Sunday, August 31, 2014

I had a great interview with a remarkable woman,

I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow indie author, whose story I utterly fell in love with. Merjjena Hemp took the brave step of writing her memoirs and even though I went to college with her I had no idea! Don't let the smiling face on the cover fool you, Beyond The Shadow of 3000 Pairs of Shoes is a unique story that will have you reaching for your Kleenex, and I'm not a cry-er.
As always my comments/questions will appear in black, while Merj's will be in pink.

Tell us a little about yourself.  Did you always want to be an author?  What brought you to writing?

I have not changed a whole lot since leaving my little village in the Philippines and having the opportunity to learn valuable lessons of courage, resilience, and personal responsibility from the runaways on the streets of Manila. They taught me not to be afraid to dream big, not to hesitate to aim high, and never allow anyone to stop you from thinking “huge.”
I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be an author but I knew at some point I would be sharing my experiences growing up from a dictatorial regime, street life, and the long journey with hopelessness, persistence, and survival.
What is your favorite book? How has it influenced your writing?

My favorite book is Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir. Her story of courage and resilience taught me not to be apologetic of who and what we are. Her story inspired me not to be embarrassed to share even the ugliest and the most unpleasant things that happened in our lives because those experiences can help rebuild ourselves as the strongest people that others may learn from.
The title of your book is "3000 Pairs of Shoes," for those that don't immediately get the reference can you provide some context?
I feel that even the younger generation grasps that 3000 Pairs of Shoes symbolize more than just the ridiculous number of shoes but something deeper and significant. To a large number of the Filipinos who suffered during the Marcos Regime, the shoes (owned by Mrs. Imelda Marcos) symbolize wealth, extravagance, elegance, beauty, as well as oppression, poverty, hunger, hopelessness, and the extremely long period of suffering endured by the Filipino people.
I write fiction, and as much as I see myself in my characters, I able still able to hide behind the fact that it is fiction, was it very hard for you to tell your story and put it all out there?  Why was it so important to tell your story?
The hardest part of writing my memoir is not so much the agony of re-living my story because I have shared my experiences already many times since joining the doctoral program. I was more afraid that it might be hard for my son and my husband to read it because I have never shared my story around them in great detail.
Even though my experiences were not extremely brutal and horrific as many people, particularly women and children, have experienced and those who are currently suffering due to different circumstances and conditions, I felt impelled to share my experiences to show gratitude and appreciation to those people (good and bad) who made me the person I am today.
Do you prefer e-books or paper books?
I do prefer e-books because I can store and carry them all in one tiny device. However, I will always buy paper books that have touched and moved me for personal collection as well as to give away as gifts to friends and family.
Why did you choose to self-publish? Are you looking for a publishing deal?  Any advice for authors looking to publish?
I don’t have a publishing deal but to be honest, I am not looking for one right now because I strongly believe that it’s only a matter of time before self-published authors get the due respect and recognition as authors with publishing deals and contracts with major publishing companies.
My advice for authors looking to publish is to consider what is important to them as well as do some research on both self and traditional publishing. Some of my colleagues still roll their eyes at me because I self-published my memoir. What do I say to them? Wake up, the world is changing…
What do you want people to take away from your memoirs?
I am going to repeat my personal message that I want people to take away from my memoir: Don’t be afraid to dream big, not to hesitate to aim high, and never allow anyone stop you from thinking “huge.”
Any other books in the works?  

I am currently completing the second book in the Beyond the Shadow series, Beyond the Shadow of September.

You can find Merjjena's memoir, Beyond The Shadow of 3000 Pairs of Shoes here. Download the Ebook today!


Want more Merj?

Her website is www.merjhemp.com and @merj on Twitter
Merjjena B. Hemp received her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with a Minor in Educational Learning Technologies at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She has a passion for helping women and children, advocacy organizations that are supporting the abused, homeless, and runaways.  As the spouse of a military veteran and an educator, she uses her background to engage different communities that include the military as well as the Arab Muslim communities in hard conversations about our lives in the post-9/11 era. She is currently completing her second book, Beyond the Shadow of September: Exploring the Multiple Perspectives of Arab Muslim Women’s Experiences in the Post-9/11 Era. She plans to return to the academic setting where she can utilize her experiences, strengths, enthusiasm, and commitment to educate and empower students, so they too can empower and advocate for others who are left and forgotten as she once was, living under the shadow of 3000 pairs of shoes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Review of True Story, Dying To Be Thin


Dying To Be Thin, reminded me of Go Ask Alice with the main character battling something just as terrifying as drugs; anorexia.  

