My Name Is Resolute

Resolute Cover from B&N

On my first visit to Boston in the early 80’s to have lunch with my play publisher, I had built in plenty of time to visit the typical Beantown tourist attractions – walking the Freedom Trail, visiting Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, the U.S.S. Constitution. It wasn’t until I was lunching one day at Ye Olde Union Oyster House that I got the distinct impression I wasn’t alone. Situated in a building that predates the Revolutionary War, the restaurant sent my imagination into overdrive thinking about how many luminaries and common folk regularly crossed its threshold to discuss political news of the day. I was reminded of that experience when I recently immersed myself in Nancy E. Turner’s compelling page-turner, My Name Is Resolute – the story of a young girl kidnapped by pirates in her native Jamaica and taken to a bewildering new world where only the strongest, cleverest and luckiest have any chance of survival.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew that this was what you wanted to do.

A: I told a teacher in fifth grade that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but I always held the belief that a writer had to start with having a PhD of some sort. It wasn’t until I finally got a chance to go to college along with my children that I found this wasn’t entirely true.

Q: Were you a voracious reader when you were growing up? If so, what are some of the books we might have found on your nightstand as an adolescent and as a teen?

A: I always read. My parents kept us enrolled in library book clubs and they had walls of bookshelves crowded with volumes. I loved Harriet the Spy, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and as a teen, anything involved with science fiction. Although I cut my “adult” teeth on Gone with the Wind at 9, I centered my teen reading on Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein books. I was a “trekky” before it was cool and read Star Trek novels too. While many of my friends loved the Hobbit books, the closest I got to Tolkein was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur and White’s Once and Future King.

Q: What/who are you reading now?

A: Just finished Jeff Shaara’s newest called The Fateful Lightning, before that Fifty Dead Men Walking by Martin McGartland and Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne. Next on the list is Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with one of your favorite authors (living or dead), who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him or her before that meal was over?

A: I’d have a long lunch with Earnest Hemmingway on a balcony porch in Havana in the springtime. I’d like to know how he came to craft his work with the narrative voice he used – whether he’d tried other styles, admired other authors, whose work he liked to read. I suspect, however, he was his own editor from the beginning. I think he’s a fascinating character in his own right. And then, if I answered this question tomorrow, I might choose someone else.

Q: Each of your best-selling novels thus far utilizes the backdrop of bygone eras and you have a wonderful quote on your website that says, “Writing historical fiction is much like working on a term paper every day.” The level of detail that goes into so vividly recreating the past – and, in the case of My Name Is Resolute, displaying a solid understanding of British laws – requires copious amounts of research. Share with us some of your techniques for fact-finding, fact-checking, and ensuring that the text doesn’t become so overstuffed with all those facts that the fiction itself gets lost.

A: In one of the first classes I took on writing technique I learned never to “let the author dash out onto the stage and explain things like a Greek melodrama.” I’ve never forgotten that warning. There is much the author has to know to inform the writing without telling the reader all about it. In one of my novels I had come to a new chapter and wanted Charlie to have a conversation with his mother Sarah as he’s getting ready to leave home. The purpose of it was to show he was 1) a grown and determined man, not a boy; 2) an experienced hand with a gun even at twenty; and 3) eager for better technology. A week of searching historical weaponry in 1900 yielded this line of dialog: “Look at that. Krags with the rim out.” Does the reader know what he means? Not until he pushes the box of ready-made bullets toward his mother for her response. A reader doesn’t need to know what the development of rimless brass projectile casings does to the velocity and accuracy of a rifle. But, they immediately believe that Charlie and Sarah both know, and that is enough.

In each of my novels, and in My Name Is Resolute most recently, I immerse myself in their worlds. I walk the streets where they have walked. Smell the woods, steep my stories in the shadows and sunlight, the desert heat, the gloom of a New England winter. I listen to period music, and do the chores the characters do. It frames the foundation of the entire novel. You walk into a dark room and flip a switch. There is light. You don’t need a treatise about theories of electricity to use the light. But, before the room was built and furnished and the lamp placed just so, someone did need to construct it. That, to me, is the writer’s job as researcher – to construct a world in which a reader can move with alacrity, seeing what they need to see to follow the story.

Fact-finding starts with reading. It must also include traveling to the places to do it well. Photos, leaves pressed in notebooks, touring reproductions of early whaling ships, a freshening breeze off shore in Jamaica, the smell of mutton-fat candles, a barn full of goats and a murky Maine seashore, the taste of hard cider, the cobbles of old Boston. Luckily there are books, maps, and writings from the period. I’ve discovered free access online to historic works in the public domain that shed invaluable light on the world of Resolute Talbot. I kept favorite websites about British currency in the eighteenth century, clothing styles, social mores and religious and civic law, among dozens more. Until I started researching for Resolute, I had never known a person could be arrested for wearing the wrong hat or a calico gown not befitting their station in life. Imagine that cotton calico was reserved for the rich alone! I wanted to know more than the dates of battles of the American Revolution. I wanted to know what made the people tick, what kept them alive and motivated to engage in a war, when circumstances were desperate just to survive.

