Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Welcome, Alex Sheremet!

We are excited to welcome Alex Sheremet to the Highlighted Author this week.  His third book — Woody Allen: Reel to Real — comprises over 600 pages of cinema criticism and commentary covering every Woody Allen film every made. This book also stretches the bounds of electronic publishing by offering an interactive forum where readers can add their own articles, essays, and commentary.

Enjoy the feature and feel free to get involved in this amazing project!

–Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Hostess

Reel to Real

71z5CK1nAAL._SL1123_Alex Sheremet’s third book is by far the most comprehensive analysis of Woody Allen’s films ever published, and is the summation of everything that he’s learned thus far in cinema. Hailed as a “seminal” and “revolutionary” book by poet and critic Dan Schneider (Cosmoetica), Alex’s style of criticism is straightforward, beginning with a single assertion: that art can (and should!) be evaluated, and that a critic’s job is above all to evaluate. And at 600+ pages, the book does exactly that, covering every single film that Allen has ever written, directed, or otherwise acted in, as well as responds to 5 decades of Woody-related criticism before turning the tables on Woody’s own opinions on art, life, and philosophy. His hope is that the reader will come away knowing more of art and cinema as a whole, and be able to apply these ideas to new art-works in a way that’s logically consistent and self-sufficient, all the while avoiding the common pitfalls of artistic criticism.

Woody Allen: Reel To Real was published as a DigiDialogue™ via Take2 Publishing on 11/12/2014, and will be updated with new essays, articles, and reader/critic feedback every 6-12 months, thus ensuring that others become a part of the publishing process, and that Reel To Real continues to grow with the critical discourse surrounding it. These updates will sync automatically with all purchased copies — one of the benefits, really, of electronic publications over print.

A Note from Alex

Alex Sheremet 2I am a young writer from NYC and the curator of IDEAS ON IDEAS. Although a poet and novelist, first, I became interested in film as a means of furthering my own art, and chose to stay because of everything else that film has taught me.My debut novel, A Few Streets More To Kensington (2012), deals with classic tropes of childhood — nostalgia, curiosity, and the wars of self — now transposed to the streets of Brooklyn, and examined through an artist’s reluctant gaze. Rich, melancholy, and contemplative, the tale follows its protagonist well into his teenage years, and inevitably asks the same questions that have already been parsed for millennia. Yet for all that, violence, friendship, video games, femme fatales, 9/11, and Hasidic Jews abound, for while this may not have been your reality, it certainly was the narrator’s, and that of many others. The book, therefore, subsists on the ‘magic’ of the 1990s, and remains one of the few comprehensive depictions of that era — even as it transcends it, too.Doors And Exits: A Study Of Two Extremes (2013) is a ‘docudrama’ that probes the follies and accomplishments of the 21st Century, all within the world of a single, fictional school in New York City. Beginning with three philosophical axioms that, in the narrator’s mind, define the universe and its machinations, the book adjusts, rejects, and renews them till the very end. But while the book’s ‘place’ may be a fabrication, its conflicts are not, for its characters (kids, teachers, and those somewhere in between) have a reality someplace, somewhere, and will repeat themselves — ad nauseam — for as long as we’re recognizably human. This is the little-known difference between Truth and Reality, and my second novel — a ‘genuine fake’! — straddles both.Woody Allen: Reel To Real (2014) is my first work of criticism, and will be followed by my third novel, Thousand Rocks, in summer 2016. It will be set in China’s Tang Dynasty.I also write a political column for Cosmoetica called “Tooth & Nail.”

Connect With Alex

Alex’s Amazon Page | AlexSheremet.com | Facebook Page Twitter Take2 Publishing

Reel to Real Excerpt

The purpose of this book is two-fold:

First, as it references a large number of contemporary reviews — most of them online — it gives a snapshot of Woody criticism as it exists now, instead of merely relying on perspectives from thirty or forty years ago, often part of ‘schools’ and ‘cliques’ that are no longer relevant. Quite often, great art needs some distance and some time before it can be properly evaluated by the masses, which invariably includes critics, as well, since they’ve been elected to speak for the very same people negatively impacted by such closeness in the first place. This is one of the values of online publishing, as it can be ahead of the curve in some regards.

