Search This Blog

Loading...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Enlightening Interview


Art by Leah Griffith

Laine Cunningham, author, professional editor, and winner of five international awards for fiction and nonfiction, took the time to interview me about the writing of my novel, Cosette's Tribe. It turned out to be an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks so much for making me feel so at home, Laine.

Please find the interview below. I hope you enjoy the exchange.

LC: Leah Griffith is the award-winning author of Cosette’s Tribe (review here). She joins us today for a few questions about her writing process, her books, and her inspiration.

LC: When did you begin writing?
LG: I was in my late teens when I began writing. I felt a push within, something deep and soulful trying to find a mode of expression. In the early years my writing took on more of a spiritual nature. This type of writing has always helped me to remember how to breathe. In my twenties I began writing short stories and essays.

My mother was an avid reader, and shared her love for great literature with us children. When she was carrying me, she was reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable`s, and fell in love with young Cosette. Consequently she chose that as my middle name. As a kid I hated the name but after reading Les Miserable`s myself, I became proud to have the name and delighted to name my protagonist Cosette.

LC: Cosette's Tribe is somewhat autobiographical. What drew you to writing about certain times in your life?
LG: I’ve always felt the urge to write about my life in hopes that I could recycle my pain and use it to help others. This sort of powerful exchange helps me to remain a victor rather than a victim.

My life so far can be divided into three parts. Early childhood, ages 1-4: these were the magical years before the first sexual assault took place. During that phase I felt connected to unconditional love, and still possessed the lighthearted twirl of being a little girl. Ages 4-14 were a belly crawl through impossible situations. These were the years of abuse, where shame kept me isolated from “…everything nice.”

And 12 through today: these have been the messy years…and the best of years. It has been a time of getting up and getting up and getting up again, and feeling the generous healing power of my fall downs. These have been the years of sunny ah-has and moody reflections, illuminating all that I believe in and discovering that my little girl dreams could still be found optimistically tucked between bravery and forgiveness.

LC: Tell us about the second book you’re working on.
LG: My latest novel is a continuation of Cosette’s Tribe. In book two, we find 14 year-old Cosette still living at home with her mother and sexually abusive stepfather Ken. Although Cosette was able to put an end to Ken’s advances a couple of years before, she now faces his vindictive side where Ken’s main form of entertainment is how to make Cosette suffer for rejecting him. Cosette continues to search for purpose as she follows a pale stream of hope into the future.

Cosette’s mother remains clueless about the past sexual abuse and spends most of her time playing referee between Cosette and Ken. But Cosette has more sinister foes to face; enemies of her own making, for the escape route she chooses from her unhappy childhood could shatter her young life in an instant.

I’m aiming for a launch of book two (still untitled) in the spring of 2016.

LC: Meanwhile, you can read more from Leah at her blog Truth From The Booth or her other blog Eating Life Raw.

LC: What do you hope readers experience while reading your books? What do you hope they take away?
LG: It took me years to find the courage to write Cosette’s Tribe because of the personal nature of the story. Presenting my novel as a work of fiction created a cushion for me, providing just enough space between myself and the story, which was sorely needed. My hope was that my words would inspire readers to get back up after they’ve been knocked down, no matter what their struggles are. I want to encourage readers to trust life and embrace their own stories, perhaps discovering that it takes a certain amount of light to cast a shadow, and ironically, it’s that light which moves us beyond our pain.

As a woman I found creating this work incredibly empowering. It helped to move me from the space of a silent victim into the place of a vocal victor. It’s a mighty feeling to take part in one’s own redemption…to be your own hero.

LC: Connect with Leah on Facebook.

LC: Tell us about any awards or honors you’ve received as an author. What did those honors mean to you as an artist?
LG: Cosette’s Tribe is a self-published work, which means that it’s up to me to market and sell my precious story. Although I’m a bit shy and I should probably push a lot harder with the marketing of my novel, Cosette’s Tribe is not without awards and honors. Cosette’s Tribe was the first place winner of the 2011 Laine Cunningham, New Novel Award present by The Blotter Magazine. As a new author this was thrilling for me. After all, this wasn’t family and friends praising me, it was my peers, and it meant the world to me, as did the fat check and prizes they gave me.

