Interview with Diana Raab, Author of “Writing for Bliss”

INTERVIEW WITH DIANA RABB


WritingForBlissWRITING FOR BLISS

Diana Raab
Loving Healing Press (2017)
ISBN 9781615993239
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (4/18)

Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a poet, memoirist, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books of nonfiction and poetry. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. She is also the editor of two anthologies, Writers and Their Notebooks and Writers on the Edge; two memoirs, Regina’s Closet and Healing with Words; and three poetry collections, including her latest, Lust.

As an advocate of personal writing, Raab facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment, focusing on journaling, poetry, and memoir writing. Raab blogs for Psychology TodayThrive GlobalOm Times, and Elephant Journal.

DR-Headshot.jpeg

Welcome Diana and thank you for joining us today at Reader Views. What is Writing for Bliss”about?

 Writing for Bliss is fundamentally about reflection, truth, and freedom. With techniques and prompts for both the emerging and seasoned writer, the book inspires readers to explore their creative natures through storytelling and poetry, examines how life-changing experiences can inspire writing, encourages self-examination and self-discovery through the written word, and illustrates how published authors have been transformed by writing. By sharing personal anecdotes throughout, I honor my lifelong passion for writing and its therapeutic effects. Suitable for both emerging and esteemed writers, it’s also packed with tips, writing prompts, references, and suggested reading.

Writing your story is a way to reclaim your voice, reveal a family secret, or simply share your story with others. Journaling is a cathartic and safe way to work through your feelings and “direct your rage to the page.”

 Why did you write Writing for Bliss?

 The book is a culmination of my life’s work—meant to inspire the burning writer who lives within. Ever since my mother gave me my first journal after my grandmother’s suicide when I was ten years old, I have used writing for healing. This book is an offshoot of my doctoral research on memoir writing for healing and transformation. After getting my PhD, I continued my path of teaching writing-for-transformation workshops. Many participants told me that I inspired them to write, and asked if I would write a book they could use as a reference after the workshop ended. This provided me with additional inspiration to write this book.

Some of the results of my research is shared in Writing for Bliss, which includes quotes and excerpts from esteemed writers I interviewed.

 There are a lot of craft books available for new and developing authors full of great advice depending on where you are on the writing journey. What distinguishes Writing for Bliss from other books in the genre?

Writing for Bliss is of interest to those who want to know more about writing for healing and transformation, while offering many general writing tips. It’s useful for emerging and established writers, as well as clinicians and professionals. Reviewers have said that Writing for Bliss is like a merging of Natalie Goldberg (a popular Zen writing teacher) and the Dalai Lama. Further, the book is easy to follow. I’ve always had a knack for simplifying complicated information for my readers, which is what I did in Writing for Bliss, where I made my findings accessible to both the general public and academics. My colloquial writing invites readers to study the art of writing, while sharing my own experiences and those of other writers I know.

I’ve overcome my own life obstacles and taught writing for many years, so I know how to guide and inspire my readers and students in a gentle, nonthreatening way. The book is sprinkled with many writing prompts, and there’s also an extensive appendix with references and recommended reading.

In your introduction you talk about the importance of maintaining a beginner’s mind whether you’re writing for bliss, healing or transformation. What is the beginner’s mind and how does it affect what we write?

The idea behind the beginner’s mind is that you are open to many possibilities, unlike the expert’s mind, which tends to only see a few. Remaining open-minded and available for new ideas is important. This is something we see in young children, who are like sponges for learning. Having a beginner’s mind is also about suspending your disbelief and going with the flow of your experience, which also allows you to go with the flow during the writing process.

Talk about the emotional process of telling one’s story. Emotional writing can be so healing but getting to that point can be painful, especially if you’re dredging some not-so-pleasant memories. How does one even get started bringing those experiences to the surface?

Writing with your emotional truth is about writing from your heart, rather than entirely from your mind. The emotional truth of a story or experience is the truth of how you feel about your experience. It’s writing that examines feelings and sentiments instead of that which recounts an experience in a journalistic and detached style. Each person has his or her own emotional truth. Your emotional truth might be altogether different from that of another person, even if that individual lived through the same type of experience you did.

When you write your story, whether in the form of journaling, an essay, a memoir, or a poem, think, Here is how I see it, or Here is how it happened to me, or This is my take on the story. The focus should be on the story, and the details and your feelings connected to it, always keeping your emotional truth in mind.

