DA Kentner writes the column THE READERS' WRITERS for the (Freeport) Journal-Standard and GateHouse News Service. My alter ego KevaD lives under a stairway of dreams where he writes stories and grumbles about everything. Click the pic to visit KevaD's blog.
Drop me a line at dakentner@yahoo.com

I invite you to read my award-winning short story posted on Calliope Magazine's web site.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Award-Winning Art Director and Author JT Lawrence

South Africa’s Janita “JT” Lawrence describes herself as a ‘long-legged redhead with a penchant for words and pretty things… practices yoga and drinks beer.’ While we obviously see JT’s humorous side, what is hidden is that JT is in reality a businesswoman with an advertising background bent on producing some of the best thriller and suspense stories a reader can find. If her debut novel “The Memory of Water” is any indication, she is well on her way to doing just that.

JT incorporates her native country and snippets of language into a tightly woven tale of murder and the protagonist, Slade Harris, who may have unwittingly plotted the crime, but is now most certainly the prime suspect. Harris is a man yet to come to terms with the ambiguities surrounding his sister’s death years ago. His turmoil has led him along a shaky path leaning toward thrill-seeking self-destruction, but still an inch or two from total collapse into darkness. Within this contemporary tale a reader will find a number of local cultural references that when melded with the author’s brand of humor and exquisite prose serve to paint a vivid picture of the settings and original characters. Simply put, “The Memory of Water” is fun, tense, and a novel that will leave the reader anxiously awaiting JT’s next offering.
http://thememoryofwater.blogspot.com/

Q) You have quite an affinity and devotion to business. In fact, you host a blog recommending books about business. How was it you decided to write thriller novels instead of nonfiction?

A) I find business very exciting; I’d go as far as to say it is one of my creative outlets. It’s hugely satisfying to see something you have created grow and find fast customers. Oh, and the joy that books bring! It trumps being a florist deliveryman any day.

While I love well-written non-fiction (Godwin’s ‘When a Crocodile Eats the Sun’ has stayed with me for years), I am a fiction girl at heart. I devour it, and feel compelled to write it. While my novels are usually thrillers, I don’t confine myself to a single genre. I enjoy experimenting with dark drama and comedy, too.

Q) We share a love of all books. Your enjoyment of reading created an online bookstore as well as suggesting novels to readers whether or not they buy them from you. Where do you believe your passion for reading came from?

A) My mother used to read Roald Dahl to my brother and I at bedtime and I remember being completely entranced with the bizarre, naughty, silly stories. He remains one of my favourite authors and I dream of the day I can repeat the tradition with my own children.

I grew up in a sports-mad family where we were either sitting on some grassy field somewhere or in front of the TV, watching days of (yawn!) cricket, or similar. I only started enjoying sport in my teens so in the mean time I had hours and hours to fill and would mow through whatever I could get my hands on.

Q) I’m curious about your background in art direction. Please share a little about your involvement and how that experience has or hasn’t influenced your writing.

A) I graduated as the top student in my year at the Triple A Advertising Academy and worked at the Jupiter Drawing Room for five years, then at #Network BBDO. I have a love/hate relationship with advertising: I love the people, the big ideas, the camaraderie (and the parties); I hate the frustration that goes with not getting great ideas through. My years in art direction probably taught me about idea generation and the importance (and satisfaction) in crafting, but most importantly it taught me how to handle criticism of my work. Once you’ve had your work torn up in front of you by a gun-wielding creative director with PTSD you don’t take subsequent criticism too personally.

Q) What’s a perfect morning for JT Lawrence?

A) Sundays are my perfect mornings: I read in bed till 10; have a big breakfast with my (dashing) husband, followed by cappuccinos and chocolate, and perhaps a stroll around our leafy neighbourhood. It sounds rather desperately smug, but no matter how good or bad the week has been, there is a kind of perfection in those mornings.

Q) You implanted quirks and foibles within Slade Harris that when combined with South African ambiance created a unique character readers may well want to see more of. Any plans to bring him back?

A) It would be tempting. What I find interesting is that while I disagree with almost everything he says and does, his character was so easy and fun to write. It’s as if I have intimate access to this living person … in my head. I guess all writers suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder to some degree.

Q) Any parting comments for readers who have yet to enjoy the intrigue of “The Memory of Water”?

A) Yes.

Mom, Dad & in-laws: don’t read the graphic sex scenes! It’ll just make things awkward.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Award-Winning Author and Illustrator Sheila Kelly Welch

One of the joys of writing this column is I never know where I’ll encounter an author who snags my reader’s attention like a bear trap. In this case, it was only ten miles from my house.

For most travelers, Forreston, IL, is a town they passed through on their way to somewhere else. For educator, equine enthusiast, animal shelter volunteer, author, illustrator, wife, mother, and grandmother Sheila Kelly Welch, the rolling hills of rural Forreston is home, the place she conjures stories for young adults of all ages. Sheila truly is an artist, both in literature and on canvas. Her visual interpretations of other authors’ work have appeared in children’s books such as “Something in the Air” by Molly Jones and Leone Castell Anderson’s widely read historical novels “Sean’s War” and “Sean’s Quest.” She has also illustrated her own stories for Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, and Cicada magazines.

But it is Sheila’s young adult stories that have captivated imaginations around the world. "The Holding-On Night," published in Cricket, won the International Reading Association's Short Story Award. “Little Prince Know-It-All” and “A Horse for All Seasons” have become treasured additions to many home libraries. Now Sheila has released “Waiting to Forget.”

Though written for young adults, this tale of a brother and sister seeking release from the painful memories of a foster care system that raised them, and the clouds of uncertainty that veil their future, will have many an adult reaching for the tissue box. Sometimes two sentences can sum up an entire story. For me, those sentences are: “He was told to wait. That’s what he’s been doing.” The story is told through TJ’s viewpoint as he tries to protect his sister who makes origami cranes and then throws them out windows. TJ has been waiting his entire life, both for freedom from the past and for his sister to heal. “We live in a pretend house” 12year-old TJ says as he tries in his own way to explain how he has constructed a world in which he and his sister can safely exist from the life neither asked for, deserves, or will ever fully comprehend. “Waiting to Forget” ends with an understanding of how some things just can’t be understood, but that a seed of hope and promise can always be found if you know where to look.
http://www.scbwi-illinois.org/Welch

Q) What or who was the inspiration behind “Waiting to Forget”?

A) Although I write fiction, all my books and stories contain bits of truth, which are extracted from reality and reshaped by my imagination. I wrote my first book, “Don’t Call Me Marda,” shortly after we’d adopted two children, bringing the head count to seven. My mother-in-law did not react well to the news. I found myself thinking about other children whom she would have been even less pleased to have join our family. My imagination created a little girl named Wendy, inspired by a child I’d taught in one of my special education classes. While our pre-existing family was in the midst of the struggle to accept the newcomers, it seemed logical for me to write a story from the perspective of a child whose parents decided to adopt a little sister who was developmentally delayed. To her credit, my mother-in-law loved the book.

After that first novel, I revisited the subject of adoption in several short stories, but most of my writing concerned other topics. As the years went by, I learned how some of our kids had lived before we ever met them. They had existed in a world that was fragmented, chaotic, even frightening. My husband and I sometimes wondered if we could help these kids. Sometimes we felt as though we were failing as parents.

One of the hardest parts for us was realizing that several of our children resented us and did not appreciate that we were trying to give them a better life. But then I thought about how traumatic adoption must have been from their perspective. Imagine moving to a new home, school, and neighborhood when you were eight or nine or eleven years old. Then add onto that a new set of parents who expected you to act like their son or daughter when you had only met them a few months before.

No matter how difficult a child’s former life had been, leaving it behind could feel like waking up to a bad dream. I decided I needed to tell another adoption story. This one would explore the conflicting emotions of an older child who had been adopted. So I imagined T.J., and he was waiting to tell me the truth.