Q: Resolute Talbot, the heroine of this page-turning epic, undergoes an amazing character arc over the span of five tumultuous decades. From a frightened and naive young girl to a wise old woman whose eyes have seen a lion’s share of loss and heartbreak, she wavers only rarely from the belief that she was born to be a survivor. As you were developing Resolute’s character and her relationships with others, did she ever do anything that surprised you? (Because, of course, we all know as writers that our characters “talk” to us while we’re writing about them…)

A: Resolute was a wonderful character to write and to know. One of the things she surprised me with was the depth of her anguish and anger at being taken from her life of privilege and made a slave. Of course, I reminded myself she was a child, and children can be incredibly hostile in times of desperate stress. Her anger at her sister Patience was part of her desperation, and the feeling that both Patience and August had abandoned her put an edge on every choice she made. She became wary and subtle almost beyond what I imagined. I had a vague idea of where I wanted to end the story, sometime during or just after the Revolutionary War, and I was at first surprised at how old Resolute would be by that year. However, research showed that if a person survived childhood diseases which included measles, yellow fever, smallpox, great pox (chickenpox) injury, infections, and childbirth, she could easily live to a great age and still be quite vital. They ate food untainted by chemicals, vegetables from their gardens, very little sugar, and did aerobic exercise just getting through the day. Many towns had a few venerated citizens of eighty- or ninety-plus years.

Q: Did you work from an outline or allow the story to unfold in your head from chapter to chapter?

A: I knew where the story began, before I put a single word down. I started with the title, a rare occurrence in novels. I knew Resolute would survive the War, but little beyond that. One of the beginning themes was her longing to go home to Jamaica, but it wasn’t until I was almost at the end that I knew whether or not she would get there. In the end, her choice in the matter is the pivot of the story. Much of the meat of the novel developed through research in how she would have lived, the people around whom she’d have been surrounded, and the politics of the revolution.

Q: My Name Is Resolute weighs in at a hefty 585 pages. How long did it take to write from start to finish?

A: The novel was in progress a good two and a half years. The last six months I spent cutting it down to size. My original manuscript was 830 pages.

Q: This book also seems to have feature film or mini-series written all over it. If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: That’s so much fun to imagine. I picture Karen Sheila Gillan as Resolute. Gerard Butler as Cullah. As Patience, Amy Adams. Ewan McGregor as Wallace Simpson, Russell Crowe as Cullah’s father and, Liam Neeson as Rafe MacAlister.

Q: I especially enjoy it when fictional characters cross paths with luminaries of the day – in this case, John Hancock, Paul Revere and George Washington. Have you used this device in some of your other titles (or plan to in future works)?

A: I thought long and hard about including names of real people. In general, I try to keep the true history as a backdrop for the stage upon which my characters tell the story. However, I discovered that on the dates in question, George Washington was traveling across Massachusetts, and would have stopped and eaten only with a family whose loyalties had been vouchsafed by trusted officers. There was a price on his head, as you can imagine. The Revere family was a very well known presence in Boston society, and Resolute had crossed a tenuous line from a society where everyone kept to their “level” as a weaver, when she made friends with Margaret Gage. Margaret Gage is reputed to have been the one to “spill the beans” about the imminent march of soldiers toward Concord. She knew the Reveres, and her husband, General Gage, was in command of the British Army stationed in the Colonies. I inserted Resolute as the go-between from Margaret to Paul Revere, to make her part of the story a pivot point. John Hancock was perhaps the most colorful character in real life, and hard to ignore. Anyone who knew anyone in Boston, knew him or knew of him. He was a known smuggler, a rebel, and a man not to trifle with. His efforts to defy the British rule seemed to color every account I read. To have Resolute’s daughter develop a teen-aged “crush” on the most eligible bachelor in town seemed logical. He was dashing, elegant, handsome, and the richest man on this continent at the time. I felt I could not tell Resolute’s story without including those real people, though I worked carefully not to have them do or say anything no appropriate to their real lives.

