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, September 30, 2011

Award-Winning Author Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer has taken network and marketing strategies to a level that has not just corporations and businesses vying for his attention, but individuals as well. Though President of Windmills Marketing, a social media marketing strategic consultancy firm, Neal has channeled his expertise in to two easily understood books even someone as marketing naïve as I can understand.

"Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn" is Neal's best-selling guide that revolutionized professionals' utilization of LinkedIn. Enter the average person's confusion – what the heck is LinkedIn? LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site. Think Facebook for the business world. But those six words don't begin to describe the services and information available to the general public. Employment information, contacts, references, referrals, and the ability to study businesses and their working models in both practice and marketing are all available for anyone desiring to improve their personal or business situation.

So, how to best utilize LinkedIn if you are an individual seeking to promote a new business, art, writing, or self in general? Here is where Neal Schaffer and his latest book, "Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing," come in to play. Anyone from mega corporation to weekend builder of bird houses to nonprofit organizations can learn to create sales-oriented profiles, improve reputation, and drive more traffic to their web sites. Neal spells out the systems tools and advantages in layman's terms.

Let me put this in a way I, as a writer, can understand. There are 120 million LinkedIn members worldwide. That's 120 million opportunities to sell my books, if I take the time and trouble to make use of the network in a viable and useful manner. And that's what Neal and his books do – they provide the information to take full advantage of LinkedIn.
Neal's Web Site
Q) How did you initially become involved with LinkedIn?

A) Like many others, I got an invite to LinkedIn and joined early on in 2004 but it was not until circumstances changed for me in early 2008 that I discovered one of LinkedIn's true value. I had returned from living in Asia in 2005 and now was set to look for a new job in my native United States where I had never looked for a job before. I was living in an area where I literally knew no one as I had built my professional network in Asia and attended school elsewhere, so I realized I had to develop a new network from scratch. I also realized that LinkedIn would allow me to do this, as I became more and more active on the site, LinkedIn became an invaluable business tool for my future.

To be honest with you, because of these unique circumstances, I saw LinkedIn as a tool where others just saw it as a way to get reconnected with their colleagues. I would (and still do) get into heated debates with professionals I would meet at networking events who still wanted to keep their LinkedIn presence a personal one and not reach out to new people. For instance, very early on I saw how the more connections you had the higher you would appear in the search results for any given keyword that was included in your profile. LinkedIn has changed their search algorithm since then and I am no longer what you would call a LinkedIn LION or LinkedIn Open Networker, but the combination of having an immediate need to build out a network as well as seeing the importance of LinkedIn as a business tool led me to spend more and more time on the site and build up a unique insight as to how professionals can maximize their social presence, and companies maximize their social business, through LinkedIn.

I then began to blog about LinkedIn in July of 2008 as a networking vehicle to share this unique understanding of LinkedIn with the world. Urged on by family and friends, I decided to take my networking and blogging to a new level by actually writing a books on the subject.

Q) Obviously, your intentions and purpose are not to solely promote LinkedIn, but the business community and/or person. To this end you discuss methods of marketing, such as blogging, on your blog. How important are blogs to promoting one's self or product?

A) From a holistic perspective, I believe that blogging is the single most important thing a person or business can do to promote themselves and recommend it to almost every social media strategy consulting client. Don't get me wrong: social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are also extremely important, but at the end of the day you need a home base to lead people where you can showcase what you and/or your business is about in whatever style you wish while maintaining firm control over your brand. This is your website.

Blogging on your website gives your company a social voice. Without a social voice, what are you going to talk about in social media? By blogging, you start to address industry-wide or customer-centric issues without directly marketing your product and can use that information to attract social media users to engage with your content in social communities as well as on your website through commenting and sharing.

The other additional benefit of blogging is the search engine optimization (SEO) benefits that naturally come with publishing new content on your website. The more content you have the more ways search engines will display your company's website for a given keyword search query. Combining this with social media participation helps more consumers and businesses discover your content, increasing the chances of social shares as well as backlink building, two activities which can further aid the SEO of your website.

Q) I get curious about things like this: A California resident, you speak fluent Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. Why did you opt to learn Asian languages over European or South American?

