Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Interview with Ben Perreth of Making Lemonade with Ben Fame

Ben Perreth is an incredibly amazing young man. At age seven he survived a brain hemmorage, as chronicled by his mother Katherine Perreth in the must-read book, Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope.  That singular event launched him and his family on a journey that reads more like fiction, but is every bit reality. I can't say enough about the book. It is a page turner from beginning to end, a roller coaster of emotions, but a story told with incredible humor and perspective. 

In a previous post I interviewed Katherine by email. You'll want to take a look at that conversation. Of course, Katherine is articulate and expressive. But I think you'll be blown away by Ben's own voice. He is an individual with much to say about his life and life in general.  It's no wonder he was elected to travel to Washington D.C. to accept a national award on behalf of the Children's Museum of Madison where he works. I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more from this young man in the future.

A Conversation with Ben Perreth

MCW:  Ben, how old are you now?

Ben:  In months, 310, but in years, 25. Since I started working at the children’s museum I noticed that when I ask how old their babies or toddlers are, parents answer in months. So when they question me, “How old are you?” I answer the same way.

MCW: Tell me about what it was like during the time your mom was writing the book. Were you aware of what she was doing? Did you have any input into it or any influence over what she wrote?
Katherine and Ben Perreth at a local award ceremony
Ben:  I was always thinking that this book would be too much for her, and I was trying to stay out of her way and my dad kept on reminding me until I got it. It was during the last summer when my mom was writing the book, I think when I saw her she was exactly like a statue, always in one place, in the back yard under the lilacs writing very fervently.

Yes, I did have influence. My mom would always come and ask me, “Hey, Ben, I was thinking of taking this out,” or “I think you won’t like this,” and I said to her, “Mom, slow down, go to yoga, remember my words: this book is the only book you’re going to write and you have my stamp of approval for putting in all of it, the ups and downs, depressions, psych ward twice, and going to Disney to enjoy it before the radiation.”

I wrote three sections, from myself. And I have the last word, in the whole book, which I think is very uplifting, especially when people read it.

After I read the final draft of the book I said to my mom, “It’s flawless sprinkled with awesomeness!” And ain’t that the truth!

MCW:  When you look back on the years from when you were seven and into your teens, what memories stick out most in your mind?

Ben: I thought about that and it’s still to this day that the sharpest memories that really stick out are the ones that I am peaceful. Like, five minutes before I drift off to dreamless sleep, knowing that I don’t have to be so resilient at the moment. Hearing my mom’s voice, singing, “I love you, Benjamin.”

Running with my favorite cousins and my brother and sister, running around the red-leaved burning bush and into the garden while my mom took a picture. I felt so alive and the weight of all the bad stuff, the medical, and hospitals and stresses of my life were gone in those moments. 

When I got the news from my drama director, telling me that I got the part of Grandpa Joe, knowing that I made the cast as one of the main parts in the play.

When I went into a new cave, a sense of wonder, astonishment and a deeper sense of longing to find the end of the cave. In Arizona, in my junior year of high school when I was having depression, we went into the biggest cave I’ve ever been in, and I had my body leaning against it, and the guide said, “Ben don’t lean on it more than what you are, because we don’t know how far it goes down.”

I said, “Maybe a mile?”

And she said, “Well, it’s deeper than that.”

I felt, and I made an illustration, that this cave was my life. That there is no end until I finally pass away. It was taking the weight off my chest again, the not knowing what’s in store for my life. It was very moving.

Whenever I’m in an airplane, I’m above the clouds and letting my spirit fly. I’m looking down at night seeing the lights, and seeing the images and shapes in my mind. I saw a baseball player hitting a ball with his bat and the white rabbit in Frosty the Snowman.

When Sam, Sarah, Mom and Dad and I climbed up the very steep hills of the Black Hills, and I saw tens of thousands of grasshoppers. And my mom started singing, “The hills are alive, with the sound of music,” and I started to move like my mom, bringing my arms out, up and floaty, and I felt the increase of my contentment and joy of being wild.