As far as using this as a device, each novel seems to take what it needs of real lives and real life. The only novel I’ve written that is purely fictional is The Water and The Blood. There are references to WWII and President Roosevelt, but no real people ever walk on stage. There are characters in each of my other books that are very real people, though a reader may not recognize their names as handily. In These Is My Words, the children go to a one-room school taught by Miss Wakefield who soon marries the owner of the general mercantile, Mr. Fish. Tucson still has a Wakefield Middle School named in her honor, and the Fish name is laced through the town history in many places. Ronstadt’s Livery Stable is owned by the great-grandfather of singer Linda Ronstadt. General Crook really commanded the Sixth Army in Tucson. Very real people. To me, it’s just a nice way to add verisimilitude to a tale. I don’t really plan to use or not use real people. It’s all about what the story needs to be present in the imagination of a reader.

Q: Tell us about your Sarah Prine series and the real-life connection that inspired it.

A: The real Sarah Agnes Prine was my great-grandmother. Stories abound among her children and grandchildren, but not much actual documentation existed when I began. All I knew was what I’d been told – that she was courageous, hard-working, smart but uneducated, and that she could out-ride and out-shoot her brothers. I changed all the names of real people except hers, just so I wouldn’t offend anyone. In 1950 the local paper in the small town where she lived ran an article about “Granny” finally retiring from active ranching at 75 because she couldn’t hit what she was aiming at with a lariat any more. Never mind she was on a horse throwing one. Also, she complained that her “little” double-barrel shotgun was “out of fix.” I imagined that her life was colorful, difficult, and strenuous. Her mother lived until she was 105 or 106. Sarah passed at 96, her youngest daughter, my grandma, was 95, and my mother is still gardening at 84.

After growing up in far distant California, isolated from most of the family by distance, once the first novel came out, I heard from people all over the country who I can now claim as cousins. I’ve been informed by some that there are plenty of “fish tales” in that novel, the dates are accurate to history but not to her life, but it was never meant to be a biography. It was simply a way to connect to a woman I wished to know, and through her to create a character I could aspire to become were I in her position. Jack Elliot, the romantic lead and Sarah’s soul mate, is modeled largely after my husband John. After serving in the Infantry in Vietnam for a year he became a police officer and retired after 33 years on the Arizona Highway Patrol as a supervisor. He’s a bit of an old lion, now, but yes, he was the inspiration. Always was and always will be a man who would run into a burning building, not away from it, to save someone he doesn’t even know.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging for you – to pen a series with recurring characters or to do a stand-alone book?

A: I much prefer thinking about a stand alone novel than a series. I actually never meant to do a series, but the publishers were adamant that I at least make a try at it. I’m just lucky the other books sell as well as These Is My Words. The reason for me is simple. I prefer to read a stand alone book. I don’t really want to have to find out in “the next installment” what’s happened to my favorite characters. I was advised by my agent and considered splitting My Name Is Resolute into two books because of its length. However, no one, myself included, could find a place halfway through the story that made a good ending for one part and a good beginning for the next. I felt that if a person read the second installment first, it could not contain adequate examples of the motivation for Resolute and the other characters to do what they did. The first half, or first book, would have to stop when she was a child and had not really accomplished what she’d come to life to do. I finally decided the story had to remain whole, and ultimately, the editors agreed with me.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: My writing usually doesn’t happen on a schedule. When I’m deep into research, I read into the wee hours of the night. If I read in bed I usually fall asleep with something like Lemuel Shattuck’s History of Concord on my chest. I don’t mind. I just pick it up in the morning and start over. Writing itself is not about sitting in front of a computer. I work out scenes while I’m planting flowers, or walking the dogs, or sitting in a boring meeting. The actual work of typing the story is pretty much taking dictation from the voices in my imagination who have already “run” the dialog and action several different ways. Yet, just getting it down on paper, or on a screen is never the end. Then the real work starts, the fun part. The editing. I love the work of going over each and every sentence, and deciding whether it says what it needs to say, uses the best words for the task, and if I can eliminate anything superfluous.

I ALWAYS work to a sound track of music that inspires the stories. I wouldn’t bother you with the lists, but it’s probably a result of having grown up in the television era – every good movie needs a sound track. I spend many hours assembling a list of mostly instrumental music that keeps the story playing out in my head. I rarely if ever have experienced a writing block because when the music starts, the curtains lift, and my cast take their places on cue.

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

A: I struggle after the end of each novel with whether I can do it again. It’s like giving birth to a huge baby after a two or three year gestation. You’re just not in a hurry to be “with book” very soon. You need that toddler to get out of your head before the next one comes along. I sometimes miss my characters very much once I’m done with their stories. Very much.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m doing some research on Texas history. I started the research before I saw the recent TV series called Texas Rising. It’s a good series, but while it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story I’m pondering, there is nothing wrong with letting someone else’s take on a historical situation add flavor and fire to what I’m thinking. I need to leave any more description of it there. It’s far too nebulous a bubble to expose to much scrutiny yet. Might burst.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you (and buy your books!)?

A: My website is www.nancyeturner.net. Just remember the initials, NET. There are a few fan pages around, and Facebook. I haven’t yet begun Twitter and I’ve just heard it’s passé so I don’t know if I should. The books are for sale at all major chains and local bookstores. Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and any place you normally buy books.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I appreciate your taking the time to feature my novel on your site. My Name Is Resolute is, I think, my finest work, and if I were never to write another, I could retire happily knowing Resolute has told her story.

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Free

freecover

It seems that from the time a child starts school, s/he gets asked by parentals, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” By the time s/he has graduated, the question becomes, “Why aren’t you out doing something yet?” For many a disenfranchised youth like the title heroine of Lisa Litberg’s coming of age novel, Free, sometimes you just have to dial down the noise of others’ expectations in order to hear the music of what your own heart and soul are trying to tell you.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What was the inspiration behind your decision to write this tale of wanderlust?

A:  In my younger years I, like Free, traveled around the country following the Grateful Dead.  Unlike Free, I had a home to go to in between tours, but I met many people who didn’t and who remained nomadic year-round.  Their lifestyle fascinated me, so I decided to create a fictional story of one such person.

Q: What’s the setting and circa of Free’s journey and why was it important to utilize multiple locations for that journey of discovery and self-awareness to take shape?

A:  Each chapter of the book takes place in a different location in the U.S.  I did this to illustrate the journey that Free is taking, both literally and figuratively.  The reader gets a sense of movement, of searching, and begins to question the idea of ‘freedom’.

Q: Do any aspects of Free’s personality mirror your own?

A:  Free and I are actually very different people.  I am very open; Free keeps to herself.  She is guarded and reticent.  Free doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs; I have always been fairly confident and self-assured, and conscious of my place in the world.   We do have some similarities.  We both love to travel, and in doing so, we both have put ourselves in situations in which we are at the mercy of strangers.  We both love music.  We’re both pretty calm and rational.  Actually, Free is probably a bit calmer than I am.

Q: Who will this story appeal to and why?

A:  Definitely Deadheads, especially those who toured in the 1990s, when the story takes place!  But I think it appeals to anyone who remembers how unsure we were in young adulthood, that cusp between teenager and grown-up.  If you like road trips, you’ll probably like this book as well.

Q: What do you hope your target readers will gain from it by the time they reach the last page?

A:  I think my novel raises questions of what it means to be free.  Sometimes what appears to be freedom is actually confinement.  Sometimes those who are confined are really free.  Freedom comes from within.  I’d like to think my readers are confronting these questions within themselves.

Q: What governed your choice to use first person/present tense?

A:  My most common compliment from readers is “I felt like I was right there with Free!”  This is why I used first person/present tense narration.  The story is unfolding, as seen through Free’s eyes, as we read it.  We are watching the events transpire.  I love this style of writing, even though I feel as if I don’t see it a lot.

Q: Were any scenes in the book challenging or unsettling for you to write?

A:  Without giving too much away, it was very hard to write the later scenes about Eric.  His struggles felt very real to me, and reminded me of people I have known.  I also felt uncomfortable developing Free’s relationship with Ed.  I think he’s the most frightening character in the book.  In some ways, I wish I developed their story further, but in many ways I’m glad I didn’t.  He really creeps me out.

Q: Of all the characters Free encounters, which one would you most like to see in a spin-off title of his/her own?

A:  Charlie!  I absolutely love Charlie.  I wish he really existed; I think he’d be my soul mate.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A:  Ooh I love this question!  I think James Franco would be perfect as Eric.  In fact, Eric kind of looks like Franco in my mind.  Jennifer Lawrence would make a good Free—she can portray quiet strength well.  I love Johnny Depp so I’d like to fit him in there—maybe he could be Joe.  He likes playing sketchy characters.  How about the guy who plays Thor as Charlie?  And Juliette Lewis as Annie?  This is fun!

Q: Like many a young protagonist without strong ties to the concept and security a home represents, would Free best be described as “running away” or “running toward”?

A:  Both.  Free is running away from her old life, and even though she has no true destination in mind, she is definitely running toward her future.  She has no choice.

Q: If you could have one person, living or dead, read your novel, who would it be and why?

A:  My father.  He passed away about a year before it was written.  He would be so proud.

Q: Whether this person was effusive with praise or harshly critical of your storytelling style, how would it affect your passion for the craft?

A:  Well one thing about my dad was that he didn’t really sugarcoat much.  If he didn’t like my book, he would’ve told me what he didn’t like about it.  But I think he would’ve liked it.  Either way, I’d still write, and my father would expect and want me to.

Q: The decision to create your own imprint, Scribomusing Press, is consistent with many of today’s authors that want to have more control of their own intellectual property. What do you know about publishing now that you didn’t know when you started?

A:  I didn’t realize I would like self-publishing.  I was actually published by a company who, unfortunately, closed within a year of my publication.  I loved working with them, and I am so grateful that they provided the formatting, editing, cover art, etc.  But self-publishing has many benefits.  I like being able to track my sales daily.  And being forced to market my own book has taught me much about the industry.  I’m still learning every day as I go!

Q: Among the many things you can be proud of along your career path was empowering urban students to express themselves through the written word. Do you feel that this is a harder or easier objective than it was when you first began teaching?

A:  This has always been one of my favorite parts of teaching English.  I think memoirs should be required in the high school curriculum.  I am always amazed and humbled by what my students produce.  Many of them have weathered difficulties that most of us never even dreamed of in high school.  Telling their story strengthens them.  And reading them enlightens me.

Q: In your view, what impact has the combination of technology and the continued erosion of the nuclear family had on creating insularity and poor communication skills in today’s younger generation?

A:  Well that’s an interesting question!  I do know that students today are constantly on their cell phones.  It’s a constant battle to keep them out.  They expect things immediately—there is very little delay of gratification in their world.  Plus there’s a safety in communicating through social networking—you don’t have to feel like you’re really talking to the person, so you’re more apt to say things you wouldn’t in person.  This can have disastrous effects.  On the other hand, technology has increased communication in many ways.  We can email someone on the other side of the world and have an instant response, or Skype with Grandma in Miami even when we’re somewhere else.  This is definitely a positive.

Q: If time and money were no object, how would you solve that sense of societal disconnection?

A:  I fantasize about creating urban communities in the city.  I want to buy those big multi-unit courtyard buildings and outfit them with community gardens, childcare, job training/recruiting, social clubs….I have lived in buildings like that where I only knew the people directly above and/or below me, but we all shared a common basement and backyard.  That really bothered me.  There’s so much disconnect in the city.

Q: How does your writing practice fit into the rest of your life? What else have you written?

A: I have written countless poems, short stories, essays, speeches, and songs.  I’m always writing something.  I have a notebook with me almost wherever I go.  I’m old school like that.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  I started a science fiction piece influenced by some of the changes happening in public education.  I’m not sure if it’s going to be a short story or something longer.  But at the moment I put that aside because so many readers have been clamoring for a sequel to Free.  Finally I broke down and started one.

Q: Your best advice to new writers?

A:  Read all the time.  Write all the time.  Don’t be afraid to take a chance.  Let people read your work.  Listen to them, but don’t let one person deter you.  Some people will love your work and some won’t.  That’s just how it is.  Believe in yourself and get your words out there.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you  and – even more importantly – buy your books?

A:  My website is www.lisalitberg.com.  You can order the print book directly from my store, or from CreateSpace.  The ebook is available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.  Createspace link:  https://www.createspace.com/5340967

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Lisa-Litberg-ebook/dp/B00U6HW212/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1432261427

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/524211

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/free-lisa-litberg/1119899300?ean=2940046610253

The Duffy Chronicles

Barbara Hammond photo

For as much time as Lucy, my Chief Canine Officer, spends sitting in my lap while I’m writing, I’m pretty sure she not only knows all of my passwords but also has her own email account and orders merchandise off of Amazon. And when she finds out that this week’s feature interviewee, Barbara Hammond, helped her own rescue dog write a children’s book, Lucy will certainly start lobbying to become a published pooch as well.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What an amazingly creative journey you’re enjoying! Inquiring minds want to know which came first for you: being an artist or being a writer?

A: Definitely being an artist. I was fortunate to have an English teacher in high school who told me I was a very good writer and I tucked that away for a long time. Drawing and painting came naturally and were nurtured by my high school art teacher. I married right after high school and started a family. I think writing intimidated me because I didn’t have a college education. I was into my 50’s before I started taking writing at all seriously.

Q: How do these two passions peacefully co-exist with one another – and how do you manage it when they simultaneously exact demands on your time?

A: It’s tricky, sometimes. I started blogging as I approached SIXTY, because I was having trouble wrapping my head around that number. A few months in, I discovered people I’d never met were reading my blog. I was so surprised! But, over time, it became important to publish regularly and continue to grow. Art has taken a back seat over the past few years, but I’m working on finding a better balance because it’s something I spiritually need to do.

Q: Who were/are some of the artists and authors that you’d say had the strongest influence in defining your own styles of expression?

A: I was blessed to meet Jim Penland in 2000. He’s a legend in NJ’s art world. He took me under his wing as soon as I told him, “I paint a little.” He looked at my work and would announce to everyone he introduced me to, “This is Barbara Hammond, a great artist.”  He recruited me to help establish the Ocean City Fine Arts League. It was an honor. He used to hang out on our porch and work with me. It was an amazing friendship. He taught me to look at the simplest things, like water meters along the curb, and see the beauty in them and how they were made. I had no formal training and this time with Jim was like a master class every time we worked together.

I don’t know if I can point to any one author and say they’ve influenced my writing. I was very moved by The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. It led me to Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and Louise Hay and others. I was soul searching.

I tend to read more non-fiction and that’s primarily what I write. But, I have written a few fiction posts in series form that have gotten encouraging comments on my blog. I’m currently working on a book based on my grandmother’s life. It’s memoir and historical fiction.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with one of these people, who would it be?

A: I think Sarah Ban Breathnach would be interesting to talk to. I know she fell on hard times after she wrote Simple Abundance and had her 15 minutes of fame with Oprah, etc. It shows we’re all vulnerable and we can bounce back. It’s always about the ‘getting back up’!

Q: Would you define yourself as a voracious reader? If so, what are some of the titles, authors and favorite genres we’d be likely to find at your house?

A: It seems like I read from the time I wake in the morning until I go to sleep at night, sometimes. Mostly I read newspapers and blogs. I love to read books, but if I get into a novel, I will stay up until it’s finished and that can be a problem sometimes. I’m grumpy when I don’t have enough sleep.

That said, you will find a lot of Ken Follett in my house, along with Lisa Scottoline, and Historical fiction.

Q: As a fellow dog lover, I have to confess that you instantly won me over with the disclosure you were the pet parent of a 20 lb. rescue dog with a 2 ton personality. (Dogs truly rule, don’t they?) Tell us how and why Duffy first came into your life and the moment you knew he had a story that needed to be shared.

A: Duffy came into our life because our older dog, Benson, had a breakdown when we moved from Boston to Philly. Our vet and dog sitter suggested we get him a buddy. People tend to get cats in pairs but not dogs, and dogs need social companionship. So we found this feisty little cockapoo at the local shelter. He turned it all around. Their story is all in the book.

Q: So did Duffy do his own typing or just dictate?

A: Oh, he dictated. He probably wouldn’t like me to disclose this but he had a little drinking problem, as many famous authors do. He loved beer. Not just any beer…Rolling Rock. If 4 people were sitting around with 4 different beers he would go straight to the green bottle. The evening of my 50th birthday party he got a bit carried away. We had a keg and there were pitchers of Rolling Rock, which sometimes were placed on low tables, and we heard, “Get the dog out of the beer!” a lot that night. The next morning we found him lying on a pillow with a bit of cheese dip on his chin. It’s been our little secret, until now.

Q: What would Duffy say is the book’s takeaway message for children and adults?

A: We all need friends and good friends respect and support each other. He would also say, you shouldn’t buy or adopt a pet if you don’t know how to care for them.

Q: For The Duffy Chronicles, you also donned the hat of illustrator. What inspired that decision?

A: I paint pet portraits and his was perfect for the cover. After experimenting with different styles and ideas for inside the book I decided to go with line drawings. I think it works pretty well.

Q: Is this book going to be a series?

A: I’ve intended that all along. It’s been a busy few years and I’m just now getting onto the 2nd book. The Duffy Chronicles, Adventures with Cosmo. Cosmo is quite a character.

Q: Tell us about your path to get The Duffy Chronicles published.

A: When it went from a fun little family story to a book with a message, I sent out numerous query letters, which turned into a pile of rejection letters. I gave up. Then 3 days after he passed, suddenly of renal failure, I found a publisher on Craig’s List who was looking for children’s books. It’s an indie company in Milwaukee, Mirror Publishing (www.pagesofwonder.com). They were wonderful to work with and we remain friends.

Q: Were there any surprises along the way regarding the publishing process?

A: I can’t say I was surprised. I expected rejection, because every writer gets their share. I was more surprised to finally find a publisher who worked so quickly with me and walked me through the process. I think Duffy was orchestrating from another level.

Q: How do you use social media to promote your various projects? Thus far, which venue seems to generate the most buzz?

A: Facebook is my primary social media platform. I use twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, too. You can’t be everywhere all the time, there are only so many hours in the day. I’ve found a great group on Facebook, Women of Midlife, who are super supportive and helpful. They’ve helped me break into Huffington Post and other sites to promote my work. I recently established a Facebook page for The Duffy Chronicles (https://www.facebook.com/theduffychronicles?fref=ts) and it’s taken off much faster than my Zero to 60 page did.

Q: Like many authors today, you’ve embraced blogging as a way to connect with kindred spirits and share personal experiences. How has this pursuit affected your writing?

A: Blogging has been pivotal in my writing. It began with strangers encouraging me and those strangers becoming friends. I’ve always been pretty good at networking, I was in sales most of my working life, but this takes networking to the next stratosphere.

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

A: I honestly don’t know. I feel I’m pretty open. I’ve always been opinionated, and I don’t shy from that, so there aren’t any real secrets I can think of.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I really want to make time for art and it has to be a priority. There’s been a sudden influx of opportunities with writing, and I have the Women of Midlife group to thank for much of it, but I need to schedule projects better than I have been. I want to do it all.

Q: A few years ago you hit a milestone birthday, an event that generally prompts musings about how far one has come, how far one might go, and how advances in science and medicine have extended life spans far beyond what was traditionally considered “retirement.” What are your thoughts about that and where do you see yourself in the future?

A: I have a bigger milestone in July…65! Funny, it doesn’t bother me as much as 60 did, but I began blogging as a way to work through that issue and look how it’s turned out! A recent blog post about staying alive without really living took on a life of its own because we’re all hoping to exit with dignity. We are the sandwich generation and I know most don‘t want to saddle our kids with being our caregivers, so we have to figure out how to do that before we lose the mental capacity. It’s scary.

As for retirement, I don’t think you ever retire when you are doing what you love. It’s a great bonus in life.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: I want to thank you so much for this opportunity. And I can’t wait to find out some of the things we have in common!

My De-Stress Diary – 52 Effective Tips for Less Stress & More Peace of Mind

De Stress Diary

If only Life came with a “pause” button for the times we need to take a breather from the rat race. Or does it already and we just haven’t figured out how to access it? In her new book, My De-Stress Diary – 52 Effective Tips for Less Stress & More Peace of Mind, Dr. Annika Sörensen offers advice on how to manage a multiplicity of pesky stressors that much too often keep us from enjoying – and celebrating – the beauty of the here and now.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So how is it that a general practitioner in Sweden’s public health system for 25 years decided to start writing books about stress?

A: I was working, and at the same time raising my family of three wonderful daughters, I had the best job in the world meeting all kinds of people, dealing with all kinds of issues and – on the outside – it all looked like the perfect life. But on the inside I felt more and more overwhelmed, I started sleeping badly, nothing was fun and I didn’t feel I could do a good job because it was so much to do and sooo little time. I woke up each morning asking myself if I would survive the day. I was heading straight into depression and I needed help!

I realized I had to do something to get out of this so I started to read and take courses in health promotion and stress management. I learned a lot (and it was good for me!) but I also found out so much more I could do for my patients. Accordingly, my work actually got even harder. Looking at my whole situation I found only one way out – to quit my job and start my own business and the topic was easy to define: stress management.

In my search for good help, I found lots of books – many were good but they all focused on just one specific issue: how to organize your workflow, how to make lists, how to eat or how to exercise, etc. During my years in health care I have again and again seen that it all connects – you have to look at the big picture to find your optimal next move. That book – with the overview strategy – I didn’t find that out there. So I decided to put together all my 25 years of patient stories, combine it with my medical knowledge and build it into a model on how to tackle stress from a basic point. How to NOT complicate what to do, just keep it simple. How to start to get you as quickly as possible to de-stress. But it is not about a quick fix – they don’t exist.

Long story short, I wrote that book that I missed – Take Stress from Chaos to Calm – and made it a workbook to help the reader find the way. And a year later I wrote “My De-Stress Diary” as a complement to the work book.

Today I have a happy work life that I love, in my own company AskDrAnnika AND I still have my wonderful family that has been supporting me on this journey all the way.

Q: There’s no question there are lots of stressors in our daily lives – the job, the commute, the family, the finances, anxieties about health, frustrations about politics, fears about global unrest. In your view, what’s the biggest cause of all this worry, strain and persistent melancholia?

A: The greatest cause of stress related problems and disease is a lack of time for reflection and time for rejuvenation.

Q: Why is this area of study and professional practice particularly important to you?

A: I have seen so many people with stress related problems and seeing that it can lead to massive illness. And I have found out that it is possible to change the route with simple – but not easy – approaches so I have made it my mission to help business professionals NOT become patients.

Q: When I first entered the workforce in the early 70’s, there were plenty of employees around me that certainly fit the definition of ”stressed out.” Supervisors of the day, however, tended to dismiss or trivialize these claims by saying, ”Oh, it’s all in your head” or ”You’re just trying to get out of work.” At what point did society begin to realize there was a correlation between emotional tension and physical illness?

A: I would say there was a shift in the early 90’s. That was a time with many big changes in the world economy and in Sweden it was also a big structural change in the public wealth fare systems. People started to get “burnt out” and it became obvious that mental and physical health were connected.

Q: Even if someone recognizes that s/he is under a lot of stress, there’s sometimes a stigma attached to seeking professional help to identify what’s causing it and how to make it stop. Accordingly, they attempt to self-diagnose and self-treat. What are some of the biggest mistakes they make when they take this do-it-yourself therapy route?

A: The biggest mistake is to start doing random things and whatever pops up or what was good for their friends. That is probably not what they need and they will continue to be just as stressed, if not even more!

Q: What should they be doing instead to remedy the situation? (besides, of course, scheduling an in-office or Skype appointment with you!)

A: They need to halt and reflect on their total situation, look at all angles, maybe do a mind map. If they don’t have the energy for that, I would suggest starting with some physical activity to get the energy.

Q: One of the delightful phrases you use on your website regarding new patients is about taking a ”mental helicopter ride.” How does this approach work and what are the goals?

A: On a mental helicopter ride we look at the Wheel of life. My Wheel has eight pieces and work is one of them. The aim is to find happiness at work which will help you achieve more and, in the end, results in higher revenue in your business.

Q: What inspired you to write My De-Stress Diary and who is the book’s target audience?

A: My target audience is business professionals – mostly leaders –  at all levels. I had already published a structural workbook, Take Stress from Chaos to Calm and all the quotes from that book kept spinning around in my head until I one day just saw the picture of having 52 quotes to make it a weekly diary. One thing leads to the other and I thought of having weekly tips – and voila the idea was born.

Q: What are some ways that readers can use your book effectively?

A: I suggest reading one quote/tip a week, reflect on that, document your thoughts, implement and get things going. Since the tips are so different, you can have more than one subject working for you at the same time. You definitely don’t need to work with the tips in the given order;  personalize for your best needs.

Q: What’s your primary takeaway message for the book and also for your professional work?

A: Always first look at the whole picture because it is about all angles in your life. Pick your way, take one step at the time, make it simple – don’t overcomplicate things. And it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you do something.

Q: Do you have any favorite stories to share about individuals that have come to you for assistance to quell the destructive stressors in their lives?

A: It is about my client Lars. He felt lost. Business was going down. He was even thinking about getting a pay-job again because he felt at a dead-end with his own business. So we did an inventory in his life using my mentoring program. Most things seemed okay but he was generally annoyed and he blamed all and everything. As he worked his way through the program, he did some minor tweaks BUT it was not until he looked into his personal life he suddenly saw clearly that he had a hang-up with his mother in law…… no details – but when he dug more deeply it showed to be a silly misunderstanding that had started it all two years previous. He looked at his alternatives for a solution and decided to give her a big bouquet of flowers and talk about it – and voila – they could laugh about the mistake and he was at peace and got new fuel to continue his own business that now is flourishing. Silly isn’t it that just a small thing can destroy so much and we don’t take the time to reflect and sort things out.

Q: What do you to de-stress yourself and maintain a state of calm and balance?

A: I always try to get enough sleep – that is the ultimate source of life. I also mostly eat healthy food. I take daily walks and I have an alarm set to make short breaks every hour, sometimes just a one minute stretch of my body. I also am very careful about taking some time off if I feel things start getting out of hand – the sooner I rejuvenate, the shorter time I need.

Q: If your philosophy of living well were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: Get back to basics and don’t complicate life!

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

A: I am very good at textile handicraft, sewing, stitching and especially hand weaving. I have a large handloom in my basement! My choice back then was between Textile and Medicine.

Q: If you could give just one piece of advice for quick relief in a stressful situation, what would that be?

A: A simple tool. It is the breathing anchor. It is a tool to use every time you feel the stress creeping up in your body. Sit/stand straight, with feet steady on the ground. Close your eyes if you want. Take a deep breath in, through your nose, letting your stomach out, hold the breath for a couple of seconds and breathe out slowly through your mouth and let your shoulder down. Do it again – in – hold – and out. This tool has two main effects – first, while you think of your breathing, your brain can’t think of your problems at the same time; that gives your brain some micro time to distance from your immediate response to a stressor and the stressor get a little bit less dangerous. Secondly,  your brain gets more oxygen and that makes it think more clearly which also makes your stressor seem a bit less dangerous. And keep on practicing! After a while it will be automatic and you have given yourself something really good.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the process of making an online course of my mentor program “Go from Stressed to calm – 8 easy steps to regain control of your life!” The program is based on my first book, Take Stress from Chaos to Calm. In the program I virtually hold hands on the helicopter ride and then help my clients to sort things out and find their unique way out of it.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: You are the only person that can change your life – what do you want to change?

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

A: My website (http://www.askdrannika.com) shows my books and my services – see you there!   annika@askdrannika.com