Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Kate Inglis

Kate’s Shed Photography Workshop

I’m sitting in McDonald’s with my free morning coffee (some promotion for the last two weeks of September). Across from me is a sixty year old woman wearing a fall jacket. She has red hair that is too bright, and full lips. She is an attractive woman. Years ago, back in high school,  she was probably the girl everyone wanted to ask to the prom. She leans against the window and the morning sun is shining in, coloring the left side of her face with golden light. It’s a scene out of Renoir, if Renoir lived in Queens rather than the French Riviera.

I have an urge to take a photo of this woman, to capture the moment, but she seems alone in her thoughts, and my instinct tells me that it is inappropriate to take out my iPhone. I cannot explain to you why one moment feels right to take a photo and the other an invasion of privacy. I just feel it.

There is a slippery slope of morality in taking photos of strangers. I can give you arguments rationalizing the importance of street photography — historical record, artistic license, celebration of the city — but I don’t like to bullshit you.  For me, there is an element of escape to street photography, an unburdening of loneliness. Taking a photo makes me feel as if I am part of something bigger, a city in motion.

But the truth is I envy your photography online, especially that which is connected to your domestic life.   I wish I could have your wonderful subjects — such beautiful children, spouses, dogs, and houses.  I can think of nothing more thrilling than taking photos of my kids at a birthday party or my wife posing naked for me.   Street photography is impersonal and lacking in heart.

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My week in Nova Scotia was a magical one — the scenery, the music, the people, old friends and new, and even the cookies that Kate’s mom baked for the occasion. You can read about it on Kate’s own blog. Kate’s Shed brought me back to the first time I actually met Kate — back at our first BlogHer conference, before she had published her first book. It was a time when blogging conferences had intimacy to them, something now lost.

I have a hard time coming up with a narrative thread for an experience that contains so many threads — friendship, tourism, and learning, so I’ve decided to just pick the one moment that had the most impact on me, the experience that I still think about today.

It was my short time taking photos of C.

C was a participant at Kate’s Shed photography workshop, and I didn’t talk with her much.  Yet, one of the assignments on Saturday was to split into pairs and take portraits of each other. I was paired with C. I was insecure, as if I was going to be unmasked as a fraud.  Kate lent me her Canon DSLR, and I hated leaving the comfort zone of auto and the ease of a zoom lens.  I didn’t know whether to tell her that I had never used a DSLR until that day.   Even worse, the only way to make her comfortable enough and trust me to take her portrait was to, uh, TALK to her.

It’s difficult to judge the results, but I was happy with them.  I believe I “captured” something about the spirit in her heart, even if I can’t put my finger on what it is.   It didn’t happen immediately, but I didn’t rush it.   I took my time.   I moved her to a new location.   I coaxed her out of her discomfort.   I waited for the light to hit her.   I didn’t think of myself as an external camera, but as two people doing some sort of visual dance, and for a brief moment, this woman was the most beautiful and interesting women in the world to me, and I felt it.

It was an experience both professional and intimate. Street photography is hiding in the bushes. Portrait photography is engagement. And the result is a moment captured.

I doubt I will ever see C again. After the shoot, we didn’t bond in any special way.   Our special moment disappeared the minute the camera was off.   We continued on with the workshop as two relative strangers.  But there was something about that moment that changed my view of photography. And it had nothing to do with using the DSLR instead of a smartphone. It had to do with connecting with your camera, and with another person.  I had experienced something about photography that I had never felt before.   And I suppose that was the point of the workshop.

The Dread Crew and Skype Calls

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On Wednesday, I wrote about meeting Ms. Kate Inglis in Chicago during BlogHer.

Recently, I received her first novel, The Dread Crew:  Pirates of the Backwoods, in the mail.  I was quite surprised by the book’s appearance.   As you may recall, I had described Kate as one of those angelic-looking women surrounded by a constant glow.   So why was she writing about a band of dirty, smelly, and belching pirates?   Was this smudge-lover the same sweet woman I met in Chicago?

