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PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions

PostHeaderIcon Yosemite Adventures: All You Need for Fun in Park

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ANNB: How long have you been a climber and an outdoor enthusiastic?

MJ: My parents took my brothers and me camping when we were young and I was involved in scouting. But I became much more enthused right out of college in 1994 when I got a job as a reporter near Yosemite, learned to climb and fell in love with the place.

ANNB: Did you really draw from 20 years of experiences for this book? How did you possibly keep track of them all?

MJ: I write notes about the climbs I do and keep a journal on backpacking trips. That provided a good start, but once I got the contract to do the book, I revisited lots of places to get the details and pictures right before the deadline. That involved hiking and skiing about 200 miles in Yosemite last year.

ANNB: What makes Yosemite so special?

MJ: Incomparable scenery, easy access and limitless opportunities for outdoorsy people who climb, hike and ski all make it special. The people there do also, definitely. I meet visitors there from all over the world and they tend to be friendly and great folks.

ANNB: There are so many special and unique places in Yosemite; how did you manage to fit them all into your book?

MJ: You force me to admit that they're not all in the book! I chose 50 favorites out of hundreds of experiences I've had there. I tried to help readers experience Yosemite in a broad way, like I have, in all seasons, with multiple activities and levels of difficulty and throughout the whole park, not just the valley. There are plenty of other adventures besides the ones I chose. I'd be very happy if people used my writing to get started exploring Yosemite and then branched off to their own discoveries.

ANNB: Your bio is very interesting. You say "Johanson writes with the sensitivity of a starving gorilla using a chainsaw to open a can of soup.” So wrote a disgruntled reader. A Tea Party leader called Matt’s commentary “hack garbage” and ESPN turned down his work as “too pro-Giants.” which points out, what some might call, failures. Why do you do that?

MJ: I guess because I thought those complaints were funny and didn't take them too seriously! Teachers and writers both need thick skin. Besides, I consider it an achievement to get the Tea Party annoyed at me.

ANNB: You teach high school journalism. Do your students ever ask for tips on writing books?

MJ: A few have but mostly we're busy producing the best newspaper we can together. For each of my books, I've asked the kids to help proofread and credited them in the acknowledgments. They definitely earned that because they caught quite a few typos and slip-ups, and I think being involved has been fun for them.

ANNB: How do you possibly manage both careers?

MJ: Well, I work way harder at the teaching! Writing is more of a hobby for me and I only do projects that I think will be fun. But when I do write something, I drive myself a little crazy to make it the best I possibly can. There are several photos in the book that took a full day of hiking each to get, and a few of them took several days of hiking or skiing.

ANNB: Where can we meet you, buy the book and have it signed?

MJ: I'm talking about the book at Castro Valley Library on May 18 from 2-3 p.m., at Lafayette Library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., and at Pleasanton Library on July 6 from 2-3 p.m.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little bit about that.

MJ: My old friend Wylie Wong and I collaborated on the first, “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” It's a collection of “where are they now” stories about old Giants players. That paved the way for “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” and “Yosemite Epics.” But “Yosemite Adventures” is the book I've always wanted to do the most.

ANNB: What's up next for you?

MJ: The best bet is another guidebook of favorite Sierra Nevada outings, though I'd also like to write another baseball book if the right opportunity comes along.-- KB

 

Signed copies of Matt's books are available at www.mattjohanson.com

Last Updated (Monday, 06 October 2014 23:49)

 

PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions with Yosemite Adventures Author

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ANNB: How long have you been a climber and an outdoor enthusiastic?

MJ: My parents took my brothers and me camping when we were young and I was involved in scouting. But I became much more enthused right out of college in 1994 when I got a job as a reporter near Yosemite, learned to climb and fell in love with the place.

ANNB: Did you really draw from 20 years of experiences for this book? How did you possibly keep track of them all?

MJ: I write notes about the climbs I do and keep a journal on backpacking trips. That provided a good start, but once I got the contract to do the book, I revisited lots of places to get the details and pictures right before the deadline. That involved hiking and skiing about 200 miles in Yosemite last year.

ANNB: What makes Yosemite so special?