When me and Pilot Neal, it was just us in the Morey Airport taking off, and I was telling him my story. We flew and I navigated the coordinates of Tyrol Basin and finally found my Grandpa Syrup’s house in the country. We saw three turkeys fanned out, grazing on his hill. Flying back, I saw my mom’s house that she’s been living in for many years of her life. The neon bright, sun-golden flowers in my grandmother’s rock wall at mom’s house, and feeling the love emitting from them, drilling into my soul.

MCW: What are you doing now with your life and work?

Ben:  I’m being very vigilant and proactive, putting first things first, keeping the end of the goal in my mind from day to day, thinking win-win, because most of my life has been down. I feel most of those principles guiding my heart in the right direction.

For work, there are two places. The Yahara House, where I hone in my skills weekly, cooking for whoever is going to eat lunch that day or the next day. We occasionally make a pie or have a discussion of what’s going to happen the next week. There’s a weekly menu. With the help of a staff worker at Yahara House, Janet, who I’m so grateful towards telling me, “Get yourself up again, Ben, and shine!”
Ben and Katherine Perreth
I work at the Madison Children’s Museum. I like to rephrase my work into, “I get paid to have fun at the children’s museum!” From the time I started working there, I have said that. Being the Discovery Guide for kids and people of all ages brings more than money into my life.

Hobbies are very crucial to my life. Being an actor from an early age, I have been in an Acting Techniques class, for four years now. Mind you, I have to pay for each session, and I’ve been in for 19 sessions.

I also go to a free thought group, AHA! That stands for agnostic, humanist and atheist. We have philosophy discussions. And afterwards we go to the Rathskellar.

For my solitude, I like to walk in nature.

All those three things, my life, work and hobbies cannot function without the other two. Like a stool.

Thank you, Ben, for such awesome thoughts and insights!  

Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope won the Readers' Favorite 2013 International Book Award in the "non-fiction, inspirational" category.  You can find it on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or request it through your public library.

And be sure to check out my interview with author (and Ben's Mom) Katherine Perreth



Monday, June 23, 2014

A Conversation with Katherine Perreth, Author of Making Lemonade with Ben

Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to meet an incredible woman, Katherine Perreth, and her even more incredible son Ben, at a writers conference. I can’t begin to describe what happened to Ben in just a few paragraphs, except to say that at age seven he had a massive brain hemorrhage and that event launched him and his family on an incredible life’s journey.  That journey was recorded in amazing, emotional detail by Katherine in her book, Making Lemonade with Ben: TheAudacity to Cope.

I have to tell you, Katherine’s book kept me on the edge of my seat. Even though I knew from the outset that Ben had survived—he is, after all, a very real, very active young man in his twenties today—the way she crafted her story made it a page turner.  I felt like she was narrating it to me personally, and I rode the roller coaster of her and her family’s ups and down as if I’d known them from the get go. But the thing that is most amazing about Katherine's telling of Ben's story is her wry sense of humor. While told with heart-wrenching candor, the story was never maudlin; Katherine's ability to turn some pretty devastating lemons into lemonade makes this story a great read on so many levels.

Of course I wanted to know more about Katherine and what it took for her to write this book, and what it meant to Ben, so I emailed them a few questions.  They were both kind enough to reply. While I became intimately familiar with Katherine’s voice over the course of the book, I was surprised by Ben’s answers. He is every bit as articulate and eloquent as his mother, but he has his own unique and delightful voice and sense of humor. Katherine’s replies are below. My interview with Ben was posted separately.  

A Conversation with Katherine Perreth
MCW: Katherine, you write with such voice and passion in Making Lemonade with Ben, but you mention early on in the book that you once gave up on writing it. What did it take to actually get the book written?
Katherine: A phone call from the Madison Children’s Museum in early September, 2011. MCM asked if I would be willing to write a letter of nomination on behalf of my son, Ben. The museum was slated to receive a national award in Washington D.C. and needed to send a community representative. At the same time, the museum hired Ben – he had been volunteering for over a year as a one-handed juggler. I figured if they actually did select Ben as their representative, then I would have the sweet framework I needed to write his traumatic, yet often hilarious, childhood.
For three months I chronicled everything, how the trip to D.C. unfolded. I was so obnoxious with my accuracy that my sixteen-year-old daughter commented snarkily, “Oooh, look, Mom. It’s another conversation. Better write that down!” She will also tell you that for 18 months, as I buckled down writing and re-writing for what seemed like ad infinitum, I wore four outfits. And that included my p.j.s.
MCW: What do you hope people take away from your book?
Katherine: One reviewer said I succeeded in removing the stigma that comes with mental illness. I’m not sure that’s true, but I’m gonna take it. If Making Lemonade With Ben can hammer a dent in stigma, I’m thrilled. The sooner we all understand that mental illness is like physical illness, the better. Mental illness is nothing new, nothing to be ashamed about, is a global concern, and can be a killer – just like physical illness. We need to fund what works, for example Yahara House, Madison’s clubhouse model of mental illness treatment, support and recovery. Yahara House is all about “What I can!”

