Five Favorite Books

5 Favorite Books

  1. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person by Miriam Engelberg

This book was why I started drawing cartoons at age 39. Engelberg tells her story about getting breast cancer and what goes along with that. This book is told in a series of cartoons. The story is heavy but it has its hilarious moments. There is this depth to her writing that is illustrated with these crude and simplistic drawings but it works as a book. I didn’t care if the pictures were good or not because I was so taken in with the story. One interesting story is when Miriam tells people at work in a mass email with the subject: “I have cancer” and in the body of the email that the new intro to Excel Manual is finished. The characters are interesting too, such as Dina the lab technician with a puppet who says, “Don’t worry, cheer up kitty and I are on the job, praise the lord.”

Miriam’s priorities change. She says after surgery and chemo, “Yeah, I know, I should be meditating and journaling and reflecting…but I don’t feel like it. I’m still waiting for some kind of epiphany so that I can use illness to turn my life around. But in the meantime I’m just going to watch “Judge Judy” and read a magazine.”

The interesting thing I’ve read the book when I first purchased it in 2009 and later re-read in 2013 with a different perspective after my father died of cancer in 2011. This is one of those books I read and get something new and different each time. Okay, so I’ve like depressed everyone but keep reading. I have a silly book on my list too. Just take a look at number two.

2.  Life With My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone

This book is JUST PLAIN FUN. I love making fun of Madonna and her brother in reading this story. It’s like eating candy. I can’t take too much at one sitting or I’ll be sick. I have not, in any way, made myself a better human being by reading about: Madonna’s tantrums, silly situations where she has had two Lemon Drop drinks with someone dumping candle wax in her hair or, nasty fights with her brother. But I’ve enjoyed myself.


“I have up my F#$% life to help make you the evil queen you are today…15 years listening to your bitching, egotistical rantings, mediocre talent, and a lack of taste that would stun the ages…every ounce of talent you have, you have sucked dry from me and the people around you”

3.  Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Here is the story of a twenty something girl that had a dream and moved to New York. She wanted to set the world on fire with her cartoons and she did exactly that. She tells her story in a series of cartoons. Her self-depreciating humor makes the story fascinating. She writes about real problems from negative encounters with the homeless man that came into the bar where she worked to having lupus and no health insurance. Oh and also she drinks too much. At times she can be too self involved but she’s still entertaining. She published some books and still struggled to make a living. I know I can definitely identify with that.

Julia Wertz opens her book with, “On the day I turned twenty five, I came to consciousness at 3am in a twenty four hour laundromat in Brooklyn, New York, eating crackerjacks in my pajamas. To understand how I got there, we need to go back one year…”

This book gave me permission to write about my negative character flaws. Then people might see a fuller truth of who I am rather than just bits and selected pieces.

4.  Awakening the Actor Within by C. Stephen Foster

This book is for any artist, not just actors. It’s for anyone who started out young, got beaten down by people saying, “No, you can’t….” and stopped them in the creative process.

Foster gives the reader exercises about acting to help them do their job. One exercise is the “vein of gold” exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In this exercise you list your five favorite movies and favorite childhood book. Then list your favorite scene from each movie. The actor looks at similar relationships, characters, themes. But any artist can use this tool to find out more about themselves and why they create the things they do.  Foster gives us these exercises that are fun to try and also he relates his personal experience as an actor where these exercises have given remarkable and unexpected results.

Also there are quotes and stories from artistic people who drive home what he is communicating.  He mentions quotes from Woody Allen, Chekov, my favorite, Madonna, and more. Anton Chekov says, “If you want to work on your acting, work on your life.” Stephen echoes these words throughout the exercises in his book.

Even if you aren’t a writer, actor, or painter, this book is fun in unappealing the layers of your personality and become more aware of why you are you.

5. Jihad Honeymoon in Hollywood, Not Without My Dogs by Juliet Montague

Julie is a retired court reporter living the dream in Hollywood as an actor and stand-up comedian.  She has made just enough to cover her SAG insurance for six of the ten years she has lived there. Julie falls in love with Ali, a man twenty-two years her junior. For the first time really in her whole sixty two years and not counting four husbands has she been swept off her feet by this Muslim man sleeping with her in her basement. She even says “I had been married four times. It’s not that hard to find four men who need a place to live.”

This book is hilarious but also heart breaking because Ali tells her “when I come into your house we are married. When I leave we are not married.”  What kind of crap is that? His wining and dining her is long gone (if you count dinner at Polermo in Los Feliz as fine dining). Instead he takes her to occasional runs to Zankou Chicken (that has festive fluorescent lighting) and donut desserts at the Donut Hut two blocks from her house.

Actually this book is book two of the Muslim Romance Trilogy with book one being The Year I Learned to Text. The third one has not yet been published. Honeymoon is really 90% nonfiction and 10% fiction. I know Juliet so I’m reading about things that actually happened. Each chapter begins the day number of her honeymoon (if you even want to call it that) and listings for alcohol and nicotine.

My favorites:

Honeymoon in Hollywood: Day No 8

Alcohol: Three rum and cokes, but who’s counting?

Nicotine: If ya got ‘em, smoke ‘em

Other alcohol entries: Grapes are good for you. Red wine after coitus. Why not?

Reading this book taught me a LOT about writing comedy and it’s another escape/guilty pleasure. But it’s also about a human being just looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s a place where most of us have been at in some point in our lives. Julie I’m routing for you. I have my pompoms out. Give me a J. Give me a U. And you know the rest.

Plays and Husband


Evolution Of A Writer & Meeting My Husband At The Same Time

by Joel Craig

My history of writing has been journal writing, play and screen writing and eventually comic books.  In the early 2000’s, I started a theatre company with my friends called Off Hollywood and we wrote plays and performed them on the Hudson Avenue stage that we rented in Hollywood. We were able to workshop plays that myself and my friends wrote. Once we are satisfied with the staged readings (so we could hear our work out loud) we would plan a production so that others could see our work. Also I met my future husband Donovan for the first time when he came in to audition for Off Hollywood  for the company. Luckily he was chosen to be part of the company. We performed together in the play, The Son’ll Come Out Tomorrow by Christopher Reidy (one of the co-founders) and the rest is history. Eventually the theatre company disbanded but our work has lived on. Reidy’s play just performed in September at the Roanoke Diversity Center in Roanoke, Virginia. Stephen Foster (another co-founder) wrote a play about Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Judy Garland fighting to play the lead in the movie version of Joan of Arc called Legends & Bridge. That play is being performed this December in Rahway, NJ at the UCPAC Hamilton Stage just twenty minutes from New York City.

After I became an RN, my work schedule was erratic. I worked every other weekend so that made performing in theatre impossible so I turned to writing short screenplays and eventually drawing cartoons about my work. I would add fantasy dream sequences about conversations I had with rock singer, Madonna so that my writing was not just about work. Why her? Because I’ve wanted to be like her my whole life. She is a successful business woman who is also creative and even she, the most famous woman in the world, is a failed actor. Adding fun and imagination into my story really opened my writing up. And I could go to the moon and back and not spend a dime. I didn’t just write about two people on a stage or film screen but I could go anywhere and do anything and not worry about if I could fit it onto a stage or having a runaway film budget.  The possibilities were endless. That excited me. My cartoons were easier to share with the world. The cartoons were on paper so anyone could read it at anytime, not just on the weekends at the Hudson Avenue theatre in Hollywood.

Here is an excerpt about Madonna:

Swept Awry 3

Swept Awry 3

Another factor which was a key to my writing at the time when I first became a nurse was that I started working on the night shift. Most of my friends worked during the daytime so not only was I working at night but I was isolated from my friends. Donovan worked nights too but one time (luckily only 2-3 months) he worked on the nights that I was home and vice versa. More isolation. Yuk.

My graphic novel started out as two booklets called zines. Each zine had thirty-six pages. I took my zines to comic book shops and they carried my work on consignment. That is when the store agrees to sell your work and the two of you decide on what money percentages each gets. Usually it is a 50/50 split where the author gets 50% and the store gets 50%.  In some cases the author gets 60% and the store gets 40%. I like that one better. Meltdown comics on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood sold my comics which sold alright. Sales were slow. I may have sold ten comic books. But I just got Skylight Books in Los Feliz (which is right next door to Hollywood) to carry my graphic memoir Welcome To Nursing HELLo, a Graphic Memoir on consignment. This happened only a few weeks ago so I will wait and see what happens.

One store that worked well for me was  this store online called Microcosm Publishing, which also sold zines and books on consignment on the Internet. I sent them one of my zines not thinking they would want to carry them but they did! I was excited. Since they started carrying my work around 2010 I have probably sold 150-200 zines. (I really need to keep close track of my inventory but I admit I am unorganized.) I won’t be quitting my day job over this but I am excited that people are reading my work.

Would I have written my 190 page graphic memoir if I had not become an RN ? Who knows. But I have my book that people can enjoy. My book is funny and has non-nursing things in there such as: an awful job interview, the “Mood Swing”, fighting with my husband in Venice and why I made Madonna cry. So run (don’t walk) to a computer terminal to order my book on Amazon and if you are a writer keep writing.

Below is part of the story of Off Hollywood:



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When I started writing and drawing cartoons about my experiences as a registered nurse, I had some not so great (but made interesting writing) experiences. These experiences included: rude patients calling me mean names, dealing with a doctor that nearly killed one of my patients, and a bully nurse who made me cry (me, a guy) because I had not completed some tasks that I was supposed to have finished before ending my shift. I had support from my husband, Donovan, for which I am forever grateful for. But I also had Loretta.

Loretta is a special person and a fantastic nurse. If it was not for her helping me when I was overwhelmed I would have either given up or been fired from having a meltdown. Loretta is a charge nurse and when I was working in the med/surg area I had the opportunity to work with her.

Not only was she supportive but she made me laugh. She had two expressions that she declared many times. The first is: “It’s never too early. It’s always too late.” The second is: “A clean room is an easy room.” Loretta had a third saying but I did not include it in my book but I will share with you exclusively. “God made dirt. Dirt don’t hurt.” Maybe I should have included it in the book but I originally decided against it because dirt does hurt. Dirt has bacteria which can cause serious infections. That statement isn’t quite accurate but it sounds good.

Loretta also cracked me up when she spoke about these silly Lifetime for Women movies like, Mommie, May I Play With Danger, and whatever Nora Dunn book that had been made into a movie.

Loretta isn’t this RN’s actual name but I came up with this name because Loretta loves the movie,  Coal Miner’s Daughter (and she loved singing the movie’s’ title song even though her singing was awful. But it was funny.)

There were so many times I was overwhelmed with work dealing with patients, doctors and other nurses. They say “Nurses eat their young.” Loretta is the polar opposite of that type of nurse. I talk about her more in my book where I attempt to compare her to rockstar, Madonna. Again another polar opposite but I have fun comparing the two of them anyway.

So Loretta if you are reading this, thank you. You don’t realize the depth of your strength. Below are some excerpts about Loretta from, Welcome To Nursing HELLo, a Graphic Memoir.