Cosette’s Tribe took first place for both Best Novel and Mainstream Fiction in the 2013 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBooks Awards. Cosette’s Tribe was also chosen by Florida Weekly’s book reviewer Phil Jason as one of his favorites for 2012. Of course my biggest reward has been the overwhelmingly positive response from my readers.

LC: Find Leah’s book trailer and website at www.leahgriffith.com.

LC: Cosette is told from an intimate viewpoint of a young girl. How did this present challenges to your prose? How did you overcome those challenges?
LG: The language I chose to use while writing Cosette’s Tribe was a challenge. I had to “Be the kid” in order to write the kid. I kept things simple using the pure language of childhood when creating metaphors and expressions. Sometimes it became very difficult when describing scenes of a sexual nature, requiring me to enter and feel the darkness of a situation anew.

Writing Cosette’s Tribe was a work of bravery requiring me to look at my childhood with both eyes open. This is how I discovered the light in my childhood, which was there all along. I just never noticed it because of the trauma I endured. It was the surprise of seeing this happy light that kept me writing, and it is this same generous light that I hope to share with my readers.

LC: Describe your writing space.
LG: My writing space is wherever I can open my laptop and type. I wrote most of Cosette’s Tribe on an ancient IBM laptop facing a blank wall at work. Today, I write from half a tiny booth in my kitchen. My husband Mike uses the other half to run his online business. Our booth is the only working space in the 350 square-foot trailer that we share with Duchess, our tiny dog. I also do my artwork from the booth. Virginia Woolfe would be appalled.


The Booth

Little Dog

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cursing Louder Than a Northern Gale

I was directed to write a love letter to myself by my wildly loving friend, J Clement Wall. My initial thought was “how romantic, a love letter to Leah”. But then I felt the unction of resistance, that inner speed bump, which slows down forward motion, and I knew that I wouldn’t write the letter because it required a generous portion of bigness toward one’s self that I was pretty sure I didn’t possess. So I put off the assignment indefinitely.

As it turns out, I have a stack of untouched assignments issued by homespun sages, and as much as I admire these gentle troubadours, I sometimes feel a bit of intimidation by their bright-eyed bullet lists containing the secrets of life from the lates and the greats. I’m cynical of their pastel outlooks, such Monet hearts, and then there’s mine, mucked up and muddy from all my fall downs, tramping along with my broken toe cursing louder than a northern gale, measuring myself against all that isn’t me and feeling the small of it.

It’s the familiar cycle of self abandonment

that I move in and out of

and it hurts more than the toe, or the stretch and yawn into each long day, because I’m not really here. I’m not anywhere. I’m tucked away within the folds of forgetfulness, waiting for the courage to fly back to myself.

So, I’ve decided to go ahead and write that love letter because I could really use one right now, and with Valentine’s Day nearing I figured what a perfect set up for me-mance.

Yes, this is for me.

So here goes.

My Dearest Self,
First I’d like to say that I feel I owe you an enormous apology. I’m sorry for abandoning you when you were a little girl and that you've had to struggle with this self-abandonment issue your entire life. I underestimated the powerful connection between you and you--that big U within. I left you fluttering like a baby moth, banging into the low glow of this shabby world, and injuring your delicate wings. My looking away cost you your ability to fly, and forced you to walk barefoot across the dirty asphalt of your childhood. I wish I could have remembered who you were back then, but the pain was real, and the darkness of the journey unexpected.

You were a real hero (although you didn’t realize it). No matter how many times you got knocked down, you found a way to get back onto your feet. You faced the unlovely with an open heart, and even forgave the ones with weapons. You remained kind, which is the best type of miracle of all, offering what little you had to those who had less. If only you had offered the same generous love to yourself. I see now that it was your mother’s gift for alchemy that helped to cultivate your richness of soul. She was also a hero, but like you, she never learned to spread her wings.

You still are my hero.

I need to tell you how much I love you, and even though I sometimes pick on you, and underestimate your talents, I never doubt your ability to do great loving things.

