Archive for the 'Biography' Category
Monday, April 15th, 2013
Join me in welcoming Pamela Sisman Bitterman to Highlighted Author.
Pamela caught my attention when I was introduced to her novel, Muzungu, then my heart with, When This Is Over, I Will Go To School and I Will Learn To Read, and my breath with, Sailing to the Far Horizon. All true stories, they prove to me that his woman is amazing.
She has been a guest speaker at Sierra Club, Palomar College, Southern California’s Writers conference, American Association of University Women, was guest of honor at Asteres Annual Event, Aboard The Star Of India Tall Ship, Arts That Splash, 39th Annual Local Authors Exhibit, and held Book Tour events and signings nationwide and abroad.
But it doesn’t stop there. The list continues with her radio interviews and television appearances on The Michael Dresser Show, Radio New Zealand National Radio, Nine to Noon Program, KPBS Public Radio, These Days Program, Discovery Channel, Investigation Discovery Program, series Escaped, Share the Candy Radio Webcast, Cruise With Bruce Radio, Travel Wise, Let’s Talk About Books with The1essence, and January Jones BTR.
I’ll let her tell you more in her own words. She’s much more exciting to read. *wink* Pamela, it’s all yours…
Today I am a mom, a wife, a writer, and an explorer who has tried to travel her world with her eyes, arms, heart and mind wide open. I am a youthful 6o years old; strong, wise, weathered and seasoned. I hope to be able to proudly proclaim myself to still be all the aforementioned and more, in the years ahead. I have worn many hats along the road thus far; teacher, student, counselor, naturalist, sailor, mediator and more. I have been on quite a journey, with tremendous love and laughter, sadness and loss, beauty and wonder, struggle and survival. Great joy, and great heartache. Life. I would want very few do-overs. I am grateful for everything. I have been fortunate! My life continues to be an ever evolving work in progress, as do I. My first book, Sailing To the Far Horizon, is graphically biographical. It encapsulates me as product of the first thirty years of my rather unconventional life.
Muzungu, the story of my unlikely escapade throughout Kenya, picks up on that journey a couple decades later. I also wrote a children’s book about this experience titled “When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read; A Story of Hope and Friendship For One Young Kenyan Orphan“. It was illustrated by the orphans I worked with in Africa. Both are the personal accounts of my work and travel through Kenya as the epitome of Muzungu, the Swahili word for white man. Literally translated, Muzungu means “confused person wandering about.” Fit me to a tee! In between the adventures that were the subjects of my first and my later books were my marriage and children, my persona as wife and mother – the heart of me; me as my best self. As I explain in Muzungu, during those intervening years, the “yee-hah!” exhilaration of climbing out onto life’s edge had never entirely died out in me. It had merely been lying dormant beneath a meticulously constructed, implied housewife persona, a twenty-five year stint of nurturing-mother prioritizing for which I had absolutely no regrets. Everything had turned with the seasons, as they should. And a bygone time had finally come back around, although to what purpose under heaven remained to be seen. My future also remains to be seen, and to be told. Can’t hardly wait!
Sailing to the Far Horizon
One woman’s true story of life, loss, and survival at sea.
“I keep reminding myself that I have seen the pictures, heard the stories, read countless books. There is an exotic world out there comprised of brilliant wonders and fascinating cultures, promising endless horizons and illuminating adventures, inducing me with wholly unique challenges, and daring me to accomplish awesome leaps of faith. The Sofia is my ticket.”
Sinking; The Life Rafts
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that never otherwise would have occurred. — GOETHE
On this fifth day [hopelessly adrift in life rafts following the sudden and violent sinking of our tall ship, the Schooner Sofia] we realize that we are no longer seeing distant ships off on the horizon or the occasional plane soaring overhead. And we hear far fewer heralding cries or have welcome visits from curious shorebirds venturing out to examine our unnatural presence. Already well outside the shipping lanes, we have been carried steadily out to sea, on our way to nowhere. When incurably wide-eyed and ever-hopeful Chris asks Evan [our skipper] if we still have a good chance of being saved, Evan fixes on his imploring stare and answers with accuracy and uncharacteristic gentleness. “No Chris, not much,” he replies. Evan then lays his head on my shoulder and sleeps. In nearly four years of countless highs and lows across half the planet, this simple gesture is the most sincere and spontaneous intimacy that my captain and I have ever exchanged.
We need to patch the raft yet again, a prospect now both futile and horrific. We are being barraged by a family of sharks. They rub their sandpapery bodies along the thin, grainy raft floor, bumping us about like we are on a carnival ride. By the second day in the rafts, I was forced to announce to my captive audience that, whether we liked it or not, I was menstruating. Amid a chorus of alarmed male sighs, the other women raise their hands in a reluctant but resigned “me too” acknowledgement of undeniable feminine unity. As is so often the case when women live together, our cycles had synchronized. Nature delivered us yet one more cruel jab: There would be blood in the water. The sharks are now our nearly constant companions, a patient and persistent entourage. Patching the leaks is no longer an option. Besides, our raft is almost beyond repair. Our having to go into the ocean for good is imminent, and we all know it.
About the book:
Muzungu, the Swahili word for white folk, translated literally means “confused person wandering about.” During the author’s months working and traveling through Kenya, this description fits her to a tee. Her audacious Kenyan adventure makes for a bucket load of anecdotes and impressions born of heart and hands-on experience–enough to knock your socks off.
