Month: February 2019

Author Interview: Ruth Baumann at Midtown Reader

These days, Ruth Baumann is all about Joy, both figuratively and very literally. She’s working on her PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University and her dissertation will focus on lighter themes than those for which she has been known in the past. And then there’s Joy, her tortoiseshell cat.

“She’s just perfect (side note: did she mean purrfect?),” laughs Baumann. “I’ve had her since she was about three days old and we’re very bonded. I’m obsessed.”

Baumann’s earlier body of work has been heavily influenced by trauma, primarily because for her, writing has been an outlet and a way to process her life experiences. She says she can only write about what she’s dealing with and growing through, and she had to write about difficult things to confront them. Fortunately, life hasn’t been that heavy lately.

“I wrote Parse about three or four years ago and by now I feel very differently,” she says. “I’m writing more about love and gratitude…and joy!”

Much of her gratitude and joy stems not only from her cat, but also from having a good community of friends around her in Tallahassee. Baumann is originally from northern Virginia and earned her Masters Degree from Tennessee, but she says the Creative Writing program at Florida State was the best to which she applied and she’s glad she’s here, with people around her who have become like family and who have taught her the values of love.

When I ask her why she writes poetry, she doesn’t hesitate.

“Poetry seems exactly like how I think and communicate: in blunt, clear bursts,” she says. “It’s a form of meditation for me, an honest self-reflection.”

However, she cautions, poetry is not for everyone.

“You have to really, really need poetry to follow it as a path, because it’s not practical. You have to feel very called to it.”

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.

Author Interview: Pam Houston at Midtown Reader

This Wednesday night, Midtown Reader will host Pam Houston, author of two novels, several collections of short stories and essays, and most recently, her memoir: Deep Creek. Houston’s work has been selected for numerous prestigious awards, and she is a Professor of English at UC Davis. For writers and lovers of writing, she’s kind of a big deal.

Houston is also friendly, accessible and down to earth. When she heard I wanted to interview her before her visit, she replied to my email immediately with her cell phone number and an invitation to call her that same day. She said she’s been to Tallahassee before and it’s a town she really likes, plus Sally’s excitement about her visit really sealed the deal.

“If someone [with an independent bookstore] is that enthusiastic, I want to make an effort,” said Houston. She’s making a road trip of it with a friend, and suddenly I realized I wanted desperately to tag along. Houston’s sense of adventure is that contagious, plus she’s exactly the kind of woman I’d want to be friends with, look up to and be inspired by.

Houston is a force. Her writing is uncomplicated but complex, and it pulls you in deeply. She has written extensively about strong women, beginning with Cowboys Are My Weakness and continuing with numerous books. I know absolutely nothing about whitewater rafting, hunting Dall sheep in Alaska or ranching, but as I was reading Cowboys, I wanted to be there.

I’m currently savoring Houston’s newest book, Deep Creek, which she will discuss at the Midtown Reader this week. Full disclosure – I had not finished Deep Creek (or even started it) before I spoke to Houston, but even though she must have realized this, she was still incredibly gracious on the phone. She talked about how deciding to purchase the Blair Ranch and its 120 acres felt like it was led by “fate, providence and the ghosts of old miners.” She said she was most surprised by how good it feels to be attached to a piece of ground and be responsible for it. And you can tell how much she loves her home; it shines through her voice when she talks about the aspens, the mountains, the joy she gets from getting up and feeding her animals every morning.

Another quality Houston seems to possess in spades is the willingness to invest in other writers, both through her teaching and workshops as well as through the unofficial ranching / writing residency she has established at the ranch. When Houston travels, her writing students take care of the ranch while working on their own projects. You can hear the pride in Houston’s voice when she talks about some of the projects that have come to life at the property, although she declined to disclose any favorites.

When I asked Houston what she would tell someone like her, someone looking for a piece of land to love and care for, someone looking for something, she didn’t hesitate.

“Take the advice of your neighbors,” she said. “Let your neighbors help you.”

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.

I’m a Republican and I enjoyed “Becoming”

I’m a registered Republican and I enjoyed reading Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.” There. I said it.

And I feel like it’s important to say, mostly because I was chatting with someone a few weeks ago and when I mentioned the title, they pursed their lips a bit and said they probably wouldn’t read it because they didn’t agree with her politics.

How sad to hear. Why would anyone deprive themselves of a good and possibly challenging read, just because they might not agree with the author’s politics?

Here’s what I liked most about “Becoming” — Michelle Obama’s voice. Like her or loathe her (or her husband), you have to give her props for knowing what she wants to say and being an expert communicator.

Not once while I was reading the book was I unsure about her perspective or her point. And who doesn’t love a good love story? The Obamas’ is delightful, full of character, quirks, compromise and strength.

To be fair, I can see how people with stronger political feelings than me could go either way on the book; Republicans might see some finger-wagging, and Democrats might sigh in solidarity over the tribulations. But I didn’t read “Becoming” to suss out secrets about the Obama Administration or to seek some sort of acknowledgement of how terrible the first family had it during both terms in office. I read it because I wanted to hear a first lady talk about her life — her hopes, her dreams, her fears and her family. And she did, in a very real, down-to-earth manner.

Politics aside, Mrs. Obama should be applauded for talking about difficult topics like miscarriage and couples counseling, if for no other reason than to help people in those situations right now realize they’re not alone. And I about busted my gut learning she and Queen Elizabeth kvetched about uncomfortable shoes together, which may be the ultimate #FirstWorldProblem.

As political parties, opinions and Twitter feeds pull us further and further apart, “Becoming” is an excellent opportunity to put a pin in politics, even if just for a moment, and enjoy a book that is thoughtful and well-written.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: Teenage Author to Discuss Her Dream, Efforts at Midtown Reader

In just a few short years, Paloma Rambana of Tallahassee has accomplished so much it’s hard to remember she’s barely a teenager. At the age of nine, she helped successfully lobby the Florida Legislature for $1.25 million in funding for pre-teens with vision impairments. She’s been named a Health Hero by O Magazine and one of the New York Times’ 10 Kids Changing the World, as well as many other awards and recognition for her work. She’s met the cast of “Hamilton” and received a birthday card from Lin-Manuel Miranda. She’s also a published author; “Paloma’s Dream: The True Story of One Girl’s Mission to Help Kids, Inspire Activism and Survive Middle School” chronicles her journey through the past 13 years of her life, providing insight into what life has been like for Florida’s “littlest lobbyist.”

Just a few days after she was born, Paloma was diagnosed with Peters Anomaly, a condition that would have left her blind if untreated. Thanks to an iridectomy, a procedure that surgically creates new pupils, Paloma has some vision. She still relies on assistance from specialized equipment and has been working with her vision teacher since she was two months old. Through her lobbying efforts she is trying to address the funding gap for visually impaired children between the ages of six and 13; Paloma’s parents have paid for her equipment and teacher since she was six, but she knows there are many other children like her who don’t have access to the same resources. And while she did help secure $1.25 million to find the gap, she’s still working hard on the remaining $8.75 million.

Paloma talks about her accomplishments – lobbying, advocacy, writing a book – with a blend of self-awareness, self-consciousness and just a tiny amount of amazement. She says seeing people connect with her book gives her so much joy because she didn’t believe her story was unique, and she hopes it will remind readers that there is no such thing as an overnight success.

The Midtown Reader will host Paloma this Saturday, February 9, to talk about her book and about her writing process. Here’s what she had to say leading up to the event:

Why write a book?

I think writing is a wonderful gateway to share ideas. I’ve always wanted to write stories; I didn’t think it would be my story, but it’s been wonderful.

What was the most valuable part of the writing process for you?

Telling my story took me on a trip down memory lane, finding things that brought me so much joy. It showed me where I went.

What should someone thinking about writing a book try NOT to do?

Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t wait until you think you have a better story or you don’t have enough experiences to write about. Failure is necessary – if everyone published their first draft, the world would be terrible!

Best writing advice?

Embrace your failures. They’re there to guide you so you don’t repeat past mistakes.

This article was first published by Midtown Reader