GWEN BROWN interview

WORD SONG INTERVIEW: GWEN BROWN

by Gary McLouth, Associate Editor

I met Gwen Brown at Perkins restaurant at the corner of San Carlos and Summerlin to ask the questions about life and writing that might provide some information and inspiration for this Word Song Spotlight interview. I like to ask questions I don’t know the answers to, and Gwen did not disappoint me. In fact, my blank slate began to fill in with surprising, oral sketches of a life on the move.

Gwen Brown says she’s always been driven by the sense “that something must be going on somewhere else.” From her home town, Mishawaka, Indiana to her current home in Fort Myers, Florida, Gwen’s adult journey can be charted along the network of stops in between. In the telling of the story, chronological details dim in the highlights. In no particular order, Chicago for nursing, California for marriage, Arizona with artist husband. Then, New York City.

“I always wanted to act. I knew a full-time job wouldn’t allow much time for major investments of time in other activities, so I decided to put my efforts into teaching, which would (theoretically) give me summers for acting… I remember sitting on my suitcase in New York, and thinking, ‘I’m home’.”

My first follow-up question to fill in the blanks between Arizona and New York, her marriage and her career got re-directed by Gwen’s own follow-up: “If you can’t find it there, you can’t find it anywhere, and it’s true. I worked on my Master’s degree at Columbia, so I could teach medicine and surgery, which I did eventually, at Brooklyn College, New York University and Long Island University.”

Gwen fed her acting ambitions by studying and performing in showcase theatre. Through showcase, she was discovered for Repertory theatre by Director John Lithgow and she got to play an understudy role to Meryl Streep. As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, Gwen played on stage with Lynn Redgrave in St. Joan, and in The Trip Back Down with John Cullum.

“I was so happy, it blew me away. Broadway!”

Gwen played in a number of Off-Broadway plays, too. In the process, she married a singer-song writer who encouraged her to pursue her stage career further, but that story line will have to wait for future development. What Gwen Brown, the writer, wants to do now is write a book about her sister, the only woman buried in the ancient catacombs of Jerusalem. Come again?

“My sister’s life is an incredible story about an incredible woman. She died in 2002, and I intended to get started on my book about her, but I couldn’t get the first sentence out of myself. When Bob McCarthy handed out those yellow pads and said: WRITE! I started my book, and I’ve been writing every day since.” Gwen has gotten very close to her sister by reading the many stories her sister wrote but shared with no one while she was alive. Being able to immerse herself in her sister’s stories has given Gwen new perspectives on her sister and on her own writing.

“It’s amazing to me, how much I’ve learned that I didn’t know happened to her. I never knew anything about her love life, or how she converted to Catholicism and became a nun. Someday, you’ll be amazed, too, when you read my book,” she laughs.

Most writers keep well-ordered memories of their inspirations and practices at the ready for telling. Each one of us can plug into moments of the distant past with the energy and focus of the present. Gwen is no different in that regard, but in the same vein, hers is a whole new story.

“Oh, I used to write poetry to get things out of my system.  I learned a little poem in the 4th grade, and I’ve loved it ever since.” Gwen recites the poem for me and promises to email me a copy. “It’s by anonymous,” she says, “my favorite author.”

The Poem, by Anon

When first I loved,/I gave my very soul/Utterly unreserved/To love’s control//But love deceived me/Wrenched my youth away/And made the gold of life/Forever gray.//Long I lived lonely/Yet I tried, in vain/With any other joy/To stifle pain//There is no other joy/I learned to know/And so returned to love/As long ago//Yet this little while/Ere I go hence/I love very lightly now/In self-defense.

Dorothy Brooks

WORD SONG interview with Dorothy Brooks at the McGregor Café, Fort Myers, Florida.

by Gary McLouth
October 22, 2016

A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” William Carlos Williams

Dorothy Brooks hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and like many of us transplants, she had to make some adjustments. Instead of commuting from Atlanta to Lake Lanier for sail boating, Dorothy and her husband now step aboard from the dock behind their home. That kind of adjustment makes one feel like a genius, but what about a poet (wandering lonely as a cloud) looking for other poets? Dorothy was well aware of the solitary nature and often secluded life-style of poets. Sightings can be rare enough to try the soul.

