The Secret Blueprint to More_______* (fill in the blank)

Chris_M._Sprague_headshotWhat if you were empowered to have more free time and energy, get important things done quickly and more efficiently, and eliminate the barriers to success?  In his new book, The Secret Blueprint to More_____* (fill in the blank), author and motivational speaker Chris M. Sprague reveals that you already possess the tools to move mountains, pursue your dreams, and positively impact the lives of others. It all gets down to understanding how, exactly, you’re uniquely wired.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with an overview of the academic and professional journey that got you to where you are today.

A: My journey (like many others) has been full of twists and turns.  Going beyond the academic, I started out with dreams of being a professional bowler with a back-up plan of working in radio, television and film.  I began both acting and bowing at the age of 5 and by the time I was 16, I had already been accepted to the #1 bowling college in the nation which also happened to have a great mass communications program.   I ultimately decided not to attend college right out of high school to continue my disc jockey/entertaining career.  Over the next few years, I moved around from job to job trying to make ends meet and eventually made my way into a corporate job with an Information Technology company.  In total, I took a 15-year detour from my passion and purpose of inspiring and empowering people’s lives.  At the end of my corporate career, I went through two layoffs in two years.  I then spent 12 months of trying unsuccessfully to get back into the workforce.

That’s when I made the commitment to start my own business.  A few months before I started my business, I had joined John C. Maxwell as a Founding Partner in his coaching, teaching and public speaking certification program.  At first, I attempted to use the training as a way to show prospective employers that I was pursuing personal growth and not just sitting around all day waiting for things to happen.  However, it didn’t help.  What I have figured out now is that going back to Corporate America was never what I was meant to do and that God had bigger plans for me.  Over the course of the past 2 ½ years, I have begun to bring together all of my life experiences (the best teacher) and realize that many people out there are in situations similar to what I’ve been through and they can benefit from my mistakes.  The biggest part of my journey that I feel can help people is the discovery of how people are wired.  I say this because, discovering how I am wired – and discovering that everyone can and should understand their own wiring – was the seminal moment in my life and business that changed everything.

Q: Who were some of the people that inspired you when you were growing up and what lessons did they impart which became incorporated in your personal blueprint for success?

A: This is a tough one.  Before the age of 18, I don’t remember too many people (other than Jesus) inspiring me.  The things I incorporated from Him into my life were, being a man of my word, always trying to help others and standing up for what I believed in even if the world doesn’t think I’m right.  When I think of someone inspiring, I think of someone that I say, “I want to be like” or, “This person is a great example”.  I believe part of my challenge growing up was that I never let anyone inspire me.  As I moved into adulthood, the first real inspiration I can remember was Anthony Robbins.  Granted, this inspiration was also coupled with some skepticism (let’s face it, I only knew him through his late night infomercials).  However, I felt that if his story was true and he did what he said he did, then there was hope for me!  The biggest lesson I learned from Tony is that we all have a great power within us and we just need to understand how to harness and unleash it.  If I (and the people around me) would have understood how I was wired earlier on in my life, I believe I would have had more inspiring people around me and I would have been more open to inspiration.

Q: Who do you most admire today for the way they in which live their lives, run their businesses, and/or take risks to push the envelope?

A: It would be a three-way tie among Jesus, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.  Each of these people were/are calculated risk takers and quick decision makers.  The best thing to do if you’re going to fail is fail quickly and then move on to the next challenge.  I can also identify with the way each of them is wired.  Jesus was wired to be a servant leader (and so am I).  Steve Jobs was wired to push the envelope (and so am I).  He was also wired to know when people needed a push to get things done (and so am I).  Richard Branson is wired to be the ultimate risk-taker (and so am I.  However, my risk-taking side is still being un-pasted.)   This concept of removing the paste covering your wiring is something for another article.

Q: When did you first know that becoming a published author was a goal you wanted to pursue?

A: Until 2012, I didn’t think I was wired to be an author.  However, once I uncovered a way to unleash my creativity in written form, I realized that I was always wired to write.  However, my wiring had been pasted over (covered-up) by negativity though out my childhood/school years.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind your book.

A: There were two inspirations behind The Secret Blueprint to More (_____*).  The first was that I have always wanted to help people.  Since people learn in different ways, a book was a great way to reach people who love to read vs. people who love to learn by watching.  The second what that I knew I needed my own platform as a public speaker and that I needed to begin to set myself apart as an expert.

Q: How did you go about defining your target audience, developing chapter content, and organizing the requisite research?

A: Given that this book was meant to be applicable to everyone, I never really did nail down a specific target audience.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I (like many other people) don’t want to limit the people who this book will help.  I also feel that if I completely ‘niche’ a book, it will limit the audience the book will appeal to.  The good news is that, I am also wired to understand that now that the general book is written, niching it down is that next logical step.  As for developing chapter content, I just sat down and started writing.  I say this not to diminish the efforts of other authors who spend months and years writing their books.  I only say this to illustrate that, once you understand how you’re wired and match what you’re doing to your wiring, your roadblocks melt away.  As for the requisite research, all of the material from the book came from personal experiences.  So, it was just a matter of organizing my previous experiences into something readable.  I’ve also always been a people watcher and an investigator.  This led me to accumulate thousands upon thousands of hours of anecdotal research and findings.

Q: There’s certainly no shortage of books on today’s market about personal growth and empowerment. What do you feel distinguishes your own approach?

A: My current book is a collection of things I’ve used personally to get ‘more’.  These are not theories or ‘Gee I hope this will work’ types of things.  These are concrete steps that will produce results.  I have also kept these general and broad enough so that at least one thing in the book should match the way most people are wired.

Q: I love your fill-in-the-blank title! How did you come up with it?

A: Thanks!  It was based on a number of focus groups.  I had a few different titles.  All of my original titles were based around changing one’s mindset.  The people in the focus groups liked the original titles.  However, their feedback was that the general public wouldn’t be looking for things on shifting mindset.  They felt the general public would be looking for something more concrete.  Then, after Charlie McDermott wrote the forward for my book, the idea of The Secret Blueprint hit me.  Finally, I added in the More (____) when I realized that the topic in the book would lead people to more free time, more success, more happiness and a whole bunch of other ‘mores’.  Had I started off by niching down to one particular segment, it would have gone against my wiring and there would have been mental roadblocks stopping me from succeeding.  In fact, this is exactly what happened when I first started my business and everyone kept telling me I needed to niche to a particular group before I created my content.

Q: So what’s your own word to fill in that blank?

A: Peace.  Using the tips I laid out in the book, I have been able to reduce stress, frustration and have more time for doing the things I love.  To me, that brings me peace.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I am wired to look at things in detail, be able to explain them in detail and then bring them up to a very high-level and go from the 1-foot view to the 100,000-foot view.  The challenge for me (and people like me) is to not make things so board that they go from appealing to everyone to appealing to no one.

Q: Just as teachers often learn new things from their students, authors are often provided new insights about themselves in the course of penning a book. Was this the case with you as well?