“Order this phone today” some sweet confection-nicknamed, neon-colored, ultra sleek mobile “and help wipe out AIDS in Africa!” the television commanded me within minutes of my collapsing for the first time in my Southern California living room after spending nearly two months in Africa. Now, what does that mean? I pondered. The next morning, a headline in the fat newspaper on my doorstep informed me that a tiny band of rebel fighters trapped somewhere in the African jungle were caught killing mountain gorillas. They were eating them to survive. Some American animal activist group was positively outraged. “Yes, outrageous,” I sighed.
Since returning home, reflecting on the time I spent in Kenya has proved to be a frustrating exercise. Throughout my journey I toted my copy of National Geographic, the issue on which the title page flashed, Africa: Whatever you thought, think again. I was hoping that somewhere in this illustrious expose I would find validation for the conflicting messages I was receiving. To make matters more confounding, from the moment my plane touched down back on U.S. soil I was buried in an avalanche of material insidiously designed to debunk my own eyewitness accounts. As a result I began to question my perceptions, which in turn caused my intention to commit the experience to print to stutter and then stall out completely. I feared that if I wrote an honest appraisal of my adventure I would be vilified. Even worse, I was afraid that what I wrote would have a deleterious effect on the people of Kenya, the people I went there to help. Then later on, while leafing through the stack of magazines that had piled up in my absence, I stumbled upon an article that casually discarded the term hunger, substituting in its place the new PC term, low food security, when describing the unpardonable state of the starving multitudes on the planet. It was at that moment that I pledged to tell my story.
Curious as to how the media’s tone when dealing with current issues jived with my personal impressions, I collected every Dark Continent news tidbit that cycled down the pike. Culling information from a variety of sources and comparing it with anecdotes from my own journey, I ferreted out what I hoped amounted to the litmus test for a Kenyan reality check. Materials from newspapers to newsmagazines, adventure journals to journals on health, and nonprofit charitable organizations to profiteering political organizations, were referenced and offset against my own experiences. As a result I began to suspect that the media’s Africa had taken on a life of its own and that tragically that life had precious little to do with improving the lives of Africans. It became increasingly apparent that although my story was certain to be a great many things, one thing it would never be was representative of the norm. I am changed as a result of my trip to Kenya though not in any way formerly anticipated. In addition to acknowledging the existence of the established abominations at work in Kenya, I expose some lesser-known evils. In the end I wrestle a few slippery demons of my own.
David arrived home to San Diego six months after I did. I called him immediately and we got together to catch up. He seemed like the same old David, ”happy, kind, helpful, manic, and refreshingly clear-eyed and unsentimental about the situation in Maseno. I was thrilled to have him back, had dozens of ideas to run past him, and felt such a profound sense of comradeship that I became cautiously optimistic about completing the book. My Kenyan cohort confirmed everything I remembered, sensed, questioned, and concluded about our shared experience at St. Philip’s. I am not crazy . . . I consoled myself. Then David stepped off the front porch of his and Michael’s sweet little cottage, strolled down his lovely tree-lined street, settled beneath a blossoming willow on a soft green lawn, and calmly sent a bullet through his brain.
Get your copy of Muzungu here: https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000000120/Muzungu.html
When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read
Proceeds go directly to the Kenya orphans.
From the author:
No one knows the story of Kenya better than the children who live it.
I had the opportunity to travel to this country and become immersed with the families there. The result is a 1500-word nonfiction children’s picture book containing over 70 unique and original color images, titled, “When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read: A Story of Hope and Friendship for One Young Kenyan Orphan.”
This true story of one little boy is told in his own words.
While there are many books about Africa on the market, none are told from a child’s point of view like this one.
The children from the village created the book’s illustrations. I asked these students to draw what represented family, love, happiness, sadness, fear and hope for them. I have also included powerful photographs of the children, the school, the village and the countryside, the hospital, the mobile clinic and orphan program.
It is this truth that is certain to nudge the hearts and minds of parents, teachers and children everywhere.
I have promised all proceeds from the sale of this book to the children of the tiny village school where the illustrations were created. They trust me. And they wait.
My name is Julius. I am six years old and I have never been to school. I live in Kenya, Africa, with my bibi(grandmother), my dada (sister) Sarah and my kaka (brother) Hezron. Hezron is only three years old, but he is much bigger than I am.
We live in a mud hut on our little shamba (farm) in the forest.
Baba (father) and mama (mother) are gone. They were very sick and they could not get better. Our bibi cares for us but she is old and she cannot see. Sarah protects us. Sarah is eleven years old.
Professor Nancy is a kind bibi with skin and hair the color of cornflowers who comes to our village. She sees the hands and feet of my jamii (family) and says, “You have jiggers. Jiggers are bugs that crawl under the skin and lay eggs. You must come to my mobile clinic and orphan feeding program this weekend.”
I tell her, “When this is over, I will go to school, and I will learn to read.”
Get your copy of When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read here: https://www.createspace.com/4054600
Want more Pamela? Here’s where you can find her:
Monday, November 5th, 2012
Join me in welcoming Tema Merback to Highlighted Author.
