Women Writers Wednesday 9/9/15

First, I must apologize for the hiatus. School started, I got a novel out the door, we’re still settling into the new house, and there’s been some travel. The hiatus ended up being rather longer than I anticipated. Hopefully we’re back on track now, and even more hopefully I’ll be producing more original content on the blog again this fall.

This week’s installment of Women Writers Wednesday comes to us from Jackie Parker, who has written a response to Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World.

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How does a woman survive when the light of her world suddenly is blotted out? Her husband, soul-mate, beloved father of her two boys, painter, chef extraordinare, her best friend, lover, and the carrier of her African DNA, dead, right before dinner, having bought the salmon, opened the frosty white wine.

Even though this is a memoir of loss and survival, it is a celebration of life. It tells the story of a marriage of depth and passion, friendship, and joy, a marriage of art, one that lasted fifteen years but felt to them like twenty-five. “So much struggle and joy.”

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD cover

The author is the celebrated poet, one of our finest, Elizabeth Alexander, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the author of the beautiful “Praise Song for the Day,” delivered at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.

How can she bear to write this, I kept wondering, as I read, breathless, the beauty and loss unfolding on the very first pages. What gave her the courage to begin? It is so intimate. So present.

The answer is buried in the acknowledgement section at the end of the book, where the author thanks her publishers and editor at Grand Central: Gretchen Young, Jamie Raab, and Deb Futter, who “envisioned this book before I did, dared to ask for it…”

Ah, so it was their idea, I thought. That’s why she wrote it. And what a good thing for us to know, as women, as writers. We hear so much about the terrible aspects of the publishing business, but there are wonderful aspects as well, the women who encouraged Elizabeth Alexander to do this, write this, the support she was given in order to bring forth this brave book.

And, such a beautiful book. Written in sections, it has amazing recipes — for Ficre’s food was legendary — it describes meals, gives us the names of their many friends, as well as imaginary conversations, dreams, takes us to farflung parts of the world Eritrea where Ficre was born and his family still live, to France, Italy. Teaches us history, for the author is also a professor of African American Studies at Yale.

There are titles of loved books, artists. Favorite music. The description of the paintings Ficre did, the one he made to commemorate their first meeting containing an eye on a plate! And images of their children to be, spirits.

And there is the story of their meeting, their powerful love. Their family story, all of it an extended love story. Friends and family always present, gatherings around their large tables. The garden that Ficre loved. And flowers, always flowers. Wait till you read about The Plum Blossom!

The lines bite like poetry. No ideas but in things. To tell you the way the book begins is to spoil its impact. But we must know the end first, I think, because everything that comes after it is even richer. No matter how much beauty a life holds, it will end. If there is love, the end is tragic, Elizabeth Alexander teaches us, right from the start. Only beauty can redeem loss.

At the center of the book is Ficre, from Eritrea. Have you ever heard such words? Eritrea the tiny country in Africa. Ficre walked through its killing fields at sixteen, to escape, to live. How he made his way to the United States is a book in itself.

Ficre is a man who lights every corner of the world he inhabits with his beautiful being. The phrases he speaks, the food he makes, his gentleness and patience. His fathering. His husbanding! His clothing — the bright pink shirt. His painting studio.

The language of Elizabeth Alexander is precise and gorgeous. The meticulous attention to things, the things of this world, that is at the heart of poem-making animates every sentence.

To read The Light of the World is to be invited into lives that make you want to stand up and dance for joy, and weep for the journey that we humans must take.

One week after her husband’s death Elizabeth Alexander returned to teach her final class of the semester. She gives us the words with which she ended her lecture. They include this: “Art tries to capture that which we know leaves us, as we move in and out of each other’s lives…”

By the end of this book we know what is left. The sons, taller than their father had been. The wife, alive and able to feel, once again, the beauty of the world. The move to a new city.

And yet, days, weeks, months after finishing The Light of the World I felt Ficre, his living essence, as if I had known him in life. I mourned that he was no longer on the earth. What a gift Elizabeth Alexander has made for us. What a book!