A: Yes!  For me, it was the fact I could be an author.  I spent many years believing I didn’t have that ability.  Every time I tried to write a book, I would write a few paragraphs and then say, “Ok, I’ve told them everything.  No need to write anymore.”  What I didn’t realize until last year was that, if I just pretended to be speaking rather than writing and let the words come out of my fingers rather than my mouth, I had a lot to say!  Before this book, every time I started to write, I merely thought about writing.  Now, when I start to write, I imagine myself doing an interview or a stage performance and the words just flow.

Q: So many people in today’s society – but especially women – feel as if they have to “have it all” in order to say they have successful lives. When they fall short of that objective, they immediately label themselves as failures. What’s your response to this?

A: While we all fail sometimes, no person is a failure.  Every time you have a challenge and things don’t go as planned, you should use it as a learning experience.  If your challenges come early in your career or life, be thankful and remember – it’s much better to make your mistakes when nobody’s watching.  Each time you have a challenge or fail at something, it’s preparing you for future successes.  Much of how people react to failure either has to do with how they are wired or the paste they have let the world use to cover their wiring.  This is especially true for people whose wiring has been pasted over with the belief that they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  This is where it gets interesting.  There are those who are wired to believe they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  Those are those who make it look easy when they try to ‘have it all’.  For those people who struggle to ‘have it all’, most likely they’re doing things against how they are wired.  They have also bought into what the world says they need to do to be successful.  If they just went back and found out how they were wired, they would be able to have what they truly want and deserve.

Q: What are three things that people can do to adjust their mindsets and start improving themselves from the inside out?

A: The overarching thing is to uncover how you are wired.  This involves going back, way back to a time before the world began to paste over your wiring, cover it up and change you from who you were meant to be to who you are today.  To do that, here are three things people can do today to start moving down the path to uncovering your wiring.

1) Realize that it all starts with attitude.  Attitude is the only thing you have complete control over every day.  Establishing an attitude of success and making it a habit will help you get through the trying times.

2) Reflect and plan on a daily basis.  Each night, about 15 minutes before you go to bed, you should be reflecting on the day and planning for the next day.  That way, your subconscious gets all night to work on the best solution possible for the challenges you know you will face the following day.

3) Live in forgiveness.  People get too caught up in anger and in judging themselves and other people.  Living in forgiveness (forgiving yourself and others) is a happier and more peaceful way to live.  Waking up every morning and repeating the following affirmations will help put you in the right state of mind:

I am able to forgive myself.

I am able to forgive others.

I am able to forgive life.

I am able to forgive God.

I am one who lives in forgiveness.

Q: What part does timing play in the equation for personal growth?

A:  I believe that personal growth must be intentional and not accidental.  Therefore, in the strictest sense, timing has very little to do with personal growth.  However, the timing of events in your life can play a role in stunting your personal growth – if you let them.  That’s why intentionally growing and sticking to a personal growth plan is so important.

Q: How do you define your own purpose and passion in life?

A: I believe that we’re all endowed with a purpose and passion from God.  It manifests itself in our gifts and what we are naturally drawn to do.  My purpose and passion is to positively affect the lives of 10,000,000 people each year.  While I can see this clearly now, it took me many years to understand my wiring and to get back to living to my purpose and passion.  That is one of the reasons I’m on a mission to help people better understand themselves.

Q: If you had only one thing in the world to do, what would it be?

A: Be on stage speaking.  I love being on stage and speaking.  I love the interaction with people, how the energy flows and how, when things all line up, you and the audience become one.  Being on stage (or holding court as some of my friends call it) is where I’m at home, at peace, and doing what I was born to do.  From the time I was a small child, I was wired to share.  While many people chalked it up to me being talkative, what they didn’t realize is that it was more than merely being talkative.  It was a deep rooted desire to share.  It also brings about the biggest joy in my life, inspiring and empowering people to transform their lives.

Q: Are there any new book projects up your sleeve?

A: I am currently working on my next three books.  One is a follow-up to The Secret Blueprint to More, the second one is tied more closely to my research on how people are wired and the third is a deeply personal one about a journey I’ve taken in 2013.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The best place is my website, http://chrismsprague.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: When you look at people who are succeeding and people who are struggling, one thing separates them.  The ones who succeed understand and utilize how they are wired.  The ones who struggle, don’t.   It’s that simple.  Understanding and utilizing your wiring is what took people like Oprah Winfrey and Loretta Lynn from poverty to the heights of their profession.  It’s what takes someone who cannot survive doing a technical job and makes them a great manager.  It’s what top-notch CEOs understand when they build their inner-circle.  It’s what allows incredible authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John C. Maxwell and others to churn out new books year after year.  It’s what takes people from relative obscurity to fame.  To make this happen for you, I invite you to check out The Wired to Thrive Project.  The core of this project comes from material that has helped thousands and thousands of people from over 40 different countries around the world.  The Wired to Thrive Project will kick into high-gear in January 2014 with the goal of inspiring and empowering people to understand how they are wired and thrive.  The goal is to have 47 people preregistered for The Wired to Thrive Project by December 31st, 2013.  More information can be found at http://WiredToThriveProject.com

Unsettled

Unsettled

Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye ~ H. Jackson Browne, Jr.

We lose ourselves and find ourselves at the same time when it comes to heartbreak and love. When we least expect it, the cure to this complicated malady appears at just the right time. And it, er, he may just be gorgeous, successful and harboring his own inner secrets. In author S.C. Ellington’s debut new adult novel Unsettled, she weaves a sensual tale of faith long lost, and the two people who lead each other on a tempestuous journey of self-discovery, with a stop for unexpected romance along the way.

 Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes and no. I always enjoyed using my creative propensity. I fund pleasure in writing short poems and things of that nature. For a while I considered medical school, then law school, but for me, those professions were more of a means to earn a substantial living. My father always told me to choose a profession that I didn’t feel like would be “work.” I ended up doing the opposite and pursued my Masters degree in Public Policy and Administration. From that point I acquired a position within the government. Over the course of the last few years, I found myself yearning for me.

I would say that the day my husband brought me the Kindle was the day that my life and outlook changed. I started thinking back on my father’s words and what I found joy in. I’ve always been an avid reader, and many close friends always told me that they thought I wrote well. About a year ago, a tiny light bulb went off, propelling me to pursue my creative passion for writing. Had it not been for the ever evolving world of self-publishing, I am not sure that I would have ever seriously pursued my dreams of becoming a published author.

What inspired you to write Unsettled?

I decided to write Unsettled as a way to express some of my internal thoughts. In life we all go through trying experiences and sometimes they are hard to move past. In Brooklyn and Logan’s case, they are both plagued by secrets. Every person has to be willing to take chances, and make changes. If you can’t do that, then what do you have? You’re just left Unsettled

Which is more challenging—writing from a male or female character point of view?

It is most definitely harder for me to write male characters. As a woman it is so much easier for me to tune into what most women desire, complain about, or fear. Thankfully, my husband has been supportive and allows me to pick his brain to get male points of view.

If you could see the world through the eyes of one of your characters, which one would it be and why?

