The Black Cap Innovator 

Dan Pape is a mysterious fellow. When we first met at the NEPA Creative Writers Group, I’ll be honest—I was intimidated. His writing was visceral and powerful in a way I could only dream of mine being. I know I need to share his works with you.

A fan of Ghostbusters, beer, and hanging out with friends, Dan has countless facets to him. Getting a start in middle school as a writer, he’s dabbled with many genres: lyrics, novels, short stories, and poems (his main squeeze for now). Having recently entered the blogosphere, too, it’s certain his time to shine past the bounds of this region is nigh.

Dan’s enigmatic appeal is not only in his writing but in talking with him. One thing that is not obscured is his emotion captured in his works through his words. His allusions run from classical to modern, and even if you’re not sure of their references, you still feel what he wants to get across. And he challenges you to want to find out more.

Dan started writing recently on The Game Chateau’s blog, Rolling the Dice. A different approach to blogging, the site takes topics that all contributors for that quarter write to. Dan’s contribution, “Rapture,” is bittersweet and magnificent. His first piece of magical realism ready for the masses (in the vein of some of his favorite writers including Marquez and Borges) pulls the reader into the narrator’s raw, heart-rending world. The seeming brief romance of two young women ended abruptly from intolerance punches deep—and leaves you willingly wounded. He talks about this piece humbly, as he does about most of his writing, saying that he was concerned about taking a chance on writing from a woman’s perspective, and from another sexual identity’s perspective as well, but that in the end he wanted to do the characters justice.  He went on to add that he hoped his piece would, “[help] to put [a sensitive topic] out there by a voice you don’t expect it from,” and that hopefully his sincere treatment of the trauma involved in the story would help others see people who are “different” as not so different from the rest of us.

Dan doesn’t mind a bit of pain himself it would seem though. I had heard through mutual friends about his monstrous Master’s thesis pursuit of James Joyce. Having tried to read several of the author’s works (Finnegan’s Wake? Come on. That’s just jibberish…), I felt compelled to find out why Dan had chosen such a great, and complex author for his topic.

“I thought if I could pick it apart, maybe I can learn something about the craft [of writing]” he confesses. And what a pursuit it sounded like he was on. It involved a whole section of the library and special access to Joyce’s notes on his masterpiece Ulysses. Dan insists that the novel is “the most human thing I’ve ever read” and he appreciates its commentary on loss and the randomness of its topics just adds to its beauty.

The Joyce influence is clear in Pape’s works, whether it’s a story or his poetry. We discussed poetry as a genre while we were talking, too, and Dan had some spot-on insights. He feels it’s time for poetry to make a comeback—that it is a way for writers to attack all of the “poisonous stuff out there” though he admits that online rights are sketchy and unclear as to who owns what, and that that can be a downfall of fighting the powers that be with the written word. Still, he knows that if poetry can be taught well to younger generations—and not as some unreachable and opaque genre that no one can penetrate—that poems can push our culture forward and out of its seeming  recent complacency.

“Anyone can try poetry and with practice [they] can get pretty good at it,” he goes on to say, and his hope is mine:  that the intimacy and directness of poetry can get people to take notice.

Some Sage Advice

Not only poetry is accessible to all the would-be writers out there. Dan says writers should find a group to share their work with, and give feedback on others’ works in return. And then, he put it even more simply—in a list!

  1. Read great writers.

  2. Challenge yourself.

  3. Join groups to hone your craft.

  4. Meet other writers.

  5. Start submitting.

Just get out there and do what you have to do, in other words. And like Dan Pape says, “You’ll find something about it that’s lifelong. Don’t be afraid.”

And for the record, he wore the black cap long before Jim Halpert from The Office did.

Radiant Sister

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Writer, Sara Hubert

Seeing my writing friend, Sara Hubert, is like seeing a beautiful morning sunrise. Her shy, but quick smile and glow welcome and warm hearts all around. They are a beacon of the caring and creative light inside of her and her works.

Sara and I met recently to mull over many topics to do with her writing, but they all go back to her vivid imagination and her myriad talents in not only writing, but art as well.

 

Her Niches

“Weird Horror” was Sara’s response when I asked her to share what she called her writing style. It seems apropos, as the first story of hers I’d heard dealt with brownies overtaking a business (and we’re not talking desserts here, folks). She’s into writing about strange surprises that pop up when you’re expecting something completely different going in. And it keeps things interesting—not only in her written works, but in all of her artistic ventures.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s stick to the writing things first.

Sara says she began writing as a child—and that her mother has saved her early works. One she remembers writing was a tale of a camel salesman, complete with illustrations. Not really the weird horror one might see later, but it was a progression to get to that over time with scary movies and Stephen King novels working their way into her imagination.

She finds inspiration all over—in books, movies—and in her online wanderings. She keeps a folder on her computer with images and ideas for use in future works.  One example she knows is in the list of possibilities in a small mouse clinging to a Queen Anne’s Lace flower. She thinks he’s ready for her to write his adventures out—and says they’ll be weird ones, too.

Her works are not only weird horror though. Many times, they take a spiritual turn. Sometimes after meditating, she’ll be calm and centered enough to just let her mind take her where it will. Sara says, “You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you react. [That] makes you mindful. There are all sorts of paths possible from one incident.” And it seems, from talking with Sara, that that’s the whole idea—the journey of seeing where things end up.

But Sara’s interests go further still. She loves animals (and has multiple, adorable pets), she’s an artist with her own Etsy shop, and she is a painter. She hasn’t incorporated her art with many of her writings since the good old camel salesman, save the story of one of her pets of yore who inspired a Yule story for Sara’s mother entitled “Olaf the Yule Rat.” She hopes to turn it into a book. That’s a children’s story to watch for, certainly.

 

Another Writing Form

I wanted to talk to Sara about her storytelling skills with regard to role-playing tabletop games as well, as she runs the game “Unknown Armies” that all of her players (including me) jones for when we’re not playing. Effortlessly she leads us through 2024 as teenagers recruited to work for a Raccoon Corporation/Pentex sort of conglomerate that employs magically-gifted people for artifact investigations (among other morally questionable assignments along the way). It is a dark, weird, and sometimes horrific game that Sara doesn’t ever look nervous running. I asked her how she does it so easily. Nonchalantly she smiles and shares that while she has plotlines constructed in outlines of where she wants things to go, the process is really cooperative, depending on how we, the players, decide to adventure in her world—and that’s the challenge of it that she loves. This cooperative idea is really symbolic of Sara—she obviously cares for others and values all opinions, whether they’re her own or not, and it’s obvious she takes joy in finding how others will respond to things that come up in-game. And one of her other miracles of gaming that I’m a huge fan of, and am planning on using in my own writing, was used in character creation for the game. Instead of having us write a background story, as is usually the case in games like these, instead we were instructed to come up with a five song playlist that describes our character. It’s one of the best things I’ve had to do. Talk about making you think. That’s a Sara thing, too.

 

Moving Forward and Sage Advice

Sara’s main writing venture coming up is participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this November. She and her husband, Karl (watch for an article on him here sometime soon), will be competing with one another to produce books from their active, exciting brains. She’s still deciding where the novel will go, but looks forward to pushing herself, which is the advice she has for all aspiring or new writers. “Move out of your comfort zone,” she says. “If you want to write about something, go experience it. You might find something you really like doing. That’s good advice for life in general.” She’s so right—and she practices what she preaches.

Sara is a featured writer at “A Halloween Execution” hosted by Ink Writers Group at the Game Chateau in October where she and other featured writers will be sharing creepy writings of the season. Look for her, too, in Elle Hammond’s upcoming blog, “Rolling the Dice” as a contributor, also starting up later this month.

Sara’s got a lot of good things to say. You don’t want to miss them.

You said What?!: How to comment on social media while maintaining friendships and a healthy lifestyle.

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It can be demoralizing and frustrating to comment on a post that you have an opinion on. Sometimes, you can even get people to misinterpret what you said, assume that you meant something that you did not mean, or because they disagree with what you said, they go on to attack, insult, and demonize you for everyone else to see.  I know that this has caused me to take pause on many occasions and to decide not to post when I felt that public discourse was a great way to resolve a conflict between my friends on Facebook.  Even researched facts can cause an emotional reaction that will make your well-meaning post turn into something ugly.

So, what do we do?  Do we sit back and stay silent on things that we think are important?  Do we privately message our friends and asked them politely if they would you mind if we disagreed with them? Or do we let loose, and risk becoming king social media pariah? I don’t know about you, but none of these options sound very appealing to me.

Something that tends to work in face to face conversation could be a healthy solution to these sticky situations:  it is called active listening. Active listening is a way to begin in conversation was someone that allows them to teach you more about how they think and who they are. Active listening requires a few important steps in order to make it effective on social media.

1. Eliminate assumptions.

If you begin questions or comments with assumptions like “Do you just hate all animals?” you will immediately put the person you are asking about on the defense. When we are defensive, we are not ready to open up to someone. This will stop the active listening process before it even begins.

2. Charity is key.

My philosophy professor in my first year of college taught this principle to us when having a debate that I will never forget. It is infinitely useful in trying to really understand someone’s argument. Charity is when you assume that the person you are speaking with knows what they are talking about. You argue against the strongest position of their argument that you can. If you can exercise charity on social media, you will be listening for the most valuable position the person you are posting about has. This will allow you to wrestle with potentially difficult problems with your own world view. It will also give you a much better chance to change the mind of the person you are having a discussion with, as you will be able to speak to the most well-thought-out position they have.

3. Express interest in the person you are speaking with.

It is important to people to feel that you are interested in them. We respond well to people who see us as human beings who are intelligent and have something valuable to say. If the person you are commenting back and forth with is more similar to you are than you think is a good way to practice this principle. It will help build connections with the person that will allow you to gain credibility with them, which will be important if you plan to change their minds on any topics. Not just what they think about the current topic.

4. Ignore the hate.

This is probably one of the most obvious and difficult things to do on Twitter and Facebook. Often there will be people who agree with you who just want to spit venom at people who disagree with them. They clearly have not read this article. Stop. Breathe. Send them the link to this and wash your hands of their actions. There will be people who disagree with you. They will call you racist, a hippie, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant, hateful, and a host of other things. These are not arguments. Stick to the topic and asking questions, and these trolls will run out of fuel for their fires. You are not in control of others in the thread. But you are in control of how you react to irrelevant comments.

There are many other tips and tricks on how to stay healthy in the technological age we live in. I will be posting on them occasionally, and you can feel free to reach out to me with any other help you need on how to keep your friends in the age of social media etiquette. I hope you were actively listening!

A Man of Parts

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Featured writer, Alex Lotorto

 

Self-styled as fiction writer, activist, amateur historian, union member, and actor, Alex Lotorto does it all. We spent time together in the Electric City recently to talk about his novel, his plays and his philosophy.

Why Historical Fiction?

A history fan, Alex has always been fascinated by what happened in the past. Growing up in Pike County, stories of the Underground Railroad, the labor movement, and famous people passing through Pennsylvania have piqued his interest in the beginnings of Northeastern PA.

His novel in progress, The Deliverance of Charles Ball, touches on many of these historical occurrences, and builds on them with other issues and personages of the past. You’ll be surprised though—while the title references Mr. Ball (a former slave originally from Maryland who eventually made his way north to freedom) the protagonist of the book is Rachel, a young girl who lives with her sheep-herding family. When I asked why Alex had chosen a woman, he explained that he wanted history to be from a new perspective, and not the mostly male and autobiographical examples usually encountered in sources. His desire to give a new voice to history is refreshing and well-orchestrated. The novel begins in 1842—a pivotal year for Pennsylvania in many ways. Debtors’ prisons were banned in that year. The ban on slave catching was struck down, making Pennsylvania a sanctuary state no more—a similarity that makes one think of current immigration issues even today. But Rachel’s story and its parallels to today don’t stop there. Rachel and the town dwellers learn about Charles Ball’s plight through his writing and take on other conflicts of the day as well, such as labor unrest in the region and the question of the feasibility of utopia (with a guest appearance by Horace Greeley, who actually visited Pennsylvania around that time, and attempted a utopian socialist colony, Sylvania, near Shohola).

The three main topics of the work include these, according to Alex. In addition, in his work he wants to give the experience of the American slave, to show the plights of workers in the dawn of American capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, and to explore the treatment of women in this time period of national patriarchy. His narrator is written to have readers question, as she does, could people of these marginalized groups have been treated in a more humane way? Alex, through his characters, asserts that they could have, and that we need to be vigilant of these issues as history always comes back around again.

 

The Play’s the Thing

Novels aren’t Alex’s only genre. Acting and the theatre are in his blood, too.

After the Shots Were Fired—a play co-written by Alex in coordination with the mother/daughter duo of Margo and Marnie Azzarelli—is being performed throughout the area this fall. It tells the story of the Great Strike of 1877 in Scranton, featuring imaginations of several strikers in the riot that occurred on Lackawanna Avenue.

Alex has a screenplay in the works as well—and while a bit more light-hearted in nature, it still pulls from actual Commonwealth issues. Its working title is The Herd and it, too, focuses on Pennsylvania working heroes who save the rest of our citizens—this time not from coal bosses or slave catchers, rather the unfortunate villains are the State’s cervidae—the deer and elk.

To try to do it justice, Alex shared this summary of the trailer he envisions for the work:

A hunter, a bit hungover, is out on Opening Day of deer season. He drifts to sleep on his deer stand in the State Game Lands. Two does run by. He awakens—readied—and the buck is coming and faster than he expected. With no time to even grab his gun, the big-racked buck appears, honks, sniffs at the hunter, and then proceeds to charge right at him. Black out. Then, we hear a call from a worried wife telling the game warden about the hunter, her husband, who never made it home for dinner.

Not to give it all away, let’s just say the deer are not well, and a dark comedy in the vein of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Independence Day,” and “Snakes on a Plane” ensues.

Just remember—don’t feed the deer.

 

Parting Comments and Sage Advice

Alex’s enthusiasm in his work is contagious—I can’t wait to hear and see more from him. His passion is evident in all of his characters, and it’s clear that fiction is his strength. He knows this himself and says, “Fiction lets you do the things you couldn’t do in real life.” Who wouldn’t want to live it up like that?

Alex has advice for new local writers—get out there. Join a writer’s group such as NEPA Creative Writers or Ink and find all of the other writers in the area who are willing to help get you started and “talk up” your confidence. He says that they’ll give you the accountability you’ll need to continue. He states that writer should capitalize on the area itself, too. “NEPA is a great micro-laboratory for the human experience and existence,” and adds that there is “untold content” waiting to be written about from local history to current events in our region.

Alex truly has no shortage on storytelling and he wants to encourage others to take up the cause, too, because “there’s not a person anywhere who doesn’t have a good idea to share to help make the world better.”

Want to hear more from Alex Lotorto? See him in After the Shots Were Fired at Pittston’s Riverfest this month. He’s also a featured writer for the Writer’s Showcase at the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton at the end of September. He says don’t be shy about contacting him on Facebook or at the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) meetings at Café Sevda in Scranton the last Saturday morning of every month. He’ll be happy to help share ways he works to make Pennsylvania history—and more—accessible to all.

Upcoming events info:

Writer’s Showcase:  Fall Edition:  Saturday, September 30th from 7-9 p.m. at the Old Brick Theatre, located at 126 Market Street, Scranton, PA 18508.

 

My Purpose is Peace

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Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

I receive daily emails from a woman who has been a spiritual seeker and leader for years now. She has followed and studied under don Miguel Ruiz, writer of the Four Agreements. Whatever the subject of the daily reminder, I find it relevant and always timely with what is happening in my world. One of this week’s reminders was no exception. She wrote about having a life’s purpose, and how it is that we know what our purpose is. She invited readers to think about one word that they would choose to best describe their overall purpose in life, and in the world.

I thought about it for quite some time. At first, I thought of words that are often in my daily lessons: Forgiveness. Love. Inspiration. Yet, the one that came to me, that makes the most sense, is Peace. Peace is my Purpose.

From my perspective, if I do not start from a peaceful center, the rest of what I will encounter and experience makes no difference. I will either be judging it, resenting it, avoiding it, embracing it, depending on where my mood scale is. If I am in fear, then I will most definitely choose judgment and being a victim more consistently. Even though I encounter feelings of fear frequently on most days, I know that I always have another choice: I always have the choice to come back to a Peaceful center within myself.

Choosing Peace is not always easy. I have been experiencing some interesting, drastic changes in some of my relationships, particularly with members of my family. Changes to the structure more than anything. And, I have at times, felt very dramatic, upset, depressed, tearful and discouraged about them. I even have embraced being the Victim to the “circumstances” around me that are “out of my control.” However, in the last few months, I have consciously and deliberately chosen to get off the Drama Rollercoaster, and instead, embrace Peace that is always with me.

We all have the ability to choose it, but we just forget. The more gentle and forgiving that we can be with ourselves, about our not remembering, the more loving that is. I am not perfect, and I no longer strive for perfection (most of the time anyway!). However, if I focus on what makes me feel really good, then I choose differently than when I want chaos or discouragement.

When I begin with a purpose of Peace, everything else falls into place. My day is more fulfilling and joyful, my surroundings are pleasing no matter what is happening, and I am willing to accept the world around me just as it is, without expectation and room for disappointment or judgment. When I begin with Peace, everything is a gift.

A gift that I want to consciously keep giving myself, every day.

15 Seconds of Art: Melissa Short

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Oil painting by Melissa Short

This week’s featured artist is Melissa Short, a uniquely talented artist from Northeast, PA. After recently graduating from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Music Business Administration and Technology, she started a job in the radio industry with Bold Gold Media. Art has always been a large part of her life. Melissa grew up as a musician and has always been introduced as a musician. In search of more inspiration and a doorway back to her musical roots, she began experimenting with her grandmothers oil paints. While performing and listening to music, Melissa experiences colors, shapes, and textures in her mind. This neurological phenomenon is called synesthesia. Synesthesia is the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway which leads to the automatic, involuntary experience of a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Something that started as an outlet very quickly became a passion: “painting music.” Melissa’s primary goal is to show others, the beauty she experiences in music through her interpretation of each song on canvas.

You can check out Melissa’s work on her Instagram page or Instagram at Thirty-Third Wheel

*Also, you can find Melissa’s work on her Facebook page or her website.

If you are in the Scranton area, here are Melissa’s vending dates and the Fringe Exhibition details:
If you would like to be featured in our column, “15 Seconds of Art,” send us a message on our Instagram page. We would like for you to write a short bio about yourself and send us the photos of your work you would like posted. Or you can fill out this form below:

 

Finally Moving

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Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Today’s featured song is “Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights on the album, Taking up Your Precious Time.

 

“No one could give your life back: You have to take it back.”—Matthew Murdock

It is my time to start a new. People say Fall is the death of things when I believe it is the beginning.  I believe there are no coincidences: there is a reason for everything. Right after I made my last post, I got a phone call about a job opportunity, something bigger, something that will alter me forever. I will be teaching in the way I want. If I no longer have this job, it will not destroy who I am. I know this is my path that I have written.

No matter what, I cannot go back.

I am “finally moving” forward.

One of my Psychology students told me his goal was “to be a better writer.” It shouldn’t be surprising, but I never heard a Psych student come out and clearly say that before. It almost seemed like I was meant to be there.

He said he looked back on his writing over the years and said how he has improved. It made me think about my writing and how I need to send it to publications, how I improved over time, how I need to write an ending to the sixty-page novel I started. Most importantly, I need to stop letting people tell me who I am and what I cannot do. I will persevere.

Maybe I am just imagining things, but do you ever feel like everything sucks and then all of the sudden something goes right? Or just life changes so much in so little time that you don’t think twice if you made the right decisions? Or you just don’t care?

I have been telling myself this mantra lately:

 

I will focus on the present, not the past or future.

I will no longer hold on to anger, but channel it into healing and gaining strength.

I will no longer think of cannot be, but of what I can make it become.

 

You may not be physically moving somewhere, but you can mentally move somewhere else. Maybe going somewhere else can help you “move on,” but you can be open to the experiences that come with it, to literally see the bigger picture. I may not be ready to physically leave, but I know I can if I have to. I had to leave a lot of things behind, but for the better.

You can, too. Have faith.

 

Yours truly,

 

A. Dawn

 

If you would like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify:  <a href=”https://open.spotify.com/user/thirtythirdwheel/playlist/1AY3MCl1GDEPm7N5uWbBCU”>thirtythirdwheel</a&gt;