Healing and Empowerment through the Arts

My life has always been fueled by books and writing. It has also been fueled by dance. Much of my youth was focused on ballet and modern dance. Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1974, was one of my earliest inspirations. His 1985 movie “White Nights” with the late-great Gregory Hines remains one of my all-time favorites.

In a recent interview with Pointe Magazine Editor Amy Brandt, Baryshnikov said, “The most important thing for a dancer, besides mastering their technique, is to be persistent and brave when it comes to finding their own voice and style.”

That advice applies to writers, too.

It applies to all art forms and vocations, really.

“Art heals wounds, even the deepest ones. Art can be our best friend in our most lonely hours and can give us hope in the worst moments,” Baryshnikov told Pointe Magazine.

He has spoken out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and helped found a humanitarian organization to support Ukrainian refugees, True Russia. Its website is a database of social, cultural and scientific initiatives of Russian-speaking communities around the world who are anti-war and pro-democracy. Its founders and supporters seek to show the world that dictator Vladimir Putin “does not speak and act for all Russians.”

“I have been astonished by the heroic response of artists in Ukraine, many of whom exchanged ballet shoes for army boots…,” Baryshnikov said. “I had a brief correspondence with one of those dancers and told him he was my hero. He protested, saying he wasn’t a hero and that it’s the people of Ukraine who are the heroes. His answer, so immediate and so full of conviction, touched me deeply.”

Brandt asked Baryshnikov what advice he would share with his younger self. His answer is sage advice for us all.

“Don’t waste your time. Keep learning. Study languages, literature, math, geography. Step outside of dance. Go to the opera. Learn to play an instrument. Try photography. Visit museums. Broaden your horizons and stretch your imagination. Become a student of the world.”

Read the full Pointe Magazine interview here.


Memoir Spotlight: Enough Already

All writing is hard. Take it from someone who has spent her entire adult life earning a living as a writer. Still, some forms are more difficult than others. In memoir, it’s not enough to write well. It’s not enough to put your guts on display, to be brutally honest about your silent struggles, your many missteps, your stupid mistakes. It’s not enough to share some morsel of wisdom you may have gained in your trials. Memoirists must do every one of these things, and then potentially face the ire of family or friends who may see it all differently. They must face the critique of complete strangers who will read, analyze, and judge. People who write and publish memoirs are badass.

Valerie Bertinelli is badass. Of course, I believed that before I read her memoir, Enough Already: Learning to Love Who I Am Today*. Reading the book confirmed it for different reasons than I expected.

She is less than a decade ahead of me in age. As a teenager, I loved Bertinelli in the TV show “One Day at a Time,” and I envied her for marrying Eddie Van Halen. She seemed to have the perfect life.

In retrospect, in my 50s, I understand that no person or life is perfect. Each of us is, at some point, in need of love, happiness, purpose, peace. Each has that inner voice of doubt – if only I was prettier, smarter, richer, thinner, better…. Even celebrities who appear to have it all.

Bertinelli’s memoir isn’t a literary masterpiece or a tell-all shocker. It does have fun stories about her life with Van Halen (she called him Ed) and her career evolution. She is open about motherhood, her struggles with self-worth, and her constant pursuit of losing weight (even when she was 126 pounds). She also goes into detail about how food can feed the soul, and how cooking with and for the people you love enriches life. The book was written the year Bertinelli turned 60, the year of the pandemic, the year Eddie Van Halen died of cancer. She touches on his substance abuse, their separation and subsequent remarriages, and their enduring love for one another despite it all.

The book is about a lifelong journey toward finding and appreciating the joy in life. It gets a little woo woo at times (Bertinelli’s words). It gets a little repetitive, as well. Ultimately, it’s a sincere, humble, heartrending read.

Here is a series of excerpts that, for me, encapsulate what Bertinelli conveys through the book:

“The garden took several years to plant and longer before it began producing fruit and vegetables in abundance. That was a good thing. I needed to learn patience and get into the routine of giving the garden daily attention and care, something I needed to work on with myself, too. And that was and still is the most valuable takeaway.”

“Happiness and joy are the fruits of a healthy life, but it takes work every day. My garden reminds me of this. You have to get your hands dirty.”


Valerie Bertinelli, Enough Already

“Joy is not going to come to me. I have to intentionally pursue it every day.”


Valerie Bertinelli, Enough Already

“…gratitude is the staircase you climb to get to joy.”


Valerie Bertinelli, Enough Already

Learn more about Bertinelli’s memoir here. *

*When you make a purchase at Bookshop.org, you support independent bookstores and authors like me.


Historical Fiction Recommendation – Figurines

Figurines by Jamie Boud

For the past few years, I’ve served as a judge for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Contest. Out of the 25 to 50 books I’m tasked to read, one or two are to be selected to progress to round-two judging. Most are average, a few have buried potential, and more than a handful are genuinely awful. Sometimes it’s the idea that falls short. Most often, it’s the execution. Common problems are stereotypical characters, inauthentic dialogue, passive language, and shoddy editing.

But in a good year, there is the one – the book that shines. This year, that book was Figurines by Jamie Boud.* I don’t know how it will fare with the next judge, but it impressed the heck out of me.

Figurines contains all the visual hallmarks of a high-quality novel, including striking artwork, professional design, and impeccable copyediting. Boud’s day job is as an artist and designer, and his talent shows.

The true measure, of course, is the writing. Boud shines there, as well. His use of sensory description evokes emotion and draws the reader deep into the complex story. Events from the past are slowly and expertly revealed  to the reader, in first-person by two narrators who become more engaging, authentic, and tragic with each chapter.

From the book jacket: 

In 2011 New York, Rachel is one step away from becoming invisible. Half a century earlier, confined in the clean, white walls of a mental hospital, Anna wishes she could be.

Rachel and Anna’s lives are woven together—one desperate to be seen, to find out who she is in the bright sunlight of New York and the dark shadows of her family history, and one frantically trying to sort reality from the fantasy in her head, to be known as a person before she’s lost to dull hospital labyrinths and the sharp tang of medicine on her tongue. Figurines is a deep exploration of self, of family, of mental illness, and the thin line between invisibility and nakedness. Between desperation and madness.

Historical and literary fiction readers will appreciate this exploration into the many facets of love, loss, family, isolation, and mental illness. Click here to learn more about Figurines.*

*When you make a purchase at Bookshop.org, you support independent bookstores and authors like me.



Bookish Giveaway

Who doesn’t love a book about a book? This month’s bookish giveaway is a hardback copy of The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock.

I received two gift copies of this gorgeous historical novel, which means I have one to share with a lucky newsletter subscriber!

One person will be drawn at random from my author email subscriber list to win and will be notified on May 31, 2022. U.S. address only.

If you’re not currently a subscriber, click here to sign up and enter to win.

From the publisher:

The fate of the world is often driven by the curiosity of a girl.

What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke remains a mystery, but the women who descended from Eleanor Dare have long known that the truth lies in what she left behind: a message carved onto a large stone and the contents of her treasured commonplace book. Brought from England on Eleanor’s fateful voyage to the New World, her book was passed down through the 15 generations of. Thirteen-year-old Alice had been next in line to receive it, but her mother’s tragic death fractured the unbroken legacy and the Dare Stone and the shadowy history recorded in the book faded into memory. Or so Alice hoped.

In the waning days of World War II, Alice is a young widow and a mother herself when she is unexpectedly presented with her birthright: the deed to Evertell, her abandoned family home and the history she thought forgotten. Determined to sell the property and step into a future free of the past, Alice returns to Savannah with her own thirteen-year-old daughter, Penn, in tow. But when Penn’s curiosity over the lineage she never knew begins to unveil secrets from beneath every stone and bone and shell of the old house and Eleanor’s book is finally found, Alice is forced to reckon with the sacrifices made for love and the realities of their true inheritance as daughters of Eleanor Dare.

You can click here to learn more or support the author by purchasing a copy.*



Words from Nature

The connection between today’s children and the nature world gets further eroded each year. The Lost Words is a big, beautiful book of poems and artwork created to celebrate the wonder and reinforce the importance of everyday nature in all our lives.

Here’s a summary from the publisher: “In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary — widely used in schools around the world — was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around forty common words concerning nature had been dropped. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acornadderbluebelldandelionfernheronkingfishernewtotter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blogbroadbandbullet-pointcut-and-paste, and voicemail.”

In response, nature writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris created a “spell book” meant to be read aloud. They sought “to summon these words again into the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike.”