The Dread Crew is a “rollicking” pirate story for smart kids and adventurous adults about a very unusual band of hooligans in the Nova Scotia area of Canada.  These rowdy and rude pirates travel in a giant crumbling woodship that rumbles through the forest, destroying everything in sight as the group searches for junk.  Their lives are turned upside down when this mean-spirited bunch meet their most formidable nemesis yet — Grampa Joe, another junk collector, albeit a more successfully one, who wins clients over with his sunny disposition.   Before you know it, Grampa Joe becomes the teacher, showing the “pirates of the backwoods” a new approach to piracy, a “nicer” one.

The humor and sarcasm of Kate’s writing would have made this book a favorite of mine when I was a boy.   The tone reminded me of those oddball adventure books written by Roald Dahl.    “The Dread Crew” turns piracy on its head in unexpected ways.  Pirate unions?   Pirate junk-collectors?   Pirates roaming in the forest?!

This novel has a strong sense of place, that of the Maritime Canadian woods, and at first, it seems like a strange place for a “pirate story.”  On further research, I discovered that there is a whole tradition of Atlantic Canada pirate adventures, and clearly Kate is playing with — and against — this long tradition, even presenting her readers with a very modern environmental message underneath all of the “heap o’ splinters” and maggots in beards.

Some younger kids might need a bit of guidance with this book because the pirates are nontraditional.   Don’t expect the Pirates of Penzance/Pirates of the Carribbean type of pirates.   These are Canadian Pirates of the Backwoods!  Our friends up North do things differently.

After I finished the book, I gave it to my mother to read, hoping to share my enjoyment.   After she read a few pages, she came into my room, asking, “What kind of pirates are these?  They don’t go on the water?”  Luckily, the beautiful illustrations by Sydney Smith help clarify what the pirate “ship” looks like on land, and how it travels through the forest.   Once my mother “got it,” orienting herself to the time and location, she loved the novel as much as I did.

I love stories that go against the clichés, and this novel does just that.   These unique pirate characters make this young adult novel a special one.   Each character is quirky in his or her own way, and the illustrations are beautiful.  I read it in one sitting, admiring the clever dialogue between Grampa Joe and the pirates.

Kate is an amazing writer, particularly in her descriptive powers.  You can smell the lousy odor of the pirates in her words, and hear the burps of Captain, Hector the Wrecker Gristle, in the sentences.

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SPECIAL TREAT JUST FOR READERS OF CITIZEN OF THE MONTH!

Last night, I was able to get Kate to do an impromptu “interview” with me about her book.   One caveat — even though she is now a professional novelist now, I am NOT a professional interviewer.  This is less of an interview than a recording of our Skype conversation as some handyman was fixing the roof in her home.  The interview is fairly long.  I promised her that I would cut it down, but well… I lied.   Maybe next week when I have a chance.

(jeez, just listened to the recording.  I talk WAYYYY too much for an “interviewer.”  As usual, she sounds like an calm inspirational angel and I sound like an overbearing New York cab driver from 1940.  Try to skip me and just listen to her.  Also, the nonsense in the beginning was because I was confused over Kate’s last name.  Even though it is spelled Inglis, it is pronounced “Ingels.”)

Here is the unedited version of the conversation —

Part 1

Part 2

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If you want to learn more about “The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods” — or how to order it online, you can go to the book’s website.   Check it out.   It is gorgeous.

Meeting Kate

Tomorrow, I will writing a review of The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods, written by Kate Inglis, who blogs at Sweet l Salty. I wanted to use today’s post as a disclaimer, explaining to you how I got to be reading this book about Canadian pirates, as well as to assure you that that I did not receive any money or sexual favors in return for giving this blogger any special attention.

Basically, it is the story of how I met Kate.

But this is more than a story about one blogger. It is a tale about online relationships. I could write a post like this about so many of you. I’m the one always complaining about the lack of real contact online, and you are the ones always scolding me, insisting that relationships online are as valid as those in real life. So, if we are going to consider these virtual friendships as “real,” no matter how limited they are because of the great distances between us, what is wrong with retelling our stories of first encounters in the same way that we do those cherished stories of meeting a IRL buddy in that sixth grade gym class?

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Last spring, Sophia and I took a trip to Las Vegas. One night, we had dinner with BHJ, the talented writer/blogger, and his cool wife, Jenna. At the time, I was a little testy at this blogger because even though he had only been blogging for six months, he seemed to know every big-shot writer in the blogosphere. I noticed that my readers were attracted to his writing. There was a meme going around where you were supposed to list “the five bloggers you most want to have dinner with at a private party.” Let’s just say that I noticed that he received a lot of dinner offers while I wasn’t even invited to share a foot-long sandwich at Subway.

At dinner, we talked about blogging, much to the boredom of Jenna and Sophia.

“Do you know X,” he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“Have you ever chatted with Y?”

“Uh, no.”

“Have you read Kate at Sweet l Salty? Isn’t she great?”

“Who?” I asked.

“She’s Canadian.”

“Bleh.”

I had absolutely no interest in reading another Canadian. I already had plenty of Canadians on my blogroll, and I promised myself to only “Read American” from now on.

A week later, I caved in and read Kate’s blog. It was very well-written I particularly liked that she separated her ideas with “+++,” something I blatantly stole from her blog without her permission.

I left a comment on her blog. Days passed and there was no response.

“Bitch,” I muttered to myself.

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I knew this “type” of literary snob who never returned a comment. I was an English major. She was clearly the type of snooty priss who only dated the guys in the berets who wrote about “inner pain,” and wouldn’t be caught dead interacting with a guy who talks to his Penis.

I hated her.

I secretly read her blog a few more times, without commenting. I thought of becoming a troll, but I was afraid that she could follow my IP address back to Queens.

In August, I attended BlogHer. Kate was involved in a session with Kelly about “writing passionately.” Kate was an amazing speaker, and as she talked about the tragedy of losing a child, the entire audience was in tears. There was something different about this too-pretty, too-educated literary snob bitch. There was a white glow surrounding her, protecting her from evil, and she seemed to spread a message of goodness, reminiscent of the heavenly aura around the virginal Lady of the Lake as she rose from the deep to protect the young King Arthur. During this one hour session at BlogHer, I went from intense hate to wanting to be her BFF!

The next day, Amy and I were slated to do our own session on Storytelling. Unlike Kate’s heart-felt dialogue, our talk was filled with comic shtick and “story structure.” I wanted to scrap the entire script and rewrite it. I wanted to be as inspirational and honest as Kate was that morning.

During lunch, I saw Kate on the other side of banquet room, and decided to approach her. I was nervous. The lunch that day was sponsored by Ragu. The entrees were lasagna and spaghetti. The tables were decorated in the colors of the Italian flag. I had spilled some tomato sauce on my faux bowling shirt, so I walked with my hand to my heart, like Napoleon, trying to hide the stain.

“Hello,” I said to Kate, my voice wavering in fear, much as it did on the infamous afternoon when I tried to talk to Tammy Weingold in high school about pairing up for the math team together.

Kate and I stood directly under a huge plastic sculpture of a Ragu tomato sauce jar that was propped up on the lasagna table, next to a stack of coupons offering a free sample of Ragu’s new “Spicy and Hearty” sauce. I will never forget this giant Ragu jar for the rest of my life. This is where I had my first real conversation with Kate Inglis. The setting was as dramatic as when Humphrey Bogart said goodbye to Ingrid Bergman at the airport in Casablanca.

“I loved your session,” I said.

I told her how I was going to change my session, because it was “a superficial pile of shit compared to what you did.”

Kate sat me down in front of the giant tomato sauce jar and told me NOT to change the session. She said that in writing, structure is as important as passion.

“You can’t write a story without a beginning, middle, and end. I’m looking forward to being there!”

I could not believe that she was coming to our session!

She told me about this book she had just finished. She was about to enter the “promotion” part of getting a book out and self-promotion did not come easy to her. She had barely mentioned the book to anyone at BlogHer.

I related to this writer. I have a huge fear of self-promotion. On the other hand, pushing other shy folk into promotion mode is a great joy for me, as long as they are the ones suffering, not me. For the next two days, whenever I passed Kate in the hotel, I bugged the hell out of her.

“Tell people about your book!” I would say.

I grabbed strangers to tell them about Kate’s book, even though I wasn’t quite sure what the book was even about, or when it was coming out.

I grilled Kate with questions.

“Do you have a website for the book?” “Can I read it?” “Can I review it on my blog?”

I saw myself as her Mister Miyagi and she as my Karate Kid, even though in the real movie — Mister Miyagi actually had some KNOWLEDGE. I knew nothing about book promotion, but I knew Kate had to step up to the plate. She was an amazing, passionate writer – and I wanted this woman standing next to the Ragu jar with the halo around her head, this blogger who I once thought was a snooty bitch, to succeed.

Tomorrow: The Book Review

The Dread Crew Meme

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Long time readers of this blog know that I am too lazy to ever do a meme.   They are hard work!    Recently, Kate Inglis, who blogs at “Sweet / Salty” put up a meme on her blog as a promotion for her new book, “The Dread Crew.”   The fact that I am doing this meme should tell you a lot about what I think about her.    She is a special person, soon-to-be big-shot writer or not.  I met her at BlogHer and she glows with positive creative energy.

I should also admit that doing this meme has been useful for me, so I am glad to did it.   I’m realizing now, as I scan over my book list, that I need to get back into reading more books.  My book reading has thinned since I started blogging.  I can’t live on a diet of blog posts forever.

From the blog of Kate Inglis

Here we have it—a baker’s dozen meme all about storytelling and the stories of any genre that have impacted you. Post your answers in the comments on [Kate’s site] or on your own blog (link to the Dread Crew site and this post, and then share the link to your answers in the comments on [Kate’s site].

On Halloween Night, a random selection of five meme participants will win a copy of The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods signed by the author, and a spot in the reviewer’s circle on the author’s blog at kateinglis.com.   Now—go!

My answers —

1)  You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three.  It’s up to you. What do you choose?

This was a tough question.  There are so many literary tools and vehicles to choose from that would be incredibly useful on a journey — from magical swords to flying carpets.  But, as any real reader knows, these material objects are useless without the essential tool — a sidekick.  Would Frodo had made it a block out of the Shire without Sam at his side?  While our hero is pushing the journey forward, he needs someone who is supportive and loving nearby, someone will fight WITH him, and AGAINST  him, if necessary.  I would be lost on an amazing adventure if  I had to undertake it on by myself.    Soon, my brain would play tricks on me, stuck in my own head’s maze, fighting windmills rather than than true villains opposing me.  Like Don Quixote, I would need a Sancho Panza.  Sancho Panza is THE sidekick.  He would be witty, faithful, and would put up with me as I slowly go crazy.  That is more powerful than any magic sword.

2)  You can escape to the insides of any book. Where do you go, and why?

I think I might get a kick inhabiting the world of Henry James’ “The Portrait of a Lady.”  I can see myself as the uncultured American trying to fit into sophisticated European society, hoping to win the hand of the very hot and very wealthy Isabel Archer.  There would be a lot of gossip, mean-spirited cliques, class-consciousness, and back-stabbing in this nineteenth century world, and the whole culture would remind me of the blogosphere of today, so I would fit right in!

3)  You can bring one literary character into your current life. Who do you choose, and why?

Moses, and not because he spoke to God.  He seems like a cool guy, not pretentious, even with his famous contacts in Heaven.  This is a dude who went from zero to hero.   He didn’t start off as super-confident, but gradually he learned to kiss some ass.  I think he could help me get my life in gear because of his unique leadership ability.  Now that would be a corporate “bootcamp” that I would want to attend.  Also, imagine how impressive my Passover seder would be if I had Moses there in attendance!

4)  _________________ is my go-to book. I could read that book fifty-seven times in a row without a break for food or a pee and not be remotely bored. In fact I’ve already done that but it wasn’t fifty-seven times.  It was sixty-four.

Everyone’s  read Kafka’s Metamorphosis in school, right?   That shit is WEIRD!   I love this story.  I remember reading this book in high school and feeling my brain on fire.  WTF kind of story is THIS?!  I’m not sure I even liked it at first, but WOW.  And each time I read it, is a different story.  The first time it is creepy, and the next time it is funny.  I’ve even found it romantic.  Gregor Samsa rocks!

5)  Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most enviable?

I’m going to have to cheat here a bit in order for my answer to be honest.  Of all “literary” characters, Bugs Bunny made the greatest impact on my life.  When I was a child, I dreamed of being like Bugs Bunny.  He could talk his way out of any situation, and always came out the winner.  My prized stuffed animal was a giant Bugs Bunny.  He is still my model of the ultimate hipster.

6)  Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most frightening?

One day, I will need to discuss this book with a therapist, but I never liked Pinocchio.  He is the grandfather to characters like “Chucky,” and other puppets and dolls that come to life.  I don’t want my freakin’ puppets to come to life!  That’s scary!  Carlo Collodi’s Pinnochio (not the sanitized Disney version) was filled with images that creeped me out, especially when our puppet-boy hero is led astray and ends up on this sinful Pleasure Island where the “bad” boys are turned into donkeys.  What deranged mother reads this sicko book to her child?  This book traumatized me for life.  I’ve never admitted this to anyone before, online or off, but when I became a teenager, there were times that I would get certain thoughts in my head, and a part of my body, not my nose — but another part — would grow large like Pinocchio’s nose, and I would have to rush into the shower and take a freezing shower, or throw ice cubes down my shirt.  This malady has ruined my life.  I don’t know why this physical reaction happens to me (it still does!), but I’m figuring that I am still having severe traumatic side effects from reading Pinocchio.  I HATE Pinocchio.

7)  Every time I read _________________, I see something in it that I haven’t seen before.

I’m a big fan of stories told with a framing device, like “The Arabian Nights” and “The Canterbury Tales.”  My favorite is Boccaccio’s The Decameron.  In this book, a group of travelers escaping the Bubonic Plague sit around and tell stories.  The reason I always see something new here is that the stories are fused with esoteric Medieval, Christian, and Greek symbolism, so you are never quite sure what the story is about!   Is there a moral lesson?  What is it?   This book has been a great influence on my writing.   The Decameron contains  some wonderful pornographic tales, where nuns are f**king, etc., but it is supposed to be religious in metaphor.  My guess is that Boccaccio was just a horny guy, and pulling the wool over the Pope’s eyes.  This is one of those books were you can read porn and still carry the book around freely on a college campus, impressing the brainy chicks.

8)  It is imperative that _________________ be made into a movie. Now. I am already picketing Hollywood for this—but if they cast _________________ as _________________, I will not be happy. I will, however, be appeased if they cast _________________.

“Boy: Tales of Childhood,” the autobiography of Roald Dahl would make a fantastic film.  I LOVE the stories of Roald Dahl.   The book recounts his school days, and you can definitely see the writer in the making as Dahl explores life in Britain in the 1930s.  Cast an unknown.

9)  _________________ is a book that should never be made (or should have never been made) into a film.

Some day they WILL make “Catcher in the Rye” into a movie, and yes, it will suck.

10)  After all these years, the _________________ scene in the book/movie _________________ still manages to give me the queebs.

I cannot watch “Silence of the Lambs” anymore, or read books about horrific serial killers.  Too much for me.

11)  After all these years, the _________________ scene in the book/movie _________________ still manages to give me a thrill.

I still cry at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even thought I am making sarcastic comments in my head. What an effective manipulative piece of crap/artwork!  I have seen this movie a hundred times.  I love all of Frank Capra’s movies.   Another favorite is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”   I’m a sap.

12)  If I could corner the author _________________, here’s what I’d say to them one minute or less about their book, _________________:

If i were to corner newly published author Kate Inglis of The Dread Crew, I would say to her, “You look a little less glamorous in real life than you do on your book cover, where that wind machine is blowing your hair, but you are still a pretty hot babe.”

13)  The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is _________________. Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to _________________.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn blew me away.  The book is primarily about how changes of paradigms occur in science.  For example, how scientists slowly moved to a Copernican way of looking at the world, seeing the sun as center.   The book sounds dull, but it is so much more.   It is a classic.   It is about how our minds work and how we restructure our perspectives and thoughts.   Whenever I flip through the book, I want to get a PhD in experimental psychology.

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