Tema was born to a Holocaust survivor, Dina Frydman from Radom, Poland and Leo Balbien who was rescued by the Kindertransport from Vienna, Austria. She was raised in a loving home by two people whose lives had been shattered by the Holocaust, though in entirely different ways. She attended Granada Hills High School, worked countless jobs, and became a Kathryn McBride Scholar at Bryn Mawr College, following her passion for literature and art history. As she married and had children, her desire to write was deferred by the demands of a family.
Through the years, several writers have approached her mother with hopes of telling her miraculous tale of survival. Unbeknownst to Tema, her mother had long ago determined that only she could bring this book to fruition, that only she would write it with an intimacy and compassion that no one else could. In the Face of Evil is the result of a collaboration of two forever bound souls, a mother and a daughter.
Ranking #12 on Book Movement, In the Face of Evil has received outstanding recognition, including Silver Finalist in the category of Young Adult Literature for the National Jewish Book Awards for 2011 and being an eBook of note on the prestigious International Raoul Wallenberg Website whose members include Nobel Laureates and International world leaders.
You can find more at The Jewish Journal, April 26, 2011, by Ryan Torok: A daughter tells her mother’s story of the Holocaust, The Jewish Journal, May3, 2011, by Ryan Toro: Holocaust Book Reading Brings on Reunion and More, and MalibuPatch, April 29, 2011, by Jonathan Friedman: A Novel Idea to Tell a Survivor’s Story.
Welcome, Tema. Please tell us about yourself and how you came to write In the Face of Evil.
When I was a child I knew my mother was different. I didn’t really hear her accent but all of my friends did and would ask, “Where is your mother from? Is she from Hungary? She looks like Zsa Zsa Gabor.”
“Poland, she’s from Poland,” I would answer. To my friends my mother’s foreignness was other worldly. She might as well have been an alien from another planet. She was an enigma even to me as I tried to fathom the differences between her and my friend’s parents. It wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination for me to conclude that I didn’t really know my mother. From time to time I wondered why my mother had no father, mother or siblings. What had happened to my grandparents? I wondered why she had a tattoo on her forearm and why during the summer she wore a Band-aid to cover it up. Later when I asked her why she wore the Band-aid? She would shrug and say she didn’t want to be stared at or endure the inevitable questions that the indelibly blue A-14569 would elicit from strangers.
In the 50’s and 60’s no one spoke of the Holocaust or World War II for that matter. I don’t remember ever learning about it in school, at least in terms of the Holocaust. I was about nine when I finally began to persistently question her as to the mysteries that surrounded her. You see, I didn’t just love my mother I was in love with my mother. She was so startlingly beautiful that all of my friends would constantly comment on her beauty. It was like an aura that shone so brightly that even children were taken with her. Forget about the countless men that were drawn to her. Even with four children in tow between the ages of three and nine they would come up to her and hit on her, using any excuse just to bask in her glow. She enjoyed being beautiful but was never comfortable or secure with it. In other words, she never really owned it. It was just some fluke of nature, something she hadn’t earned. I, however, only wanted to look like her and be like her.
She was hesitant to share her past but I must have been relentless because little-by-little she began to share her stories. At first, she spoke mostly about her family, reminiscences of incidents and events, family history and the city she came from. Her eyes would light up in reverence as she spoke of her father, mother, sister and brother, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Then as suddenly, her eyes would cloud up and fill with tears as I continued to badger her for an answer as to what had happened to them. Eventually, she shared it all with me and I became part daughter, part psychologist, and part family historian. It became a routine that on Sunday morning I would climb into bed with her and having saved up a hundred questions during the week I would interrogate her. I was insatiable for answers and this hour usually ended with the two of us sobbing. I would wrap my arms around her feeling guilt that I had provoked such sorrow, wanting to comfort the pain that could not be comforted. I felt like the parent, the protector of this soul that had known such horror and lost so much. It seemed inconceivable to me that anyone could survive what she had. In my efforts to reassure her I would promise to never leave her and profess my love of her for all of time. “Mommy, when you die I don’t want to live another day.” She would laugh and say, “Of course you want to live. Life is the most precious thing we possess. Believe me, even with all of the evil in the world there is nothing sweeter than life.” So would another session end with her hugging me, “Besides, I am not leaving so fast I will be with you a long time.”
My mother has kept that promise to her child of being with her for a long time. The days and years have flown by as they tend to do and I feel that the circle that is life gets ever smaller. She is older now and not a day goes by that I don’t worry about her fragility. Yes, she is still beautiful but not in that effervescent lusciousness of youth. Her beauty is more haunting and like a mirror her face reflects the years of deprivation and loss that were her teens. Yet, her spirit is as pure and incandescent as it ever was. It is a mystery to me how anyone who has witnessed what she has could hold such an enduring belief in the goodness of mankind. Today, she often reminds me of an ancient philosopher of Greece. Ever the pragmatic idealist, she has long resigned herself to the inexplicability of life.
It is important to remember during these rapturous days that are summer that even with all of the imperfections and disappointments that come with the daily task of living, there are miracles to be sure. My mother lives by example and she is an example to us all. Be sure to appreciate all that you have been given and all those that you love.