I would have to say I would like to experience the world through Logan’s eyes. Logan has had to deal with some hard blows. While everyone deals with adversity at some point, it would be nice to experience how he strives to move past it on a daily basis.

Have you ever suffered from ‘writer’s block’ Tell us what you do to get past that oh so common hurdle when it comes to writing.

I had a few cases of this dreadful disease! I found that by leaving my work alone for a few days, ideas were able to flourish when I didn’t put myself under pressure to spit out words.

When concocting the recipe for a new book, how do you determine if your work is a short story or a novel in the making?

On some level, the characters speak to you. I find if they have a lot to say, then I continue to write. If they have, yelled, screamed, and made up in twenty pages, then I know they were only meant to be around for a season or two.

If you could bring one of your characters to life, who would you choose and why?

I would choose Brooklyn. Like Logan, Brooklyn has also dealt with tumultuous ups and downs in her life. Brooklyn has a fire about her, and I enjoy that. To see some of her crazy comments played out in real life would be comical.

Today’s latest genre, New Adult, involves a more mature audience. What scenes were the hardest for you to write in order to keep this age group engaged?

Oddly enough, as a new adult romance author, the hardest scenes for me to pull together are the actual love scenes. I struggle with the syntax of my word choice, where to stage the characters, and above all, keeping the scenes fiery.

Do fans of this genre have any impact on your writing?

Certainly! As a budding author, you’re eager to hear what readers think of characters and the overall story line. What they liked and didn’t like and so forth. Since Unsettled is the first novel of a series, I would embrace things that my readers had to say, to keep the thrill of the story going.

Best advice for anyone starting out writing?

Well as a budding author myself, I can’t stress enough the importance of networking. When I first approached the idea of writing a novel, I was mortified by the idea of social networking and meeting people face to face. Luckily I was able to meet a few great people early on who showed me the ropes of the author world. I think my exposure to them has made my author experience richer.

If you had the chance to go on a date with one of your characters, what one would it be?

I would love to hang out with Damon for a couple hours. Get some insight into what he was thinking! I don’t think I could be his Mystic though!

What’s next for S.C. Ellington?

I am working on publicizing Unsettled: A Novel. My novel is set to release on December 10, 2013. I am also gearing up to write the second installment of the Unsettled Series.

Learn more about Ms. Ellington and her debut novel Unsettled at the following links:
Website: www.scellington.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SC-Ellington/1392923607602579
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18485102-unsettled?ac=1
Instagramhttp://instagram.com/authorscellington
Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/authorscelling/boards/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ScEllington

 

The Fury

TheFuryCoverV1

The Mafia, gangs and a killer hyena. Not your typical day in the New York City life of one female detective. In John Reinhard Dizon’s The Fury, readers will delve into a twisted thriller that combines the battle of good versus evil with the modern day realism of an occult world. A fast-paced read, Dizon will both frighten and intrigue with this tale of suspenseful mayhem.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell the readers a little about your background. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my novella, Enemy Ace, when I was in sixth grade. It was a James Bond knockoff with a German fighter pilot turned British Secret Service agent. I wish I knew what happened to it, maybe it’ll be in a museum someday long after I’m dead. I decided to take my chances when I moved to Missouri ten years ago and submitted a manuscript to Publish America. After having five books published, I decided to try my hand at being my own publicist/agent. I wanted to expand my horizons beyond the POD field, and as it turned out, Netherworld Books shared my vision.

The Fury isn’t your typical horror genre novel, and you took a risk doing so. How did you come up with the premise?

I never wrote anything in the horror genre and took it as a new challenge. A big part of it would be in coming up with a different angle than what is already on the market. Having an African shaman turn into a hyena and be manipulated by West Indian drug gangs in East Harlem is one I hadn’t seen before. My previous experience as a crime fiction writer was a big plus.

Voodoo cults, drug trades, New York City and the Mafia are all featured in your book. How did all of that work together in order to appeal to a common horror fan?

It had to be something that included the Mafia or the book wouldn’t have been realistic, so we have the centuries-old prophecy of an Italian dynasty and French royalty joining to create a demonic kingdom in the New World. The history of voodoo in the West Indies and New Orleans worked perfectly as Bridgette Celine’s ancestry is seen as the missing link between the Rossini Family and Miss Goyette’s voodoo sect. Having a hyena eliminating the competition was the secret ingredient.

You opted for a female main character. Tell us about Bridgette Celine, and what it was like to write from a female point of view.

Bridgette Celine is probably the most aggressive of all my female protagonists in my previous works. She comes from a working-class background and carries lots of emotional baggage that she hides beneath a punk rock demeanor. She handles the danger and the supernatural horror well, but having to deal with her family history leaves her vulnerable and uncertain. People who like strong female characters will love Bridge because she is way over the top. Yet her personality is peeled like an onion as the story progresses, and her different sides gives her the depth of character that makes her special.

I enjoy the challenge of writing from a female perspective. Tiara was largely written from Princess Jennifer’s POV, and Penny Flame focuses on Moneen Murphy’s journey into the unknown. I have a couple more coming up as well -– stay tuned!

Give us the goods on a couple of other characters in the novel. What roles do they play?

Johnny Devlin emerges as the major male protagonist as a street-weary detective in a NYPD ‘black ops’ unit trying to solve the hyena murders plaguing East Harlem. At first he uses his friendship with Bobby Mendoza, Bridge’s boyfriend, to find out more about her relationship with Mafia don Peter Ross. Eventually a mutual respect develops between himself and Bridge, and when he falls in love with her cousin Becca the situation becomes personal. Devlin is used to taking the law into his own hands in dealing with the lowest scum in the NYC underworld, but the Satanists prove to be more than he bargained for.

Anna and Becca, two characters featured, are clearly good people. Is there a downright evil person in your story?

The sorcerer Achok Majok and the voodoo priestess Miss Goyette are the closest resemblances to the Devil Incarnate. Everyone else might find readers seeing them as victims of circumstance. Peter Ross rolls the dice to see if the Satanic prophecy will establish his narcotics empire and loses big-time. Buda Sakumbe is pretty close to what you might call a victim of human trafficking. Even when Bobby Mendoza does a heel turn at the end of the novel, we can see where he was blinded by the demonic promise just like everyone else.

Is there some personal element in your story, or is it just pure fiction?

Lots of the Lower Manhattan scenes were based on personal experiences as a NYC punk rocker in my young adulthood. The characters in Johnny Devlin’s Zombie Squad were all based on people I knew. As a rule, I tend to use real people in my characterizations because lots of the people in my past are so interesting, you couldn’t make them up.

If you were to rewrite your book what changes might you make, if any?

I’d say the editor and I may have dropped the ball in the omniscient narrative as far as the occupants on the second and third floors in the haunted tenement. Miss Goyette seems to move from one apartment to another as do other characters, and it turns into an exercise in postmodernist technique that is too easily perceived as an editing issue. The idea was to convey the sense of helplessness people feel when they get lost in a hostile environment. Ever go into a dark subway, walk all the way to the end of a deserted platform, and find the exit’s locked? Or try to drive through a bad neighborhood at night and find out you misread the map? We should have overemphasized the fact that people kept finding themselves on the wrong floors. Some critics felt like we were the ones who got lost. Regardless of location, the characters make it clear they can’t wait to get out of there.