MJ: Incomparable scenery, easy access and limitless opportunities for outdoorsy people who climb, hike and ski all make it special. The people there do also, definitely. I meet visitors there from all over the world and they tend to be friendly and great folks.

ANNB: There are so many special and unique places in Yosemite; how did you manage to fit them all into your book?

MJ: You force me to admit that they're not all in the book! I chose 50 favorites out of hundreds of experiences I've had there. I tried to help readers experience Yosemite in a broad way, like I have, in all seasons, with multiple activities and levels of difficulty and throughout the whole park, not just the valley. There are plenty of other adventures besides the ones I chose. I'd be very happy if people used my writing to get started exploring Yosemite and then branched off to their own discoveries.

ANNB: Your bio is very interesting. You say "Johanson writes with the sensitivity of a starving gorilla using a chainsaw to open a can of soup.” So wrote a disgruntled reader. A Tea Party leader called Matt’s commentary “hack garbage” and ESPN turned down his work as “too pro-Giants.” which points out, what some might call, failures. Why do you do that?

MJ: I guess because I thought those complaints were funny and didn't take them too seriously! Teachers and writers both need thick skin. Besides, I consider it an achievement to get the Tea Party annoyed at me.

ANNB: You teach high school journalism. Do your students ever ask for tips on writing books?

MJ: A few have but mostly we're busy producing the best newspaper we can together. For each of my books, I've asked the kids to help proofread and credited them in the acknowledgments. They definitely earned that because they caught quite a few typos and slip-ups, and I think being involved has been fun for them.

ANNB: How do you possibly manage both careers?

MJ: Well, I work way harder at the teaching! Writing is more of a hobby for me and I only do projects that I think will be fun. But when I do write something, I drive myself a little crazy to make it the best I possibly can. There are several photos in the book that took a full day of hiking each to get, and a few of them took several days of hiking or skiing.

ANNB: Where can we meet you, buy the book and have it signed?

MJ: I'm talking about the book at Castro Valley Library on May 18 from 2-3 p.m., at Lafayette Library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., and at Pleasanton Library on July 6 from 2-3 p.m.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little bit about that.

MJ: My old friend Wylie Wong and I collaborated on the first, “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” It's a collection of “where are they now” stories about old Giants players. That paved the way for “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” and “Yosemite Epics.” But “Yosemite Adventures” is the book I've always wanted to do the most.

ANNB: What's up next for you?

MJ: The best bet is another guidebook of favorite Sierra Nevada outings, though I'd also like to write another baseball book if the right opportunity comes along.-- KB

 

Signed copies of Matt's books are available at www.mattjohanson.com.

Last Updated (Saturday, 26 April 2014 20:30)

 

PostHeaderIcon New Novel Set in Oakland

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The Bay Area is the background setting for many novels and increasingly Oakland and Berkeley are also places where novels are set. All News No Blues sat down with Oakland author Renee Swindle to talk about her new book. Here is what she had to say:

ANNB: "Shake Down the Stars" deals with a woman trying to overcome the death of her daughter by drinking and sleeping around.  Where did you get the idea for that story line?

RS: I start with character and voice when I write, so I guess you can say I let Piper, the narrator of the novel, dictate the heart of the story.  When I started "Shake Down the Stars" I saw a woman standing alone in a room while her family celebrated an event in another part of the house. Why was she alone? I wondered. Why was she drinking? Over time it came to me that (the character) Piper had lost her child five years before and was extremely lonely and somewhat ostracized from her family. I didn’t necessarily want to write anything depressing or heavy, but I stayed with Piper because I wanted to see if she’d find happiness again.  I honestly didn’t know how the novel would end. I also loved her crazy family and friends and her smart voice.

ANNB: How did you decide to set parts of the novel in Oakland, West Oakland and Rockridge?

RS: Setting the novel in Oakland was a no-brainer.  I live in a neighborhood much like Piper’s where there’s a mix of races and socio-economic classes. It made sense that Piper would also see different neighborhoods. She teaches in West Oakland, for instance, and is related to family members who live in the hills.  I loved portraying the economic diversity I see here.

ANNB: When did you first start writing seriously?

RS: I earned my MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. I had no idea if I could make it as a writer, but I wanted to see if I could get an agent before I took on a full-time job.  After graduating, I spent a year working as a substitute teacher by day and writing by night. I think that year was when I first began taking myself seriously. I was serious enough to live on the cheap and work my butt off trying to write and teach, anyway. I signed with an agent a year later, and she sold the draft of the book I’d been working on which turned out to be my first novel, "Please Please Please."

ANNB: Are parts of the book based on your own life? The lives of those you know?

RS: I enjoy writing stories that keep the reader turning the page and surprised, and this specifically means avoiding writing about my very boring life. I save writing about my own life and people I know for my journal.

ANNB:  Tell us about what message you were aiming to get across in this book and if you feel you were a success.

RS: I hope readers learn that it’s possible to find happiness again, no matter what they’ve been through; that if you’re the outsider of your family, you can create a loving family from friends; and that humor is the antidote to many a momentary problem. The narrator of "Shake Down the Stars" is an amateur astronomer and so I also hope a takeaway from the novel is that the night sky is wondrous and amazing. Thankfully, there’s been a very positive response.  Both readers and reviewers have said they laughed and cried while reading the novel, which is perfect and for what I secretly hoped.

ANNB: Your first novel, "Please Pease Please," was an Essence Magazine/Blackboard bestseller, and was published in Germany and Japan. How did that exposure change you as a writer?

RS: Looking back, I think I thought I needed to become someone else as a writer. I wrote two more novels after Please Please Please (this explains the ten-year delay between books), but my agent couldn’t sell either book. I wrote those two novels while doing my best to sound and write like anyone except me. I’m not sure who I was trying to be,but writing those two books helped me discover my voice—or come back to my voice, is probably a better way to describe what happened.  After writing two books that didn’t sell, I basically told myself to forget about trying to be someone else and write the story I wanted to tell in my own voice. After writing those books, I discovered my ability lies in humor and telling a fast-paced narrative—at least I hope so—even if the story is sometimes dark or sad. By the time I started Shake Down The Stars, I knew I wanted to write something that used humor while also telling a compelling story.  I wanted to write in a style that felt comfortable and honest instead worrying about proving myself.

ANNB: You taught a course titled Developing The Novel for UC Berkeley extension. Have any of your students published anything we might recognize?

RS: I now teach privately and a handful of my students have signed with agents and are in the rewriting phase before the agents approach publishers.

ANNB: What do you love most about Oakland?

RS: There are many places in the world I want to visit, but Oakland’s diversity of people and neighborhoods will always win me over.  I truly love this city.

ANNB: Do you plan to set other novels in the Bay Area? What is a great place to set novels?

RS: My goal is to write stories I don’t see out there much.  I like characters who aren’t perfect and who make mistakes.  I like to write with humor. Oakland inspires all of these things.  I hope to write about the crime and poverty, the art scene, the hipsters and gentrification. Oakland isn’t perfect (what city is?), but there’s so much to do and explore.  I plan to write many more novels set in Oakland.

ANNB: What's next for you?

RS: My next novel, "A Pinch Of Ooh La La," comes out IN July 2014. It involves a woman who owns a bakery in the Temescal District of Oakland.  It’s another novel that’s both funny and moving—at least I hope so.--- KB

Last Updated (Thursday, 24 October 2013 01:16)

 

PostHeaderIcon Author Transports Reader to Armenia

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A new book called Masis, written by local author Adam Raffi Kevorkian will transport the reader to modern and lively Armenia _ without the trouble of boarding a plane or jet lag. The writer, with roots in Berkeley, beautifully illustrates an exciting tale in the changing times of the country, with main character Arin Karyan caught between stability and irresistibility. The novel is Kevorkian’s first, and hopefully, one of the many great books to come. We sat down with him for a chat about his book, his writing style, and some tips to aspiring authors. Enjoy.  


ANNB: What gave you the idea for "Masis," your new book? Was it inspired by anything from your experiences?
ARK: In my visits to Armenia I saw many things that I grew up hearing about—architecture, art, historic sites, and even landscape—I was struck by the beauty of the country; the odd confluence of the old with the new. It was as if the country’s history was laid out to be viewed like a museum exhibit, and playing with temporality seemed a natural way to convey the effect. More specifically, the food in the novel was food that I ate there, and every apartment that I entered seemed to resemble the home of Arin. But I never went fishing with grenades or anything so extreme. I did spend the night on the ground in a canyon where the wind seemed to have a life of its own, and the experience lent itself to the mystical tone of the campfire chapter. I found the country inspirational on many levels.
 
ANNB: When you wrote the novel did you tend to focus more on the plot or the characters?
ARK: I focused more on the characters, though not deliberately. It became necessary to balance other aspects of the story. If the characters are interesting, it’s easier for the reader to make the story their own and, in a way; they help write the story as they read it. Until the women characters were developed, the story seemed flat, so there were a lot of rewrites around the characters, fleshing them out to make them credible.
 
ANNB: The cover art for the book is beautiful. Is it supposed to be a location in Yerevan?
ARK: Thank you. It’s a painting of Mount Ararat, which is visible from Yerevan. It’s referred to by Armenians as Masis or metz (big) Masis. For the title my meaning refers to Masis as Ararat’s peak, as well as the journey of Armenians over time.
 
ANNB: How long did it take you to complete the book? Will there be any sequels?
ARK: The work was constantly being refined, meaning that after the core writing was done there were adjustments and this process is open ended, so perhaps completed isn’t the best word. At some point you have to move on, and so it’s really a process of abandonment rather than completion. I wrote the gist of Masis in about four months and had it pretty much done in a year. I’ve thought about a follow-up to the story, but there’s other work that I’m focusing on instead.
 
ANNB: What message do you hope "Masis" will express?
ARK: There is no singular message. Barthes tells us there can’t be in any case. Joking aside, I wrote it hoping people would enjoy a good story. Admittedly there are themes having to do with nationalism, relationships, crime, and these are pretty heavy and universal topics, so no matter what you say there will be a lot of different thoughts floating around that readers may or may not pick up on.
 
ANNB: As an author, how often do you write every day?
ARK: I like writing every day, but time is short. Given the opportunity, I would write full time.
 
ANNB: Do you have any ideas for your next novel, if any?
ARK: I have three novels in my head that I’d like to get out, and the next one is a constant obsession. I’ve learned the hard way not to share my ideas while I’m working through them, but I will say that the next story will take place in Little Armenia and Chinatown.
 
ANNB: What gives you inspiration to write? (a location, song, anything)
ARK: I didn’t want to write when I was younger, but it felt like the world was calling me non-stop and I finally had to answer the phone. In terms of what inspires the work itself, I respond to music, light, and landscape to name a few things. I’m a sucker for whimsy, and for the emotion that follows the split second epiphany. Writing can also be seductive because it’s compelling. You’re listened to in a way that doesn’t occur when you’re speaking.
 
ANNB: How do you deal with writer's block?
ARK: I break form. If the work is lyrical, I’ll deviate by writing dialogue better suited to a film script. It might be sloppy craft, but it gives me the freedom to explore when I hit a block. And if the work is sloppy, I can always go back and refine it when I’m feeling more creative. This method works for me because it eliminates the constraints imposed by too rigid a structure. Sure, sometimes what comes out makes no sense, but writers need to trust their intuition, meaning you don’t have to understand how a thought, scene, character, etc. contributes to the plot. Plot is organic, stemming from a little thought that means little, and branching out. I trust that what goes down on paper goes there for a reason, and it usually works out.
 
ANNB: Do you have any advice for someone wh wants to be a writer?
ARK: Keep your hands moving. If they’re not, words aren’t getting on paper. Understand that there’s no escape from criticism. Take what you can use, what makes you a better writer and do so without being defensive about your work. Stash paper and something to write with everywhere so you can capture the random thoughts that most people let go of. Collect a dozen or so, throw them on paper, and you might find there’s a story there somewhere. The point is you don’t know what’s useful so keep what you find interesting and play with it. If nothing else it’s a great mental exercise. The creative process is always going on, like breathing when you’re asleep—the trick is to capture those odd thoughts and craft them into a story, or poem. Keep it fun and trust your gut. Writing is as much about filling in gaps as it is about linear progression. Play with the work, put it away, and go back to it when you’re ready. If you keep the hands moving, your craft will evolve.-- MM

 Melody Moteabbed is a senior at Castro Valley High School. She is one of the editors-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Olympian. In addition to writing, she also enjoys acting, singing, participating in community service.

Last Updated (Thursday, 20 September 2012 03:22)

 

PostHeaderIcon 10 Questions with "Don't Sweat" Author

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ANNB: This is your first “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” book in nine years. Why now and why this topic? 

KC: The "Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff" book series is full of tried and true advice and has been on coffee tables and night stands, and in libraries for 15 years.  It’s a small book that helps people make big shifts in their lives. And now their kids are at the age where they are sweating the small stuff too.  Every ten years, there is a new group of people ready for the timeless wisdom of the "Don’t Sweat" tradition and that’s why I am adding a new book to the series. "Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms" has the same commonsense approach and is current, setting it apart from the "Don’t Sweat" guidebook released years ago. Kids haven’t changed that much but the world has. Technology and the Internet have changed family life and the issues bombarding our kids and moms today are many.  This book focuses on how moms can be inspired to be the best they can and also maintain a separate identity as an empowered, modern woman.

ANNB: You’ve been called an 'unyielding believer of living in the moment with an attitude of gratitude and finding happiness in life.' Can that be learned or does someone have to be born with those traits?
KC: I think people are born with a proclivity for happiness or unhappiness, but both of these are impacted greatly by the life we practice.  Life is no different than a sport; it takes practice to get good at it.  Your attitude can shift with your thoughts and beliefs about life as well as your mental and physical health.  Adopting an attitude of gratitude can be learned and is all about noticing what’s right in your life and focusing on those things instead of what’s wrong.


ANNB: How can someone get started “living in the moment?”
KC: Living in the moment is something we are born with, but most of us unlearn this quality and have to practice presence to get good at it again later in life.  Our minds get busy as do our schedules.  Creating space for stillness and quiet isn’t necessarily practical or part of our American training but it is necessary to learning how to embrace the moment.  Being present is one of the keys to true and lasting inner peace and contentment.  It is in the spaces between our thoughts that we are present; all it takes is a single breath to bring the moment into focus, and we can all practice that!  

ANNB: Your book advises how to be "a mom and not a friend." Is that something you struggled with raising your own children?

KC: I did not struggle with this issue of being a friend over a mom.  I knew that my girls had friends to fill that role of ‘girlfriend,' and quite frankly, I had my own girlfriends too.  What my girls needed was a solid role model and mother figure that they could respect and trust as a guide and mentor to lead and love them with discipline. Friendship comes later with kids.

ANNB: The term "helicopter parent" is popular these days. What can those who hover too close to their kids learn from your new book? 
KC: Hovering too close can disable children and also can lead to a sense of entitlement. I think parents today need to let their kids fall down a little before jumping so quick to save them from every fall.  It’s a lot shorter fall and closer to the ground when you are 10, than say, when you are 20.  If kids forget an assignment or their gym shoes or soccer cleats, well, maybe they ought to lose the opportunity that comes with remembering their responsibilities.  Doing too much for our kids can actually harm and disable them later in life when they have to show up or they lose big.

ANNB: What did you personally learn about being a mother in writing this book?
KC: While writing this book, I was reminded of just how crazy a job being a mom is and all the hats we wear.  I learned how much I know to be true sitting from the vantage point of looking back.  I know that being a mom will test everything about you bringing out your best and showing you areas of falability too.  It’s a big job with small joys leading to endless possibilities.  

ANNB: Is this book good for moms of "grown" children? Why or why not? 
KC: I think this book is good for all moms because there are chuckles of understanding for moms of older kids and chapters to help her transition too.  Once a mom, always a mom!

ANNB: Why do you think this book has a universal appeal?
KC: This book has universal appeal for the same reason all the Don’t Sweat series does.  The series of books have principles for happiness based on mental health and well-being that transcend cultural differences and are universal to all people.

ANNB: Where can we see you talk about the book and/or sign books in the Bay Area in the coming weeks/months?
KC: Check out http://www.kristinecarlson.com/healing/dont-sweat-the-small-stuff-for-moms for all the latest information on upcoming events.

ANNB: What’s up next for you?
KC: Living life.  Sharing.  Loving my grandkids. Joy. -- KB

Last Updated (Wednesday, 23 May 2012 20:43)

 
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