I always knew that one day I would write and publish a novel, the question was never if, but rather what and when. Subject matter presented itself wherever I looked, however, for some reason I was not prepared to tackle the one story that was personal, the one that threatened perilously near my heart. Creating the story of my mother’s survival of the Holocaust seemed a journey through Hell and one that might prove to be too painful to revisit. Then it struck me, what if the memoir became a novel written in the present, in the voice of my mother as it occurred. The journey would become one of hope, a passage from ashes to redemption. A novel of an adolescent transformed into womanhood set against the background of world conflagration. “In the Face of Evil” was born.
I am currently writing my second novel.
About Dina Frydman Balbien
Dina Frydman was born in 1929 in Radom, Poland. Radom is situated about forty-five minutes by car from the capital city of Warsaw. Her parents Joel and Temcia Frydman were hard working people that owned and worked at their Kosher and non-Kosher butcher shop. Dina had an older sister Nadja who was six years her senior and a younger brother Abek that was three years her junior. They were an educated middle-class family, religious yet modern. They saw the future as a bright beacon of possibility, a place where Jews would find through education and hard work equality and success.
In September of 1939 when Dina was 10 years old all of the Frydman family’s dreams and aspirations were ended when the Nazis conquered Poland. From that moment forward until sixteen year old Dina’s liberation at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp life become a deadly game of survival. From work camps to death camps Dina did, through countless miracles, survive. Sadly, none of her family would share that fate. Her mother, father, sister and brother were murdered at Treblinka and Auschwitz. Only two of her cousins from her extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents survived.
After Dina’s liberation she spent time at DP facilities in Germany and a school for orphans at Aglasterhausen, Germany before immigrating to the United States in May 1946. She lived in foster care with a family in Philadelphia and attended Overbrook High School for two years. In 1949 she moved to Los Angeles, CA to live with a cousin that offered her a permanent home. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and through necessity went to work. OnApril 5, 1952 she married Leo Balbien, a Kinder Transport immigrant from Vienna Austria who served in the US Army.
Dina was a full-time mother to her four children: Tema Nadine (named for her mother and sister), Joel Abraham (named for her father and brother), Joshua Nathan (named for both of her grandfathers), and Sarah Gail (named for both of her grandmothers).
In the last twenty-five years Dina has spoken to schools and synagogues in California about the Holocaust. In 2008 her daughter Tema Merback began a novel based on her amazing story that was published in January 2011. In the Face of Evil: Based on the Life of Dina Frydman Balbien has received critical acclaim from readers throughout the world and now has been honored by the National Jewish Book Council as a Finalist – National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has also recognized In the Face of Evil as an e-book of note by recommending it on their prestigious website www.raoulwallenberg.net .
The novel, like The Diary of Anne Frank, spellbinds the reader with its ability to recreate the world in which Dina lived prior, during and after the war. Written in Dina’s voice we experience her transformation from child to teenager to woman while surviving occupation, destruction and imprisonment. Through it all Dina’s strength, perseverance and positivity all factored into her survival. She retained and exemplified the only possession left her by her loving family: Morality, ethics, love and forgiveness.
Her life is an inspiration to friends, family and all who read her story. Dina lives in Thousand Oaks, CA with her husband Leo. They have seven grandchildren.
What they’re are saying:
“This book is the outcome of three miracles. First, the mother Dina Frydman, lived through the Holocaust, surviving an unbelievable, all too true set of tragic experiences that wiped out her entire family: occupation, ghetto, work camp, slave labor, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen (in its final stage of total collapse and chaos). Miraculously, she came through with her goodness, honor and affirmation of life intact. This book reflects those qualities.
Second miracle: for decades, in an incredible feat of memory, Dina relived and told her stories, recounting them with pitch perfect recollection, including a vivid gallery of portraits of friends, family, victims, persecutors, and with vital scenes of the kindness and cruelty of strangers, the love and incapacity of family, the support and saving help of friends.
Third miracles: Dina’s daughter, Tema Merback, absorbed these stories and reproduced them in this authentic, gripping, moving account. What the mother could not do – put her testimony in a book – the daughter has done and without losing any of the fire, or the suffering, or the heartbreak or the moments of relief and of despair. In the end this book communicates an irrepressible, overflowing life force and decency and hope in the face of the most inhuman crimes ever.
As authentic, as compelling, as devastating as a survivor’s account written at first hand, this book snatches memory and life from the jaws of oblivion and gives them as a gift to its readers.
This book was a mitzvah to write and a mitzvah to read.”—Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Founding President, Jewish Life Network; Founding President, CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership; Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 2000-2002.
Tema Merback, October 16th guest speaker at Santa Monica College for their Literary Lecture Series.
In the Face of Evil
Seventy years have elapsed since the end of my childhood and the beginning of World War II. The destruction of community and family that followed the German invasion and conquering of Poland precipitated and forced me into an unnatural adulthood. The odd windfall of this calamitous event is a searing imprint of memory. Faces and voices have followed me my entire life offering up their advice and counsel, whether desired or not, shadowing each step as I steered my course through the seas of life. At times they have proven to be more real to me than yesterday’s events. Often, these friendly ghosts have capriciously danced through the corridors of my dreams as real and alive as the last day that I saw them. Like the story of “Brigadoon,” the mythical community of book and song that reappeared every hundred years and for one shiny bright inexplicable moment sparkled through the mists of Scotland, so has the vanished world of Radom, Poland returned to me in dreams and at times in waking just as it was long ago. The joyous community with its various degrees of religiosity, the marketplaces and shops, the places of learning, the observance of holidays, the intellectual liveliness, and of course the devotion and celebration of the Sabbath are all safely locked inside the reels of memory that play like a film in my mind, alive again.