A long time ago, I went to a writers group in Peace River… then, I heard about the Gulf Coast Writers Association. I remember entering the GCWA meeting place. Tables were set up by genre, and I spotted the Poet’s table. It was like a moth being drawn to a fire. Several people sat around the table, and a feeling of belonging washed over me. Poets, writing poetry! My tribe!

As members of different yacht clubs, we agreed that dinner conversation rarely touches on poetry. The name games don’t include poets. Okay, maybe Shakespeare.

I get bored with table talk about what other people have done, and when attention turns to the present, well, golf and grandchildren don’t hold much interest over the long haul. If I am asked what I do, now that I am retired, my enthusiastic responses about poetry are quickly deflected by statements like, “Oh, I should write a book, but who has the time?” and “You can’t make money writing,” and “Yes, but what do you actually do?”

Dorothy and I talked about types of poets.

I see a personal poet, one who writes strictly for one’s self, family, a few friends. No idea, or intentions of writing for a larger audience. Then, there’s the poet who writes for the public. This poet thinks about publishing; the poetry gets sent out to audiences beyond family and friends. That’s a poet who’s trying to make a connection with the world, so to speak. I guess I’m that kind of poet.

Dorothy writes “nature” poems because she loves experiencing the marshes, the barrier islands and the Gulf of Mexico waters, but poetry is more than the crafting of words to engage nature. Her teaching in the FSW Life Long Learning program in Punta Gorda, encourages her fellow poets to “look at this, witness!” not to politicize or demagogue but to become aware of how the language is used to describe and to express things.

I was a math major in college, a career IBM-er. This whole poetry adventure grew out of my waning interest in one and one equals two. The other side of my brain kicked in to fill the vacuum, and I’ve been reading and writing like crazy to catch up. I’m self-directed as far as English and writing are concerned. Workshops with poetry teachers and conferences attended and led by experts have guided my own writing teaching. There’s a lot of experimenting with other poets’ styles. Right now, I’m reading Laura Kaschicki and Sylvia Carbelo. 

I ask Dorothy what ‘catching up’ is all about. She stares me down for a moment, takes a careful sip of decaf. “You know what I mean.”

Getting back to personal and public poetry, I’m not saying that writing about personal feelings is forbidden in public poetry, quite the contrary. It’s in how those personal feelings are written about. There are rules and formulas for writing news stories, short stories, memoirs, novels, children’s stories and so on, but a poem can take many different forms, set its own rules even when following other rules. That’s why I love writing poetry. There’s always more to learn through writing poetry and from reading what’s in poetry.

Richard Fox

WORD SONG INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD FOX

AT GEORGE AND WENDY’S , SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA

BY GARY McLOUTH, January 19, 2016

Richard Fox come from Worcester, Massachusetts, the town where people are “provoked to write,” according to American poetry icon, Stanley Kunitz. I’m not really sure what that means, but when Richard tells me he’s “compelled to write,” and that Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O’Hara also hale from Worchester, I get it.

And, just to make sure I’m focused, Richard explains that Worcester is a hot-bed of poets in the blue-collar-SLAM tradition, compared to Boston where a lot of academic poets are “working hard to write obscurely.” I’m reminded of something someone said once about T.S. Eliot, but Richard brings me back. “I started as a page poet, but I’ve squarely been into performance poetry the past three years, the SLAM poets seek the page and the page poets seek the stage—we end up in a similar place.” We quickly discover our admiration of Joe Pacheco’s page to presentation ability is mutual.