Q) For you, what is it about storytelling that fuels your passion?

A) My mother hated to write, but she told stories about her childhood that I loved and still remember. When I had rheumatic fever in second grade, my doctor prescribed nearly six months of convalescence. Listening to my mother’s tales, drawing, and reading were my means of escaping the confinement of my bedroom. When I was about nine, my older sister (now a poet and a psychologist) wrote a whole book for me. Stories, I realized, could entertain, inform, and illicit powerful emotions.

Storytellers and authors of fiction are a bit like magicians, conjuring tales rather than rabbits. They toss their stories out into the world, and hope an audience will catch them and love them.

When my mother was getting quite senile with Alzheimer’s, I visited her and read aloud a fantasy novel, “Land of Another Sun,” that I had written. She listened intently, laughing and nodding at appropriate places as I read. When I finished the last chapter, and the children in my story – along with an ornery cat – were returned to Earth via a magic bubble, my mother smiled and said sincerely, “I remember. That really happened.”

My first impulse was to correct her. But then I thought about the little girl character like my daughter who loved gum, the cat who said exactly what our cranky cat would have said if she could have talked, and the tan-skinned boy who loved to read just like our son. Yet I knew my mother was actually talking about a magic bubble. It was a bubble I’d created, but to her it was real, and that made her happy. So I said, “Maybe it did happen.” And I felt as if we’d shared a moment of magic. It’s those moments that keep me writing.

Q) My curious side: How did you and your family end up living outside of Forreston?

A) I grew up in the rolling hills near Boyertown, Pennsylvania, with my brother and sister plus cats, dogs, goats, and horses. So living here is not that different from living there. But in between my husband and I had quite a few homes: an historical house in Germantown, Pennsylvania (we were caretakers); three country places in Minnesota (we bought and sold a farm and my husband worked as a dairy herdsman); graduate student housing at University of Wisconsin (my husband was getting his Master’s in Library Science); an apartment and a house in Rockford, IL.

In the fall of 1986, we moved to this old farmhouse surrounded by cornfields. The house we owned in Rockford would have been too small for our five children with the addition of the two boys who joined our family a few months later. At the time, we also had three dogs, five cats, and five horses. Needless to say, we needed more room.

Q) While in your thirties you had to have a heart valve replaced. How did that change your outlook on life?

A) After the surgery, I could actually hear the artificial valve ticking and still can, fortunately. I’d always intended to write stories for children but had been so busy that I’d relegated that goal to a distant “someday.” Listening to the tick, tick of my heart made me quite aware of the passage of time, and I realized that I needed to get to work. My first short story was published two years after the operation.

Having such an amazing, lifesaving procedure has made me very grateful to be alive. My outlook has remained focused on what I feel are the most important aspects of my life, including my family, pets, volunteer work, as well as writing and illustrating. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This neurological condition has forced me to cut back on many activities so that I have the energy to pursue creative work. I’m fortunate to have a very supportive husband who’s taken over most of the household tasks.

Q) You and your husband adopted school aged children. What led you down that loving path?

A) Shortly after getting married, we talked about having six children. But I knew that my heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever, and I probably wouldn’t be able to have that many. We agreed that adoption would be a good way to form a large family. At the time, I was teaching special education classes at an inner city school. One day, my students asked me if I planned to have children, and I replied, “Yes, six.”

The class of all girls was shocked. “Six? Why you want six kids? That just crazy!” But when I mentioned that my husband and I planned to adopt, they were all for it.

One girl raised her hand. It was Leila, a difficult thirteen-year-old, who caused more than her share of trouble at school. “Would you adopt me?” she asked. I didn’t think she meant it literally, so I told her that we weren’t ready to have a child yet and when we were, we’d get a baby.

Many years later, after we’d adopted two infants and had one biological child, I saw a picture of a brother and sister in a book that listed waiting children. I could almost hear Leila’s voice asking if I was willing to adopt her. When I showed the photo to my husband and asked if we should get them, he answered, “Sure. Why not?” And the adventure began . . .

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) First I want to thank you, David, for asking very good questions that made me dig into my memories. I also want to mention how much I appreciate my family, friends, SCBWI-IL, and ABC Writers who’ve been so supportive and kind over many years. I extend a special thanks to Carole Dickerson, library director, and her staff at Freeport Public Library, and to Stephen Roxburgh, publisher and editor at namelos.

Many readers would like to be authors themselves. My advice is to write about what has meaning and importance to you. Toss your stories out to the audience and hope some people will love and appreciate what you write. And keep reading! Thanks!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Author and Football All-Star Bruce Beaton

Three-time Canadian Football League All-Star Bruce Beaton could have easily written a book about his many personal achievements and accolades. But that isn't who he is, not really. This Nova Scotia Hall of Fame inductee chose to retire from football and pursue what truly matters to him – helping people and making a difference in their lives.

To that end, Bruce teamed up with football all-star Dan Comiskey to create a business focused on habit change, personal standards, and behavior modification. The duo subsequently wrote several books on success and leadership, including the acclaimed "The Truth About Success."

Still, Bruce, a father devoted to his children and their growth, wanted to take his message of ethics and betterment beyond the obvious and put it in a perspective parents can utilize with their own children:

"My goal is to help concerned parents meet the parental goal of raising, through organized sport, positive, happy, confident, secure future leaders who might pursue their goals and dreams (whatever they may be) with passion."

In "Little Athletes, Big Leaders: Effective Sport Parenting," Bruce uses eloquence, humor, and sincerity to share with parents what he has learned over the decades. And it is that sincerity that sets this book apart from so many others. The author didn’t write for himself, but for us. He wrote "Little Athletes, Big Leaders" from his heart and in turn revealed the concern, love, and commitment of a father who only wants the best for his children.

When you read "Little Athletes, Big Leaders" be prepared not just to gain insight into methods of inspiration and empowerment, but a look into a man totally in love with life and his family. Yeah. Keep a box of tissues nearby just in case.
http://www.littleathletesbigleaders.ca/

Q) "Little Athletes, Big Leaders" was written for adults. However, you also have Sport Leadership Volume One, an audio CD specifically designed for children. How difficult was it to transfer your thoughts and principals into audio lessons that require a level of entertainment as well?

A) It was not difficult for me because I am incredibly passionate about teaching children success principles through sport. I believe kids need to learn to set goals and they need to learn about the power of small daily steps toward those goals. They have to learn that it takes a long time to achieve mastery at things but if they work hard and practice daily they can become great at almost anything they choose. I love telling stories about athletes that have worked hard, persevered through tough times, and believed in themselves despite short term setbacks, especially when they were young. I really think kids need to hear these stories and my passion is evident in the recording.

Q) You are an excellent motivational speaker seemingly at ease in front of a crowd. To what do you attribute your comfort amongst groups of strangers?

A) There are two reasons why I'm comfortable in that environment. One, I am a content rich speaker who has put the work in for years. Two, my speaking has nothing to do with me. It is all about the listener - I sincerely want to give the listen great content...content that educates, inspires, and transforms. I love caring parents and volunteer coaches. They are the best people in the world. I deliver interesting research and anecdotal stories that these listeners appreciate, and I feel that I have an obligation to show up and help these deserving people with their important work - raising great people.
Q) Sometimes parents walk a fine line between what they want for their child, and what the child's goals are. Are there signs a parent can readily identify when they may well be on a different path than their children?

A) Listen to your child. Really listen. Don't assume. Ask lots of questions. Children usually know what they like, they know what they want, and they'll tell you if they trust that you are interested in their opinion. Then trade apples for apples. Quitting sport to play video games is not a fair trade. Quitting one sport for another, or quitting a sport to pursue music, or art, or something else developmental, is a fair deal. They have to understand that as their guide, you are interested in their skill development, especially in the areas of their strengths and passions, so that they can make a meaningful contribution to society. We all have to contribute.