Although I have tried at times to put the war behind me for both mine and my children’s sanity, like the tattoo that I bear, it is burned into me and has colored every moment of my life. With the passage of time there have been endless books with their endless revelations as to why or how such a nightmare could have occurred, but in the end the only lesson learned is that it happened. The Holocaust happened and millions perished through systematic slaughter. A world of people with their joys and sorrows disappeared and with them went a way of life. The apocalypse has long passed and the years have flown by like the clouds in a windblown sky. Soon there will be no survivors left and the keepers of the memory will be just that, a memory. So it has come to me, the bearer of the torch, the last to remember their sweet sojourn among friends and enemies before I, too, leave this world of bitter sweetness. The tale has now been written of those who lived, that they may endure and that you might know them.
Dina Frydman Balbien
Radom, Poland Summer of 1939
An Ordinary Family
From the window of our apartment, I look down on the bustling streets. The morning sun shines on my street, Koszarowa Ulica, a busy thoroughfare in Radom’s Jewish quarter. Placing my hand on the window, I feel the warmth radiate through the glass. The bright August morning pours into my bedroom, casting away the shadows of a doubt-filled night. The ordinary ebb and flow of life seems to continue in a reassuring cycle of sunrises and sunsets.
Across the street, the shopkeepers are opening their stores. Michal the baker comes out and looks at the sky. A smile spreads across his plump face as he brushes some flour from his prominent nose. Mrs. Rabinowicz greets him, and with a last wistful glance at the sky, he follows her into his bakery. The birds’ songs crescendo in the tall chestnut trees lining the street, adding to the symphony of daily life. People hurry through the busy streets in pursuit of their daily callings. Bicyclists weave among the horse-drawn carriages, or dorozkas1, the principle form of transportation throughout Poland’s cities. Life seemed normal enough on this warm summer day in 1939. I rub my eyes in an effort to dispel the dream that still plagues me, trying to make sense of the visions of the night. It has been two years since my beloved zaida2 passed away. Last night in my sleep, he came to me. Reaching across the barriers that separate the living from the dead, he touched me in an urgent gesture to communicate. Standing at the foot of my bed, silently beckoning me to acknowledge his presence, he hovered; his large immaterial body shimmered before me. His eyes, the color of blue ice, bore into me through the veil of death. He conveyed a warning I could not fathom. The ghostly apparition had disturbed my peaceful slumber and I had brusquely shooed my grandfather away, reminding him that he belonged in the afterworld of the dead.
I awoke with a horrible feeling of guilt and remorse. Why had I not reached out to him full of the love we once felt for one another? I had not asked him why he was there. Instead, in the imaginary landscape of my dream, I had told him to leave and not to return. How could I have sent my beloved grandfather away? I tried to brush the vision from my mind and replace it with the happy memory of my grandfather as he was in life, Jekiel starke, meaning Jekiel the strong in Yiddish. Rhythmically swaying in his rocking chair, he impatiently waited for our cherished daily routine—when I climbed on his lap and kissed him. Together we would rock as he told me stories of his youth, the security of his arms enfolding me, his white beard tickling until I was reduced to giggles. The fond memories of a favorite grandchild encircled me in a blissful cloak of warmth and safety, shielding me from the terrors of the dream.
Find more about Tema here:
Monday, October 1st, 2012
Please join me in welcoming Diane Dettmann to Highlighted Author.
Diane is an author, presenter and teacher. She was a literacy staff developer and taught at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. She co-authored Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants and presented the book at international conferences in Finland and Canada. Diane was recently featured in the national education association today This Active Life. Her inspiration has touched and helped others through their healing after a death of a loved one. “Working your way through grief after the death of a loved one takes energy and courage,” says Diane. “Often angels float in and out offering support. The sudden death of my husband at the age of 54 surrounded me with many angels. Friends, family and total strangers floated into my life just when I needed them most.”
Diane lives in Afton, Minnesota, where she enjoys writing and spending time with her loving husband, Allan.
Welcome, Diane, please tell us about yourself.
I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I was five years old. As child, I often sat on the front porch steps and scribbled nonsense words on a rainbow tablet. I started journaling in junior high and took creative writing classes in high school. My tenth grade English teacher read aloud to us everyday and inspired me to follow my writing bliss. As an elementary teacher and literacy trainer in the public schools, I encouraged students to express their creative energy in dance, art and most of all—writing which in turn nurtured mine. My master’s program in “Curriculum and Instruction” pushed me deeper into the writing realm as I researched and wrote my thesis paper, “The School of Bliss: A School Designed for Students’ Happiness” which I presented at a national women’s conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. A year later, I began the rigorous process of National Board Teacher Certification that required hundreds of hours of writing. When I received my results, I was not only excited that I passed, but elated that I had received a perfect score on my writing section.
Being a self-motivated writer, I enjoy exploring new resources and ways to nurture my writing. I read books by authors like Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and Anne Lamott. I love reading non-fiction, especially biographies and memoirs of famous people. The first biography I remember reading as a child was about Carol Heiss, the 1960’s Olympic figure skater. I couldn’t put the book down. It inspired me to practice another love in my young life—figure skating. My years of journaling and free writing were like ice-skating practice—they developed my writing skills while I enjoyed the flow of the pen across the page.