I’ve read a few of Richard’s poems written about his Uncle Louie, a man Richard knew as a child knows an adult uncle. Lots of husk, little seed. Richard tells me that he likes to “smash archetypes,” and the way he does that with Uncle Louie poems is to recreate the Uncle Archetype. “Reverse Engineering,” he calls it. “You have a  chance meeting with someone. You don’t know them, so you fill in their life story with pieces of other people’s stories. That’s what I’m doing with Uncle Louie, recreating him with stories I’ve heard over the years from my family. Each one of them knew different things about Uncle Louie, or even things that would describe Uncle Louie.”

In the process, Richard finds out that his Uncle Louie and his cohorts pulled some rather outrageous pranks in their time, especially when drinking was involved. Passing off Ex-Lax as chocolate on unsuspecting relatives, was one. Pissing into the gas tank of a disliked neighbor’s car was another. He’s not sure what to do with these vignettes of cruel fun, and how Richard continues with the Uncle Louie Poems is anyone’s guess. “It’s like potato chips,” he says, “you can’t stop at one or two.”

We turn to personal writing trivia and shop talk cherished by most writers. Richard has been winning his battle with oral cancer and I’m assuming that his experience has taught him multitudes about overcoming writers block. “You know what the definition of writers block is,” he asks. I’m ready for explanations of gnomic influences on writing practices, diet supplements and their side-effects, the writer’s mother’s relationship with God…

“Lazy.”

Richard Fox began writing over 50 years ago, and he hasn’t really stopped. The only thing that can stop him from writing is himself, and that is not going to happen, certainly not as a result of writers block. “When what you are writing doesn’t seem to be working, it doesn’t mean you’ve got writers block. It means you’ve decided to quit on that piece at that point. Okay, go onto something else.”  Richard doesn’t mean to sound unsympathetic to those of us who feel stuck with a piece of writing, rather he believes that like an athlete on a long running course, the writer may have to change speeds, alter the pace, pause for breath but never give up writing.

“I’ve found that being part of writing groups is essential, being in the company of other writers, building editing skills on other writers’ work, applying those skills to your own [work]. One project may peter out, but you need to pick up another one. Writing is all kinds of things. Hemingway is said to have said that drafting is best done drunk and editing sober. Whatever works, I say.”

Richard joined GCWA recently, and claims that although he likes being in different places, SW Florida is feeling pretty good to him. “Life slows down; people listen to you here. I’m one of the younger poets, whereas up north, I’m seen as an older poet, a voice of experience.”

Henry (Hank) Heitmann

WORD SONG Interview with Henry Heitmann

by Gary McLouth, Associate Editor

March 4, 2016

Henry Heitmann, author of Pocket Full of Tales; More Tales and Bits and Pieces; Looking Back On Life, all published by Monarch Books, Florida.

Henry (Hank) Heitmann has garnered a number of writing contest awards during the last few years from The GCWA of Mississippi, The Florida Weekly (poetry), Dreamquest Summer 2015, and the ABC 2016 Anthology of Florida Writers and Poets Competition.

Hank and I met for talk, breakfast and coffee at Marko’s Diner on San Carlos Blvd., recently. I was pleasantly surprised by Hank’s South Bronx accent, a near total contrast to the quiet voice in his poetic reflections and his poignant “Tales.” His educational experiences with Special Ed. students and teachers provided Hank with all kinds of stories. He admits that he’s been telling the stories for years, but he decided as soon as he retired that he would start writing them.

I stir more milk into my coffee and ask him how it’s going. Hank’s big brown eyes roll up at me.

“What I’ve heard and seen is what I try to get down on paper. The stories have been working my head for a long time, and retirement seemed like the time to write them out so I could share them. My wife encourages me, luckily, without her, I don’t think there’d be many stories written down.”

“I went to a GCWA meeting about five years ago and just randomly sat down next to Ken Feeley. Over a few meetings, he became my mentor. I also got valuable feedback from Ruben and Tim. I met other writers and learned about publishing and writing from them. What ended up happening… GCWA gave me the self-image of a writer, it put me in the midst of other writers, made me feel at home.”

Hank talked about his special relationship with books that began in his grandmother’s house back there in the Bronx. While other kids saved nickels for  Bazooka bubble-gum, Hank saved up to buy books. What about books, now, I ask.

