The Party’s Here, and You’re All Invited

I said that I wasn’t going to write another post again–and for the most part I am keeping true to my promise–but for today I am making an exception.  And the occasion is truly exceptional. Next Saturday, August 25th, the staff of Hennen’s Observer, including myself, publisher Joshua Hennen, contributing writers, and friends of the magazine will gather at the High Point Public Library in High Point, NC at 4 p.m. to celebrate the official start of our writers and artists group in North Carolina. The meeting is partly a getting to know you session, part grand opening of the magazine. High Point library officials, including the library’s director, will be on hand to observe the event, and the public is definitely invited.

Light refreshments will be served.  The actual meeting is expected to last well over an hour, and will cover everything from fiction, creative nonfiction, and hard-news journalism (including our upcoming child abuse and neglect issue, which Alexandria Harris did such a smashing job contributing to). We are proud to be officially recognized by the community, but we are also honored to get to meet at least some of the cheerleaders and fans who’ve kept us going all these years–even when we wanted to throw in the towel. Hennen’s is more than a website or a magazine.  It is a social network, production company, sounding board, and digital watering hole for struggling and established writers both locally and internationally.

Writing is in our blood. Good writing that makes a difference is even more important to us. But more than that, being able to be part of a community that values the work we do is beyond luck. We feel blessed just to be able to pursue our craft, without interference or fear of offending someone.  We cannot express our deepest thanks to all those anonymous bloggers, writers, journalists and wannabes who read our blog and website every single day. It brings tears to our eyes that they choose to spend their precious minutes of downtime reading us instead of something else.

So climb into that car, buy that plane or bus ticket and come on down to High Point next weekend. Don’t worry–the coffee will be  fine.

For more information please consult:

Google Maps

@hennensobserver Twitter page

Hennens Observer Facebook page

…And this excellent post by crime writer Lee Lofland, describing a seminar he, novelist Jeffery Deaver (Roadside Crosses)  and several other well known authors attended in High Point circa 2010.. Lofland does a good job of giving a run down of what a typical writer’s group/meeting is like, plus a little ambience about the library itself.  As you can tell, the sky was overcast and gray, but we’re holding out for more pleasant weather and company! 

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The One That’s Not About Sports


By John Winn

I have a confession to make: I hate sports. I loathe sports. I never played basketball, baseball, participated in only a few dodgeball matches in grade school, even won a first place ribbon for (I think) the hundred yard dash. In fact, I still have my ribbons all framed in a patriotic tricolor of red-white-blue that suggests the wholesomeness of Middle America.   

I’m actually from the South, but this post isn’t about my supposed redneck upbringing (however genteel it might actually have been). It isn’t about sports at all.  But it is about the news, and literature.

When we started this blog, we intended for it to be a lighthearted companion to our main website. The slogan says it all: light and easy with a side of bacon.  Despite being humorically challenged, we managed to succeed in a way, chronicling the Internet’s obsession with bird-women, making ironic observations about our craft–which Alex has done with gusto–and generally trying to stay on the light side of life. Yet it’s not so easy to be topical and funny at the same time–take it from this hard news guy.

The Olympics seemed like the perfect launching pad. It is and remains one of the premier spectator events–everyone gets to see the triumphs and defeats, the unstuck landings, the runners who don’t quite make it past the finish line. The intimate nature of the games means that everyone can get into it without having to know the stats and the players’ backstories and all the things required of certain sports fans back home (I’m looking at you, NFL).

The Olympics also happens to be the one event that intersects with all others and for a guy like myself, that’s a dream. You can talk about the politics of sports, the human interest angle (Wieber’s fall from grace, Bolt’s dominance on the track, Phelps’ swan song to the sport he loves), even how the games pretty much overshadowed every other story in the news–even arguably, the ones that should have been above the fold instead.

That much we (and I) set out to do. But like a gymnast who can’t quite keep her balance, we made obvious errors in our coverage, and mistakes like those would get major deductions in a real newsroom–and by deductions, I  mean pink slips. Even Jordyn would agree on that one. I guess we had chutzpah, but chutzpah and calculated risks are two completely separate things.

