Monday, November 23, 2009

Jenny's Dream: Review and Giveaway

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, a very large black bear is on the loose in the Lake Tahoe community of Incline Village. Deputies say that he's the biggest bear they've ever seen, and may have caused $70,000 in damage this year. The bear has evaded traps and special night patrols sent to look for him, and has broken into an Incline Village home on several occasions.

When I read about this bear in the newspaper last week, it immediately brought to mind the giant bear in Jenny's Dream: A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho, the third book in this series by Linda Weaver Clarke, published in 2009. Set in 1908, a ten-foot grizzly bear, Old Half Paw, is terrorizing the community of Paris, Idaho, killing sheep and making everyone more than a bit nervous. His story is based on the true story of Old Three Toes, a real grizzly bear. This is just some of the action in this historical novel, Jenny's Dream, which focuses primarily on Jenny Roberts, who's nearly twenty now and at a crossroads.

After two years away at college, Jenny is feeling restless and a bit confused about her future. With dreams of being a writer, she awaits news of a journalism job in Texas. An accomplished equestrian and excellent marksman, Jenny loves the great outdoors, and spends much of her free time in the meadow, getting lost in books and daydreaming about her future. She makes a new friend, Will Jones, and they become quite at ease with each other, but something is not quite right with Jenny. She's struggling with some issues from her past and the need to forgive those who have hurt her.

"It was a secret that she had kept from her family for years, something that was even too difficult to admit aloud. Jenny needed to forgive. But it was a difficult task to forgive those who had hurt her so deeply. The scars were too deep, and she continued to nurse them along. She felt certain the only solution was to run away."
~Jenny's Dream, Linda Weaver Clarke

I'll stop now, before revealing too much of the story, before I need to include a spoiler alert!

Once again, Linda Weaver Clarke's novel transported me back in time about one hundred years ago to the wild west. Her keen attention to detail brought this book to life, and I could almost feel the breezes and the rain, hear the thunderclaps and the bubbling streams. Like Jenny, I relish being outdoors and appreciate the grandeur of nature. The book focuses on the budding romance between Jenny and Will, as well as the continued romance between Melinda and Gilbert. Romances in this series are based on mutual respect and admiration, and present wonderful ideals. Jenny's Dream made me think about the role of forgiveness in my own life, and the need to forgive others for hurting me, both intentionally and unintentionally. All in all, I enjoyed this charming book and recommend it, especially to fans of historical fiction who savor more than a dash of sweet romance mixed in.

Jenny's Dream counts toward the Women Unbound Reading Challenge. Jenny is an independent, educated young woman with ambitions and skills beyond the usual for her day. Thanks to Aarti, Care, and Eva for hosting this challenge.

Linda Weaver Clarke has generously offered to give away one autographed copy of Melinda and the Wild West, the first book in this series, which was a semi-finalist for the "Reviewers Choice Award 2007". To find out more about this book, here's my review.

-To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
-For an extra chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
-For a third chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by Monday, December 7, 5 PM PST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, December 8. US residents only (sorry!). Good luck!




Special thanks to Linda Weaver Clarke for sending me Jenny's Dream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking Differently: An Interview with Javy W. Galindo














"Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order." ~Virginia Woolf
 
Recently I read The Power of Thinking Differently: An Imaginative Guide to Creativity, Change, and the Discovery of New Ideas by Javy W. Galindo, which was published in 2009. I also had the opportunity to interview the author.

Welcome, Javy! Creativity is a fascinating topic, and your book was a pleasure to read.  I'm inspired by your ideas, and more appreciative of creativity in all its forms.


JWG: Thanks Susan! My goal was always to make creativity accessible to everyone, and hopefully inspire people to think beyond habit and convention.

 
I asked Javy eight questions about his book and creativity. Without further ado, here's the interview.


1) You left a ten-year engineering career to start your own company, study creativity, and write this guidebook. Tell us more about your background, and the inspiration behind your new book, The Power of Thinking Differently.