Second, it is clear that so many of Woody’s films have not even been properly seen, much less talked about. This needs to change. I’d spent a long time with films such as Interiors, Stardust Memories, Another Woman, and many others long before I’d read any reviews, or had been biased against these films, pro or con. It is shocking, then, to finally read what has been written, from the utter meagerness of the discussions, themselves, to the way critics seem to steal from one another — down to the very exact phrasing, often originating in one or two reviews that spiral out of control, reproducing, like memes, into what gets termed ‘the critical discourse’. After a while, however, this has less to do with the films in question than in the way ideas travel, affect, and afflict, thus ensnaring otherwise smart people who can’t see just how they’re being compromised.

Naturally, one should not engage with art while wearing these sort of blinders. Not being a ‘professional’ critic, a member of some status quo, or emotionally invested in this or that opinion or film, but a regular guy who goes to work, comes home, and writes, I won’t regale you with film-speak or other ills, but talk to you as one informed human being to another about what’s truly relevant to the art-form. I will assume you know what you know, and that you are, for lack of a better word, open. Most importantly, I will obviate the ‘I’ of this foreword, and let the films speak for themselves as best as they can, until they are their own best evidence. This is why I’ll often track the ‘big’ films scene by scene, letting them play out via print before they are subjected to my analysis, so that readers can see just why, exactly, I make the claims that I do. Too often, a critic would write something, and I’d wonder whether or not they’d even watched the scene in question. At other times, I’d marvel how a critic’s purported evidence would undercut the very claim being made. These are major flaws, no doubt, but they can also be avoided if a work of art is merely allowed to be itself, first, before the deductions start rolling in.

Lots of people talk of what they ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. In between these two words, however, there’s the far more fruitful territory of what ‘is’. Not everyone will have the same background, politics, personal aesthetic, or philosophical bent, so to force a work of art into one’s preferences is meaningless and self-absorbed. But if we watch a film, we all see the same characters, visuals, and ideas which, while certainly multilayered, are not infinite in possible interpretations, bounded, as they are, by the parameters of the film. We therefore have the choice to take them on their own terms, as part of their own internal universe — our egos be damned! This is really what I mean by the word ‘open’, and I hope that it still applies.

This book has well over two hundred references, alluding, as it does, to a lot of writing on the subject of Woody Allen. As is natural, not everything is good, with some writers being guilty of the very things I’ve described. Yet they’ve been chosen for a reason, as they are representative of ‘Woody’ thinking ca. 2014, for good or ill, and probably will be for a while longer. The book, therefore, corrals these references into chapters, and uses them to help shape a narrative of my own crafting. I often agree with what the writers say. But, just as often, I don’t. This, again, is only natural, for a critic’s job is to teach, and confidently, at that. Now, it is good to be right. Let’s not kid ourselves here. But it’s even better to have a cogent and unique argument that will take the reader to fresh insights about things that really matter. And, of course, the better the argument, the closer it will approximate the truth.

Woody Allen: Reel to Real is broken up into seven chapters. The first five deal with Woody Allen’s films chronologically, including one chapter reserved for Allen’s actor-only appearances in films like Casino Royale and Antz. The sixth deals with Woody Allen’s major critics, focusing on where, exactly, they have been right, and where — perhaps even more importantly — they’ve erred. The final chapter comments on Allen’s influences, as well as the man’s own viewpoints on art, life, and film.

Too often, a piece of writing about an artist will begin with what, ironically, is considered most essential: the background noise. Yet I don’t begin talking of Woody’s life, influences, or opinions until the very end, wherein I finally take the man to task. That’s because the most important thing, by far, is what’s ultimately on the screen, and not where it is derived from — especially since, in most cases, Woody betters his derivations in ways that older filmmakers simply had no opportunity to do. The bottom line, then, is the films, for a well-wrought work of art communicates its meaning without too much trouble. Sure, it’s always good to be a seasoned movie-goer if one decides to tackle a complex film. But if someone tells you — no, downright insists — that you ‘need’ to watch Federico Fellini or Ingmar Bergman to really ‘get’ Woody Allen? Run. They really don’t have your best interests at heart.

