The New Subway Scam: guard your compassion

She was only one among many homeless in the City, but rare enough for the pungency of odor wafting around her. It brought tears to my eyes; it was that strong. She left fainting commuters in her wake pumping and spritzing for dear life, and breath.

She asked me for a dollar, and I coughed it up, almost literally. Then she stuffed the bill into her cleavage and, feeling encouraged, leaned in closer. “Can I have a hug?”

I gave her a curt shake of my head, like you do when you’re holding your breath. But the expression of pain she then turned on me was at least as effective as it was rehearsed.

So help me, I took a big breath, grimaced and hugged that stinky lady, clutching my wallet, though I needn’t have bothered. She wasn’t after my money. She wanted the hug.

She walked away smiling, dancing and warbling an R&B song. I doubt she was physically very hungry. She was nearly starved for loving-kindness.

Then I wondered if the same was true of me. Maybe more true of me. Far from home, and even further between relationships. Who was the beggar?

These are the times we live in. Small change is plentiful and the homeless don’t want it…much. And with indifference to cash, comes the transformation of the modern scam.

The new deal is all about how to con the affluent middle classes out of a miserly hug or a tight-fisted handshake. And standing there alone on the red line platform I was an easy target. Young single woman, pinching heels, not so much as a lap dog for company… a sucker for a hug if there ever was one.

The Bible may be right about the poor. Perhaps we will have them always, but the world is changed. It’s worth reconsidering what we mean by poor. That fulsome lady on the red line reframes the question.

Economic inequality will always be a compelling social issue, and I don’t propose neglecting the less fortunate because of the economic development of the times, but I offer up this thought.

Sometimes I give when I meet people, palms up on the street. Sometimes I don’t. But this is what I try always to do. I meet people in the eye, and make no assumptions about which one of us is needier—because, over time, sometimes I’ve found, it’s me.

Sci-fi Author Jeffrey Goff reviews Hurricane Coltrane

Merrill Hinton is a self-proclaimed instigator. Not that this is too preposterous of a claim, since his single-mother does her fair share to shock the staid citizenry of the small Southern Utah town of Hurricane.
Merrill is the fifteen-year-old narrator of Taya Okerlund’s Hurricane Coltrane. His is a witty, sarcastic voice of a misfit who wants to be accepted, but knows that will never happen. Being fatherless in a town described as the “sticks” is not a stigma he can overcome. Not that his mother does much to lessen his ostracism. She runs an organization which assists in getting women and children out of the nearby polygamist community of Colorado City, the notorious compound of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
When Merrill meets Robbie Stubbs, a “plyg” kid, music prodigy from Colorado City, his life takes several unexpected turns. Ranging from close to home, to Las Vegas, to Hollywood, Merrill tells a story of life and death, truth and lie, ignorance and knowledge.
Okerlund’s Merrill is a joy to read. He’s a real kid, with real issues, in a real town. His story is never predictable. He is funny, at times irreverent, but he was never forced or phony. I could very well imagine him sitting across from me, actually telling me his tale. Okerlund has created a voice believable and poignant. And he tells a believable and poignant story of love, loyalty, heartbreak, and loss.
This is one of those books I didn’t want to end. The emotion I felt upon reading the last page is not something I feel with every book: sadness that it was over; joy that I had read it. A work like this is what makes reading one of my loves. Granted, everyone is going to have their own take, but one thing I will say is this book is well worth the investment.
So, yes I highly recommend Hurricane Coltrane. An original, unpredictable, funny, sad, loving story of a boy, his mom, and the “plyg” kid prodigy. I can only hope Okerlund has a few more tales in her figurative pen, because this one left repeating one word: “Wow.”

Author Lorianne Updike Toler, Other Side of Charity

In her book The Other Side of Charity, The Art of Receiving Gracefullly, Lorianne Updike Toler writes about being on the receiving end of gracious service—as only the chronically ill (and beloved) can.
On the other hand, the anguish of helplessness, she writes, as only the capable and ambitious can.
Her conclusion? The lessons she learned on the receiving end of Charity Street are as necessary as the giving end to eternal development.