So without further adieu, I step back behind the curtain and let Alex and Brennon share the spotlight once more–for now, at least.

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Finding the Words You Need

By Alexandria Harris

 When I’m at a loss for words (and those who know me know that usually isn’t often) sometimes the only place I can express myself and make sense of it all is through writing. But sometimes the problem follows me into my sacred space, pins me down, and I’m forced to threaten it with my secret weapon: the thesaurus.

I’m sure we’ve all been through its pages of synonyms, trying to find the one word to save us from writer’s block. The thesaurus is supposed to be our friend, to bring meaning and connection to the myriad of words in its cousin the dictionary. But what if that fails?

This is the predicament I found myself in last night–scattered papers, a crude map, a Norse-English dictionary, a thesaurus, ninety six thousand words in Microsoft Word, and a glaring problem.

For the past three hours I had been pouring over the correlation between light and shadow, how to make the word Lumen sound cool, and an effective word for winter that would work well with court (I settled on frost).

My mission and problem was how to find a word to replace autumn while still retaining the meaning and it had to sound believable in front of the word court (somehow the cornucopia court seemed laughable and brought back too many flashbacks of The Hunger Games).

It’s sad that even though the average woman apparently speaks 20,000 words a day, but 500-700 words of actual value, none of the 500-700 meaningful words in my vocabulary could help me out!

I used the thesaurus, I went through my memory bank of things associated with autumn. Finally, I brought out the last line of defense: my siblings.

I am fortunate to come from a family of readers. We critique books like we’re in front of a camera with complimentary Columbian coffee, biscotti, and an audience hanging on our every back and forth. So in my desperation I called them in. We sat down for another half an hour (three heads are better than one) and tossed ideas back and forth.

Finally my 17 year old sister Morgan hit the jackpot. “Hey, why don’t you call it the Reaping Court?”

Then she back-tracked and said maybe it was associated too much with the Grim Reaper, but the possibilities were already pouring through my brain synapses and I was hooked. It was perfect.

Many of you are probably involved in critique groups or have friends who love to read and write as much as you do. You already know connections are essential. Seriously. I often talk a new story idea over to see if there is material  that doesn’t make sense or illogical scenarios. The best material can come from someone who isn’t too invested in your universe like you are.

That can be difficult. Finding the right words (and people for that matter) is hard. You don’t want a person who sings your praises and tells you that it was wonderful and transported them into a different world.

This person should be locked up in the back of your mind. You need a healthy mix of Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne because maybe we shouldn’t hear how great we are all the time. Otherwise we’d dig deeper. We’d be forced to face the reality that before the greats were greats, many people probably hated their work and it ended up in the slush piles or in somebody’s basement.

Only though critiquing and dialogue can material evolve to the next level. Usually nothing is so perfect or revolutionary that it cannot be fixed, tweaked, or reworked into something more remarkable.

Sometimes finding words requires us to say a few more to tease them out from where they’ve been hiding.

Through the lips of a young’un my concept was saved and I didn’t have to spend too much time staring at an empty screen. Sometimes you just need better friends, especially when the one you hold most dear is a thesaurus. 

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Seven Pounds

By Alexandria Harris

If you thought I was talking about the Will Smith movie, I’m sorry to disappoint but I do think you should see it if you haven’t. This Will probably resonate more with the ladies (pun intended and sorry gents).

In a week full of disappointments, sadness, and confusion for our nation, I found some positive energy.

I lost my first five pounds after doing a structured workout. I know it may not seem like much, but I already feel great. I was an athlete in high school but during college I fell victim to all-nighters, little time to cook (say hello Ramen and take out), exhaustion, and caffeine.  Multiply this by four years and the freshman fifteen starts shrinking into the horizon like remnants of the sun.

When I was younger, I never worried that my grandmother was a cannibal, but she did always want to fatten me up like I was Gretel. Grandma loved feeding people. She never let anyone leave her house hungry and was always talking about how I was too skinny and needed more meat on my bones.

Later, after her death and during college, came the comments.

Mind you, even after four years, I by no means looked overweight. But when you come from an extended family like mine (loving and well meaning as they are) you need some thick skin.

Aunt: “I see you’ve gained some more meat on those thighs.”

