Where to Find Me These Days: Of Love + Light

Hello awesome writercizers!

I hope you are well, and continuing to write and engage in creative pursuits. I can't believe it's been nearly four years since I last posted here... 

I'll keep this quick! As our lives evolve, sometimes we dive deeper into a niche, and other times we expand. I've been expanding as of late, into all things creative. I'm still writing, but what I'd really love to share today is my newest creation: Of Love + Light

Of Love + Light is a place for uplifting media, creative inspiration, art, nifty creative publications, and storytelling. I also offer editing, creativity coaching, and small business communications planning services. 

My vision is that Of Love + Light will be a place to visit, relax, feel inspired and loved, and share more of what’s good on this beautiful planet. It is early in the creative stage, but I see wonderful opportunities for growth and community. And there will be Weekly Creativity Challenges, that can be interpreted in many ways, from the written word to music to art to food... however you express your creativity!

Please stop by and say hello! I started posting at the beginning of this month, spurred by the awesome A to Z Challenge. 

You can also find Of Love + Light on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and I'll be cross-posting a few stories over at Medium. Click any of the above to be taken to your preferred social media and get connected.


Eric Garner and The Tipping Point in Race Relations

I grew up believing that the word "racism" was an archaic term that belonged only in history books.

Yeah, I realize how crazy that sounds. I see now that it was silly to believe that.

I understand that anyone who reads this blog post will know from that very first sentence what color my skin is. I am white.*

I know now that only a white person could make it through the first ten or fifteen years of life and still believe that racism was an ugly, distant memory, a relic from the past that only appeared in textbooks and history lessons next to the first two hundred years of American life, from slavery through civil rights.

I know now how ridiculous that notion seems. 

It took time for me to understand.

It took life experience for me to see how my coworkers and clients in our nation's capital were grossly underpaid and overqualified, consistently offered salaries and positions lower than those with lighter skin.

It took candid discussions with friends to understand what it meant to live black*: to have to teach a son to be timid with strangers and the authorities just to stay alive, to expect to be pulled over at night or in a predominantly white neighborhood.

It took getting to know family histories to see that sharecropping, hate crimes and lynching weren't dead memories; they were alive and a real part of the personal history and experience in my friends' parents and grandparents lives. (More recent even than the Holocaust and its survivors whose firsthand stories I heard at least once a year in school assemblies: stories of oppression and genocide that took place far away, outside our borders, filled with stories of American heroism in the name of equality, justice, freedom. "American" qualities.)

It took decades to get it.

But once my eyes and ears were tuned in to the fact that race is still an oppressive factor in life in America, I could clearly see the additional—--almost imperceptible--—layer of both fear and pride in black parents' eyes as they looked to their children's future.

Still, it took Eric Garner to shake me awake. It took Eric Garner to peel away the veil of sixty years of perceived progress and strides toward equality.

Wednesday night—Eric Garner—was my tipping point. I watched the decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo with disbelief and tears in my eyes.

I first listened to President Barack Obama and I agreed. This case was about more than race, more than black lives or white lives. It was about American lives and a flawed justice system. It was about law enforcement and making sure every single person in our country is equal. Is valued. The lesson about what had happened had to be more than this outdated concept of "race."

And then I went to Target.

And I realized that once again, I was wrong. The Eric Garner case has everything in the world to do with race.

I was wrong because I had the luxury of being surprised with the grand jury's failure to indict. 

When I walked into Target at eight o'clock on what should have been an average Wednesday night, I felt an energy permeating the air that I have never felt before in my entire life.

I felt defeat. And I felt dejection.

I walked around the store, and I saw men and women in every shade, processing the news of the day. On white* faces, there was surprise, confusion, contemplation, frustration, disappointment. But on every black* face, there was a level of sadness I've never seen. It was a look that told me that Eric Garner's murder (because that's what the coroner called it: homicide)—--with the witness catching it on video and the hands up and the jovial personality—--dug deeper than any wrong conviction or racist remark or attack ever had.

I can only describe the energy I felt that night as the pivotal moment when a person realizes a relationship they'd cared about is over. That second when you go from the drive to argue and be heard by the person you thought you loved to the realization that it's just over. The relationship is not worth the energy or the anger or the frustration or the sadness. It's just plain done.