The brief video below shows off the gorgeous artwork of The Lost Words (though it doesn’t truly do it justice!). This a book with heft that is sure to become a family heirloom. I highly recommend buying this special book for all the children in your life.*

* If you decide to purchase from Bookshop.org, a portion of the sale will support indie bookstores and authors, including me.



Halloween Book Fun

Giving out books to trick-or-treaters has been a fun way to share my love of reading with children. I stumbled upon the idea years ago when Googling creative ways to donate books. California mom and author Rebecca Morgan founded “Books for Treats” in 2001 to “feeds kids’ minds, not their cavities.”

I don’t object to giving out Halloween candy. (Truth be told, it’s possible I’ve eaten as much of it as I’ve handed out over the years.) But I do champion literacy and the mental health benefits of reading books.

Only about 1 in 3 fourth-graders in the United States are proficient in reading, according to a report by Save the Children. If children can’t read at grade level by fourth grade, they’re unlikely to ever catch up. A key part of the problem is that many children don’t have access to books in their homes or family members who read to them.

To combat those facts, we give books at Halloween. My husband was skeptical at first. In his defense, I tend to go overboard when it comes to books. So, I conceded it might be possible that children would not be thrilled with getting books, and we stocked up on plenty of candy as a back-up.

As it turns out, books-for-treats was a huge success.

The kiddos love it, and they remember. Many run up the driveway saying, “This is the book house!” Often, they take their time going through the baskets to find just the right book, while parents laugh and say, “Just pick one!” Every now and then, a child simply can’t decide and will slip two books into their pumpkin bucket or pillowcase. I smile and look the other way.

Teenage trick-or-treaters are some of the biggest fans; they’re both grateful and suspicious. “I can just take this?” Every year, we buy more books than the year before. We always run out before the night ends.

Giving books for treats at Halloween is a fun way to improve child literacy. And the kiddos love it. #booksfortreats #authorsforliterarcy #readingcommunity

If you’re still not convinced this is the Best. Idea. Ever, check out this CNN article highlighting a neurobiological study of the benefits of books and detriments of screen time on a preschool child’s development. The brain scans are startling. Kids need books.

There are many ways to stock up on books without breaking the bank. Here are few ideas:

  • Thin out your own book collection of board books, early readers and young adult books that your children have outgrown and no longer want. One year, we gave out Manga graciously donated by my daughter who was moving overseas. The kids went bananas.
  • Used-book stores often have large selections of kids’ books in clearance for $1 each. One year, we bought comic books (50 cents apiece) at Bookmans, an indie bookstore in Arizona. When the bookseller learned we were going to give them away to trick-or-treaters, they gave us a 10 percent discount to boot. Library sales are another great source for inexpensive books.
  • If you prefer to give out new books, The Dollar Store often has ones that fit the bill. You can also order inexpensive books from Oriental Trading Company, like this set of 10 nursery rhyme readers for about $6.

DIY Halloween Décor – Old, Spooky Books

In a related note on my obsession with books, check out this photo gallery highlighting a fun DIY project. I hate throwing away books, but sometimes they get outdated or worn out. Other times, the books are of such low quality, I am not comfortable donating them. My solution is to repurpose them in fun ways, like making books look old and spooky for Halloween décor. Scroll down for simple instructions.

DYI Instructions

  1. Tear the covers off paperback books. Paint covers of hardbound books – I used red; when it was dry, I dabbed on burnt umber with a scrunched paper-towel to make it look aged.
  2. Pour left-over coffee into a 9”x13” glass pan. Dip books one at time into the coffee. You can either submerge the entire book, or just the edges; it depends on how old and wrinkled you want them to become.
  3. Fan out the pages and shape the books however you’d like.
  4. Set them outside in the sun to dry, or arrange in front of a fan. Flip the books periodically to make sure all sides get air. It can take a few days to dry thoroughly, depending on how deeply you submerged them.
  5. I also created fake book titles in spooky fonts, make-believe potions and creepy graphics to cut and paste into the books. I dipped the printouts into the coffee and set them on a cookie rack to dry (move quickly when dipping the paper, so it doesn’t get too soggy and fall apart).
  6. Have fun decorating them with Halloween doodads, if you want. I used plastic spiders and ping-pong balls painted like eyeballs. Brush on Modge Podge or Elmer’s glue to help secure pages and décor.