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, April 26, 2013

NYT Bestselling Author Helen Brown


Now, you know I had to take a look at a book titled “Cats and Daughters: They Don’t Always Come
When Called.” 

Helen Brown became an international bestselling author with her memoir “Cleo: The Cat Who Mended a Family.”  Technically, “Cats and Daughters” is the sequel, or follow-up, to that acclaimed book. But, as “Cleo” is a memoir, the sequel is in reality the next chapter in the author’s life. And what an interesting life she’s had. 

Breast cancer drove the arrow of mortality awareness into Ms. Brown. While recuperating from surgery and all the accompanying emotional highs and lows, the last thing Ms. Brown wanted was another cat. Of course, that’s exactly what she got; a feisty Siamese ball of attitude called Jonah who turned out to be a healer in a furry disguise…who requires a daily dose of an antipsychotic drug. No joke. Ms. Brown also received the news she had a wedding to help arrange for her son, and that her daughter had decided to become a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. Now, please remember that this is a memoir, not a fiction novel. And here I thought forgetting to buy coffee was a bad start to a day. 

What is remarkable about Ms. Brown is her ability to see beyond what many of us would view as tragedy and find the joy hidden within whatever life throws at her and her family. Simply put, life and its difficulties aren’t to be mourned, and Ms. Brown is our personal cheerleader. Ms. Brown’s uplifting style of writing fully utilizes her wit and charm to disarm and mesmerize readers. 

All that said, I hope readers understand what “Cats and Daughters” is really about. Yes, it’s humorous, warm, heart wrenching at times, and filled with a hopeful message we all can relate to. However, most importantly, “Cats and Daughters” is a story of love. Not just of life, but of family. In fact, I think I should go hug mine now. Yeah, “Cats and Daughters” is that kind of book. Enjoy. 

A resident of Melbourne, Australia, Ms. Brown is an award-winning columnist, journalist, script writer, and TV presenter. Her book “Cleo” is currently being made into a movie.

Q) My mother was a breast cancer survivor, so I know the emotional bomb that diagnosis brings with it. Of course I have to ask, how are you doing? 

The diagnosis is very frightening but it helps to remember this is one of the most curable cancers.  I remember feeling cynical when people said cancer can bring gifts, but five years down the track and with a good prognosis, I have to say it’s true. 

Since the mastectomy, I appreciate life on a different level. I don’t turn down adventures any more. That’s why I’m fostering a cat in New York for a month at present. And I don’t feel guilty saying no to things I don’t want to do. 

 Before going to sleep at night, I often make a list of 10 things I’m grateful happened during the day. It nearly always doubles, and often trebles. 

Q) You suffered the loss of a child. Life hasn’t been easy, and still you fought through the human tendencies of self-pity to write “Cats and Daughters.” How did you manage to make this book the joy it is and avoid the pitfall of melancholy? 

A) Resilience is an underestimated quality. 

I don’t think it’s helpful to expect life to be easy or happy. That just leads to disappointment, and an inability to deal with tough times when they happen.  A sense of entitlement gets you nowhere. Life can be hard at times and we all end up in the same place.  Sometimes you just have to roll with it, be kind to others when you can - and find laughter in the shadows. 

Q) In an interview you mentioned how for a time after the death of your son you were envious of people who you believed had an easier life than you. How has your outlook changed since hearing from so many people inspired by your stories? 

A) I have a theory that anyone who loses a child is insane for at least a year. I certainly experienced powerful anger and resentment, but it didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t the only person on earth who was suffering. 

Everyone has to deal with loss sooner or later. Once the anguish softens – and it does eventually – you’re in a good position to understand and help others. I’ve tried to do it with my books, and I’m honored to receive emails from people in the raw stages of grief. I hope my replies are helpful. 

Q) You are a multi published author, though your earlier books are for the most part a collection of articles from your column. “Cleo” and “Cats and Daughters” could be viewed as a collection of stories from your life. Naturally, this leads to the question of what’s next? You’re a marvelous writer and we’ll be looking forward to whatever your next project is. 

A) After writing about real life for many years, I’ve started work on two books of fiction. They’re both quirky stories with dollops of romance and, I hope, soul. 

I’m relishing the freedom of not having to run every chapter past my family. My poor husband and kids have been very tolerant being the focus of my writing for so long. They deserve a break. 

Q) We touched on this earlier, but I’ll pointedly ask it now; “Cleo” was a book I believe was part of
your own healing process. Your story turned out to be a source of healing for others. With that knowledge comes a degree of responsibility, be it genuine or expected. How has that altered the way you approach writing? 

