A new episode of The Humanist Hour is available for listening. Keep reading to find out details about this month’s program.
In this month’s show, Todd and Kim interview four Humanist Press authors, discovering the diversity of quality books being offered by the publishing arm of the American Humanist Association, including fiction, poetry and history.
Listen as Todd and Kim discuss, among other things, how each author incorporates humanist ideas into their work and and why it matters.
Susan K. Perry
Kylie’s Heel Book Description: When “A Rational Woman” columnist Kylie Moran’s religious twin sister takes Kylie’s teen son with her to Africa on a medical mission, Kylie’s fears for his safety become justified. When developments across the globe threaten all she holds dear, how does a rational woman cope with an irrational world? Quirky, funny, sometimes dark, Kylie’s Heel takes readers on an emotionally compelling journey.
Susan K. Perry is the author of six nonfiction books, including the Los Angeles Times bestseller Writing in Flow. She blogs for The Brights and Psychology Today. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, poet Stephen Perry. Kylie’s Heel is her first novel.
Questions About God book description: Stephen Perry’s exuberant, boundary-shattering poems feature many diverse voices, whose odd points-of-view often deconstruct themselves, like many of Nabokov’s peculiar protagonists, and they’re are often as droll and hilarious. Complex, unreliable narrators are rare in poetry, but even rarer is Perry’s range of subject matter, drawing on philosophy, science, history, etymology, archeology, psychology, poetry, sexuality, music, etc., in fact anything of human interest. He combines world mythologies of an astonishing range—from Greek to Judeo-Christian, from Hindu to Buddhist, even flirting with American Indian Blackfoot lore—coalescing all into a kind of monomyth, a synthesis of science and myth. It is a grand celebration of the natural world. The perspective is wholly humanist, of interest to skeptics and agnostics and atheists and all those who distain the absurdities, crudities, and cruelties of a simplistic fundamentalist mindset. If Bart D. Ehrman’s God’s Problem had been written in verse, this would be it. It’s a fine romp.
Stephen Perry has published numerous poems in top journals: The New Yorker, The Yale Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, Salmagundi, Wisconsin Review, Cimarron Review, Beloit Poetry Re¬view, Poetry East, and many others. His poetry has been anthologized in The Bedford Anthology of Literature, Fourth and Fifth Editions (St. Martin’s Press) and Mixed Voices: Contemporary Poets about Music (Milkweed Editions). Perry was a featured reader at the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, as well as at the Henry Miller House in Big Sur and many other venues. He has taught creative writing at Long Beach City College, UC Irvine, and UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program. He was once hired as perhaps the only poetry consultant in Disney Corporation’s history.
He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Susan K. Perry, whose first novel, Kylie’s Heel, is also available from Humanist Press.
John G. Rodwan, Jr.
Holidays and Other Disasters book description: This book considers the major U.S. holidays—Easter, Christmas, Opening Day, etc.—from an atheist’s perspective. It examines explicitly religious holidays, those that have a definite if not always acknowledged religious thrust (Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving) and secular holidays that had religious elements added on (like Labor Day) by way of personal stories, usually the author’s own. Where other people have especially revealing holiday stories, as is the case with Jack Johnson (the first black heavyweight champion) and the Fourth of July, novelist Salman Rushdie and Valentine’s Day or labor leader Eugene V. Debs and Labor Day, Rodwan tell theirs. Of course, holidays aren’t about religion alone, and Holidays and Other Disasters doesn’t look narrowly at them as pageants of piety. Rather, the book considers the various issues holidays raise, including race and class, and discusses other forms of expressive activity, such as literature, music and sports, along with religion and holiday rituals.
John G. Rodwan, Jr., is the author previously of the essay collection Fighters & Writers (Mongrel Empire Press, 2010). His writing has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines such as The American Interest, Blood and Thunder, Concho River Review, Cream City Review, Critical Moment, Fight News, Free Inquiry, Jazz Research Journal, The Humanist, The Mailer Review, The Oregonian, Philip Roth Studies, Midwestern Gothic, Pacific Review, Pea River Journal, San Pedro River Review, and Secular World. He has lived in Brooklyn, New York; Detroit, Michigan; Geneva, Switzerland; and Portland, Oregon.
Laury A. Egan
The Outcast Oracle book description: Set in 1959 on the shores of New York’s Lake Ontario, fourteen-year-old Charlene Beth Whitestone has been deserted by her parents, leaving her in the custody of her grandfather, C.B. Although he loves Charlie, he is a charming con artist, moonshiner, and religious fraud who inducts her into his various enterprises yet also encourages her dreams of becoming a writer. When C.B. suddenly dies, Charlie is left alone and must use her wits and resourcefulness to take charge of her life, all the while wrestling with the morality of continuing her grandfather’s schemes. When a handsome cowboy-stranger, Blake, arrives, he insinuates himself into C.B.’s religion business and into Charlie’s heart. Despite her resistance, Blake mounts a lucrative PR campaign, touting Charlie as an “oracle” and arranging for her to perform miracles.
Laury A. Egan is the author of Jenny Kidd, a psychological suspense novel, and Fog and Other Stories (also available from Humanist Press), which was short-listed for a UK Saboteur Award. In addition to writing fiction, two poetry collections, Snow, Shadow, a Stranger and Beneath the Lion’s Paw, were issued by FootHills Publishing as well as a chapbook, The Sea & Beyond. Her work has appeared in over 35 literary journals and anthologies and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, Best of the Web, and Best of the Net. She lives on the coast of New Jersey.
Links from this month’s episode:
- Website: Humanist Press
- Website: bunnyape.com, shared website of Stephen and Susan K. Perry
- Book: Kylie’s Heel by Susan K. Perry
- Book: Questions About God by Stephen Perry
- Book: Holidays and Other Disasters by John G. Rodwan Jr.
- Website: John G. Rodwan Jr.
