Any day is a good day to profess affection… so—I admit—I’m in love. With books written by today’s guest! So, there’s this character named Elouise Norton who has captured my heart! Why? Because she’s so human… It’s like I know her.
I’m stoked that I got to interview her creator during a visit to Los Angeles!
Critically acclaimed crime fiction writer Rachel Howzell Hall is the author of several books, including the Lou Norton series, and another title They All Fall Down, which will be released on April 9.
We discuss a range of things from her origins as a writer, how she can explores through her characters, the dualities and unexpected realities of her page people—her characters, and more!
Take a listen to Rachel Howzell Hall on Planet Noun Episode 15!
Part 1—00:00-08:10 Where it all started
Part 1a—08:16-17:07 How a character, Detective Elouise Norton, was a tutor to Howzell Hall
Part 2—17:04-29:02 Characters you don’t expect… dualities and unexpected realities.
Part 3—29:05-36:20 Rachel’s journey toward crime fiction
Part 4—36:28-42:37 Reconciling characters and subject matter with a churchy upbringing
Part 5—42:40-end Most gratifying moments as an author, and maximizing her time as an author who also has a family and a full time job
Rare/Pam keeps a constant stream of writing activities on her docket.
“I have a cookbook coming, too, as soon as I learn how to measure,” she tells Planet Noun. “I’m a classic Southern cook. I don’t measure anything. I just sprinkle ’till the spirit of my ancestors say ‘Enough my child.’”
She’s also working on a poetic autobiography and a second book of erotic poetry. Her projects include a collection titled “Think.”
“It’s funny, because the main script for think was done before Soul Kisses was done. I just never released [it]. And I figured there’s a reason for that, so I gotta go back through and try to look through it and figure out what’s going on [with] “Think.”
That project, Rare says, is built on a series of writing challenges.
“I specifically ask people, when I don’t feel like I’m writing enough, I’ll ask for challenges. So it can be a word challenge. Give me 10 words, and I’ll take those 10 words and…build a piece around these 10 words. Or I’ll say give me a song. And I’ll write a poem based on how the song makes me feel, or the story of the song, where it takes me. It can [also] be a quote–something to kind of push a poem out, and that is how a lot of Soul Kisses was written,” Rare adds.
I”m always working on some project or another. And then I’ll get pulled into another project, and then I’ll get pulled into another project. And sometimes I just need a breather from something like the autobiography,” Rare says, which is psychologically taxing project because it delves into her entire history, which includes being sexually abused as a young girl.
When her pen needs break, she opts for happier writing projects.
“Let me write about rainbows and unicorns and stuff. Feel good about life,” she muses.
(FROM WHERE I SIT)—Good Lord, the papers have sprouted feet and are taking over because they want to be recycled. This latest rebellion is underway because I’ve been holding things up for way too long. But I persist, because the end results will be worth it.
Gratefully ditching clothes that didn’t bring me joy wasn’t nearly as hard as getting rid of these clingy papers. It’s been a trudge. Kinda-sorta. Deciding what to keep and what to toss wasn’t that difficult. Now, there’s so much stuff to shred. If only the pile could rip itself to pieces. Yesterday. But as it’s taken me years to accumulate all this shite, it’ll take at least a smidgen of time to get this foolishness back under control.
Such a slow roll. But shredder wheels keep on turning, proud Lizzy keep on burning. I’m encouraged to don’t stop, get-it get-it because there’ll be time enough for resting when the shredding’s done.
Part of my KonMarie possessions laxative includes purging through all papers and only keeping the ones that bring joy. Of course, as The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up says there are always very necessary papers that must stay, no matter how much they dull the senses. Necessary is necessary.
Some paper goods I’ve considered for the rubbish pile: Treats from students during my teaching days. Every now and then, parents and students blessed me with holiday gifts: Things like a journal, a tile decorated with a little boy’s artwork, a Christmas card made from construction paper, a sporty skirt and top that I wore for a long while before I gave them away. Of all those kind treasures, I still have the journal and use it to jot down recipes. I also have the decorated tile, homemade card, and a different skirt that I still wear during the fall and winter months.
These things still bring me joy. Even the oversized construction-paper card with first-grader penmanship wishing me a Merry Christmas. I’ll keep them until I can’t keep ’em anymore. Some bring back such wonderful memories. And I’ll treasure them… …. …… …….. .. . always.
Now, back to the other papers. Part of me wants to find a beach bonfire and introduce them to the flames. Another part of me wants to bake them to a crisp inside the stove, crumble them and use them to fertilize some plant. All of me wants them gone.
Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. That’s what keeps me from tossing everything out the window. That, and not wanting to catch a littering charge.
Papers are an itch-bay. They’re all up in everything like sand after a sandstorm. Not like I’ve been in a sandstorm… But I’ve been stormed by paper for many evers. That has to change.
Even though I’ve tidied through other possession categories, which you’ll read about as I stumble through this process, I’m still struggling to ditch the papers because my shredder is broke-down and sorry. No, not broken down… broke down. I rode that thing too hard, and it’s trying to quit on me. Another one I have is too dang loud. I swear if I ran that one too long, it would wake the dead. I’ve been looking for local shredding events, but it seems I missed them earlier this spring. Oh well.
So, according to Marie Kondo, papers should be the first thing to go. I see why. But in my tidying, they’re going to be the first AND last things to go. That has me scared, because according to the KonMarie method, if you don’t follow her ways perfectly, you’re doomed to failure. [NOTE: Kinda felt like being at some churches.] I hope that’s not the case. I know that’s not the case, because this one here (points to self) ain’t going back down that road of clenching and holding on to stuff that doesn’t make her happy or isn’t totally necessary). No, sir. No-sireee-Bob (who’s Bob?) Nawsuh. Nunnnt-uhhh.
According to KonMarie, paper includes books. At first, I thought it only meant the bags and boxes of foolishness I’d been keeping for YEARS with plans to file, but just never got around to it.
Now I have one.
Corny, I know. But no more excuses.
So here’s something else that’s helping me get my paper -ish together. I refused to purchase any more stuff to organize my life. What purpose would it serve to buy more organizers? This one here (points to self) already had all she needed and hadn’t yet put to use.
Trays to organize papers before filing? Yup.
A personal, physical “in” box that took everything in but never put out? Got it.
Adorable Ikea organizers? Got-em! These Skubb organizers are inexpensive, well-loved (by me) and well-used. Not the most fancy-schmancy, but they get the job done. If ever get more organizers it would be these exact ones or something like them. So versatile. And foldable. If I don’t need them, there’s a zipper on the bottom which makes them easy to break down and store without taking up goo-gobs of space.
Since I’m ditching stuff, it doesn’t make one iota of sense to go collecting more organizers before I’m through getting rid what I don’t need. Instead, I’m choosing to release stuff that doesn’t bring joy and will to use organizers I already have to tidy what I still want to keep. And if I have leftover organizers, those may have to say hello to Salvation Army or any good friend who could use them.
Book ‘em Liz-o
Can I tell you how many books I hauled outta here?
Nope, because I didn’t count them. But it was several boxes and plastic containers full. Some were hauled to a local used bookstore where I could exchange for cash or credit. I’m sure some bibliophile somewhere already knows this, but opting for store credit gets you more value than cash. Since I was looking to get rid of stuff, it didn’t make sense to take store credit and welcome more books into my life while choosing to keep ones that I still wanted to read, but hadn’t since I didn’t have a precious Tuit.
For me, it was wiser to take the value cut and keep the cash.
Now, I have a tall bookcase full and one plastic container of books that I haven’t yet put back on my other smaller bookcases. I’m thinking about giving these things another go-through. Some may not make the next cut. My gut tells me the volumes I really need and will use can fit on the one tall case. All others can visit via electronic means, and if I crave the more intimate feel of pages on fingers…there’s always the local library.
Person: Martin Greenfield; Maximilian Grunfeld Thing: This book—Measure of a Man; a well made suit Place: Pavlovo, Czechoslovakia; Concentration camps—Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald, Baltimore, Brooklyn… Various locales. Idea: Grace makes an improbable life wonderfully possible.
Martin’s life started in Czechoslovakia. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, but Martin says their faith wasn’t especially zealous. Life was good. They worked their own farm, took care of their livestock and even employed workers.
Then the trains arrived… and scuttled Martin’s family away. His mom, baby brother, younger sister and grandparents were sent in one direction. His other sister—taken away as well.
And then there were two. Martin and his dad. But they, too, were separated.
Martin never saw them again.
He survived Auschwitz, brutal marches through the snow, and Buchenwald, which is where Americans liberated them.
Martin’s main question through the succession of atrocities: “Where was God?”
His life took a few twists and turns after liberation–a stint in the Czech army, making a living as a cigarette runner, and meeting young ladies and having fun.
Martin was working as an auto mechanic when a letter arrived from the United States. He got someone to translate it, and learned he had extended family across the Atlantic.
Eventually, he settled in Brooklyn, worked for the suit maker GGG, a company with a client roster that included many high-profile Hollywood names.
Martin married, worked his way up the GGG ladder, and eventually purchased the company and re-named it.