Q) Volunteer coaches played a huge part in your personal development. What is the one value you learned from them that you believe helped mold the man you have become?

A) I had a coach that consistently emphasized that today matters. He taught me that there was no such thing as stress. he said you set goals for the future, but all you had to do, once that important work was done, was to take small steps toward those goals today. Only focus on today, and just take those little steps. He repeated himself a lot (thankfully) and eventually I got it. That was the most valuable lesson for me.

Q) Okay. You have to allow me one football fan question. What was it like to play with Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia and know you played a part in their success or failure on the field?

A) When I think of Doug Flutie I think about daily excellence. He set a standard, and everyone naturally rose to that level. He never said anything, he did it all be example. It was a fascinating experience for me as a young player to see how one person could have that effect every day in practice. Now, as a parent, I can't believe he did what he did professionally with two autistic boys at home. Just a very committed, impressive Dad and professional athlete. When I think about Jeff Garcia I think about passion. He was such a hard core, passionate competitor. A fighter with tremendous desire, a guy who wanted to win so badly he just carried people forward with his passion. Both were great guys who went on to the kind of success they deserved.

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) Absolutely. Your children can be great. They can do big things in the world, and we really need those kinds of leaders. Or they can do little things well, and be so important as family members, friends, and community members. My nine year old daughter wants to be a dog breeder and a writer. Your daughter might want to become a world leader. Both of those things are valuable. There is nothing more important than guiding your children toward a life where they have goals, and purpose, and happiness, and connection. You have to do your best work as a parent when you are the busiest you'll probably ever be, so learn every tip and tidbit you can from some of the great research that's being done, and then cherish every moment! And good luck...we are so blessed to have children, so lucky and fortunate, and I wish you and your children a continuation of that luck and good fortune.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Award-Winning Author Jamie Freveletti

To borrow from Jamie Freveletti's web site: She "is a trial attorney, martial artist, and runner. She has crewed for an elite ultra-marathon runner at 50 mile, 100 mile, and twenty-four hour races across the country, and holds a black belt in aikido, a Japanese martial art." Let's add she's also very devoted to her family. However, Jamie has since placed her attorney status on "inactive" to pursue writing fulltime.

Yet, somehow this amazing and determined lady managed to write "Running from the Devil," which was chosen as a “Notable Book” by the Independent Booksellers of America, awarded "Best First Novel" by the International Thriller Writers, and awarded a Barry Award for "Best First Novel" by Deadly Pleasures Magazine. Not to mention the book became an international bestseller.

So, how do you follow that introduction to readers around the world? With another award-winning novel, of course. "Running Dark" became a bestseller and won a Lovey award for Best Novel 2010.

Now Jamie has released "The Ninth Day," the third offering in her action thriller series featuring biochemist Emma Caldridge. Emma inadvertently stumbles upon human traffickers. Taken to Mexico, Emma learns of marijuana fields infected with a horrible disease that kills within nine days, and a plan for distribution. She also discovers she has been infected and only has nine days to come up with a cure and stop the shipment before it arrives in the United States, or die trying.

Much has been said about Jamie's strong, self-reliant character, Emma Caldridge, and how female adventure stories tend to be overlooked and underrated. For me, the fact is without skilled writing, without a story and plot that rivets me to my chair and keeps me turning the pages until my wife gives up trying to talk to me, who or what the protagonist is or isn't simply doesn't matter. Any story, no matter what genre, requires a mind and level of expertise capable of producing tales that capture the reader's interest, attention, imagination, and breath. And that is precisely what author Jamie Freveletti does.
Jamie's Web Site


Q) What made you decide to write, and when did you ever find the time?

A) I was working on a difficult trial and at night felt as though I needed to unwind so I began writing a novel late at night after putting the kids to bed and when the house was quiet. I just kept going!

Q) The Estate of Robert Ludlum selected you to write the next installment in the Covert One series. Forgive my envy and open jaw, but how did it feel to receive that honor?

A) Wonderful! Amazing! (And my jaw dropped as well after my agent told me that I had been chosen). Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity is one of my favorite thriller books, and just before I learned of their interest I had blogged about how he made me want to be a thriller writer. Don’t know if they saw that before they contacted my agent, but I was glad to have it out there! The manuscript is complete and the book should launch in Fall, 2012.
Q) I've read your first published piece was actually a poem you wrote at the age of twelve for a book Carol Burnett produced. True? If so, what was the poem about?

A) That’s true. The Carol Burnett Show was a favorite in my family and we’d watch her every week. When I was twelve my elementary school teacher told us that Carol Burnett was launching a nationwide contest for children’s poems to be included in an anthology. I jumped at the chance and my poem was chosen! It was about progress and the pollution that sometimes results from it.

Q) There are those who make the erroneous assumption you are a male writing thrillers. How do view this sometimes gender-swayed supposition?

A) I’ve been made aware from reader emails that many think that I write thrillers that are “like those that men write.” Emma Caldridge is a female protagonist who is a biochemist and ultrarunner. She’s like a lot of women that I know: straightforward and curious. I’m not exactly sure why readers make this comparison, but she is a hero, acts alone in the world and is not a sidekick or part of a team.

As a woman she doesn’t often beat up her adversaries like some male protagonists would, but instead she’ll use her intellect to overcome obstacles or pick up a weapon if need be. She’s been making slow steps to gaining proficiency at weapons: in Running From The Devil she learns how to shoot an AK-47, in Running Dark a pilot that flies the (legal) khat drug route in Africa teaches her how to shoot a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

Q) How have the demands of writing and the traveling for public appearances affected your family?

A) Actually, I’ve been home a lot more since I no longer have to commute back and forth to an office. I only tour a couple of weeks a year, so that’s not so bad at all and my husband has been able to work his business travel schedule around mine. During the tour for Running Dark we cut it a bit close and his plane was delayed and mine early, and we ended up bumping into each other at O’Hare airport. Since it was lunchtime and the kids were still in school we ate a nice meal together before he took off. We still laugh about that!

Q) Source: Chicago-Sun Times. "Chicagoan Jamie Freveletti thinks it's only natural that so many successful trial lawyers have become best-selling novelists." What inherent edge do you believe trial lawyers have over non-attorney authors?

A) As a lawyer you learn to listen to a client’s version of events (“the story”) and tell it again to a judge in a way that makes sense. It’s great training to write!

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) Just to thank them for taking the time to read my novels. I really appreciate it!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Romance/Suspense/Paranormal Author Debbie Vaughan


Former librarian Debbie Vaughan, like so many of us, had a dream to write. The difference is, Debbie pursued her dream with the passion she instills into each of her stories, and she now proudly possesses the title of published author.

Raised in rural Arkansas, Debbie recalls how her grandfather's wagon became her royal coach, his plow horse her charger, and the barnyard animals whatever her child's mind could conjure. Most importantly, she learned early her imagination knew no limits. To this day she refuses to place borders on wherever her mind chooses to lead her pen.

But another lesson she learned was to respect life in all its forms. When not at work at her retail job or writing, Debbie rescues animals and nurses those in need back to health. Her current household includes ten dogs. And when the numerous storms and freezing winter hit the Arkansas area she continues to reside in, she made sure the horses were all fed, watered, and out of the weather, while she wasn't.

"Dare to Dream" became Debbie's first published novel. A time travel romance, this, at times erotic, story unites two people separated by a century. But Debbie enjoys suspense, so she naturally had to add a vein of danger, an evil bent on keeping the two lovers apart.

Her second offering, "Mr. Fix-It," is a contemporary romance surrounding a divorced woman - an animal lover (sheer coincidence, I'm sure) with a pack of dachshunds and some horses – in need of help repairing her farmstead. When a widowed repairman arrives, our heroine realizes he might be able to mend her heart as well. And maybe the mattress in the bedroom. But her psychotic ex has other plans, plans that don't include both of them living long enough to enjoy their divorce.