Since you were a child you’ve desired a slow-dance intimacy with life, seeking a love powerful enough to lift you into the heavens where the stars sparkle with joy at the sight of you. My wish for you is the redemption of this divine romance--that you lose your cynicism, and look within, where you will discover that the one who steals your breath away with each kiss is always present…always you.

I wish for you to uncover the treasure of unconditioned authenticity; the putting away of the measuring stick, the better and worse, and see that every inch of you is the perfect “enough”.

I wish for you to step out of the tiny--that box, which was designed by your fears, and realize the dreams that have been nesting in your heart, those golden eggs you’ve been tending for years, are about ready to hatch.

And finally, I wish for you to never forget who you really are…
that you were created from stardust and love
believe the rumors of your greatness--and how much I absolutely adore you.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Love,
Leah

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Death and the Rumor Mill.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Lucy

I knew when I saw their burlesque-ish feathers and dirty yellow feet that nothing good could come of me getting too attached to them. Isn’t that like life, to fan something fabulous in front of our faces and then bite us in the arse for getting attached to it? Therefore, I initially kept my distance, sneaking peeks between the palms—watching them strut about my yard, and from time to time skip across my porch, clucking like excited teens on their way to the mall.

I always feel as though I’m being allowed in on a great secret when I sit with nature and it was no different with these hens. Their keen-eyed pecking fascinated me, their proud breasts proof of their badass food fetching skills.

And then the news came that “something” had “gotten” one of our hens. I know, I know, they are not my hens, but the attachment had taken place, and although they didn’t have my last name, they had captured my cautious heart.

The theories weren’t very comforting; “it could have been a python,” the handyman said, leaning against his rake, measuring my reaction. I kept a flat face, refusing to respond to his fear tactics. He resumed raking and speaking, rattling off a shopping list of predators “might have been a panther, coyote, bobcat or even a gator.” My mind examined all the suspects and settled on the python, figuring the death would be quick and clean, but once, Mr. Maintenance showed me the trail of feathers, and the freshly dug hole under the fence, my guess switched to a coyote or a big cat.

After the killing it was hard to watch the 4 hens together without feeling badly about the dead fifth hen. And even though I couldn’t really tell the difference between hen number five and hen number three, the thinning of our flock was causing me to fear for the rest of the girls.

By the end of the week we were down to one lone hen. I was tempted to name her, Lucy because of her brazen presence, plus I figured the name might offer her some protection, after all, other than having a lot of splaining to do to Ricky, Lucy’s life was mostly filled with madcap mayhem, which always ended in laughter, but naming her would have broken the “don’t get attached” rule, so she remained nameless other than ‘The Last Hen’.

I imagined how scary it must have been to be the last hen pecking, knowing that the murderer was hold up someplace close, probably watching her actions and contemplating her thighs.

From the time she had 4 sisters, to her solo scratch across the courtyard, her routine never changed. I’d have been pulling out my feathers with nervousness, but Lucy was calmly enjoying the benefit of being sole scavenger, feasting on the moment, and her newly found freedom, for the owner of the last hen had decided to keep her out of the coop, offering her a running chance from her stalker.

I began feeding her handfuls of hemp hearts. She devoured the fatty treats, while I stood like a statue on the porch, not wanting to disturb the magic that was Lucy.

Then one morning I noticed the silence. Not the silence from no noise, but a stillness that rang so loudly in my heart that it hurt. Writing this I can still feel its weighty presence, a panic of a pause, announcing the truth, that Lucy was gone forever.

So, why did I drag you into my heartache—make you love the wild girls, and root for their survival? I did it because misery loves company, but mostly because love is ALWAYS worth it. I got attached, and I don’t regret it. It was a beautiful honor to share the same courtyard with them, getting to listen to the rolling cackle of their comments, and admire the showgirl strut of those long yellow legs, and although it ended in a tragic blood bath, and I miss them terribly, I will love the next batch of chickens, puppies, children, neighbors, friends, family and of course myself. It’s what I do, for without love, life cannibalizes itself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holy Aha!

My latest holiday painting.