I finally got serious about writing in the 1990s. I started my own local writer’s group, “Quill and Thought,” published a few articles in education publications, and participated in writer’s nights where I read my work. In 2003, while reading journal entries about my husband’s illness and death, I realized how hard I had struggled to make sense of my life after the devastating loss. I knew I had a story in me, but was not sure how to share such a personal journey with the world.
In 2010, after rereading my journals and seven years of numerous starts, stops and working titles, I attended a writer’s conference in California. After nervously reading a section of a chapter to a critique group, their positive feedback inspired me. I returned to Minnesota, connected with Adair Lara, a memoir consultant, who encouraged me to keep going. A year later Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal finally reached the hands of readers.
What they’re saying:
“In this well written memoir, Diane tells of her emotional journey in touching detail.”—Mary Ann Grossmann, St. Paul Pioneer Press
“The reader is drawn in and captivated by Diane’s vivid account of her grief after the death of her loving husband . . . a powerful story of love, grief, hope and faith all can learn from.” –Mary Jacks, M.S. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
“Twenty Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal by Diane Dettmann is an honest record of a widow’s difficult struggle that is inspirational…
Dettmann is brutally honest about her long battle with losing her beloved husband, and readers going through that dark valley will appreciate this story. It is well written and well edited. The author’s portrayal of herself, John Hohl, family members and her second husband, Allan, are believable and add to this memoir. This is a book that will touch many lives in a positive, helpful way.”—Alice D. for Readers Favorite
“Symbolically, the Twenty-Eight Snow Angels are for the 28 years that Diane and her husband, John, were married. One snowy night, Diane literally went out into her back yard, lay down in the snow and created snow angels. As you read her story, you will be amazed at the courage and fortitude Diane demands of herself as she faces daily challenges by pushing herself through her grief and learning to face a life alone and succeeding! It is indeed, “A BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN STORY OF A LIFE RENEWED”. Diane Dettmann has accomplished an extraordinary achievement in sharing the sadness and grief of her very private journey from Denial to Acceptance.”—Sharon D. Anderson, Ph.D.
Interview on KAXE 97.1 fm with Heidi Holtan
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Twenty-Eight Snow Angels
Twenty-Eight Snow Angels
The following excerpt takes place six months after my husband’s death. It begins with a description of my struggle to make it on my own as I coped with my grief. Facing the responsibilities of a new job that I started a few weeks after John’s funeral only added more stress to my life.
Chapter 14 Comfort
THINKING MY JOURNEY through grief would be like a fifty-yard dash and my life would return to normal when I crossed the one-year finish line in June, I kept pushing ahead. However, no matter how hard I tried, I still struggled to get through my days. My brother Tom’s and John’s deaths had created an intense anxiety about my own mortality. Life continued to be a daily process of putting one foot in front of the other and just getting through it. Tired and exhausted, my life tilted and swayed while my heart slammed in my chest. I felt like I was dying. Every afternoon the dismissal bell signaled the end of the day. When the children filed by my office with their packs bobbing on their backs and smiles stretched across their faces I knew I had made it through another day.
One gray spring afternoon as I drove home, a sharp pain ran across my chest. I gripped the steering wheel, praying the ache would stop. When the pain intensified I panicked. Instead of heading home on Interstate 94, I took the I-494 exit and drove to the hospital where my clinic was located. Terrified I was having a heart attack, I pulled into the emergency room parking lot. I sat in the car and tried to calm myself down, but nothing helped. My breathing quickened. My heart raced. Afraid I was dying, I ran toward the ER doors. Part of me wanted to turn back, but something pushed me on. I told the nurse at the desk I thought I was having a heart attack.
She guided me into a curtained area where she checked my pulse and blood pressure. A doctor appeared carrying a chart and a clipboard in his hand. He jotted down my symptoms and directed the nurse to run a few tests. After an EKG and a blood draw, the nurse hooked up an IV and rolled me into a private room. She adjusted my blanket, nestled the call button next to me and said she would be back shortly with my dinner.
For the first time since the night of John’s death, a sense of comfort rolled over me. When my supper arrived, I devoured the salad, vegetables and chicken. Even though the meal was served on a plastic tray, it tasted like a gourmet meal prepared at a fine restaurant, quite the change from microwave popcorn and frozen dinners. After dinner
I called my sister to tell her I was in the hospital and left a message at work that I would not be there in the morning. Later, the nurse stopped in to check my monitors and helped me wheel my IV into the bathroom. She settled me back into bed and said my doctor would run tests in the morning. Then she handed me a small cup with a white pill in it and poured me a glass of water. She said the pill would help me sleep. I swallowed the tablet and leaned back into the newly fluffed pillows. Feeling drowsy, I clicked off the television and closed my eyes. The hum of voices in the hallway lulled me to sleep.
Get your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/author/dianedettmann
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Monday, April 2nd, 2012
Join me in welcoming Debra Brenegan to Highlighted Author.
In addition to her novel, Shame the Devil, which is an historical account of nineteenth-century American writer Fanny Fern, Debra Brenegan has also authored several other works that have recently appeared in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, and other publications.
She has received a Ragdale residency for her fiction and was a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize.
Welcome, Debra. Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked as a journalist and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before beginning my graduate work. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I also taught. I now teach English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
During the school year, I live in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with my husband, Steve, and our elderly cat. We spend summers and school breaks in our native Milwaukee. When not teaching, writing, spending time with family, or driving back and forth to Wisconsin, I enjoy cooking, gardening, reading, and traveling.
I am currently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection.
Today we’re featuring your novel, Shame the Devil. Tell us about it.
Shame the Devil tells the remarkable and true story of Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), one of the most successful, influential, and popular writers of the nineteenth century. A novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811-1872) outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned one of the country’s first prenuptial agreements, married a man eleven years her junior, and served as a nineteenth-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger over a period of about twenty years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, “Speak the truth, and shame the devil.” Through the story of Fern and her contemporaries, including Walt Whitman, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shame the Devil brings the intellectual and social ferment of mid-nineteenth-century America to life.
“There may be married people who do not read the morning paper. Smith and I know them not … It is not too much to say the newspapers are one of our strongest points of sympathy; that it is our meat and drink to praise and abuse them together; that we often in our imagination edit a model newspaper, which shall have for its motto, `Speak the truth, and shame the devil.’” – Fanny Fern
What they’re saying:
“In her wide-ranging way, Debra Brenegan turns an age of great social and artistic change–for the races, for women, for the country–into a narrative of compelling characters. This novel emerges from history and becomes something more valuable–great literary art. Brenegan’s Fanny, her family, and the cluster of historical characters come to us complicated and whole, demanding our attention.”
—Robert Stewart, editor of New Letters
“Debra Brenegan will undoubtedly receive high praise for her superb portrait of Fanny Fern. Readers will gain an insightful look at this overlooked author and her firsthand account of American society during her time.”
— Historical Novels Review
“Much of this excellent novel is likely based on reality. Brenegan’s use of “faction,” a fiction-ish offshoot of the traditional biography, is the perfect approach for an insightful look at Fern’s inner world as well as the persona she revealed to the public.”
—ForeWord Reviews Magazine
Would you share an excerpt with us?
Sara Payson Willis Eldredge, Boston, Friday, December 22nd, 1848
Isn’t a “seedy” hat, a threadbare coat, or a patched dress, an effectual shower-bath on old friendships? Haven’t people a mortal horror of a sad face and a pitiful story? Don’t they on hearing it, instinctively poke their purses into the farthest, most remote corner of their pockets? . . . Ain’t they always “engaged” ever after, when you call to see ’em? Ain’t they near-sighted when you meet ’em in the street?—and don’t they turn short corners to get out of your way?—Fanny Fern, Olive Branch, March 18th, 1852
Sara pulled the warped door closed behind her, shook her freezing fingers, and climbed the boardinghouse’s steep side stairs, the very stairs she’d recently agreed to wash for five cents off the three-dollar-a-week room and board she paid the landlady, Mrs. Haufen. Deep within the folds of her pocket, the only one left without a hole, was a whole dollar and the other guilty lump—peppermint. Peppermint she’d stolen. She’d sewed practically round the clock for old man Schueller this week, hoping to make more than the usual seventy-five cents for the week’s labor. She’d delivered one extra shirt and figured that since she was usually paid seventy-five cents for two shirts, that she’d make an extra thirty-seven, or maybe thirty-eight cents (it was the Christmas season after all). But Schueller had given her only the dollar, which made Sara tear up, as she so often did these days. When he’d asked her what she was upset about, and she’d told him, he’d smiled in that way that froze Sara’s insides and had said that she could get the extra thirteen cents for as many kisses. The extra money suddenly didn’t matter. Sara pulled the extended bill from Schueller’s clenched grip and stumbled away from his leering grin. Later, she would blame him for her thievery.
She wished she could find other employment. After Charly’s funeral, Hezekiah and her father had each agreed to give her a dollar and a quarter a week. Both devout church goers, they felt congregational eyes flutter from wretched, vocal Sara to their ample purses and knew nobody would understand their mutually agreed-upon assertion that headstrong Sara deserved to reap the hardship she’d sown. Hers was God’s lesson of humility and she wasn’t acquiescing a bit. Given that they knew she’d be able to earn at least fifty cents a week taking in sewing, as her sister Julia did, her room and board would be covered. Never mind the fact that the children needed shoes and clothes and the occasional book or paper toy. We understand about the needs of children, Charly’s mother, Mary Eldredge often told Sara, in her many attempts to coerce Sara into giving up Grace and Ellen to Hezekiah and herself. All the more reason to allow grandparents with means to have a fuller hand in the girls’ upbringing.
Sara knew what a fuller hand meant. It meant total control. It meant allowing the girls to live with the Eldredges and quite possibly giving up all her maternal rights forever. Well, she wouldn’t do it. Not as long as she had strength and a steel needle. She’d get faster at sewing, better. And she’d find more moral employers than the disgusting Schueller. And she’d never steal again. In fact, she’d just applied for a teaching position at quite a nice little school in downtown Boston. Sara felt hopeful because her sister Lucy’s husband, Josiah, was on the school’s board. He’d been in the drafty committee room when she’d had her little interview and had steered the committee away from dwelling too long on her lack of experience with algebra at Catharine Beecher’s seminary. Surely, if he had any say, the board would hire Sara. They would have to.
Sara reached the top of the three-story staircase and tapped at Widow Perkins’ door.
The door opened on the hunch-shouldered, flitty-eyed old woman. “The girls went off with your sister,” Widow Perkins said. “In your room.”
Sara knew Julia was the only one of her sisters brave enough to visit her anymore. What a nice surprise. After her miserable day, Sara was more starved than usual for comfort.
The widow glanced down the dim hall at the closed door of Sara’s room. “I’ve just finished,” she said with a little grin and pulled Sara into the cool, dank room toward the one small window where she’d set her rickety chair to work by the light. On the chair were two pairs of small gray socks made of drab, cheap wool, but unmistakably brand new.
“Oh, thank you!” Sara said, nearly crying at the sight. Just last week, she’d had to cut the toes off of Grace’s shoes because her feet had grown so. Little Ellen’s shoes had been cut for a month. The worst part was not the cutting of the shoes, but looking at the raggedy, oft-mended dingy socks poking through the travesty. Another pair of new, warm socks would make the shoes seem tolerable.
Sara gave the widow her dollar and waited for her to count out change from a tattered purse she pulled from under her pillow, mostly in half-dimes. The widow was two cents short, which alarmed Sara—she wouldn’t have enough for the week’s board, as she’d spent her stair-washing half-dime on two extra scoops of coal. It had been so cold lately and Grace had started the week with a cough. Widow Perkins blinked and went back to search under the pillow. Sara inhaled sharply. Gently, she laid her hand on the widow’s frazzled irongray head and proclaimed the socks to be so well made that she wanted to pay a little extra for them, after all. The widow turned from the bed, wrinkled her brow as if in pain, then rested her forehead on Sara’s shoulder and cried, whether in relief, gratitude, or embarrassment, Sara didn’t know. Sara, at least, could borrow the two cents from Julia.
“Merry Christmas,” Sara said to the widow and kissed her good-bye. “I’ll bring you a little something from father’s house on Monday.”
“Bless your heart,” the widow said, and waved Sara off.
Sara tucked the socks into her pocket and felt, once again, the stick of stolen peppermint candy. She swallowed hard at the bile rising from her stomach. The stick had been partly crushed and was, apparently, pulled from the display jar and left on a dusty little “half-price” shelf on the grocer’s back wall. Sara had slipped it into her pocket with such grace it frightened her. Other things sometimes appeared on that shelf and Sara had seen other, poorer, people quietly slip these things into their pockets: bruised apples, nearly rancid butter wrapped in paper, or sometimes, small rough pouches containing a handful or so of molding beans. But, she’d never done it before—stolen. Until that day. After enduring the nauseating leers of Schueller and the disappointment of her pay, Sara had wandered to the little shelf and spied the sad peppermint stick, which had been ignored by the shuffles of drab poverty floating past. Only Sara had pocketed the crumbling sweet. Only Sara would ruin her soul stealing candy.
Sara walked to the room at the end of the hall, the absolute cheapest room in the house, worse than even Widow Perkins’ room, smaller, colder, but with a similar little window overlooking the clapboard side of the next boarding house. She poked her key through the lock and gave the skeletal door a hard push.
Julia was there! She was balanced on Sara’s three-legged sewing stool near the window, had a girl on each knee, and was reading a book.
“Mother!” the girls cried, jumping from Julia’s lap to embrace Sara hugged her darlings close and smiled full at Julia.
“I’ve just come from Lucy’s,” Julia said, indicating the book. “She said I could borrow this to read to the girls.”
“By all means, continue, then,” Sara said. “I’ll listen, too!”
Sara untied her bonnet and hung it on the nail, then reclined on the room’s lumpy horsehair bed, still wrapped in her shawl, to listen to Julia finish a story about princesses and pudding and glittering crowns and roast beef. Decadent food. Brimming tables of crockery and wine. Lace tablecloths and bowls of flowers. Genteel manners reigning supreme. Nobody forgotten. Nobody suffering. No hunger or cold or fear. Sara’s eyes fluttered, her breathing slowed, and then Sara suddenly saw Mother in the tale, sitting at the royal banquet next to sister Ellen. Oh, how radiant they looked, pink-cheeked and happy! Mother wore a turban made of ferns and she plucked one and blew it across the room to Sara, who caught it and tucked it into her bodice front. Beaming sister Ellen just ate and ate and ate.
Mary Stace was there, too, and the babies, and Lucy’s boys, but where, oh where? Sara whirled in dream circles, looked madly around and around and then she saw them, Charly, magnificent in black velvet, wearing his white satin wedding vest and holding little Mary’s hand. Little Mary was hopping up and down in the most exquisite shining silver shoes, pointing at Grace and Ellen sitting on Julia’s knee in the corner of the palace. Little Mary had a basketful of sweets she wanted to share with her sisters and so Charly let her run before folding the then-sobbing Sara into his hearty arms and whispering to her, “All is well, all is well, all is well . . .”
Get your copy of Shame the Devil on Amazon
Want more Debra? Here’s where you can find her:
Shame the Devil facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shame.the.devil.book
Debra is available for readings or to speak with your group about historical fiction, Fanny Fern, or writing. Please contact her agent, Lynn Wiese Sneyd, LWS Literary Services.