A) I grew up in an area of Southern California where many of my classmates were Asian or Asian-American. By the time I got to high school, many of my friends were of Chinese, Korean, or Japanese descent. I had an experience in high school of going to a birthday party where I was the only caucasian in attendance! Although I had a love for the French language and was studying it in high school, when I got to college I wanted to study one of these Asian languages to better understand myself. My college didn't offer Korean, but I was immediately drawn to the complexity of Chinese characters that exist in Mandarin Chinese and thought that it would be amazing if I could ever read or write them. That interest sparked me to take two years of Chinese in college and then spend my Junior year abroad in Beijing, China.

Two events in Beijing that year motivated me to start learning Japanese in addition to Chinese: 1) Experiencing the Tian An Men demonstrations firsthand and realizing that it would be hard for me to get a job in China at that time after graduation and 2) Having a Japanese roommate and making friends with many of the Japanese foreign students at my university in Beijing. I visited my roommate in Tokyo on the way back to the United States and then took Japanese my senior year of college. I was offered a position at a Japanese high tech company in the ancient capital of Kyoto upon graduation, and as they say, "The rest is history!"

Q) What attracted you to a career in marketing?

A) I come from an entrepreneurial family where my father and most of my siblings have started their own businesses. Having an outgoing personality, I wanted to pursue a career in sales and marketing as a way to meet and learn from new people as well as understand the framework for building my own company. After spending nearly two decades in a sales and marketing role, and having worked a long periond of time for a startup, I understood how marketing strategies and the implementation of those strategies could truly make or break a company. It is that fascination, and the realization that social media is a vital element that should be a part of any corporate marketing strategy, that has led me to developing my 1st company, Windmills Marketing, a social media marketing consultancy with an emphasis on social media strategy. Helping companies with their social media strategy allows me to continue meeting new people as well as helping businesses leverage my expertise for their success, something that I find extremely satisfying. I hope to further leverage this social media marketing expertise and experience for additional entrepreneurial goals in the near future.

Q) You travel the world speaking anywhere you're invited. Consulting to businesses devours your waking hours. What do you do to unwind and recharge?

A) First of all, while many feel that sleep is underrated, I do try to get a full 8 hours of rest at night to help my body get physically recharged. I also try my best to eat a balanced diet to help my internal body get recharged. My favorite thing to do to unwind, although it might not sound like unwinding, is to spend time with my children. Helping them with their homework, reading books with them, walking them to school, or just being silly with them not only helps me take my mind off of business, it also reminds me as to why I do what I do. I also recharge by listening to music on long drives or business trips, traveling with the family as well as jogging when I have the time (although I have been known to tweet from the treadmill!).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Writer Musician Keith Cronin

What could a professional rock drummer who has performed with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, Davy Jones, Pat Travers, and so many other famous musicians have in common with the smash hit novel and movie "Water for Elephants"? Musician, composer, speechwriter, and author Keith Cronin created that now well-known title, as well as other titles for novels written by other authors. Why? Because creating is what Keith does. Whether behind his instruments or a computer keyboard, Keith's mind is a whirlwind of activity.

Though he holds a bachelor's degree in music and an MBA, Keith claims to spend his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. However, this prolific writer's work has appeared in numerous publications such as Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. Which leads us to question his claim of having any "free time."

Accustomed to being a pen behind the scenes, the performer we hear but never know, Keith is now seeing his own debut novel, "Me Again," take life. In "Me Again," Keith explores the fragility of life and the strength of the human spirit. The main character awakens from a six year stroke-induced coma only to discover the people in his life have moved on, and he doesn't really remember what that life was. When he meets another stroke victim, the pair learns that who they were may not have been such a good thing, and that what we construe as tragedy can sometimes bestow blessings.

"Me Again" is a tale of courage and awakening told with heart and humor readers of all ages will enjoy and appreciate. Keith Cronin is clearly destined to be a major part of the literary scene… if we can just pry the drumsticks out of his hands.
http://www.keithcronin.com/index.html

Q) A significant portion of the proceeds from "Me Again" is donated to the American Stroke Association. Why have you become so involved with this particular affliction?

A) At the time I wrote "Me Again," I had no real skin in the game; it was just a "what if?" scenario that I found intriguing, exploring the intertwined paths of two young stroke victims forced to start over in life. But stroke is a terrible affliction that impacts not only its victims but also their loved ones. And it affects a huge group of people: stroke is the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of adult disability. While I was finishing the book, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable about using such a horrible health problem merely to entertain. So I talked to my agent, and asked if she would think I was crazy if I decided to donate 25% of whatever I made from the book to aid in fighting stroke. She posed no objection, and the decision just felt right to me.

That was back in 2008, but it would prove to be a prophetic impulse on my part. In June of this year, my longtime bandleader and friend Clarence Clemons died as the result of a massive stroke. I'm still reeling from the loss, but I'm proud to honor his memory with a book dedicated to fighting the disease that took the Big Man down.

Q) You also wrote the Comma Boy Comics, quick, witty stabs at the writing profession. Have those barbs ever come back to haunt you? http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/keithwriter/

A) (Laughs) No, at least not yet. There's a prominent literary agent who used to post a very popular anonymous blog as "Miss Snark," and she once contacted me privately to tell me she enjoyed the comic strip - even when she herself was serving as its punch line. But so far James Patterson and Clive Cussler have ignored me, which is probably a good thing. I haven't done a new comic in ages, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted, even if the humor tended toward "inside baseball."

Q) You've lived in Illinois, California, Florida, and a cruise ship. How was life on a cruise ship?

A) It was pretty surreal. Although I was born in Miami, I was raised in Springfield, Illinois (the setting for "Me Again"), and never saw an ocean until I shipped out on a seven-month contract aboard a Caribbean cruise ship in my early twenties. It took a few days to get my "sea legs," but once I got used to the constant motion, I learned to love it. I had some wonderful experiences, played drums with some great musicians and entertainers, had the obligatory passionate shipboard romance, and got the suntan of doom! Adding to the surreality of the experience, I went overnight from total poverty (graduating penniless from music school in the midst of a terrible recession) to living in luxury, where my toughest challenge was choosing between the lobster or the filet mignon for dinner.

It was also a great cultural lesson: there were something like 40 nationalities represented among the ship's crew, and Americans were in the minority - and not at all a favored minority. So that was a real wakeup call, making me aware that the jingoistic "we're number one" conditioning that we unconsciously absorb growing up in the U.S. doesn't necessarily resonate with the rest of the world. That experience made me a huge advocate of the importance of international travel, particularly for young adults. Don't get me wrong - I love the United States, but it's great to learn firsthand that our way is not the only way.

Q) Do folks confuse you with the Irish race car driver?

A) Not if they've seen me drive - I'm a major slowpoke! But it's fun to see videos of his races come up when I Google myself (something authors spend WAY too much time doing). He's got nothing to worry about from me; I'm far too nervous a driver to ever want to race anybody. I seem to be lacking The Need For Speed.

Q) Music and writing are passions within you. Success in writing will funnel time away from music. How will you balance the two?

A) In some ways that funneling is good, because it can occasionally force you to step back from one discipline, and immerse yourself in the other. I think taking an occasional break from an intense pursuit is healthy, and can help you return to your work refreshed and recharged. But writing and music can also complement each other nicely. The life of a professional musician is one of hurry-up-and-wait. Traveling, sitting in airports and hotels, waiting for technical difficulties to be ironed out at soundcheck: all of these provide time for reading and writing. I did a lot of writing - and a lot of homework - while touring with Clarence Clemons. (I know this doesn't fit the image of wild rock n' roll life on the road, but going to grad school while touring in a band calls on an artist to make certain sacrifices.)

Q) Music and writing take time away from your family. What do you and your family do to stay connected and together?

A) In my case, music is a unifying factor for my family, so a lifestyle that might seem odd to others seems normal to us. My life partner is a professional singer, songwriter, producer, and photographer, so she has a firsthand appreciation of the demands of a career in the arts. And my daughter has grown up in the music business: back when her high school friends were working summer jobs at Burger King, she was working on a Springsteen tour. And now she's an attorney, starting her career in entertainment law with a ton of music business experience already under her belt. So I think it all comes down to what you're used to.

And my family has always been incredibly supportive of my writing. Historically I have let them know what I'm working on, and warned them that it will take a lot of my time and energy, but frankly they've been too busy following their own pursuits to feel slighted. There's no shortage of initiative in the family, that's for sure. And staying connected is easier than ever: after all, we're all friends on Facebook!