- Book: The Outcast Oracle by Laury A. Egan
- Website: Laury A. Egan
- Website: Monty Harper’s Songs From the Science Frontier CD project
Music from this month’s episode (in order of appearance):
- Theme Song: “Flow” by Words Such as Burn
- “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
- “Science Frontier” by Monty Harper*
*Monty Harper has launched a crowdfunding campaign to record a second innovative science CD for kids. In 2010, Harper gained widespread support from the online science education community for his Songs From the Science Frontier CD. Educators often see music as little more than a way to help students memorize facts, but Harper asks more of the songs he writes. Harper’s songs, inspired by conversations with scientists about their research, focus on the process of science. He translates scientist’s passion for their own work into terms kids can relate to. His aim is to use music to instill in his young listeners wonder, awe and excitement for scientific exploration. Harper’s current Kickstarter campaign has a Dec 13 deadline.
Transcript: The Humanist Hour #89: Four Humanist Press Authors
Kim Ellington: Welcome to the Humanist Hour, the official podcast of the American Humanist Association. What do we got today, Todd?
Todd Stiefel: We have prunes as the official food of Evacuation Day, kind of like turkeys on Thanksgiving. We’ve got Sherman Connor [phonetic], the bright side of death, the band Journey or not, the use secular faith, all as we do a whirlwind of four authors.
Kim Ellington: Welcome to the show everybody.
Todd Stiefel: Hi listeners. This is Todd.
Kim Ellington: And this is Kim.
Todd Stiefel: We’ve got a crazy show for you. A little different format than usual. We are going to hit four interviews in one hour. That’s right. We have four different authors, and we are just going to plow right through like maniacs hitting different authors and topics. It’s going to be a fun month.
Kim Ellington: Left and right authors flying through the air and coming in, coming down.
Todd Stiefel: Oh, my gosh. That reminds me of the scene in History of the World, Part 1 where he’s playing the king and shoots the peasants across the air in a catapult. It’s good to be the king. Why don’t the peasants like me? We all pull the authors and shoot them across the sky throughout the episode.
Kim Ellington: Yes. Then a nice a shower of all of their amazing works will fall upon our listeners and make the world a better place.
Todd Stiefel: Something like that. So what’s going on in the news, Kim?
Kim Ellington: There’s a lot going on. I was actually wondering what’s been going on with you and the Supreme Court of the United States, Todd.
Todd Stiefel: I’m not doing anything with the Supreme Court of the United States personally except praying that they will make their right decision in the Greece case. The Town of Greece versus Galloway case is being heard by the Supreme Court. That is a pretty critical case because what’s basically up for grabs is sectarian prayers. This has been decided by the Supreme Court before, but it’s getting decided again. In the past, the ruling was our government can pray as long as they’re not praying with a specific god. That’s been getting ruthlessly ignored and people are praying in Jesus’ name all over the place.
So the Supreme Court is going to have to make a decision. It’s going to be a tough one because we’ve got clowns like — I’ll say he’s a clown, Scalia, who, he’s up there for political reasons. He’s not there trying to do what the constitution says. It’s going to be a close call given the makeup of the court, but I find the case interesting because the defendant in this case is the Town of Greece. It is a government. It’s not an individual. It’s not a citizen. It’s not citizen’s rights we’re talking about. We’re talking about a lawsuit that essentially is a town, a government claiming that they should be able to pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
To me, I don’t even understand why this is an issue given we have a First Amendment in our constitution. Since when does the government have religious liberty? Since when does the government have the right to choose one religion over another, or one god over another – choosing Allah in one town and Jesus in Greece? It’s a little bit of a scary case to me. The government doesn’t have religious liberty just like a corporation shouldn’t have. We should consider people. But this is one of those cases where if it goes the wrong way, yeah, this could be devastating. It could open the door to local governments across the country picking favorite sects right down to — in Brooklyn you could have a local Jewish government that only prays Jewish prayers. You could go to Michigan in highly concentrated Islamic areas and you could have Islamic official government prayers, that’s their favorite local religion. It’s a little crazy actually.
Kim Ellington: I wonder just in the world of theory, if that would finally make people understand what we’re talking about when we say that freedom of religion also has to be freedom from religion. Maybe it will take that kind of pendulum swing to that side of crazy to make people who don’t quite get it actually see what it is we’re talking about.
Todd Stiefel: Yeah. I’m afraid for them to see it. It’s going to require the Supreme Court messing up the Greece case, allowing governments to pray and then ending up with a town like Dearborn, Michigan which is over 40 percent Muslim and growing. It is where that Muslim reality TV show was filmed. I could see a town like Dearborn five to ten years from now demographic shifting off. If it goes majority Muslim, if this ruling goes one way, you literally could see Muslim prayers opening every meeting and then you’ll finally see the Christians realizing, oops, wow, this is nice when we are in the majority almost everywhere. Uh-oh.
Kim Ellington: Yeah. Like when we were then in Alabama with Bobby Jindal and the school vouchers where one of their representatives was like, “Oh, we meant they were for Christian schools, not for Muslim schools.”
Todd Stiefel: They want to be able to pray in the name of Jesus, not Allah. That’s crazy.
Kim Ellington: Yes. Don’t be crazy, people. We’ll keep our eye on that for sure.
Todd Stiefel: Yes. The ruling should be out in several months. I’m guessing like the spring or summer next year. It takes a while to decide, but, yeah, it is a very, very important case. It’s one of the biggest church-state cases to go all the way to the Supreme Court in a long, long time.
Kim Ellington: Excellent. Good work everybody. Keep up the fight.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. So who is our first author today?
Kim Ellington: Todd, today we are going to start out with Susan Perry, PhD. She is a writer, a novelist and a social psychologist. She has done some amazing work in the non-fiction world. She became curious about how other writers accomplish their feats of creativity like her husband who we will also speak to today, Stephen Perry, who is a poet. Susan has written a Los Angeles Times bestseller Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity. She’ll talk to us a little bit about that as well. Today she’s going to talk to us about her first work of fiction, Kylie’s Heel, which is now available in ebook or paperback. We have a story of Kylie Moran who is a humanist advice columnist in her local newspaper. She has her world, I guess, turned upside down when her son goes on a missionary trip with her more fundamentalist twin sister. Is that a good synopsis?
Susan Perry: Yes, I would say so.
Todd Stiefel: Welcome to the show.