I never did find a place for a tree, or tinsel, or any other accessories to glam up my tiny trailer for the season. This year has been the most unadorned holiday ever. I did, however, paint a few holiday paintings; after all, there was plenty of paint and paper, and of course, my chronic romance with vintage Christmas.

Anyway, I was at the mall, attempting to shop for presents, roaming the glittery pretend streets in search of something that I couldn’t name, when I realized the huge disconnect between my spirit and my actions, inspiring me to skedaddle out of there without buying as much as a gumdrop.

Because my life has shifted so much in the past few years, I’ve decided to go with it and see where it leads me. I am clearly not in control of the cosmos, or the energy that runs it, so I may as well trust it.

As far as this year’s Christmas goes, well, I haven’t had any profound epiphanies, or Oprah ahas yet, I’ve simply been shown that I need to have a more meaningful connection to Christmas just as with life. I need to do something that spreads love, lasts all year round, and reflects a life well lived, rather than money well spent.

Okay, so I did get an aha or two, I just didn’t know it. I had to root them out with you guys.

Wishing all of you enough joy, love, and holy ahas, to last you all year long.

Love! Love! Love!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jonesing on the Porch

Christmas in the trailer is so different than any before. It’s so quiet that I feel tempted to buy a used guitar, sit on the porch, and sing to the youngins. Of course I’d have to wrangle some youngins, because mine are oldins, but wrangling youngins might land me in jail. I remember the good old days when neighborhood kids were part of your extensive family, obligated to help you with your groceries, run to the store for you, and, yes, even listen when you sang.

The world has shifted, and for me, Christmas has shifted too. For those of you who don’t know this, we’ve recently moved from our 2500 sq ft home to a 300 sq ft trailer. We sold our furniture and stored our stuff. Actually, I was able to squirrel away an amazing amount of stuff in the cupboards, draws, and tiny closets of our tinny little trailer, but I have no idea where I’ve put most of them.

That’s kind of how I feel about Christmas this year. I have no idea where I’ve put it, or where TO put it, and this is making me blue. Not boohoo blue, but more of a brooding blue. I’m missing the familiar traditions, which I thoughtfully strung around my old Christmases, and because of this I feel a sort of vacancy inside. It’s like Christmas has gone out for a stroll, without telling me, so I’m here on my porch, wondering where it went.

I know that I have to start from scratch with Christmas, but it doesn’t seem fair, because it took me a lifetime to create the old Christmas. I feel totally polarized. Yesterday I stood in the middle of our trailer for 5 minutes holding a string of lights and then put them away because there was no place to hang them, and if that wasn’t crappy enough, I’ve been waiting over a year to finally have a working stove, so that I could make sleigh loads of holiday cookies, but now I can’t because I’m on a low carb diet, which was recommended by my cardiologist. “Oh” you say, “Don’t eat them. Make them and give them away”. That would be like telling a zombie not to go for the brains. I have no self control in such situations.

The truth is that I’m afraid to let go of my little holiday habits because the world has gotten so damn scary. My Christmas traditions helped to cushion me from all the chaos and clatter, like a soft pillow over my head, Christmas muffled out the discord. Okay, so maybe it was a bit limiting, even smothering at times, but I was willing to overlook it because, well…it’s all that I knew. But now my pillow has been taken away, and I’m jonesing on the porch, because that’s the only place I can string the Christmas lights.

I know I sound like a whiny ass baby, and maybe I am, but I’m hoping if I sit on my porch long enough I might discover something profound…that in the deep, Leah silence, I am being called to this very moment, where a powerful light is shining. Sort of my very own Christmas light, originating from a place that I’m sure I’ve been, yet I can’t name. A familiar place where Ma’s hot chocolate never grows cold, color crayons are perpetually pointy, and life is its own answer. A place where one needn’t look outside of their own full heart to find happiness, for love resides within, a generous love that desires to consume fear, hate, and indifference, and is capable of rocketing you into your incredible life every moment of every day. It is the reason for life, which also happens to be the reason for this season.

Wow! Where’d that come from? I must have been channeling George Bailey and Gandhi.

Happy holy days, people. May you discover that you are not as powerless and alone as you might believe, and that your small hands are actually God’s hands, waiting to ease the world’s woes. So go forth and be merry woe easers, and if you’re in the neighborhood stop by the porch for a little eggnog. I’d invite you in but...there’s no room at the tin. Ta dum dum.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Perfectionism Triggers Apocalyptic Melt Downs

The Booth
I’m a perfectionist. I used to believe that the badge of a perfectionist should be worn on the outside of the jacket; after all, perfection is the highest rung on the behavioral ladder, the blue ribbon of attributes, and the ideal to strive for. At least that’s what I believed. Yeah, what a crock of steaming you know what. Perfectionism is a disease like alcoholism, Tourette’s and pink eye. It’s a maniacal malady, which manufactures mirages, and measures mankind. God that felt good. And you know what else feels fricken good—letting go of perfectionism. Firing the police of people pleasing, the Nazi of not good enough, the shaman of shame. That felt good too.

Living, and running the family business from this tiny trailer, is an exercise in imustbenuts, for my first nature is to produce an aesthetically pleasing environment. Well, that lasted for about a day. It’s like trying to keep a white tablecloth clean at a pie-eating contest. So I choose not to drive myself, or, Mike, insane trying to keep up with that expectation. If I’m going to keep my sanity I’m going to have to go with the cluttered flow, and stop judging myself, and Mike, for the mess.

I’m also an idealist, which I believe is prerequisite for becoming a perfectionist. I get an image in my head of what something SHOULD look like, and then I go for it. I have images for everything, including people and food, and when something does not live up to the image that I created in my sick little mind I become unhappy. At least I see this now. For years I hated myself for so many things, but mostly for not being quite up to par.

So I’m probably living in this tiny trailer so I’ll learn how to appreciate the important things in life like love, truth, joy, and gratitude—things with real value that won’t burn up should an apocalyptic event occur.

Living here isn’t so bad. I actually appreciate some things about it—if I allow myself. I love that when I sit at the booth sometimes the squirrels will sit on the privacy fence, which hugs the trailer, and look directly in my window at me. They’re so close that I could count their whiskers. I love the canopy of tropical vegetation, which shades the courtyard on hot afternoons and dapples the ground with buttery drips of sunshine, and the urgent cries of the hawk, which wake me each morning inspiring the notion that each day is important. I adore Deja, the landlord’s Rottweiler, who stops by for a snack and a nap, snuggled in beside Little Dog, at the base of the booth, warming my feet as I work. And then there are the numerous fruit trees, bowing low with juiciness. Boy, I could wax poetic over some of the things here…there’s Duck Duck, the guard duck, who acts like she doesn’t like me, but lately I’ve noticed her quack softening when I walk by, and the tree house, which I’ve yet to christen, but I’ve purchased some rope so I can hoist my laptop and coffee up, leaving my hands free to help me climb the steep stairway.

Then there’s the blessed privacy from the world. Sometimes I can hear it out there, rumbling beyond the jungle walls, but if I pretend a bit, it’s easy to convince myself that I live on a tropical island inhabited by me and Mike, and a few friendly natives.

Yes, if I don’t listen to the stories in my head created by my neurotic perfectionist alter ego, about how a woman of a certain age should have more and be more, I could find it easy to enjoy this very simple life style.

My mother used to say to me, “Leah, you wouldn’t know what was good for you if it landed on your nose.” Well, Ma, I think I’m learning.

Monday, November 24, 2014

If the Trailer's Rockin

It's been a while since I’ve blogged. Why? Well, let’s just say that my life has radically shifted—everything shakable has been thoroughly shaken. (Thank you God/universe/big bang/karma/my own stupidity.) I won’t go into the gritty details, not in this paragraph anyway, but let me just say that life hasn’t turned out according to my script. You might want to put on a bib because writing about this could get really messy.

Soooo, 57 is a stable age. Right? One would think that my 401K would be locked and loaded, my mortgage paid off, my credit rating stellar, and my vacations well planned…I’m imagining annual treks with bffs, sharing morning mimosas, toasting our lifetime achievements.

Surely by now I should be self assured or at least pretty-damn-sure…breezing about in trendy linen clothing, taking a bit of Botox to soften the years, laughing too loudly at parties, and hosting family gatherings, where grand kids tumble across my expansive lawn, parading about in red white and blue gingham, proving that my life has been fruitful, my heritage proud.

It seems a woman of a certain age should be both financially and personally stable. At least that’s the message the media has been powdering my arse with forever, triggering a discontented itch—causing me to crave a much younger, thinner, richer version of myself, thus suffering for years over what I’m not—thinking if I only had the accessories I would be happy.

Oh. My. Gawd. Somebody give me a lobotomy so I don’t think like this any more! I wasn’t born to perfect my resume, decorate the house, or buy into the herd mentality that a good life should match your high dollar sofa. I wasn’t born to amass an acre of stuff so that my kids can sell it off like the pulled gold teeth of a cadaver. I was born to experience life not promote capitalism.

I was born to overcome the scary, and the ouch, of my youth. I was born to grow brave enough to question everything so that I can figure out who I am, and then perhaps help others to see who they are too. But mostly I was born to love, and then, whether I like to admit it or not, to die.

Yes die. That’s the natural way of this world and I am tired of death being presented as some sort of evil surprise. Of course I speak of old folks dying, not of the young. When a young person dies the loss is stunning, and the grief wider than the echoes of eternity, because their experience here was cut off, and we miss them, but for the rest of us old farts, death is our ticket to renewed vitality. Be a little more appreciative.

I always thought that the two paths spoken about in Stairway to Heaven, and all those other songs and stories, were heaven and hell, but now I know that the two paths are truth and lies. I’ve believed too many of the lies, and the scary stories that sprang from them, which caused me to lose touch with myself. For most of my life I didn’t know how to live it. I was struggling with a stringy ball of threads, pieces of fears and fables collected over the years, none of them long enough to knit a mitten of truth.

Why bother writing about it now?—because if I don’t write I’m going to explode. And now, after some major shifts in my life, I feel a drive to put things on paper. I’m not really sure where to start so I’ll start with this morning, and then weave in and out of the past present and future.

My husband, Mike and I have just moved from our spacious 2500 sq. ft. home to a 300 sq. ft. trailer, which has been permanently parked on a jungly lot behind a big house, and although I’m thrilled to be able to finally hang a sign on my door that says, “if the trailer’s rockin’ don’t come knockin’” I’m a bit squeamish with the whole ordeal…sort of like the way you feel when you first try canned tuna fish…yuck—wait for it—wait for it—YUM! Well, I’m still waiting for the yum.

Our decision to move into this tuna can wasn’t much of a decision; it was actually our only option if we wanted to stay in Florida and live independently. Our home was in foreclosure, and because of our stinky credit rating (due to said foreclosure), rental agents were holding their noses and crossing the street when they saw us coming. When this little trailer hit our radar at the 11th hour we jumped at the opportunity like a couple of greedy seagulls on a Mc-fry. The universe had finally spoken! We felt lucky to have it and still do.

Right now I’m typing at my booth. I have to sit center in the seat as the flooring is a wee bit soft in places, and lord knows what a pain in the ass it would be to fall through the floor before my first cup of coffee. Anyway, sitting in a booth makes me feel like I’m in a diner. I keep waiting for, Flo to refill my coffee.

The best thing about living in this tiny trailer is that nothing is too far away: bathroom, refrigerator, TV, pepper spray…they’re all within 10 steps of my centrally located booth. The worse thing about living in a tiny trailer is that everything is so close that it makes me to feel claustrophobic and off balance. I already have a collection of interesting bruises from bumping into shit. One looks remarkably like Jesus with an Afro, and I’ve spent half the morning trying to figure out how one would sell a bruise on Ebay.

Back to gratitude…we are to the moon and back grateful to be here, in a trailer home of our own, and even though my 4lb Chihuahua causes it rock like Elvis when she changes positions, and the only place to put our big screen TV was at the foot of our bed, so that my husband spends most of his spare time in a cinematic coma, nesting like a pin-eyed pigeon on a drive-in movie screen, we are extremely thankful to have our own little space in the jungle.

Happy Thanksgiving America, and to the rest of you...Happy Everything!