Aunt: “Hello Ms. Chunky…”

Dad: “So when are you going to the gym?”

Aunt: “You need some new clothes for that new food baby of yours.”

Dad: “Don’t you live right by a gym?”

Uncle: “Don’t worry. Men like healthy women with meat on their bones.”

Dad: “I guess you haven’t gone to the gym yet.”

They meant well. They really did. But after a while, some comments start slipping through the cracks in the thick skin. I resolved after graduating college that I was going to maintain mind, body, and emotional health to help keep my life more in balance and I knew exactly the person I was going to call on to help me kick my butt into gear.

Jillian.  And boy did she ever!

Accomplishing weight loss to feel better reminded me of the days when I practiced for at least three hours a day in high school. There were also constant reminders of success stories along the way—Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks to name a couple. It felt as good as achieving one of my page goals for writing, or doing a random act of kindness.

The title refers to the goal I’ve set for myself in the next couple of weeks. It is so easy to get inundated with depressing things in the media, but accomplishing little wins in our personal life can center us and help us keep it all in perspective. It can also bring us closer together with our community–the first person I told after achieving my goal, was my dad.

So though it’s late in the week, I wish you well with any personal goals or achievements you are accomplishing or plan to accomplish this week and beyond.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My Secret Milkshake is Better than Yours

By Alexandria Harris

 And though Kelis was in absolutely no way talking about a milkshake, I actually am.

 In the land of beer, cheese, Door County cherries, and usually humid continental weather it has gotten to 105 degrees.

 That was my breaking point.

 Some of you are probably laughing at me right now and that is completely fine. I’ll bear your laughs if only to have you arm me with one of those spray bottle fans (the ones that were cool to carry around in public five years ago) as I face down the heat.

 My Northern blood’s white flag goes up immediately when it gets into the 90s. Especially when there are heat advisory warnings. Air conditioning is my solace and I use it liberally. When I do have to go out, I placate my protesting body with sunscreen and treats. Secret treats.

 Only these treats are about as secret as wikileaks. Since I made you hungry Friday, I thought it would only be fair to quench your thirst today.

This year I was introduced to the world of secret menus. If you’re looking to mix it up at a few well known restaurants, step into my tastebuds *ahem* parlor for a minute. Your brain will love you for it.

 I was ecstatic when I found out these existed at places I frequented like Jamba Juice, Chipotle, and Starbucks. If you haven’t already been made aware, let me help you walk into the light my friend. Below are a few of my favorites:

 Starbucks: When I found out Starbucks had a Cap’n Crunch frappuccino that tasted exactly like Cap’n Berry Crunch, I had to try it. Not because I haven’t had Cap’n Crunch cereal since I was five (strictly a Honey Bunches of Oats and Cheerios brand lady) but because I had to see if it was true. It was and it was better than I’d imagined. Made with strawberries and cream, hazelnut, and a dash of toffee, it tasted like the real thing. If you don’t have an inner five-year-old, you could also order a Chocolate Pumpkin, a Tuxedo Mocha, a Super Cream Frappuccino, and more.

 Chipotle: I am a Chipotle fanatic. I love Chipotle almost as much as I am a raving fan for Chik-Fil-A fare. But I never expected for Chipotle to literally make anything you want–within ingredients. And since I’m a nut for their cilantro-ladden guacamole, I’ve had it with everything. But when you’ve been around the menu a couple of times and want a fantasy quesadilla with with anything you want or to mix it up with a quesarito who could pass that up?

 Jamba Juice: If you like candy but are afraid of cavities, have the taste in a smoothie! I personally recommend the Pink Starburst. It’s fantastic. As proof of how good its secret menu is, Jamba Juice also has flavors like Thank You Jesus and Hello Jesus among Skittles, Sourpatch Kid, Apple Pie, Now and Later, Strawberry Shortcake, and a few others. Here’s hoping I can drive by and get some Holy Ghost juice that will have me singing some praises after church next Sunday.

 Potbelly’s will make you a cheeseburger of all things. Yes I wrote it–cheeseburgers. The two other menu items are a Fireball (meatball sandwich with chili on top) and Wrecking Ball (combo of two sandwiches – the meatball and the wreck).