Making Lemonade With Ben is primarily a love story with multiple threads. In the 21st century, it’s way past time for stigma. We’re a nation of can-do fixers, but sometimes we can’t be fixed. Then empathy, understanding, and love are required.
Powerful good can happen when a community values all of her citizens through intentional employers and proper mental illness treatment and support. Ben’s life bears witness to that.

MCW: What kind of reactions have you gotten from readers?

Katherine: “Wow!” has frequently been the first word in feedback I’ve received from readers. People have been overwhelmingly appreciative, positive, and expressive – writing online reviews, tossing me stars on Amazon and Goodreads, and contacting me via my website and email. I am so delighted, because I didn’t know how the book would be received and now I don’t have to move to Canada. Although, this past winter, I thought I had.
People are shocked at how much they laugh while reading Making Lemonade With Ben. They expect to cry, given my subject matter, but are taken by surprise at my use of black, gray, and white humor. As one of my main coping strategies, I’ll use all the humor available in order to survive and thrive.
Many people struggling themselves with mental illness, chronic disability, or as a special needs family have contacted me to thank me for writing. As have those who love someone with those challenges. Because I am so vulnerable in the book, leaving myself feeling like Lady Godiva minus the hair, these words of thanks mean the world to me. One woman wrote that my words helped her clarify her own experiences so she could better explain herself to her therapist and family. It doesn’t get any better than that.
MCW:  What are you doing with your life and work now that Ben is an independent adult?
Katherine: I have been delighted to get back into the paid workforce. As a reporter for the Middleton Times Tribune, I revel in tooting the horns of my hometown folks. I also continue to lead a reminiscence writing class for women of a certain age, helping them write their life stories. Really, their stories should be high school required reading. And recently, I’ve upped my hours at WESLI, an English as a second language school on the square. As the behind-the-scenes administrative assistant, I deal in chalk and paper, oodles of paper, but these days I’ve added culling through thousands of international student files. Thirty-four years of students. Every time I finish reorganizing part of the alphabet, I do a jig and drag my co-workers to the cabinets to, “Behold the files!” (I work with a team of super women who always humor me.) Sometimes, as with the popular Korean last name, “Kim,” I take the liberty of dancing early. Took me days to get out of the “Kim”s.  
MCW:  Do you have another book project of any sort in the works?

Katherine: I still consider myself in AA – Authors Anonymous – in book recovery. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing. Mostly, I’ve been speechwriting. Recently, I keynoted the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County’s annual award dinner. It was a glorious evening. Libraries, faith communities, service organizations, bookstores, and medical and educational institutions have also invited me to speak. At the end of July, the UW Department of Psychiatry is hosting me as a guest lecturer. It is open to the public, I have been told. This year, Ben has committed to accompanying me, joining me in speaking. People find our presentation informative, inspirational, and humorous – of course, humorous.

I am also happy to visit book clubs. Although it’s always a bit disconcerting when I show up and introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Katherine,” and someone replies with feeling, “We knoooowww!” To contact me, people can email: makinglemonadewithben@gmail.com

Katherine Perreth's book, Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope won the Readers’ Favorite International Book Award for 2013 in the “Non-Fiction, Inspirational” category. The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your public library.

Please check out my interview with Ben next!


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Yoopers Get Recognition, eh...!

Whoohoo! We made it into the dictionary—the Miriam Webster Dictionary to be specific. Who are we? We are Da Yoopers! Natives and expats of the U.P., Michigan’s glorious Upper Peninsula.

