Monday, October 20, 2014

Let the Arts Soothe Your Weary Soul

“Ah, a brand new week filled with possibilities.”

At least, that’s what I wish would run through my head every morning. Unfortunately, it’s usually more like this:

“Holy crap, the alarm went off at five-twenty, and I’m decaffeinated, so there’s that.”

But not today.

October has been chockfull of activity.

My editor and I finished the first round of edits on A Groovy Kind of Love, and now we’re at the final proofing stage. The talented staff at Streetlight Graphics is busy designing the cover.

I’ve been working on, helping to shape the site and provide content, which has been a wonderful learning experience.

Today, I will edit my first book review for Windy City Reviews, a publication of the Chicago Writers’ Association (CWA). CWA offers local scribes fantastic programs, lectures, and workshops throughout the city.

October has been filled with celebrations (my birthday, our anniversary), watching my high school freshman play football, FaceTiming with my college junior, and preparing for the best holiday of the year—Halloween.

How could I possibly have time for anything else?

Then my husband and kids bought tickets for Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s (CST) production of King Lear, my all-time favorite of the Bard’s tragedies as a birthday present Saturday night. In college, I had written and performed a piece from Cordelia’s perspective set as she and her servants pack up her things and prepare for banishment.

Fresh and modern, CST’s Lear proved just as relevant in this day and age as in Shakespeare’s time. Interestingly enough, Shakespeare’s source material was believed to be from Celtic legend. The program states that the earliest known record of the story “appears in Geoffrey Monmouth’s medieval text Historia regium Britanniae (ca. 1136),” which covers two thousand years of British kings. Isn’t that fascinating?

Last night, a gentleman portrayed Edgar Allan Poe at Naper Settlement, a living history museum of early midwestern pioneers here in town. Being a Poe aficionado, I had to go. For those of you who have read Until My Soul Gets It Right, Naper Settlement is where the Bibliophiles attend All Hallow’s Eve, a nineteenth-century celebration of Halloween.

I’ve stubbornly squeezed in a few books over the last weeks—the significant American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and Deborah Lawrenson’s intriguing The Sea Garden, which features World War II British spies, the French Resistance, and a puzzling mystery—knowing I'm not truly whole unless I'm reading. During the hour of downtime I had yesterday, I began NOS4A2, which grabbed me right from the beginning. I can’t wait to see what Joe Hill does with this modern vampire tale.

I thought the last thing I needed was more activity, but after this weekend, I have to say, I feel more grounded, relaxed, and inspired.

I hope you’ve had some time to enjoy fall’s splendor. My husband and I took a little trip to Morton Arboretum yesterday afternoon to enjoy nature’s bright yellows, burnt oranges, and crimson reds. I’ve lived in Chicagoland all of my life, but autumnal splendor never gets old. Each year, it’s like I’m seeing the trees for the first time. Such beauty. Such peace.

That is my wish for you today. As you mitigate the craziness of life, I hope you take some time to enjoy the beauty around you, whether it be from nature, a play, music, a painting, or a good book.

Let the arts soothe your soul.

Have a good week, my friends.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Scary October Reads

Hello, everyone!

Today, I'm blogging about some of my favorite classic lit horror novels, as well as my October to-read list, at

Click here

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I have been asked to join the Author Council of, a new site that brings readers together to discuss all sorts of stories, from works-in-progress to published books. There are forums for every genre, plus general discussion areas, like in The Front Door, where we're talking about the new Fall TV season and movie adaptations of books.

Not only that, but there are fascinating blog articles to read. Today, mine is about Banned Books Week. Did you know that since 1990, the American Library Association has received 18,000 requests to ban certain novels from shelves across the United States? Stop by and see what books are on the list.

Here's the link.

My group, I (Heart) Holidays, will feature fun decorating tips, recipes, and, of course, favorite books and stories.

As you can see, I'm really excited about Stop by and you'll know why.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 15, 2014

And the Official Title of Bibliophiles 3 Is…

I have emerged triumphant!

I've always wanted to say that. The reality is I have emerged with a completed manuscript that is on my editor's desk as I write this blog post.

Same difference, right?

It's been a crazy week, bibliophiles. My eldest started his junior year in college. His girlfriend from California came in over the weekend to visit and then to join him on their way back to school. My youngest, the football player, strained his quad muscle and on crutches for two weeks. And I made my deadline and put the finishing touches on Bibliophiles 3, which will be called (cue the trumpets)…


More details to come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Off the Radar

Bibliophiles 3 is due on my editor's desk in exactly one week, so I'm going dark for seven days. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, no social media. Not nearly as dramatic as when Jack Bauer does it on 24, but there it is.

I will emerge next Monday with a title and more details.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jo Baker's 'Longbourn' Does Not Disappoint

By Jo Baker
Vintage Books, 2013
332 pages

Jane Austen’s world is filled with carriages, ball gowns, manor homes, and elaborate dinner parties. Part of the fun for me has been dreaming of these glorious occasions, of someone lacing me into my gown or cooking every meal.

But who cleaned Elizabeth Bennet’s muddy dress after she trudged to Netherfield Park?

Jo Baker provides a possible answer in her excellent novel, Longbourn. Although described as Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey, it really is so much more.

For all my years of reading Austen, I never once thought about the Herculean task of laundry day at the Bennet home, where the book opens, or the monumental effort it took cooks of the period to serve three meals a day plus tea from scratch.

This is not a piece of Jane Austen fan fiction. Yes, the Bennet family, plus Darcy, Bingley, and the lot appear, but it is through the servants’ eyes that we see them. Baker researched the duties and lives of Regency workers and describes in detail how they kept the households running.

Sarah, the protagonist, is compelling and her perspectives and ruminations enlightening. We also see Mrs. Hill and her staff, comprised of her husband, James, the footman, and Polly, the youngest maid. The novel does a solid job of illustrating class differences. The Bennet girls and their mother diddle around with needlework, music, and flower arranging, while Sarah and Polly boil petticoats and polish boots, empty chamber pots and feed the pigs.

The characters come alive through a strong narrative. It’s not necessary to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Longbourn; it stands on its own quite well. If you fancy yourself a Janeite, however, I think you’d truly enjoy this piece for a fresh perspective on a most beloved literary world.

While I’m talking about books…

I spent the last day of summer (my youngest started high school on Tuesday) cozied up on my favorite chair reading a charming novel, Painting the Moon, by Traci Borum, a well-written tale filled with great characters that takes place in a tiny town in the Cotswolds. Noelle Cooke receives a letter that she has inherited a cottage and art gallery from her reclusive great aunt. Reel me in, right? I don’t know how many times I’ve had that fantasy of a long-lost relative leaving me some property in England. Probably more than is healthy. Anyhow, the book is a darling little romantic tale, which was perfect to snuggle up with for a day. Check it out here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flash Fiction

The Mirror of Dorian Gray

Sarah Anderson* Flash Fiction by Karen Wojcik Berner

My three-year-old and his teddy bear leap onto my bed, dangerously close to my head, and jolt me out of a deep sleep. Soon, my bladder reminds me that I am awake and must move. The morning routine begins. I rinse my eyes and look in the mirror to see what alien life form I resemble with my bed head. Something sparkles in the mirror. I don’t remember adorning myself with glitter, so I look again.

Oh, Lord, it’s a gray hair.

This cannot be. I'm only in my early (very early) thirties. I check my head again and confirm the sad fact. I grab to pluck it out, then remember my mom telling me that her mother said to never pluck a gray hair out because it will return thricefold. That can't be true, so I tempt fate.

Over the next few days, the scenario repeats itself. Look in the mirror. Pluck it out. Claim temporary victory over the aging process. I ask my husband if he notices any gray. He says no. I ask friends and relatives who reply the same. Yet, every time I glance in the bathroom mirror, I see more. Only I, while looking in my mirror of Dorian Gray, am painfully aware of how I am aging day after day.

For those of you who don't remember, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s book about a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. In return, only his portrait ages. Now, I have no plans to sell my soul for anything. My common sense tells me that growing old is inevitable and that with age comes a wisdom and serenity that escapes most of us at this age, which is certainly something to welcome and even to celebrate.

Then my vanity takes over, followed closely by fear. Plain and simple, I am scared of getting old. I saw how it incapacitated my grandparents. Time is flying by so quickly these days that before I know it, my son will be getting married, and I’ll be checking out retirement communities. That realization is painful enough without having to face a daily affirmation of my mortality courtesy of my bathroom mirror. No, I will not accept this gray hair. I choose to do battle with these intruders.

Another few weeks go by. I have mastered grabbing the gray hair with one hand and executing a quick pull. It is swift, clean, and efficient. This technique allows only the gray one to be yanked, instead of sacrificing two or three precious brown strands.

They are coming fast and furious now. So much so that when I go for a haircut, I tell my stylist I'm thinking of coloring my hair to cover all of the gray. She fluffs it around and says she doesn't think that's necessary. I must be hallucinating. When I return home, I look in the mirror and, sure enough, there they are glistening away in the bathroom light, taunting me.

My friend Annie comes over, and I tell her my sad tale. She asks to see the mirror. I take her into the bathroom. She lets out a yelp, but instead of being frightened by my decaying reflection, says “Good God, it’s bright in here. No wonder you can see every gray on your head.”

Can this be? I quickly replace them as soon as she leaves and smile at all of the brown hair reflected in the mirror.

I have won.

For now.

Copyright ©2014 by Karen Wojcik Berner. All rights reserved.

*To read more of Sarah's story, click here. She is the co-protagonist of my first novel, A Whisper to a Scream, and of the digital short  "A Bibliophile Christmas."