 For cooler treats, try out the Dairy Queen secret menu or a couple of my unhealthy favorites that aren’t open secrets, but still refreshing on unbearable days:

 Arby’s: Jamocha Shake

 Ruby Tuesdays: Peach Tea (they put little fruit pieces in the bottom small enough to suck up your straw)

 Starbucks: Green Tea Frappucino with a shot of espresso

 Chick-Fil-A: Banana Pudding Milkshake, Arnold Palmer, Cheesecake Shake (buy a piece of cheesecake and ask them to blend it into whatever milkshake you choose. My personal favorite was Strawberry Cheesecake. It tastes like the best near death experience you’ve ever had. Just don’t think about the calories afterward)

 Godiva: Milk Chocolate Chocolixir

 Coffeebytes: Duche de leche latte, Gingerbread Frappucino

 Red Mango: Acai Berry Shake

 Steak n’ Shake: Very Berry Strawberry Smoothie

 Kopp’s: Tiramisu, Cookies N’ Cream, Butter Pecan, Mint Chocolate (ice cream)

 And last but not least: Paciugo-Wedding Cake.gelato

 Enough said.

 For more restaurants with secret menus, this list has a nice compilation of some I’ve already mentioned in its gathering of twenty four restaurants. And on that note, I’m going to blast some seasonal Nelly to win the war of blaring music in my neighborhood and cool off with some sweet tea.  

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I Pity the Pig

By Alexandria Harris

 I apologize in advance for the offenses and blasphemy I’m about to commit against swine and vegetarians but summertime is the season for carnivores like myself.

 According to the American Hearth Patio and Barbeque Association there is no definitive history of BBQ. Some say the Spanish introduced it with their way of cooking and the term was derived from the word “barbacoa” and others say the Caribbean natives taught the French when they arrived on our southern shores.

 I say it probably began in primitive times when the cavemen couldn’t figure out any other way to cook their food and just let the fire caress it over a spit. Surprisingly, to me at least, barbecues have been White House traditions for many presidents.

 On this Fourth of July, I literally cannot wait for some. Ribs, chicken, my personal favorite grilled pork chops, brats, hamburgers, hot dogs, and shrimp shish kabobs soothe my inner beast. It’s the animal kingdom over at the Harris household and humans are the top of the food chain (the rabbits are just lucky my grandmother isn’t still gracing us with her presence).

 But we can’t forget the foods traditionally paired with barbecue. Hearty potato salad, corn on the cob dripping with melted butter, rolls or bread of some kind, lemonade or sweet tea, maybe some baked beans or coleslaw if you’re into that, and do not forget the dessert. I should’ve apologized in advance for those who haven’t eaten yet. Consider this motivation to get those grills firing up.

 Then there are the memories. The laughter. Hot days when you could practically put the meat on the ground—if you weren’t afraid of the squirrels making off with it–and let it cook itself. Sprinkler runs, water fights, ice cream smears, buttery fingers, fire crackers, fireworks, cold brewskies, loud blaring music and dancing combine into memories tinged with sweet nostalgia.

 Yes I would argue barbecue is a way of life.

 My father always told me about when he visited his relatives in the South and they would just string up the hog and watch the entrails fall out before they put it over a spit and roasted it. Not exactly the idea of a community activity for a then impressionable fourteen year old, but I couldn’t erase the image of folks gathered around, connected by the irresistible allure of some pig.

 I don’t know what makes barbecue so potent on holidays like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day but maybe it has to do with the aforementioned nostalgia. When I eat barbecue, I feel connected to people, sometimes take inadvertent trips down memory lane, and mostly do it with family.

 So hopefully you’re eating barbecue with people you love (or can tolerably survive with and plot revenge with a water gun later) before you go see the fireworks or whatever your plans may be. For the Team Meat people like myself, I raise my rib and salute you and for my veggie inclined folks, get in on those grilled shish kabobs. They are wonderfully flavorful.

 Happy Fourth of July!

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Movie Monday: Anonymous

By Alexandria Harris

 Premise: Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays, a nobleman named Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford wrote them. How Shakespeare came to be known for them is the whole mystery of the story.