It turns out the Urban Dictionary has recognized us since 2005.  
Yooper is a common term for residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is derived from the initials U.P. which is pronounced you-pee. U.P. stands for Upper Peninsula, as opposed to the lower peninsula of Michigan.”

Oh, yeah…our favorite refrain back in the—ahem—when I was in college was: “You pee, I pee, we all pee on the L.P.!” L.P., of course, meaning the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. If you are not familiar with Midwest geography, you might not have ever realized that Michigan is divided into two large peninsulas, connected by the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge.
Photo: Justin Billau

The Urban Dictionary goes on to say, “It is not a derogortory term. It is used mainly by residents of lower Michigan and Wisconsin.”  I don't know about that.  Personally, I’ve only ever heard native and expat Yoopers use the term to refer to ourselves. It’s a source of pride to find another Yooper anywhere in the world and be identified as such.

As for those that live below the Bridge? Well, they’re “trolls,” of course. No insult intended.

A few interesting fact about Michigan’s U.P.


  • Size: 16,542 square miles, more than a quarter of of the land area of the entire state

  • Bordered: on the north by Lake Superior, on the southeast by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and on the southwest by Wisconsin, which isn’t a lake except during flood season (1,700 miles of Great Lakes shoreline)

  • Climate: cold

  • Cuisine: pasties

  • Dialect: eh?

  • State Bird: the mosquito


  • Home to one of the world's largest living organisms, Armillaria gallica, better known as the Humongous Fungus, roughly 37 acres in size 



Say ya to da U.P., Eh!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Hero in My Eyes: Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action


I remember where I was when I first saw the “Breaking News” on my iPhone: there had been a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I was sitting in an elementary school classroom with a cadre of teachers—we were there to learn new strategies for teaching reading. 

I remember how my heart sank. I remember what it felt like to be a mom wondering how those moms—and dads—of the fallen Sandy Hook children could possibly cope with such broken hearts. I wondered how I could live in a country that lets massacres like the one at Sandy Hook happen, and Columbine, and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and all the countless other tragic places that shootings have happened.

Apparently another mom, in another city, had the same reaction.  But she turned her shock and horror into action. That mom is Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Shannon, who lives in the Indianapolis area, is a mother of five. A former communications executive for high powered companies, she was at the time of the Sandy Hook shootings a stay at home mom.

In a recent interview on the Katie Couric show, Shannon described how she started what would become a national grassroots movement by simply posting a page on Facebook.  I remember seeing that page when it had only several hundred likes. Now it has over 152,000 likes, and the non-profit organization Moms Demand Action has a webpage and chapters in every state of our nation.

And it turns out that determined Moms can have a very powerful voice.  When visiting the nation’s capitol building in Washington D.C. Shannon and her fellow Moms realized that when they had diaper bags and strollers in the hallways, legislators couldn’t get by without talking with them and listening to their concerns. “Stroller Jams” are now a strategic tool to get lawmakers and other stakeholders to listen.

When they learned that Starbucks had banned smoking outside their restaurants, but were allowing people to carry guns inside, the Moms mounted a successful campaign to pressure Starbucks to change their gun policy.

And more recently, the Moms’ voices were heard by Facebook, which agreed to block postings of gun sales that don’t require a background check and to block minors from seeing postings of gun sales. 

Shannon says she isn't out to take guns away from people; she supports the Second Amendment. But she is adamant that “with rights come responsibilities.”  There is an “epidemic of gun violence in this country,” she says. The stark statistic is that eight children and teens are shot and killed every single day. With this in mind, her goal is to change easy and unregulated access to guns with common sense laws.

But it’s not just Shannon’s fervor and organizational skills that make her a hero in my eyes. This woman and others in the organization have faced physical intimidation by armed bullies at rallies and when meeting in restaurants.  I guess you know you are making waves when the opposition turns out toting AK47s and rifles to face you down—you with your strollers and diaper bags.

For one minute after the Sandy Hook tragedy I thought that maybe this country was doomed. But now I know different.  Shannon Watts and more than a hundred and fifty thousand Moms have decided they will not live in a country filled with gun violence. And they do not plan to leave.  They plan to make change.