How about some authors who have inspired you as a writer?

I would have to consider myself a postmodernist author at this stage of my career, and I’ve been studying others of like mind to enhance my own style. Right now I’m reading Kafka; he’s having an enormous influence on my new manuscripts. In my opinion, Shakespeare is the greatest writer of all time, and I’ll have to consider him my greatest overall influence. Ian Fleming was the one who inspired me in my early days, and Robert E. Howard was another one who gave me a new perspective in developing my abilities over the years.

Which horror films or books appeal to you, as a viewer or reader?

As far as horror, nobody touches Stephen King, though I hope readers will make favorable comparisons as my work surfaces. I’ll never forget staying up nights reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a school kid. That one stands up against any of King’s books. Moviewise, The Exorcist is the greatest of all time, while I don’t think anyone appreciates the impact Texas Chainsaw Massacre had as the first of the slasher-type flicks. I walked home after the premiere looking over my shoulder.

As writers, we all have habits we employ during a day’s work. What are some of yours?

Lots of times I end up doing more research than writing on any given day. I spent a large amount of time with the historical backdrop on The Fury substantiating the expository narrative. I feel like I’ve validated the work when readers can do some checking up and find out the subplots are based on actual persons, places and events. When I’ve written a dynamic chapter that I know will captivate the audience, I’ll take a break and go for a walk to recharge my batteries and rehearse where the characters are going next. I also enjoy watching pro wrestling to compare notes on how to capture the audience’s imagination with the least dialogue and the most impact.

Where can readers find The Fury, as well as your other novels?

Just plug in John Reinhard Dizon in the Books search engine on Amazon. There’ll be my previous works with Publish America on sale, as well as The Standard available through Tenth Street Press. I take pride in the fact that I don’t allow myself to be confined within any particular genre. Every novel is a new experience that I’m sure the reader will enjoy. I can guarantee that you won’t find any of them a boring read!

 

Interactive Ethics

Thomas Schear

Honesty. Integrity. Sincerity. Respect.

On any given day, we’d be hard pressed to use any of those words in a conversation about national politics. The erosion of trust and ethics, however, is just as evident in our day-to-day interactions in the workplace, especially when employees and employers have radically divergent views on each other’s value to the core organization. In his new book, Interactive Ethics, author and consultant Thomas H. Schear examines how sociological, psychological, economic, political and other factors interact to lead to ethical and unethical outcomes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: There’s no question that ethics is a hot topic these days, especially in corporate and public governance. How did you first become interested in this issue and, subsequently, become hooked enough to want to write a book about it?

A:  The topic was mentioned in passing when I was in college in the 1970s.  One of my first jobs was as an alcoholism counselor – a profession that was in its infancy – developing professional standards for credentialing (certification), then along with that came the establishment of a code of ethics, boards investigating breaches of the code, sanctions for verified violations and formal training in ethics.  Occasionally I’d hear of a counselor violating ethical standards and their employer’s handling of the situation and so I began to sit up and take notice.

Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the discipline of committing to a publishing project?

A:  When in college I would knock out the term papers for a course in the first week or so, thus giving me free time for the rest of the semester.  I rarely agonized over writing papers.  There were client social histories to write, then – as a clinical supervisor/ program director – there were policy and procedure manuals.  When I started my own business offering home-study, self-paced continuing education courses for counselors and therapists, there were tests to write along with documents to gain approval of various national and state organizations, writing the content of the catalog, two websites as well as tests and syllabi for courses I have offered through a couple universities online. I edited and updated a series of booklets written by a friend, Bob Hickle (now deceased), putting his five booklets under one cover, then making it available.  It seems to be no end to writing for me.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Interactive Ethics?

A:  When I attended the University of Iowa, doing some post graduate work, included in the packet for a course on ethics was one presenting the interactive model of ethics.  It struck a chord with me I think because it showed that things are not so cut and dried’ specifically, that there is as much of a possibility of an unethical result as there is an ethical one.  (I have since lost the original article and haven’t been able to find it online so in the book I ask if anyone knows of it to please let me know so I can give its authors due recognition.)

Q: How did you use or apply that source of inspiration to your life and your work?

A:  I used the model as a way of thinking about ethics mostly in considering how its lessons presented the mine field of choices, the pressures and influences on me, coworkers and the organizations where I worked.  As a clinical director, I taught it to staff as inservice and workshops; it then became a large part of college level ethics courses I taught.  As time went on, I gave the model some greater depth and breadth by modifying it by adding concepts and recasting the model’s flow chart.  When my modified model remained static for a couple years, I decided it was time to write the book.

Q: So what, exactly, does “interactive ethics” mean?

A: The model tracks the interaction of various individual and organizational, what the book refers to as “moderators” in five realms: first, their interaction within ourselves; second, your coworkers’ interaction in themselves; third, your employer’s internal interaction of moderators; fourth, your interact with coworkers; and finally your interact with management and the organization.  So for instance:  First you have your own perceptions of your job, of your career path and how your employer views and values you and what you do.  Second, the people you work with have their own perceptions of these same things.  Third, the organization gives its employees messages, more or less subtle, about how they view and value the work they are doing.  Fourth, you interact with your coworkers with their perceptions and finally, you are interacting with the organization with all its messages about you and your work.

Q: There’s no shortage of books about ethics on today’s market. What do you feel distinguishes your particular slant?

A: I’ve never seen a book like mine.  Other ethics books cover code of ethics, ethical principles, some step-by-step decision-making process and its applications to different situations, populations, etc.  My book gives proper recognition to these in chapter two but it is descriptive not prescriptive.   The bulk of it presents definitions of terms, lays out basic assumptions then picks apart the individual, social and organizational moderators, how they interact, influence, promote or impede decision-making.  Really the book is not about ethics per se, it’s about people and organizations and how they come to ethical and unethical outcomes.

Q: Let’s say that a business owner or the manager of a non-profit organization wants to promote ethical outcomes from his/her decision making and policy choices. How would they go about using your book to accomplish that goal?

A: Understanding the way events unfold, the terms, the assumptions and using the inventories to gain understanding of your moderators and the organization’s moderators helps people see why they are getting the results they are.  This is not intended to be done once and then be filed away.  Rather, it should be brought out periodically repeated over again and again.  The inventories provide you with scores so you can measure where you are and as you apply the book’s information, you can begin to measure changes over time.  Not everything reveals itself at once.

Q: In a corporate hierarchy, where does the buck stop in terms of responsibility and accountability for ethical results?

A: While management is responsible for setting the tone, being the example and following through, if they don’t have a clear picture of where they are at both individually and as an organization, they are just spinning their wheels.  Management is responsible for having that clarity. Properly used and understood, the book provides the means for getting it.

Q: Are there specific tools, concepts and inventories in the book that address some of the common ethical dilemmas in the modern world?

A: The inventories present the reader with a range indicating how much various statements “most sound like” themselves and, when it comes to the organization, which statements best describe it.  For instance, in the Identification With Work inventory, one set of statements range from “I have no sense that I am part of a profession” at one end, to “I clearly recognize I am a professional” at the other.  The reader has five choices.  On the extremes one of the statements describes you almost all or all the time. Less extreme, perhaps one of the statements describes you much of the time and finally the middle ground where the either of the statements can describe you depending on circumstances, your mood, or whatever.

For the Individual Moderators, there are inventories designed to get at your sense of coherence, ego strength, locus of control, field dependence/independence, moral development, identification with work, with your job and the organization where you work.  For the Organizational Moderators, the inventories are designed to get at its sense of coherence, normative structure, tolerance for risk, obedience for authority and several others.  There is a scoring system for the inventories which help you to see where you are and to measure changes.  Notice I said “changes,” not “improvement”.

The concept known as the Johari Window represents the major barrier to successfully completing the inventories and accomplishing what the book lays out.  This concept is defined along its implications and ways to deal with them are described in the book.  This is why it’s important to see this as a process, not an event.  I encourage readers to not take the inventories in the book but to make photocopies using them each time you go through the materials again.  Not everything reveals itself all at once or at the same time or in a way you might expect.  It’s important to not be too hard on yourself, not be fearful or judgmental.  This can help, over time, overcome the effects suggested by the Johari Window.

Q: In your view, what is the single biggest obstacle to the development – and sustainability – of an ethical relationship in either personal or business relationships?

A: One concept which plays a big role is Sense of Coherence.  What’s meant is that people have a sense of how life holds together or not.  We have a feel for how or if our lives, our social relationships and the world in general, makes sense and that you can rely on others to play their part.  It’s largely a matter of trust, believing life makes sense or it doesn’t, it matters what you do or it doesn’t.  Without trust – not just now but for the future – why develop ethical standards and sustainability is out of the question.

Q: Tell us about the coaching, counseling and mentoring services your company provides and how these interface with the concepts contained in your book?

A: In addition to the continuing education courses mention earlier I provide business and life coaching and counseling services online, via the phone and face-to-face.  Sometimes I offer a course based on the book which includes a series of YouTube videos, assignments and as a coaching client I can help the participant apply the information in their work situation as part of an overall change process.

Q: How did you go about identifying where and how Interactive Ethics would be published?

A: A previous publisher didn’t put money into marketing so I decided to just offer it as an eBook, available in pdf at my websites http://www.ccmsinc.net or http://www.ccmsinc.org.

Q: What are you doing insofar as marketing the book to your target audience?

A: Though my background is largely in counseling, the book is equally applicable to business, government, medicine, etc. but I haven’t really marketed it much lately except through the website.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: Taking a different slant again, I am gathering informaton for a book on overcoming self-defeating/self-sabotaging behaviors.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Either at the Get To Know Us page at http://www.ccmsinc.net or the Your Coach page at http://www.ccmsinc.org.

 

 

Master Shots, Volume 3

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Back when I was 10 and forced to endure a week of Girl Scout camp in the Pacific Northwest (for parental reasons that, frankly, still escape me), I recall a gaggle of us trekking into the woods on a quest for blackberries. “Do you think we’ll get lost?” one of my friends nervously asked. “No way!” I replied, proudly informing them that, “I have a compass!” It was new. It was shiny. It even had the official Girl Scout trefoil stamped on the back as testament to its authenticity.

The fact I had absolutely no clue how it was supposed to work – never having read the instructions which came in the box – was a moot point. Somehow, I thought, if (1) darkness fell in the forest, (2) bears started chasing us or (3) we came upon a strange village where no one spoke English, all I had to do was flip open the lid and it would magically tell me what turns to take in order to get us safely back to camp.

Technology, of course, has given us tools far more advanced than the humble compass. Movie cameras, for instance. Yet how often do the uninitiated fall into the trap of thinking that if they just point it at something, it will always yield picture-perfect results worthy of the finest cinematography?  For aspiring filmmakers of any age, Master Shots, Volume 3 by Christopher Kenworthy is a must-have title for their resource library. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You’ve had quite a “storied” career as a writer, director and producer. How did each of these roles in your creative journey come about and what would you have done differently if any of them were subject to a rewrite?

A: There’s story in everything I do. Whether I’m creating a tutorial, running a workshop or shooting a music video, there is story, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

I made films and wrote stories as a kid, but it’s difficult to know which came first. When I was 17 I decided I wanted to be a novelist, and spent the next 15 years working on that. While writing my second novel, I kept picturing the shots I’d use if I ever had the chance to direct. So I bought a camera and made a film based on my novel. Within a year I was making a living at film.

I did an OK job as a producer, but it wasn’t my calling. I can’t say that I regret it, because it’s made me a better screenwriter and director. Producing my own feature was a mistake. It was probably the only way to raise the budget, but it meant that by the first day of shooting I was already exhausted from 18 months of intense work. My directing wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I swore never to produce a large project again.

Q: Should wannabe cinematographers go to film school to learn their craft or just get a camera and start experimenting by trial and error on their own?

A: The only way to learn is to shoot. If people read the Master Shots books, and then hardly ever shoot, they won’t be able to put the ideas into practice. You need to get hold of a camera and shoot. If you find a film school that’s going to give you a lot of shooting time along with the theory, that’s a good thing. If you go it alone, make sure you read every book that’s relevant, and get onto as many film sets as you can. A good mentor is as good as any film school.

Be careful of being too precious. If you wait for the perfect time or the perfect budget or the perfect script, you’ll wait too long. Shoot something, anything, and shoot it well. So long as you have access to a camera and a handful of lenses you can learn a lot.

Q: What are the three most common mistakes in composition that beginners tend to make?

A: 1. Forgetting that good shots make the most of space by having a foreground, background and middle ground.

2. Over-focusing on the subject. The subject exists within a world, at a time and a place, in relation to other people, and the shot should show that.

3. Assuming that shooting handheld will give it a naturalistic look. It doesn’t. Handheld shots can work, but I get very tired of seeing camera operators hosepipe all over a scene, while claiming that this somehow reflects how we see the world. The same is true of bad lighting. Many newcomers think that underexposed is meaningful, when in fact it’s just dark.

Q: Can great work behind the lens make a mediocre actor look better and, conversely, can a poor job be to the detriment of a stellar performance?

A: When you’re working with weak actors, you can try to hide their lack of strength. By hiding their flaws you can make them look better, but only within certain limits. A wooden performance will still look wooden. You can do a lot in the editing room, but on set it’s difficult.

Ideally, you should rely on your relationship with the actor, rather than on a camera setup. Sometimes, though, no matter how good you are, the actors come up against the limit of their talent, and then your job is to shoot in a way that makes the scene work. To explain how to do this would require a whole book, but in essence you find the weakest point in their performance – whether it’s eyes, mouth, body language – and shoot in a way that emphasizes something else.