 Best quotes: “The voices, Anne. The voices, I can’t stop them, they come to me. When I sleep, when I wake, when I sup, when I walk down the hall. The sweet longings of a maiden, the surging ambitions of a courtier, the foul designs of a murderer, the wretched pleas of his victims, only when I put their words, their voices, to parchment, are they cast loose, freed. Only then is my mind quieted. At peace. I would go mad if I did not write down the voices-” Lord Oxford

 “All art is political–otherwise it would just be decoration-” Lord Oxford

 If I were to give you a summary of Anonymous it would be that the movie is basically a few of Shakespeare’s plays entwined with flashbacks. The plays are as theatrical as you can get and span from Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet to Julius Caesar with the “fake” playwright Shakespeare coming out and collecting his due praise at the end of each play.

 However, the manner in which they bring these plays to life and the director weaves in political intrigue into the plot is what draws you in. It’s all based on a power triangle. You could say “a love for plays” triangle, but one of the characters in the triangle doesn’t have enough heart vested in it to call it that.

 The movie starts in the present with an onstage dramatic monologue basically explaining the premise of the movie, like I did above only this was three minutes long with rain falling on the speaker’s umbrella.Then the rain onstage turns into rain on sixteenth century London streets.

 There is a lot of plotting and secrecy surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s court. To understand it the audience is flashed back five years and then forty years to catch up, showing De Vere when he is younger, and younger still.

 Poetry at that time was apparently the work of the devil, blasphemous, and after fifteen minutes of constant “poetry is a sin” even I felt like I was going to have my head cut off with a one way ticket down under (and not Australia with the cute kangaroos).

 Throughout the entire movie there was tone of writing and creativity equals humiliation and brings ruin on the important people. Whims and notions were for the common people. You were not allowed to have a mind of your own, that was dangerous. Your mind belonged to the queen.

 I think all of us can relate to having a passion for writing and trying to do it no matter what obstacles we may face. We carry that imagination and passion even when someone is telling us no, we find someway to tell ourselves yes. And that passion, that fight to do something inside Lord Oxford held me entranced the entire movie. To watch him struggle with his craft, to be accepted–this is what I hungered for more than the petty court battles.

 My favorite part is when De Vere’s wife comes to talk to him and ends up horrified that he’s writing and scolds him to which he answers something to the effect of “The voices in my head don’t stop until I write them down.” He made it seem so potent, these voices he had to breathe life into with his pen. And of course the obvious (and correct) response of his wife was “You are mad.”

 I loved it.

 However I did feel like I was in the middle of a Maury episode towards the middle of the movie and that English nobles needed to keep better tabs on paternity.

 There were plot points that I rolled my eyes at: the idea of Christopher Marlowe being a spy? Awkward…

 And there was a hunchback, only he was no Quasimodo, more like Gollum

 But plays with characters representing government officials should definitely be brought back in case we get tired of cartoons, Colbert, and Jon Stewart.

 Another large theme was encountering failure to write, the fear of greatness, and what happens when we watch those who might not deserve success receive a boatload of it while we watch. (Think of five New York Times Bestsellers you read and were irritated that they were best sellers. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…)

 Looking at our failures is painful because when we look at them too long, we find the darkest parts of ourselves–there is madness, despair, and degradation. Reading and writing can give us nostalgia, take us back to places of memory. And the memories be sweet candy for our souls or as acrid as garlic.

 Overall, the plot was so convoluted that it basically ruined the argument it was trying to make. I didn’t leave with the impression that Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays because there were too many people involved in that subplot. Tying it in with Queen Elizabeth and inventing a weird backstory for her while weaving Shakespeare’s story into it left something to be desired for me. However, costuming and cinematography was great. I enjoyed the plotting and drama, but I was never really convinced that it could happen. The movie was entertaining, but definitely not historically accurate. Even so, with all this (and Vanessa Redgrave’s amazing acting as the queen) I would give it a 7/10.

 Plus, it really made me want a quill pen and some ink.

 Stay tuned for next Movie Monday when I’ll be reviewing An Angel At My Table which is based on autobiographies about New Zealand writer Janet Frame.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin