Cultural Glimpse

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Tag: Writers

Author Nicholas Belardes and the Aboutness in Our Stories

Nicholas

In 2012, I went on a four-day writer’s retreat in Colorado, which was led by Random-House author and literary agent Cicily Janus. Cicily, a young mother of three children, brought many authors, editors, and publishers together through her retreats. She had a number of health complications and passed away last year, but those who formed friendships thanks to her visions and dreams have continued to inspire each other. One such person is Nicholas Belardes, whose career I’ve followed with admiration – especially when he posts Facebook pictures of the beautiful locations where he writes and takes walks.

NAMOU: When did you decide to become a writer?

BELARDES: There was a moment early in grade school where I was asked to write a story. It turned out to be one of the first moments I was confronted with the idea that actual, real people write stories, that someone has to imagine them, someone’s mind has to be filled with words, and somehow those words have to spill onto the page.

I remember writing about hairy outer space creatures. It was kindergarten. Mrs. Robinson was the teacher. She always wore her brown hair in a bun. We’d visit her house, play with her dogs and cats. Her son lived in a converted barn behind a pond and he’d tell me stories, offer me food, tell me he was eating octopus. I’d run back by the pond imagining he was a real adventurer (because every adventurer must have octopus in jars to snack on). That time in the early 1970s in San Jose, California sparked something in me that never went away.

Actually deciding on becoming a writer was a slow process, something that haunted me on and off for many years. It flared up during episodes in my life where I took on writing jobs: creative writer for the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, scene blogger, managing editor/journalist for an ABC News affiliate. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I dedicated my entire being to writing fiction, essays and poetry. I’d just been sidetracked up until then.

NAMOU: Why do you write?

BELARDES: I really don’t think there’s anything I’m skilled at other than writing. I fail at everything else.

NAMOU: What have you written and what are you working on at the minute?

BELARDES: Novels, an essay collection, a book of oddities, books of poetry, a memoir, cheesy animated shows, news articles, and a small mountain of short stories and graphic narratives. Some of all that is published, including some short stories in journals. “St. Augustine the Starfighter” is in Carve Magazine. “Gaspar” is in Pithead Chapel. “A Different Kind of Boiling Point” is in the Acentos Review.

At the minute I’m revising a literary fantasy novel. Last week I finished ghostwriting a novel for an African client. I take on ghostwriting to pay the bills. My personal efforts are mostly with the literary fantasy, though I am slowly developing a Middle Grade novel, which is being overseen by a literary agent. It’s all very weird, because the life of a writer is frustrating, exhilarating, annoying, depressing, challenging and fun!

NAMOU:  What are your ambitions for your writing career?

BELARDES: For now it’s a simple vision of finishing the literary fantasy and finding a literary agent who cares about it seeing the light of day as much as I do, and writing more publishable short stories.

NAMOU: Do you write full-time or part-time?

BELARDES: Full-time.

NAMOU: Where do the your ideas come from?

BELARDES: An idea can come from anywhere, a friend’s story told over the phone, a news article, an experience, brainstorming interests, a political reaction, a social reaction. As a dual ethnic I try to find connections to both my Latin X side and my white side. Some stories blend the two. Some are one or the other. It also really depends on what I’m intending to write at the moment.

Even ghostwriting may include a pre-formed outline, or one I completely make up to expand from. Those ideas come from discussions with a client, from pure creativity, research, and from my experience of understanding story and character. Maybe we can think of the realm of ideas as cloud banks whispering around us. They can take any shape. A writer must find a way into them.

NAMOU: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

BELARDES: I’ve become more socially aware. Reinventing myself along those lines has been important. Caring about the plight of farm workers, or immigration reform, or socially and culturally oppressed areas like that of Bakersfield, California, where I spent much of my life. It helps me to understand that good writing doesn’t just involve language, or charged language, but what Ezra Pound once wrote as “language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”

Anything else, when it comes to my own work, is a waste of time. I have to consistently create a body of work that reflects this socially aware version of myself. For instance, in the short stories I mentioned, “St. Augustine the Starfighter” tackles child cruelty, and how we can grow out of the cruelty we inflict on the world as children. “Gaspar” is about living within an oppressive system and taking on those same characteristics (and needing a way out). “A Different Kind of Boiling Point” is about a retired farm labor leader. She realizes her own imperfections and failures are part of a path of penance and revolution. If we don’t find this aboutness in our stories, then why write them?

NAMOU: What is the hardest thing about writing?

BELARDES: Accepting more defeats than victories. There is an article I read recently that every writer should aim for a hundred rejections a year. That’s really not bad advice!

NAMOU: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

BELARDES: Aspiring writers really need to figure out what I meant by “language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” Once they do, they will be on to something in their own lives, and in their own words. Oh, and take walks. Lots of walks. And connect to powerful writers. Be inspired by them. Say hello to them once in a while.

To learn more about Nicholas Belardes’ work, visit his website: onhttp://www.nicholasbelardes.com/

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Legendary Iraqi-Born Author and Publisher

 

IMG_7857 (2)I’ve been freelancing for the Chaldean News for about ten years. Oftentimes when I interview people, they’ll ask me, “Is the publisher of this magazine the son of Fouad Manna, otherwise known as Abu Jibran?” I’d say yes and they would then list Abu Jibran’s wonderful qualities and mention his accomplishments and contributions as a writer and publisher. Their descriptions made me want to one day meet him in person.

Well, yesterday I had the honor of doing that. We met at the Chaldean Community Foundation and then taking advantage of the pleasant weather, we walked the short distance to Ishtar Restaurant for lunch. For approximately three hours, this legendary and kind man shared with me some of the most fascinating stories, starting with his childhood.

Fouad Manna was born in 1936 in a Christian village which had 96 homes, 500 residents, and no schools. It was during a time when families easily and naturally shared one big home. In his case, there were three families, each with about seven to eight kids. For the most part, they lived off the land, through agriculture or herding. Everyone worked, even the children. But Manna wanted something else. He wanted to go to school.

“I went up to my mom and said, ‘I want to go to school,’” he said and she and her husband helped fulfill his desire. They registered him in a school that was two miles away in walking distance.

He continued in this educational path, and after graduating, studied journalism for a year. One day a man was pushing a three-wheel cart, selling used books. A book that stood out for Manna was by an author named Khalil Gibran. He was drawn to this book and decided to buy it.

“Reading Gibran’s book mesmerized me,” he said. “I felt an immediate connection with the author. It was as if he knew my thoughts and feelings.”

After that, he searched for more books by Gibran and read each one several times.

At the age of twenty, Manna also began his writing career by working for one of Iraq’s newspapers. This was during the Hashemite Kingdom which he describes as “The best government Iraq ever had. Every government that has come since then has been worse and worse.”

During this period, a writer could write whatever they wanted as long as they did not attack the government. The Kingdom of Iraq was founded on August 21, 1923 under British administration and following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I. It was established with King Faisal I of the Hashemite dynasty receiving the throne.

After the Hashemite Kingdom’s overthrow on July 14, 1958, the new government closed all the newspapers associated with the Kingdom and arrested the editors-in-chief. Manna eventually continued to write in different papers until 1963, when the Baath Party came into power. They too closed newspapers, but they did something entirely different with the editors-in-chief.

“These people were gone, just disappeared,” said Manna.

This reminded me of the Mural of the Revolution in one of Baghdad’s famous squares. The Mural is located on the other side of where the Freedom Monument stands and it depicts, among other beautiful things, a woman whose hands extend upward as she holds peace doves. In 1963, when the Baath Party began to come into power, they considered certain art dangerous, so they removed the doves and left the woman’s hand empty.

Manna realized that he could not live under this type of government, especially not given his writing profession. “Journalists have to address the negativities of the community, to shed light on it,” he said.

So he prepared to leave for America. He arrived to the United States on January 11, 1969 and he has since then made an incredible legacy for himself and his family. His story is uplifting and the lessons he learned over the decades are full of wisdom, the details of which will be included in the upcoming book, Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Writers.

A Lavenderly Writing Experience

 

IMG_7397 (2)The world news was infused with negative stories and my kitchen had dust galore as men tore down one of its walls. I could not be happier to leave this chaos and the news behind and transport myself to the Detroit Working Writers Boot Camp which was hosted at the home of author, gardener, educator, and my great mentor Iris Underwood. Her home being in an organic lavender farm, I knew I was in for a treat.

Within half-an-hour, I was out of the city noise, driving through unpaved roads of a small town that still has a post office that has been in operation since 1884. I found the home tucked amongst a thick silence, with the only sounds coming from the rustling tree leaves and the bees over the flowers. I walked around the house and down a hill of green pastures to where the writers gathered outside. They sat on large wooden bench tables under a large canopy and were surrounded by lavender plants.

Author Cynthia Harrison led the workshop, discussing Character, Conflict, and Setting in a most vivid, humorous, and loving way. She shared her experience of when one day, shortly after she got married, there was a storm in the 1970s that flooded her basement, where a box of her notebooks was stored. Needless to say, her poetry and other writings were drenched and, for the most part, disintegrated. While at that moment she reflected on her career, her then husband wanted to know, “What’s for dinner?”

She brought us much laughter and inspiration to write from the heart. We later enjoyed a delicious lunch of salad, lavender scones and lavender brownies. We took a tour of the farm. I visited the little building with a yellow door and sign that read “Girls Only” and found it was occupied by four pretty healthy hens. We were offered scissors to clip the lavender plants and take some home. We then sat beneath another canopy where two musicians sang country songs while playing the mandolin and guitar.

Iris started this farm because lavender had healed her in several ways. Lavender oil is known to reduce anxiety and emotional stress, heal burns and wounds, improve sleep, restore skin complexion and reduce acne, alleviate headaches, slow aging with powerful antioxidants, and has many other beneficial effects. No wonder I walked out of her property feeling like I’ve just walked out of a therapeutic, a magical, bath.

The Dog Called Hitler – A Kresge Fellowship Winner!

Walerian Domanski

Since the spring of this year, when my friend and poetry editor Elisabeth Khan returned from India and we began to meet more frequently, we have been talking about Walerian Domanski, who is a member of our Rochester writers group.

In her beautiful Flemish accent, Elisabeth told me that she’d been editing Walerian’s second short story book collection, called The Calf. His first book, The Dog Called Hitler, was originally published in Poland. The Dog Called Hitler is about life and problems of common people, mostly very poor people in Communism Poland. But the book is universal, showing the heroism and weakness of people.

Elisabeth found his stories delightful, full of good writing, humor and satire. I told her that last year, for the first time I had listened to him read a poem, a poem that was very beautiful and touching.

Our discussions about his work was inspiring, leading me to write a poem based on his short story title: Kiss My Ass. Then one day, Elisabeth said to me, excitedly, “Our friend Walerian has won the Kresge Fellowship!”

“I suddenly became famous,” Walerian said to us as Elisabeth and I took a stroll with him by Lake St. Clair. “Even my wife, who did not used to read my work, suddenly started reading it.”

We asked him what he was going to do with the fellowship money and he said, “Buy good liquor.” We laughed.

Walerian continued to make us laugh with his sense of humor last Friday evening at Dr. John Telford’s home in St. Claire Shores. The beautiful house is on Lake St. Clair, and Dr. John Telford is the author of A Life on the Run, a memoir about his life and times as a Detroit educator and activist. He hosted, as he has done for some years now, the summer potluck writer’s group meeting.

Later on, we gathered in the backyard and various writers read their works. Walerian read one of his short stories, which was short, sweet, and funny. We have so much talent in our community!

Born in Russia, Walerian went to Poland with his parents in 1946. In Poland, he finished elementary school and high school, received a master’s degree in civil engineering and worked for state owned construction companies. Having joined an anti-communist movement, he was jailed by communists in December 1981. In 1987, he came to the United States as a political refugee.

From the beginning he loved the United States. He found a job in a geotechnical company and in 1994 he received a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering from Wayne State University. In 2008, he retired from the City of Detroit and started cartooning again, and soon switched to writing. He’s truly a man with many talents. Check out his book by visiting this link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Called-Hitler-Walerian-Domanski-ebook/dp/B00TWJ029O