One sure thing readers will always find and enjoy within Debbie's stories is her inborn sense of humor. This vivacious lady simply can't help it. So, if you enjoy romance sprinkled with a laugh and the bedroom door left open, be sure to give a Debbie Vaughan story a look.
Debbie's Web Site

Q) You went through all the trials and tribulations of seeing the rejections come in time and again. What kept you going until you found the right story for the right publisher, in this case Siren Publishing?

A) Well, Dave, some days it was hard. But life IS hard. That’s a lesson I learned at an early age. I’ve had a lot of “No!” thrown at me. My friends helped to be sure. They always had a kind word of encouragement. You should know since you were one of them. But mostly, and I think this is probably the most important thing any writer can do--YOU have to believe in your work. If your characters don’t live and breathe on the page for you, don’t make you laugh and cry-- they won’t for anyone else.

Q) "Dare to Dream" is a bit different in that you include not just the fantasy of time travel, but Native American legend as well. What inspired you to go in that direction?

A) I’ve always been intrigued by Native American lore and by the connection those peoples had with the land and animals. They were so much more grounded in nature than most, and of course they were historically the underdog. I always root for the underdog. But to be honest, I never set out with that goal in mind. My characters define themselves as I write.
Q) Was there a person in your life who you attribute your infectious humor to?

A) Not really. Life often gives you only two choices—to laugh or to cry. I believe the glass is truly half full. There is no future in wallowing in self doubt and pity, which can only make the situation worse. Put on a smile and the next person you meet will smile back. Your day will brighten. There are a lot of clich├ęs clinging to my tongue, all of them true.

In reality, life is what you make of it. So why make yourself and everyone around you miserable?

Q) Where do you believe your intense love and appreciation of animals came from?

A) Animals were in my earliest memories. Sharpy, the Pyrenees mix who tended my grandfather’s cattle--and me. I lay on the porch in the sun and sucked my bottle with him as my pillow. He guarded me from the copperheads and rattlesnakes as I ran to meet grandpa coming in from the fields. I lay with him when he died under the gardenia bush. No child ever had a better or more loyal friend.

Nellie, the plow horse who graciously allowed seven of us kids to ride her at once. She froze in mid-stride if one of us so much as titled. The list of names would be long and distinguished, each, in their own way, so I won’t recite them all. Animals give with their whole heart, never holding back fearing to be hurt, they love unconditionally. People would do well to emulate them.

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) I hope you enjoy Dare to Dream and Mr. Fix-it and find them meaningful as well as entertaining. I would love to hear from you. Dave has included my website address, please leave a comment or find me on www.facebook.com/author.debbievaughan or at my publisher, Siren Bookstrand, Inc. http://www.bookstrand.com/debbie-vaughan Hopefully, my Legacy Series will find a home soon as well. My vampires don’t rust, bust, collect dust or sparkle in the sunshine. As a matter of fact, they’re like no vampires you’ve met yet!

And, because I would be remiss not to do so, I must add a message dear to my heart. Every day millions of animals die in shelters and abandoned on the streets. They have done nothing to deserve this fate other than be born. There are not enough homes for the ones now dwelling on this earth and yet we continue to breed or allow breeding. After 25 years in rescue I know the only answer to this problem is sterilization. Please, be a hero and save thousands of lives--spay and neuter your pets! Do not breed or buy while shelter animals die. Adopt! Even if you want a pure bred animal, you can find them in shelters and with breed rescue groups.

I do practice what I preach. Six of my ten dogs are purebreds and both of my horses. All are rescue and all are sterilized.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Michael Bungay Stanier and "End Malaria"

Years, even months, ago, television imprinted on our minds images of children suffering and dying from malaria, and how something as simple as mosquito netting over their beds could be the difference between life and death. And we donated. But time passes, our attention is yanked to the nonstop barrage of other images and news thrust upon us daily, and we go on about our lives. Meanwhile, mothers continue to helplessly and hopelessly watch their children die from a disease rarely discussed within our own nation.

Sixty-two business leaders and authors came together with one common purpose – to continue the struggle, the fight, to wipe out malaria. As writers read by the business community around the world, these individuals united their literary voices into the book "End Malaria: Bold Innovation, Limitless Generosity, and the Opportunity to Save a Life."

Spearheaded by Michael Bungay Stanier, Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work, and published by Seth Godin and the Domino Project (a new outlook in publishing powered by Amazon.com), "End Malaria" isn’t a book about malaria or the tragedies this deadly disease inflicts. The authors are business people, not doctors or scientists. They write and talk about methods to improve our daily lives. So, that's what they did. Only this time, their singular profit is seeing the proceeds from this book go toward helping children live.
End Malaria Day Link

An anthology on self-improvement, the articles in "End Malaria" range from "Dream Backward to Move Forward" to "The Importance of Failure" to "How Can We Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer?" to "Permission to be Funny." They wrote about us, every one of us, and what we can do for ourselves. And by gleaning from their professional insight, we save children's lives.
The Domino Project
Box of Crayons

Q) Mr. Bungay Stanier, considering all the causes and organizations in the world, why was malaria efforts selected as the group's focus?

A) I did quite a bit of research across various global issues - hunger, water, disease. What I found was $10 - the price of a mosquito net - is the cheapest unit of global change. Part of what's wonderful about the 'End Malaria' book is that when you buy a book, $20 - enough for a net and further support for life saving work - goes to the organization Malaria No More.

Q) How difficult, or easy, was it for sixty-two well-respected writers to come together for "End Malaria"?

A) It was remarkably easy to get people to agree to participate - more than 90% of those I asked said yes, and once we had a core of great writers the project had credibility and momentum. Tracking down all the contributions once they'd said yes? That was a little trickier. However, it turns out that I'm an excellent nagger and everyone came through in the end.

Q) The Domino Project utilizes the concept of passing ideas from one person to the next. How effective and/or efficient has the Domino Project been in marketing "End Malaria"?

A) As you say, The Domino Project relies on good ideas spreading, and one of the main channels for that is through social media. We had hundreds of bloggers writing about the book and an amazing twitter stream on the launch day. The book climbed to #2 on Amazon.com with no "traditional media" support.

Q) Any organized effort has an initial goal or benchmark. Have the expectations for "End Malaria" been reached, and, if so, what is the next goal?

A) We raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Malaria No More in the first two weeks after the book's launch. We're now encouraging people to buy the book for their colleagues, clients, customers and friends - it makes a fabulous holiday gift.

Q) What is it about the articles in "End Malaria" that the average, non-business minded person would find beneficial?

A) Many of the articles have a relevance beyond just life in business. Some favourites of mine are Derek Sivers' "In a perfect world", Brene Brown's "The Strength of Vulnerability" , Jonah Lehrer's "Don't pay attention" and Gwen Bell's "Unplug". They're all about helping figure out how to live a life that's more meaningful and happier - and then actually living it.

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) It's not often you get to buy a book and save a life. You do with 'End Malaria'

Friday, November 18, 2011

NYT and USA Today Best-Selling Author Terri DuLong

Occasionally a writer comes along to remind us all that dreams need not be unfulfilled, and passion cannot be denied.

Terri DuLong wasn't raised in literary circles, never obtained a degree in English or literature. Instead, she married young and had three children, only to later divorce, and later still, find love and remarry. To support herself and her children, Terri went to college and eventually became a registered nurse. She didn't write books, she read them, and, as many of us do, wondered what being a writer might be like.

While a critical care RN, Terri's wonder turned curiosity, and she took a creative writing course. When her husband's job transferred the family to Florida, Terri worked part-time and began writing more. She attended writing workshops and conferences, all the while working to improve her craft. Somewhere in this process, curiosity turned passion. Passion within writers fills pages with their stories. It doesn't matter whether those stories are ever published. You see, publication is a reward for a writer's dedication to their skill and craft, being published is not the fuel that feeds the passion.