Anyone who's ever fallen out of love or known when to walk away from a lover knows that moment, that pained look of dried-up hope and abandoned dreams.

It says, quite simply, "I give up."

I'd never seen that look or felt that emptiness from so many people in my life. Not after Columbine, not after 9/11, not even after Sandy Hook—and I say that not to minimize any of those tragedies, but to illustrate just how powerfully diminished the air felt. I think it's because those shocked us all, but this—--a senseless loss of life followed by an institutionally blatant disregard for the weight of what had happened—--was actually expected by a large portion of our population.

I've been obsessing over the right words for days, and I still can't find a way to adequately explain or describe that night.

If I hadn't gone out that night, I probably wouldn't have even seen it. I would have thought Eric Garner was "just" another case of structural racism. By the next day, I noticed that the masks were back on and the desperation was hidden behind a forced strength. But I did go out. And I did see it.

On Wednesday night, while my anger and frustration and sense of injustice were raring to fight, the faces of those who'd anticipated such stark disregard for one unarmed black man's life told me everything I needed to know. It would never be enough.

I realized the protests in New York weren't only peaceful because people were tired of violence and suddenly learned order in chaos. They were peaceful because all the air and all the fight had left the room.

Hands in the air. Race is real.

Every day, I wake up white. Every day, I am perceived as white. Every day, I experience life as white. And every day, that will limit my understanding of what it really means to live in America, because I walk through life presumed innocent.

It's not wrong that I am perceived that way. It's wrong that others are not.

Wednesday night, at Target, I could see that even deeper and more desperate than generational or societal American racism, a racial chasm had been revealed with the Eric Garner case.

This time, it was different. This time, it was day. This time, there was a video. This time, the victim was peaceful. This time, there was absolutely no question. Eric Garner was not supposed to die.

This time, it was clear that no matter what a person does, no matter how much a man strives for peace and cares about his community, there will be a next time.

And how is it possible to explain that? How is it possible to justify that? How is it possible to live with that?

I can't explain it; I can't justify it. Purely by chance and the "luck" of the genetic draw, I am not forced to live with a different set of behavioral expectations related to my every day reality. My children will not face the same scrutiny as the children of my friends and neighbors. I will worry about their health, safety and well-being, but only in the universal motherly sense; my worries will not be heightened simply due to dark coloring.

When I checked out, cold meds and stocking stuffers passing by the rhythmic beep, there was the same small talk.

Her: "Hi. How are you?"

Me: "Fine, and you?"
Her: "Fine. Did you find everything ok?"

Me: "Yes, thanks."

Blah, blah, blah. Lies. Lies from both of us. Eyes were downcast and averted as we feigned a normal conversation.  

She was black. I am white. Most days that wouldn't matter. Most days, we'd hold eye contact. Most days, she would have held the same conversation with the woman in front of me in line, a woman who was also black.

But, this time, you could feel the truth beneath the surface. This time, the cashier and the woman in front of me knew there was really nothing to say. They just looked at each other and sighed, not a word exchanged. 

This time, our small talk was thick with unsaid sentiment.

Her: "Hi. How are you? Actually, I don't even care. Did you see what happened today?"

Me: "Yeah, and I feel pretty sh*tty and scared about it. But I know not as sh*tty or scared as you. How are you? It must suck to try to pretend life is normal and concentrate on scanning items and asking people how they are when the whole world fundamentally changed a couple of hours ago. But I feel you... I feel your fear, your worry, your sadness. And I'm sorry. Really, really sorry. They were wrong. And the thing that sucks is that it's not just Eric Garner. It keeps happening. The stories are different, but the same. Your life, and the life of your family, is harder than mine because you are darker than me. It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not fair."

Her: "Yeah. It's not fair. And you won't ever understand just how unfair it is."

Me: "You're right. I won't. And for that, I am both grateful and deeply, deeply sorry. I wish it weren't true. Hell, I'll fight with you. But I know now it won't be enough. And that's tearing me apart."

Yes, Eric Garner was the tipping point that revealed the decades of civil rights that I had always thought (perhaps ignorantly, perhaps naively) we'd moved beyond were just a ruse.