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) I know some people are intrigued or surprised by the divergent professional paths I'm taking, but I just want to offer myself as an example of something I learned embarrassingly late in life: We are capable of doing more than one thing. For years I never believed that, and was convinced that the only way to succeed at a pursuit was to focus on it and nothing else. I was nearly 40 before I finally figured out it ain't necessarily so. So I'll leave you with this wonderful quote from one of Robert Heinlein's novels:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

I couldn't agree more. So if you'll excuse me, I need to go plan an invasion.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Author Sacha Z. Scoblic

Elegance in artistry begins with a block of stone from which the sculptor uncovers the beauty contained within. Such is the life of Sacha Z. Scoblic – with one exception.


Sacha started as elegance, drank her grace to stone, and ultimately chiseled her way back to sobriety and a life filled with potential and happiness. Like many people, Sacha is an alcoholic. Unlike many people who have written about their dark days, "Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety," is about Sacha’s daily and hourly commitment to sobriety and the difficulties and joys being sober brings. Where most stories end with the commitment to sobriety, Sacha’s begins.

This book isn’t just another memoir about the struggles against addiction. Every word is a journey of passion, happiness, and embracing life. Sacha’s is a story of humanity and humility, told with her razor wit and insight.

Sacha is an accomplished, respected writer and editor in many genres and facets. Her work extends from Reader’s Digest to The New Republic, New York Post, The New York Times, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A wife and mother, she lives in Washington, D.C., where she is the managing editor at the Aspen Institute, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the columns editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. But most of all she is a woman in love with life and the simple pleasures to be found in every sober breath.
Sacha's Web Site

Q) Why did you write “Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety”?

A) Almost all of the memoirs about addiction seem to focus on the “before” picture—the drunken escapades or drug-fueled debauchery. These books dwell on the lurid and then the narrators magically get sober in the last chapter. But I think sobriety itself is the real story; sobriety has certainly been its own adventure for me—and one worth writing about. So in Unwasted, I get sober in the first chapter (not the last) and then chronicle my life in this new and bright world—complete with outlandish fantasies of relapsing, a field guide to dinner parties, and how I rely on a community of people (who I call my “Wolf Pack”) to help me live a life I can be proud of.

I also wanted to portray the life of an average addict—me!—so rarely depicted in books, television, or movies nowadays. That is, a regular person who quit drinking before hitting Skid Row and who struggles with the new world of sobriety. I think too many times, we are told by pop culture that you’re not an addict until you have lost everything, been arrested, or are at death’s door. But many of us come in from the storm before we end up in those really low bottom stages (which we surely would hit if we kept using). And I wanted to write about that—to give people permission to call themselves an addict before they lose their jobs, their relationships, their dignity. There’s no such thing as quitting too early.

Q) Life is choices. Sobriety is a constant and consistent choice. For a period, you led yourself to believe you could grant yourself "passes" in which you could temporarily fall from sobriety. What finally convinced you it doesn’t work that way?

A) For the first six months or so of sobriety, I still didn’t really believe I’d never drink again. And so I plotted how I might relapse—from wild fantasies about being forced to drink at gunpoint to a more banal desire for an out-of-town work trip that would leave me tantalizingly alone in a hotel. And one weekend that day came: My husband was the one who went out of town, and I was alone in the house. I knew that if I were to relapse, this would be a good opportunity. But a funny thing happened during the previous months of not drinking: I started thinking more clearly. Suddenly, I was grateful for the calmer and more predictable life I was living, I was happier, and I also didn’t want to throw away several months of hard-earned sobriety.

The problem with the “temporary relapse pass” is that it is a lie my addicted brain whispers to me when I am feeling vulnerable. The truth is, as soon as I have one drink—or one sip!—synapses fire, neurons light up, wires criss-cross, and I’m gone. I’ll start rationalizing why I can drink again (it went so well that one weekend...), and the next thing you know, my life is unmanageable, my head is in the toilet, and my family is out the door. And I know this firsthand: I didn’t start out with pure sobriety; I started with all kinds of moderation techniques (no hard liquor, one glass of water for each glass of wine, only on weekends, only if it’s on sale…). You can guess how that turned out. I’m addicted to the stuff and the faster I get honest about that, the quicker a new happiness rushes in—and then I look up and realize, there’s simply no need to fantasize about relapsing, because my life is wonderful just the way it is.