For everything I tackle, however, it seems that this book asks only one central question: Just where — and what — is the real Woody Allen? Certainly, he is not merely where the critics say he is. Nor does he sit where the viewers do, given how his most popular films have only come about in the last few years, and have, in some ways, been his most consistently lackluster. But, worst of all, Woody Allen is not where he thinks he is, either, as his self-effacing comments will go on to show. Yet, for all that, I don’t always believe it. I think his words are a put-on, as Manhattan’s illusionary ‘loveliness’ was; as Stardust Memories is the sum of others’ self-deceit. He dismisses himself, and yet, he “keeps his nose to the grindstone”, as he’s often said, for there must be something, however slipshod, vague, that lets Allen know he’s done much good, and thus keeps the man going. Reality, after all, does not care for your approval. It only tolerates it, even as you ask — as Allen must — ‘So what?’

Praise for Reel to Real

“…a seminal book in film criticism that eschews the Lowest Common Denominator Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down approach to film criticism…in favor of an in depth and objective look at the films, themselves, as works of art. This is a welcome, and hopefully, revolutionary tool that will inspire a younger generation of art critics, in all forms and genre, to transcend their own limits, just as every cineaste and art aesthete hopes to do for themselves.” — Dan Schneider, poet, critic, novelist, and founder of Cosmoetica

“…a massive undertaking, and one of the most significant pieces of film archaeology you could come across.” — Dan Slevin, editor (FishHead Magazine) and broadcaster (Rancho Notorious Podcast)

“…damn good writing…It’s not only a great book on Woody Allen, but on art and the art of criticism, which will serve as a great resource for those interested in the ways film operates.” — Andrew J. Geary (AndrewGearyWrites)

“…erudite, intelligent…the most far-reaching analysis of Woody Allen’s career so far.” — John Greco (Twenty Four Frames)

Welcome, Claudette Alexander

We are excited to spotlight Claudette Alexander on the Highlighted Author — particularly during the holidays — as her story is one of selfless service. With a heart for those less fortunate than herself, Claudette is currently working with patients to help them indulge in full and happy lives despite their struggles with chronic illnesses. Her debut novel is a memoir about some of the heartrending challenges that immigrants face. Enjoy the feature.

Merry Christmas!

–Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Host

A Note from Claudette

71N9nAABDTL._UX250_I was taught by Catholic nuns elementary through high school. In addition I had protective brothers and a dad.  They kept me on the straight and narrow road.

As a teenager growing up in St.Lucia, I was fascinated with the Mills and Boon series and always envisioned some Prince coming down some mountain to rescue my heart. Hence my obsession with love and romance.

My other passion is fighting for the rights of the underdog. I did a good bit of fighting as a union president. These days my fight is to empower people with knowledge on how to live happily with chronic conditions.

I have always wanted to write a book but the desire intensified when I survived a three months stay in the hospital fighting for my life. Initially I wanted to write children’s books and also write a book for my sons to know the love that transpired with their dads before their birth since they grew up fatherless.

By the time I was finished with my debut novel it evolved into a memoir.  SUNRISE FROM AN ICY HEART: A MEMOIR is about my journey as an immigrant in love, work, motherhood, and healthcare. In addition it envelopes all that is special about St. Lucia, its people, culture and beauty.

Next on my agenda is writing stories for my grandchildren. I have begun entering contest stories by grandmas.

Links to Claudette:

Book trailer | YouTube | Amazon Author Page | Website | Facebook

Email: Claudette@claudettealexander.com

Sunrise From An Icy Heart

81G+FnXPFjL._SL1500_SUNRISE FROM AN ICY HEART: A MEMOIR will take you on a discovery of the human need to find a special kind of love, raise loving sons and rise above the strangling odds that face immigrants.

A story of survival and determination, from St. Lucia to Canada through a midst of rejections, abandonment and the power to smash through the fence of fear and fly.

A sensual, amusing, and fun read that will stimulate your senses, make you laugh, cry and learn some essential life lessons.

This book is intended for mature readers.

Order on AMAZON or Barnes and Noble.

Excerpt:

HEARTACHE

The glowing-hot sun rose from the sea and splashed its morning warmth, but a cold chill crept through my veins.

“We’ll be together soon, baby,” said Linus, his voice an undertone whisper. His kiss was long and deep, as he said goodbye.

We embraced for a lingering minute while I inhaled his Brut cologne, a scent forever remembered.  As our embrace uncoiled, our puffy eyes clinched revealing our pain, faces cast downward with pressed lips. His hand squeezed mine, then he turned, crossed the scorching asphalt-laden tarmac, and ran up the stairs. He stood at the top, gave a final look, his eyes making images of the life he was leaving behind, then he disappeared into the airplane.