The book is short, 138 pages, and is structured around Lorianne’s personal story with a rare illness called conversion disorder, which, for a period, left her confined to a wheelchair, if not bed. Through discovering the dual nature of charity, she describes her healing process, and how this form of charity became a valuable aid in her journey toward physical, and also spiritual healing.
She devotes a portion of her text to a discussion of pain, explaining that pain provides useful information, and leaning into it will permit us to emerge from it, better. I think pain is a fascinating subject for discussion in the context of charitable receiving. I could have spent a long time with it. Perhaps beyond the scope of this book, but pain treated as a transcending vehicle for love and spiritual sanctification is a fascinating subject to me.

Once accessing this unexplored facet of charity, it becomes for the author, and can for the reader, a rich source of spiritual learning, and she explores its broader applications through other life experiences.

The principles she outlines within this short book are doctrinal and Lorianne supports them with ample scripture and teachings of modern prophets.

I’ll say here that I know Lorianne. We were roommates during school and later again as single professionals working in WDC. She remains the clearest type A personality profile I have ever met. She is plenty smart, but will be the first to acknowledge, it’s her drive that gets the job done.
And jobs she has done many. She was a high achieving student during law school, established a successful nonprofit called Constitutional Sources Project post graduation, and went on to study at Oxford, then University of Pennsylvania for her PhD. During this time, she established Constitutional Consultancy wherein she has traveled to Libya and provided Libyan leadership with her expertise on constitution building.

Her personality type doesn’t like to explore illness and the necessity of receiving for purely philosophical purposes, believe me. The lessons she records here are serious and needful, certainly for her, but for everyone eventually. She makes a careful study here, because that’s what she does, and the result is instructive, often insightful, and ultimately, elevating.

Purchase here!

Interview with Confessions

Here’s a new interview found at www.confessionsofareader.blogspot.com

Author Interview: Hurricane Coltrane by Taya Okerlund

 
1. What is HURRICANE COLTRANE about?

Hurricane Coltrane is about friendship and self-actualization. It’s about grief and loss, and the redemptive power of music. 

Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned. 

Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best. 

Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge. 

And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future would become compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.

2. Is HURRICANE COLTRANE autobiographical? Do you show up in any of the characters?

I would have denied it a few months ago, and might still if you catch me on the wrong day. Today though, I will be painfully honest. Yes, autobiographical– partially.

I didn’t even realize it until recently; it was subtle. After all, Merrill Hinton is a mathematical genius. That’s not me. He’s a boy. Definitely not me. But he’s got my high school insufferable contemptuousness written down to his shoelaces. That was me—ugh, I can’t believe I did that. 

So the truth is, my psyche did a composite of my husband (BIG smarty pants. In fact, he’s a brain scientist.) and me, but the poorly adjusted contemptuousness is all me. Nathan didn’t inspire that.

3. How old is your inner writer self?

Ann Cannon introduced me to this idea in a class she taught.

When HURRICANE COLTRANE came to me, I wanted to write something somebody would want to read. I’d given up on my prior attempt to write a book that would become a major blockbuster.

You see, when TWILIGHT busted out, I was kind of amazed—gobsmacked really. I thought: Stephanie Meyer came out of nowhere and created an Empire! Surely it can’t be that hard. All I’ve got to do is tap into the inner psyche of my target audience and write precisely to that market’s psychological vulnerability.

Haha. It didn’t work. Fortunately, I was able to put that aside and take up HURRICANE when the idea came to me. The weird, almost spooky thing is….when I look back on it now—I plumbed my own psyche when I wrote this story. I found the still live wounds from youth and smeared story on them like a salve. All along I was subconsciously writing to my own unrealized psychological needs when I crafted the friendship between Merrill and Robbie. 

Fact is, I was a lonely kid, pretty much entirely through childhood. I was always (still am) extra ungifted socially. And though I wrote HURRICANE COLTRANE to be a good entertaining read, inadvertently, I also wrote it to assuage a deeply felt desire I have for friendship.  (I told you—painfully honest.)

So the answer is: I’m stuck at fifteen or sixteen on the inside. I just figured it out.

Also—It’s hard to game a thing like books going viral. Maybe some people can, but it’s really difficult to predict what will hit big and what will fall flat. I think the best you can do is be honest. If you’re going to tap anybody’s psyche, tap your own. Look inward and write what you want to write—never neglecting the rules of superior story craft.

4. What, if any, characters didn’t make the first draft of Hurricane Coltrane?

Significantly, Mindy was barely there in the first draft. Fortunately, the draft was too short. My husband read it and liked Mindy and told me to look further up that tangle of character strand. I did and wasn’t sorry. I love Mindy, and kind of hope she crops up somewhere else down the road.

5. What are you working on right now?

I’m working on revising a book that’s been gnawing on me for years. It’s still untitled, but it’s about the daughter of a fallen Chinese Communist Party leader arrested for corruption (hint: not really). The Chinese security service is chasing my heroine now and she’s got to outrun the service and survive on limited funds until she turns eighteen and can claim the family fortune stashed in Swiss vaults. 

6. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

This idea is waaaay different from HURRICANE COLTRANE, and isn’t only a multicultural comic thriller in an exotic location. Young adults nowadays feel a lot of pressure to not only fit in, but increasingly, to forge their own way. This novel is about making your way against extraordinary odds. I think it will resonate with young people. 

I’ve mentioned my inner psyche is halted at fifteen or sixteen years. My under-aged psyche was preoccupied with this book while otherwise bored as a buttoned-up (not down) bureaucrat in DC (not buttoned that high. I had a responsible job with the USG before I quit to be a much-more-responsible mama to my little girl.)
 
7. Are authors born or made?

Some might be born, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t even good at English. Some of my worst grades from school were in writing classes. Nothing was worse than tap dance though. I’m rthmically challenged. And I can’t spell.

If you’re like me, you have to study craft. And then go deeper. I think great storytelling is about connecting with something deeply human and setting it into a dramatic arc that sings.

To the obnoxious ex-MFA teacher who wrote that recent blog post saying if you didn’t take up writing seriously before twenty it’s too late for you…not enough “neural architecture” blah blah…

Ridiculous—though the issue may, in fact, come down to mental rigor. Ballerinas have a narrow window. Writing is for life. The written word is one of the greatest equalizers of all time. Only minds pinched in MFA corsets would try to steal a pen from an old lady’s hand. You don’t need a credential. You don’t have to have begun at five. And you don’t need to be a prodigy.

You do need a mind that thinks. And then rethinks.
 
 

For More Information
  

Chris Graham hosting Taya Okerlund

http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2015/04/29/reserved-for-guest-author-taya-okerlund/

#Read about Guest #Author Taya Okerlund

Taya 03
Hello there, I’m Taya Okerlund, wife, mom, former cog in the federal government…story scribbler.

I set off for a year long Taiwan odyssey as a teen, dropping out of high school in the process. (I ended up graduating from university later on. I’m no Bill Gates). After college, I went to law school, but it turned out I was even less suited to the law than I was to high school.

I learned Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan and then studied it in Shanghai, PRC. Between engagements, I served an eighteen-month proselytizing mission for the Mormon Church in Fukuoka, Japan.

I straighten up and spent several years in service for the federal government, but I’ve been at home with my daughter since she came along two years ago. I began writing Hurricane Coltrane shortly after her birth.

How it started…

I set aside a manuscript I’d been sweating over for years to write HURRICANE COLTRANE. My narrating character, Merrill Hinton, elbowed his way in and what a blabber-mouth! He dictated the entire story whilst I sat in my chair, fingers racing over the keyboard. I like to say the book moved in like the storm it was named for and poured creative fuel. I had never experienced anything like it; it was such a thrill! I’m not getting the same help now, unfortunately, but don’t count me out for a second novel!

Publisher?

I queried and found a small press in Salt Lake City that really loved my story. I had good feedback from readers and agents to whom I’d cold submitted, but ultimately went with WiDo Publishing because I felt they understood me, my story and would offer me room to develop.

Publicizing?

Publicizing is a much tougher game. While working for the US government, the word was discretion. I had a near vacuum of social media presence going into this–as in black hole–as in secret squirrel. I think I still have fewer than 5 followers on Twitter. I’m staunchly introverted anyway, so I don’t like to go about splashing confetti and bugling “look at me!” You better believe I am doing it, but it’s not stylish. No, not stylish. Not until you, Chris, the Story Reading Ape, of course.

Now HURRICANE COLTRANE is about to hit stores and I’m taking a big breath and crossing my fingers. I love this book and hope you’ll enjoy it too!

Taya Okerlund

Taya 02

HurricaneColtrane

HURRICANE COLTRANE

Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.

Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best.

Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.

And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future will be compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.

WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads

Amazon:

USA

A new review from Katie’s Clean Book Collection

This is the latest review from : http://katiescleanbookcollection.blogspot.com/

Review: Hurricane Coltrane by Taya Okerlund

HurricaneColtrane_CVR_SML

Hurricane Coltrane by Taya Okerlund

Paperback, 250 pages

Expected publication: April 28th 2015 by WiDo Publishing (first published April 18th 2015)

Source: I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review
Description: Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.

Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best.

Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.

And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future would become compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.
My Review:  Merrill is an extremely smart high school student, but he doesn’t do well socially. He doesn’t know his dad, has a mom who is a big activist and helps rescue polygamous victims, and a sweet grandma who tells him how it is. He’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do with his life. A random meeting with Robbie, a boy from the nearby polygamist compound, changes Merrill’s life. Robbie is a genius when it comes to music and will do almost anything to succeed, even giving up his family.

Merrill and Robbie are so similar, yet so different. They come from different worlds, but they both show a lot of bravery and strength. I love Merrill’s grandma–she is so accepting and loves those around her unconditionally.

I love the unlikely friendship that forms when decisions are made and opportunities are taken to embark on this road to growing up. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel after reading this. I was excited, nervous, and happy for these boys, yet my heart was wrenched in places and I felt emotionally drained. There were a few parts that I wish had been fleshed out just a little more, but overall, this was a great journey with well-written characters and a fantastic setting.

Content: mild language (a few mild words); mild religious elements (one boy is a Mormon and one is FLDS, but not much religion is discussed, aside from a few morals each has–definitely not preachy); very mild romance (very brief mention of an unwed mother, crushes); very mild violence (brief mention of abuse).

About the Author:
Some people think writers are born, not made. I don’t belong to that school. I wasn’t a born author, though I’m willing to concede there may be some who are. I think they are the minority though. As I say, I don’t have the special birth rite to the land of creative inspiration, but I have been there. What a thrill that was.

When Hurricane Coltrane came to me, it moved in like the storm it was named for and opened up such a creative fury it was difficult to collect. It’s been a lot of hard work since then and I’ve loved it!
I grew up all over the United States, and studied in East Asia, though my roots reach deep into the Southern Utah desert where most of my family members still live. I currently hale from the San Francisco Peninsula with my story-adoring husband and daughter who keep me busy and inspired.

Goodreads  ||  Amazon  ||  Twitter  ||  Facebook

 

Posted by Katie Watkins at 3:00 AM No comments:

 

Friends and Family!

For all those who have supported me along the road to getting this book out (or those within the reach of this blog)! The Kindle version of HURRICANE COLTRANE is not only out, but steeply discounted until closer to the official release date!

Look here!