The point is that the story you are writing should remain true to the way you lived through your experience. Not telling a story is what can deprive someone of bliss. In fact, it’s often the silence of untold stories that can get people into trouble. In other words, what is not said can be more harmful than what is being said.

The best way to start . . . is to just start writing. Writing for Bliss has many suggested prompts to be used as a springboard to the creative process. All individuals have their own journeys and so should choose those prompts that resonate with them.

Writing for Bliss has so much detail packed into a relatively small number of pages – do you have any best practices on how to best use the book? Should you read it all the way through then go back and do the writing exercises or what would you recommend?

 This is described in the introduction. Writing for Bliss will inspire and teach you to learn more about yourself; tap into your emotional truth; find your authentic voice; and write about your own losses, challenges, and joys. In doing so, you will be directed to a life characterized by joy, fulfillment, and purpose. By using these simple prompts and other writing techniques and tools that I suggest throughout the book, you will remember that it is when you connect with who you truly are that happiness ensues.

In this book, I share my psychospiritual and creative journey as a way to guide you on your own journey. I write not only as a teacher, but as a fellow traveler interested in personal transformation through the writing process. The important thing is to keep an open mind and an open heart.

I suggest reading through the book first and then going back and doing the writing prompts scattered throughout. During both passes, I recommend always having a journal and pen beside you, keeping in mind that you never know when inspiration may come and when you will be overwhelmed with inspiring ideas.

The most important thing to remember during self-discovery through writing is to enjoy the journey, which is rather like the spiraling path of a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a wonderful metaphor for life, given that you follow a path inward and then go back out, using a circular, repeating pattern. Inside the labyrinth, as in life, there are times when we might feel lost and other times when our path flows more easily. We feel free. We feel blissful. We feel as if we are headed toward enlightenment.

Just like life itself, the art of writing as I teach it here is also like walking a labyrinth. As you follow the suggestions in this book, you might suddenly be diverted or sidetracked into another writing project. And that’s okay, because creativity is not a linear process. It beats to its own drum and is done in its own time. It can be thought of as both cyclical and meandering.

I think it’s safe to say that writing is your passion? How are you living that passion?

Through all the books I’ve written, the many blogs I contribute to, and the articles I write.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? How do you find your non-writing bliss?

I love nature. I hike. I read a lot. I also have begun a passion for growing bonsai, something I learned from my dear friend Thomas Steinbeck. Most of all, I love being with my children and grandchildren.

What do you like to read?

I read all types of books, but my favorites are the genres I work in: memoir and poetry. I think if you want to be a good writer, it’s important that you immerse yourself in the genre in which you write.

What book has most influenced your life?

The Journals of Anaïs Nin.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Follow your heart. Trust your intuition. Live your passion. Live and let live.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general? 

The best piece of personal advice I ever received was from my father-in-law. After my first cancer diagnosis, he said, “Diana, have no fear.” He was a Holocaust survivor, so I took his words to heart. In terms of literary advice, the best piece of wisdom I ever received was from my mentor and friend Phil Deaver, who passed away recently. He said, “When it hurts, write harder.”

What advice can you give to emerging authors? 

If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. As I mentioned above, read in the genre in which you wish to write. Also, remember that writing is a process. It’s also important to enjoy the journey, and not always have your eye on the destination. 

So, what’s next, do you have another project in the works?  

I don’t speak about my projects because I’m concerned that they will be jinxed if I do (yes, I’m somewhat superstitious). I have a few book ideas, and I will also continue to blog and write poetry, two forms I love.

Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your works?  

My website is www.dianaraab.com. I write regularly for Psychology TodayThrive Global, and Elephant Journal. I’m also a guest blogger on a number of sites listed on my website.

Connect with Diana on Social Media:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/DianaRaab.Author
Twitter:  https://mobile.twitter.com/dianaraab
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/dianaraab/
You Tube:  https://www.youtube.com/user/dianaraab1
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/512931.Diana_Raab

Read Review of Writing for Bliss
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“Corners: Voices on Change” by Amy Lou Jenkins

CornersCORNERS: VOICES ON CHANGE

Amy Lou Jenkins
Jack Walker Press (2018)
ASIN B07D3N9RKF
Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (6/18)

“Corners: Voices on Change” is a collection of stories about adaptation, about passing through a critical juncture, and gaining a fresh perspective. The book is comprised of 25 stories by 25 writers who are confronted with a major turning point in life. They face physical difficulties, marital strife, failing relationships and deal with social and mental dilemmas. Many authors speak to attitudes we carry, beliefs we share and societal values. Some writers are able to turn corners more easily than others. Plenty go on to forge a new life path while others greet the transformation as it stands and even learn how to make peace with it. Amy Lou Jenkins, who edits and contributes to this anthology of short stories, begins the book with her perspective. She describes her take on the idea of change and what it means to our existence. Like the other authors in the book, Jenkins discovers that adaptation is constant and necessary.