A) I wrote Cleo hoping it might sell a few thousand copies to my fans in New Zealand. When it sold half a million copies around the world and was translated into more than 16 languages I was astonished. It taught me people are very much the same. Whether they live in Indonesia or Arkansas, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for their kids or pets. It’s a shame we tend to concentrate on the differences. As a result I haven’t changed my writing style. I’ve always written from the heart. 

Q) Any parting thoughts for your fans and those new to your work? 

A) Thank you for finding me. I hope this is the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net

 

 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Parent Educator Elaine Heffner


One of my personal issues with the education process is the value placed on test results, and not the efforts and strategies utilized by students to achieve those results. So, when I come across a book that addresses the importance of how knowledge is acquired, I take notice. 

Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D, has written for Redbook, Parents Magazine, and Disney online, as well as others. She also authored "Mothering; The Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism." Love that title. In  addition to being a psychotherapist and parent educator, Elaine is a Senior Lecturer of Education in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She also co-founded and served as Director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And…she blogs. 

It is those blog posts that Elaine has compiled into her latest book “goodenoughmothering: The Best of the Blog.” The easy way out for me would be to list of few of the blog headings and leave it at that. But it is the substance of these blogs that is so important, not the snappy titles. I’ll use the article titled “Please and Thank-You” as an example. On the surface it sounds as if Elaine discusses manners. And the reader would be correct. Kind of…. The heart of the article is about educating children beyond discipline; it is about instilling understanding of cause and effect, how behavior interacts with the people around us. Children develop manners through imitation. If we don’t ‘get it right,’ they won’t either. 

goodenoughmothering is a wonderful and very enjoyable book. As each ‘chapter’ was once a blog entry, the brevity required Elaine to be clear and concise, and yet provide the expected identification of a problem through data and/or examples, means to resolve the problem, and a concluding summary. The author pulls this off superbly. At no time was I left scratching my head wondering what the point was, or feeling like I’d wandered into the midpoint of a Harvard lecture on the ramifications of colonizing Venus. Oh! Be sure to read the entry “Poop Talk.” I’ll let you guess the topic. Buy this book. It’s a keeper.

Q) Curiosity: When or what propelled you to pursue parent education?
 

A) I was trained in a Child Guidance clinic and had a wonderful supervisor who taught me how to work with parents.  Later on, I participated in developing one of the first therapeutic nurseries where I worked with parents of children with developmental disorders.  These children were not learning in usual ways, and I had to think through with the parents how children learn, and how to adapt that understanding in teaching their own children.  I heard a lecture by a child psychiatrist who said, “Therapy at its best is education, and education at its best is therapy.”  I had become more involved in the education side, but the therapy side lies in knowing how to listen in order to help others hear you. 

Q) Parents, some anyway, though most of those will deny it, have historically displayed a tendency to look for the ‘one, true, surefire method’ of child rearing. What do you say to parents who buy book after book on how to raise their children and still aren’t convinced they’re doing it ‘correctly’? 

A) I first try to understand why they are so lacking in confidence as parents.  Often parents are trying to undo with their children what they feel was wrong in their own upbringing.  No book is going to accomplish that.  What can help is to recognize that you and your child are creating a new parent/child relationship, not repeating that old one in which you were the child. 

Q) Your book “Mothering” resulted in a number of quotes posted on web sites around the world. Example: “The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children.” That quote is on Oprah’s web site amongst others. What was your reaction when you realized your words, your beliefs, were being shared by thousands of people over the course of several decades? 

A) I find that humbling, to say the least.  I simply am trying to share what I have learned after many years of life and mistakes.  It is inspiring that Oprah put the quote you cite on her website when she herself has been such a positive influence for women.  That quote reflects my strong belief that child-rearing is an art – not the science “experts”, and therefore parents, are trying to make it.  The key is to hold fast to your own values. 

Q) “Mothering” sends a clear message that it’s okay for mothers to be human. Though the book was published in 1980, the words ring true today. If you could alter any advice in that book to fit today’s shrinking world, what would it be? 

A) Dr. Spock changed his mind about any number of things, but I would go back to something he said at the beginning: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”  Most importantly, you know your own child/children better than anyone else.  Also, by accepting your own failings, you can be more accepting of your children’s.  

Q) You still post regularly to the goodenoughmothering blog. Readers are invited to leave comments, and you respond in person. How do you believe technology has altered family life? 

A) I would need an entire post to respond to that.  The short answer is that family life was being altered by many other factors before technology.  Technology is just filling in the blanks. 

Q) Any parting thoughts for our readers? 

A) Please keep reading and commenting.  That’s how I have learned, and hopefully, will continue to learn.
DA Kentner is an award-wining author www.kevad.net

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dietician Harry Papas


Harry Papas is fast becoming an international star within his field of expertise. Ironically, here in the United States many of us will come to know his name because of his book “Slimmer: The New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight.” I say ‘ironically’ because while we focus on the book, it is what inspired the book that truly matters. 

Papas was born, raised, and continues to live in Greece. Fit and strong in his own surroundings, he suffered the stress of separation and loneliness once he left his comfort zone for college. In one year, Papas gained 110 pounds. Worse, like so many of us, he couldn’t find an affective way to shed the pounds and regain the happiness that left when the weight moved in. He tried many diets, but inevitably regained the poundage. 

So he shifted mental gears and decided to find something that would bring him the success and satisfaction he sought. But, he also figured that if he was going to develop his own diet program, the food wouldn’t just be tolerable, or “good.” He wanted the food to delight his palate and leave him excited about sitting down for the next meal. The first questions to be answered were what had kept him in reasonable shape at home and why had it worked? The search for those answers led him to change his major from Economics to Diet and Nutrition. 

Switching majors afforded Papas access to research he hadn’t known to exist. He soon learned that research had affirmed the premature death rate from heart attack for Greek men was 90% lower than that of American males. Living in Greece, Papas ran with this information to learn if he could refine the causes into a weight loss program transferable to the rest of the world. It would be easy to say that the Greek lifestyle during the early studies was far less stressful than the European and American counterparts. Times and circumstances change. Papas understood he needed to create a diet that could withstand inevitable social and lifestyle upheavals. And again, the food needed to taste wonderful. What he developed became known as “Slimmer: the New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight.” 

Using everyday terms and a laid back writing style, Papas first discusses how the program came about and why specific ingredients were selected. Then he lays out the program in detail along with a multitude of recipes critics and readers have repeatedly heralded as really good food, regardless of the diner’s intentions. And, yes, Papas encourages exercise. But his suggestions are activities most of us do on a daily basis. He just explains how we can use our activities a little more intelligently. 

Is the book as good as the meals? Mmm, probably not. I’m not much into eating paper. I do love a great meal though and will be trying a number of the recipes, and maybe if I’m not careful, I just might improve my health while hoping there are seconds still left in the pan.

Q) It’s one thing to find a program that works for you; quite another to offer it to other people. What gave you the courage to tell folks, “Hey! Try this. It works!”? 

A) I spent years depressed and discouraged about my weight. When I finally developed Slimmer and realized I could keep the weight off, I wanted to share my discovery with everyone. I want everyone who has struggled with weight or health issues to know there is an answer and to be encouraged by my story. It is possible to start living a happy and healthy life today. 

Q) You didn’t enter into diet and nutrition to write an international bestselling book. So, how did it feel to learn “Slimmer” had become just that and your name was being talked about all around the world? 

A) I’m ecstatic that others around the world are adapting the Slimmer and making improvements in their lives. It gives me such joy to help people turn their health around. I feel the book is a great way to reach out to struggling people and give them the positive push they need to get started on a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. 

Q) The obvious follow up question: Will there be another book, and, when and why? 

A) I would certainly be excited to release a follow-up, perhaps a cookbook with more recipes and photographs. There are no definite plans at this time but it is without doubt a possibility. 

Q) Many view diet plans as fads. How do you believe your plan can avoid that pitfall? 

A) Many diet plans are fads. The diets only work for a short period of time and then the weight comes back. At that point, the diet fades from popularity. Slimmer is not a diet plan; it’s a very sustainable lifestyle. Slimmer is about adopting research and long-term experience-proven healthy habits that our culture has simply forgotten. It’s a very balanced system that gives you tons of choices and never denies you a food. Slimmer also addresses the psychological issues for weight gain and helps you develop a positive outlook. When your mind is in the right place, your body immediately responds to your new attitude. You feel so good living the Slimmer lifestyle that you never want to go back to the person you were before. Health and happiness will never go out of style. 

Q) I’m addicted to pizza, so thank you for including a pizza recipe in “Slimmer.” Where did the book’s recipes come from? 

A) My mom and her sister run a famous restaurant on the Greek island of Cefalonia. I spent my childhood summers in that kitchen learning to love the fresh and natural flavors of food. This knowledge of the art of cooking combined with my university studies in health and diet helped me develop the Slimmer recipes. I originally developed the recipes just for myself, so I made sure every recipe was appetizing and filling, in addition to being healthy. 

Q) Any parting comments for fans and potential readers? 

A) To everyone who is struggling with their health, I’d like to say: Stop wasting so much energy hating your body; it makes you weaker. Everything good in your life begins from the moment you begin accepting, understanding, respecting, and loving your true self. Losing weight can be enjoyable, not a depressing chore. Enjoy eating healthy, delicious food and feeling your mind and body be reinvigorated. You can take great happiness and joy in your weight loss journey.  And to my fans, thank you. I’m so proud of you for taking the steps to get your health on track. Be an encouragement to others and remember, love always wins!
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net

Friday, April 5, 2013

Authors Sandra Stixrude and Angel Martinez


Nope. You’re wrong. We’re not introducing two authors, but one writing under two names in the genres of science fiction and paranormal. The difference is that Sandra Stixrude pens stories for all ages, which can be read by the entire family. Angel Martinez, well, let’s just say you might want to pull the blinds when you read one of her erotic tales. 

Sandra/Angel are a suitable pairing in an industry undergoing change. With the numbers of ‘authors’ multiplying daily thanks to the advent and ease of self-publishing, and sales sites not always clear in the type of books offered for sale, Sandra has created a clear separation between her personas so mainstream readers don’t accidentally pick up a story of interstellar pirates conquering the universe one bedroom at a time. 

The unbreakable link between the two names is a distinctive voice telling really good stories. And, when speaking of science fiction, I must add “carefully researched” stories. Sandra holds true to the traditions of science fiction adventure and refrains from slipping into fantasy versus science, all the while providing readers with crafted plots, memorable characters, and an enjoyable reading experience. 

Sandra created the “Anchorage” series – seven books that take place on one planet. The first,
“Marya,” is the story of a woman assigned to guard the realm’s heir apparent against a prophecy of assassination. Next came the two-part “Romenel,” a tale of a mercenary commander who has become the hunted. Penilas’s stories of a young man fighting for his liege and memory followed, with Emily’s life and adventures bringing the series to closure. These are skillfully crafted stories of adventure on worlds Sandra creates as if she was born and raised on them. 

Though Angel is marvelous at romantic science fiction, she also enjoys delving into the paranormal. Her latest release is “Semper Fae: Endangered Fae 3.” Zack thought being a Marine medic in a secret gov’t installation was odd, until he was assigned as the liaison to the fae. Angel’s novel “Gravitational Attraction” garnered praise from a wide variety of sources due to its explicit and (as much as science fiction can be) accurate portrayal of the events aboard a spaceship found adrift and the unfolding danger and suspense born of the experiments that occurred there. 

So, whatever your reading preference, Sandra and Angel have an out of the ordinary story waiting for you.

Q) You’re a married mother with cats, university educated, and love to travel. There is gender bias within the writing industry. Science fiction is held by some to be a “male” genre, regardless of the fact there are a number of bestselling female science fiction authors. So, why choose science fiction as the backdrop for adventure and romance? 

A) Because I’m a masochist. No, that’s not entirely true, though I have a stubborn streak and am liable to bang my head against walls harder if you say the words, “You can’t do that.” The truth is that I fell in love with science fiction quite young. Between the cheesy old Cold War era science fiction movies and serials on Saturday afternoon TV and a wonderful school librarian who recognized a kindred soul, I fell hard and fast. Andre Norton, who wrote science fiction for young people, was one of my early favorites, though I soon devoured Bradbury, Asimov and, yes, Keith Laumer.  

Imagine my astonished delight when I discovered that Andre Norton was Mary Norton. She wrote under a male pseudonym since her publisher convinced her she had to. SF written by a woman would never sell, they said. The fact was that she wrote amazing stories, though, and the gender revelation never affected how much her fans loved her. I loved her. She opened the universe for me. She drew me out of current reality into the possible, not what is but what could be.  

This is the very crux of science fiction, what pulls me to it, mouse to cheese. In SF we begin with what is known and extrapolate, take that leap of imagination out into what might be next, what could develop. It is something quintessentially human, this reaching beyond ourselves, and one can’t draw gender boundaries on being human. Yes, the old prejudices are still there. Brilliant minds like Ursula LeGuin and C. J. Cherryh are often accused of writing “soft” science fiction, science that doesn’t focus hard enough on physics and computer sciences. To limit the range of topics discussed, though, is dangerous, as if physics were a more “legitimate” science than biology or anthropology. 

Q) “Boots” was Angel’s divergence into erotic fairytales. Why the departure and is that genre something you would explore again? 

A) I’m not certain it was a divergence as much as a return. Yes, I love SF, but I’m something of an amateur folklorist in the depths of my dark little heart. The roots of people’s stories fascinate me—where they came from, how they evolved, and what clues they hold concerning culture and history. Fairytales are a large part of that cultural history, oral tradition tweaked and bent to the teller’s designs. We often forget that until the stories were collected in written form that myth and folklore were mutable, evolving things. It’s fascinating to find the variations from century to century, from country to country. Sleeping Beauty was originally not a story you’d want to read your grandchildren. The hero fights through the deadly thicket to the sleeping princess and rapes her while she’s sleeping. She doesn’t wake until she gives birth to his son some years later. Not exactly love’s first kiss, is it? 

This is all a rather long-winded way to say that folktales and myth are fertile fodder for any storyteller. I won’t lie and tell you it’s all intellectual. It’s incredibly fun to find new ways to tell a familiar story, to challenge yourself with what, at first glance, might seem unworkable. So the cat in Puss in Boots as a gay Kasha demon? Absolutely. 

I have dipped into the folkloric and mythical pot several more times (and most likely will again.) Wild Rose, Silent Snow is a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red,” with two grown brothers rather than two little girls, and Vassily the Beautiful actually combines two of my passions as a reengineered fairytale (the Russian “Vasilisa the Beautiful”) worked into a Science Fiction setting. Angel’s next story, due out in May of this year, is a tale about Hades, Lord of the Underworld, trying to find a place for himself in the modern world. 

Q) You do substantial research for your science fiction. Even so, your stories can drift perilously
close to fantasy at times. How do you stay true to science fiction and avoid the brink? 

A) I am an old school firm believer that SF and Fantasy are two different streams that shouldn’t mix. While a subsistence culture may view advanced science as “magic,” the writer must be able, in his or her own mind, to separate the two. The human culture in “Marya,” too far removed from normal space shipping lanes and from its own history, has reverted to pre-steam feudalism. When Marya and her companions encounter holographic projections, electricity, remote control tech, and alien power sources, many of them perceive magic and monsters. Marya herself, though, has a quick, analytical mind, one better able to adapt to new ideas, so while she’s unable to explain all she sees to her own satisfaction, she soon discards magical explanations. 

Science requires an explanation, even if you don’t give the reader the spec sheet. In Fantasy, magic simply is. Oh, yes, there are systems of magic and ways in which humans can tap into magic and variations on how magic interacts with the world, but it’s still magic. Science requires ingenuity and the manipulation of the universe around us within the laws of physics and chemistry. Magic is the manipulation of the universe despite the laws of physics.  

I do write both and I enjoy them with equal gusto, but the research for my Science Fiction pieces is external while the “research” for Fantasy pieces, for the system and the world in which it works, is largely internal. 

Q) Which leads into this question: What do you see as the difference between science fiction and outer world fantasy?
 
Not a big fan of outer world fantasy. If you’re going to write fantasy, what possible need is there for extra-solar planets? Why not create an entirely new universe for your magical system if it can’t take place on Earth? 

But that’s not really an answer to the question. It boils down to this: if you introduce actual magic (not telepathy, not advanced nano-tech, not some form of telekinesis, but magic) into your story, it’s no longer science fiction. This defeats the purpose of science fiction, which takes what we know about the universe and extrapolates on that knowledge, finds some new, possible solution using the laws of known science and forms plausible hypothetical leaps from these laws. 

If you have a king who uses magic to rule or to have mind-blowing sex or eat his breakfast, don’t call it science fiction simply because it’s on a distant planet. It’s not. Especially if there’s no evidence that there’s any explanation behind the magic beyond specially gifted individuals getting to use it. This is Fantasy and nothing to be ashamed of, but please call it what it is. I think the “outer world” Fantasy confuses the issue simply because publishers want to call any story with space travel Science Fiction.  

Q) Any parting comments for fans and potential readers?

A) Don’t fear Science Fiction. It comes in as many flavors as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, with as much wild variety and as many rabid fanatics of one flavor as there are detractors of another. Good Science Fiction doesn’t set out to explain the workings of a starship. It shows you the starship whole and operating and then allows you to understand how the workings of this ship affect the humans taking passage. It doesn’t try to describe the universe; it tries to illuminate some slice of our place in it. At its best, SF is the most human of fiction genres and sometimes for the writer, the most intensely freeing.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net