Also, I stopped thinking about never drinking again, and concentrated on just not drinking today. What a load off!

Q) It is very easy for authors to point at Poe, Hunter Thompson, and so many successful authors whose lives and writing revolved around alcohol and drugs and believe that road is a fast track to inspiration and success. You have been described as a "rock star" when you were addicted. How can people be convinced inspiration doesn’t lie in the chemicals?

A) Well, I think the recent death of Amy Winehouse proves that addiction isn’t a muse worth having. Besides, any inspiration one claims to get from drugs and alcohol is also accompanied by chaos, institutionalization, and eventually either recovery or death. Hunter Thompson and Edgar Allen Poe were tortured souls; and their personal stories each end very badly. Was their art worth dying for? In the end, addiction isn’t so fascinating a muse—as artists like Jim Morrision, Janis Joplin, and Amy Winehouse found out when they were each booed off stage in many of their last performances. That’s no longer art; that’s not the result of inspiration.

I wonder why we don’t ask more often what would have happened if all those artists had turned their lives around. Isn’t it possible we might have seen each bloom and rise to new heights? When we say inspiration lies in chemicals, we are enabling those artists to use more, to feed their habits more. We give them an excuse to use. I don’t want to be a part of that. I would rather celebrate the people whose lives changed for the better when they let go of the notion that drugs or alcohol fueled their art. Because for every died-too-young artist, I can name ten got-it-together artists who went on to do even greater things in recovery: Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Cash, Betty Ford, Stephen King, Rob Lowe, Stevie Nicks, Craig Fergusen, Steven Tyler, Mary Tyler Moore, Robin Williams … I could go on. I bet they are all glad they didn’t die young for their art.

As for me, the “rock star” I used to be was barely employable, let alone disciplined enough to write a book.

Q) The Aspen Institute’s mission includes broadening goals and enhancing an individual’s capacity to solve problems. Has being involved in helping leaders discover their potential helped you find your own potential in sobriety?

A) There is no question that, when you work around the kind of leaders the Institute nurtures, it becomes easy to ask more of yourself, to find your true potential. In sobriety, I began to find myself willing to take risks, willing to be criticized or even fail, and willing to challenge myself. Ultimately, I was even willing to write about my own demons. And the next thing I knew, I was writing pieces about addiction and living sober for The New York Times and now I have a book. The sobriety that led me here, that’s inspiration—not chemicals.

Q) What do you and your family enjoy doing together when you need to get away?

A) What’s getting away?! I still struggle with a work-life balance. Since having my son, I’ve realized that I need more time on the “life” side of that equation. One thing my husband and I have always enjoyed doing, and something we now love doing with our son, is going to museums. DC is a wonderful place to live and we try to take advantage of it, from the Spy Museum to the Smithsonian, Rock Creek Park to the Kennedy Center.

Q) You are such a talented writer, and your humor is infectious. Can we expect more books in the future? And if so, what genres are you considering?

A) Thank you! I use humor to tell the truth. When I am writing, I find that the daily absurdities we all face connect us. So, yes, expect more books. But I’ve left a lot of my story on the pages of Unwasted, so I think I’ll turn to fiction. It’s time to write someone else’s story!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Acclaimed Mystery Author Leslie Meier

Leslie Meier enjoys murdering people on special days of the year. Be it "Turkey Day Murder," "Mistletoe Murder, "Happy Birthday Murder," or Leslie's latest, "English Tea Murder," amateur sleuth, Lucy Stone, solves every fiendish and cleverly designed homicide this creative author can imagine.

Since her first published work, a short story for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s Department of First Stories, Leslie has been writing mysteries and now has sixteen Lucy Stone novels to her credit. The heroine Lucy is a newspaper reporter and harried mother for four in fictional Tinker's Cove, Maine, the kind of charming town where nothing out of the ordinary should ever happen, but always does. In real life, Leslie was a newspaper reporter also. The result, in addition to some marvelously entertaining stories, is an insider's look at the hectic world of the reporter from the perspective of a wife and mother who lived it.

Leslie doesn't follow the traditional gunshots in the dark type of murders; hers encompass manufactured asthma attacks, asphyxiation, and mysterious ailments. And of course, what St. Paddy's Day celebration would be complete without green beer and a beheading?

"English Tea Murder" is the first story that follows reporter Lucy out of the U.S. to jolly old England, and lands her smack in the middle of not just one, but two murders, and more to come if she can't track down the killers while searching for the elusive perfect cup of tea.

Leslie Meier's books are as strong and humorous as her heroine, and as skillfully plotted as her murders. Finish one, and as her many fans attest to, the reader will keep coming back for more.
Leslie's Web Site
Q) What inspired naming the books in respect to particular days?

A) When I began writing I knew very little about the business, but I had heard that most books are sold at Christmas so I made my first effort, "Mistletoe Murder" (originally titled "Mail-Order Murder"), a Christmas book. Readers suggested I write a Halloween book, so I wrote "Trick or Treat Murder" and after that I began looking for other holidays to write about. Some of my favorites, however, feature family events such as "Birthday Party Murder" and "Wedding Day Murder." Families offer so much material!

Q) Wiccan enthusiasts have repeatedly praised your attention to detail in "Wicked Witch Murder." How much and what kind of research did you do in order to be so accurate in your accounts of witchcraft?

A) No, I didn't attend any Black Sabbaths! One of the advantages of being able to write full-time is that I do have time for research, which I really enjoy. I got the idea for "Wicked Witch Murder" from a friend, who mentioned her sister-in-law was a witch-in-training. I was immediately intrigued and asked if I could talk to her but got a very firm rejection -- apparently witchcraft was not to be taken lightly!

So I went on the web and found tons of fascinating material. I also went to the library and took out every book they had. I even dug out my college copy of Frazer's "The Golden Bough." One day I noticed "The Wicker Man" -- the original 1960s version -- listed with the free movies on CATV and spent an enjoyable afternoon watching it. The toughest thing about research, I find, is stopping and getting to work on the book!

Q) Of all the genres to write in, you chose murder mysteries. Why?

A) I guess because they're the kind of books I most enjoy reading. I always have, starting with Nancy Drew books when I was a kid.

Q) As a writer, you have enjoyed the luxury of aging with your heroine, Lucy. Now, as I understand it, Lucy has reached the point where she can't age anymore and maintain the current storylines. How difficult will it be to put that separation between you, or are you contemplating a new character and a new series.

A) That's the wonderful thing about fiction -- Lucy can remain middle aged while I dodder on, growing increasingly frail and feeble.

Q) How do you, a wife, mother, and grandmother, keep coming up with all these unique ways of killing people.

A) Well, I don't know anything at all about guns so I pretty much have to think of other ways of murdering people. I don't really kill them, you know, it's all fiction. But sometimes I do base a character on someone who has really annoyed me and I think it's a very healthy way to work out one's aggressive tendencies. I'm very careful to change any identifying characteristics before the book goes to press, however.

Q) Any parting words for your fans and readers?

A) Thank you, thank you, thank you! It's wonderful to know that people enjoy my books, and that sometimes my books have even helped people get through difficult times. Now it's easier than ever to get them because most are available as ebooks. I'm venturing into social media, I have a webpage and I'm on facebook and I plan to develop more of a presence in the future. In the meantime, the books keep coming: "Chocolate Covered Murder" will be available in time for Valentine's Day 2012 and I'm hard at work on "Easter Bunny Murder" in which, much to my shame, I kill the Easter Bunny. (No, Virginia, not the real one, just a man in a bunny suit.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Literary Fiction Author Patricia Ann McNair

Patricia Ann McNair's stories and articles have appeared numerous times in anthologies, journals, and magazines including American Fiction: Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, The Dunes Review, Other Voices, and is a regular contributor to Elks Magazine.

Her honors include a number of Illinois Arts Council Awards and Pushcart Prize nominations in fiction and creative nonfiction, a Writer's Grant and residency at the Vermont Studio Center, a residency at the Glen Arbor Arts Association and Writer in Residence at Interlochen Arts Academy. She was also awarded Columbia College Chicago's Excellence in Teaching Award and was nominated for the Carnegie Foundation's US Professor of the Year. McNair was a visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in the UK and is a professor in the graduate and undergraduate programs of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.

That's the "official" background. Patricia also quietly encourages and promotes new literary talent and takes a break from her busy Chicago life by escaping with her visual artist husband to the quiet community of Mt. Carroll, IL, a small town with a few remaining brick streets that I'm very familiar with as the paternal side of my family originated there.

Now Patricia has published a collection of short stories, each of which centers on the author's love of life, humanity, and the delicate balance each of us must find deep within ourselves in order to persevere over adversity and the challenges life places in our path. The stories within "The Temple of Air" are indeed thought provoking. But what the reader will truly discover are people whose tales will touch a heart, tear an eye, and warm a smile.
http://patriciaannmcnair.com/

Q) The stories in "The Temple of Air" take place in fictional New Hope, a rural setting. What inspired you to choose rural over the urban lifestyle you are so familiar with?

A) A good question, David. Though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and live in the city a good part of the year now, I come from good, small town stock. My grandparents on my dad’s side were farmers in a tiny town in Southern Illinois; my mother’s parents lived (during my childhood) in a small Ohio town. I spent a lot of time on the farm as a kid, and also wandering around that small town in Ohio. In some ways, these towns were exotic to me then: people walked places instead of using their cars to get everywhere; kids cruised the main streets for entertainment instead of hanging out at the shopping center; people said hello to one another even if they didn’t know each other. I also was drawn to the architecture of such places, although I didn’t know that then. What I loved were the turn-of-the-century rambling houses with lots of rooms and creepy basements and musty attics and wide, front porches with swings.

Since then, I went to school for a bit in small town Iowa, and lived there for some years. That’s where I sold pots and pans and worked at a gas station. I love the small town taverns, the way the town newspapers would publish bowling league scores and how I’d know at least a few of the names on each page of the paper. As you said, we have a home in Mount Carroll, IL, and I have met some of the kindest people there. And the quiet! I am the kind of writer who can work best without a lot of noise and bustle, so I really appreciate that sort of peace.

And yet, there can be a certain melancholy in rural places, particularly as our economy shifts away from what they have to offer. The way young people—all people, really—can feel trapped and bored in small towns sometimes seems more complicated than the anxiousness of emotion folks might feel in a the busy-ness of a city or a suburb. The Temple of Air is as much about place as it is about people. In New Hope, the fictional small town of the book, as in a lot of small towns, a person is likely to be more on display because everyone is visible, and that visibility can create a dramatic tension that I find interesting to explore in my writing.

Q) How exactly did you travel from breading mushrooms, to the Mercantile Exchange floor, to teaching in Chicago, and end up writing about life in a small town?

A) Now that you ask this question, it occurs to me that it may have been a more direct route than it appears to be. The mushroom breading was a typical suburban summer job in the back of a non-chain sandwich shop, at a time when fast food was made fresh. But here’s the thing: it was a great job for a potential writer because it took very little brain power and was very methodical. Wash the mushrooms, dip them in the batter, dip them in the breadcrumbs, let them dry a bit then dip them in the batter again, dip them in the breadcrumbs...lather, rinse, repeat. I could let my mind go other places, tell itself stories.

It wasn’t long after I came back to live in Chicago that I started working at the Merc, a job a friend found for me. And there is a lot of mindless, downtime there, too, between the crazy bursts of activity on the trading floor. I had gone back to college by then to finally, after a long break, finish my degree. And I was taking a writing class. I was able to do a lot of my homework during the slow parts of the day, and a number of the stories from The Temple of Air were explored there. And maybe it was because some part of my creative mind was still processing my six or so years living in Iowa that these stories I wrote were set in a place like the small town I’d lived in, the one surrounded by cornfields and near a couple of lakes and a river. Didn’t Sherwood Anderson write a good deal of Winesburg, Ohio (based on his hometown of Clyde, Ohio) when he lived in Chicago? And James Joyce composed Dubliners primarily when he lived somewhere other than Dublin. I think there is something to be said about being away from a place that allows you a better vantage point from which to see it and write about it.

The teaching thing was a stroke of good luck. Just when I finished my own degree in writing, a number of new writing classes opened up at Columbia College Chicago and I was asked to teach one. I was still working at the Mercantile Exchange at the time, but I found myself more engaged with the teaching part of my life. So by taking small steps, quitting my job, downscaling my lifestyle, I was able to teach more classes until I was fortunate enough to be hired as part of Columbia’s full-time faculty.

Q) Your artistic pursuits have landed you in places such as Prague in order to hone your craft. What benefits do you believe you have derived from these odysseys?