Susan Perry: Thanks.
Todd Stiefel: Tell our listeners about how you treated the themes of humanism and how you used humanism to help your characters along.
Susan Perry: I basically wrote out my worst fears as a person and as a mother. There was no question of Kylie in Kylie’s Heel having any other thing to depend on but her, her humanism and her secularism, and her atheism. I come right out and she comes right out and calls herself an atheist. That’s the only way I could see to do it; otherwise, I’d be really making it up. So I used my worst fears and my belief system to help my character get through a really tough time.
Todd Stiefel: How does Kylie’s atheism and humanism help her cope through the challenges she goes through during the course of the book?
Susan Perry: It really takes a long time. Towards the end she’s debating whether to be or not be really, which is everyone’s real question when you don’t believe that there’s another life coming along either for you or your loved ones. She eventually accepts that is all I can say. She accepts it like atheists, and agnostics, and humanist – pretty much have to. But we go through all of that back and forth thinking with her. A couple of reviewers have said it was as if they lived through it themselves. Why I don’t want to read it again, because having read it so many times, it was like going through a great loss and having to work out that whole existential thing all over again. There’s nothing left, why should I live? But she does find that as a good existentialist, there is something to live for.
Kim Ellington: As we’ve mentioned when we were telling our listeners about who you are and what you’ve done, you have written a lot of nonfiction in the past and this is your first jump to fiction. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like for you?
Susan Perry: When I married a poet 30 years ago now, I was jealous of the way he could get lost in his writing. I had been a journalist for local magazines and national magazines covering every kind of topic. Eventually I got bored with that. You can’t make up anything. You must stick to the truth, and you also must do what your editors have assigned you to do or will buy. Eventually I decided I think I want to try fiction, and I did. All my learning took place on the job that’s why it took several years, too many years to complete the book to the satisfaction of a publisher and actually get it out in the world. It’s a big switch, but I want to do it again. I don’t want to go back to just writing, you know, regulars, like real stuff.
Todd Stiefel: Apparently you did a good job learning on the job, if you will, because you just won the
indiebookoftheday.com award. I guess it’s an eponymous award.
Kim Ellington: We were trying to get some nice applause, an applause button so that we could yay.
Susan Perry: That was nice. And my sales jumped a little bit.
Todd Stiefel: I bet. That’s awesome. Congratulations on that.
Susan Perry: Thank you.
Todd Stiefel: How did that happen? Do you apply to try to get it? Do they just notice you?
Susan Perry: The publisher, Brian, and Humanist Press applied for that. When you fit whatever it is they’re looking for, good reviews and a good book, they choose one a day apparently and I got it. And I’m happy.
Todd Stiefel: That is awesome.
Susan Perry: I have to figure out where to stick the sticker.
Todd Stiefel: For our listeners, Brian – who is just mentioned at Humanist Press – is also Brian Magee, our fearless producer for the show. So thank you to Brian who’s always behind the scenes and doesn’t have a whole lot of recognition.
Susan Perry: A man of many talents.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed, indeed.
Kim Ellington: Who also needs our non-existent applause button.
Todd Stiefel: Yay for Brian. Good job.
Kim Ellington: One of the things that I was thinking about, Susan, as I was perusing your book is one of the things that’s in the press right now – I don’t know if you’re aware of this – is that Oprah Winfrey had come out and informed an atheist that she wasn’t an atheist because she believed in beauty and essentially had her own redefinition of what atheism is. And I was thinking of your book with the two sisters and their thoughts on each other and trying to connect.
Susan Perry: I don’t have a sibling so I really got to make that up, but I’ve had a couple of fundamentalist friends that I had been able to talk to. I actually interviewed them in a way. One I said – well, actually both – I said I was interviewing them so they knew and I took notes. I made up this sibling. I imagined if you’re twins, even not identical, you’ll be very, very close. But as your philosophies split apart that way – one an atheist, one wanting to be actually a missionary in Africa spreading the word of God – there would be some trials there. They start out the book being open, or at least Kylie is open to understanding her sister, her fundamentalist sister. It doesn’t end up quite so close. Kylie blames her sister for dragging her son on this mission. There’s a whole story there. You might have to read it.
Todd Stiefel: Is Kylie named after anyone in particular?
Susan Perry: No. You know, it’s been a while. I did look up all the names that I was going to use and see what they meant and their various allusions. There is a Kylie Tennant who is, at the turn of the last century, I believe an Australian writer. That’s who I actually named her after. There’s a place in the book where I showed all the commonalities where Kylie herself discovers the commonalities between herself and this early atheist so it’s not after anyone I know. I wonder if a few people actually heaved a sigh of relief there. They’re supposed to like her.
Kim Ellington: They just don’t want to be outed.
Susan Perry: This is the first time actually that I had written anything where I got to put my own views and be absolutely outed as an atheist. Since then I’ve taken on some blogs where I do that and it’s really kind of liberating. I only have this tiny little fear in the back of my mind that the barbarian hordes are going to descend on our house and attack both Stephen and me.
Kim Ellington: You mean it hasn’t happened yet?
Susan Perry: No, no.
Kim Ellington: Oh, I see. It’s probably safe.
Susan Perry: That’s good. Well, that would sell more books. Right? But I don’t want to die.
Kim Ellington: You do need balance, correct?
Todd Stiefel: In your first journey into the world of fiction, were there any kinds of ideas that you wanted to work in to some of the subplots of the story? If so, how did you do that?
Susan Perry: I wanted to set it in the neighborhood in which I live, and I did. The subplots, as with many first novels, tend to be somewhat autobiographical. So the ex-husband, you know, has some familiar traits to me. Some of the conversations between mother and son are actually from a journal that I kept years ago and adapted. Some of the dreams that I had when I was dealing with an empty nest, a few of them stayed in the book. I eliminated most. Reading other people’s dreams is really not that much fun, but I shortened them and tightened them and used a few where they might work.
Kim Ellington: I might have to give that quote to my nine-year-old daughter who starts off her day by explaining to me for ten minutes what she dreamed about last night.
Susan Perry: It’s very hard to get that across to kids.