Brilliant performances are often lost due to poor camera setups, and because of traditional film-making approaches. Most of the time people shoot a wide master, then some medium shots and some coverage. By the time you get to the close-ups the actors have burned out or got bored. It depends on the actor, because some warm up over time, but many lose their energy. When that’s the case, you need to start with close-ups.

The best shots capture the space, the person within it, and let us see their entire performance. This is really what the Master Shots books are trying to show. How to shoot actors in a way that reveals the meaning and emotion of the scene.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock is credited as saying that the test of a good film is if you can watch it with the sound off and still be able to figure out the plot and the relationships. Can turning down the volume and, thus, not having the distraction of voices and music be instrumental in focusing on angles, distance, lighting and background/foreground elements?

A: This is something I’ve been recommending for years, but I never knew it was Hitchcock who first came up with the idea. It’s not always true, but I’ve found that most of my favorite films work without sound. A great example is Children of Men. The visuals are simple, but so strong, you can tell what’s going on from watching. When they’re hiding, you can see it. When they’re scared, escaping, doubting, or discovering a great secret, you see it all, without a word needing to be spoken. The same is probably true of Gravity, by the same director. It’s worth trying this with any film, though. Just about anything that Spielberg’s directed works without sound, so even if you don’t like his films they’re worth watching without the audio, to see how well he directs attention and lets the visuals do half the work.

Q: Which do you personally consider more of a challenge: to shoot a commercial, a music video or a full-length film?

A: There are always restrictions and there are always opportunities. The challenge with a feature film is holding an overall image in mind for months.

Commercials are generally easy because you’re working to such a tight template. The downside of that is there’s very little room for creativity.

Music videos tend to be quite easy, because you’re left to your own devices.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the Master Shots concept and how did it go from one book to a trio?

A: I’d always sensed that there was a hidden language that directors were using. Consciously or not, they were using setups and moves to create feelings. For years I wanted somebody to read a book that decodes these techniques so I could use them. When nobody wrote the book I wanted, I started watching three films a day until I was able to write Master Shots Vol 1.

It was so successful that it was published as a 2nd Edition. That’s the same book reprinted with enhanced images and a few revisions to the text. Then came Master Shots Vol 2, which looks at dialogue. I really wanted to write that book, because there is so much you can do to make dialogue interesting, to really tell the story and catch the performance. That book was a passion of mine. I loathe those scenes where actors look at each other and talk their lines out. I wanted to cure directors of that.

The popularity of those two books made me wonder if we could create a third, but only if it really went beyond the first two books. So I created The Director’s Vision, which looks at the more advanced setups, so you can learn to create your own signature style. Without style, you don’t get hired, so this is a book that can help directors to make a real breakthrough.

Q: Tell us about the transition you made to an ebook format and how the latter expands on what is already some very comprehensive content.

A: The first two books were made available on the Kindle, but that was just a way of reading the same books on a tablet. We wanted to do something much more inventive, using video to illustrate the shots.

So we took the best 75 shots from the print books, filmed them, and made three enhanced eBooks: Master Shots: Action, Suspense and Story.

The eBooks aren’t meant to replace the print books, but they give you a deep insight into the workings of the shots. Even if you’ve read the books, they can help you decode the shots. If you’ve never read the books, it gives you the core techniques in a much more immediate way.

Q: Despite the fact that movie cameras continue to come down in price, what would you say to a struggling young filmmaker who laments that you can only craft kick-ass images if you have the most high-tech and expensive equipment?

A: The best thing I ever made was a music video I shot on a Canon 7D. I used available light and shot it for $400. We always want more money and better equipment, because it can help, but unless you interpret the story in a creative way, no amount of equipment can save you.

Q: In what ways do you envision aspiring screenwriters using the Master Shots books when there’s such emphasis to not “direct on paper” as they’re writing a script?

A: The better you understand storytelling, the better you will be at screenwriting. Every scene tells a story, every shot tells a story. The better you understand how filmmakers work, the better you will be at crafting scenes for them. It’s not your job as a writer to picture every shot, but if you understand the scale of a scene – whether it’s vast and airy, or close and intimate, you can communicate that without ever directing on paper. When you do, you’ll fire up the director’s imagination and possibly have a hit on your hands.

Q: What’s the difference between a fourth wall and a fake wall?

A: The fourth wall is the imaginary wall that the audience sits behind. In film, that’s the camera lens, which is why – most of the time – you don’t want the actors to look into the camera. It breaks the illusion. We fall out of the story and remember we’re watching people pretend. Fake walls have many purposes. Often they’re used to tighten up a location and make it feel more claustrophobic, or simply as set dressing. In studios, all the walls are fake, and they can be rolled out of the way to make room for the camera. It’s worth remembering this when you’re shooting on location. You can ask yourself, if this was a studio, and you could swing that wall out of the way to allow the use of a longer lens, would you? If so, is there any way you can reposition the actors and camera on location, to get that result?

Q: What’s your favorite opening scene in a movie and what should readers be looking for in order to enhance their understanding of the cinematographer’s craft?

A: The first few minutes of Juno are stunning. They are extremely simple setups, but every one is carefully thought out to tell the story. Within seconds you know everything you need to know, and you care. It would have been so easy to kill this film quickly, but the opening is a wonderful mixture of familiar, strange, mundane and beautiful, which is the perfect setup for the story.

Q: Your books feature squillions of compelling frame grabs for study. Do you have a favorite image and, if so, what is it that particularly resonates with you?

A: There is no single image, because these stills are there to suggest the motion and emotion inherent in the shot. I like images that remind me of the story, and make me remember the feelings associated with the film.

Q: In order to have an effective collaboration, how much should a director know about cinematography techniques and how much should the person behind the camera know about directing the action? (I can’t help but picture the two sides getting into a shouting match of, “No, no, I think it looks better my way!”)

A: Directors can get away with knowing very little, but they are then carried by the cinematographer. If you want to work with the actors and don’t care how the shot looks, that’s one approach. But I think that if you really care about performance, you need a full understanding of how the camera relates to the actors. That’s the only way to capture performance. And if you want your film to look beautiful, why leave that to the cinematographer?

It should never be a competition and the best way to avoid that is to establish how you like to work in early meetings, before you hire anybody. Both people need to be clear on who calls the shots.

A good cinematographer will constantly suggest ideas, but should not shout you down unless you’re so tired you’re missing something obvious. Equally, a good cinematographer should be happy to let you choose the lens, say where the camera goes and even set the frame. If you can show that you’re competent, they should respect your choices and make sure they light the scene in a way that captures what you’re trying to get across.

If you are prescriptive about camera moves and lens choice, give the cinematographer as much scope to work with lighting as possible, or they feel like a hired hand rather than a creative collaborator.

It’s also vital to listen. If there’s a better idea, use it, no matter who suggests it to you.

Q: Thanks to the magic of technology, there’s no question that the look and texture of movies –especially with the incorporation of CGI and 3D – have come a long way in the past century. The question is, where do you see the filmmaking industry going next?

A: I find that advances in technology are usually pushed for commercial reasons, rather than because they help storytelling. 3D was pushed in the last decade, not because it was new – it was ancient – but to force people out of their homes and into the theatres again. High Frame Rate was introduced on The Hobbit supposedly to make 3D easier to watch, but to me it made everything look really fake, so my suspicion is that it was one more way to convince people that going to the theaters was more important than waiting for the DVD. And CG is becoming tiresome. It can be used well, but if I have to watch one more city being destroyed by giant monsters I am going to walk out of the cinema.

The real challenge, however, is dealing with changes to the way movies are consumed. As David Lynch pointed out a while back, art house is now dead, but internet distribution hasn’t really settled into something that’s working for anybody, and blockbusters feel like they’re running out of steam.  Most people are more excited by the latest HBO series than the next big feature film.

It’s impossible to say what will happen, but my hope is that the focus will return to storytelling rather than more spectacle.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: Purely for pleasure, I’m going to make a short film called Catching Sight. It’s about a young girl who catches a disease that gives her great talent, but at the cost of her happiness. She has to decide whether to take the cure and lose her talent, or remain a depressed genius.

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

A: Just about everything you could need to know is summarized at www.christopherkenworthy.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: These are difficult times for people who want to be directors. It used to be the case that if you made a film, you were one in a million. Now, everybody is a film-maker. There is so much material being produced that you have to look brilliant to stand out, so I hope filmmakers do everything they can to learn the craft behind their art, and create a signature style.

The Promise of Living

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Writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”

Today’s young adult novels provide readers with a flourish of paranormal characters, dystopian societies, and lots of new romance. What if readers had an opportunity to travel back to a time where there was no social media, obsessions with cell phones or flipping through the electronic pages of a book?

In J. Lee Graham’s young adult novel, The Promise of Living, you won’t run into any vampires, werewolves or wizards, but you will find a young man who perceives danger before it happens, and the impact it has on his life as a small town boy caught up in a world of dark mystery, self-discovery and the sensitive steps into first romance territory.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about The Promise of Living, one of four novels you’ve published.

The Promise of Living is a young adult coming of age novel set in the small, bucolic town of Wilson’s Ferry, New Hampshire in 1975. Ryan Colton is sixteen, and he and his best friend Dave work on a farm. It begins in late June, their final week of their junior year at school. While milking the cows one late afternoon, Ryan has a vision, a premonition, if you will, of a townsperson hanging herself. Throughout the summer and into their senior year, he continues to have visions that reveal the dark secrets of the people in his hometown. In one of them, he sees a young girl being murdered, but he can’t see her face or stop its occurrence. At the same time, he struggles with an inner, hidden, more prevailing growing pain about his feelings for Dave.

You chose to set the book in the 1970’s. How do you think a young adult reader from 2013 might relate to that? 

I set the novel in the 1970’s to remove the easy distraction of electronic devices. For me, it’s harder to establish conflict when everyone in the novel has access to the Internet or a phone. Besides, a coming out/coming of age story is universal. Ryan’s feelings for Dave happen regardless of the times, and I wanted Ryan not to have, again, easy access to LGBT information; blogs, role models, etc. I wanted to emphasize his struggle, not from a moral or religious perspective, but from a personal, self-esteem perspective. Again, removing the superfluous details and distractions of smart phones and social media highlights Ryan’s journey. Ironically, even with today’s extreme use of electronics, there are still many young people discovering themselves, where the coming out process is just as powerful and transformational as Ryan’s.

The theme of authenticity is strong in The Promise of Living. How does that resonate with you? 

Authenticity is a strong theme in many of my novels and plays: the power that comes from recognizing the ‘clothing’ of honesty and self-worth that one chooses to wear. That’s a major experience for young adults, straight, gay, transgender, etc. Being honest about who you are and allowing that code of integrity to guide you throughout your life. It’s funny, but a lot of adults who’ve read the book, also comment on that theme. It is an aspect that resonates throughout all our lives.

Is this book in any way autobiographical? If so, fill us in.

I think there is an element of autobiography in every novel we read. How about that for a dodge? I think there is a percentage of autobiography that creeps into all our work even if one were writing science fiction. Ryan, I have to say, is definitely not me, I wish he were! Small town characters and small town mores are pretty common, and I did live in Boston for a while, but fiction is fiction.

In The Promise of Living, you juxtapose the beauty of the city of Boston with the ugliness of the small rural town of Wilson’s Ferry. Most writers do the opposite. Why? 

I know, we see that so often! The small town sanctified beyond belief juxtaposed with the brutal dirt and corruption of a large city. Many writers draw from the idea of the ‘journey’ where the hero leaves the small farm, home, family, etc. and ventures out into the world, usually symbolized by a metropolis or at the very least, a war near a metropolis. For me, I wanted to create a Wilson’s Ferry that was filled with dirty secrets and shame. I wanted to symbolize that with the run down appearance of the town, the Commons, the dilapidated homes near the polluted river, etc. (And truth be told, there are, sadly, many small towns that are very economically depressed and it shows.) I wanted Ryan’s perception of Boston to be one of promise and hope and I highlighted the beauty there: its sense of community, the cobblestone streets, the old but beautiful Colonial and Victorian homes, etc. Have you been to Boston? It’s a jewel of a city.

Ryan, the main character, goes on a journey of self-discovery. Do you think that type of journey is common with people his age?

The theme of ‘going on a journey’ is a powerful theme since before the Greek and Roman Myths. Joseph Campbell calls it ‘the hero’s journey’, where one starts out with one view, goes down into the darkness, confronts his shadow self and comes out a renewed person. It’s a reflection and a process that happens over and over in our lives. So, with Ryan, it’s a discovery of his gifts: his gift for visual perspicacity and acumen, his discovery of his own sexuality, his own authenticity in being who he is and not morphing or hiding it, are all elements of self-discovery and yes, that journey is common with people his age. It’s like the Vision Quests of the Native American culture. One leaves the tribe, faces his greatest fears, becomes stronger and realizes his own unique gifts which he then brings back to share with the tribe. That’s the important aspect. The sharing of one’s gifts with the tribe.

What authors have greatly influenced you as a writer? 

Wow, so many. I love the universal wonder and beauty of Thornton Wilder; the cliff-hangers of James Fenimore Cooper; the power of language in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Toni Morrison, the creative visual genius of Willa Cather; the way Dickens can tug at your heart strings; the pathos of Forster, Maugham, Baldwin, Capote, and even Cheever. I respect them all, and there are many, many others. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Your other novels involve a thirteen year old and a much different premise. What was it like switching from that type of genre to the young adult one?

Yes, my other novels are a time travel adventure series for Middle Grade. It wasn’t too hard to move ‘up’ in a chronological sense. The dialogue between Ryan and Dave allowed more maturity in their perspectives on life and I could use the cadence of their speech to reflect their intimate friendship.

When I ‘switched back’ after The Promise of Living to write my third time travel novel, there was a major shift that I could feel, a jarring like when one slams on the brakes of a car. I had to constantly revise my writing remembering to reflect a more adventurous tone and a different flavor with these characters’ dialogue. I actually re-read book number one and two to bring my brain back to that world that I had created. In book number three, the characters are now fourteen years old and I had to really be mindful of how their discourse would reflect their age. Plus, the readership of a middle grade novel is much different than the readership of a young adult novel and I had to remember that as I wrote as well.

Have you always want to be a writer? 

I have. Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” and while I did do that in many other parts of my life, sadly, I didn’t do that with writing. I remember being shot down emotionally by my family when I casually announced at 13 that I wanted to be a writer, and I realize now how debilitating even that slight encounter has been.

What’s next on your plate? 

Well, as I’ve mentioned, I write middle grade time travel novels, currently a trilogy. In the Nick of Time, The Time of his Life, and just out this October, All the Time in the World. They are all available on Amazon.

I’m toying with a murder mystery series extracted from my work as a professional astrologer. Not autobiographical at all, just an extract, a seed where the mystery is created and solved with a slight astrological framework. It’s fun to think about, and create. It’ll be written for adults, so, we’ll see.

And of course, we must know. Who’s that on the cover?

That is my cousin! Actually, he did work on a farm.

Where can readers find out more about your work? 

The Promise of Living is available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Living-J-Lee-Graham-ebook/dp/B00992NIT0/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383928688&sr=1-9&keywords=the+promise+of+living

Readers can follow my blog at www.jleegraham.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

Sketch of a Murder

Aya Walksfar

Complex stories with complex characters grab us and reel us in as readers. Throw in twists of cleverly crafted murders, secrets and sensitive subject matter, and you might find yourself wondering what thrilling ride you’ve just jumped on. In author Aya Walksfar’s first three books, Good Intentions, Dead Men and Cats, and her latest, Sketch of a Murder, there is enough suspense, drama and plenty of unexpected turns to keep readers embroiled in what we’ve always known and loved: good old fashioned cases of whodunit.

 Interview: Christy Campbell

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Why do you enjoy writing?   

In my family, my mother and my grandmother carried oral stories. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t sit at their feet listening. Stories were important whether they were told as stories, or as songs. Add to that culture of oral storytelling the fact that my grandfather, Pap, was completely illiterate, even signed his paychecks with an X, and Grandma was nearly-illiterate, though she could read and write at about a third grade level. Due to their own lack of education, my grandparents were passionate about me obtaining an education. To them, books and education were the ticket out of poverty.

For me, writing is about sharing. Sharing dreams, sharing moments that transport people beyond their current existence. To share a special time with them, a piece of myself, very much like what oral storytellers do. Reading gave me so much that I wanted to give that kind of wonder, that kind of freedom to others.

What inspired you to write Sketch of a Murder?

Sketch of a Murder is just one of the murder mysteries that I’ve written. I got into writing murder mysteries after my grandfather was murdered when I was nine years old.  His killer was never brought to justice.  I loved Pap with all the passion that a grandchild of a doting grandfather has, which is to say I practically worshipped him. It was really difficult to accept his death, so I began crafting stories about how the killer was caught, and ultimately punished. It helped me to deal with the grief.

Who is your favorite character in Sketch of a Murder?

I have to admit I love strong female characters, so it’s Nita Slowater. Lieutenant Williams is a very close second, though.

What makes a good protagonist?

Complexity that is logical. The character needs to have a three-dimensional life, a reader needs to ‘feel’ a back story in that character’s life. That complexity needs to be logical; every action, word and thought needs to follow in a logical manner. Why does Sergeant Nita Slowater hate reporters? That hate is part of who she is, but it has to have a reason for being. Why is Lieutenant Williams so against having a female as his second-in-command? Why does Officer Mulder act like he hates everyone equally? Now, none of these things have to do with solving the crimes, directly, but they impact how the characters react and interact which makes the story real.

If a protagonist is always tough, smart mouthed, and so forth, yet the reader isn’t given a feel for why they are this way, then the character becomes a cardboard cutout being moved by the writer and used simply as a device. The reader can’t develop a relationship with that character. When I read, I want to be drawn into a protagonist’s life, feel the joys, and the sorrows, and know there is a logical reason behind them.

How did you come up with the title?

The title comes from the fact that the key to the killer’s identity lies within a homeless, black woman’s art.

Are all your books about crime?

No, my award winning literary novel, Good Intentions, is about the impact of family secrets.

An award! Tell us about which one and what that was like.

The Alice B. Reader Award for Excellence was given to me for my first edition of Good Intentions, published by Rising Tide Press in 2002. I loved having the book recognized by professionals, but the best “award” I ever got for Good Intentions was when a young man contacted me and said it helped him deal with some of his family issues.

What was one of the challenges in creating your book?

Stories come fairly naturally to me, but keeping a timeline correct while the story stretches out over several increments of time, whether that is days, weeks, months or years, can be challenging. I draw graphs to help me with this aspect.

You have a Pinterest site. What kind of thing do you like to pin?

I started out just posting my book covers, some pet photographs, that kind of thing. One night I was moaning because I didn’t know what to do with my Pinterest site, so my wife said she would see what she could do with it. Deva is a fantastic photographer; she simply has an eye for it. She started up a discussion not long after she began working with my site: what did I want to accomplish with Pinterest? I had never given it adequate thought, but after we talked for a while, I realized I would love to pin some photos of places I talk about in my novels, like Mount Baker.

I eventually coupled the photos on Pinterest with doing character interviews on my blog. For example, one character interview was with Sergeant Nita Slowater. Nita’s home town is Mount Vernon, Washington. So one weekend afternoon Deva and I hopped on our bikes (motorcycles) and took a spin up there to do a photography session. That evening Deva posted the photos of Nita’s home town. And yes, we followed Nita’s recommendation about the best pizza place and ate at Pacino’s.

You are involved in social media to promote yourself, which is a great way to get your titles recognized. What makes Facebook, Twitter and your blog different from one another?

FB is more interactive with my readers who become friends. We share on Facebook whereas on my blog I am offering my readers something, a story, and an article, whatever. It is much less interactive although I do love reader comments. To be honest, I haven’t quite figured out how to connect with others on it in an efficient and useful manner. For me, FB is an easier media for connecting with others, finding wonderful sites like Cops Kind to Critters or Wild and Wise Women.

What is the most difficult thing about the writing life?

Marketing. How does a person get their work out in front of the public without becoming an obnoxious bore? Connecting with others on social media, I am discovering, is one of the keys. Not only connecting with other authors, who I’ve found to be extremely generous with their time and expertise, but with readers as well. When I say connecting, I don’t mean doing the constant jumping up and down saying ‘read my book.’ You have to find some way to offer a benefit to others, and they in turn will offer benefits to you. The other key is the long-time standard of physical contacts at bookstores, and other community events.

Learning how to do marketing is a long process with a steep learning curve, and I have a long way to go, yet.

At this point, what is the most important thing you have learned in life, writer or not?

Dream. Don’t ever give up your dreams. Don’t be afraid to dream. Whether you achieve your dreams or not, the journey is awesome.

 

Connect with Aya on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar

Visit Aya and meet some of the Special Crimes Team on her blog: http://www.ayawalksfar.com

Check out photos on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar

Check out Aya’s books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar