Books

'Weird Santa' and other tales to be read

A mentor and his protégé symbolize creative relationship in the SOMOS Young Writers Program

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 12/4/19

One is a 70-year-old published author. The other is a 13-year-old aspiring writer. Both will be reading from their work — which includes the provocatively titled "Weird Santa" — on Friday (Dec. 6), 7 p.m., at The Society of the Muse of the Southwest, a.k.a. SOMOS, at 108 Civic Plaza Drive.

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Books

'Weird Santa' and other tales to be read

A mentor and his protégé symbolize creative relationship in the SOMOS Young Writers Program

Posted

One is a 70-year-old published author. The other is a 13-year-old aspiring writer. Both will be reading from their work — which includes the provocatively titled "Weird Santa" — on Friday (Dec. 6), 7 p.m., at The Society of the Muse of the Southwest, a.k.a. SOMOS, at 108 Civic Plaza Drive.

Brian Allan Skinner is a mentor for young Otto Manley, the pair who've been working together in the SOMOS Young Writers Program.

Skinner has been a mentor for the SOMOS Young Writers Program for the past three years. according to SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith. "For his reading from 'Weird Santa,' he invited one of his protégés to read with him. SOMOS is delighted to have him offer this opportunity for a young writer."

Smith added that the Young Writers Program has been offered at SOMOS since 1992. It involves one-to-one mentoring between an adult writer and a youth between ages 10-19, There is also a biweekly young writers group with guest writers held at SOMOS on alternate Thursdays from 4:15-5:15 p.m., and a writers-in-the-schools program in which writers teach classes and workshops in seven local schools as well as the DreamTree Project (youth shelter) and Butterfly Healing Center (a residential behavioral health treatment center located at Taos Pueblo).

Skinner first visited Northern New Mexico in 1960 at age 11 while on a cross-country train trip aboard the Santa Fe Chief with his grandmother. The visit made a lasting impression, and he has now returned here to live. He spoke with Tempo about his journey and inspirations as a writer.

"Growing up in Chicago just three blocks from Lake Michigan, I spent many summers at the beach nearly all day," Skinner said. "Water in all its forms plays a big part in my consciousness and in my writing. I began writing around the same time I learned to read, first composing dreadful poetry, then dreadful stories … I worked as a veterinary assistant and as a cabinetmaker for nearly 20 years before earning my living creatively, as both a writer and artist. None of my education or work experience has been wasted; it all enters my writing. I build my stories as I might a make cabinet: as a container for my ideas and characters, though they often escape the confines. 'Weird Santa' grew out of my continued fascination with Christmas, which I've never outgrown. My writing student, Otto Manley, inspired two of the tales from which I'll be reading."

Manley studies at Taos Charter School, where his favorite subjects are mathematics and art. He takes part in the SOMOS Young Writers Program as a way, through writing, to release his enormous creativity. In addition to his writing of original stories, he plays soccer and also likes to go fishing and ride his bike.

Skinner was full of praise for his student. "Otto Manley is a far better writer than I was at his age," he said. "We give each other writing prompts during our sessions and he never hesitates. His pencil hits the paper and he begins writing immediately, not stopping until his hand gets sore. He finds inconsistencies in what I've written and does not mind pointing them out to me. Otto also has a sense of humor. I hesitated telling him that in the Christmas story he inspired, it is the dog that I named 'Otto.' He laughed and told me not to change it."

"I've been fortunate to work with young people in every place I've lived: Chicago, Wisconsin, New York City, upstate New York, and now Taos," Skinner continued. "As a volunteer for the SOMOS Young Writers Program, I've had full classes of students and also individual students whom I mentor in creative writing. It's important that a community provide inspiration and opportunity for its young folks to sample as many ideas and ways of seeing the world as they can. Even if most of my students do not go on to become professional writers or artists, they will have learned how to communicate more effectively no matter what their field of endeavor. I hope they've also learned to have fun in the process because, as I like to ask them, 'If you're not having fun, why are you doing it?'

"The reading at SOMOS takes place, fortuitously, on St. Nicholas Day during my favorite season of the year. I am thrilled that Otto accepted my invitation to read with me and I expect he'll do a fine job with his story. I would have been terrified to read in public at his age. It will be an opportunity for us to show people that one never need outgrow Christmas. I hope it snows -- lightly, just for atmosphere.

"I believe we humans still communicate with each other in stories just as we've been doing for countless millennia. Good stories make an impression and we take them in and carry them around with us. At the moment I'm working on a novel, 'Our Lady of Roswell,' in which I make use of my strict Catholic upbringing as well as my interest in science and science fiction. It is set in New Mexico at the time of the famed Roswell UFO crash of 1947, requiring me to do an enormous amount of historical research. Needless to say, I'm having a lot of fun."

And, about that book "Weird Santa"?

Here's what Amazon and Barnes & Nobles says about it: "'Weird Santa & other Xmas Tales' is magic realism with a dash of erotic spiciness. The 10 independent stories in this collection range from 'A Doggie's Tale,' a boy-and-his-dog story appropriate for children, to 'Never Too Old, Never Too Late' in which an old babushka recounts her Christmases in the Old Country. After receiving her magic gingerbread cookies, Ana's young American friends, two couples, discover the depth of their passion for each other on a snowy Christmas Eve."

For more information on the reading, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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