Settle down for a fresh cup of comfort

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Comforting our souls is not difficult if we know what to do when the need arises. But often, when we are shaken, it is hard to think about what can help. Why not try reading? It might just be the perfect remedy to rid our souls of anxiety and the negativity that can shadow our everyday lives.

If you agree, then “A Cup of Comfort For Friends: Stories That Celebrate the Special People in Our Lives,” is a book you should have.

The book is an anthology of short stories by writers from across North America, including one from Queens, and it is designed to play an integral part in the soothing of souls that have been affected by events not entirely of their own doings.

Triggered by the catastrophic events of Sept.11, the book’s predecessor, “A Cup of Comfort: Stories That Warm Your Heart, Lift Your Spirit, and Enrich Your Life,” was released with the idea of comforting people, in a similar vein to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. Given its timing, it immediately made a big impact, with the first 100,000 flying off bookshelves. The publishers, Adams Media, quickly printed another 50,000 the following month.

With encouraging sales, the second in the “Cup of Comfort” series aims to duplicate the success of the first book. With a total of 50 stories, it showcases a selection from the thousands of comfort stories that were submitted by writers from the US to Canada. A challenging undertaking, no doubt, but editor Colleen Sell, has ensured that the new book has only the best trimmed and polished stories. And it does.

The topics range from heartfelt stories from average people to such concepts as loyalty, trust, care, and most importantly, love.

Jen Sotham, of Astoria, was inspired to share her experience with the publishers. Her story “Somebody” is a piece she wrote while employed as a waitress in Manhattan.

“I am an emotional person, and I always take people’s feelings into considerat­ion,” she said, sipping root beer at a local pizzeria. The caring she refers to is reflected in her story.

The story’s main character is a street dweller in Manhattan, who was the benefactor of the writer’s kindness. Sotham offered her own food to the homeless woman and eventually developed a “give-and-share” relationship with her subject. She acted not to be showered with accolades, but did so simply to offer kindness and warmth. “I figured it is that part of me which I have no control of,” Sotham said.

Debbie, the homeless woman, panhandles for a living. Sotham, after befriending her, finds out that Debbie has more problems than what appeared on the surface. Debbie was a helpless mother suffering from AIDS, contracted from intravenous drug use. This did not deter Sotham from trying to understand the terminally ill woman.

Sotham had first met Debbie she was a teenager. Now 27, she is still hooked on the good deeds that have seen her through tough times. “Anything that touches my spirit, I have to respond to it,” she said proudly. This has influenced her writing as she tackles real-life issues from a caring point of view, she added.

Born and raised on Long Island, Sotham journeyed across the United States following the Grateful Dead for about four years. She has worked in the visual arts and psychology fields, but has in recent times returned not only to New York, but to literary expression. “I realized I like writing about things that rip into your soul,” she said, “things that grab the caring side of people.”

Currently living in Astoria, she waits tables at restaurants in Manhattan, and still reaches out to the unfortunate souls of the streets. She said the job, “provides time for my writing and I’m is always in contact with people.” Some people, she said, are afraid to explore their environment, to dig to the root of things. Her goal is to inspire people to do just that.

Earlier on in life, Sotham wanted to become an professional musician, as expressing herself has always been her calling. “I see myself as a translator, putting life experiences into words which I hope readers can relate to,” she said.

Just like she describes Debbie in the story, she is “somebody.” She has found “the part of me that became a better person when I looked into the eyes of a nobody and saw somebody.”

Sotham will be at Barnes & Noble, 70-00 Austin St., Forest Hills, Saturday, May 18, at 3 p.m. signing copies of the book.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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