And I suppose it shouldn't be all that shocking. After all, Rosa Parks' journey on the bus was only fifty-nine years ago. The older I get, the clearer I recognize that's merely a drop in the bucket of human history. But I really believed we'd learned so much more.

No one will ever know for sure what would have happened if Eric Garner were white, or if Daniel Pantaleo were black. But we all know it'll happen again. And again. And again.



*Note: See my post Thursday re. my reluctance to use the terms "white" or "black" to define a person in the first place (and why I use the term "black" vs. "African-American" in the first place). I don't claim to be color blind, nor would I desire to be color blind. I see our human shades; I do believe bits and pieces of culture are reflected in our skin, but those are just one component of the myriad of elements that make us who we are. 

I always notice a person's eyes and smile, confidence and gait, wit and caring, long before color.

I will never judge a person by the color of his/her skin. I will never think a person is "less than" or "more than" another because of tone. We are different, and we are the same, and we are richer for our diversity.

Whatever shade you are: I think you are beautiful. 


On Thursday, I posted several long, winding thoughts about the Eric Garner case, the idea that all lives matter and the concept that violence is altogether too prevalent in our society, as I whittled down my point. There are so many concepts wrapped up in this one case that it's hard to pick just one.

The tipping point that I refer to above, though, is the stark realization that while discussions about dignity and respect and violence are also important, it's impossible to arrive at those discussions without first addressing the simple concept that Black Lives Do Matter. 

I thought we were so far past that concept that we could move on up the Adapted Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Relations (don't google it; it doesn't exist), but I learned on Wednesday night that we can't. We have to face that seemingly obvious fact first.

Over the past couple of days, I've attempted to complete the writercize assignment I gave you. The task proved to be tougher than I thought, as thousands of thoughts continued to dance in my head. I had more to say. I had different things to say. But I have to let it go and allow those other bits and pieces to be a part of the larger dialogue.

Once again, I challenge you to the same writercize from Thursday:

Write a column (opinion piece) that gets to the heart of how recent news stories about the justice system's response (or: the politicians' response, the police response, the media response, the public response) to Eric Garner, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Trayvon Martin have impacted your world view.

I welcome your writercize attempts, and I welcome your comments. This is the touchiest subject I've ever written about, and undoubtedly to many, I got some of it—--or all of it—--wrong. 

Please, don't hesitate to share with me what you think. I appreciate different perspectives and am open to listening to and learning about what you have to say.

Disrespectful or spiteful comments will be deleted.


Story Sprouts, Heartbeats and More... Oh My!

Oh goodness, it has been a long time, hasn't it? So, I suppose I should share a little bit about what's been going on, and why I left and why I'm back, and all that catch-up stuff, yeah? 

(At this point, if you prefer to skip the chit chat and head straight to the point, scroll on down until you see all caps. There's the juiciest newsworthy meat. I won't be mad if you skip ahead. I promise)

When I began this blog, I was just starting out in this wild world of writing. I was given the very sage advice by a woman who at the time was a mentor I admired and has since become a very, very good friend, that all writers must have a blog. Long before the final draft and the first query letter, the blog established an author's all-important platform, a veritable requirement in today's literary landscape.

So, I hemmed and I hawed, trying to find what in the world I would actually enjoy writing day in and day out, and what I would actually be willing to share with just anyone. Some might say I am the type to hold my cards a bit closer than most; on Facebook my posts are certainly not public and I struggle with that line of what is enough to share to give strangers a glimpse of who I am, but not enough to bore a follower or appear...what's the word?...narcissistic, perhaps.

I needed something that was enjoyable and useful. And thus, in the middle of a shower epiphany, writercize was born. I could create random writing prompts to hone my writing skills, imagine that others might actually find those prompts useful, and have some variety. I could talk about my day if I wanted, as I often did in the intros and lead-ins to the exercise, I could teach and exercise creativity through writing the prompt, and I could practice right alongside my readers, tossing out all sorts of writing genres and styles and trying them on for size.

In the beginning, nighttime was my only quiet time of day, and I relished in the half hour in which I would sit down at my computer and write, then additional half hour when I could read insights from others. It was a welcome and relaxing part of my schedule.

And then, I began to write more for the newspaper, and I didn't feel as if I needed to practice quite so much. And then, my children got older and I had more free, quiet time during the day (during the school year, at least) and I wasn't pushed to write only at night—my most creative time. And then, I decided that it might actually be nice to get some sleep earlier, as I was getting my alone time else where. And then, I was invited to join the board of the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles as the Publications Editor, now Director.

And I found that I had developed a platform in real life. So I all but abandoned writercize and allowed it to rest and breathe a bit while I attended to other writing passions and obligations, amidst all the hustle and bustle and beauty of everyday life. And I was okay with that, because I feel that hidden among the 250+ posts that I created here, there are exercises that stand the test of time. Actually, I believe all of them do...I could never write another writercize on this blog, and people would probably be able to find some sort of writing inspiration regardless.

But then, sometimes I do have news, and it's exciting, and I want to share it with all of you, at least any of you who still arrive at my blog! Or old blogging friends who still blog yourselves and follow this feed. With an average blog life of just two years, I imagine it's a whole new atmosphere compared to when I first started, but...just maybe it gives me a chance to reconnect and share more moments with you.

And sometimes I think that it would be great fun to come back and revitalize writercize, even once a week, and I might, just for the joy in writing. When I started, many days, this was the only writing I did. These days, it's rare that I don't have a deadline just around the corner. I'm working on a creative nonfiction. I'm writing for the paper. I write company bios. I'm teaching a workshop next month. I co-edit an annual writing resource and anthology. I am exceedingly fortunate to watch my career grow, bit by bit, from when I began this blogging journey. 

And so, I hang on to this site, for the pleasure of sharing past prompts, for the possibility that I will one day wake up inspired to return, and for the platform to continue to share news with you.

Since I last blogged about my incredible journey in Benin several months ago, I wanted to share with you two different books that I've participated in.

I highly encourage you to take a look, and proceeds from both books go to support charity, so that's a bonus!!

Edited by Jax Goss

The first was published June 1, titled Heartbeats: Voices Against Oppression. It is a collection of fictional short stories about human trafficking. I have a story in the book called "Moonlit Memories," which examines four different modern day slaves in four different circumstances around the world: one man and three women, spread out from Dubai to Togo (West Africa) to Italy and the United States. Every one of these countries face serious uphill battles to eliminate trafficking, as do so many others world-wide. It is a problem that plagues developing and developed nations alike.

All of the proceeds go to the Not For Sale Campaign to fight trafficking; the collection was inspired by the girls in Nigeria kidnapped by Boko Haram. Their story brought attention to a serious, ongoing international problem front and center. 

The minute I saw the call for submissions, I felt compelled to write. It was a very, very quick turn-around, but I knew I had to do something. I first became aware of human trafficking—in modern times, in the developed world—after hearing a politician address it during a workshop on campus at the University of Washington. Once I knew about the issue, there was no going back to an ignorant or naive state of mind, and I've followed stories throughout the years about the ugly realities. 

Today, there are an estimated 30 million (that's 30,000,000!!) people who are victims of "human trafficking." That's really a kind way to say the truth...men, women and children either sold into modern slavery or robbed of their documentation and forced to work nonstop in the hopes of earning it back. While my "Moonlit Memories" story is fictional, there are seeds of truth in every scene. 

Nine other authors also contributed to the book, which was released by Solarwyrm Press and Fey Publishing. It's available on Amazon in Kindle or paperbook form.

Volume II, 2014
Co-Edited by Alana Garrigues (that's me!) and Nutschell Anne Windsor

Whereas the book mentioned above took a couple days and a few hours of my time, this second book took many months and countless hours. And every last one of those hours was worth it!

Story Sprouts: Voice is the second volume of an annual book that CBW–LA, the writing organization I mentioned above, puts together. It's one part writing resource, one part writing inspiration, one part poetry, two parts prose and infinite parts amazing way to highlight writing talent!

Last year was our very, very first volume, and I would consider it our pilot. Indie publishing is quite a rich challenge! Last year was great; this year rocks our socks. 

The book grows out of a one day writing workshop, aptly named the Writing Day Workshop, in which we gather brave writing souls together in one room, feed them a lot, lecture them a bit, and allow their creative minds to go wild. 

They write for a few hours; they turn in their work; I run a lot of line and developmental editing with my co-editor's incredible insight and help (Nutschell Anne Windsor of The Writing Nut is SO SMART! and that friend I mentioned above about the blogging thing); a pro (Pat Stainke) copy edits the whole manuscript; Nutschell manages all the ins and outs of indie publishing and cover design and book formatting and marketing stuff with some of my insight and help, and five months after the workshop...voila! 

A book! 

And a big party to celebrate their brilliance and creativity! This post is already super long, but I'll go ahead and post a few party photos sometime next week. Also we talk about the book these days on our Facebook fan page, specifically on Sundays year round. 

Featuring quotes from famous authors, one-of-a-kind lessons and insight into the literary device of VOICE (this year's theme), a novella about the first 24 hours after an imaginary shipwreck, short memoirs and vignettes from childhood and so, so, so much more, it is hard to explain but a lot of fun. 

I highly recommend it for writers, teachers, writing groups, English classes, and anyone who enjoys new voices and faces in literature and short stories. An Index of Authors and three different Tables of Contents allow any sort of reader to peruse the book in the way that best matches his/her interests.

If you do purchase a copy (Kindle, Amazon paperback, or .epub on Blurtery), we'd love an honest review on Amazon/Goodreads/your blog. Seriously, the best way to grow and improve is honesty. Also, if you do purchase a copy, know that you are supporting the CBW–LA and our mission to educate and inspire writers. We offer workshops year-round; weinvite published authors from Picture Book through YA to lecture or workshop as guest speakers; we host critique groups; we inspire writers! CBW–LA is a registered non-profit educational organization fast approaching five years with a five- (soon to be six-!) person volunteer Board of Directors.

We do have a limited number of free eBooks available for book reviewers with a proven history of posting reviews, and both Nutschell and I are available for blog or media interviews. Please leave a comment below if you are interested or click the link above to send me an email, and thank you for your support.

A total of 25 authors contributed to this year's volume, released by CBW–LA Publications, which is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback form and Blurtery in .epub digital form. Each author submitted a minimum of four pieces.

Visit Amazon or Goodreads for a full list of the authors.

This year's blurb:


Story Sprouts: Voice features the fearless adventures of 25 aspiring and published children's book authors-- gifted writers who spent one day exploring the mysteries and nuanced expression of Authorial, Narrative and Character Voice.

Included are more than 60 works of original poetry and prose. The authors composed in less than 10 hours, as they deepened their understanding of literary devices and sharpened their powers of observation and interpretation. Each learned to speak from the heart of a child, from the soul of an inanimate object, and to faithfully represent a character meticulously created from a photograph.

Readers will be touched and inspired, but Story Sprouts is also a rich reference tool for teachers and workshop leaders. The book offers prompts and tips, details the specific workshop techniques used, includes handouts and other materials, and cites a wealth of free online resources--all of which serve to strengthen writers as they pursue their craft.

Co-Edited by Alana Garrigues and Nutschell Anne Windsor

Our first book, Story Sprouts 2013featuring 19 authors and holding a five-star average rating on Amazon and 4.84 stars on Goodreads, is also available on Amazon and Blurtery. Each author last year submitted two pieces: one on writing, the other inspired by a photo. We embarked on a fun month-long blog tour in January 2014.

Visit Amazon or Goodreads for a full list of the authors.

Last year's blurb:

What happens when linguistic lovers and tale tellers workshop together? Inspiration. Wonder. Discovery. Growth. Magic. 

Brave and talented, the writers featured in this anthology took on the challenge of dedicating one day to the raw and creative process of writing. A rare view into the building blocks of composition, Story Sprouts is made up of nearly 40 works of poetry and prose from 19 published and aspiring children's book authors. 

This compilation includes all of the anthology writing exercises and prompts, along with tips, techniques and free online writing resources to help writers improve their craft.  


The next Writing Day Workshop is open now; it will take place on April 25, 2015. Registration is required; we do anticipate it will sell out. If you're in the L.A. area or fancy a weekend in So Cal, we welcome you!

And so, that's it! All the news that's fit to scroll! I shan't make any promises about how long before I return, but please do email or comment if you have a question or if you'd like to talk about a review or cover reveal for Story Sprouts: Voice and I'll be sure to reach out! Or you can email me at alana(at)cbw-la(dot)org.

Thanks so much! 


In Africa: Journalism, Adventure and Hope

I was recently granted the opportunity by The Beach Reporter, the paper I have been freelancing for over the past three years, to write a first-person account of two weeks in Benin, West Africa.

Alana with "House Mama" Catherine
who cares for six orphans
in Tanguieta, Benin, West Africa
As a reporter who leaves opinion and first-person pronouns out of my stories, it was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity. I traveled to Benin to visit a local nurse named Sarah Chapman who I met during an interview for the paper last year. She was in the process of raising money for her non-profit organization, Build a Better Benin, dedicated to improving the health and education of women and children in West Africa.

It is a worthy project, and she is a phenomenal woman, so we've been meeting weekly while she is in the L.A. area to talk about her story and translate her work and humor into book form. Her stories are not generic statistics; they are personal stories of love and struggle.

In November and December, it was time for me to travel halfway around the world to see what she does in person and meet the people in the story. I hope to finish the book and secure an agent and publisher within the year.

In the meantime, I'd love it if you read my account. It's brief, considering the timeline. Boiling two weeks of nonstop activity down to around 1300 words was difficult, to say the least, but it really speaks to a little bit of what I love about the people I met, the sense of wonder and adventure, and how I see my role as a journalist.

Here's a small tidbit from the article, Building Better Communities:

"The sky is alive in vibrant red and orange swatches of light, trickling into the deep red walls of mud huts and down to the terre rouge — the brownish maroon of the earth’s surface. The view is dotted with silhouettes of baobob trees and bobbing heads – large groups of children returning home from school, dressed alike in khaki public school uniforms. It is a vision of warmth and beauty, the browns and reds and oranges swirling together in perfect harmony.

The sounds of children laughing and goats bleeting punctuate the constant whir of motorcycle engines buzzing along dirt roads pocked with potholes. Dough sizzles in oiled pots along the side of the street, and clapping and song bounce off the walls.

This is dusk in Tanguieta, Benin in West Africa, on Thanksgiving night. I am surrounded by 11 children, 200 chickens, a dozen rabbits, goats, baby turkeys, a dog with pink-painted toenails, a nurse from Hermosa Beach, an uneducated “house mama” who cares for six orphans, and the pastor who has vowed to give them a better life. This is heaven on earth."

PS - For the article that served as the impetus for meeting Sarah, and to learn more about Benin, click here. To see current projects, visit the Build a Better Benin Facebook page.


#StorySprouts and The Art of Revision with L. Diane Wolf!

Hello writercizers!

Story Sprouts is visiting L. Diane Wolf at Spunk on a Stick's Tips today. The topic is Help! It's Time to Revise, and some techniques you can use when it's time to delve into revisions

Head on over there to visit Diane, my co-editor Nutschell Anne Windsor,  and me, and share your best revision tips!

Thanks Diane for hosting!


PS - TOMORROW is the final stop on our Story Sprouts Tour! Nutschell will be visiting Milo James Fowler to talk about writers and a very special part of our writing routines.


Talking about the Five Stages of First Publication with Lynda R. Young

Hello writercizers!

Story Sprouts is visiting Lynda R. Young with .W.I.P. It: An Author's Journey today. We're talking about The Five Stages of First Publication, and how it feels the first time you put your name in print

(Yes, we made up the five stages, but sure you all can relate!) 

Head on over there to visit Lynda, my co-editor Nutschell Anne Windsor,  and me, and share your own stages of publication!

Thanks Lynda for hosting!



Art and Literature! #StorySprouts visits Emilyann Girdner Today!

Hello writercizers!

Story Sprouts is visiting Emilyann Girdner with Anything Imagined today. We're talking about Canvas to Page: Art and Literature

Head on over there to visit Emilyann, my co-editor Nutschell Anne Windsor,  and me, and share the visual cues that inspire you!

Thanks Emilyann for hosting!


PS - We had a bonus stop over the weekend with Mrs. Mommy Booknerd, who interviewed Nutschell and me with a nice book announcement! Thank you Emily for hosting us! Check it out.