Todd Stiefel: I don’t know about you two, you clearly aren’t having as interesting a dreams as I’m having because I think mine are fascinating.
Susan Perry: Write them down and maybe you can use them someday.
Todd Stiefel: I probably have to tell them to a shrink more than a general audience.
Susan Perry: That’s why I don’t want to be a shrink.
Kim Ellington: Because you don’t want to know Todd’s dreams? It’s probably very wise.
Todd Stiefel: You probably don’t.
Susan Perry: Not specifically, but –
Kim Ellington: Is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know about your book or your journey in writing it?
Susan Perry: The book I wrote before that or a couple of books before that was called Writing in Flow. I learned that if you’re lucky you’ll get into this trance-like flow state where you’re just having such a good time writing or any other thing that you want to keep doing it whether you’re paid or not, and I guess that’s what happened with Kylie’s Heel. I really did enjoy it. It took a long time and money just ends up not being a big part of the equation. If someone wants to write a novel, learn how. Don’t just write a draft and send it out. I learned that. Because even with all my experience writing for a long time, you tend to think, oh, this is great; or, it’s terrible and you’ll hide it away. But if you think it’s great and you send it out, it’s inevitably premature.
Kim Ellington: You’re speaking of Todd’s dreams.
Susan Perry: Oh. And that’s about it. But I think, as with all literary fiction – and this is called literary fiction – saying what it’s about does not tell you what it’s about. So you have to take a little leap of secular faith and read the book and you will be drawn in. People say they couldn’t put it down, wow. And men have said they couldn’t put it down, not people I actually know except through Twitter and all. I’m like, “Wow, men cannot put it down.”
Todd Stiefel: It was for that sex scene.
Susan Perry: Oh, there’s one really good sex scene, but it’s way late. No, I don’t think that’s it. That’s just a guy thinking.
Todd Stiefel: You just hooked our listeners, male and female. Why didn’t you say there was a sex scene at the beginning?
Susan Perry: There is? Oh. Well, I don’t know, I think.
Todd Stiefel: The switchboards just lit up, folks. Thank you, Susan, so much for being on the show. We really appreciate it.
Susan Perry: Okay. And our joint website, by the way, Stephen’s and mine, is bunnyape in case anyone is listening and isn’t looking at all the little things on the side that say that. B-u-n-n-y-a-p-e, like a little furry animal like me and a big one like Stephen. Bunny ape.
Kim Ellington: Is that a dot com, or a dot net, or a dot org?
Susan Perry: Dot com. There are excerpts from our books and all the raves. Stephen has a list of favorite books and atheist books. There’s a lot on that site. So if you have an extra minute, go check it out.
Kim Ellington: Excellent. Thank you so much, Susan.
Susan Perry: Thank you.
Todd Stiefel: Thanks.
Kim Ellington: Listeners, we have for you now Stephen Perry, the author of Questions About God. This is a book of poems that has been called an excitingly different read by the New York Journal of Books, as well as challenging and thought provoking. There is everything from humanists interests [sounds like], to skeptics, agnostics and atheists. A little something for everyone, I think.
Todd Stiefel: His poetry has been anthologized in the Bedford Anthology of Literature. He is also a professor of creative writing. Interestingly enough, he was once hired as a poetry consultant for Disney.
Kim Ellington: Excellent.
Todd Stiefel: His poetry has been published in journals such as The New Yorker, the Yale Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. Welcome to the show, Stephen.
Stephen Perry: Well, thank you. I’m real glad to be here.
Todd Stiefel: Thank you for joining us on the show today. It’s awesome to have you here. This is my first question for you. It’s just about how you see poetry as helping the humanist cause, and I guess also how you work humanism into your work.
Stephen Perry: There was a book that was the genesis for me of the book. That was Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow. It was a call to creative artists of all sorts, maybe even particularly emphasizing poets to participate in using scientific themes to evoke what’s called the wonder of the universe in a humanist secular way without imaginary creatures at the fringe. It struck me that, yes, we should be participating, all creative artists. So I’ve taken that. You can get at humanist themes in a number of different ways. One way is simply to point out let’s say fallacies in presuming an all-good god. The problem of evil and the incompatibility of that with the god of the universe is something that I deal a lot with.
Kim Ellington: I was actually thinking about Unweaving the Rainbow, and I haven’t read that one and I was thinking that I need to find it.
Stephen Perry: It’s a wonderful book. I think it’s one of Dawkins’ less read and therefore, less appreciated works. But he is as vehement and adamant about bringing up, again, a scientific point of view into the arts. Some artists get it right, some artists don’t. In England, I had a talk with some falconers. I said, “Oh, that’s great. I’ll write a poem about it.” He says, “Well, if you do, please get it right. Nobody who writes about this form of birding gets it right. They will have peregrine falcons hunting in force. That just doesn’t happen.” So I suppose one of the things artists should conscientiously do is get their scientific facts correct.
Todd Stiefel: I think that’s definitely something that I struggle with sometimes when I’m watching movies and the like. I can accept a certain suspension of disbelief, but don’t violate the laws of physics. That part like I can, believe me, I can suspend and think like Jurassic Park. Okay, fine. They brought back dinosaurs. All right, fine. They got really great technology. But don’t put a little kid in an electric fence that can hold back a T. Rex and he just pop’s off. He’s just fine. He’s just a little singed at the edges. He’s okay.
I found that a line in Hourglass was kind of interesting. It’s all you have that is beautiful you will lose. That actually reminds me of a line from a Flaming Lips song, it’s a band often with humanist lyrics and the words where they say do you realize that everyone you know someday will die? Are you kind of trying to get across a similar message to that, do you think? What were you trying to say there? Do you see an uplifting side to that?
Stephen Perry: I’m glad you asked that because I do see an uplifting side to that, acknowledging what is, frees you. The poet Wallace Stevens said death is the mother of beauty, which is a startling phrase. But in order to fully live your life, you need to know that this is all we have and then you’re more likely to expand yourself into that life. So that poem which is probably in and of itself the bleakest poem that you could get, I wanted it to be darkly bleak. Your head almost, your skull, like an hourglass leaking out the sands of time, leaking out your vital essence, that will be gone. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate in the meantime the whole processes of nature.
Kim Ellington: Yes. It’s definitely all around us, isn’t it? The ebb and flow especially this time of year in the autumn, I think, thinking about the end of things but maybe the end of things making way for the beginnings in a few months. That always makes me happy.
Stephen Perry: Me also as long as that image is not
co-opted as an image for physical rebirth. I read one Christian poem where it noted that life was coming back through the roots again of the deciduous trees and then they were miraculously reborn. All of that is fine and all that process marvelous, except for the literalism of that.
In strict fundamentalism, it’s somehow you get ossified interpretations of metaphor. That’s not what they’re about. The metaphors are suggestive of other kinds of process. I’ll give you a brief for instance. In the Bible you have, for the creation of woman, a rib taken. You have to think about that for a moment. This is a patriarchal culture co-opting the function of birth and it’s giving it to a man. So it’s man all the way down. You have God creating Adam. Out of Adam another subordinate creature. That rib is a further symbol for vitality. Within the bone itself, there is a marrow which is nutritious which gives sustenance. And that’s another symbol for life out of death.
Joseph Campbell used to say all of these metaphors, none of the sophisticated in any religion take those literally. Now, I may have some disagreement with him on that. I do, indeed, think people are boned and brained enough to take those images literally. But when you start reading down through the metaphors of religion, I become horrified because of what it means about their world view. This is, again, say in hierarchical arrangement where God is that absolute top and must be obeyed absolutely that’s why we have the image of the Lord. I just recently read a book where in the Bible it talks about servants of God. That’s mostly a mistranslation. We are slaves of God. If you buy into this, there’s no room for individualistic thinking on your own. It’s all channeled one direction from the big guy down.
Kim Ellington: When I first read the name of your book, Questions About God, it immediately struck me as curious that it was in a humanist press. Because to me, if I saw a book called Questions About God I would immediately assume that the author was Christian or of some kind of religious belief. I thought that was an interesting name for the title.
Stephen Perry: Yeah. And I didn’t know until afterwards that there are Christian books out there, questions about God working within that constricted circle. But you may also notice that I put a photo of a Greek god from a museum. I presumed it was Zeus. So it’s not only questions about a Christian god as our impoverished minds would suggest, but larger questions about gods of all traditions, all mythologies. And I do, indeed, move through Blackfoot mythology to Eastern mythology and so on.
Todd Stiefel: I have one last question before I move on. Listeners, we have Steve Perry on the line right now. I’m just curious what it was like when you used to be the lead singer for the band Journey.
Stephen Perry: There was a period where it was wonderful. We would get teenage girls calling all the time. Susan would put me on and I would chat with them. That’s the point.
Kim Ellington: Oh, my gosh. That’s wonderful. Do you have the fist pump too?
Stephen Perry: Believe it or not, I was in a rock band when I was young and played Farfisa organ. Where we really need secularism is in our music. Maybe we need to write cantatas in other forms. I don’t know how it would be done, but I can imagine it.
Todd Stiefel: Steve, thank you so much for being on the show. And don’t stop believing.
Third in our list, we’ve get to continue the catapults of authors, we have John G. Rodwan, Jr. He’s the author of books such as Fighters & Writers, which are boxing books. He has recently turned his attention to more of the humanist sphere of things. Rodwan writes frequently about literature, music, boxing, and humanism now. He has had articles published in The American Interest, Free Inquiry and The Humanist magazine which we are, I guess, the official podcast of. We sprouted out of The Humanist magazine. He’s also lived all over the world – in places like New York, Geneva and the very obscure Portland, Oregon.
Kim Ellington: Portland, Oregon. Nobody knows of that place. Excellent. Good deal.
Todd Stiefel: John, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
John Rodwan: Thanks for having me.
Kim Ellington: Listeners, John is the author of Holidays and Other Disasters. Full of history and personal stories from what I understand. Is that right John?
John Rodwan: Yes, it is. The idea is they’re stories that have a holiday connection, a holiday theme. Most of them are my own stories, experiences I’ve had related to the holidays. In some cases, other people have some fascinating stories so I told theirs instead. But usually they’re my own experiences.
Todd Stiefel: Creating the book, were there any kind of strange holidays you came across or that perhaps you celebrate in your daily life?
John Rodwan: For a while I lived in New York and learned of Evacuation Day, which is a holiday I’ve never heard of before. It turned out no one I knew in New York had heard of it either. But immediately after the end of the Revolutionary War, when the British troops finally left New York, people celebrated that for a long time, too, but then it sort of fell out of favor. So around Thanksgiving, which is the same time of the year. I thought Evacuation Day is a really nice holiday. It’s celebrating the same things as the Fourth of July, but it’s the end of the war instead of the beginning. It doesn’t have any religious components that Thanksgiving sort of inherently does. I sort of tried to convince friends we should celebrate Evacuation Day instead of Thanksgiving, but no one really went for that. I still kind of like the idea.
Kim Ellington: Evacuation Day brings up a different connotation to me so I appreciate you letting us know what that is. It does sound lovely. It’s essentially getting all the soldiers out of our town and cities, I guess, at that time. Yeah?
John Rodwan: Right.
Todd Stiefel: It seems we are evacuating soldiers though nothing else. Do you now celebrate Evacuation Day? If not, what is your personal story connection to it?
John Rodwan: Well, like I said, I kind of persuaded people or tried to persuade people in New York that this will be a good alternative to Thanksgiving. But I couldn’t really bring people around to it, which I guess I understand. But my wife really likes to make the Thanksgiving meal and she’s a good cook so I do go along with that one though.
Kim Ellington: Maybe what you should have done was to offer them a particular food. If you’re going to start a holiday, I think you have to connect the food with it to be successful. I think that’s one of the prerequisites.
Todd Stiefel: If it’s going to be Evacuation Day, maybe it should be prunes.
John Rodwan: The other thing is that folks imagine it’s about November. But while we’re in November the other thing that — the holiday I do sort of –- it felt like not really a holiday, but it is kind of personally. When my wife and I first married, on our first anniversary, in fact, we ended up for work reasons moving to Europe. We happened to take a trip to Paris on the third Thursday of November which, at the time, I didn’t realize it was when the Beaujolais Nouveau, the wine, was released and so it’s kind of a big celebration going on throughout the city. So ever since then, she and I have started celebrating that as our own sort of personal holiday symbolizing new beginnings and that sort of thing. But again, that’s just personal. I don’t really expect anyone else to do that, which is one of the things, I guess, that prompted some of the musings in the book, which is that some holidays do have this sort of compulsory or semi-compulsory aspect to them which I don’t always appreciate. So, I’m more than willing to have a little household celebration and people can participate if they want. But if they don’t, that’s fine too.
Todd Stiefel: What aspect do you find compulsory about certain holidays?
John Rodwan: I know this gets into controversial areas, but –-
Todd Stiefel: Yay, bring it on.
John Rodwan: There’ll be the controversy or pseudo-controversy about whether you should say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, or what-have-you. But there is often an assumption that with the big holidays like Christmas, for instance, of course you celebrate Christmas. Even people I know who aren’t religious often celebrate Christmas. I always found that a little odd not because I don’t understand people wanting to get together with friends and family and, like you said, having a nice meal. All that’s fine. But I sort of think, well, I’m not a Christian, I don’t need to celebrate this. There’s often this sort of befuddlement among people if you try to let them know, thanks, it’s not for me. It’s just sort of taken as a given that you’re going to celebrate these things.
Kim Ellington: We do a lot a lot of winter solstice celebrating in our area just because it’s a really good reason and it’s at the same general time of the year. It’s really fun to say to people. They say, “Are you going to a Christmas party?” I’m like, “No, no. Winter solstice.” That usually stops people cold, which is a bit controversial. It’s a lovely opportunity for educating about what that actually is, and that there are a lot of other things going on besides the made-up version of the Christ’s birth story.
John Rodwan: Right.
Todd Stiefel: I actually do celebrate Christmas each year probably because, I guess, I’m a cultural Christian if you would. Secular Catholic, if that’s a term even. I have kids now. Do you have any recommendations on how to bring the traditional joy of Christmas to children without the religious overtones?
John Rodwan: That’s a good question. I’m sure it is a tricky issue to wrestle with for people who have children. I don’t have children so I never really had to sort that one out personally. And then my wife, who has the same general outlook as I do said, “If we did have children I might want to do this because a lot of holidays seem like to be a lot of fun for children.” But then she thinks it’s strange that some people continue to do it if they don’t believe in the thing that usually is nominally being celebrated. But it’s a tricky thing. I wouldn’t presume like I said, not having children, to tell anyone else how they should raise them. But I can see it being a complicated issue to on the one hand celebrate it, but on the other hand, try to just plain not really believing in a lot of what’s associated with the holidays. So, it does seem like there’s some really thorny issues in a way that if you say well, we don’t celebrate that because we don’t believe this or want to encourage belief in this. And I could see it being an easier conversation but a harder thing to have a kid understand when all of our friends are celebrating.
Kim Ellington: Do you do any kind of gift-giving or acknowledgement of the end of the year or anything like that between you and your wife?
John Rodwan: Actually my birthday falls at the end of the year. I welcome any gifts that people want to give me.
Todd Stiefel: You can give your personal address out at the end of the interview. People can ship it right to you.
John Rodwan: We do have our New Year’s Eve tradition. We don’t go out and celebrate or anything, but we have our little routines at home. But Christmas, I can pretty much do without.
Kim Ellington: I like the Beaujolais Nouveau actually. I think I might find out when each one of the different wine harvests come in and start adding those to my calendar.
John Rodwan: Yeah, I enjoy it.
Todd Stiefel: Is that a huge holiday across France or is that more of like an individual family-type thing?
John Rodwan: It’s not necessarily a holiday in the sense of Thanksgiving [sounds like], but it seemed to be a pretty widespread thing. It’s almost like even if you’re in a city, an almost agricultural harvest stuff kind of thing in a way. At least that was my impression.
Kim Ellington: I like that, food and wine, baby. That’s what we always need to celebrate.
Todd Stiefel: Absolutely. We should all get a day-off and just get to party, a paid holiday. I was thinking that we should eliminate one of our federal holidays, and I’m curious on your thoughts on this. This seems like something that would be fun to do and would really drive people crazy, but what if we eliminated Columbus Day and replaced it with Election Day? And anybody in favor of this is for democracy, and anybody opposed is for genocide and slavery. What are your thoughts on that, John? Do you support that proposal?
John Rodwan: I’d be fine with it. But what it makes me think of is, again, I lived in New York for a while. In New York, Columbus Day has become de facto Italian-American Day. That’s the day there’ll be a big parade. New Yorkers seem to love a parade. There’s a parade for any essentially ethnically-oriented day. So St. Patrick’s Day will be Irish-American Day, Columbus Day is Italian-American Day. There I could see the genocide argument not going over quite as well because not respecting our heritage and that sort of argument coming up. Although believe me, I’m with you, but I can see some people reacting a little unfavorably.
Todd Stiefel: They wouldn’t like us pointing out the genocidal heritage?
John Rodwan: In my experience, no, people don’t respond to that.
Todd Stiefel: Oh, well, too bad if we offend them.
Kim Ellington: Is there anything else that you’d like our listeners to know about your book?
John Rodwan: Well, like I said, in some cases I do tell some other people’s stories because there are some stories that are really quite fascinating. Often they have a very religious aspect. For example, some people know or may have known but forgotten the fatwa, the death penalty Ayatollah Khomeini issued against Salman Rushdie. It came down on St. Valentine’s Day. Several years later, he proposed to one of his wives on Valentine’s Day. So there is what is now also an important date. So there’s an interesting story there with this which, of course, is a religious story. But then I have another essay, another chapter in there in the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, who won an important fight on the Fourth of July. So there is an interesting story about race in America relating to the Fourth of July and Jack Johnson’s fight. Labor Day which of course is one of the very few secular holidays although religious components have been grafted onto it over the years. There is a good Eugene Debs’ story. In addition to my own personal experiences I do interweave a lot of historical stories that I hope readers would find interesting.