My chest felt heavy as if a boulder sat on it. In rapid succession, I breathed. My life was at a low ebb and gray as the metal wings that would fly him away from me. In a brittle tone. I whispered. “When? my love, when? while through blurred vision I watched my man take off like Christopher Columbus to conquer new land. I took in all of his leaving. His light blue shirt-jacket hung so magnificently off his square shoulders, long legs in navy blue pants and with each forward stride the pain on my chest intensified.

I plodded to the car. My new companions followed–hurt, headache, heartbreak. Each in turn slicing, snipping, shaving a little piece from my heart, until I thought it was demolished. For healing depended upon patience, resilience and endurance.  I had none of those. I was null and void. Hope his move to Canada to seek a better life does not backfire.

My Dad, Oliver Alexander, would not allow me to move to Canada with Linus Hyacinth. “If the man loves you he will send for you after he gets settled,” he said. “Make no sense the two of you going up in a foreign country, and none of you know nothing about the place.”

I believe he loves me but they say out of sight out of mind, or absence makes the heart grow fonder. Lord, let it be the latter. I hope Dad was right.  

Walking past a few workmen on the airport, someone whistled, the wind wavered in the almond trees nearby, as I hurried into the car. I sat gazing at the stretch of turquoise sea water, breathing in the breeze. The tranquility of the aqua embodied me and I remembered happier days with Linus, my Mandingo man. As minutes crawled into hours, I wondered how long I would have to wait for his dark skinned body to touch mine. Or how long before I rubbed my hand over his muscled curved rump, or looked at his handsome face, a square forehead, and penetrating eyes with a half smile that gave people the impression he was x-raying them. Lord, don’t let any woman in Canada poison his mind and make him forget me.

As I thought about my emptiness, pleasing images of time spent together began to infiltrate my mind.
We met in 1968, the year when Linus’ sister married my uncle and through the ensuing introductions.  Timothy, the virginity protector, had left the island to pursue his own dreams so there was no brotherly interference. At 18, I attended St. Joseph’s Convent Secondary School. Linus, at 20, was already out in the workforce doing his architectural drawings. Many days he would drive me to and from school. We were in full obedience of our hearts. Being with each other was enough. We needed no extra stimulant. Sometimes when he worked late, I went to his workplace, sat and chatted as he did his drafting. We met every day. We loved to dance, go to parties, picnics or just chill with friends and some rum punch. Being with him made life so golden and radiant. I was deliriously happy.

Dad, with his height, dark skin and eyebrows that patrolled his forehead like black battleships ready to meet any threat to his family frightened male suitors. To avoid encountering him, Linus went to a nearby bridge and whistled when he wanted to visit me. I got pumped up when I heard the signal to join him. Whenever Dad was not around Linus came to my house and we sat on the steps till the wee hours of the night. I always wore a skirt so he could get easy access to the pleasure spots with his long delightful fingers. I learned the joys of figure eights and calligraphic lettering in my body. One night, the expected whistle came when my siblings and I sat at the table watching Dad eat his dinner. Our usual way of waiting for the leftovers. The family custom was to consume a big breakfast, big lunch, and at nights something light such as tea and biscuits, or juice, and a sandwich. Dad always had three big meals a day.

As I stood up to leave, Dad said, “Claudette, sit your ass down.”

I tilted my head to the side and in a low voice, asked, “Whyyyyyy?”

“No decent girl would have a man whistle her across a bridge.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The whistle. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about because if you had any decency you would make the young man come to the house. Futhermore, I don’t want you to be with this man unless he comes to the house, introduces himself, and state his intentions.”

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Welcome, Christie Wood!

We’re excited to welcome Christie Wood to spotlight her life-changing journey through the dark world of Alzheimer’s. Her novel exposes the enormous struggles alongside the fleeting triumphs of caring for a loved one who suffers of this disease. For those who believe there is a reason for everything, enjoy the feature on A Town of Mabel’s–Jo Grafford, Highlighted Author Co-Hostess

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All About Christie

DSC_0032 (cropped) (2)Christie Wood traveled through the world of Alzheimer’s with her Mother. She is currently on that journey with her sister. She lost her sense of humor on the first journey; she is determined to recover it on this one. Christie lives in southern California with her husband of 36 years and is about to become a grandmother for the first time.