Some have said Martin’s top-notch, made to measure suits are the best in the world. Repeat clients include U.S. presidents, Hollywood stars, athletes, and late night TV hosts.
Martin, whose family was almost decimated by hate, now runs the business with his sons. He notes how grace afforded the opportunity to create another family to love and nurture. Though there were MANY opportunities for death to smother him during World War II, it wasn’t able to snuff his existence.
After decades of hard work, opportunity, and success, and a bar mitzvah at age 80, Martin says he’s “left with nothing but gratitude for my life. Some things, it turns out, are beyond measure.”
Person: Arianna Huffington Places: A lot of ‘em Thing: Sweet sleep… and a book, Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time Idea: Get some. More than just some. Huffington says get plenty.
Let’s just sum up this book in one command: Go to sleep, d@mmit. Of course there are variations, such as a get more sleep, dammit… Or get better quality sleep, d@mmit… But it all boils down to making the most of our sleeping hours not only to rejuvenate and recharge each night, but to also connect with our inner selves, our subconscious through dreams.
Huffington culls all sorts of research on sleep, From ancient sleep traditions and mindsets that include holding sleep as sacred, to modern conceptions that catching some ZZZZZZs is a an annoyance that prevents folks from getting “things” done, whatever those things might be. Human beings need, need, need sleep to be more productive at work and play, to improve our relationships, and to maintain or improve health.
There’s even an entire section on how to bulk up our sleep lives by adjusting relationships with our mobile devices, with room temperatures at bedtime, and even adjusting our relationship with exercise and diet to aid in getting better quality sleep each night. Huffington even discusses natural remedies for folks who are having trouble getting to sleep.
For fashionistas, there’s also a way to dress for beddy-bye time. Yes, it’s there. If you choose to jump ahead in the book, it’s called “The Bedtime Dress Code: What to Wear, What Not to Wear.” Don’t expect E!-style red carpet fashion reviews, but the tips definitely work for the subject matter.
Sleep Revolution is a recommended book… Because it’s both informative and an easy read. Hell, after reading this book, I think maybe the world would be a better place if people slept more. We should all take advice from a book written for frustrated and possibly sleep-deprived parents…and “Go the F*ck to Sleep.”
Person: Julia Duin Thing: Book—Quitting Church Place: Various Idea: Once adherent congregants are ditching their churches. Whether they’re fleeing in droves or trickling one member at a time, the attrition is noticeable. But those who leave aren’t necessarily ditching their faith. So what’s the deal?
In this book, Duin breaks down some reasons God-fearing and God-loving folks are finding a more comfortable home outside church structures and strictures.
In short, the faithful pack their belief and find spiritual solace elsewhere because the church is:
• Irrelevant and not addressing 21st century needs.
• Not a teeming and supportive community that folks need.
• Not concerned about singles over 35 years of age outside of how those unattached individuals can serve the church.
• The teaching is too basic and doesn’t stretch the mind. Some need basic biblical teaching, but that doesn’t encompass everyone’s needs. And what about tough areas of ambiguity? What about questions with no easy, pithy answers?
• Some churches are strangled by controlling pastors.
• And although women make large, large swaths of church membership, their leadership presence is glaringly absent… and in some cases, glaringly stifled into second-class status.
• Some can’t find that passionate spirit they so long for within a church body.
I think this book brings up some interesting points. Some I relate to more than others, as a once-weekly attendee who now finds a growing comfort with regular, but decreased frequency.
I recommend this book for anyone who is frustrated with the church experience and anyone who just wants to know they’re not alone. As for help fixing what’s broken, that’s an individual decision. Maybe you’ll find solace in leaving your church, or inspiration to tinker about and repair what’s broken in your local congregation—or even your denomination. If you’re not religious at all, ignore this recommendation and continue being kind to your neighbor… Amen.
Person: Peter Enns Place: The mind Thing: Book – The Sin of Certainty Idea: A bunch of Christians might get sad reading this book. Maybe they’ll weep or get steaming mad and gnash their teeth. According to Enns, the rock-solid certainty many segments of Christianity seek—is a sin. Clutch your church pearls, your beads and your prayer cloths folks, and I’ll explain what he says:
Faith has nothing to do with knowing rules and tenets of what you believe. Faith is about actual trust in God. It’s also about distinguishing between knowing doctrine and trusting the God of whatever denomination to which you adhere. Enns says separating the two is key to a deeper, abiding Christian faith experience.
Christians seem certain about everything. What happens when people die, how the world developed, how the world will end. But with so many denominations and interpretations of scripture, someone’s certainty is certainly faulty. Doubt is cast as an enemy to be avoided… and vanquished if it pops up anywhere. Peter Enns writes that doubt isn’t the enemy a Christian should fear. Doubt is something to be faced head on… not as a warrior, but an explorer. Doubt’s pain and uncertainty, if explored, can be a means to develop trust. (I imagine trusting God is the entire point of being a Christian…)
Ditching certainty at all costs can unsettle and challenge faith… It’s a lack of certainty that can make a person cut and run or stand firm (or curl up in a writhing ball) and insist “ I’m going to trust God anyway.” THAT seems more demonstrative of faith than running down a list of creeds. It’s certainly more Christian than shafting and bad-mouthing fellow believers who dare rethink faith as something bigger than reciting fundamental beliefs. But maybe that’s too much of a challenge to some Christian communities. Knowing what you believe is nice (Enns insists knowing those beliefs is not a sin) but it’s never, ever better than trusting God in all matters… even the ones that seem counterintuitive, stupid and senseless. Doubt forces us to look deeper then our tenets and find, define, and refine a relationship with the divine through difficult moments.
Ends insists God is still God, even if and when we get pissed off at Him… or Her… (or Him/Her). Enns challenges readers not to fake like all is good when we’re mad at God. Just be mad, but work through the mess to find a closer, trusting connection with God. Trust is a habit you won’t find in a doctrine book. Folks just have to live it because (as the books subtitle says) “God desires our trust more than our beliefs.”
This is a highly recommended book because:
It’s controversial… I imagine this might ruffle some stuffy fundamentalist feathers (and I say this as a Christian).
It’s also a fun and thought-provoking read that might make someone reconsider another aspect of what it means to “have faith.”
Person: Tom Brokaw Place: South Dakota, New York, the television news anchor’s chair and other worldly locales Thing: Book-A Lucky Life Interrupted Idea: You’ve probably seen the hashtags. Cancer sucks. It can upend any life–from the most forward-propelled to the most brackish and stagnant. In the case of legendary former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, his existence-up until his multiple myeloma diagnosis- had been pretty idyllic-with a couple of bumps along the way–namely, early adult life lessons that got him on the right track.
Brokaw’s career path led to one of the most trusted positions in the country… That of network evening news anchor. It’s a position of public trust. Not exactly the same as government workers, law enforcement professionals or teachers, but as a nightly cornerstone of the Fourth Estate, it is a position where credibility is of utmost importance.
Then MM wormed its way into his life, and the lives of his family members. But like a lot of forceful experiences, there can be helpful lessons learned. Those lessons could possibly translate into advice to pay forward to the next group of everyday people who get to don the unwanted cloak of cancer warrior. Brokaw also wrote about fellow MM and other cancer sufferers who succumbed to the disease, while weaving in the end days of one of his brothers, whose memories and life were erased… swept away by Alzheimer’s disease.
This, Brokaw’s seventh book, is a memoir of his arduous journey through it all… a rundown of his daily battle-not against an outside invader-but his body’s reaction against itself.
Yes, he is the main focus of his ups and downs during this time, but readers can get warm and gratitude-filled glimpses into the work, time, care and advocacy “Team Brokaw” pitched in during his trudge toward recovery. A difficult trek that Brokaw admits isn’t a forever guarantee of wellness henceforth.
Even with 16 months of chemo, powerful pill combinations and other treatments to redirect his body toward normal, this is a gratitude-laced read. Brokaw still maintains his is a lovely life.
Person: Steve Harvey
Thing: Book—Think Like a Man; Act Like a Lady
Place: The dating world
Idea: When it comes to dating, heterosexual women just need to give up. Not on men, but give up on hoping and praying men will “act right.” Often times, “acting right” means men should start acting like the dudes in a woman’s fantasy land.. which can be her mind.
Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. That’s the word according to Steve Harvey.
In this book, which is an easy and pleasant read, Harvey insists men are simple creatures. If women learned about and accepted what drives men, and how their ways of expressing love are different from the ways women tend to show love, things could be better in that arena.
But women need to accept the differences.
This book, when distilled to its essence, is a handy checklist of things to remember while navigating romantic relationships.
If a man loves you, he’ll profess it, provide for you, and protect you. And Harvey says a man only needs three things from a woman he loves: Your support, loyalty, and “the cookie” (yet another way to say “good lovin’” or sexual healing).
Just don’t expect him to engage you like your girlfriends do.
He ain’t them.
If you want one man’s perspective, and a funny one at that, pick up this book. Take or leave his advice, but (IMHO) there’s something to be said about taking advice about men… from a man.