JWG: Music, writing, and the creative arts in general were my passions as a kid. I was even deep into philosophy and music as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. However, something happened as I entered my third year of college. For some reason a voice got stuck in my head that said "you can't make a living in music and philosophy...you have to do something more practical." The result was that I changed my college path and decided to go into engineering. For a while I was able to keep myself involved in music. While I was working full time as an engineer, I spent many years teaching music at night and during the weekend. I taught at local high schools and non-profit youth arts programs. But then, after 9/11, the economy was starting to tank and the engineering
job market became a bit turbulent. I had another nagging voice in my head that said I had to concentrate on my engineering career. So I stopped teaching music in 2002.

In 2007, after a few years without exercising my creative side, I became disenchanted with my cubicle-focused life. I decided to make a creative change and go back to graduate school to reinvigorate my brain and spirits. The result was that I found a new passion: wanting to better understand the creative process and the creative brain. On one hand, I was really interested in seeing if there were any connections between the "out-of-the-box" thinking strategies I was taught in the corporate world with the creativity I was familiar with as a musician. On the other hand, I wanted to relate all of this to the creative process a person goes through when making creative changes in their life in general -- whether it be related to their career, relationships, or life purpose.



2) Your book deals with the creative process in many fields, not just the arts.  Was it difficult to and write about the abstract concept of creativity?


JWG: Yes and no. When I started doing my research into "thinking differently", I'd often find books that spoke directly to the painter. Or, I'd find books that spoke directly to the entrepreneur. Or, I'd find books that just had a neurological description, or just a psychological description, or just a spiritual description of creativity. What I started to see was that there were tons of commonalities and overlaps. I started to think "if I could paint a picture of the overall map of the creative process, then anybody could use it for any endeavor!" This got me very excited. I became excited about how this information could be applied to help communities deal with community issues, politicians deal with policy issues, and cultures deal with cultural issues. So, once I had this great motivation, difficulties didn't seem so difficult. Of course there are tons of difficulties inherent to the writing process in general. And as you've read, when describing the obstacles of the creative process in the book, I tried my best to refer to the real obstacles I was facing while I was writing the book itself.



3) Tell us about "The Island of Pickles and Doughnuts", featured in your book.

JWG: One of the issues I had with a lot of the creativity books was that they only spoke to one part of our brain. Lots of the arts books seemed to be written to appeal to our creative side, while a lot of the cognitive science books I read on creativity only spoke to our rational side. However, when you really look at the creative process as a whole you see that we use our entire brain and not just half of it. So when I was writing the book, I thought it’d be more complete if made sure to write to both sides of the brain (though I think the usual left/right distinction is often an exaggeration). I do my best to use neuroscience and psychological studies to ground all the assertions made in the book on how we think and we can "think differently." However, to appeal to our creative faculties, I tried to continually use imagery, puzzles, metaphor, myth, humor, and an allegory of an island of pickles and doughnuts.

On the island, there are villagers who believe the whole world consists only of pickles and doughnuts. They are unable to think beyond that paradigm, so they find themselves struggling to deal with their lives in any creative way. However, one day, a few of the villagers run into a beggar claiming to have once been an explorer who ventured outside of the island. This, of course, seemed impossible to villagers, because based off of their limited perception, nothing seemed to exist outside the island. The beggar then proceeds to tell a tale of his past adventure: a search for treasure hidden on another island beyond the horizon. The story is meant to be a metaphor for the creative process; a process of getting beyond habitual thinking and perception, to finding new ideas, and then manifesting those ideas into something tangible -- a piece of art, a solution to a problem, a new business, a new life path, etc... It runs parallel with the more rational descriptions of the creative process I present in the book.



4) You mention "flashes of insight" as well as "the tortoise mind", both of which aid creativity. Could you elaborate on these intriguing ideas?

JWG: Sure. Flashes of insight are those moments when unique ideas seem to come to us from nowhere. They are the eureka moments of inspiration and sudden intuitive awareness. When I began the research for the book, I was really curious to find out how these occurred and if there were ways that we could become more “insight prone.” What I found was that our brain is able to process lots of information beyond our conscious awareness. Our neurons are continually working on stuff (solving problems, exploring new ideas) without us even trying. The problem is that we often fill up our awareness with chatter (worrying about this and that) that we don’t leave room for our unconscious ideas to be heard. The phrase “tortoise mind” is the term professor Guy Claxton uses to describe this state of mind. He specifically uses the term to refer to the contemplative, dreamy, or slow motion mental states we are often in when we receive our creative insights. In a nutshell, when you’re in need of flashes of creative insights, don’t try so hard to find them. Let them come to you. It’s the whole “you’ll find it when you least expect it” phenomenon.