After years of rejections, Terri's passion for writing was rewarded. "Spinning Forward," with its subtle, gentle prose, captures the reader's interest like a long-missed relative who stopped by for a visit. The first in the Cedar Key series "Spinning Forward" spun the yarn that binds the continuing novels together. Each is the compelling story of a woman at a crossroads, and the decisions that impact their lives.

Be it "Spinning Forward," "Casting About," or Terri's latest, "Sunrise on Cedar Key," readers are sure to enjoy the homespun stories of women linked by a love of knitting and their indomitable spirits.
Ms. DuLong's Web Site

Q) What inspired knitting as the backdrop for your tales?

A) I had to come up with a job for Sydney, my main character in Spinning Forward. Jobs here on Cedar Key aren’t that plentiful. I wanted her work to be realistic for the island and since I’m an avid knitter, having her open a yarn shop seemed appropriate.

Q) Your writing style reminds me of the old storytellers perched atop a barrel in a dry goods store, spinning their tales of quirky characters, though most of the issues your characters must deal with are very contemporary, and very serious. To what do you credit your unique voice?

A) First of all, thank you for such a nice compliment. I’m not quite sure how to answer this, except to say that I write about issues that touch me emotionally. Issues that other women have possibly encountered, such as self-identity, becoming a step-Mom, mother/daughter relationships, etc. I write from my heart with the hope that a good story will evolve.

Q) The road you traveled to becoming a published author wasn't easy, but you never gave up. Is there a person in your life who served as your personal inspiration or mentor?

A) That would be my parents. My mother inspired my love for reading. She was an avid reader and a great story teller. I was an only child and she always made sure I had plenty of books to keep me company. My dad was a lover of words and taught me the use of a dictionary and how powerful the written word could be. They always encouraged me, supported me and instilled the fact that if I worked hard, I could achieve my goals.

Q) I've heard pistachio cake plays a role in your family Christmases. How did that tradition come about?

A) Back in the sixties, it became a popular recipe and it was my mother who decided that since the cake and frosting were green, it would be nice to have it on Christmas Eve. She made it every year until I took over the tradition and now my daughter makes it every holiday for her family.

Q) Certainly, being an NYT and USA Today Best-Selling author is exciting and a dream fulfilled. However, your adopted hometown of Cedar Key makes sure they have your books on the library's shelves. How did that feel the first time you heard that news?

A) It made me feel grateful. Cedar Key is a very special place but it’s the people that make our community what it is. Since I’m a born and raised Yankee, to be told by the locals that I’ve captured the essence of Cedar Key in my novels is the highest compliment I could receive. I may not be southern, but I’m certainly in my element in this quaint fishing village.

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) I want to deeply thank my readers, and I hope they know how much I appreciate their support with Facebook comments, wonderful emails, and word of mouth recommendations for the Cedar Key Series. I’ve always believed that an author pens the words, but it’s the readers that keep a published author fulfilling her passion.

Thank you very much for inviting me to do this Q&A.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Author Joseph Pittman

Fiction and mystery author Joseph Pittman lives literature. As a professional editor he has worked for several publishers, and with renowned authors such as Stephen King, Joan Collins, and General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, to name a few. A native of the Queens borough of New York, Pittman continues to reside in and around NYC.

In the mystery novel "London Frog," Pittman introduced the world to an oddly magnetic character named Todd Gleason. A petty thief, Gleason walks both sides of society's fence, straddling good and evil in order to pursue champagne tastes. He possesses his own idea of morality, and frequently merges right and wrong into acceptable whenever the need arises. Though not who you would ever want dating your daughter, Gleason is the first person you'd call if she was kidnapped, and Gleason is the first one who would catch that same daughter's eye in a crowded room. The sequel "California Scheming" is due out in January.

But Pittman's writing interests extend well beyond the mystery genre.

"Tilting at Windmills," Pittman's first published novel, is a story of love lost, love found, life renewed, and a windmill that stands watch over the residents of tiny Linden Corners. In "Tilting at Windmills," Pittman left the reader wanting more of Linden Corners and the main characters Brian Duncan and his eight-year-old ward Janey Sullivan. "A Christmas Wish" brings back Brian and Janey in a joyous tale of honoring the past while building a future. "A Christmas Wish" is a heartwarming story of love and Christmas magic. Just make sure you have a box or two of tissues nearby.
Mr. Pittman's Web Site

Q) How did the windmill and Linden Corners come to be?

A) The windmill came to me sort of by mistake. Riding on Amtrak along the Hudson River Valley, I ran across the phrase “tilting at windmills” in the book I was reading. I looked out the window at the river and I began imagining what if there was a windmill out of the window? The Hudson River Valley has a strong Dutch influence, so the idea of a windmill in that area was not out of the question. The story began there.

Q) Writing and editing are intrinsically connected, yet worlds apart. Writers write the story. Editors work to improve that story. As an author/editor, how difficult is it for you to see another editor making/suggesting changes in your story?
A) I’m very structured, both in writing and editing. Each compliment the other, at least in terms of my approach. The secret is keeping the material under control—self editing as you write, narrowing your focus when you edit. Keep the words from getting out of hand and you’ll maintain a better sense of pace.

Q) What first instilled the idea in you that you would like to write a novel?

A) As a know-it-all teenager (what teenager isn’t?), I read a book which I found quite simplistic. I thought: “I could do better.” It was a challenge to myself, and so I began. I wrote five manuscript before “Tilting at Windmills,” so I’ve been working at it for years. “Windmills” just happened to be the one that struck a chord, with an agent and with an editor…and now readers.

Q) Todd Gleason in "London Frog" isn't the average hero. What inspired this character?

A) Having a guy who straddles the legal fence is much more fun to write. He doesn’t always have to do the right thing, but he doesn’t want to go too far either. It’s the moral complexity to makes Todd intriguing—not to mention the dimples that make him attractive. Even though he’s not such a good guy, he’s not a bad guy either. Call him a crook and he’ll correct you. “I’m a sneaky opportunist.” Todd has his demons, but he also has his fun side—though not everyone would agree with that second part.

Q) Since your day is filled with words – editing and writing – how much time do you set aside for reading? And, what do you enjoy reading?

A) I don’t write every day. I tend to go away for a week or two to start a novel, so I can just concentrate on getting to know the characters, the plot, and the twists. Then when I’m back home the book is well under way and I can steal time, mostly nights and weekends, to finish it. I also read a lot. My subway ride to work every day finds me with a book—I like mystery and suspense, thrillers. I read Daniel Silva, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen. A real mix. When I’m in the mood for something more quirky, I’m a sucker for John Irving.

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) I’m schizophrenic when it comes to my writing. If you enjoy the feel-good stories of Tilting at Windmills, you may wonder where London Frog came from. Writing is all about experimenting. A forthcoming novel will join my two loves—the small town world of Upstate New York and the mystery genre. But there’s other stuff too—another Linden Corners book, another Todd Gleason mystery, and a few other surprises. I’m having a blast and I hope my readers are too.

Friday, November 4, 2011

NYT and USA Today Best-Selling Author Victoria Alexander

Victoria Alexander exemplifies life lived and enjoyed to its fullest. This charismatic lady with a perpetual smile is a former TV news reporter who viewed all the good and bad this world has to offer, including the time her own husband and other journalists were held hostage by a disturbed man.

Since leaving television, she has seen sixteen of her more than two dozen books hit the New York Times, USA Today and/or Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. "The Perfect Wife" was a NYT #1 bestseller. In 2009 she was given a Career Achievement Award from RT Bookclub and named Historical Storyteller of the year in 2003.

