Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Interview with Chicago-area Writer Cheryl Hagedorn

Cheryl Hagedorn, a fellow member of the Chicago Writers Association, is the author of Park Ridge: a Senior Center Murder, published in 2006. I had a chance to interview Cheryl recently.

Seniorwriter: Hello, Cheryl. I enjoyed reading your book, and I'd like to ask a few questions about the book and about you.

First, what inspired this particular story? Did it begin with the younger characters, Teresa and Stan, or with the older senior center members, or something else?

Cheryl: The idea came from an assignment in the writing class that I taught at the real Park Ridge Senior Center in spring 2006. [Note: Park Ridge is a suburb of Chicago.] One of the restrictions was that the murder needed to happen at the senior center, which doesn't leave too many choices for either victims or killers!

I tried to come up with as many motives for murder as I could. Many of them seemed really trivial. A trivial motive might work in a short story, maybe even provide a twist for comic effect. I wrote one short story about a glutton and a gardener in which the gardener, who was a caterer before retirement, puts poison into food that she knows the glutton will swoop down on. The motive there has to do with feeling unappreciated and under-valued. Not a gut-wrenching motive for murder, but it does set up the humorous ending.

On the other hand, I've heard my parents, who are in their mid-80's, complain about a real dichotomy at their senior center between the doers and the sitters. The program director would arrange for special speakers or groups to come in and make a special effort to invite the folks playing cards to join in. They seldom did. My parents coulsn't understand that and it aggravated them. On the other hand, my parents would never choose to sit and play cards all day either. I couldn't explain the resentment between the two groups; I only knew that it existed. So that's what I ended up exploring.

Seniorwriter: Do you believe that senior citizens, or most human beings, for that matter, harbor "deep, focused resentments" that can lead to murder?

I admit I'm not really a murder mystery fan, but I guess I've always thought of that kind of resentment as mainly the province of disadvantaged youth, a few hardened criminals, and victims of domestic abuse. I've always considered those of us in the over-65 or 70 group forgiving and peaceful. Am I wrong?

Cheryl: Why do some wines get better with age while others turn to vinegar? I like to think that as the years have passed I've become more tolerant, more thoughtful, more patient. For me the things that seemed black and white when I was younger have become various shades of grey. But I've watched others harden with age. They've become more bitter, more bigoted, more defensive than ever.

One of the sharpest criticisms of the book came from a good friend. She wanted to know why the card players just didn't stay home or go somewhere else. I felt that it was their choice, their right to be exactly where they were, doing what they wanted. I felt that the overzealous activity boosters were the ones who were insensitive, hypercritical, and demeaning.

Kestrell, who is blind, tried to explain to me why some people might find my book humorous. She said, "I think it is something Charlie Chaplin-ish--the idea of these people we see as disempowered striking back, and what they choose to strike back at is a type we all seem to find annoying: those people who insist that they are helping us for our own good, just as they make us feel the most helpless, because if we were seen as 'real people,' we wouldn't have their help forced upon us."

The answer to your question, do I think most seniors or most people harbor these kinds of resentments, is no. I do, however, believe that there are people who do, and that given the right set of circumstances, they can be pushed or enticed to do things that they normally would not consider.

Seniorwriter: You said that a group from the real Park Ridge Senior Center discussed your book. Do you know how they reacted? How have senior citizens, in general, reacted? Would you say the book is more popular among Seniors, Boomers, or younger readers?

Cheryl: I didn't hear from the book discussion group; however, the leader told me that it was the first mystery she had ever read in which a banana was used as a weapon! Nearly every senior that I've spoken to has immediately recognized and acknowledged the animosity between card players and everyone else.

No one likes to think that the people they know are capable of murder. We want murderers to be psychotic or hot-headed (or plug in you adjective of choice) because then we feel better about ourselves. We can reassure ourselves that we could never do that because we aren't like them. There is no absolution in my novel for the unexamined life.

Seniorwriter: What's your fiction writing method? Do you map everything out in advance, or just begin and let your characters carry you along? Do you begin at the computer or with a pen and paper? What part of the fiction-writing process seems most difficult?

Cheryl: In the case of Park Ridge, I started with a 969-word short story. Then I had to develop back stories for each of my characters--all seven of them!--trying to find out why things happened as they did. Once I had the characters in mind, they told the story to me. There were several points where I had to return to something I'd written and change it, for instance, to layer in the romance. That was an afterthought. It really hadn't occurred to me until I had written half the book.

I work at my computer from start to finish. I do print out the first relatively complete draft and make handwritten notes on it. For me it's easier to draw arrows than to move between places in a file on a split screen.

The hardest part about fiction? First, I want you to know that I never, ever thought that I would write fiction. My preference for writing and reading is non-fiction. So it's all hard. But keeping it real, making it plausible, is the hardest part.

Seniorwriter: What inspired you to return to college for a master's degree after twenty years out of college? That's admirable. Would you like to share any other details of your life either before or after that event?

Cheryl: It took me eighteen years after I left high school to get my bachelor's degree. I'm a bit like an academic cicada! If it wasn't for my partner's support, I could never have made the decision to go back to school.

Seniorwriter: What are your future goals, both for writing and for your life? What are you working on now?

Cheryl: The second book in the series is written, but the publisher that I submitted it to just rejected it last week. I figure when I finish licking my woulds that I'll decide what to do with it. It's called Senior Games and has the Six County Senior Olympics as a background. Depending on what I decide, I'll continue working on the third book. Or I may finish up a science fiction book that I've been fooling around with--or I may rework and finish a novel-length allegory--or finish the biography of Theodora van Wagenen Ward that I'm writing.

Seniorwriter: Thank you, Cheryl. I've learned a lot about your book and you. I wish you the very best in your writing and publishing efforts. You've shown that senior citizens can be effective characters in fiction as real, functioning people, good and bad. Keep it up!

Cheryl Hagedorn earned her Master's Degree in Writing from DePaul University after a varied career that included computer programming and the Salvation Army. In addition to teaching writing at the setting of her mystery, she's also taught writing for the Chicago Department of Aging. She is a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society and the Illinois Philological Society, as well as the Chicago Writers Association.

Cheryl's book is available from BookLocker, Amazon.com, and other online book stores. It may also be ordered from you local bricks-and-mortar book store.

For reviews and excerpts, go to http://www.booklocker.com/books/2637.html.

For Cheryl's blog, "Senior Center Murders," go to http://murder.booklocker.com/.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, May 28, 2007

One Hundred Pictures from Ireland

My pictures are now available on line (on AOL). You may be able to see them if you have a high-speed Internet connection, and if this link works. If it does not, send me your e-mail address and I'll forward them, or a link to them, to you. Please let me know whether or not this link works for you. It may not if you are not an AOL member.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ireland has Bloggers Too!

Thanks to fellow Chicago area writer Cheryl Hagedorn (Park Ridge: a Senior Center Murder), I have found a fascinating Dublin blogger. The blog is called "Head Rambles: Rambles around the Head of an Irish Senior Citizen." Check out this blog at www.headrambles.com.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Map of Ireland

In case you want to know where I went in Ireland, here is a map. You can go to the Web to look at a larger one. Our journey began in Belfast (upper right) and proceeded counter-clockwise to stays in Derry (Londonderry), Galway, Kilarney, Cork, Waterford, and Dublin (all circled).

Impressions from Ireland, 2007

Wall Paintings, Falls Road, Belfast

W. B. Yeats' Grave at Drumcliffe, Country Sligo

A Misty Seaside Scene

I visited Ireland this year because I'd heard it was a beautiful country and because I'd not been there. I'm not Irish, so I had no ancestors to trace there, no special ties except perhaps for those from my literary background. Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (see my March 24 post) tied in with tales of the potato famine and the later "troubles" in Northern Ireland, and W.B. Yeats' grave in a country churchyard brought back memories of some of his poems. Our program director even read a few of his poems to us. I sat beside a statue of Oscar Wilde and saw the plaque on a Georgian house in Dublin where he lived for a while. I wished I'd brought a copy of James Joyce's Dubliners; his short story or short novel "The Dead" from that collection has long been a favorite of mine.

I won't attempt to write a travelogue or a travel guide to Ireland; both abound in book stores and on Amazon.com. Ireland is well worth visiting, and be sure to include a visit to Northern Ireland, now that things are peaceful there. I witnessed on Irish TV the historic formation of a Northern Ireland government at Stormont with the various factions in agreement and world leaders and politicians (including Ted Kennedy) in attendance. Where you go and what you see depend on your interests, and perhaps your wallet and your walking ability.

To me, Ireland meant the beauty of seaside vistas, stone walls, ruined stone cottages, old castles, music, dancing, poetry, leprechauns, legends, and the Blarney Stone. Now I've added mental pictures of booming economies (north and south), fierce national pride, and a desire to maintain peace. Some want a unified Ireland, some don't, but many seem to believe that it will happen eventually. The economy is booming, and housing prices are rising.

I found it interesting that the U.S., especially former president Bill Clinton and George Mitchell, is given considerable credit for influencing the peace process in 1990. The "Troubles," including an armed struggle for Catholic rights, began in the mid-1960's, and more than 3,500 lives were lost. As you can see from the wall painting above, we aren't universally loved in Ireland any more than we are in the rest of the world, but at least we've helped bring about peace in Northern Ireland.

Belfast is known as the place where the Titanic was built, and a Titanic museum is in the works. Belfast was a part of the Victorian industrial revolution, and was once known as the City of Inventors. The ship building industry has died there, except for one ship repair site.

Of course there's much more to see in Ireland. I saw castles, sheep, the bleak west coast areas to which many Irish were exhiled while the English took over the more productive land, lovely small towns, Blarney Castle and others. (No, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone. If something is "at the top of the tower," my knees don't take me there). The weather went from beautiful to rainy and back again, typical, I guess. I saw Waterford Crystal being made (I didn't buy any) and other examples of modernized but ancient industries at work. I'll let you know when my photo album is available on line. As usual, I took many, many high-resolution digital photos, and it takes time to get it all together.

In conclusion, do visit Ireland if you can. For us older folk, I highly recommend Grand Circle Travel's "Ireland in Depth" tour, but be sure to include the Northern Ireland pre-trip.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Travel Photos by the Author

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Awards and Good Feelings: the IWPA Awards Luncheon

It's official: both my book, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor, and this blog, "Never too Late!" were awarded first place in their respective categories in the IWPA's Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest yesterday. Both will go on to the National Federation of Press Women's national contest. Winning awards, whether major or minor, feels good! For more on the luncheon, read on.

On May 19, 2007, the Illinois Woman's Press Association (Incorporated 1907) held its annual awards luncheon at Chicago's Union League Club. The food, the conversation, and the address by sports writer Melissa Isaacson, of the Chicago Tribune, were all excellent. The main purpose of the meeting was to present awards to high school journalists and IWPA members.

I was especially impressed by the young student winners, who told a bit about their entries. They were bright and articulate and charming. They gave me hope for the future, especially the future of journalism and writing/photography in general.

Of course my fellow IWPA members were impressive too. These are the women who work "in the trenches" of journalism, public relations, advertising, and related fields, and they can and do write very well indeed! They make me wish that I'd had the courage to write more when I was younger, but as my blog title says, "It's Never too Late!" Today, I feel like a writer.

Come see me at the IWPA booth at the Printer's Row Book Fair on June 9.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, May 14, 2007

I'm Home from Ireland!

No matter how great the trip, I'm always glad to get home. Expect a few pictures and a few new posts here soon.