(Isn't this truly remarkable?!)


5) In the book, you say that children see a world of possibilities, allowing them to bask in creativity, whereas adults have many responsibilities. Can you offer a few tips on how adults may reclaim their creativity? Without giving away too much of the book, name some simple ways we can improve our creative faculties.

 
JWG: No problem. And I’ll try to make these as succinct as possible, because I believe that we all know these principles. We’ve simply forgotten about them.


  • Learn to relax. When we are stressed we inhibit our ability to see the world in new ways.
  • Flexing your sense of humor is exercises your ability to hold multiple meanings and perspectives. Also, you’re less likely to stress out if you’re laughing at your project, problem, or yourself.
  • Take time to have fun. Creativity is almost synonymous with play. Just watch your kids to see how creative they are when they are having fun. All creative geniuses were known to play with ideas in the most childish ways.
  • Play games. One, it reminds you how to have fun. But two, many games also work your creative faculties. My favorites are Pictionary, Charades, Taboo, and Cranium.
  • Read picture books. OK, maybe not literally. But anytime you use your brain to “imagine” something – like when reading fiction, folktales, myths, and poetry – you’re also exercising your ability to make creative life changes and find unique solutions to complicated predicaments.





(In the book,
Oh, the Places You'll Go!, Dr. Seuss says, "If you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good." And fun apparently contributes to creativity.)

 




 
6) With so many demands on our time, creativity is often put on the back-burner. How does our fast-paced society affect creativity? Do we even have time to be creative?

JWG: This is a good follow-up to the previous question. A good portion of our society has convinced itself that creativity is a luxury, or that it is impractical. A quick look at what's being emphasized in our educational system highlights this point. But the opposite is true. Creativity is a time saver if we only had patience to bear its fruits. Our creative faculties are the most advanced biological mechanisms of the brain. Though parts of the process consist of meandering and seem like a waste of time, the end results are practical solutions to our society’s most pressing problems. Rather than continue ramming our heads against the wall with habitual responses to our dilemmas, why not take a little time to find unconventional approaches that work? We can save ourselves from a lot of wasted time head banging. On an individual level, “thinking differently” can help us live more efficiently. We become conscious of the possibilities in our lives and can make informed decisions rather than living our lives out of habit. There are many stories of people who wake up one day wondering where the last 25 years of their lives went; wondering how they wound up in their particular career, marriage, etc… Do we have a day, month, or even just one year to think creatively if it saved us 25 years of our life in return? So do we have time to be creative? I think so, even with less dramatic aspects of our lives, like planning a birthday party. The problem is that we want immediate gratification. The creative process is sometimes not “immediate enough” to satisfy our faced-paced culture.


7) You link higher creativity to exploration and novelty.  What are some everyday ways to escape routine and enhance creativity?


JWG: There’s a lot to say about this, but I’ll give some general advice below. I hope your readers will leave me a comment if they have specific aspects they want me to address. In general, we should try to exercise our ability to act consciously in the world rather than out of habit all of the time. One thing we can do is to identify some parts of our lives that we may take for granted (how we eat, drive to work, organize our day) and make a conscious choice to do it differently. It’s a simple step to opening up our access to creative possibilities.

Secondly, anytime you feel frustrated with some project you’re working on or with a person in your life, take a second and try to ask yourself what is the “story” you are using to make sense of your predicament. What are your underlying assumptions about your project or about your relationship? Then, question these assumptions. You may come to realize that the scary man running towards you isn’t after your money, but is instead in the middle of a charity race. We can all exercise this faculty of mind when we read. For instance, try to look beyond a literal interpretation of text. When reading a story, don’t just settle for a surface understanding of plot. Speculate and brainstorm what different aspects of a story may symbolize. Try to discover metaphorical meanings that go even beyond the author’s intentions. The ability to hold and maintain multiple meanings and perceptions is critical to the creative process.



8) Tell us more about your coaching and workshops.

JWG: I’m trying my best to make myself available to help others who want some guidance through the creative process. Part of this is being a cheerleader and encourager, a brainstorming partner, or a creative tour guide pointing out how to navigate around the obstacles that people are facing. I’m available for personal coaching through the phone or Skype, through email correspondence, or in person in the California Bay Area. I also really enjoy running workshops on the
creative process. Here we get to experience all the different stages of the process and attendees can really get a feel for how to apply the techniques and strategies I refer to in the book. I’m a ham, so I usually get pretty animated in my workshops. It’s really entertaining for the participants, though I get really worn out as a result…but I love it, so that’s okay. If anyone is interested in having me lead a workshop for their group, they can feel free to contact me through my website at www.thinking-differently.com.
 

There's a wealth of information on Javy's website. I "stole" the Virginia Woolf quote above from the collection of creativity quotes on his website, where he shares a multitude of ideas. I enjoyed doing this interview, and learned even more about creativity.  Special thanks to Javy W. Galindo and Bostick Communications for sending me this book.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

"That's when I decide to order myself a large clam-and-garlic pizza and reread Pride and Prejudice. I would self-medicate with fat, carbohydrates, and Jane Austen, my number one drug of choice, my constant companion through every breakup, every disappointment, every crisis. Men might come and go, but Jane Austen was always there. In sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part."
~Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Laurie Viera Rigler

English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) published her books anonymously, so she was not well known or recognized for her talent as a writer during her lifetime. After her nephew published A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, Austen's work was introduced to a larger audience. By the 1940s, Austen was regarded as a great writer of English literature by academia. Within the next decade, a Janeite fan culture began, which now includes JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) and numerous websites devoted exclusively to Jane Austen, such as Jane Austen Gazetteer and simply, Austen.com. Stephanie's Written Word is currently hosting a special challenge for Austen admirers, The Everything Austen Challenge. Jane Austen even has her own Facebook page, with over 50,000 fans!

Last month, I won an autographed copy of the LA Times bestseller, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, published in 2007, on Naida's blog, the bookworm. Laurie Viera Rigler, the author, inscribed it with a personal message to me. One of the perks of visiting book blogs is winning books. (Please don't be jealous because these book giveaways are frequent. I host and post about some, too.) This book fits the Women Unbound Reading Challenge in several ways. Briefly, it was written by a woman, and is about a woman writer, social commentator, and early feminist, Jane Austen. It's also more generally about the roles of women in different eras.

As I read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, I immersed myself in the past with Courtney Stone, the main character, a present-day Jane Austen addict, who awakens bewildered one morning in a bedchamber in Regency England. Along with Courtney, I was transported to a different place and time. I imagined myself living in this past era and enjoying the pampering, such as being brought a tray of light refreshment while in bed, or having my hair done by someone else on a daily basis. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is quite a fun book to read. Humor abounds due to Courtney's surprising situation: she's a modern woman with modern ideas who suddenly and inexplicably finds herself transported back in time to an age full of lace and romance, but without many of the creature comforts and freedoms we take for granted today. A bath is a rare luxury in this time period, so body odor is omnipresent and unyielding. Barnes, her chambermaid, helps Courtney with the time-consuming productions of getting dressed and undressed, out of necessity, as laces and buttons are often located in the back of garments. (No thank you, I'm used to the ease of dressing myself in warm Southern CA.) In the romance department, Courtney meets the dashing Mr. Edgeworth, but isn't sure what to think or do, in an age when women are supposed to be demure and repressed. Courtney quickly perceives that women have very little freedom and choice in this world. They're constrained by society in many ways, and considered to be old maids if they're not married before the age of 25. Because career possibilities for women were so limited, women of this era were dependent on marriage for social status as well as economic security, a subject which Jane Austen herself wrote much about.

I appreciated the humor and cleverness in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, but was glad that my excursion to Regency England was fictional, and that I live in this age.

Special thanks to Laurie Viera Rigler for sending me this autographed book.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mailbox Monday

When I received a package from Botswana today, practically covered with colorful stamps, I knew in a flash that I had to do a Mailbox Monday post.  Every week Marcia from The Printed Page hosts Mailbox Monday.  I've never done this meme before, although I've often commented on others' Mailbox Monday posts.

In the package was An African Tale, which was sent to me by the author, Enna Neru.  I've been intrigued by Botswana ever since I started reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  The other book, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which I'd ordered from an Amazon.com marketplace seller, also arrived today, and has been recommended to me by many.