“I like to hold a book in my hand. Even with all of the Kindles and Nooks and variety of ‘pads’ and screens, there’s still room for paper. Keep in mind, books are less harmful to the environment.”

Really? I thought paper books cost trees. What do you mean, exactly?

“I’d rather spend money on books than money on weapons of war,” Hank says, and I don’t have a rejoinder beyond a grunt.

Since Hank has mentioned money, I wonder aloud how he’s doing with the writing-publishing-marketing cycle. He gives me the slow, sad look I’ve seen on the faces of many writers who thought the work of writing was the be-all-and-end-all, the brass ring at their fingertips. “Marketing,” his voice trails off. Hank has worked diligently to complete all of his beginnings. Three books have pretty much left his cupboard of drafts, bare.

“I want to write a novel,” he says, “got one started called Out of Nonna’s Kitchen, It’s a sort of mystery-cookbook story.” His eyes find mine to see if I get it. I’m hoping I don’t squint a doubting glance. I know how that feels, and he does too, as he explains the plot to me, which I promise not to reveal to anyone else.

Before we go, Hank signs three books for me, and since I’ve already read a number of his stories, I’m eagerly heading home for a “Hanksta” fix. A sample: Still Dreaming – “Sitting on the dock/In the early morning sun/The tiny ripples on the lake/Beating out a gentle rhythm/A part of nature’s breathing/And giving life to ancient daydreams.”

The breakfast at Marko’s is what gives Diners their beloved place in American lore. Hank has hardly touched his abundant serving of eggs, hash browns, sausage and gravy. “There’s a sense of permanence in print,” he says, “I can pass it along to my family and friends. A new found passion in life is a good thing.”

Artis Henderson

Artis Hendersonartis-henderson

I have been a proud Gulf Coast Writers Association Member for almost a decade. Between the monthly meetings, my GCWA critique group (go Hurricanes!), and the writing friends I’ve made, it’s hard to imagine my life without Gulf Coast Writers.

My first book, Unremarried Widow, a memoir about my husband’s death in Iraq, was published by Simon & Schuster last spring. It was featured in the New York Times, Elle and People magazines, and on NPR, and it appeared on more than ten Best of the Year lists.

That book began here, with Gulf Coast Writers. I brought early pages to my monthly critique group, and their helpful advice guided me through the creative process. When they suggested that I enter GCWA’s writing contest, I felt more confident about my work. Writing a book can be a lonely business, and I was glad to have the support and encouragement of other writers.

Today, I’m working on fiction. Writing a novel feels very different than writing a memoir, and I’m always surprised at the challenge of it. I also teach classes – including one at the Alliance for the Arts in January – and do private book coaching and manuscript editing. I love teaching, and I’m constantly humbled and inspired by my students.

Tim Jacobs

Q: Tell us your story…

CIP-7-ZF-8518-56360-1-012Tim Jacobs:

I’ve been a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association since 2004. When I first joined, the membership was still under 50 members and a “large” meeting was about 25 people showing up. The organization has come a long way over the past eleven years of my membership. I’m grateful that I got to be the speaker twice during that time and I have also given back by serving on the nominating committee for three years, and also held the positions of Program Director, Vice President, and President on the Executive Committee, and currently serve on the Corporate Board.
 
Each meeting I’ve always walked away with something, whether it be a new contact, a new lead, another story idea, or simply left the meeting with the inspiration to go home and write some more. I’ve made some great friendships and even some business partners.
 
What I truly love about GCWA is that when you’re at a meeting, everyone is on the same level. Everyone is there to help a fellow writer get to that next level in their writing. It’s a joy to be a part of the enthusiasm of other writers when they get published or win an award for their work.
 
Also the speaking guests and workshops over the years have been wonderful. Regardless of what kind of writing you do, or what stage you’re at, you get something from each speaker. The same goes for the Special Events that take place throughout the year.
 
With this group, the education of writing is a fun process!