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A Town of Mabel’s

A Town of Mabels CoverI began to write a book about my mother’s life. As she descended further and further into a disease called Alzheimer’s, my writing morphed into questions of: Why her? Why this disease? Why our family? Am I at risk, my daughter? It became a search to get to know a woman and her history, not only to honor her, but to understand her disease. It’s my story of how I met her with a smile; a willingness to accept her wherever she was on any given day. Without a doubt my story leaves me one conclusion, although I am my mother’s daughter, I do not need her disease.

Purchase now!

Balboa Press Amazon Barnes and Noble

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Excerpt

“How is your mom doing?” friends often ask. I never ever know what to say. It is my nature to always try and make people feel better. I used to believe this was my way of being liked, but I have learned it is genuine of me to actually want to be kind. So to answer this question with any amount of truth is next to impossible for me.

So I say, “The same.” She is in this or that stage of Alzheimer’s, but her appetite is good. She is happy, content. Some folks want me to elaborate, or there is a lull in the conversation mostly because they have no idea what to say next, so I sometimes throw in details like these: “She lights up when she gets ice cream.” “She has never gone through that angry stage, so we feel blessed.” This is not exactly the truth. I was with her as we withdrew her (cold turkey) from antidepressants. She was angry then, and she just missed my face with her clenched fist. Immediately she stopped herself and reached for me, saying that she was sorry, that she would never hurt me! She had no idea who I was, but like most visits she knew that I was someone she loved and someone who loved her.

Prior to my cold-turkey visit I had spent five days with her and thought those days would be my last time spent with her. I thought this almost every time that I saw her. I was reduced to uncontrollable sobs alone in my car after I left her on the fifth day. What was the trigger for the depth of my rage? She sat at a table with three other Alzheimer’s patients eating their dinner. Some needed assistance; she did not at that time. This would change by my next visit. I had knelt down beside her and told her that I had to go. She said, “I wish you didn’t.” This like almost everything that she said surprised me. My family and I were not accustomed to her talking much, and when she did, it did not always make sense. Although at that time, it still sounded like English. This, too, would change by my next visit. I replied that I would be back. As I did, she reached for my face, cupping my cheek in her palm. I felt the softness of her hand, my eye caught the wrinkled spotted skin—her hand, with its long, boney fingers, nails painted red, a color applied by the staff that she had not worn on her nails since the forties, and I let the tears run down my cheeks. I reached up and gently placed my hand over top of hers as if I was moving in slow motion, and I let it rest there on my cheek. I moved toward her and leaned into kiss her cheek and told her that I loved her. As her dinner mates, my sister, a speech therapist, and a wife of another patient looked on we all were captured in a moment so much more powerful than any disease. This was a moment of pure love, and nothing could keep it away, not even Alzheimer’s. By the time I reached my car, I could barely walk. I was shaken to the core with grief. In the safety of my car, locked in, sound-proofed and alone, the rage I felt at this disease poured out of me as if I were bleeding it.

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Reviews

  • “Shared memories sew people together. “In a Town of Mabel’s,” Christie Wood tenderly but honestly faces the reality of the disease which cruelly and callously unraveled the memories and finally took the life of her mother.  As much a story of family as of Alzheimer’s, Christie reweaves another tale, one of courage, care and ultimately, unconditional love.  I love this book and its beautiful message of faith and kindness.” —Maria Hall-Brown, Executive Producer, PBS SoCaL | PBS for Greater Los Angeles
  • This book is open and honest about family struggles. The writing is personal. You are invited into the family experience of a daughter coming to terms with her mother having Alzheimer’s and then coming to find her sister on that same difficult path. The story places value on love and understanding to help to endure and overcome family trials. It’s an encouraging book, as it shows how relationships can grow in new and meaningful ways. A worthwhile read. —Myra Mycena PhD, Speaker, columnist for The Orange County Register and Radio Host “Wake up & Live Your Life.”
  • A Town of Mabel’s is a heartfelt step into the world of Alzheimer’s and a walk into the early life of the author and her colorful family. Within the first 5 pages I was caught up in the story and could not put the book down. Many kudos to this new author. —Linda Axtell Thompson, South Orange County Women’s Book Club

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