled Type 1 diabetes starting from the age of 11).  But I think maybe some of his biggest struggles were more internal.  He got bogged down by dark moments, the kind that show up to shadow your plans and leave you filled with self-doubt and fear.

I know that fear.

I have one of my brother’s journals.  In it there’s the beginnings of a story, some sketches and some personal notes he wrote to himself.  One of those notes sticks with me:

“Write damn you! Write! Anything, something, Please!”

My first instinct is to feel sad at that personal plea to his self, but then I realize that goes against what he wrote.  Because he didn’t want to get stuck in those paralyzing fears.

In fact the first line in the journal he wrote is: “Life is for enjoying.”

I remember my aunt said at his funeral that she was sad because she couldn’t learn anything more from him and I get that because I would love to know what he would have thought of the LOST finale (our last conversation happened to be about the beginning episodes of season three and the oh so random subject of peanut butter).  I also am curious what his thoughts would be regarding Twitter, the Kindle or his take on the whole new world of publishing.  I would love to hear his opinion on all of this crazy writing stuff I’ve been pursuing. Plus I wonder if he too would be blogging, putting his writing and drawings out there. Tweeting.

But then again I know now, five years later, that I am still learning from him.

I am learning not to be afraid.  I am learning not to worry about regret.

And I am learning to enjoy my life, from random peanut butter moments to marathon writing months.

 What are you looking forward to?

This post first appeared here on October 24, 2011.

Thanks, Coleen!

Manchester and the Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer

Guest Post by Barry Crowther

My dad says if you can’t be smart or you can’t be funny then be brief. With that in mind I’m going to be brief, I know your time is important.

While on vacation recently I got to thinking ‘How did I get Here?’ I was on the beach in Santa Barbara. I’m pretty sure at various checkpoints in our lives we all do this.

Even if you’re laying on the couch eating WotSits riding out a massive hangover and wondering what made you get an Aston Villa tattoo.

Doesn’t matter. We all still check in from time to time.

My wife was reading a magazine and starts to tell me that if someone relocates more than five hundred and fifty miles from their hometown then the friends and family they leave behind experience the same trauma as abandonment, on some emotional level at least.

She pulls out the iPhone and presses some app.

“The distance between Los Angeles and Manchester England is five thousand three hundred and three miles.”

“That’s a long long way past the abandonment line.” I tell her.

And I was right. When I think about all we’ve left behind it saddens me. And though my lifestyle is amazing I still crave all things Manchester.

Manchester United are my team. And Manchester City are doing well (finally). I still have lots of friends and family who are City supporters. And Man U and Man C are two financially sound clubs, both are on the up and up. So while I was back in Manchester last Christmas I got a chance to experience a great match at FC United. Never been before but this was a team that’s trying to get up there. And it felt like Home, so very – Mancunian.

That’s why I decided to donate a portion of my book sales to the FC United Development fund and put this team up there with the others. I do this because I want ALL the teams from the North to do well. They might have to wait a while as I’ve only sent them a tenner so far (only kidding).

My hometown is my first love. Please don’t tell the wife … and while you’re at it don’t tell the dog either!
It could be that being so far away for such a long time that it’s the “idea” of Manchester I’ve come to love. I’m sure this is the same kind of emotional trauma my wife mentioned and takes place for anyone who leaves their hometown and doesn’t look back … for a while at least.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia? Baz Luhrmann in the video Suncreen said “Nostalgia is a way of fishing the past from the waste disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The nostalgia I feel is different, it seems to keep Manchester in some kind of time capsule. As my kids are growing older and I hear the music they listen to I hear echoes of my dad within myself. He would be telling me that The Housemartins and The Smiths were ‘bloody crap’ while trying to force a 78rpm Frankie Laine album onto the spindle. All this is very familiar as I’m doing the same with Rhianna and Jay Z (not the Frankie Laine bit of course).
Or maybe it’s the things I enjoy…

Crap jokes, Warburtons Toastie Loaf, A pint of Boddingtons, Chips and gravy, Oasis, Town on a Saturday night, Rotters (maybe not), Regular Heinz baked beans, Greggs sausage rolls, Coronation Street, Peter Kay, Buses, Taxis (slight waft of spew), Local pubs, Take That (maybe not), Tiger Tiger, MEN Arena, The Lowry Hotel….

The list could go on.

Most of all I miss the people and the Northern attitude.

Just to think I gave all that up to live near the beach?! So How did I get here? I’m not entirely sure, I know it took more balls than brains, maybe that’s another Northern thing.

One thing I am sure about though is that even from this distance Home still looks pretty sexy to me.

**

For more Manchester mayhem with murder, gangsters and an array of crazy characters you might like Missing*. UK Readers Here | US Readers Here

If you fancy some Southern Californian fayre then try Nothing. UK Readers Here | US Readers Here

* A portion of all books sales goes to the FC United Development Fund.

**

This post originally appeared here on July 8, 2011.

Thank you, Barry!

Two for Wednesday: Books by Eve and Powell

Later Bloomers, Book One: 35 Folks Over Age 35 Who Found Their Passion and Purpose—the first of four volumes that will cover 140 inspiring individuals. It’ll soon be available on Kindle and Nook, but by joining Debra Eve’s mailing list you can get the PDF **free until Saturday, November 5, 2011** .

LaterBloomer.com seeks to provide late-blooming adults with inspiration to pursue their passions and talents through stories, biographies, book reviews and more. In particular, LaterBloomer.com focuses on those who’ve wearied of the corporate treadmill and crave a more creative, intellectual — artier, smartier – life.”

Late Bloomer Debra Eve left the corporate world to become an archaeologist at age 32. She learned sword fighting at 41 and became a martial arts instructor at 42. At 46, she found the love of her life and got married! Now she writes about fellow late bloomers while plotting her next grand adventure.

**

Lured to Ireland, Mae finds herself in a hidden world she never knew existed and falling head over heels for Beck, the man who tricked her into coming there. His deception is complicated by his feelings for the one person who holds the key to merging the ancient races that once ruled the ancient world. In this underground world of witches and vampires–half-breeds of aliens long gone–Mae learns about her parentage and powers. While Beck and Helen’s love for each other spans a millennium, some of the underworld creatures seek to destroy her. Will the knowledge of her existence cause a race war when the true power of her blood is discovered? Or will love become her ultimate downfall?

C.G. Powell has traveled everywhere–thanks to her innate curiosity about the world and the Navy. She has learned aviation electronics, CCNA networking, Gemology and how to get bloodstains out of the carpet (you never know when you might need that). Her latest, all-consuming endeavor is storytelling. When asked why, her response was “I live to challenge myself; I like to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and writing is one of those things that pushes my boundaries.” C.G. Powell lives in Virginia with her husband and children.

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