When I read the description I was a bit wary about having to read about a twelve year old girl, I don't think that any of us want to go back to our preteen years, but Lola Blake- as always, created a character that you jointly felt sorry for but also wanted to see soar. Becky is your average twelve year old that is just trying to fit in after moving and starting at a new school, but things take a turn for the worst as she begins to indulge in her body image issues and the reader, through the form of diary entries, gets to watch her life spiral out of control as her thoughts become more and more motivated by 
food.  

The story is one that we have all heard before, but what was so gripping about Blake's take on it was how she made it seem so easy for an eating disorder to manifest.  I know that I read each "entry" and was amazed at how seamlessly Becky went from being a "normal kid," aware of her body, to a dieter to having an eating disorder.  This is definitely a book I will be recommending to my friends with teenaged daughters, because it's a message that has to be discussed and shared with our girls.

If you know a tween that may be struggling with their weight or their perception of themselves I definitely would recommend this book.  it's also just a great way to start the conversation with someone, and getting a gauge at where their head is, in terms of food and body image.  

Kuddos to Lola Blake, for poignantly and relateably bringing issues like media literacy, body image, and feminism to the forefront in the book that teens will actually want to read.

You can pick up your copy of Dying To Be Thin here.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To My Readers, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

Last night was the Book Release Party for Harlow Whittaker & The Apprentice. Unfortunately I didn't take any pics (minus the beautiful roses that a sweet friend brought me), I was too busy running around trying to make sure that I spoke with everyone in the room.  The biggest difference between this party and the ones that I had for the first Harlow Whittaker, was that this time, the majority of attendants had previously read my work.  To be surrounded by party goers that actually enjoyed the story that I had complied that had developed a relationship with the characters that it had dreamed up was overwhelming.  I have to say as scary as it was to put myself out there, to publish my trilogy it was all worth it.  

The success of being a published author, for me anyway, is not determined by the number of copies sold,or the amount of  royalties earned, but when someone says that they read your book and they hated when it ended.  It was a  conversation that began with those words, from the mouth of a twelve year old girl, that made me decide that I going to release the third book sooner.  (The amount of guilt that a twelve year old with big blue yes can have on you is INSANE-seriously it should be studied).  But I was truly touched by the people that came out and to the readers that have read over 600 pages of my writing and still want more.    

There was a moment where I was signing a copy of my book last night, and the pages were worn, there was a mystery stain on the cover, and the corners were curled up, the front cover had been creased, where it had been opened numerous times, and it made me feel so happy, to know that it had actually been read-loved.  It looked like the books that I devour, that have touched me, and made me long for more after the last sentence has been read.  Little things like that force me to live in the moment, to have a moment of pride, something I too often avoid.  

In terms of the party, it was a culmination of things for me, because it is the ending of summer, as school starts up for me next week, and I will resume teaching, but also it was the close of a world-wind of a summer and I have to say that if I survived the past three moths, and my children, and my dog are still alive, I have to say that i am proud of myself and what i have learned I can accomplish in such a short amount of time.  Cheers!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I'm Almost 30, What Have I Done With My Life?!

My birthday is less than a month away and taking advice from the great Rob Lowe it's a perfect time for me to take stock; figure out what I'm doing in my life and assess if I like where it's leading.

I'm a list and categories type of girl and so not surprisingly I sat down and started putting a list together of my accomplishments, that quickly failed. Here's why, life isn't that neat and predictable.  Sitting down and composing a list makes ones life seem overly simplistic and it minimalizes your achievements and your failures, two things that are equally important when it comes to learning and growth.

Not to mention, how does one label life events as simple failures and achievements in the first place? How does one decide what worked and what didn't? Doesn't everything teach us something even if the lesson is as simple as, "don't ever do that again"?

So taking stock and a failed list had led me to understand that life at 27 years old has once again shown me that as much as I've grown and changed I've equally stayed the same. I'm still ambitious and plan my life years in advance I still am learning how to relax and live in the moment (although my kids make that very easy). I still love food even though my passion has moved to me leaving processed foods behind for the most part and baking everything fresh. Teaching is still one of my favorite things, now I just teach adults and serve on a school board to get my fix rather than teaching Sunday school. Writing, service, and love are the major constants in my life, so I suppose in that respect I am quite happy where I am as I approach 28.

I'm open to what this year of life will bring, with my real estate license and a new book cooking on my PC, I'm ready.

Fellow September babies, or fellow almost 30's do you feel as though you're reaching some sort of crisis as your birthday approaches?  Have you "taken stock?"  What epiphanies did you experience?