A) I’ll touch back on my last answer and say again that I think seeing the world from a place you don’t usually get to be allows you to more fully look at what you think you know. Does that make sense? When I take the train to school every day, I don’t usually look out the window with any sort of scrutiny; the scenery is the same to me all the time. When I look out of the window of the tram on my way to the center of Prague’s historic district, I not only see it—the orange-tiled rooftops, the castle, the River Vltava, the Charles Bridge—I see it in relation to what I already know, what I usually see. That’s not Wrigley Field, that’s Sparta, Prague’s football (soccer) stadium. That ain’t city hall, that’s an honest to goodness castle! Traveling, to me, is part of knowing where I am from, and that knowledge is the basis for all of my stories, perhaps particularly in The Temple of Air.

And there is also the part of travel that makes you a little uncomfortable, a little ill at ease. These feelings are good ones to create from. You claim your space with your writing; you consider the conflicts of emotion (like the conflicts you might feel while traveling) that make good story. Not everything is happy endings and feel good stuff in fiction. I mean, yes, some of popular fiction is that, and that’s fine, but I am interested in those tales that are about a little discomfort, emotions that aren’t all good (or all bad, either.) That place in between that makes us question our feelings, our place, our response to the world.

Finally, traveling makes you look at the world more closely—I never saw that before, I must remember this, you know—and that is good writerly practice. I am of the mind that a clear sense of place is essential to good writing.

Q) As the granddaughter of Reverend Victor Hugo Wachs, credited as the first man to ride a motorcycle through the mountains in Korea, you obviously have inherited a bit of tenacity, wanderlust, and courage. How do you think that heritage comes through in your writing?

A) Wow, you do your research, David. Such an interesting question, and evocative. Pertinent to this collection. Thanks for asking.

First, to have a grandfather named after the iconic writer Victor Hugo probably sealed my destiny. Writing has always been important in my family. My grandfather’s letters are beautiful; he wrote articles and sermons. His daughter, my mother, was a travel writer. So maybe I couldn’t have run from my life as a writer if I’d tried.

But it was my grandfather’s deep faith that took him to the other side of the world, and that idea of faith has always fascinated me. What makes you believe; what makes you trust? What shakes your faith? These questions are all over The Temple of Air.

My grandfather’s traipsing was passed along to my mother, and she instilled the travel bug in me. I took my first international trip with my family when I was just three. I can still remember wandering the streets of Madrid with my father when I was seven. I lived in Honduras giving vaccinations when I was just seventeen. And my family always did a lot of car camping, road trips, visits to the grandparents. And on these trips, the family legends were told and retold. Story became important to my understanding of the world.

I don’t really consider myself a courageous person, per se; you wouldn’t catch me on the back of a 1910 motorcycle revving up the sides of mountains. But my grandfather passed his desire to change the world on to his children, and I think what I got from that lineage is part of what makes me want to teach, to do community workshops and public art projects. So he is there in what I do.
He is there, too, in what I write. His letters (and those he received from home) were very much questioning faith, questioning the world and the people in it. His work was extraordinary, but when you really look at it, he was actually working in a very ordinary place. Not ordinary to him or me or maybe anyone of us today might see it, but poor, rural villages in Korea were the norm for that time, that place. And this is something that fascinates me—the interplay between ordinary and extraordinary. It has been said that that is at the heart of good writing: finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Q) Having whet readers' appetites with "The Temple of Air," what can we look forward to next?

A) I have some short stories floating around, one that will be published soon in Trilling, a new on-line magazine. I’ve recently completed a novel called Alice in Cubaland, a story set in Cuba and Chicago. And I’ve begun work on a new novel that takes place again in New Hope, the small town from this collection, about a complicated situation that arises between an evangelical family, and a family whose father is an immigrant. I’ll tell you more about that book when I actually know more about it. Right now I am still trying to figure it out myself!

Q) Any parting comments for your readers?

A) For you, David, really. Thank you so much for your work with this column. People say that reading has become unimportant in our society, and it is clear from what you do and what your readers read that this is simply not true. To have a forum like this for folks to share stories and books and conversations is essential to nurturing the literary landscape, and I am honored to bring my collection The Temple of Air, into this exchange of ideas.

Oh, and if there are book clubs out there who might be interested in my joining them for a conversation about The Temple of Air and the writing life, please contact me. I would love to talk story with you all.