Month: March 2019

Author Interview: Kelly J. Baker with Sexism Ed.

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and the fight for pay equality, more and more people are recognizing and discussing sexism as the deeply prevalent issue it is. But for many, this issue is one they’ve experienced, investigated, and studied for years. Kelly J. Baker, PhD, the editor of the feminist newsletter Women in Higher Education, is one of those people.

When I asked Baker, a Tallahassee resident who earned her doctorate in religious studies at Florida State University, which of her six books is her favorite, she didn’t hesitate.

“It’s this one,” she said. “I’m pretty proud of it, and it needed to be written.” She’s talking about Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia.

People imagine that because higher education is more progressive, more liberal, sexism isn’t as much of a problem; Baker said they’re wrong. The moment she knew gender was so important in the industry was when her request for paid maternity leave was turned down without a second thought.

“I was like, ‘Woah, there is an issue here about how women are treated,’” she said. “I needed to pay attention.’”

Baker said the more she looked into it, the more stories she heard. This was common, she realized. And it needed to be documented.

“If we can identify the problem, we can fix the system,” she said. “It’s not a lost cause.”

She’s telling me this while on a family camping trip in New Orleans, taking advantage of spring break. Her family, especially her kids, help her stay balanced, since she studies and writes about pretty heavy topics.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person, inherently hopeful,” she said. And she means it; she believes there is potential for change, for a better future. And with her persistence, her determination to look sexism in the face and study its causes and possible solutions, surely we’re already closer to that better future than we were before.

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.

Author Interview: Faith Eidse at Midtown Reader

Faith Eidse is a natural-born storyteller; spend just a few minutes in conversation with her and you’ll notice it, too. But what makes her even more special is the profound love and respect she has for the art of storytelling and the anthropological value of stories—the intrinsic need people have to tell and listen to stories.

Her own story is unique: she spent her childhood in the Congo with her three sisters and her parents. Her mother was “the second Mother Teresa,” bringing the cure for leprosy to those remote regions, and her father was a linguist who translated the Bible into the local native tongue. And there were stories, like the time she and her sisters found a 12-foot python with a chicken-shaped bump in the front yard, and then watched as her neighbor cut it in half to retrieve the chicken—his—for his own dinner.

“Life itself will give you plenty of material,” she laughed, when asked where her inspiration comes from.

Her book Voices of the Apalachicola is rich with real-life stories, carefully collected from those living on the Apalachicola River. Eidse spoke to many people whose lives revolved around the river as a resource, often in the nick of time. For instance, she spoke with the last Apalachicola steamboat pilot just a few months before he passed away; but for her, his story might have been lost to the ages. Eidse also interviewed the last Creek Indian chief in a line of succession more than 200 years old and a gentleman she called the Tupelo Honey Philosopher, who said he went into beekeeping after getting mixed up with the Mafia in Orlando.

While Voices and Eidse’s two previous books are collections of true stories, she most recently published her first work of fiction, a novel set in a North Florida women’s prison. After spending several years volunteering at correctional facilities in North Florida, she said she felt compelled to tell a different type of story.

“I wanted to talk about restorative justice, but in a storytelling way,” she said. “There were so many women separated from their children…”

Eidse talked about the negative impact this separation has on both the women and their children and how restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitation through reconciliation, would be such a step toward breaking the cycle of recidivism for these women and bringing families back together. While her novel is set in a fictional facility, everything in it is inspired by real events and real people she has encountered.

Life does, indeed, give storytellers plenty of material.

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.

Author Interview: “Ashley Morgan” AKA Frank Foster at Midtown Reader

Cuba is a land that pulls you in, even if you’ve never been. Stories about the island’s culture blur fact and fiction; almost anything can be imagined without seeming too fantastic. All you need is somewhere to start.

For Frank Foster, that starting point was growing up hearing his parents tell stories about their visits to Cuba in the 1950s. “They just loved it,” he said. “Their stories got me intrigued, and I’ve always been a tropical person…”

Fresh from a week of bonefishing in the Bahamas, Foster is speaking to me about the genesis of his fourth novel, A Lady in Havana, written under the pseudonym Ashley Morgan. Using a pseudonym was a strategic decision for Foster—he believed no one would take a romantic mystery thriller seriously if the author was male. He plans to discuss this further when he visits Midtown Reader later this month, and he sent an email out to his friends and fans several weeks ago so they would understand the reasons behind his decision.

“Why would a woman buy this book from a man?” he asked, pointing out that the Wall Street Journal has written several articles examining this particular question. “And I was making a radical genre change, so it felt like the right decision.”

I asked him whether the email generated any specific feedback and he chuckled. “Well…” he said. “There were some humorous remarks from my old college roommate.”

Foster, who is the father of two well-known Tallahassee residents—Tallahassee Democrat publisher Skip Foster and Armor Realty broker Allyson Foster—is the author of three previous novels: two mystery thrillers and one straight thriller (all written under his real name). He said while he followed the accepted procedure of outlining the story for those first three books, Havana was different.

“This book just happened,” he said. “I sat down and wrote the damn thing. It just came.”

The most difficult part of writing this book was working out the technicalities of the language, specifically using the correct points of view for each character. One character only speaks in first person and another speaks in third person, but when they appeared together, it got a little more challenging.

But, Foster said, that’s to be expected. Writing is a craft and there’s an art to it; people frequently underestimate how hard you have to work at it to really create quality work. He mentioned his two mentors, Winston Groom (who wrote Forrest Gump) and Stewart Kaminsky (of Rockford Files), as being instrumental in his development as a writer. When I asked him what he would tell young authors looking for advice, he didn’t waiver.

“To the greatest extent possible, find a mentor,” he said.

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.

Author Interview: Tallahassee author gives personal account of work with Dian Fossey — and it’s shocking

Tallahassee author John Fowler’s book, “A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey,” is just this side of scandalous. It’s a tell-all account that candidly exposes the truth about famed primate researcher Dr. Dian Fossey and her “difficult” personality.

“Amazon has it listed under primatology, but it’s really a memoir that happens to have gorillas in it,” said Fowler, wryly.

It’s this truth-telling, said Fowler, that has made his book unpopular with some — usually with those who still have favorable impressions of Fossey and her work studying the mountain gorillas in the Rwandan jungle.

The story is unsettling. It’s like the feeling you get when you finally address a well-known but uncomfortable truth everyone else would rather avoid.

And Fowler would know unsettling; he spent a year living in Fossey’s camp Karisoke, first trying to study the mountain gorillas with her, but ultimately just trying to survive the year.

“Dian was…difficult,” said Fowler. “And people tried to warn me. I can see that now, looking back on it. But it truly was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Fowler was 23 when he traveled to Rwanda and Karisoke to spend the year studying gorillas with Fossey. Many research students only lasted a few weeks in camp. Fowler was determined to last at least a year, a resolve that was sorely tested time and again as he was berated, belittled and abused by the irascible and always unpredictable Fossey.

To the outside world, she was the researcher who doted on her gorillas from the pages of National Geographic; in camp she was volatile, prone to appropriating her students’ research and often resorting to violence to protect her fiefdom and her gorilla subjects.

The book is impossible to put down. I couldn’t stop reading about Fossey, the erratic anti-hero who often preferred gorilla vocalizations over human language to express her dissatisfaction with those around her (I mean, who does that?).

It helps that Fowler is a masterful storyteller, probably because the story is so personal to him. But you don’t have to take my word for it; Fowler will be in conversation with editor and anthologist Ann VanderMeer at Midtown Reader this Saturday.

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.