The title, “Corners: Voices on Change,” summoned me to hunt for the changing circumstance within each story. Some are more obvious than others, although none are inconsequential. There are certainly those that resonate with me more clearly. I was enlightened by several accounts that address the subject of motherhood, marriage and how we transform into middle age. There are other stories that I found to be more perplexing and tough to filter through for significance.

I don’t usually choose to read anthologies because I find switching writers from chapter to chapter unsettling. This book is no different. In one story the words flow gracefully yet in the next the author’s voice takes on a sharp, active rhythm. A couple of pieces are efficient and documentary-like, others are reflective and poetic, many are oral narratives and a few get argumentative and downright forceful. But the contrast teaches the lesson that the book advocates, change in voices. So, I learned to adapt as a reader by experiencing what is uncomfortable and finding a new perspective each time. In the end, I find the variability refreshing and inspirational.

The quality of the writing is also quite variable. For the most part the authors are clear and natural with their words and you stay engaged in their stories. There are some instances when I get lost in the verbiage or feel a bit like the author is using his/her narrative as a soapbox or therapy exercise. But that is the benefit of reading a piece with several short stories – each one only lasts for a few pages.

“Corners: Voices on Change” is a compilation of memoirs that lead the reader through the process of alienation, diversion, connection, addiction, obsession, absorption, resistance and acceptance. Each story is like a flower to pick, smell and maybe take from it a seed that you can plant in your own garden. I would highly recommend this thought-provoking collection to anyone facing a difficult transition in life.

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“River’s Child” by Mark Daniel Seiler

RiversChildRIVER’S CHILD

Mark Daniel Seiler
Owl House Books (2018)
ISBN 9781947003392
Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (6/18)

“River’s Child” by Mark Daniel Seiler follows Mavin Cedarstrom after he is rescued from an underground seed vault by a mysterious group of women where he has been trapped in stasis for thousands of years. Upon his revival, Mavin finds that the world has completely changed, both geographically and culturally.

In this dystopian world, famine runs rampant. Domesticated grains rarely live to be harvested, as they are constantly under attack by mold and disease. Seiler succeeds in building a complicated environment, where this famine leaks into everyday life, including social customs and politics. The nuance he builds between government officials, their decisions, and the issues they face provides an eerily realistic administration. It’s easy to imagine present day countries debating similar issues.

Seiler also provides an interesting take on the evolution vs. religion debate. Though his character Mavin is from the past, most of his futuristic companions have built their entire society on the concept of goddesses shaping the world for them. The different views conflict throughout the novel, and both Mavin and the reader are surprised to find some cross over between the two. The future’s mythological explanations line up with the past’s scientific ones in unexpected parallels.

“River’s Child” spans several years following a long, twisting story with many different narrators. The story never drags, and the audience remains invested throughout. My sole criticism is that the time jumps often happen without warning, leaving the reader feeling displaced in the narrative for a time; other than that, the plot and the pacing are both strong.

One of the things I loved about this novel is the way Seiler can explain concepts without turning the story itself into a lecture. The reader gets to learn about the consequences of domesticating plants as well as the societal impact of enforcing extreme gender roles.

The ending ties the book together nicely. Though it leaves room for a sequel, I don’t think one is necessary. The reader is allowed to assume what they want. Overall, I enjoyed “River’s Child” by Mark Daniel Seiler. It’s different from a lot of other science fiction out there and definitely worth picking up.

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“Thirty Years A Dresser” by Dennis Milam Bensie

ThirtyYearsADresserTHIRTY YEARS A DRESSER

Dennis Milam Bensie
Coffeetown Press (2018)
ISBN 9781603817516
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (6/18)

Dennis Milam Bensie takes readers on his journey as a dresser for theatrical production in his memoir, “Thirty Years A Dresser.” Starting in the 1980s, Dennis knew he wanted to be an actor, but felt in his heart he wouldn’t make it. Having made his costumes for numerous school plays, he found his calling as a dresser. Little did he realize in his excitement about being a dresser, that it would also include him being a nurse, psychologist, magician and confident. Nor did he realize that often the best-laid plans go awry, with him being blamed.