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Jackie Parker
Jackie Parker

Jackie Parker is the author of the recently published Our Lady of Infidelity: A Novel of Miracles (Arcade Publishing), available on Amazon, OUR LADY OF INFIDELITY coverthrough Booksamillion, and in bookstores throughout the US. She is an award-winning poet who leads workshops for writers and for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in community and health care settings in Los Angeles and throughout the country. She is also a teacher of meditation and occasional blogger for the Huff Post. Connect with her on Jackieparker.co.

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

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Women Writers Wednesday 8/19/15

Sorry for the silence lately. School has resumed, and the last couple of weeks have been extremely busy because of it, in addition to some other pressing writing deadlines I’ve been trying to meet. But today the Women Writers Wednesday series resumes!

In this week’s post, Gina Tron takes a critical look at a memoir about a timely subject, sexual assault, in her guest post about Amy Jo Burns’ CinderlandContinue reading “Women Writers Wednesday 8/19/15”

Women Writers Wednesday 7/22/15

Today’s review of some gripping historical fiction comes to us from Natasha Claire Orme. The book she has chosen is The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff.

THE KOMMANDANT'S GIRL

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I settled myself down over the weekend and decided to read The Kommandant’s Girl. It had been recommended to me by a friend, and because I had nothing else to do, I thought it would be a good idea. It’s not my usual kettle of fish. In fact, recently I’d gotten myself in a bit of a rut. So I started out a little sceptical, but perhaps thought it was time to change my ways.

A page or two in, I wasn’t really feeling it and I was finding it hard to focus on the story. Hours later, though, I closed the book and put it down, finished. I think this was one of the very first times I had sat and read a whole book in one sitting. And do you know what happened the next day? I went and found the sequel, sat down, and read that in one sitting, too.

The Kommandant’s Girl is the spellbinding story of Emma Bau, a Jewish girl in the Polish city Krakow during the Second World War. Forced to live in the Jewish Ghetto outside the city, Emma is eventually smuggled out by the Resistance to live with her absent husband’s cousin, Krysia. Under the pretence of caring for an orphaned Jewish boy, Emma, now Anna Lipowski, is given an offer she can’t refuse. She becomes the personal assistant to the Kommandant, the most powerful man in the city, and finds herself facing conflicting emotions.

This book is truly outstanding. Jenoff has a natural gift for storytelling and conveying human emotion. I loved Emma and how real she felt to me. The book, told through her eyes in the present tense, feels very real. The relationship that blossoms between Emma and the Kommandant is one of heartache.

Jenoff attacks the traditional issues of the holocaust and is even able to avoid the clichés associated with this period of history. She takes a hard look at the prejudices and injustices of the holocaust as well as the suffering and the helplessness. But these aren’t at the forefront of the story; instead they float around in the subplot and contribute to the overall atmosphere. The conflict and tension apparent throughout the novel is one of its main driving forces and will have you, as a reader, sitting on the edge of your seat. Each new chapter, each new page brings with it more chaos, more problems, and a greater amount of heartache as things go from bad to worse in Emma’s struggle to survive.

I was completely captivated by Jenoff’s style of storytelling and her detailed descriptions, an attribute to her experience as a historian. I loved the sense of adventure that she creates and the romance. For me, it was this forbidden romance that had the biggest impact. I loved the tenderness and the gentleness of the characters, particularly the Kommandant. He gave the impression of this dark and mysterious man who was worthy of admiration as well as fear. The dynamic between the couple felt electric and had me reading each page more quickly than the last.

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Natasha Claire Orme is a German-born Brit with a love for the unusual and a thirst for culture. She loves to explore in her writing and experiment with different styles. Her blog is full of insightful writing trips, food for thought, and encouraging tidbits from the best and brightest. She focuses her efforts on helping others better their writing and unlocking the mysteries of a novelist. She loves what she does and can’t stop writing. Her adventures and romances are what keep the day going! She’s a book addict and a petrol head.

www.natashaorme.com

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 7/8/15

Every now and then, we have a WWW guest post from a female writer who isn’t a published author in the traditional sense (that is, she doesn’t have a book out) but who does have a thriving and regular blog which she writes for. And even though it’s true that almost anyone can have a blog and slap some content up into the Interwebz, cultivating and producing a quality blog takes work, creativity, dedication, and skill. It’s not easy, no matter how easy it might look to someone else.