Check out Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. If you are a Mom, you might want to add your voice to theirs. And if you are not a Mom, but want common sense gun laws and an end to the epidemic of gun violence in America, I’m guessing they won’t turn you away. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Henry S. Miller's 2014 Happiness Calendar

The 2014 Happiness Calendar below came to my email in-box as a free blog post to promote the book The Serious Pursuit of Happiness by Henry S. Miller, a motivational speaker and consultant.  I did not write it.  But I like the concept of a monthly focus on emotional wellness. Mr. Miller proposes a strategy of daily goal setting; but even if we only attend to each of the monthly themes once or twice during that month--that could still take us a long way on the road to happiness and inner peace.  I offer it to you, my readers, to take from it what you will.

The 2014 Happiness Calendar
By Henry S. Miller, Author of The Serious Pursuit of Happiness
MorgueFile.com

Amp up the amount of happiness in your life each and every month of the year by intentionally focusing on 12 strategies that the science of happiness and well being has proven can increase your feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Even better: know that, if you add these actions to your life, your feelings of increased positive emotion can last for days, weeks, and even months!

If this is the year you decide to get serious about adding happiness that lasts to your life, here are 12 happiness strategies for 2014 and suggestions to make them work for you:

January:  A Month of Hope and Plans
The beginning of the year is traditionally about new years’ resolutions. This year, write one positive goal you have for the coming year down on your calendar each morning of each day of January. Also write your plan to make it a reality. Then, resolve that you will intentionally invest your time and energy to work on your resolutions during the year and to live a happier life by implementing these 12 happiness strategies – one each month.   

February:  A Month of Gratitude
Gratitude is the antidote to greed, envy, and jealously. We feel much happier when we are being grateful for what we have, rather than envious of what we don’t. Remember, no one has everything! This month, each night before going to bed, take a daily gratitude inventory. Write down three things you are grateful for about your life – your relationships, your work, your character, your family, your country, the world around you, your life. 

March:  A Month of Kindness
Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” And, if you look around, it’s still true today. This month, find one opportunity each and every day to perform some kind act for someone else – even the simplest act of holding a door open for another will do. And, each day, after your act of kindness, enjoy the feeling that, for at least one shining moment, you are the personification of all that is good about the human race.

April:  A Month of Optimism
Each day this month, be more conscious of your negative thoughts – if you have any. And every time you do, immediately “dispute” it by intentionally replacing the negative thought with a positive one. Do this each time you think a negative thought for a month, and notice how your thinking might change.

May:  A Month of Friendship
Close relationships are one of the longest-lasting of happiness-increasing strategies. But, sometimes, we take our friends for granted – or are “too busy” to see them. This month, at least one time per week, reach out to a friend and arrange to spend time with them. This can be as simple as a walk, a meal, coffee, drinks – whatever you choose. But find the time to visit with your friends face-to-face this month.

June:  A Month of Love
Traditionally, June is a month of weddings – and love is all around us. Each day this month, call, write, or email someone you love or care deeply about – one per day – and tell them how much they mean to you – and how happy you are that they are a part of your life – even if you haven’t been the best communicator up to now. Notice reactions – yours and theirs.  

July:  A Month of Spirituality
Studies have proven that people who have spirituality in their lives – whether it’s their own secular belief system, their own faith, or some organized religion – are happier. We don’t know if it’s because of the fellowship of a caring group of like-thinking folks, or the spiritual beliefs themselves. This month, make a conscious effort to spend some moments each day – perhaps during lunch – repeating to yourself at least one “prayer” or belief you hold.

August:  A Month of Health, Fitness, Skill
Summer is a great time to focus on increasing your health and fitness – and on using your skills and abilities to their max. This month, begin some daily fitness regimen (check with your doctor first if needed) – even if it’s only walking. In addition, make a list of your top skills, talents, and abilities and assess if you are using them to their fullest. If not, take one step per day to begin doing so.

September:  A Month of Contribution
Making a meaningful contribution to make the planet a better place is one of the longest-lasting, happiness-increasing strategies known. What are you contributing? This month is your chance to decide what difference you’d like to make in the world. Spend a few minutes each day at lunchtime and write down ideas about how you can make a positive difference in the world. At the end of the month, decide on a plan of action – and begin! The world needs you and your contribution!  

October:  A Month of Savoring
Fall is a season to enjoy the changing foliage in many parts of the world. Consciously spend at least five minutes each day focusing your attention exclusively on something of beauty outside – changing leaves, trees, clouds, sky – something. Five minutes of complete attention to savor the beauty of life around you – each day, every day.

November:  A Month of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a powerful, although a slightly more complicated, happiness strategy. We forgive others to make us feel better. This month, examine your life and see if there are any lingering resentments you are holding on to that are holding you back from joy. If so, do two things: First, write the apology letter you would have liked to have received from the person who has wronged you. Second, rise above your desire for revenge, and write your letter of forgiveness to them. No need to mail it, just recall the hurt or violation, write about your feelings. End the letter with your statement of forgiveness. Just this simple act of writing a forgiveness letter can often grant you freedom from your negative thoughts and give you increased happiness.

December:  A Month of Generosity
The end of the year is a time for giving – a time to donate your time, your money if you can, your skills, your positive energy, your attention – to others to help make their life a little better. Each day, find one opportunity to give something of yourself to help another – and notice your feelings.

In Conclusion
For the best results, remind yourself of each month’s happiness strategy by adding these topics to your calendar – every day of each month. Then, each day of the year, find creative ways to act on these strategies – and enjoy your reactions and your increased feelings of happiness. You’ll notice that these feelings will last far longer than the happiness you feel from just partaking of the pleasures of life – and will be more meaningful to you.

No matter what your situation, remain hopeful about increasing your happiness. The truth is that no one is ever out of the game when it comes to living a happier and more fulfilling life! As the months of this year unfold, continue all of the 12 strategies that work best for you. If you do, a year of happiness can be yours. 


About Henry S. Miller
Henry S. Miller is the author of The Serious Pursuit of Happiness:  Everything You Need to Know to Flourish and Thrive, and Inspiration for the Pursuit of Happiness:  Wisdom to Guide your Journey to a Better Life. He is also the creator of the online membership program Get SERIOUS About Your Happiness:  20 Transformational Tools for Turbulent Times. As President of The Henry Miller Group (www.millergroup.com), he is a speaker, trainer, and consultant helping organizations improve engagement, performance, and productivity specifically by increasing employee well being. In prior careers, Henry was a Senior Consultant for the Tom Peters Company training and coaching senior management teams worldwide in leadership and his initial career in corporate America was with IBM.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mystery Writer Christine DeSmet Doesn’t Fudge When it Come to Research

Set in a combination live bait and fudge shop in Wisconsin’s vacation wonderland, Door County, filled with quirky, likeable, and energetic characters, and…oh, did I mention?...mouth-watering!  That’s the new novel by Madison, Wisconsin author Christine DeSmet who decided to make her mark on the mystery writing world by whipping up a batch of fudge.  And not just any fudge.  Cinderella Pink Fudge.  Which, unfortunately, becomes a murder weapon in her newest book First-Degree Fudge.

Now, the interesting thing to me is how someone who admits upfront that she isn’t much of a cook and who doesn’t live in Door County can write such an awesome book about, well, fudge and living in Door County.  The key ingredient here, according to Christine is research. 

I had the opportunity to interview the author recently and here are some of Christine’s thoughts on how research can bring a book to life.  Oh, and yes! If you go to her book signings, she does bring fudge—homemade fudge. Murderously delicious fudge…

MCW:  What role does research play in the fiction you create?

Christine:  Research creates my stories. I start out a story with a sketchy outline, and I know in general what the story will contain, but then after I do research I find many, many new angles and facts that change or deepen my plot, characters, and setting. There are also many facts that go into writing fiction; you have to get the facts right. My protagonist in First-Degree Fudge (Book 1, The Door County Fudge Shop Mystery Series) for example, enjoys chemistry and science, though she has no college degree in science; she’s just fascinated by what makes the world run. But to write about fudge in a scientific way, I interviewed the head of research and development at DB Infusions Chocolates in Madison, Wis., for example, and watched their process of making chocolates. I asked questions about how to handle the “crystals” that make up chocolate. That crystallization information became a clue in my mystery plot.

MCW:  Do you enjoy doing research or is it just part of the job for you?

Christine: I love it because it’s like mining for gold and always finding nuggets. I feel rich and enriched by research. I actually get very nervous writing too much of a novel without doing research because I know I’m wasting my time and getting something wrong that I’ll have to change later. Story quality and character quality always go up when you do research. I’m constantly tinkering on my stories as a result of my research.

MCW:  What is the most amazing thing you learned or the most unique experience you have ever had doing research?

Christine:  There are many amazing things! One thing that’s amazing about Door County is that it has one of the largest populations of Belgian immigrants in the United States, and everybody in Door County has an opinion on what makes good boo-yah and beer. I also got to look inside a roadside church while there; I’d never done that before. Those tiny churches—big enough to hold two people maximum usually—dot the countryside in Door County. The local people are restoring them and creating bus tours in an effort to preserve the Belgian immigrant history.

Christine also told me that since starting her new mystery series, she has learned to make fudge. She experiments and tries out all her recipes—which are included in the back of her books—on people she trusts to give her honest feedback. And she hasn’t killed off any of her taste-testers yet. So if you are looking for a rollicking fun read, that tantalizes and intrigues, and you’d like some sweet recipes to tempt the taste buds, check out Christine DeSmet’s First-Degree Fudge, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in bookstores just about everywhere. 


A writing teacher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Christine’s first published novel, Spirit Lake, was an award-winning, best-selling novel for publisher Hard Shell Word Factory/Mundania Press. Also a short fiction writer, her humorous romantic mystery series set in Wisconsin appears in two volumes: Mischief in Moonstone and Men of Moonstone from Whiskey Creek Press as well as in several anthologies. First-Degree Fudge is the debut novel for her Door County Fudge Shop Mystery Series.

You can find out more about Christine at her website, Christine DeSmet: Author.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Glass Ocean by Lori Baker: a Review


Czech glass makers Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka were so taken by the ephemeral, translucent nature of marine invertebrates that they use the art of sculpted glass to capture the essence of these complex sea creatures.

American author Lori Baker was so taken by the story of the Blaschkas and their work creating glass replicas of underwater life that she used fiction and the art of the sculpted word to capture the essence of their complex 19th century lives.

Setting her book, The Glass Ocean, against the backdrop of Victorian England, a time of great discovery and exploration but also of upheaval both physical and emotional, Ms. Baker created characters as complex and ephemeral as the underwater creatures represented in glass by both the real and her fictional glass makers.

Told from the point of view of Carlotta Dell’oro, the daughter of glass maker Leonardo Dell’oro and the beautiful but egocentric and untouchable Clotilde Girard, who never stopped mourning the disappearance of her adventurer/collector father Felix Girard, The Glass Ocean is a study in character. 

Lori Baker’s prose is poetic, dreamlike, mesmerizing. A work of literary fiction, this is not a summer, read-at-the-beach kind of book by any means.  The narrative is dense, and what little dialogue there is is embedded in the narrative using italics rather than quotation marks to signify its presence. The first few pages captivated me. Then I began to wonder, can this author sustain the intensity of such a poetic style?  Can I sustain interest?  

In fact, Baker does sustain her intensity. And just about the time I started feeling antsy with the story, it took a right turn in terms of plot and I was captivated all over again.

I use the term story loosely here, as the Glass Ocean is not so much a story in the traditional sense, the way a mystery or romance novel might be plotted, but rather Baker’s is a study in character.  The glass in her Glass Ocean is a metaphor for the intricate fragility of her characters’ psyches.  It’s as if she spent the 330 plus pages sculpting her characters, much as the glass figurines in the story were sculpted.  

The Glass Ocean is not a book for everyone. Those who love literary fiction, who enjoy crafted writing, unique styles, complex and multi-layered characters will appreciate Baker's work.  But I recommend that anyone who loves to read give it a try, because even those who prefer more plot-driven stories may be surprised and find they can’t stop turning the pages.

Author Lori Baker has taught fiction writing, journalism, and composition at Brown University, Boston College, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.  She currently lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.  The Glass Ocean is available through Amazon.com and well as other online vendors and bookstores.


The glass works of Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka can be viewed in various locations on the Cornell University campus