Victoria's stories of love, romance, and intrigue in bygone eras contain the wit, charm, and sometimes quick tongue the author herself possesses. Her heroines know what they want and aren't afraid to go after it, and the heroes are all man. In "The Perfect Mistress," released earlier this year, Victoria unveiled a proper lady who discovers passion is her legacy. But she also introduced some new characters who now have their own story to tell in "His Mistress by Christmas." Widowed Lady Veronica Simpson seeks the boudoir benefits of marriage without the tedious restrictions. Rogue and explorer Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater needs a wife in order to ingratiate himself to his family. Oh yeah, there's a collision course if ever there was one.

While Victoria has found a successful formula for her writing, it is the characters who make each offering delightfully entertaining and the story unique from all her other works.

Today Victoria resides in Nebraska with her husband and a bearded collie who enjoys kitchen counter surfing.
Victoria's Web Site

Q) What prompted you to set your stories in the 1800s?

A) Overall, I think the 19th century is far enough in the past to provide a lovely veneer of romance without being so far in the past that contemporary readers can't relate to it.

When I first started reading romance, I fell in love with the Regency period in England. For a fiction writer it was a fabulous time. The Napoleonic Wars were raging through much of that period so you have men of great courage and war heroes and all the drama that accompanies countries during wartime. There was a fascinating social system with unmarried women under strict social rules but those who were married (and had provided an heir) were free to behave almost as they wished. Plus the clothes were gorgeous.

From there, I moved into mid and now late Victorian. It was a period full of progress and, while fairly civilized, also had great potential for adventure. I think it was a fascinating time to be alive. And I love true stories of Victorian exploration and invention.

Q) How do you consistently create characters unlike the ones in your previous tales?

A) Good question and I'm not sure I have an answer!

I hate the idea of writing the same story with the same characters over and over so I put a lot of thought into the stories as well as the characters I create. But honestly, there are so many different facets of people to explore. It's fun to create a heroine who is firmly a woman of her time and would never think of doing anything improper in one book and then in the next, a heroine who has the means and determination to do exactly as she pleases. My next book (My Wicked Little Lies) is about two people who are already married to each other so I got to explore how and why they would keep secrets from each other. I'm working on one now where the heroine is from a family of, well, Victorian gold diggers. They were brought up to believe that one married for position and money. At least the first time.

Trying to make my characters and my stories unique from book to book is a challenge. It means each book is harder to write than the last. As much as I wish it would be easier, I think that's a good thing. It means I keep working and stretching to write the best book I can.

Q) What one thing do you believe has kept readers coming back to your books?

A) Honestly, I think it's simple. I write the kind of book I like to read. I read for enjoyment, to be entertained. I want a book that's going to take me away from real life for a bit and, hopefully make me laugh or at least smile.

I don’t like writing a lot of angst. As a reporter, I saw way too much tragedy in real life. I'd much rather make readers smile than cry.

And I think there are a lot of people out there like me. Deep down inside, I'm pretty run-of-the-mill ordinary.

Q) "His Mistress by Christmas" is a bit of a departure for you due to its holiday theme. Will we see more holiday inspired novels from you?

A) Absolutely! I'm already working on one for next year called What Happens at Christmas. I love writing Christmas books and actually I do have a couple of novellas (Promises to Keep and Shakespeare and the Three Kings) and two previous books with Christmas themes—A Visit from Sir Nicholas and the reissue of Believe was rewritten a bit to incorporate a Christmas setting.

I think Christmas is a wonderful time of year to set a story. Aside from the obvious holiday festivities it is an innately magical time when anything can happen, when miracles happen. And what is more miraculous than falling in love?

Q) During my preparation for this interview, I encountered several Internet piracy sites offering your books for free. What is your opinion of book piracy?

A) Well, I think it theft. Writing isn't a hobby for me—it's my job. It's what provides my income. If my books are being pirated, that cuts into my income. If I can't make a living—I can't afford to write. There's a fantasy out there that anyone who is published is fabulously wealthy. Trust me—I'm not.

We're all very used to everything on the internet being free. I think the people who download my books would never dream of walking into a bookstore and taking a book without paying. They would see that as stealing. For some reason, they don’t see piracy as stealing. But piracy is theft, it's just a different format.

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) I've started a new family series called Sinful Family Secrets that centers around the Hadley-Attwater family and their friends and connections. His Mistress by Christmas introduces the family and in the notes section of my website (www.victoriaalexander.com) there's a section where the matriarch introduces the family. “Meet the Hadley-Attwaters” is in the Ladies for Tea format I started in the continuing short story at the end of the Last Man Standing books. This is a format in which I invite characters into my living room for tea and a chat. And we have a great time!

I'd also like to thank my readers for liking my work. It's really a thrill to know that there are people who like what you pour your heart and soul into who aren't related to you.

And I should tell them I have a lot more stories left to write!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Award-Winning Author Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant writes with charm, wit, and style. Her stories encompass women unsettled by the directions their lives have taken, and who discover not just their inner power, but their innermost desires to live and love as they have dreamed. In Marilyn's tales, one commonality remains ever-present: Dreams can come true, if you have the strength and tenacity to grab hold and tame the dream to reality.

Holding an MA in educational psychology, Marilyn has taught school, freelanced as a magazine writer and national book reviewer, dabbled in fiction and the arts, and maintained a constant fascination with the works of Jane Austen. So much so, Marilyn's acclaimed debut novel “According to Jane" revolves around a young woman following the wise and witty advice of Jane Austen's voice.

Her second offering, "Friday Mornings at Nine," takes the reader on a journey of self. Not self-discovery, but the pursuit to answer the question most have asked at least once – "What if?" This is a unique and expertly told tale of three women who step out of their norm and blur the lines separating fantasy from reality.

On Nov 29th Marilyn's latest novel "A Summer in Europe" will be released. Once again the author delves into the world of a woman unaware of what she really wants and needs out of life, until a summer in Europe sets her spirit free to take the chances and risks she has subdued and banished to the forgotten recesses of her mind. "A Summer in Europe" is a love story told with grace, humor, and the finesse established and new Marilyn Brant readers will enjoy for years to come.
Marilyn's Web Site

Q) Let's get this out on the table right now. I love anchovies. You don't. What's wrong with anchovies?

A) Ha! Well, I love your sense of humor, even though I don't share your adoration for anchovies. At all. They ruined an otherwise perfectly tasty pizza for me once, and I've never forgiven them. But they're also on an incredibly short list of foods I dislike (I even enjoy Vegemite, shark fin soup and okra -- in moderation), so, in that way, anchovies are very special...

Q) To be honest, "A Summer in Europe" isn't my usual preferred fare. Then I read the first three pages. I was hooked and yours to reel in all the way to the last page. How does it feel knowing for certain your writing can mesmerize a reader?

A) There's nothing like that feeling of being told something I wrote touched a reader, made him or her laugh, compelled someone to keep turning the pages or helped a reader feel less alone in having experienced an emotion. Authors whose stories I've loved have done that for me, and I'll always be grateful to them. It's a privilege to try to do the same for someone else. That said, unless a reader actually tells me in a note or through a review, I'm far from certain I've reached anyone or truly connected. As writers, we take a leap of faith on this every single day -- just hoping that, if we write with passion and honesty, something we've said through our characters will resonate for another person. It's a pure gift when the right book reaches the right reader...as much for the author as for the individual who picked up the story.

Q) What is it about Jane Austen that has made you such a fan?

A) How do I count the ways? I'm convinced Jane was a genius -- not only in the literary world but also in the realm of behavioral science. What I think she did with sheer brilliance was to have understood human behavior so well (no doubt by observing it with such a sharp eye in her real life) that she could write character descriptions and reveal character motivations that ring as true and relevant now as they did 200 years ago. There's a timelessness and a universality to her work. I was only 14 when I first read Pride and Prejudice, but I remember being able to immediately recognize her characters in my daily life -- in the behavior of my friends, family members, even myself. Jane understood the inconsistencies, foibles and self-delusions of us all. In the decades since, I've come to appreciate her creativity and perceptiveness even more. And, you know, I loved her insights enough to write an almost 300-page book in homage to her. No one can claim I don't take my devoted fandom seriously.