Today’s review comes to us from Nerija, whose blog Postcards from La-La Land is worth checking out. When I saw her review of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl there, I asked her to share it with the Women Writers Wednesday series, and she graciously obliged. What follows here is a longer/modified version of her review, which was originally posted here.

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I first discovered Fanfiction.net in early high school, while searching for evidence that Continue reading “Women Writers Wednesday 7/8/15”

Women Writers Wednesday 7/1/15

You’ve heard from Christa Forster on this blog before: during National Poetry Month she contributes to the Poem-A-Day series (in 2014 and 2015), and she’s done a WWW review before too.

Today she gives us a review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a book people seem to either love or hate (but mostly love) from an author who makes a walloping impression. I read Tartt’s The Secret History when I was in college and was profoundly affected. I read it many years later when I was teaching and was impressed it held up. It remains to this day one of my favorite novels. (Plus I can empathize with someone who takes a decade to write a book…)

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Donna Tartt has written one of the first great American novels of the 21st century: The Goldfinch. Her aptly-named main character — Theo Decker — alludes to the Nietzschean idea that not only is God dead, not only have we killed him, but we’ve wasted him, blown him away, stuffed any remaining shreds of sacredness into a padded bubble mailer and not even noticed when someone switched out our only miracle while we were zonked on drugs or booze or gambling or relationships or Facebook or whatever has enthralled us. With The Goldfinch, Tartt holds up a mirror to nature that is so cracked it is hard to keep looking: it’s especially alarming, because we don’t want to believe that we’ve doomed ourselves to the extent that we have.

 

THE GOLDFINCH cover

 

It is not a novel about climate change. It’s a novel about a boy who loses everything. Near the story’s end, Theo admits that “Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean that we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.” The paradoxical tone of the novel — this bleak open-heartedness — divides people into two distinct groups: those who love it and those who cannot tolerate it. Lukewarm reports from people who “sorta liked” The Goldfinch are hard to find, maybe because the novel, at 771 pages, requires a hearty investment of time. Readers either finish the book and love it, or they don’t immediately love it and therefore don’t finish it.

 

The basic plot is this: Theo Decker’s life is devastated early on by a bomb attack on an art museum, wherein he and his mother seek shelter from a rainstorm and kill time before a scheduled conference with Theo’s school principal. The explosion suggests the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and although Theo walks away from the catastrophe physically unscathed, his soul forever after suffers from what the explosion steals from him (his mother, his sense that the world is an okay place). In addition to leaving with all his limbs, he also escapes the wreck with “The Goldfinch,” a small painting by the obscure Dutch master, Carel Fabritius. Unsure of why he’s taken the painting (described alluringly by Tartt), he frets about how to return it, taking so much time that he fears what will happen if he does return it. So he avoids returning it, but he cannot unknow that he has not returned it; thereby, he unwittingly commits one of the great art heists of the century, a fact which haunts him epically, but not enough to motivate him to return the painting. Tartt uses Fabritius’ painting as a MacGuffin to move the plot along and to complicate the conflict in the plot. However, as with all great stories, the characters keep the reader turning the pages. Along with Theo, an ensemble of major characters dominate the scene: Boris (Theo’s hardcore best friend, son of a Russian mobster); Theo’s duplicitous, rattled father and his skeezy girlfriend, Xandra; the blueblood, seemingly inbred Upper East Side Barbour family; the evil villain Lucius Reeve; the uber-mensch Hobie and his niece, the ethereal Pippa.

 

Certainly, The Goldfinch can be categorized as a dark novel, but also one that is certainly steeped in light. Anyone whose life has been touched by addiction — her own or someone’s close to hers —  will be amazed at Tartt’s knowledge of the subject matter. The main characters in this book abuse a LOT of illegal substances. One might even wonder if the twelve-year radio silence between the publications of The LIttle Friend and The Goldfinch wasn’t caused by Tartt’s own journey through a dark night of the soul. Regardless, Tartt has turned whatever baggage she’s carrying into a true treasure with The Goldfinch. This is literary fiction of the highest order (remember, it won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, the highest accolade a work of fiction can receive in America), which means that the characters are complex, conflicted, and psychologically profound; the settings (New York and Las Vegas) are saturated with symbolism; the atmosphere and mood are dense and tense, rendered with exquisitely-tuned concrete, sensory detail. As all classics are, Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a must-read for any writer — aspiring or seasoned — to learn or remember how and why the objective correlative matters, why and when the first-person/past tense point of view works best, what a MacGuffin is and how it advances a story’s plot.

 

Even a potential design-flaw, like the overabundance of times that Tartt’s characters wipe their foreheads with the backs of their hands, is absorbed by the gratifying experience of finishing the novel and the memory one has of the story and of reading the story. And perhaps, for those readers who persevere long and read closely enough to notice it, this ubiquitous brow-wiping is another example of the objective correlative at work in this novel:  Whew! Made it through the wreck this time. Hopefully, the next generation, and the next, will make it through, too.

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Christa Forster: Writer, Teacher, Performer whose goal is to make life more meaningful for herself and others through Education and Art. Follow her on Twitter @xtaforster.

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

 

Women Writers Wednesday 6/10/15

This week’s WWW review comes to us from Jennifer Waldo, who reviewed the Divergent series by Veronica Roth here back in January. This time she’s writing about another YA series, the Pure books by Julianna Baggott.

 

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Pure by Julianna Baggott follows several characters but the main heart of the story belongs to Pressia, a young girl turning sixteen in a world that’s been obliterated by an atomic bomb ten years prior.

 

PURE by Julianna Baggott

 

Everyone on the outside of a Dome which served as protection for the “pures” are considered “wretches” and have some kind of fusing. In Pressia’s case, one hand has been covered by the doll’s head that she was holding at the time of the blast. Another character is fused with birds that are still alive and implanted on his back. Other characters are fused with other people like Siamese twins. It’s grotesque, and part of Pressia’s arc is to figure out whether she can accept herself for who she is or if she is better off finding a “cure” for her deformity. When a pure escapes from the Dome on a mission to find his mother, Pressia saves his life and the two of them start a journey discovering the truth about the Dome, the outside world, what happened, their families. As in The Wizard of Oz, they collect newcomers along the way who become integral to the overall story.

Pure (followed by Book 2 Fuse and Book 3 Burn) is an excellent series that offers a true sci-fi world, variety of character, and some more complicated writing than the young heroine in a dystopian/apocalyptic society stories we have seen in other series such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Legend, Matched… Baggott’s use of changing POV within a selection of main characters but not ALL the characters offers the reader an opportunity to at times be complicit in wrongdoing, something not seen in these other series. I found myself uncomfortable with at least one of the main characters who kept disappointing my expectation of becoming the hero and rising above external manipulation. It was enlightening to see/read/experience characters from a direct POV who ultimately failed in their character arc. It was expertly handled by Baggott.

I highly recommend it. I’m not sure it came to a full resolution at the end of Burn, but endings are always hard, and in such a rich and complex story, I am not sure what I would have done differently.

In all, I’m not sure I understand why it hasn’t done as well as the previously mentioned series like The Hunger Games.  When I wanted to purchase Pure, I had to order it online; no store carried it.  I wonder if it’s because the love story is not as central as it is in the other series, though it’s certainly there.  It’s a more difficult read and I didn’t get caught up in the same passion and urgency to continue reading the way I did with the other series.  However, I think it’s a testament to its writing and characters that it couldn’t be treated as pulp.  I can see how it may have benefited from more action and a different style of description for the dramatic conflict scenes.  As a writer, it’s an interesting question.  Thoughts always welcome!

 

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Jennifer Waldo has been writing and directing for film and video for the last ten years, including the short video SISTERS now in post production. A lifelong writer and photographer, Jennifer began her career working in the documentary/educational film industry of her hometown, Washington, DC.  She graduated from the Quaker school Sidwell Friends and went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts with honors in English at Oberlin College. Wanting to hone her skills as a filmmaker, Jennifer spent three years earning her MFA in Film Production at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where she won the Edward Small Directing Scholarship for her existentialist film ROOM 119 (2001) and wrote and directed her 35mm USC graduate thesis SEARCHING FOR ANGELS (2006).  After graduating USC in the spring of 2004, Jennifer’s thesis film screened at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles as part of the April 2006 First Look Festival. Working in Houston, Texas, over the last few years, Jennifer completed a set of twelve educational videos for a local Montessori School and EVERYTHING BEGINS AT B.I.R.T.H. (2007) about non-profit organization BIRTH founded by midwives. Jennifer’s romantic comedy screenplay HONEYMOON ADVENTURERS was selected as a “Screwball Comedy” Finalist in the Broad Humor Screenplay Contest in July 2006 and her feature-length script adaptation of SEARCHING FOR ANGELS was a quarter-finalist in the 2008American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest.  In November 2008, Jennifer won the “NaNoWriMo” writing challenge with an 85,000-word novel written over a 30 day period. In addition to writing and directing, Jennifer is also a producer, most recently working on the independent feature film THE PREACHER’S DAUGHTER (2012), showing on Lifetime.  Jennifer produced several USC graduate thesis films including the festival favorites UNSYNCABLES AT ANY AGE (2003), FIST OF IRON CHEF (2004), and PEBBLES (2005), as well as the A.C.E.-sponsored HD documentary  THE CUTTING EDGE: THE MAGIC OF MOVIE EDITING (2004). Jennifer currently teaches filmmaking at Houston Community College’s Audio Recording and Filmmaking Department, Spring Branch Campus. She is also a longtime member of Women in Film in Los Angeles, California.

 

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Women Writers Wednesday 6/3/15

Here’s an informal poll: what books have changed your life?

I’m not looking for a Facebook-viral list of 25 Important Books You’d Die on a Desert Island Without or anything like that. I want to know, what that one book is which changed something vital about your existence. You might have ten favorite books you could no sooner rank than you could choose a favorite among your children or pets. This is not that dilemma. What is the one piece of literature that made some aspect of you profoundly different?

There are many books which have affected me deeply, no doubt, in a variety of ways. But one book that absolutely changed the course of my life is Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. This book, and dinner with the author himself at a mutual friend’s home, inspired me to pursue fiction writing seriously rather than to get another degree in poetry. The course of my professional life was forever and probably irrevocably altered by this choice.

I’d love to know what book has mattered this much to you. In the comments below, leave an anecdote about a single book that has meant something special. In fact, the first five people to respond will get a free copy of Finis. for themselves or gifted to someone else.

Today’s Women Writers Wednesday comes to us from Carla Jean Whitley about a book which had a deep and lasting impact on her.

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If you’re a bookworm, you’re probably acquainted with the experience of a book hangover, if not the term itself. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when you approach the end of a book that has captured not only your attention, but your heart. Book hangovers follow the stories, essays, or poems that affect a life so powerfully, it becomes hard to believe there are other books worth your time.

Within the first two chapters of Anna Quindlen’s “How Reading Changed My Life,” I knew that I’d encountered just such a book. In this essay collection, Quindlen recounts the value of reading, whether the object of your affection is high-brow literature or a novel from childhood. It’s only 96 pages, and so I was mourning its inevitable conclusion by the end of the second chapter.

from Random House's publicity site
from Random House’s publicity site

“How Reading Changed My Life” immediately found a place on the shelf among my favorite, most-trusted books. It’s a book I turn to time and again, and one I frequently select as a gift for fellow readers.

And while this remains the book of Quindlen’s I cherish the most, it is also the gateway drug. Her columns for the New York Times and Newsweek are compelling—she won a 1992 Pulitzer for her Times work, after all—and in the books that have collected those, I’ve found a kindred spirit. Quindlen is a writer, a mom, and a wife who offers insight on all areas of life. She left nonfiction years ago with the intent of working solely as a novelist (and her recent Still Life with Bread Crumbs is my favorite of her fiction). But over the years, Quindlen has continued to shed light on family, politics, life, and age. She is a woman I love to read.

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Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor, and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is a features writer for Alabama Media Group. She is the author of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music and Balancing Act: Yoga Essays. Her next book, Birmingham Beer: The Role of Alabama’s Largest City in Changing the State’s Beer Culture, is scheduled for release this spring. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.