The Lucky Winner

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Interview with Kate Jacobs














Welcome, Kate!  I'm thrilled to interview you again. (I first interviewed author Kate Jacobs last November, right before the release of Knit Two.)  Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions.

KJ: Thank you, Susan, it's always a pleasure!


1) Tell us about the inspiration behind your new book,
Knit the Season: A Friday Night Knitting Club Novel, which comes out on Nov. 3, 2009.

KJ: Well, this is an exciting month because Knit Two is out in paperback as well as Knit the Season in hardcover. So I finally feel I can talk about the series as a piece, about how each layer fits together. And Knit the Season is more fun, more joyous, than the other novels in the series. Part of that is because it’s a holiday book, and so the backdrop is a happy period of the year. But it’s much more than that. Knit the Season is really the story of hearts completing their healing, and about the positive ways we continue to be influenced by those we have lost. It’s a novel about reflection.

(I felt honored to read and review Knit the Season early.)


2) Some family members (of both sexes!) have become knitters this past year.  Why do you think more and more people are taking up knitting as a hobby?


KJ: Knitting is fun: it can be a great stress-reliever to let your fingers work the needles. Also, let’s not underestimate the satisfaction from finishing a piece made by your very own hands! Finally, there can be a great social aspect to knitting, to connecting with other knitters online or spending time around a table in a knitting shop.



3) How does it feel to publish a fourth novel?   What have you learned from the success of your other novels,
The Friday Night Knitting Club, Comfort Food, and Knit Two?

KJ: Well, I dreamed about writing books for a long while. So it’s hardly the case at least for me that I feel, oh, it’s just my fourth book. Instead, I think,
wow, it’s happening again! In terms of what I’ve learned from having successful books is that it’s not about writing at all. It’s that what matters most are our personal relationships. I’m grateful to be able to tell stories for a living, but being published just made me realize that I spent too much energy focused on what if and when rather than taking full stock of the blessings I already had in my life in the form of family and friends. There is a reason why I write, over and over, about the need to make relationships a priority.


4) As a best-selling author, what advice do you have for those just starting out?  What were your earliest writing ambitions?


KJ: I wanted to tell stories since I was a very little girl and that hasn’t changed. I was eight in third grade when I attempted my first novel but I spent all my time naming characters and creating family trees. So I never finished and then my nine-year-old cousin, who was my manager, fired me! Now I don’t try to fill a novel with 300 characters. My advice for any writer is simply to believe in yourself and keep writing. Publishing is not an easy world, and it’s fraught with rejection; the very act of writing can be tremendously difficult some days. The only option, though, is to push on.



5) I read that
The Friday Night Knitting Club may be made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.  If it does, how involved will you be with the movie?

KJ: It’s thrilling. And I’ll be as available as is needed or wanted and that suits me fine. I’m quite confident Hollywood knows how to make a movie and I look forward to seeing what they do!


(I'm so excited about seeing The Friday Night Knitting Club as a movie and will dash to the theater as soon as the movie opens!)


6) Do people recognize you when you go out?  If so, do you enjoy the attention, or is it intrusive?


KJ: I’ve been recognized on a very few occasions, typically by readers who have been to book signings. One instance I was in an airport after TNNA (The National Needle Arts Show) and several yarn shop owners had heard me speak and popped over to say hello. Another time I was in a restaurant in New York and a woman came up to me and said, "Kate, is that you?". And I had a moment of shock over being recognized. I’m tickled whenever a reader cares enough to approach but it always surprises me. You see, I’m an observer and, in my opinion, I do a very good job of blending in. Which works because I don’t actually want to be the center of attention even though I travel around to all these book signings and telephone book clubs, its all because I want my stories to be the focus. I want to share my stories, and in doing so, I share my life.



7) What can fans expect next?  Is there another book in the works?


KJ: I’m working on a new a novel about relatives and family relationships. With a twist that I shan't give away!

Thanks again, Kate, and best of luck with the movie and your new novel!  Relationships are very important, and it's evident in your books that they take priority.  Kate, I wish you and my readers a warm and wonderful holiday season.  


Special thanks to Lydia from Putnam for arranging this interview.  Comments welcomed.

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