Todd Stiefel: To me, Labor Day seems pretty straightforward secular. What have religious groups done to take that over?
John Rodwan: At the most basic level, there are often in addition to the parades, there are mass services. For a long time the AFL-CIO would have a segment on their website, labor in the pulpits. Historically, there is a long heritage of the Catholic Church in particular trying to sort of co-opt the labor movement sort of keeping it from going too far left and more towards supporting the status quo rather than efforts to change it. Some interesting and sometimes sort of tragic intersections, but it’s certainly some colorful history.
Kim Ellington: Excellent. Thank you for being here.
John Rodwan: Thank you.
Todd Stiefel: Thanks a lot, John. I appreciate having you on the show.
John Rodwan: Thanks.
Kim Ellington: Next we welcome Laury A. Egan, the author of The Outcast Oracle and Fog and Other Stories. She also has a psychological suspense novel called Jenny Kidd, as well as two poetry collections one called Snow, Shadows, and a Stranger; and another called Beneath the Lion’s Paw. Her work has received nominations for two Pushcart Prizes, as well as Best of the Web, and Best on the Net. Her work has appeared in over 35 literary journals. We welcome Laury today. Welcome, Laury.
Laury Egan: Thank you for having me here on this broadcast. That’s really nice.
Todd Stiefel: Tell our listeners a little bit, a kind of an overview of the book and some of the things and themes that you really wanted to hit on and get across without giving away too much. We’ll keep some surprises for later.
Laury Egan: One of the things that was really interesting about this book is that I did not intend to write a young adult novel. I think Mark Twain probably felt much the same way. In fact, there’s a little bit of that Mark Twain style sort of the satirical, wry humor in this book. As a result I’ve had a lot of very good feedbacks from adult readers who have enjoyed it, male and female of all ages. It should apply also to the teenage market. I would really like to see everybody try it. The book is essentially about a young, 14-year-old girl. It’s set in 1959. She is dealing with all kinds of issues. Her grandfather is a real con artist – a charming fellow, very independent kind of character. He’s got a whiskey mill. He’s got all kinds of con jobs that he’s doing. But mostly he is running his own little minister show in the house and has a lot of people coming in order to put some money in the plate. That’s what he is enjoying doing.
He is really essentially a con guy, but really loves Charlie, the main character. Slowly she becomes very involved with all of his various endeavors. There’s a really wonderful relationship that they have here. The religion is sort of tongue-in-cheek in terms of they do not really believe in what they’re doing but they are figuring if people are happy after coming and listening to them and put some money in the plate, that’s what they’re there for. Those are some of the themes about it. The book was not really written specifically for the humanist market, but it really wound up being a great title and a great fit, I think, for Humanist Press. I’m very grateful to them for publishing the book.
Todd Stiefel: You said it wasn’t specifically designed for a humanist audience. Who did you have mind as your audience when you were writing it?
Laury Egan: I didn’t really, to be honest. I happen to have a number of my projects where I get a voice in my head that comes out of nowhere and I just sort of hold on for the ride. This was the case here. I really didn’t have a preconceived notion about this title. All of a sudden, because of all this satire about religion and other things as well, I realized that this would be a really wonderful book for the humanist market. It’s sort of the book that I wish I had had when I was that younger age because there really wasn’t anything back then. The book has got some charm and some humor, but then there’s also some drama, a little romance and some danger. It’s a really interesting mix.
Kim Ellington: That sounds like the beginning of The Princess Bride, which is my favorite movie. There’s a little something for everyone, swordfights. Maybe not in your book.
Todd Stiefel: Other swordfights.
Laury Egan: I think it is a pretty interesting tale. I think it is appropriate for a lot of different people. I don’t think it’s a really narrow market at all. I think even religious people would at least enjoy the humor. The jabs are pretty nice really for the most part about religion and religious practices.
Todd Stiefel: Is there a particular religion you are jabbing or is it across the board?
Laury Egan: Sort of across the board. I think at one point, there’s a character that comes in midpoint in the novel who, I guess, has been raised as a Catholic so there is a little bit of tongue-in-cheek stuff about him knowing how to dress up everything. He, all of a sudden, wanted to get Charlie dressed up in this gown with this big cross. He’s more into the show of it and she figures that that’s what Catholics do, why they’re so successful, so she figures, “All right, I’ll go along with it.” She really wasn’t too happy about being involved with the whole oracle thing, which is what he wanted her to be in order to make more money.
Todd Stiefel: How do you handle the question of moral ambiguity in the story? It sounds like you’ve got characters that are kind of doing some underhanded con artist type things, but they’re also charismatic. This must be a tough balance to walk when you’re writing the story. So how do you handle these questions of characters not being purely good or purely evil?
Laury Egan: I think that’s human nature. Going back to Mark Twain again, he had much of the same kind of thing. Because of the sort of charming quality of the grandfather who was the con artist, he really isn’t really mean. He just uses and manipulates. He is sort of a lovable character in many ways, and he really has some positive attributes. It is difficult to deal with the ambiguity of this kind of thing. I don’t know. I think you just have to write it and hope that readers will feel sympathetic for what the main character is going through and how she makes her ultimate decisions about what is good for her to do, what is right for her to do, and going through that entire process and seeing her history both in the back story as well as in current as you’re reading along. I think it is a tricky problem.
Kim Ellington: I see also that you have written a book called Fog and Other Stories, which is also published by the Humanist Press. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Laury Egan: Yes. This book was originally issued by another publisher who closed its doors, and it was really nice of the Humanist Press to pick it up. This title has 23 stories that deal with the concept of fog in terms of dreams, grief, sorrow, jealousy, romance – all kinds of aspects, including one story set in Ireland which really has some fog in it. This book is really –- I’m really very proud of this book because most of these stories have been published in literary journals.
The connection to the humanist concept is probably not as strong as in The Outcast Oracle though there are several stories that are very pertinent. But I think the whole book was written through my mindset which is humanist, and I think that comes across. This is a little different book for this publisher, I believe. I’ll be very interested to see how it does. I’m very pleased. It’s very diverse in terms of the subject material, the style, even as to verse. Some of the stories are very literary. Some are just good reads. It’s a very, very diverse collection.
