A Conversation with Carol Fragale Brill

Cape Maybe

How often we are drawn to those who struggle, love and persevere?

Carol Fragale Brill, author of Piece by Piece, and the upcoming release of Cape Maybe, offers You Read It Here First a candid look at what inspires her to bring readers emotionally complex stories that take us to the worlds of first love, family and individual issues that readers can relate to, and also tug our heartstrings along the way.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell


I love the titles of your two books. What are they about?

Peace By Piece is about unshakable first love and complicated second chances, while Cape Maybe is about love and loss—the memories, addictions, and secrets that haunt mothers and daughters, and the power of hard-earned hope.

In addition to holding an MFA in creative writing, your list of publishing credits to date includes short stories, essays and a variety articles on how today’s aspiring authors can hone their craft. Looking back, what first ignited your passion for writing?

I have loved stories ever since my parents read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Black Beauty at bedtime when I was five or six. I know Grimm’s may not seem like the stuff sweet dreams are made of, but mostly they read the ones about princesses being rescued by the prince. I started dreaming about writing a book when I was 20-something. It took me another 20 years to join a creative writing critique group and get started. And, I’m still a sucker for love stories and happily-ever-after.

Do you have any interesting writing quirks? Fill us in on them.

I keep a box of 96 crayons—a gift from my husband—on my desk.  There’s a line in Peace By Piece where the main character, Maggie, says, “I never had a box of 64 crayons.” After reading that line in a very early draft, Jim bought me my box of 96—complete with the built-in sharpener. That green and yellow box is a constant reminder of his support, and I often skim through the box reciting the color names when I need creative inspiration.

What was the hardest part about writing your books?

Like many writers, I have to fit my writing life in around a demanding day job. Add to that, living in Cape May, an enchanting seaside town where we get lots of weekend visitors.

Lucky for me, I’m an early riser, and you will often find me at my computer in the gray light before dawn. I treat my writing time as sacred—as if it is a part time job and I have to show up. My guests know on weekend mornings, I will close myself off in my sunroom/office for several hours and unless the house is on fire—or Oprah calls with a Book Club offer—do not disturb.

Where did you get the ideas for your novels?

I’m an avid reader of mostly women’s fiction and rarely see realistically portrayed characters with eating disorders. I thought women were ready for such a character. In Peace By Piece, Maggie is a contemporary woman dealing with issues that resonate with women—unshakable first love, friendships, family, step-parenting, career choices—all overshadowed by anorexia and bulimia.

My experience developing Cape Maybe was different. I was finishing Peace By Piece, toying with starting another novel, but no real plot or plan. Cape Maybe’s main character, Katie, literally showed up in my head demanding to tell her story. It was like she was pushing out the Peace By Piece characters saying, “Your time is up, now it’s time for my story.” That may sound a little crazy, unless you are a writer who has been possessed by a character.

Are your characters based on yourself or people you know?

Years ago, I heard a writer say in an interview—sorry, can’t remember who it was—that every character and scene must be part of me somehow, since it all comes out of my head.  I have had pieces of Maggie’s and Katie’s experiences, or felt their feelings, but not always for the same reasons they feel them. Neither of them is me.

I’ve often been told I’m a good listener. I’m also a people watcher and pick up character traits, actions, and quirks by observing those around me. No one character is based on just one person I know. Many of them are composites, blending the best and worse traits I’ve experienced in myself and others.

Explain your method for writing a book. Are you a character/story builder or a plotter/outliner or some other method?

I am a blend of both panster and plotter. Usually before starting a new piece, I spend a lot of time in my head, envisioning the beginning and end of the story. For longer pieces, I write character bibles and what I call a lifeline with important plot points. Once I start writing, the characters reveal the middle to me, sometimes scene by scene. Other times, huge chucks of the character’s motivation emerge and it takes many pages for me and the writing to catch up.

What suggestions do you have to help new authors become better writers?

When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback. Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting and editing is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.

Tell us who are your favorite authors and what are you reading now?

Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors and I’m currently reading, The Shoemaker’s Wife, the final book in her Valentine series. She has a talent for creating strong, believable characters and a wonderful sense of place. Her love for the locations she writes about comes through in her books, bringing her settings to life, like another character.

I’m also a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd, Alice Sebold, Sue Miller, Marisa De Los Santos, Michele Richmond, Lisa Genova (Still Alice is a remarkable book), and Matthew Quick. My diverse list of all-time favorite books includes, The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Still Alice, and Ellen Foster and too many more to list.

Readers can learn more about Ms. Brill at Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6924892.Carol_Fragale_Brill) as well as her author page at Amazon.


The Expats


“The one charm of marriage,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.”

In author Chris Pavone’s debut novel, The Expats, there are more than a few secrets in the mix as an ex-CIA agent moves abroad with her family. Is it a fresh chance to embrace a new circle of friends and reinvent her identity…or a grim reminder that no amount of time or distance can keep the past from catching up and demanding dark debts be paid in full?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Your journey as a writer has taken an intriguing path. Tell us how your academic background in government and the skill sets required to be a cookbook editor for Clarkson Potter prepared you for the challenge of cooking up an espionage thriller novel.

A: The main useful thing I learned at Cornell was how to read critically. And that’s also what being an editor is, fundamentally, in any genre—whether for cookbooks or all the other types of books I edited. And I think that’s a large part of what being an author is too: critically reading your own work, deciding what should be deleted, what should be added, what should be better.

Q: Given your expertise as an editor, did you trust your judgment to edit the book yourself or was this task handed over to someone else?

A: I did indeed edit the hell out of myself, over and over and over. But I’m also convinced that every single book benefits from as much editing by other people as an author can stomach. I was lucky enough to find skilled people who were willing to help me with the manuscript, and I was reasonable enough to listen to what they had to say. Which is why editing and revising The Expats took twice as long as the original writing.

Q: The overarching theme of your book is that of reinvention. What do you see as the correlation between redefining oneself within the “ordinary” context of marriage and the “extraordinary” nature of literally being a stranger in a strange land?

A: I wanted The Expats to be a book that could be enjoyed on a few levels, so I tried to construct parallel tensions for the protagonist: her reinvention from a career to parenting, from being a dishonest person to a truthful one; the challenges of moving to the strange land of a foreign country, as well as to the even stranger land of home with little children. I hope that the book works as both an extraordinary story—about spies and arms dealers, stolen millions and long-play cons—and as a very ordinary story about the evolving relationship between two credible, relatable people.

Q: A few years ago you moved to Luxembourg for your wife’s job. In The Expats, your heroine Kate Moore does the same thing. Coincidence or…?

A: At forty years old, I left behind my home and my career and became a stay-at-home parent, abroad. The demands of moving to a new country, in a new language, were not unexpected. But I was surprisingly devastated by the loss of the self-definition I’d spent two decades constructing: I was a New York City book editor. But now I wasn’t, not anymore. I was suddenly a parent, plus a housekeeper and a cook and a cleaner and a travel agent. I collected neither paycheck nor praise, and I didn’t get much satisfaction out of most of what I did every day. And I didn’t know what I’d ever do again! I found myself surrounded by people—expat wives—who were more or less in the same position. Which is just an exaggerated form of the predicament of any woman who decides, for whatever reasons, to be at home with children. Who are you, then? And who will you become, after the children leave? That conundrum is what got me writing The Expats. That’s what I wanted the book to be about, and that’s why the protagonist is a woman.

Q: During that time when your wife was the family breadwinner, you took on the role of househusband and looking after a pair of lively four-year-old boys. Looking back, which was harder: to be the stay-at-home parent or to keep track of the multiple moving parts in a highly complex novel?

A: Definitely more difficult to be a stay-at-home parent to little kids. Now we’re back in New York City, which is much easier for me, and our twins are nine—reasonable, responsible little people, the best friends I’ve ever had, my most enjoyable company. When I’m an old man, I’m sure that I’ll look back on this experience as the most worthwhile thing I ever did. But a half-decade ago, in the cold lonely damp of northern Europe, it didn’t look that way.

Q: So who’s doing the cooking, cleaning and laundry now that you’re settled back in New York?

A: Besides the Luxembourg adventure and college, I’ve lived in New York City my whole life. One of the things I really love about this city is that there’s always someone willing to cook delicious food and deliver it to your home within twenty minutes, for very little money, at any time; I really love ordering in. So now I cook when I want to, because I enjoy cooking, and not because I have to. I also do a lot less cleaning and laundry.

Q: How much research was involved insofar as the weaponry, gadgetry, expatriate mindsets, cyber theft, and covert operations to make the plot of The Expats ring true?

A: My computer skills are limited to typing in a word-processing program, and even with that I don’t know how to use 99 percent of the functions. So I needed to read up on cybercrime; I also read a few CIA memoirs. But in the end almost none of that research-driven material made it into the book; a sentence here and there, a few stray paragraphs. I wanted The Expats to be about characters, not stuff; I wanted it to be based on my experiences, not the lives of others that I’d gleaned from their books. If The Expats rings true, I think it’s because the characters and their motivations are credible and relatable, not because I researched firearms.

Q: Were you thinking cinematically as you penned the plot and, if so, which actors were you envisioning in the key roles?

A: Yes, I wanted readers to be able to see—and sometimes feel, smell, taste, hear—the scenes. I was very focused on writing a sensuous book, and I had a clear vision for every section. And yes, I do know what a lot of the characters look like. But those faces don’t correspond to real people, actors or not. They’re just faces in my imagination.

Q: The novel utilizes multiple flashbacks within flashbacks. What was your methodology for managing these jumps and intercuts between past and present?

A: While writing I always have two documents open: the manuscript itself, and the outline. I was constantly revising the outline—moving scenes and plot revelations—but I was never ignoring it. The same is true for my next book, The Accident, which also doesn’t have a plot that anyone would call simple.

Q: The Expats was an international bestseller, and won the Edgar Award for best first novel, and is being translated into nearly twenty languages and developed for film. There must be pressure to continue Kate Moore’s story with a sequel, or as a series. Why or why not do you think this would work?

A: I can imagine a lot more of Kate’s story, and I fully intend to write about her again in the future. But I know myself, and my finite capacity to enjoy (or endure) the same experience repeatedly, so I’m wary of getting handcuffed into a job that I’ll find unsatisfying. So although Kate Moore makes a cameo appearance in The Accident, she’s a very minor character. The cast—and the locales—are almost entirely new. (Though there is a very minor character in The Expats who became a major character in The Accident.)

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: First I found an agent, which I did by asking someone I’ve known for two decades if he’d be willing to take a look at my manuscript. He was. We worked on the manuscript for a few months before we agreed it was ready, then he submitted it to publishers. Within a few days we had a preemptive offer from Crown, which is part of the Random House conglomerate, where I’d worked for ten years. This is not a typical path for a first-time novelist, and certainly not the most direct. If anyone wants to try this method, be forewarned that you have to start the process twenty years before you write your first book.

Q: Now that you’re on the other side of the publishing desk, so to speak, what’s your best advice to others who are just starting out on their writing careers?

A: Fully commit. I think any career related to the written word—in magazines or newspapers, as a teacher or editor or agent—will not only make you a better writer, but will also produce direct and meaningful connections to the publishing world, and sooner or later can put you in the path of a book contract. Unfortunately, none of these fields pays well. You can have a career that affords you a fancy car, or one that generates a book contract, but probably not both.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write and your best time to be creative?

A: I write in two places: one is a private members’ club, which has a busy hubbub about it, and a swimming pool on the roof, and wait staff refilling a bottomless cup of coffee, and restaurants, and sometimes famous people, and a whiff of glamour. It’s a good place to get inspired, but not a great place to concentrate on nitty-gritty writing. The other is a no-nonsense writers’ room, small cubbies and white-noise machines, no distractions. Sometimes I need one of these environments, sometimes the other. But at either place, I arrive every morning at nine, after dropping the kids at school, and I work until I get hungry.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: In the 2002 edition of The New American Bartender’s Guide, there’s a drink called the Chris Pavone Martini, invented by (and, obviously, named for) me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The Accident goes on sale in March 2014, a few months from now. I finished working on that book over the summer, and then I started writing my third, but I’m not talking about it yet.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I can be reached at chris@chrispavone.com. I think I’ve answered every single email I’ve received from readers, because I love to.


A Conversation with Amanda Lyons


Amanda Lyons

With catchy titles and a journey into a more complex style of horror writing, author Amanda Lyons mixes tales of psychological intrigue that give readers a little bit of everything: fear, romance, fantasy and a variety of complicated characters. You Read It Here First had a chance to learn more about Ms. Lyons, and what goes on inside the mind of a horror genre writer.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell


You’ve chosen to write for the horror genre; how is your writing style different from other horror authors?

I write stories and novels that focus a bit more on the development of the people and their psychological perspective than on the horror itself. It can have elements of romance, fantasy and a bit more of a narrative tone than some writers use. I want you to care about the characters in my stories even if it’s just for a few pages. My first novel Eyes Like Blue Fire was gothic horror and therefore had strong romantic elements interlaced with the horror for instance.

When did you first begin writing?

At a pretty young age, about 12. It started with a sappy little story about a homeless family at Christmastime. That story impressed a teacher who liked the detail and it taught me that I could write something that caught the attention of other people. I was hooked and have been writing ever since.

Tell us what Wendy Won’t Go is all about as well as other single titles you’ve released.

Wendy Won’t Go is about a particularly long haunting and the damage it causes. A writer and his daughter are being haunted by his wife; she’s changed and cold now, scaring them and limiting their lives. They don’t know why she’s there and they have to adapt to keep her from causing harm. There’s a lot in the story about pain, loss and the damage time can cause. There are also some surprises about the whole story. I’m hoping it’s a very moving story and that people will like it and think about it long after they read it. For now it’s my only piece of short fiction out there but I’m also working on a short collection with my brother Robert Edward Lyons II called Apocrypha.

What is your upcoming short horror collection Apocrypha about? 

Apocrypha is about all the little things that haunt us in life. For some of the stories it means addressing some urban legends and fairy tales, the little things that we pass on to our kids, but for others it’s about the what ifs and the maybes we face every day. Apocrypha refers to a collection of books and stories with a dubious or unproven origin, this is exactly what these stories are, little bits and pieces from a life that you might never expect to know and you can never really prove ever happened.

How is working with a small press different than your experience as an indie author?

In terms of all of the promotion stuff so far it’s pretty much the same (most small presses need to rely on the author’s ability to sell themselves and their work because there isn’t the time and money to invest in huge campaigns) but there are a lot more people checking on how your writing is going, encouraging you to keep writing and promoting and of course helping with editing, book covers and some more avenues of marketing. You have a really solid group of people invested in your work and making it look its best so that it can catch readers’ eyes and really get the best overall debut. At J. Ellington Ashton Press that atmosphere of camaraderie and support is even more present because we’re all writers and wanting to help each other do our best.

When you’re an indie, you spend hours and hours trying to get everything together and you have a much smaller group of people acting as a support system. I actually think that’s one of the biggest killers for an indie career, that lack of support and encouragement to keep you going through the rough days. Plenty of great writers give up because it’s too overwhelming to get through all of the lack of sales and immediate proof of your quality. It takes at least a year to see any real sales on a novel no matter what market you’re in and so many people think that they’ll be able to pull off serious sales right away. The work is so much harder as an indie and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. It requires a real dedication and confidence in your work, tons of work, tons of promotion and a good attitude.

Describe the kinds of books readers can expect from you in the future.

My imagination is all over the place and I think it’s safe to say that not everything I write will be horror. Here’s a few of the books I currently have in progress and hope to finish in the next few years.

1)      Cool Green Waters: This is the sequel to my gothic horror novel Eyes Like Blue Fire. In this second book we learn a lot more about Mateo, Zero and Michael some characters who were a little underplayed in the first book. We also face Raven and Katja’s remaining problems and a whole new threat from two different characters who were changed by the events in ELBF. This book is a lot darker.

2)      Other Dangers: This is an apocalypse novel dealing with an author who writes the end of the world and then tries to save it when she realizes what she’s done. It’s far more involved than that but there’s so much I have yet to finish so I can’t go into it in too great a detail Suffice to say this is my big epic and it relies on as many fantasy elements as horror ones.

3)      Jodie: This is a novel about a very damaged teenager who wanders the woods and town where she lives and how a group of boys set out to attack her. What they don’t know is that she has a lot more going on than they thought.

4)      The Farm: A couple who own a farm are faced with terrible changes taking place there. It’s sort of Lovecraftian but on a different level.

Okay, give us your favorite established horror authors and tell us why you love them. 

Stephen King (because his narrative voice is very naturally and his books are almost always very good), Anne Rice (because she has a real love for history, atmosphere and the gothic), Gary Braunbeck (because his books and stories are always very moving and emotional), Brian Keene (because he can write such dark work and make it meaningful with great characters), Joe R Lansdale (because he goes to so many unusual places and exposes you to so many different ways of seeing the world. His versatility can have you laughing one minute and horrified the next).

Pick one of those authors and share with us one question you would ask him or her, if you had the chance.

Gary Braunbeck: “Did you always know your writing would take on this emotive and personal tone or did you build that over time?”

Do you think you’ll ever explore other themes as an author?

Yes, definitely. I have ideas that fall in all kinds of genres and subgenres, time will tell which ones I end up putting out there.

What sort of topics do you think are overdone or need to be written about less in horror?

Rape. There is a big difference between rape that has a real purpose and meaning in the story and the kind of thing where it seems tossed in for spice. The later version has become so prevalent that it’s becoming tedious and it’s often used multiple times in one book. The people that use that horrific event in that way, as a casual thing, aren’t helping resolve the rape culture or women who are affected by it.

What do you think are the benefits to self-publishing that aren’t as available to traditionally published authors?

You have a bit more control over the look, marketing and promotion of your work. It’s your choice how all of these things turn out and as a result you can manipulate the overall appeal. You also have the ability to edit and modify these things with relative ease. You control the cost of your book and reap the majority of the benefits when sales come in.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Reading, drawing (really anything creative) hanging out with the kids and my partner Todd, hiking, art, listening to music and hanging out with friends at B movie night.

And of course, you must let us know your all-time favorite horror movie!

Delamorte Delamore known as Cemetery Man in the U.S.


You Knew Me When

Emily Liebert

Conflict, marriage, family . . . some of the very facets that draw female readers to novels like author Emily Liebert’s You Knew Me When. Released in September 2013 by Penguin Group, Mrs. Liebert weaves a complex story about the raw emotions of a close friendship and the consequences of breaking the threads of loyalty. Do longtime friends deserve a second chance?

Prior to releasing her first fiction novel, she delved into the nonfiction world of Facebook and Catholicism. Her recent interview with You Read It Here First offers a glimpse into her life as a successful writer in the opposite worlds of fiction and nonfiction. And of course, a little bit about family and fashion.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell


Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve always loved telling stories and elaborating on those stores. I have a vivid imagination, which I believe lends itself to writing fiction. As a child, I’d regale my parents with in depth details about my day at school and my summers at camp—I also like to talk! That said, if I hadn’t pursued writing, I think I would have made a fantastic therapist. I’m a great listener, and I can read people well, which is probably why I enjoy creating characters.

Tell us about your new novel You Knew Me When and how you came up with the concept.

You Knew Me When is about best friends who were like sisters to each other. Katherine Hill left her small New England hometown in pursuit of a dream. Now, twelve years later, she’s a high-powered cosmetics executive in Manhattan and a much glossier version of her former self, unrecognizable to her family and old friends. Laney Marten always swore she’d never get “stuck” in Manchester, Vermont. Instead, she wound up a young wife and a mother. When Katherine receives word of an inheritance from former neighbor Luella Hancock, she reluctantly returns home to the people and places she left behind. Hoping for a second chance, she’s met by an unforgiving Laney, her former best friend. And there’s someone else who’s moved on without her. Someone she once loved. Tethered to their shared inheritance of Luella’s sprawling Victorian mansion, Katherine and Laney are forced to address their longstanding grudges. Through this, they will come to understand that, while life took them in different directions, ultimately the bonds of friendship and sisterhood still bind them together.

I’ve always been interested in the bonds of female friendship. When I was younger, I had a best friend who dumped me when I met my first serious boyfriend. And I’ve had other friends who’ve either been disappointing or quite the opposite—who’ve stuck by me through the best and worst of times. I wanted to explore this. I also wanted to present two women—one with a husband and child, who was unhappy with her job and the other with a big career, but no family to speak of. It raises the age old question—can women really “have it all”?

You forged three very unique marketing partnerships in connection with the book. Can you tell us about those and the story behind them?

These days, writing books is about a lot more than the writing. You have to think like an entrepreneur, as if you’re developing a brand. And, most importantly, you have to find ways to draw attention to your book so that people actually buy it! I thought it would be fun to create a nail polish or lipstick called “You Knew Me When” since the main characters work in the cosmetics industry. When I approached Zoya, a company that makes gorgeous polishes, they suggested doing a limited edition You Knew Me When collection with three polishes named for the three main leading ladies. I’ve been wearing all of them this Fall!

After that, I partnered with designer Alessandra Meskita who created a dress collection named after the book and characters. Alessandra is an extremely talented designer—her flagship store opens in Beverly Hills in November! We met through mutual friends and clicked immediately. We knew we had to work together and this seemed like a very organic partnership, as the characters in the book are all fashionable in their own ways. Alessandra has also dressed me for almost all of my events, which has been a major treat. Look for the “Emily” dress in her new collection!!

Finally, I worked with the international jewelry brand Dodo by Pomellato. They graciously allowed me to name three of their stunning gold charms after my characters. Each charm has a cheeky slogan which corresponds with my character’s personality. Katherine is “I Love My Freedom.” Laney is “Handle With Care.” Luella is “You Work Miracles.”

You are currently busy working on your next book The Love That Lies Ahead. Can you tell us anything about that? 

Yes! Right now I’m finishing up edits on The Love That Lies Ahead, which is about a woman, Allison, who lost her husband in an accident eleven years before the book starts. Two weeks after he died, she found out she was pregnant with their son. Now, over a decade later, she’s moving out of New York City and home to the suburban town where she grew up in order to give her son a better life. She ends up running into her dead husband’s best friend, Charlie, from summer camp, where they all met. Unfortunately, he’s in a troubled marriage, so when Allison and Charlie’s wife become fast friends, things begin to spiral out of control.

So it’s not connected to You Knew Me When at all?

Nope, The Love That Lies Ahead is not a sequel, though I’ve been asked that often. I wanted to create new characters for my second novel, to show my audience that I’m not a one-trick pony, so to speak. I think the You Knew Me When characters need a little time to grow and develop in my mind, so maybe we’ll meet back up with them in novel number four…stay tuned…

Novel #4? Is there already a novel #3 in the works?

Why yes there is! I’m currently outlining my third novel (as yet untitled), which I plan to start writing in December. My goal is to deliver a novel every nine months to a year!

What has been your biggest challenge in becoming an author? 

My biggest challenge has been developing a thick skin. I’ve always been someone who, with hard work and perseverance, has been able to accomplish anything I put my mind to–as I believe most anyone can. So, when I started having doors slammed in my face or hearing from an editor that my book was good, but not good enough, I was stung (over and over). Eventually, I realized that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, or how fabulous your “product” is, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it or who tries to knock you down.

What are you most proud of?

What I’m most proud of has nothing to do with work–I’m most proud of being a mother to my two delicious little boys–Jax (4) and Hugo (3). I like to say that I’m a full time author and a full time mom, even though I know that’s not really possible. On the work front, I’m most proud of landing a two-book novel deal in what’s considered a very challenging publishing climate.

How do you balance your writing career with family time?

It’s a constant juggling act! I could be on a conference call with a Hollywood producer one minute and wiping a snotty nose the next. At the end of the day, my career is incredibly important to me, but there’s nothing more important to me than my children. I do have a supportive husband and a wonderful nanny who help immensely. I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home and–to some extent–dictate my own schedule. Recently, I told my publicist to try not to schedule any interviews between certain hours, so I can be there to pick my kids up from school.

Which books are currently on your nightstand?

I’m reading All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue and On Grace by Susie Orman Schnall.

Readers can learn more about Emily Liebert at http://www.emilyliebert.com.

Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories


Fasten your seat belts and prepare to travel down the bumpy roads of life. In his second collection of short stories, New Zealand author Brian WIlson entertains adults and adolescents with 35 humorous and thought-provoking vignettes based on his extensive globetrekking and observations of human behavior.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Tell us about your personal journey as a writer. Was it bumpy or smooth?

A: Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories, is my second book, the first being Moments in Time -A Collection of Short Stories. As a second book I would consider that this has been a smooth ride. Writing is creative, albeit an art. I write when I am in the mood and when the ideas are flowing. It is quite different from when I wrote a thesis for a Master’s Degree with time restraints. Writing, though, is only a small part of the journey. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being mothered by a traditional publisher, there is a lot of time spent after the stories have been written in cover design, organising the internal layout, formatting and organising the editing. All of these are required before the book goes to print. Then about 66% of one’s time is spent on marketing. The books you mostly hear about or see in a bookshop have been published through traditional publishers, because they have the financial resources and connections for marketing. Yet many of the best written books especially today are self-published. Even in earlier times exceptional writers found getting traditional publishers difficult. There are good examples of famous self-published authors such as Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.

Q: Did you have mentors along the way to guide you?

A: No. I see writing as a natural process. We all have different ways of writing; this is our signature and we shouldn’t change these simply because another person doesn’t like our style. Though, I guess in going through the school and university process there is some degree of mentoring. In Bumpy Roads my daughter Rachel wrote five stories and, as the reader will see, her style is very different to mine and some may consider it better. Rachel has an award in English from high school, and Bachelor of Art and Education degrees. She has also been one of the people editing my stories and I knew that she had the ability to write good stories.

Apart from helping her with surprise twists and suggesting rearrangement of several sentences, I restrained myself from trying to change her way of writing.

Q: Who are some of the authors you read for leisure and how have they influenced your own approach to storytelling and creative expression?

A: Recently I have been reading a number of short stories by famous writers. I left this reading until after I wrote my first two books as I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ styles and ideas. The stories read were by C.S. Forester, Liam O’Flaherty, E.C. Bentley, Katherine Mansfield, Norah Burke, H.E Bates, Somerset Mangham, I.A. Williams, John Buchan, H.H. Munro, John Golsworthy, O.Henry and H.G. Wells.

Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the challenges of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard!) and sticking to a writing schedule?

A: My approach to short stories is that I don’t write for the sake of writing; there has to be a good story or theme for the reader. Therefore, there is no writing schedule as such. My writing is as the mood takes me. Writing a thesis is different requiring a writing schedule, as one does not have the luxury of time or as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot says, “for the little grey cells to start working”. I was disappointed in reading ‘The Conga Eel’, by Liam O’Flaherty, as the whole story was simply that the eel gets netted and escapes. Simple plots are not unusual for short stories, but there has got to be something more there for the reader.  It seemed to me this story was written for the sake of writing. In my book Bumpy Roads, the story “The Journey,” can also be summed up in 7 words, but the story extends well beyond the simple story line and in fact encompasses the theme for the whole book.

Q: What’s your primary wellspring of ideas for your stories and poems?

A: I base the majority of stories on experiences. I build on these stories to create a fiction work. Stories will vary from being close to 100% true to maybe only 5%. By using experiences, I know my facts and descriptions are true and accurate. In Bumpy Roads I have stories in eight countries. They are all countries I have at some time visited and can provide accurate descriptions of.

Poetry is very much creative and lines may come in the course of having a shower or in the middle of the night. I sometimes get ideas for stories the same way.

Q: How do you go about deciding the particular style a story will embrace?

A: I don’t restrict myself to a style. It may be first or third person or narrative or dialogue. Some stories pose a greater challenge to me in the way they are written. In Bumpy Roads, the story “Three Granddads” is actually two stories being told at the same time which merge into the last sentence. This sentence also sums up the theme. Some of my stories include characters from the first book and the stories are more meaningful if you read this book first.

Q: Are your characters based on real people – including yourself – or do they materialize for you from thin air?

A: I try to create round characters and in doing so I have taken and used different parts of myself in various characters as well as parts of other people I know. It is a tricky area and I guess this is a reason why some writers use pen names.

Q: Tell us about Moments in Time. What’s that one about?

A: On the 22nd February 2011, Christchurch City, New Zealand was struck by a killer earthquake. Across the road from where I was working, a six-storey building collapsed entombing the 113 occupants. On that day 186 lives were lost, businesses collapsed, homes were destroyed and our lives were changed forever. This event marked a moment in our lives and the beginning of my short story writing. Some of my stories in Moments in Time recorded the events on that day. Others reflect overseas experiences. The stories are about times in life and are inspirational, many with humour and surprise twists.

Q: Which do you personally feel is a bigger challenge – to compose a short story or to write a full-length novel?

A: I have asked myself the same question. Novels and short stories I believe require different skill-sets. The novel requires perseverance, maintaining the reader’s attention, consistency in characters and a lot more editing. Short stories in comparison, because they are short, require more creativity and attention to detail, and give the writer little room to develop characters. I think that the writer of short stories is put more under the reader’s microscope.

Q: Should authors don the hat of “Editor” for their own work or should they hire someone to do this for them?

A: Definitely not. In my second book I have used five editors because we all miss mistakes. We see with our brains and not our eyes, and our brain fills in the gap. Two of these people are exceptionally good at editing. A quality product is paramount.

Q: Tell us about your cover art and the input you had on its design.

A: I initiated the title Bumpy Roads as this is how you could describe post-earthquake Christchurch as well as the difficult times in our lives.

I would not in any way consider myself artistic in drawing, but I designed the cover and drew the cartoon. Trafford Publishing was happy with both my cover and title. They only modified my drawing to include the rectangular sign with the author names. Previously I had our names at the bottom of the cover.

Q: How much research went into your decision to find a publisher?

A: Probably not a great deal. I checked out various sites and was also very interested in an Australian self-publishing firm, but in the end it came down to costs and services provided.

Q: With so many publishing venues available today for indie authors, what influenced your decision to go with one that charges high-end prices?

A: I have found Trafford produces a quality product but I am open to better deals for future books. For both books published by Trafford, the publishing package I secured was discounted heavily to about half the advertised rate.

Q: Tell us about your marketing platform for your books and what you’re doing to build a readership.

A: When I published my first book I had no involvement in social media. Following my first book I got involved in Linkedin and later Pinterest. These are now well established. Over the last two months I have now set up Facebook and Twitter sites as well as Goodreads, Amazon, WordPress, Google and Blogger.dot com  I have been featured on many Guest Author spots and currently I am looking at putting out several trailers and doing a guest podcast. My first book had a very good review by a top USA reviewer: http://www.theusreview.com/reviews/Moments-Wilson.html

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I worked as an investigator for about 28 years

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I am currently writing my third book of short stories. Completion is about a year away.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thanks for the interview

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Websites:



Blog spots:







Hunter’s Moon


When Were-shifter Aren discovers his mate, Sasha, is the Jaguar shifter who got his father killed, and threatened the lives of his twin and alpha, loyalties are called into play. Unfortunately, his heart and his head won’t agree on the matter, and the instinct to protect his mate is too strong. As Sasha unwittingly calls upon him to help her save her sister from a nefarious organization, Aren is forced into close quarters with her, and instinct gives way to something even stronger—love. Too bad Sasha doesn’t have the same inclination to mate for life, and she’s forsworn men. But then again, her heart and head may not get a say in the matter in the end, as the relationship between them deepens amidst a life-or-death struggle against a crazed, juiced-up Green Beret Were-shifter who can shift in broad daylight with vengeance on his mind.

As the second book in the Moon Series, Hunter’s Moon will be welcomed by fans of Ms. Lisa Kessler and Moonlight (the first in the book.) I am one such fan, and after having the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Kessler, I will likely follow her work for years to come because of the heart that shines through in her writing, and in real life it shines in spades.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste


Q: Your new book, Hunter’s Moon, is out this month. How many books do you see this series running, or are you taking it one book at a time?

A: I have 8 books planned for the Moon Series. Blood Moon will be out in July of 2014. That’s Gareth’s book and readers can have a sneak peek of the first chapter at the end of Hunter’s Moon. I’m hoping we’ll get Harvest Moon out at the end of 2014, but I don’t have a date for that book yet, so we’ll see…  *fingers crossed*

Q: Great! As your second series (after “The Night Series”) what was easier in your writing and publishing process this time around?

A: Hmm…  The two series are incredibly different, so it’s a real shifting of gears for me to write them both. With the Night Series, since they were my first books published the editing process was new and difficult. I did know more of what to expect with the Moon Series so I think I’m a little faster at turning the edits around than I was initially.

Q: Editing does end up being a huge part of the writing process; this explains how you can give us three novels this year so far. Fans will be excited to read your upcoming paranormal romance coming out (Beg Me to Slay)—as your first book in the new Entangled Publishing Covet line, might this evolve into a PI Paranormal romance series?

A: For now, Beg Me to Slay is a standalone, but you never know… I really loved writing Gabe and Tegan, and I could see them solving more cases and saving people in the future… We’ll see what readers have to say! J

Q: I look forward to seeing if it develops, or if there is another series up your sleeve in the future. Your debut novel, Night Walker, won you many awards. (You shared some of your success with us in your post http://www.authorlisakessler.com/humbled-by-an-awesome-day/). What is the story behind the writing and eventual publication of Night Walker?

A: Night Walker actually came in being after I got a palm reading in New Orleans. After my reading, the psychic led me to the door and then stopped and said, “Are you a writer?” At that point I did write every night, but just for fun. I’d never even contemplated getting published. I replied, “No. I write for fun, but nothing serious.” She smiled and said, “You’re going to be a famous writer someday…” I was stunned! LOL. And by the time I was in the New Orleans airport to fly home, I had written my basic plot outline for Night Walker down on cocktail napkins!

I loved vampires, but I felt like Anne Rice did an awesome job with European vampires. I wanted something from the Americas… Mayans were a perfect fit. I researched like crazy and the Night Series came together.

Q: Awesome! Your tagline “Dark. Passionate. Paranormal.” certainly fits your work—how do you find new aspects in a genre that is essentially saturated? (Perhaps this is the same as asking how people can make so many different types of music from only eight notes, but nevertheless I’m impressed by the worlds you build given the proliferation of paranormal literature.)

A: Good question! With my immortal characters I usually find some unexplained events in history and start building their lives around that, giving paranormal explanations to real history.

I also try to not to write to the market. Instead I try to write the book I really want to read with characters I can relate to. Then I hope they’ll resonate with readers too…

Q: They have resonated with me, for sure. On your blog, you shared a post about your research methods (http://www.authorlisakessler.com/book-research-aka-fun-times-for-a-writer/) How does this quality of research come into play when you blend several genres (like romance, paranormal, and historical fiction) so that it weaves together in a fluid storyline?

Research plays a huge part in all my paranormals. For me as a writer and a reader, if you can weave in lots of real facts and bits of real history it makes the paranormal elements seem more real as well. That suspension of disbelief for the reader gets even smaller until readers are thinking “maybe immortals really do exist”….  Or at least that’s my goal! LOL.

Q: I think of them like parallel universes where these beings are quite possible. As an author of novels and short stories (including Across the Veil), what do you enjoy the most about the different mediums?

A: I love all the different mediums for different reasons. Short stories will always hold a place in my heart, because that was where I started and my first taste of getting published professionally. I think the beauty of a short story is that you can convey it quickly for the reader in one sitting.  And when the story sticks with the reader long after they’ve finished then it’s magic!

Q: Yes! I admire how prolific you are, and how engaged you are with your readers. Your website/blog offers many ways to connect with you (and you share some posts about your adventures in promoting). What do you consider the best kind of marketing to involve, when we as authors tend to become our own brand?

A: The best kind of marketing always the kind you’re most comfortable with. If social media is your thing, then you should be on Facebook and Twitter chatting with your readers. If blogging is your thing, then blog and don’t worry so much about Facebook and Twitter. The bottom line is be authentic and positive. If readers take the time to find you online and interact, you should take the time to acknowledge them and let them know you appreciate their support.

Q: Thank you. You’ve mentioned a passion for music and you are a professional vocalist, performing with the San Diego Opera and other notable venues. What do you love the most about your music?

A: I love the connection between you and the audience. There is an energy between you during a song that’s beyond words. I love to see the music touch people. That’s pure magic!

Q: Overall, it sounds like quite a magical life, even more wonderful for the fact that you’ve earned every bit of it. Since you’ve professed a love for Disneyland, I have to ask: what is your favorite thing about the place Where Dreams Come True?

A: The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is my favorite, followed closely by Pirates of the Caribbean and all of Fantasyland!

Q: Awesome! Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: Thank you so much for the great questions! And thanks to everyone out there who took a chance on me and read my books. Every email and note from you means the world to me. It’s readers who make this whole publishing journey worthwhile.



Desolation Row

Desolation Row

The 1960’s. It was the era of the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Berlin Wall, the turbulence of civil rights, the Beatles, foreign espionage, the moon landing, and the emergence of a counterculture generation that believed that loving one another was preferable to committing acts of violence. Central to this latter mindset was the controversy of the Vietnam War and the decision of many able-bodied young men to avoid the U.S. draft by leaving the country. In debut author Kay Kendall’s new release, Desolation Row, her newlywed heroine not only finds herself married to such a man but also in jeopardy of losing him as a result of dire circumstances beyond the control of either of them.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Tell us how your journey as a writer began and what inspired you to embrace the mystery genre for your debut in the world of publishing.

A: My favorite stories involve romantic suspense set against a backdrop of great turmoil and danger. Stories about World War II and the Cold War fill that bill for me. I wanted to write my own version of that kind of romantic suspense. In the case of Desolation Row, a young woman from Texas marries her college sweetheart and goes off to Canada with him during the Vietnam War. Then her husband David is arrested and jailed for murdering the son of a United States Senator. Only the new bride, Austin Starr, believes he is innocent. Against all odds, she decides to rescue him, to prove that he was no killer.

Q: Did you read a lot of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose storytelling styles you most admired?

A: I read every one of the Nancy Drew mysteries, just gobbled them up. I also read classic fairy tales that had an air of suspense to them. From there I leapt right on to the famous Cold War spy stories of John le Carré. In contrast, I read just one book in the series that featured Cherry Ames in various nursing professions.   Not my cup of tea at all. Now that I am “all grown up,” I don’t even watch medical shows. They simply don’t interest me, whereas mysteries and suspense and spies sure do.

Q: Who and what are you reading now?

A:  I’ve just begun to read Sue Grafton’s latest offering in her famous alphabet series that stars private eye Kinsey Milhone. This one is called W is for Wasted, so she doesn’t have many letters in the alphabet left to explore. I’m impressed by how much her mysteries have grown in complexity over the years. I heard her speak at a writers’ conference last month, and she is a hoot—besides being massively talented.

Q: Does the title you chose for your new book – Desolation Row – have a particular meaning to you?

A: All the titles of my Austin Starr mystery series will be taken from Bob Dylan songs. If you know the era, then you will recognize those titles and realize that the stories are set in the sixties. I had to make sure that any title I used was from a song that had been released by the time my story took place. Bob Dylan is so prolific a song writer that it is not hard to find an appropriate, evocative title. In the case of Desolation Row, the title captures Austin’s husband’s sense of desolation as he waits in a row of cells in prison.

Q: Tell us about your female protagonist, Austin Starr, and the passions that drive her thoughts and actions.

A: Austin is smart, a real bookworm, and loves history. She’s young and naïve and has been taught by her mother that the role of wife and mother is the only one that will bring fulfillment to a female. Austin is not sure this is true, but she goes along with it and, with that grounding, she feels she has to go to Canada with her husband, even though she does not want to leave Texas. Her husband is a political activist but she is not. Once David is jailed, only one thing counts for Austin—proving his innocence. After that, she hopes somehow, someway, to return home to Texas. That is an over-arching question to this series—will Austin ever return to the United States, which is her heart’s desire?

Q: Is she modeled after a real person?

A: Austin is a combination of traits that I see in my nearest, dearest, and longest-held friends.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you cast in the lead role and why?

A: Because Austin Starr is only twenty-two years old in 1968, when Desolation Row takes place, the actress who plays her has to be quite young. She has to be able to be naïve and sheltered and scared. Although Austin gets around to being gutsy eventually, she does have lots of fears. I’d pick one of these young actresses—based not on their looks but their ability to portray vulnerability: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, or Sheilene Woodley. I think they are all excellent.

Q: Desolation Row is set against the turbulent backdrop of the 1960’s. Why did this specific era personally resonate with you?

A: Within the mystery genre, historical fiction is my personal favorite. Many authors locate their sleuths and their spymasters during the wars of the twentieth century. The two world wars and the Cold War all have hundreds of mysteries set during those times. The only large wars of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I concluded needed to be filled with more mysteries—and I decided I was the one to do the filling. I wanted to show what life was like for young women of that era—not the type that made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

Q: Did you do all of your research in advance or look things up as you went along?

A: I had my fill of research a long time ago in graduate school and chose something I could write about without having to do lots more. If I hit something that I wasn’t sure of, then I looked it up. For example, I mention the Maginot Line and thought I knew exactly what it was, but I did research just to make sure. I was right to begin with, by the way. I also had a Canadian judge read my manuscript to ensure my portrayal of the criminal justice system was correct, and also journalist who had attended the University of Toronto read the manuscript to make sure I had the period details right. Austin Starr and her new husband David move from Texas to Ontario because he is resisting the Vietnam War draft, and they both become grad students at that university.

Q: Did you always envision that the book would become a series or was it a matter of not wanting to let go of your characters after you typed “The End?”

A: I adore historical mysteries that come in series, and that is exactly what I set out to do in the beginning. I am writing the second book in the series and have the third and fourth plots in mind already.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher and what was your experience with the publisher you ultimately chose?

A: I submitted the manuscript of Desolation Row to several agents and to three publishers that would take un-agented submissions. Many American agents and some publishers are not keen to take on a book that is not set in the United States and definitely didn’t see the Canadian setting as a plus, but the publisher I ended up with had already issued books that have Canadian content. As soon as I saw that on their web page, I knew that Stairway Press of Seattle would be a good fit with my book. Lucky for me, I turned out to be right. The people at Stairway have been a joy to work with, and because my publisher Ken Coffman runs his operation like a writers’ cooperative, I had a lot of input into how my book turned out physically.

Q: I love the cover design! What’s the story behind it?

A: Isn’t She lovely? I get so many comments about the cover. That pleases me because I found that cover model myself. If I had been with a huge publishing house, I would have had little to no input opt for a hippie-ish looking young women. The same model used in book one will be on book two as well, naturally!

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: I’ve heard lots of horror stories from authors about their dealings with publishers. I used to think that once a writer secured an agent and a publishing contract, then the writer was almost home free, so to speak. Now I know that is not true. There are plusses and minuses to being with big publishers and small ones, and also to self-publishing. I knew bits of all this before, but now I know it all at a much deeper level and with lots more detail

Q: What do you know about the life and habits of being a working writer now that you have published your first book?

A:  I’ve learned that a writer has to do enormous amounts of self-promotion. Also that you really, really have to want to be a writer because it is not easy and is, in fact, tons and tons more work than I ever dreamed. That said, I absolutely love being a working writer, every bit of it. Well, perhaps not the ups and downs, but even the big-name writers say they have those too and that the capriciousness and anxiety inherent in the writing life are all just part of the whole package.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read Desolation Row while it was a work in progress or make them wait until you were completely finished?

A: I am in two writers’ groups and therefore many people had the opportunity to review Desolation Row before it came out. I found their constructive criticism helpful.

Q: Many book clubs are using Skype to invite today’s authors into their living room meetings. Have you done this and, if so, what do readers need to know in order to book you for a virtual appearance?

A: Yes, I love visiting book clubs using Skype! I’ve done it once, and we went on talking on Skype for more than an hour. If anyone would like to sign me up for a book club gig, please email me at Kay@StairwayPress.com

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: My author’s photo shows me holding one of my house rabbits, named Dusty. Fifteen years ago my husband and I began rescuing bunnies that people abandon. Few people know that—after cats and dogs—rabbits are the most often given up to animal shelters. I am a member of a rescue organization called Bunny Buddies in Houston and active in getting people to learn what great house companions rabbits can be.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing the second Austin Starr mystery entitled Rainy Day Women. Austin’s only good friend in Canada becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a graduate student in Vancouver who was the leader of a women’s liberation group. Rainy Day Women is a famous Bob Dylan song, but it fits so perfectly. Vancouver in Canada is just as rainy as Seattle, plus the plot centers on women.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I have two different pages on Facebook—one is personal where you can become my friend and the second is my author’s page that you can “like.”

These are http://www.facebook.com/kendall.kl and http://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor

As well my personal website is http://www.KayKendallAuthor.com

I’m also on LinkedIn, and I do Tweet @kaylee_kendall




The Single Person’s Cookbook-Lessons in Life, Love and Food

Tonys cookbook cover

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” This vintage quote by the late columnist/film critic Harriet Van Horne is the perfect introduction to this week’s interview with Tony Wilkins, author of The Single Person’s Cookbook – Lessons in Life, Love and Food. When he’s not stirring up fun, dolloping heaps of wisdom, and serving timely tips to fans of his weekly San Francisco talk show, this multi-talented entrepreneur can likely be found conjuring culinary magic – and courting romance! – in his home kitchen. Whether you’re young and just starting out, older and unexpectedly starting over, or simply savoring the simplicity of singlehood, Tony’s book is a tasty blend of approachable menus and saucy anecdotes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Are you a self-taught cook or did you spend a lot of time in your mom’s kitchen growing up?

A: I’m self-taught. However, I grew up watching Julia Child a lot as a kid.

Q: What was your favorite comfort food as a child? Is it something that still fills you with bliss as an adult?

A: My favorite meal as a kid was fried chicken with buttered corn and mashed potatoes. And to this day if I have a rough day it’s my “go-to meal”. With a glass of wine, of course.

Q: Are there any foods you run away from?

A: Yes. Cooked rutabagas. I can’t stand the smell.

Q: What’s your favorite spice or herb?

A: Herbs de Provence. It classes up everything from veggies to meat.

Q: So tell us what inspired you to write a cookbook.

A: I was inspired to write the book because writing my (first) book on telemarketing was more labor intensive. The cookbook was my way of telling my story thru my love of food. The rationale was that because it wasn’t about marketing or business, it would be a fun project. It turns out that it was a lot more difficult to write than the first book because I don’t measure anything unless I’m baking.

Q: Most cookbook recipes are written to accommodate 4-6 hungry people. What were the challenges in creating tasty meals for a person who lives – and goes grocery shopping – alone?

A: That’s the strange part because I grew up watching my mom cook for the entire family (4 people) so I had to teach myself how to cook for 1-2 ;which took years to get right. Grocery shopping was easier because I tend to buy in bulk anyway although it can be difficult to see a sale on a 20 pound bag of chicken wings and not throw it in my cart. I think the real lesson to remember when cooking for two is this: buy in bulk but break things down into smaller packages whenever possible for faster, easier cooking. So, for example, meat can be purchased in bulk but cut into smaller pieces for easy freezing and cooking. The same with veggies, stocks (for soups) and sauces.

Q: Speaking of grocery shopping, are you someone who makes it a snappy and efficient expedition or a leisurely one?

A: Leisurely. I rather like the experience of finding new items to buy.

Q: What’s your favorite aisle?

A: I love the meat section. I don’t know why. I just do.

Q: It has long been said that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Tell us about how this applies to your three-date rule.

A: LOL. My friends would tease me all the time about cooking for my dates because they felt that it was a sure fire way to run off a man. It’s funny women love having others cook for them but many men feel trapped in a relationship if someone (male or female) cooks (for them) by the third date. Other than that, at my age I don’t really believe in the 3 date rule. Whatever makes you feel comfortable is what you should do. And no, I don’t listen to my friends’ advice anymore about cooking for someone I like.

Q: Do you have a signature “date night” dish when you want to impress someone new?

A: Yes. Chicken Linquica is a favorite or a roasted chicken always goes over well. Both are very simple one pot/pan dishes I can make without much thought or prep.

Q: Do you ever invite your guest(s) to help or do you prefer to run the whole show yourself?

A: I hate others in the kitchen with me. I often tell my guests to choose a movie while I’m in the kitchen but truthfully by the time they arrive dinner is usually already done.

Q: Have you ever had a kitchen disaster?

A: God yes. I think every cook has had a disaster at one point or another. It’s how we learn. It was when I was very young and really wanted to impress someone by cooking a dish in a pressure cooker for the first time. Needless to say I haven’t used one since.

Q: Do you set a formal table when it’s just you or do you carry your plate to another room?

A: I eat in the living room because I want to watch TV or work while eating. I know it’s bad but one should be comfortable when eating. There’s something a bit pathetic about (me) sitting alone at my large wooden kitchen table and eating a meal. For some reason it feels as if the neighbors are watching me with pity in their eyes.

Q: The book is filled with anecdotes about your love life. For you, which food is the most potent aphrodisiac?

A: Again, a really wonderfully roasted chicken is comforting and comfortable and puts everyone in a relaxed amiable mood for whatever comes next.

Q: With the holidays just around the corner, what do you do to keep yourself from stressing out as a party host?

A: Besides going to someone else’s house? I keep it simple and have cooking time down to 2 hours. I taught this trick to my girls, Leslie and Robyn, and now every year they call me with a report on how their cooking experiences. Here’s the secret. First handle as much of the prep work a few weeks in advance because it’s not the cooking that takes so much time; it’s the prep work. So any chopping of veggies can done weeks ahead of time and stored in the freezer until you need them. Next, if you’re cooking for 1-2 people buy turkey parts – legs, thighs, etc. separately instead of a whole turkey. This way you’ll cut down on prep as well as cooking time. Also I try to have all of my spices (for the day) seasonings, etc. all in one place or grouped together so I’m not spending 10 minutes searching for nutmeg. Lastly, keep things simple and on your terms because it’s supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy family and friends. So make sure that whatever you decide to do this holiday season, you do it on your terms.

Q: What are the 10 most important staples in your pantry?

A: I’ll give you a few extras. Salt, pepper, butter, olive oil, chicken, pasta, sausage, bacon, Herbs de Provence, tomatoes, corn, onions and shrimp. If I have these in my kitchen, then I can cook just about anything.

Q: What’s your most treasured kitchen appliance or accessory and how long have you had it?

A: I’d say my 3 cast iron skillets, all of which I’ve had for over 20 years.

Q: You live in San Francisco, one of the most foodie-centric cities in the country. On the nights when you’re not cooking, what are some of your favorite haunts?

A: Hmm. That’s a tough once since I tend to eat in a lot but when I do dine out I love The Sausage Factory for Italian food (in the Castro). I also love dives and since I live in the Tenderloin part of the city there are several to choose from. Here’s an interesting fun-fact. Although the “TL” as it’s called is considered a low income neighborhood, we have some of the best restaurants in the city. Most tourists, college kids and anyone wanting a good meal for not a lot of money will come to the TL instead of going to one the more expensive haunts

Q: Who do you think make better chefs – men or women?

A: Now that’s a great question. I think men and women approach food differently. Men tend to have a technical approach to cooking which in theory would make them better chefs (I suppose). But women tend to be more creative and approach food from an emotional standpoint which would make them better cooks (again in theory).

Having said that, both are equally important to the food industry. Nigella Lawson, for example refers to herself as a “cook” but she’s got more passion for food than just about anyone on TV today. On the other hand, Julia (Child) was a chef and was equally passionate about cooking but she focused more on the technique of cooking. Keep in mind that Julia also trained at Le Cordon Bleu and was the only female in her class.

Q: If you could invite your favorite celebrity to dinner, who would it be, what would you serve, and how would the table be set?

A: Oh that’s easy although I would invite several people including singer Julia Fordham, her sister Claire, and Nigella Lawson. Ironically, a singer, a writer and a cook who all happen to be British. The dinner would be a simple roasted chicken with veggies or my new favorite comfort dish – fried catfish over Campbell’s Chunky chicken gumbo. The dish sounds (It’s a Creole dish I came up with one night) very odd but trust me, not only is it delicious but it’s done in about 15 min. The table would be simple, elegant but welcoming with a bit of candlelight and Julia Fordham playing in the background.

Q: What are you having for dinner tonight?

A: I’m making a deep dish sausage pizza

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I guess the only thing I want your readers to know is that they should always be curious and creative when it comes to cooking. Try new things including herbs and veggies that you wouldn’t ordinarily try.  I’m not much of a baker but every now and then I really love the process of learning to bake something from scratch. My book is available at http://www.amazon.com/Single-Persons-Cookbook-Lessons-Life-Love/dp/1463721064

Seasons of Raina

Seasons of Raina Cover_Seasons of Raina

According to the National Education Association, It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. But as Oprah Winfrey once said, “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you – always.”

Moving, finding oneself, learning to adjust to a large family . . . these are just a few of the curveballs thrown into one Colorado ninth grader’s life in Seasons of Raina, the debut young adult novel by Milissa Nelson.

A victim of bullying, Raina is sent to live with extended family in a small, rural town in Minnesota, quite the opposite of the metropolis that is Denver, where she hails from. Thrust into the life of a family of ten, Raina faces the crowding of eight cousins, the expectancy of a new school and new friends, yet a chance to discover herself. As it turns out, Raina is much stronger than she ever imagined. Sports, music and the adaptation to sharing rooms and problems with so many family members brings a surprising element of accepting change into Raina’s life. Seasons of Raina takes the reader on a warm, insightful journey into the struggling life of one young girl, who learns to balance the acceptance of herself, and the powerful effects that bullying can leave behind.

Author Milissa Nelson offers You Read It Here First a glimpse into Raina’s world, as well as her own.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell


Q: In Seasons of Raina, you explore the effects of bullying. Why did you choose this topic?

A: I needed Raina to have a plausible reason for her to re-locate such a long distance from her parents. I wanted her to move in with a family that closely resembled mine, so that I could write about what it was like to grow up in a large family. I needed a convincing reason, and I chose bullying. I’ve lived in both Colorado and Minnesota and love both places. I just needed to get her to Minnesota where I had spent more of my youth growing up. In general, life is better when people treat each other kindly and I wanted to show it was possible.

Q: Do you have a specific age range you are trying to reach with Seasons of Raina, considering it is a young adult novel?

A: I am writing for the upper elementary and middle school audience mostly. The language in “Seasons of Raina” is family friendly. The cousins in my novel have an age range of 3 to 17, so there is someone for most everyone to identify with. I also tried to write it for the entire family to enjoy. It is my attempt at a 1970s era version of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel.

Q: You chose to write Raina into a large family rather than a small one. What governed your decision to create that particular dynamic for her?

A: Being part of a large family is what I know. I am seventh and I meet very few other seventh children. I wanted to share what it was like to grow up with a larger than average family and the special uniqueness of that. I am extremely grateful for my family.

Q: If you could come up with your own marketing pitch for Seasons of Raina, how would you draw readers in to purchase your book?

A: It is a great chapter book for beginning readers who want to tackle a longer story. The family friendly wording allows for “Seasons of Raina” to be read aloud and enjoyed by all. It is a book about the bonds of family, the advantages of trying new things, and it also has both serious and funny moments.

Q: Interestingly, your book takes place in the 1970’s. Modern trends are mentioned in the story that are quite common nowadays. Did your family participate in those things during your childhood?

A: I set the story in the 70s, because that was the last time that my entire family lived under one roof and I wanted to include all of my siblings. The older ones started to leave to attend college in the late 70s. We did recycle way before it was convenient. We drove our newspapers, glass, food cans, and aluminum 25 miles to a recycling center where we dropped them off and sorted them into collection bins. We were taught that resources are finite and we needed to conserve them. We had several paper bags set up near our wastebasket to save the recyclables in, until we had enough to make a trip to the recycling center.  We also composted food waste, leaves and grass from the lawn and dug it into our garden occasionally. Our garden was organic and we never treated our lawn or used weed killer. My parents did most of the work, but we pulled the weeds and used a tool designed to pull up the roots, and a push behind cultivator.

Q: Give us a few of your favorite authors and why you enjoy their work.

A: My favorite authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and Carol Ryrie Brink. I love how they could make ordinary everyday lives, interesting. They were great storytellers and I love re-reading their books, even today.

Q: How was your own childhood similar or different to that of your young protagonist?

A: Raina became a combination of many different people. The biggest thing that I share with her is that I moved in high school and experienced a lot of new situations and took part in new and different activities. I am grateful for that move because I grew in many ways and became much more adaptable. I also learned that home can be anywhere there are people that you love.

Q: Did you find Raina easy to write? Describe her personality.

A: Raina is quiet, but when comfortable, has things to say. It was fun to write her part because I could compare and contrast her situations from before, with her new reality. She has a sense of humor and is respectful of others. I also gave her a drive to get better at things. She is someone who will put in the time necessary to see improvement.

Q: Bullying continues to grow into more and more of problem in today’s world. What advice would you give to children and teens about bullying?

A: I would say to try and treat everyone as kindly and respectfully as you can. Practice being nice to others even when they are not kind to you and try to not react to a bully, but sometimes by calmly talking through the criticism they have thrown at you, you can diffuse the bully from escalating the situation. When the bully stops finding any fun in being a bully, they start to feel silly. A caution though, is that this is not always possible when there is a potentially dangerous situation and sometimes adult intervention is needed.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?

A: I like to participate in sports. Because of the size of the school I attended, they did not cut those who wanted to participate, so I was allowed to play volleyball, basketball, and I ran for the track team. I had a lot of fun. To this day, I would much rather participate than watch. I also have played the trumpet since elementary school and have sung with my family since I was very small. Even as an adult, opportunities to participate in making music are plentiful.

Q: When did you develop the desire to begin writing?

A: I have always enjoyed writing and find it to be very relaxing. I took a creative writing class in college where I majored in music education and I enjoyed it a lot.

Q: If you could jump into any piece of fiction out there today, which character would you like to be?

A: I enjoy reading about Anne’s adventures in “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”. She is a very sincere girl, who has great intentions but somehow things don’t always go as hoped for. I love her fanciful use of language too and how she usually sees the good in things.


Seasons of Raina is available at North Star Press (http://www.northstarpress.com/products/seasons-of-raina) as well as on Amazon.


Living a Life of Gratitude


A Conversation with Sara Wiseman

Drawing from her own experiences, and the wisdom of her teaching experiences with many others, Ms. Sara Wiseman crafted an eloquent description of a life cycle from a spiritual perspective with her book Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing.

I had the pleasure of conversing with her on the subject of her awakening, her teachings, and the subtle ways we are part of a beautiful, spiritual community that is rarely seen but often felt. She has an innate care and elegance of expression that reflects her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste


Q: Your training, podcasts, and series of mini e-books (Soul Immersion Mini Series) seem geared to help people achieve their own spiritual awakening. What was the moment of your awakening?

A: In 2000, I had a near death experience, and that was when my life began to shift; in that experience, I saw, knew and understood God/Universe/Divine/All at a level I can’t explain; it was transcendent. That understanding changed me—it made it impossible to go back to how I had been living before. From that opening, I started to have a series of other experiences: and in 2008, it was sort of like the floodgates opened, and I received The 33 Lessons, spiritual teachings which became part of my first book. I find the opening continues—every moment is an amazing experience!

Q: Wow! How did you come to discover your intuitive abilities?

A: I believe that if you walk along the spiritual path long enough, you can’t help but become intuitive; and if you walk along the intuitive path long enough, you can’t help but become spiritual! When we understand Oneness—that we are One and all is One, and that there is literally no separation—then intuition is a given.

Q: That’s a fascinating concept; but sometimes it can be draining to connect to others on that level, where there is no separation. What was your process for handling that?

A: I have a lot of compassion and feeling for others—I want everyone to be happy! So I do get sensitive when things aren’t going well for them. That said, it’s not my job or place to fix someone—I’m there as conduit for the Divine. So I work on being fully present when I am with someone, and then when that is complete, letting it go. I don’t have any formal process for releasing energy, as some do. I do limit how many sessions I do per week; that really helps.

Q: Good advice, thank you! What led you to offer the DailyOM distance learning courses?

A: I am so impressed with DailyOM’s vision of offering high-quality, distance learning courses at a sliding rate! It’s very important to me, that everyone has access. Especially people in other countries, where the exchange rates are different and it can be hard to afford things like courses. That’s one reason I do so many free podcasts for my radio show—so that anyone can have access to the information, regardless of income.

Q: That’s cool to be so conscientious of the international (and, in some places, national) economic marketplace. Among your services, you offer intuitive readings and clarity coaching intensives. What is your greatest challenge when it comes to connecting with people in this way?

A: The people who show up to me are such amazing human beings—they are my teachers, as much as anything I can offer to them! My challenge is to set myself aside and be fully present—and then let the guides show me what to notice, say or illuminate. I find it very enjoyable to work with people at that level of consciousness; it’s a very high vibration that we share when we are in session, and it’s wonderful.

Q: Sounds amazing! You have authored six books, including Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing. You move through Birth, Emergence, Connection, Love, Convergence, Expansion, Nature, Awareness, Awakening, Presence, Transition and then you return to Birth. What does this circle represent?

A: There’s a commonality to the life experiences we share as humans—we’re on the journey of soul growth, which is about awakening and opening to an unlimited degree. Each of us has access to this kind of progressive awakening as we move through the container of this lifetime. For example: Connection. At some point in your life, you’re going to experience a profound, real, heart-opening connection to another person. This is a passage of soul growth.

Q: Yes, and another example you include is “Nature”. In your blog post, “October is for Respite, Retreat, Hermitage, Healing” (http://www.sarawiseman.com/3/post/2013/10/october-is-for-respite-retreat-hermitage-healing.html) you share some things we may expect to discover in this month. How does nature affect us?

A: Nature has consciousness, just like we do; it’s just at a different frequency or vibration. When we listen or notice nature—watch leaves moving, or really feel the wind blowing, or have an emotional response to the crash of waves—we shift into that frequency. This is a layer or level where it’s very common to have instantaneous opening, bliss, awareness, messages, visions and more. And, you don’t need to be on a nature trek; you can just spend some very simple time meditating on a flower, or walking in the park.

Q: I could reconnect to those sensations just with the reminder. You deal with so many things that might be hard to express, but you capture them beautifully. What is your writing routine?

A: When I’m writing a book or course, I really focus—I’ll write daily for hours. But when I’m between projects, I do other things—I like to just be in life. I do use a journal continually, to work out ideas that arrive to me from dreams, meditation, nature, all kinds of sources. I write at home, in the mornings, in a tiny little office filled with Buddha statutes and books.

Q: Cool! How have you cultivated balance?

A: I don’t think I have cultivated balance! It is such a life dream, to be able to do this work; I’m so passionate about this field of spiritual intuition! I work very hard, and I have the ability to focus very clearly—but when I need a break I take one. I like very simple things, like walking in nature, or eating, or watching a comedy; just easy things.

Q: That’s neat that you’ve got something fluid that matches life. Is there anything else you would like to say?  

A: I find the challenge of life is very interesting. On the one hand we’re Divine beings; on the other, we’re so very human. The day I have the most extreme bliss experiences might also be the day I snap at a family member—it’s all happening at once. We’re both completely perfect, and totally flawed, and that’s what it means to be a soul in a human container—we’re all of everything.


For more information, please visit her website at http://www.sarawiseman.com/.  Reviews of her work can be found at Amazon on http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738737534).