Q) Your love of travel obviously played a part in writing "A Summer in Europe." Do you believe a writer has to visit a location in order to successfully use it as a backdrop for a story?

A) I think it's often easier if someone has visited a place to bring the sights and sounds specific to that location to life. But, no, with so many research options available, I don't think a writer has to have been somewhere to write about it. I think what a writer does need, though, is to really know the main character's point of view very well, especially prior to writing scenes that involve that character interacting with his or her environment. We have to be aware of how that person is going to filter the images, noises, tastes and textures of a given setting. How that character will react emotionally or intellectually to a particular place. What aspects of the experience will be most memorable and meaningful to this individual at this precise moment in time. Novels are about change and how the characters populating a story deal with it. So, as writers, we need to know whatever it is about any setting that might play into that change...that might stand out as a significant detail for the character whose voice is narrating the scene. To me this means that while knowing about a place will always be important, it's still secondary to knowing about the person who's visiting that place. Of course, going on a research trip is especially tempting when the location is somewhere like Venice or Paris or London... I'd love to claim I had to go there again, just to make sure I got the narrative details right!

Q) Here's the question I have to ask: A wife and mother, are you living your dream, or are your stories your own subtle pursuit for the answer to "What if"?

A) Oh, what a thoughtful question. Brevity being the soul of wit and all, I wish I could dash off a quick response, but this requires a longer one.

I think a great draw of becoming a novelist is the sense that we're granted a new lifetime with every book we write, and we can answer some of our personal what-ifs through our characters. For a time, we inhabit their fictional worlds and, thus, get to travel down a range of paths, ones frequently left unchosen by us in real life. For instance, when I was writing "Friday Mornings at Nine" I got to fully imagine three women whose lives were, in many ways, fairly different from mine. I drew inspiration for their backgrounds, interests, marriages and temptations from a number of real-life sources and even from a few situations within my own life, but my close friendships, family and feelings about marriage and motherhood didn't directly mirror any one woman's journey in the story.

However, the very act of having to ask myself questions about how each character justified her thoughts and behaviors really helped me to clarify where I stood on a number of issues -- far better than I ever would have if writing the novel hadn't been my task. It inspired in me a genuine compassion for these characters and their struggles, as well as for anyone in my real life who'd experienced similar turmoil. Once the novel was published, I had the pleasure of attending several thought-provoking and really fun book-club discussions, where the women in the room shared with each other some of their own joys, doubts and challenges of marriage. These conversations were always amazing to me. I felt talking about our relationship choices and friendships -- by pointing out what we agreed with or disagreed with in regards to the characters' decisions -- made all of us feel less alone when it came to our personal what-ifs. Many of us had the same uncertainties, the same fears. Being able to use a story as a vehicle for conversations like these shows the incredible power of fiction, both for the readers of a novel and for the author who wrote it. The book compels all of us to look more deeply at aspects of things we may not have ever chosen to see otherwise and, in discussing these concepts, we have an opportunity to view the many threads that connect us.

So, it becomes a fascinating cycle -- a crisscrossing of art and life -- that brings such meaning to every day as a writer. Observing something relevant to my friends in the real world, then considering it from multiple viewpoints in a fictional world and, finally, reflecting back on it with others in the real world again satisfies my curiosity, motivates me to keep writing and is personally very fulfilling. Definitely my definition of "living the dream."

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) Thank you...always!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poet/Author Todd Moore

This edition of my column is a bit unique as the writer we're focusing, Todd Moore, passed away in March 2010. But Todd Moore is an example of a man whose life and words will live for decades to come.

On the day of his death, Moore's first full-length short poetry collection "Dead Reckoning" was released. Moore didn't write about paths less travelled, swans on glass lakes, or spring's first blossom. That wasn't the world he was shown. I think Moore described his work best in this excerpt of his instructions for reading "Dead Reckoning":

"I write poetry the way some people bet on roulette. I write poetry the way John Dillinger robbed banks. I do it compulsively, I do it quickly, I do it incessantly, I do it explosively because writing poetry means engaging in an act of unpredictable psychic aggression. When I write a poem I intend to assault you. I need to pull you into my long unforgiving nightmare war. And, make no doubt about it. My poetry is an assault on your person, your identity, your eyes, your skin. When you read one of my poems, you enter into a minefield that is not of your making."

To gain perspective of the world Todd Moore grew up in would require a keyhole to the past. Moore's son, Theron Moore, created that keyhole in a compilation of his father's poems and essays about his youth - "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves: Down and Out at the Hotel Clifton."

The Hotel Clifton in Freeport, IL, was that place every film noire, hardboiled, private eye slept with a half empty bottle of bootleg liquor under the bed. It was a place where seedy contacts were made, deals broken, lives ignored. It was a place of gangsters, harlots, and thieves, and where Todd Moore lived as a child with his father, a would-be gangster who did odd jobs for the Capones.

"Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves" is a snapshot of desperate and tangled lives we can't pull our eyes from. It is a boy snatching the ten-spot from the hat of man found hanged, the disposing of a murder weapon, and a brittle outlook of "you have to die if you want to dream."

If you haven't read Todd Moore's work, do. But start at his beginning with "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves."
Todd Moore Appreciation Group  Epic Rites Press Amazon.com Buy Link
Q) Theron Moore, what prompted you to create this book of your father's work?

A) There was a lot that prompted me to do this, actually. For one thing, I had heard the Clifton Hotel horror stories growing up. I can remember being a kid and hearing my dad, aunt and grandma talk about my grandfather’s drinking and living at that place, and this could be intense, at least to a kid’s ears, to hear those details told by the folks who actually lived it.

A few years ago, my father started talking to me about the Clifton days again over a regular lunch we’d have together once or twice a month. I always told him that he needed to put his experiences on paper that it’d make a great book, but for whatever reason, he never did. He’d always say that he had already written many essays and poems that dealt with the Clifton and had other projects he wanted to do. Eventually, I convinced him to do the project, but he passed away shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, he never began the writing process for the book.

A few months after his passing, I was going through all of his floppy disks (60 total), organizing, and saving all of his writing and decided to take the time and really read what he had written, something I had done over the years, but not to this extent. I found poems and essays that talked about the Hotel Clifton, his experiences living there, his father, etc. so I decided to put them all together and see what I had, and five days later, I had something like 90+ pages of poems and essays and excerpts from essays collected.

There were times when I worked extensively on this book, and then I’d have low times, where I’d have to let it sit, because it was all emotionally too much for me, thus the reason why it took nearly a year to start the book, edit it and then publish it.

About six or seven months into the writing and editing of Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves… it finally dawned on me that not only was I putting together a kind of cool, film noir styled book that would showcase my father’s writing to folks outside of the small press community who didn’t know my father or his body of work, but I was also creating something of a historical document, a snapshot in time, if you will, of what Freeport, IL was like back in the late 40’s - early 50’s, which also doubled as a biography of my father’s childhood as well. It was all unintentional, but it just kind of worked itself out that way.

I really like the way the book looks and reads, in fact, I’ve had people tell me that Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves… is very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City comic series and the movie itself, which is high, high praise indeed.

Q) Your father's childhood molded his future. What did he do to ensure his children never lived as he had?

A) My father hated the fact that he and his family lived the way they did when he was growing up at the Hotel Clifton. He vowed, at an early age, that if he ever had a family, he would never subject them to that kind of life. His father was an alcoholic – some days were good, but most were bad, and my dad was a self-professed juvenile delinquent who stole and burglarized. He knew he had two choices – he could continue living his life on skid row just existing as a professional criminal or he could make better choices – go to college and make a real life for himself. He chose the latter, thank god.