Todd Stiefel: You wrote us before the interview about how in Fog you touched on a concept that’s really interesting to you. When I read your email, it actually sounded kind of fascinating to me so I wanted to ask you about the concept of creative chore and going away from the crowd and being independent and even going away from the religious crowd. Tell us about how you touched on that.
Laury Egan: I think The Outcast Oracle is a very fine example of that, but Fog has a number of young characters who are grappling with all kinds of issues. My own background is I was the only child and my parents pretty much did whatever they felt like doing. They were both very independent. I had a lot of time to myself. It’s my strong belief that children who are trying to observe and understand their relationship to the world, not only in their family but their peer group, often become writers or artistic people in some fashion. I’m fascinated with this process of the development from these kinds of childhood triangles or small areas where the kid is very much alone and a lot of the time has a lot of downtime without being overscheduled and over connected to a peer group or the outside world. I think that this kind of hot house mentality of just having everything very compressed is really good for a writer, but it also makes for very interesting characters who then later grow up and have a lot of the childhood original world.
Like my novel Jenny Kidd, which was published by Vagabondage Press, it has again a young artist who was pretty much on her own and is struggling. This is a theme I come back to quite often. I think that this has also a very strong connection to people that reject organized religion because they don’t really feel so socially involved and they are willing to take a chance on their own independent views. I think there’s a good strong correlation there as well, and there was for me too.
Kim Ellington: Thank you, Laury. That was wonderful. Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners before we let you go today?
Laury Egan: No, but I’m really glad to have both of these books out. I hope they do well. I’ve always loved to hear comments through my website from many readers. Fog and Other Stories is a little different. I think people just need to go through it and they will find something in there that they will enjoy because the stories are very diverse.
Kim Ellington: Thank you so much.
Laury Egan: All right. Thank you, Todd and Kim.
Todd Stiefel: Thank you so much for being on the show.
Laury Egan: All right, bye.
Kim Ellington: All right, Todd. That was definitely a wonderful catapult of authors today.
Todd Stiefel: Indeed. Listeners, if you would like, you can send us a comment at 202-618-1371. You can like us on Facebook and check us out at thehumanisthour.org for previous episodes and the show notes.
Kim Ellington: For any of the books you heard about here today that I know have piqued your interest, you can go to Humanist Press and order all of them right there. Order one, order two, order all six, 17, however many there were.
Todd Stiefel: Just keep ordering. Don’t stop.
Kim Ellington: Don’t stop. It feels good. I’ll tell you what. It’s true. When I get my book orders in, oh, my goodness. Especially when sometimes they all come in at once, I get very happy.
Todd Stiefel: You get excited about the books when they arrive. That’s good.
Kim Ellington: I do, I do. I’m a girl who reads. I know it’s crazy. It’s crazy, but it’s true.
Todd Stiefel: You’re doing better than me. I’m not a girl and I don’t read a lot of books actually. I’ve shoved [sounds like] off almost all Internet reading. It feeds my ADD attention span.
Kim Ellington: Flip, flip, click.
Todd Stiefel: Click, click, click.
Kim Ellington: I like it.
Todd Stiefel: Exactly.
Kim Ellington: I have a quote that I read this week. It’s from another girl. Can you handle it, Todd? Two girls, two readers, and a quote?
Todd Stiefel: Absolutely. Bring it on.
Kim Ellington: This one is from Rosa Luxemburg.
Todd Stiefel: Is that’s a country.
Kim Ellington: It is, but she isn’t. I’m not sure if she is from that particular –- I think she’s from Germany, however.
Todd Stiefel: If she’s totally from Luxembourg, that would be way cooler.
Kim Ellington: I know, right? If she lives on Luxembourg Street, that would be even better.
Todd Stiefel: “I’m Rosa Luxemburg from Luxembourg.”
Kim Ellington: “I live on 622 Luxembourg Street.” Probably the worst German accent ever. I do apologize to anyone.
Todd Stiefel: That was a perfect Luxembourgian, Ernest Borgninian accent.
Kim Ellington: I just fell off my piano. Oh dear. Poor Rosa. This is what she has to say, Todd. I really, really like this. “Being human means throwing your whole life on the scales of destiny when need be, all the while rejoicing in every sunny day and every beautiful cloud.” I would cross-stitch that with some clouds and some sunshine. I like that.
Todd Stiefel: Can you do that for me? Can you cross-stitch that?
Kim Ellington: I will.
Todd Stiefel: I’ll hold you to that.
Kim Ellington: All right, that sounds good. This is fun. I hope everybody enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you so much to all of our authors today and to Brian, our wonderful producer.
Todd Stiefel: Until next month, thank you very much listeners. We will talk to you then.
Kim Ellington: Absolutely. Bye everybody. See you soon.
Todd Stiefel: Leaders or listeners. I don’t know what we have. Do we have readers? Do we have leaders? I don’t seem to like finishing the word listeners that you think are interested, and at that our readers might find interesting.
Kim Ellington: Or our listeners. Listeners, we have for you now Susan Perry – who happens to be married to Stephen Perry – the author of Kylie’s Heel, a novel. A new -– I’m going to start that over again. A novel, a lovely novel. Sorry, Brian. Edit.
Todd Stiefel: John, how do you pronounce your last name?
John Rodwan: Rodwin, pronounce the A like it’s an I.
Todd Stiefel: Perfect. That was our guest, but we didn’t want to butcher it on the air.
John Rodwan: I appreciate that.
Kim Ellington: John Rod-wan.
Todd Stiefel: Yeah, there we go.
Kim Ellington: Hi, John. It’s Kim.
John Rodwan: Hi.
Kim Ellington: Welcome to the show everybody.
Todd Stiefel: You squealed.
Kim Ellington: I did. Oh dear. Listeners, Stephen Perry has written a book called Questions About God, a book of amazing poetry from what I understand from the reviews. I need to start that all over again if you don’t mind.
Stephen Perry: I love being edited.
Kim Ellington: That was terrible, all right.