Having done plays in high school and college, I can honestly say sometimes it is just chaos when it comes to costume changes and the mix of different personalities and directors. In Chapter 7, “No Nipples,” Bensie shows just how often costume changes go wrong. He describes in a hilarious tone how in “Elf the Musical” the leading lady forgot to put on a skirt for a scene and went ice-skating in her blazer, hat, skates and her pantyhose.

I appreciated Bensie’s, “it-is-what-it-is” attitude when it came to budgets and expectations of actors and directors. Given that most budgets are slim the dresser has to make do with they have, or have to combine several costumes in order to achieve a somewhat ideal version.

Of course, we all know divas who think the world revolves around them and they can be quite a challenge even under the best circumstances. In his funny commentary on an actress who just came out of college, Bensie describes “Not Jennifer Anniston” who tends to annoy all other actors and stage personnel. She talks non-stop and is always giving out treats to other actors while being too enthusiastic and overbearing.

The author writes in such a way that you feel you are backstage with him experiencing all he is and does. He is honest, funny and sometimes cutting. “Thirty Years A Dresser” by Dennis Milam Bensie is a fresh piece to read without the usual sex, drugs and violence. I recommend this read to all who want an inside peek into what goes on backstage with our favorite theatrical shows.

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“Portals in Time: The Quest for Un-Old Age” by John Joseph Teressi

PortalsInTimePORTALS IN TIME: THE QUEST FOR UN-OLD AGE

John Joseph Teressi
High Castle Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9780964185432
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (6/18)

If you love fantasy, time-travel, and adventure, delivered through inspirational, melodic, and mystical prose, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more original, satisfying, or motivational than “Portals in Time: The Quest for Un-Old Age” by John Joseph Teressi.

Grippland is in dire need of a remedy for the premature aging of its civilization.  At risk of extinction, scientists begin human trials sending citizens (known as Gripps) on expeditions to find a cure.  Unfortunately these travelers disappear, never to be heard from again. Are they lost in time forever or have they suffered a fate even worse?  Assured that all necessary adjustments have been made to the program, the latest “volunteers” are selected from citizens imprisoned for faults against Grippland society.  These Gripps are promised their freedom and other substantial rewards upon the completion of a successful mission.  From here the story begins, with the Grippland Eye of Time Exploration Team as they navigate through the trials and tribulations of a new world in their efforts to succeed.

There is so much going on in this story I hardly know where to start, but it has to be with the characters – so many delightful characters.  The Gripps will drive you insane with their inability to grasp any concept on any level outside of the ideas that have been ingrained within them over time. Regardless of the peril, these Gripps simply do not get it! Readers might find a bit of themselves or someone they know within each character as they navigate through the adventures of the well-intentioned but misguided Gripps.

The secondary characters, although none of them actually felt secondary, are colorful, exciting and literally out-of-this-world, as are the fantastical scenes within the incredible world of Acronos.  Fabius and Filloloper, the Guardians of Acronos, are knowledgeable and wise and try to help the Gripps, but their efforts are often met with distrust and animosity. They are saints in my book with the faith they place in the Gripps, even though time after time the Gripps fail to “get a grip” so to speak.

There is a lot of metaphysical wisdom and influence in the story. As the Gripps face some of their biggest fears, it is clearly exhibited that what you think becomes your reality.  The consequences of the Gripps’ actions (and sometimes inactions) are brilliantly described through Teressi’s unique and spellbinding delivery.  In fact, this story is so well-written, it’s actually quite beautiful and I can only imagine the amount of time the author put into the story.  In addition to the storyline text that flows effortlessly, Teressi’s characters are often reciting poetry and songs, riddles and rhymes, all in an effort to get through to his Gripps.  The attention to detail provides readers with vivid imagery and focus. What a wonderful and creative imaginative mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Portals in Time: The Quest for Un-Old Age” by John Joseph Teressi.  Humorous, inspirational, adventurous, mysterious – it is a complex story full of elements to satisfy a wide spectrum of readers.

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“The Choker” by Lee Carl

TheChokerTHE CHOKER

Lee Carl
Northern Liberties Press (2018)
ISBN 9781933153353
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (5/18)

Who would have ever thought that a love of caring and watching for eagles and the disappearance of the expensive and much sought after Ermengarde Choker would turn out to be such a suspenseful, twisty mystery? Well, that’s exactly what you get in “The Choker” by Lee Carl.

As Charley and Claudia Sylvester watched the computer cam of the bald eagles feeding their young, they gazed in amazement as the male bald eagle tore apart a fish, only to be stunned that the eagle was pulling out a red, white and green sparkling item. Claudia realizes that she has seen that specific necklace before on her somewhat strange cousin Ruth. What Claudia remembers most is her cousin said it should be kept a secret as all hell would break loose if anyone knew she had it.

Jimmy the Birdman, a retired ornithologist, is watching the same cam as his phone rings off the hook. It was he who set up the cam so everyone could watch the baby eagles until they flew from the nest.

The question is how to keep everyone from going to the nest and retrieving the expensive necklace. Efforts to contact Cousin Ruth are fruitless. Meanwhile, Senator Joseph Rimespecker is berating his secretary for putting a call through which he deems unimportant — until the secretary states it is about the Ermengarde Choker.

This is a complex story with a cast of characters that have plenty of issues to keep the story interesting. The author adds a nice detail at the end of the book in a “Where Are They Now?” update for each of his characters.

Given that many readers have watched live streaming of rare animals being born, I found it quite ingenious of the author to include the video cam theme in this suspenseful story. Also, I did find the information about the bald eagles and their babies to be quite informative, and it was just enough to understand how protective bird watchers can be when it comes to the hatchlings.

Readers will enjoy “The Choker” by Lee Carl, as he does an excellent job of keeping the storyline interesting and the variety of characters will keep one on their toes. If you like reading a suspenseful plot with numerous surprises this read is for you.

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“The Shaman’s Apprentice” by B Muze

TheShamansApprenticeTHE SHAMAN’S APPRENTICE

B. Muze
Wittily Writ Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9780999583678
Reviewed by Keshia Mcclantoc for Reader Views (5/27)

“The Shaman’s Apprentice,” by B Muze, tells the story of young Jovai, a girl who encounters her fair share of hardships, spirits, and war. This novel takes place in a seemingly primitive world where people still live nomadic lifestyles and go to war with each other just for something to do. In this same world, people also rely on and listen to spirits, living on only because of the gifts the spirits grant them. The shaman communicates with these spirits and it is when Jovai is chosen to be the shaman’s apprentice that the story begins.

Muze succeeds in many different ways with this novel, but none so prominent as the intensive and fascinating world that this story takes place in. Jovai’s world is complex, layered with traditions, history, and magics that weave an immersive narrative. Muze strikes the perfect balance of giving enough of this world to the reader without overloading the narrative. Despite having a seemingly slow and simple start, Jovai’s journey soon follows an intricately laid and well-thought out plot, proving Muze’s ability to craft a narrative that pulls the reader in with every page they read.

Not only is this novel rich with fantastical elements, but it is also ripe with real world allegories. Primarily, it tackled the patriarchal conditions that both removed Jovai from her life, and rejected her as shaman’s apprentice. It is the same bias, and complicated interactions with other cultures, that eventually drives Jovai’s people to rebel and push her out. Once on her own, Jovai’s real journey begins, one where she finds her inner strength and tries to understand the intricate world around her. At its core, Jovai’s story is a about a young woman trying to find herself in a world that seems to have no place for her. It is her journey and the hope that she clings to along the way that made Jovai such an endearing and well-written character.

Despite the young person coming-of-age being a common trope within fantasy, Muze’s story seemed refreshing. Though some elements of the story were influenced by genre, the novel felt wholly unique in its conception.

If anything lacked in this novel it would be that it was almost too much to take in. I loved the complexities of the world but felt that I was reading several small novels rather than a single novel. It’s interesting that this is the first in the series, as the full story told within this novel felt like a series itself. I enjoyed reading it, but was amazed and perhaps overwhelmed by just how much happened within just under 400 pages. As a fan of fantasy, the breadth of the work was okay with me, but it’s easy to see a lesser-read or fantasy novice getting overwhelmed by all that happens within this opening novel.

As such, I would say that B. Muze’s “The Shaman’s Apprentice” would be perfect for anyone wanting to fully immerse themselves in a complicated and spiritual world. Overall, it succeeds in being a tale of a young woman finding her strength in a world that otherwise rejects her. The story feels simultaneously timeless and refreshing, relying heavily on the beautifully crafted world to see it through. I’m looking forward to continued work in this series and seeing how Muze can continue to make this world shine.

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