Q) What one ideal did your father ensure you possessed?

A) Always see something through to the end, never give up, and be tenacious about it, whatever you’re doing. Don’t quit, see it through and get it done.

Q) Will there be more books like "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves," and when can we expect them?

A) Oh yes, a lot more. I’m actually working on editing / compiling two other books as we speak. The first book should be ready by spring of 2012. It deals with how certain segments of American pop culture have influenced the genre of Outlaw Poetry. Again, it’ll be my father’s work and maybe the inclusion of interviews I’ll do with a few other folks as well.

The second book is “to be determined,” nothing firmed up yet. Beyond that, I’ll be tackling my father’s body of writing regarding “Dillinger,” which is several thousand pages of loose paper in addition to 300-500 more pages he had saved on computer disk. I definitely have a lot going on here regarding publishing his work.

Q) Any parting thoughts?

A) First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I very much appreciate it, and I’m very humbled. All I’ll say in closing is, if you enjoy movies like “Public Enemies” with Johnny Depp, gangster movies, or Frank Miller’s “Sin City,” you’ll really dig Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves: Down and Out at the Hotel Clifton. Trust me, this book is right there.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New York Times Bestselling Author, John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap: Fifteen-year volunteer fireman and EMT, explosives safety and hazardous waste expert, earned a Master of Science degree in safety engineering and a bachelor's degree in history, business consultant, director of safety for a Washington, D.C. trade association, screenplay writer, devoted husband and father, master of the thriller novel. Translated and published in twenty countries, Gilstrap's stories have seen more of the world than many of us ever will.

Still, in spite of, or because of that impressive resume, this amazing author remains down to earth and fiercely loyal to his fans and readers. So much so, he personally responds to each and every letter and email and commits himself to a weekly blog post, inviting anyone and everyone to weigh in on his thoughts. In other words, Gilstrap is who he has always been, a man passionate about life, writing, and the people he encounters.

Gilstrap wrote four novels before seeing one published. That book was "Nathan's Run," the internationally acclaimed story of a twelve-year-old accused of murder and his lonely flight to survive against an entire country convinced of his guilt. Then came the obvious question; how do you follow up "overnight success"? Gilstrap's answer came with the equally successful "At All Costs."

But a collaborative effort with Kurt Muse resulted in the nonfiction book "Six Minutes to Freedom," and a turn in Gilstrap's writing. Six Minutes is the true story of Muse's rescue by Delta Force from Panamanian thugs ordered to execute him. Gilstrap met and interviewed a number of the men directly involved in the rescue and learned how gentle and kind these professionals willing to risk their lives against unthinkable odds to save one man, truly are.

From those meetings and Gilstrap's imagination came the uniquely heroic Jonathon Grave, a freelance covert rescue specialist. First appearing in "No Mercy," Grave's popularity with thriller fans continues to grow and now finds the no-nonsense hero in his third novel, "Threat Warning," the tale of a secret society of killers and the power mongers issuing their orders.

John Gilstrap's prose is superb, his plots mesmerizing, and every character wonderfully crafted.
Mr. Gilstrap's Web Site

Q) You committed fifteen years of your life to being a volunteer firefighter. What was it about being a fireman that captivated you?

A) One word: Adrenaline. Imagine being 23 years old and walking into the worst moments of other people’s lives and bringing order to chaos. That’s pretty heady stuff. I’ve delivered babies, rescued people and animals from burning buildings, and talked a very angry woman out of using a very sharp knife on me—all in the company of my firehouse brothers and sisters. For a long time, the fire service doubled as my social outlet. I recommend a stint in public service for everyone—particularly when they’re young enough to bounce without breaking.

Q) The character Jonathan Grave was partly inspired by your meetings with the Delta Force members. However, you have an innate belief in justice and that good things should and will happen to good people. To what do you attribute this abiding faith that right will conquer wrong?

A) Right doesn’t conquer wrong on its own—it takes a lot of hard work, and the dedication of people who will accept nothing less. It’s a personal adage of mine that failure cannot be inflicted on a person; that it has to be declared by the individual. If you detect injustice, you must confront an important choice: do you accept it, or do you fight back? The bad guys win occasional battles, sometimes inflicting enormous damage in the process, but if the good guys are willing to do what it takes to prevail, I believe that in the end, they always will. It’s about not giving up.

Q) How did you and Kurt Muse come to collaborate on "Six Minutes to Freedom"?

A) This is a story of pure serendipity. If we’d met just a few weeks before we did, the collaboration would never have happened. My writing career had hit a pretty severe slump. After having been repeatedly orphaned by my editors at Atria Books, my novels Even Steven and Scott Free were pretty much ignored by my publisher, with the result being really awful sales numbers. I was on the brink of not being able to find an outlet for my next books.

Then a dear friend named Patrick Barney told me about a speech he’d just attended by a guy named Kurt Muse, who was the only civilian of record ever rescued by Delta Force. Kurt, he told me, had run an illegal radio station with some Rotarian friends in Panama who were committed to bringing down the murderous dictator Manuel Noriega. For nearly two years, using amateur radio equipment purchased from Radio Shack, they controlled the airwaves, running anti-Noriega propaganda at will. They rose to the status of public enemy number one, and in the process had a blast dispatching Noriega henchmen to nonexistent incidents one day, and interrupting drive time radio in the mornings and afternoons.

When he was betrayed and arrested, Kurt’s 15-year-old daughter had to flee the country alone with her 12-year-old brother. When he was ultimately liberated in the opening moments of Operation Just Cause, he was reunited with his family just in time for one of Washington, DC’s very few white Christmases. I was shocked that his story had not yet been written.

This was exactly the kind of thriller that I write as fiction, but it was entirely factual. He and his wife met with me and my wife, and we realized that we were a perfect team. We even have the same birthdays.

Q) What many people don't know is that you wrote the original script for the movie "Red Dragon," of Hannibal Lecter fame, but received none of the credit. We could fill pages with the obvious "what if" scenarios. Instead, what did you gain from that experience?

A) Okay, let’s be clear here: Film credit is awarded by an arbitration process, and through that process, the single screenwriter for the film Red Dragon is Ted Tally.

That said, I did write an earlier version of that film—the first version—and in my opinion much of what was in my script is in fact in the movie. Please read nothing into that beyond what it is. My version stuck very close to the book as did Ted Tally’s. I’ve been told that he maintains that he never saw my script, and because we both stuck so closely to the original material, I have no reason to disbelieve him.

As for what I learned through the experience, it’s that Hollywood is a tough town. You can’t take stuff personally in the entertainment business. Through my screen work, I met some extraordinarily talented people—among them the legendary Dino DeLaurentiis, who invited my family and me to his 80th birthday party on the Isle of Capri in Italy. Credit schmedit. That alone was worth it.

Q) As with a number of successful novelists, you frequently refer to yourself as a storyteller and not a writer. In your mind, what is the difference?

A) The difference for me is pivotal to whatever success I can claim. My first novel, Nathan’s Run, was in fact the fourth novel I’d written. Writing is a craft, after all, and like any craft, it continually improves with practice. When I started writing Nathan, however, I made a conscious decision to stop thinking in terms of writing a book and instead thought in terms of telling a story. I wrote that novel—and I continue to write my books today—as if I were telling the story verbally. I became less conscious of sentence construction and more conscious of creating a mood. I don’t know if I explain it well here, but it worked.

Let’s be honest: We learn to write in elementary school, in the sense that we learn to draw the letters and compose sentences that make sense. Thus, a fifth grader is a writer. The guy who writes the instructions for programming your remote control is a writer, as is the guy who writes proposals for government contracts. Are they story tellers? Maybe in their off-hours they are, but you can’t really tell that from their work product.

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) Only to express undying gratitude to them for reading. Without you, none of the rest of this would matter a lick.