A Chat With Eddi Fiegel

Eddi Fiegel byline photo

The same year the United States entered World War II, a first-born baby girl named Ellen Naomi Cohen entered the lives of a Jewish family in Baltimore. Thirty-two years later, following a headlining performance at the London Palladium, the singer who had come to be known as Mama Cass was found dead at Harry Nilsson’s flat in Mayfair. As much an enigma in death as she was in life, her roller coaster journey of sex, drugs, politics and folk music became open for review in Dream a Little Dream of Me by British author and BBC correspondent Eddi Fiegel.

I met Eddi when her book first came out in 2005. Happily, we have reconnected in 2017 to chat about her latest project which focuses on the generation of young females who went crazy about one of Britain’s most popular exports, The Beatles.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You belong to a generation that came into its own long after The Mamas and Papas had already disbanded. When did you first discover their music and allow it to captivate you?

A:  I loved The Beatles from an early age even though I was too young to have enjoyed them while they were still together and I soon realised that I loved the sound of other records from the ‘60s too. I remember vividly hearing The Mamas and Papas’ ‘Creeque Alley’ for the first time on the radio and immediately wanting to find out who it was by and where I could get a copy. I think it was the infectiousness of the melody and the gorgeous harmonies that just sounded so upbeat and captivating, particularly in grey London.

Q: Did you come from a musical background/childhood?

A: My mother grew up with classical music and when I was a child, she always had classical music on the radio or playing on a record. I also grew up playing piano and always loved music. Pop music, however, was my own domain, in contrast to classical which belonged very much to my parents’ world.

Q: Was music ever something you wanted to pursue as a professional career?

A:  I loved the idea of becoming a professional pianist as a child but was discouraged by my mother and a piano teacher who apparently told her I was unlikely to become a female Vladimir Ashkenazi. If I had another life, I’ve always thought it would be incredible to play a piano concerto with an orchestra.

Q: Tell us about your foray into the world of BBC reporting and how it shaped your decision to do feature interviews and biographies.

A: I worked as a BBC radio reporter for several years. I started off reporting from Spain where I was living in Barcelona at the time, doing reports on young people and music in the city. Then when I moved back to London, I began doing feature interviews with musicians and reporting from music events. I met some wonderful artists during that time. Amongst my favourites were Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Philip Glass, world music artist Anjelique Kidjo and Nitin Sawhney.

I had always wanted to write however and magazines like Mojo had begun asking me to write up some of my interviews so it was an easy progression. I also found that many of the skills I had learnt whilst training as a BBC reporter related equally to writing and were very much transferrable skills.

Q: What particularly made you want to write about the life and times of Cass Elliot?

A: I had always loved her version of ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’. In fact I had a seven inch of it as a child and used to love singing along, as although I don’t have a voice to speak of at all, my voice could more or less match her pitch so I could sing along easily.

Then in the early 1990s I discovered Cass Elliot’s solo albums.  I particularly loved tracks like It’s Getting Better, One Way Ticket and Make Your Own Kind of Music so I started trying to find out more about her. I was amazed and intrigued by what I discovered. I found out that she was born Ellen Naomi Cohen but that she had died young in London, under ambiguous circumstances. I also learnt that during her years with The Mamas and Papas, she had been a leading light of the LA social scene, hosting unofficial salons attended by everyone from The Beatles to Hollywood A-listers like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.

She was responsible for introducing David Crosby to Graham Nash and had been friends with Joni Mitchell. All this made me want to know more so I looked for a book on her life and saw that no biography had been written. I was looking for a subject for my next book around this time and I knew then that I had found it.

Q: Was this your first music biography?

A: No. I had written the biography of British film composer John Barry before. John is most famous for writing the scores to the original James Bond films as well as the Oscar winning Born Free, but he had also led a fascinating life. I have also co-written biographies of Madonna and Cher.

Q: What do you feel most distinguished her in a music industry which, at the time, was dominated by men?

A: Cass had an astounding voice and the determination to be accepted on her own terms. When she started out in music, she was constantly rejected by musicians, managers and agents who took one look at her and refused to believe that a woman of her size could become a star. As soon as they heard her sing, however, they were nearly always bowled over by her voice and charisma.

Q: What was the most astonishing takeaway you found when you were doing your research?

A: There were various points which I found fascinating in different ways. I had known that amphetamines had been routinely prescribed as a dieting aid during the 1960s but it was still alarming to hear about Cass having had them prescribed by her doctor when she was still an adolescent.  I was also fascinated to hear one of my female interviewees talk about her experience of the ‘free love’ ethos in the late 60s. She told me that she had felt there was as much pressure during that era to ‘be free’ with your love as there had been not to be free in the more buttoned up era which immediately preceded it. This seems obvious in hindsight but the way that era is presented rarely focuses on this particular female viewpoint.

Q: How long did the book take you to write?

A: Four years.

Q: Had she lived, do you think Cass Elliot would have stayed viable in the music business or done something else?

A: The 70s and early 80s were a difficult time for many performers who had become famous during the 60s, particularly those who, like Cass, didn’t write their own material. But from the mid 80s onwards, a new generation started discovering the music of the 60s and there was a renewed interest in them and their work.

I think Cass would have benefited from that and been championed by young artists and consequently the music industry itself. Musicians including Boy George, kd Lang and Antony Kiedis from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have all talked about how much they admire her voice.

I also think she would have become successful as a TV star and possibly explored the world of politics further. She campaigned for George McGovern when he stood as presidential candidate against Nixon in the 1972 election and she talked about how she liked the idea of exploring that that area further.

Q: You have something interesting trivia to share about Cass’ high school class and the musical Grease. What is it and how does it speak to the younger generation today about trying to straddle the line between popularity and individuality?

A: Cass attended Forest Park High School in Baltimore which has often been talked about as providing part of the inspiration for the musical Grease. The musical was originally produced by two friends and ex-classmates of Cass’s– Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, and the culture it portrays was very much the way things were for her. Classmates of hers remember the pressure amongst pupils to fit in and be liked but also to be quick-witted and smart.

The musical clearly portrays that and the idea of being yourself and having the strength to resist peer pressure is obviously still relevant today, particularly amongst high school students.

Q: You interviewed many fascinating and high profile interviewees from David Crosby and Graham Nash to the late senator and U.S presidential candidate George McGovern. Was it difficult to get interviews with some of these people and how did they respond to your request?

A: Was it difficult to get to some of the people? Yes. Getting to some of my interviews was indeed a very long drawn out process in many cases, but well worth it in the end!

David Crosby only agreed to talk to me after several people he knew and trusted had met me and presumably decided that I was ‘kosher’ and not a psychopath. Nevertheless, when Crosby finally agreed, he suggested we meet in a branch of the Coffee Bean near his home. I was surprised that we were going to conduct what I hoped would be a lengthy and in-depth interview in a café but after about 15 minutes, he suggested I follow his car to his home. I realised at this point that the café meeting had been my audition and that I had evidently passed.

The late Senator George McGovern meanwhile was someone I had initially written to requesting an interview but over a year later, I had had no reply. I had entirely given up on hearing from him, when, one night in the summer of 2003 my phone rang at around 1am. I happened to still be awake and answered the phone to find a very polite gentleman telling me down a very crackly phone line that this was George McGovern.

I can only assume he had not realised the time difference between the UK and US but he very graciously agreed to wait whilst I rushed to find my notes before we began our conversation. His memory of events some thirty years earlier was incredible and he was very complimentary in his recollections of Cass’s enthusiasm and support for his campaign and her ability to talk to supporters knowledgably.

Q: In an earlier interview I did with you, you observed that “Cass could have been Oprah before Oprah.” What did you mean by that?

A: Cass Elliot had a natural and winning way with people as well as a very quick wit, so she was perfect as a TV guest and I believe she would definitely have been offered work as a TV show host. There was in fact talk of this kind of thing with her manager and various people in TV before she died. Consequently I think had she lived, she would easily have hosted a show like Oprah’s and become equally successful doing that.

Q: What do you look for when deciding on the subjects for your books?

A: I have always tried to write books that I myself would like to read. So it has to be a person or a subject which intrigues me, that makes me want to know more.

Q: What do you think makes a great biography?

A: Good research, good writing, a passion for the subject from the author, and portraying the subject’s life in the context of the times they lived in.

Q: Your latest project is all about The Beatles. Tell us about it.

A: I’m working on a new book called She Loves You – The Girls Who Screamed for The Beatles.

We’ve all seen the newsreels and the photos of screaming girls waiting for The Beatles at Kennedy airport or at concerts both across the US and UK and we all know the story of The Beatles. What we don’t know is the story of those girls.

I want to find out who they were and how they came to be there. Did they tell their parents they were having a sleepover at a friend’s? Did they raid their pocket money savings to buy tickets? Did they wait for hours in the cold to see the group and what was it like when they did? What became of them in their lives subsequently? Did they go to college and get married?  Did they discover the women’s movement and live in a hippy commune? Where are they now and do they still love The Beatles? Do they have children or grandchildren who like The Beatles?

Each chapter of the book will tell the individual story of a different woman, using their experience of seeing or waiting for The Beatles as the starting point. I believe this generation of women have lived through particularly fascinating times and will have had wonderful and varied life experiences.  The book will, therefore, explore not only the story of Beatlemania but the story of a generation.

This book will also be a different experience for me in terms of the publisher. My previous books have been published by traditional publishers such as Macmillan but I am writing She Loves You for the award-winning UK publisher Unbound. Since they started six years ago they have had books nominated for major literary awards such as the Man Booker prize and hit books such as The Immigrant but the way they work is different in that they are a crowdfunding publisher.

When a lot of people hear this, they assume it’s virtually the same as self-publishing and this must be the last resort for an author who can’t get published anywhere else. This is not the case at all with Unbound. They have distribution of their books through Penguin/Random House ie major publishers who ensure that Unbound’s books are available in all bookshops as well as on Amazon etc and they have a commissioning, editing and marketing process just like traditional publishers.

‘So why would an author choose them?’ you’re probably wondering. Well, the reason is because Unbound allow authors much more control and input into aspects of the publishing process such as book jacket, editing, etc than traditional publishers. Crucially, Unbound also split profits with their authors, giving them 50% of the profits. With traditional publishers authors receive an advance; i.e., money upfront for writing the book (which we don’t get with Unbound) but then only about 2 or 3% of the proceeds from the cover price of the book.

The way the crowdfunding works is that everyone who supports the book gets their name printed in every edition of the book. Pledges start from $12 / £10 and there are different pledge levels from there on with different ‘rewards’ including signed copies of She Loves You and signed copies of my previous books. You can obviously pledge in your own name but some people also like to do this as a gift for a friend or relative.

If anyone reading this likes the sound of She Loves You, it would be wonderful if you could make a pledge, however small! All the details are here: www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you

There’s a short video of me at the top of the page talking about the book and the pledge levels are detailed below.

Q: What is it about the decade of the1960s that so appeals to you?

A: Several different things. The 60s was an incredibly creative decade. There was an extraordinary explosion of talent with groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Mamas and The Papas all emerging within a few years.

You also had great fashion and social revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain’s ‘Swinging London’ the young generation were taking over and for the first time young people of all backgrounds and social classes were becoming stars in the worlds of theatre, film, fashion and literature.

In America, the Civil Rights Movement, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the hippie movement and the Vietnam War were all likewise momentous stages in America’s history.

I find these events fascinating in their own right and as they informed the lives of both Cass Elliot and John Barry, they have also made powerful and compelling backgrounds to their life stories. They will also have figured in the lives of the women whose stories I will be telling in She Loves You.

Q: In the 1960s, there was not as much overexposure of celebrities as there is today. What do you think she would say about the current trend of baring souls and bodies in order to dominate the Internet and appease fans?

A: Cass was full of contradictions, so I think on the one hand, she would have welcomed more openness and honesty about celebrity’s lives. She herself famously posed lying naked (stomach down) in a bed of daisies for a photograph advertising one of her albums. So in that respect she was a non-conformist who loved sticking two fingers up at the establishment and having a bit of a risqué thrill.

I also think that had she lived she may, like many people in the 70s, have explored therapy and may well have come to do some further soul-baring of her own when talking to the media.

On the other hand, that all said, she was a classy, dignified lady who had good taste and so I think she would have wanted to draw the line at a certain point and retain a certain amount of privacy for herself and her family.

Q: If there is one question you could have asked Cass Elliot personally, what would it be?

A: There are lots of things I could have asked her but in particular I would love to find out more from her about the circumstances of her death. One of the myths I dismantle in the book is that she died choking after eating a sandwich. There is no truth in this whatsoever – it was simply a case of people jumping to conclusions in the immediate aftermath of her death. The details are much more complex and I explore those but it would be great to know some of the missing details.

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

A: For She Loves You, at www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you on my own website: www.eddifiegel.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. Just to say: thank you very much for inviting me to talk about my work. I love the site and have enjoyed reading the interviews with other authors.

 

 

 

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A Chat With David Selby

 

Selby Collage Framed

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

Once upon a long ago time—half a century, to be precise—my friends and I used to rush home from school to catch an American Gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. The imaginative brainchild of creator Dan Curtis, the weekday series was unlike anything on daytime television. While it is often quipped that Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine (Murder, She Wrote) is the murder center of the world, Curtis’ spooky Collinsport, Maine was the gathering place for witches, vampires, werewolves and ghosts—all of whom conspired to keep the innocent Victoria Winters off-balance in her quest to decipher a murky past.

Miss a single episode and you could literally miss a hundred years, so artfully did the storylines incorporate reincarnation, time travel, parallel time and dead relatives who, bless their hearts, just couldn’t stay dead and entombed in the Collins family crypt. From 1966 to 1971, the series developed what subsequently became a cult following that still exists today. Despite the wonky missteps of a feature length film called House of Dark Shadows in 1970, Night of Dark Shadows in 1971, a prime time series reboot in 1991 called Dark Shadows: The Revival and a Tim Burton horror comedy in 2012 called Dark Shadows, it’s the original that still stirs fond memories. Among my own favorite memories was the introduction of a brooding werewolf named Quentin who had a propensity for flying into a rage and hurling brandy snifters into the fireplace or against a wall. David Selby, the actor who made the role of Quentin so swoon-worthy, not only continues to act in film, television and onstage but is also an accomplished author, a distinction that earned him an interview slot on You Read It Here First.

The 6’3” West Virginia native is unabashed in his praise of why Dark Shadows was a much needed respite during the decade it debuted. “We had the Vietnam War going on, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and I think people in general were feeling anxious about the state of the world. The show was fantasy escapism that gave viewers something ‘different,’ fun and totally strange to look forward to every day.”

That it attracted notable stage actors such as Jonathan Frid, Joan Bennett and Nancy Barrett was a treat matched only by the tight-knit sense of family the cast enjoyed working together in a small studio in Manhattan. “We’d rehearse upstairs and then we’d run downstairs to shoot our scenes. We’d also get exhausted running to and from scenes if the sets were at opposite ends of the studio but the action was supposed to be continuous. Just like a live theatre performance, everyone simply kept going even if something went wrong.” To his knowledge, he never brained anyone with all those brandy glasses he threw.

The two of us enjoy a reminiscence about lightweight tombstones that wobbled and fell over if a character brushed against one during an entrance, copious amounts of dry ice that inexplicably wafted in through interior doorways, and actors who forgot their lines. “We used a teleprompter—which I personally hated—and if something went astray with it during one of Jonathan’s speeches, he’d just amble on saying whatever happened to be scrolling on the screen.”

When he was a teen growing up in the rural environment of Morgantown, Selby had no clue what it was he wanted to do when he grew up. He did, however, enjoy a passion for movies and liked to imagine himself playing Errol Flynn or—on some occasions—even pretend he was a musician. “College wasn’t something that was pushed on me by my parents. In fact, I became the first person on either side of my family to graduate from a university. I saw college as an opportunity to escape and to go somewhere else, although I didn’t know at the time where or what I’d be escaping to.” Nor did he have support among his peers who liked to joke, “Selby will be the first one to flunk out.” Instead he went on to earn several degrees—including a doctorate—just to prove them wrong. “It’s funny, though, that no one ever asks actors if they have a degree. The only thing they want to know is if the person can act.”

It was an instructor named Charles Neel who suggested he take a theatre class. “Theatre definitely saved my life because it gave me a chance to do for real all of the things I’d been acting out in my own imagination.” Once the acting bug bit him, he could never imagine himself doing anything else … and he hasn’t. While a lot of actors say that they got their start acting in the high school play, such wasn’t the case for him. “I tried out for a play and there was a scene where I was supposed to kiss the girl. And so I gave her a kiss and everybody laughed and I decided I’d never do it again.” Famous last words.

He didn’t really know anything about Dark Shadows in his early years in New York until a casting person named Marion Dougherty of Marion Dougherty Associates put him in a cab and told him he was going to an audition. The rest, as they say, is history. In the episodes where the werewolf character was first introduced, however, he didn’t have any lines; he was just a tall, brooding presence with distinctive muttonchops. “And I thought, ‘Oh great. Is this going to be some kind of silent movie gig where I never get to say anything? Why did I say yes to this?’”

So were those muttonchops real? “At the start, they’d glue them on every day and then pull them off after the shoot. This got to be tiring and so I decided to just grow my own.” This, however, brought a new set of problems. Specifically, if you want to run out to a grocery store on the weekend, you can’t just put on a pair of glasses like Clark Kent and no one will know who you are. “I was also doing a lot of theatre and playing characters who obviously weren’t wearing Victorian frock coats and having that much facial hair. Accordingly, I had to keep shaving them off. We later just went back to applying fake ones.”

As the show grew in popularity, it wasn’t just high school students like myself rushing home to see it. He relates with a grin that at his wife’s office in New York at the time, the staff would go into a boardroom and close the door to watch it. “And they weren’t the only ones who did that, either. All over New York, there were plenty of closed board room doors around four in the afternoon!” That he was so easily recognized by fans also created potentially dangerous mob scenes for him. “I remember being told that there was an event I couldn’t go to because of the number of uncontrollable—and unpredictable—people who would be there. And so they got me a car and put me in it and I had to drive myself home.” Golly, where are those Clark Kent glasses when you need a quick switch to anonymity?

Ten years after the end of Dark Shadows, Selby found himself playing another conflicted character—the rakishly handsome, charismatic and conniving Richard Channing on Falcon Crest. “What’s interesting about both series is that the families were headed up by extremely strong matriarchs played by Joan Bennett and Jane Wyman.” Were there to be a reality show where the House of Collins and the House of Channing were pitted against each other, he predicts that the last two left standing from the respective sides would easily be Joan and Jane.

While he continues to have a host of exciting new projects in the works—including Stephen King’s Castle Rock for Hulu—live theatre is a first love we share. “There’s nothing more energizing and personally rewarding than knowing that you’re really reaching people, that you’re giving them something they’ll long remember.”

Given his height and his physique, he’s no stranger to playing Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he originally wrote his novel, Lincoln’s Better Angel, as a stage production. In 2008 he played the role of Abe in James Still’s The Heavens Are Hung In Black at no less than Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He proceeds to share stories about how the historic theatre was boarded up for years following Lincoln’s assassination. Not only was the structure believed to be bad luck and haunted but any future production about Lincoln himself was met with fear, disdain and even threats. Not unlike, it would seem, the superstition among theatre people about saying aloud the name of “the Scottish play.”

He remembers being onstage and looking up at the presidential box where the tragedy occurred. “I think our current times call for another Lincoln to emerge and guide us. He was certainly a forward thinker in guiding the country through its most troubled times, and a lot of what he had to say still holds true in the 21st century.” He further relates the tidbit that the 16th president had a higher voice than one might expect from someone of his stature. This, thus, required a smidge of adjustment on Selby’s part since the latter’s rich baritone voice is such a trademark of his acting persona.

Along with Lincoln’s Better Angel, he is also the author of In and Out of the Shadows, Promises of Love, My Mother’s Autumn and A Better Place—all of which are available on Amazon. A new screenplay is currently in the works.

So how does his approach to acting compare/contract to his approach to the craft of writing? That one of them requires an external director and the other is an internal director-in-his-head doesn’t phase him at all. “Just like when I was growing up and imagining myself in different play-acting roles, I tend to talk to myself a lot and do the voices of all my characters.”

I tell him that it is yet again something we have in common. As an only child, I entertained myself with a plethora of imaginary friends—all of them coincidentally named after the original Mouseketeers. I’d run around the backyard doing all of their voices, a scenario that caused the neighbors on more than one occasion to ask my parents, “How many children did you say you had?” To which they would reply, “Just the one.”

That it is something we still do as adults in our respective writing careers was a refreshing revelation and perhaps even early foreshadowing that we’d grow up to be actors and authors. With a wink and a grin, he closes our interview with the observation, “I’d say it turned out pretty well then.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chandler Affairs

GWRenshaw

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed the challenge of playing armchair detective and vicariously solving crimes? In his paranormal mystery series, The Chandler Affairs, author G.W. Renshaw invites readers to learn from the sleuthing skills of his Canadian private investigator protagonist, Veronica Chandler—an intrepid young woman whose professional cases and personal life are weirder than she could ever have imagined.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What an eclectic background you have! A gunner in the Canadian forces, medieval skills gleaned from the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a Search and Rescue manager, a spelunker, a Linux druid (and okay I have absolutely no idea what that last one entails). With all of these things in your arsenal of talents, how and why did you make the time for writing?

A: A lot of these are in my past, which helps with time management. As to why I became a writer—I’ve always been an avid reader, but there are stories I’d like to read that nobody has written yet. It’s a case of “if you want something done, do it yourself.”

Q: Which of your skill sets figures the most prominently in The Chandler Affairs?

A: The biggest ones are investigation, counseling, martial arts, and cooking.

I learned investigative techniques from Search and Rescue, where we often found ourselves collecting evidence in the field, securing potential crime scenes, and interviewing witnesses. The Calgary Police Service has a three-month course for civilians that covers the operation of every branch of the service. I have the Canadian Private Investigator’s Handbook, and taken mantracking from Terry Grant (the original TV Mantracker).

My lovely wife and I are both trained critical incident stress counselors, which means we work with victims of traumatic incidents helping them avoid PTSD. Some of the techniques used by Dr. MacMillan in the books come from that background.

As for my PI’s fighting skill, I’d have loved to have her share my black belt in Aikido, but it’s not an easy art to describe and it’s difficult for her to start a fight. I could have gone with karate, in which I have a blue belt, but Krav Maga is more exotic and fits her personality better.

I’ve been cooking ever since I was eleven years old, and I love exploring new cuisines. At the moment a friend in Finland is helping me explore Bulgarian food. Guess where Veronica gets her passion for the kitchen?

Q: What attracted you to the paranormal mystery genre?

A: Oddly enough, it was more or less by accident. Several friends of mine were having a good time writing mysteries, and it sounded like fun. Of course, I wanted to do something different.

I created my investigator and started writing short stories about her adventures. Then things became surreal for her. I realized that her story was too complex for short stories, and started planning the novels instead. Most fictional paranormal investigators are also magical practitioners of some kind. In keeping with being unique, my investigator not only has zero magical talent, but doesn’t believe that the paranormal exists. It’s a lot of fun feeding her red herrings as she tries to put her understanding of reality back together.

Q: Your protagonist in the series is a Canadian private investigator named Veronica Chandler. Why did you choose to write in the voice of a female rather than a male?

A: There’s a conventional wisdom that people only want to read books with protagonists of their own gender. My experience in talking to people over the years is that this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter to most people what characters are as long as the story and the characters are gripping. The traditional fictional private investigator is a 50ish, male, ex-cop, perpetually in debt, and has a bottle of scotch in his desk and/or an ex-wife. The male viewpoint is over-represented. There are several amateur female sleuths (Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, for example) but I wanted to give people a woman who broke with tradition and was a competent professional and normal, well-rounded individual.

I also wanted to explore some of the issues that women face in a male-dominated world. It was enlightening to ask women for their thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects, and then incorporate that research into the story. I’ve had young female readers tell me that, although they don’t want to be Veronica, some of her struggles in coming to terms with life have inspired them to examine how they handle their own lives. That gives me a lot of joy.

Q: What are some of Veronica’s unique traits that she brings to the table?

A: For one thing, dolls completely freak her out. Her parents encouraged her to read whatever she wanted as a child, which makes her more mature than her years would suggest, at least in a theoretical way. Sometimes reality trips her up. Veronica is really impatient and extremely stubborn. She’s discovering that her sexuality is more complex than she initially thought. Professionally, she’s been investigating since she uncovered the truth about Santa Claus when she was eight. Her mother arranged for her to do an unpaid internship with the Calgary Police, and she took the investigator’s course online while she was in high school. She’s very young for a licensed PI. Eventually she’ll find herself in situations she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, with no real option but to rise to the occasion. Despite what many believe, courage and leadership are learned traits.

Q: How is The Chandler Affairs different from other private investigator series?

A: Firstly, Veronica earns her PI license at 18, which as far as I know is only possible in Alberta. The real trick was to give her a background that made this not only possible, but plausible. Sometimes her age trips her up, as one might expect. Veronica lives with Canadian law. She can’t carry a gun. She does carry a licensed tactical baton and has considerable Krav Maga skills. Her mother is a homicide detective, but Veronica can’t just call her up to run a license plate for her because of our information privacy laws. Any help she gets from her police contacts has to be oblique at best so nobody loses their job.

I’m a cruel writer. Most of the problems she faces must be solved with intelligence and cunning rather than violence. Each book presents a different problem for her, but they all fit into the overall arc of the series. Her biggest question isn’t who-dunnit, but rather what-the-heck-is-going-on-here.

Q: Do you have recurring characters who assist or thwart Veronica’s efforts?

A: Her mother and father, Janet and Quin, are loving parents who eventually support her decision to become a PI. Janet wants her to become a “real” police officer, and Quin wants her to take over his restaurant when he retires. He’s the one who taught her to be a chef.

Her best friend/adopted sister is Kali, formally known as Liliana Marina Hernandéz Rojas. She transferred to a Calgary school when her family moved from Colombia. She owns an occult shop and tries to help Veronica make sense of the things she encounters.

Beleth and Sitri are demons. So are a lot of their friends. Need I say more?

Q: What governed your decision to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

A: Originally I planned to write some short stories about Veronica’s cases, but once I started coming up with ideas it became obvious that her overall story is too epic for a collection or a single book. She’s definitely on a complex journey.

Q: What are some of the challenges or benefits you’ve encountered in developing series fiction?

A: The challenge that trips up a lot of people is continuity. Without meticulous notes and pre-planning (yes, I’m a plotter) it’s far too easy to contradict something you said in an earlier volume, or to forget a dangling subplot. Some readers won’t start a series until it is complete. I can understand that, although I don’t do it myself. On the other hand, publishers tend to like a series that is planned because they know that if the first book is a success there is more money to be made. Another benefit is that each story has a natural length. Some can be told in a few thousand words, some in a hundred thousand, and some in not fewer than a million.

Q: How long do you envision this series continuing?

A: At the moment, I’m planning on about ten books in the series. It depends on how long it takes to tell the full story. I’m a plotter, but I’m also open to the characters telling me to pursue side streets that are important to them.

Q: Can the books be read out of order or do they have to be read sequentially?

A: The reader will be happiest reading them in order simply because there is an overall arc. Each book is relatively independent, but there will always be details that were covered earlier that might cause some confusion.

Q: Tell us about the research involved in bringing The Chandler Affairs to life.

A: I over-research everything. The Chandler Affairs takes place in Calgary, which is where I live, so geographical research isn’t too much trouble. If Veronica goes to a specific restaurant, you can be sure it really exists and is good as she says. I did as much research as I could about Colombian culture, politics, geology, and language before writing scenes with Kali and her parents. Then I had a Colombian friend read them to make sure I got the details right. One funny thing happened when I needed Kali to be really angry with Veronica. I handed an outline of the situation to my friend for translation, and he gave it to his wife because, “she’s much better at swearing than I am.”

For The Kalevala Affair I had to do a huge amount of research: Finnish mythology and law enforcement; Swedish history and libraries; Polish history, geography, geology, and universities; volcanoes, Korean airports, Austrian tourist attractions, Slovakian history. The scene where Veronica goes to a random concert was serendipity: a friend I asked about Finnish highway signs turned out to have been in that concert. I’d never heard of Nightwish before and now the band is reading the book and I’m friends with their music teacher. He’s originally from Bulgaria and we talk about food at lot.

Q: Did/do your characters ever surprise you over the course of developing their story?

A: Wow, did they ever. Beleth was initially a one-time character in the first book. As is typical of her, she took over when I wasn’t looking. Constable Holley had some background I wasn’t aware of and Constable Watkins had some interesting extra-curricular activities. Sitri turned out to be pivotal and he has his own story (and sweetheart) that leads to a lot of running around and screaming.

Q: What are some of the tools and techniques you use in your writing?

A: I use Xubuntu Linux as my operating system because it lets me do anything I can imagine. Just so you know, Windows has wizards but Linux has druids. All of my writing is done with LibreOffice with a few extensions (LanguageTool, Alternative Searching, Template Changer, and about a dozen extra language dictionaries). Every time I find a grammatical error that isn’t covered by LanguageTool I write a new rule to fix it, including my bad stylistic habits. I also created a proofreading mode that makes that task easier.

Once the books are designed, templates are built so I can write my drafts exactly as they will appear in print. That way I can work on the content, but also the presentation at the same time. We can then switch templates to format the ebook version. It saves a lot of time and effort as well as looking really cool while I’m writing.

I use other free software for various tasks. Inkscape and The GIMP for graphics; Calibre and Sigil for reading, creating, and fixing ebooks; Celtx for writing screenplays; Marble which is an open-source atlas and gazetteer; and Stellarium which shows me the sky from any planet for any date within the past or future 100,000 years. I’ve also written a few custom programs for creating minor character names and alien languages.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Except for asking specific people to vet certain scenes/facts, I make them wait.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would be your dream Veronica?

A: Tatiana Maslany, star of (and half the characters in) Orphan Black. She’s an utterly brilliant actor with the skills for the action scenes and the talent for everything else. I’ve seen her play characters anywhere from 16 to 30s. Tatiana would be awesome. Besides, she’s Canadian.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you started writing that you know now?

A: I wish I’d known how to write. Most of us have bad habits in our speech, such as starting a statement with “I think” that get in the way when we start writing. Except in special circumstances such as “I think you need to reconsider how much respect you show the boss,” it doesn’t make a character sound humble. Just weak and indecisive. It would also have been nice to understand the publishing industry instead of tripping over things I didn’t know. Of course, that’s the problem with being a beginner—you don’t know what you don’t know.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: I tried pitching to a medium-sized publisher, but their list was full for the next two years. Rather than waiting, I pitched to one of the Big Five, and got a lot of interest, but there was some internal reorganization and the people who were interested moved on before things got to the contract stage. Rather than re-pitch to them, I pitched to a small press who were looking for a project and was accepted. Sometimes it’s all in the timing.

Q: You also maintain a website called When Words Collide. What’s it about?

A: When Words Collide is an annual festival for readers and writers in Calgary, Alberta. We’re currently working on our eighth edition. We get about 750 people coming, and we’ve sold out early the past few years. Unlike most literary conventions, we cover the interests of both readers and writers with a huge amount of programming, and we cover everything that has to do with the written word: poetry, screenplays, short stories, literary forms, and novels. We don’t do film, TV, or media guests.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Books five and six of The Chandler Affairs, tentatively titled The Diplomatic Affair, and The Private Investigator’s Cooking Course. The latter will be the textbook for the cooking course one of Veronica’s friends suggested she teach. It won’t be the typical one-theme cookbook, but rather present all the dishes Veronica has cooked along with explanations of the techniques involved.

I’m also starting work on a stand-alone steampunk-horror novel that’s been stewing for a while.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: At my web site: gwrenshaw.ca; or on Facebook at GWRenshaw. If you are at an event that I’m attending (such as When Words Collide) come and say hi. I love to talk to readers.

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Summer Recipes

Angie Horn

What’s cookin’ with Angie Horn? We caught up with this savvy author, popular food blogger and expert on the comforts of Southern hospitality to get the inside scoop on her new cookbook, Simple Summer Recipes. SPOILER ALERT: What she has to say is guaranteed to make you hungry!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What’s your earliest recollection of being in a kitchen?

A: Two memories surface when I think of my earliest recollection in the kitchen. A sippy cup with milk and sneaking into a sugar bowl. Apparently, I learned quickly in life that milk and a sweet treat pair well together.

Q: Were there favorite comfort foods that were a staple of your childhood?

A: My parents and grandparents gardened. Many of my food memories come from helping them pick vegetables from the garden, watching my mother and grandmothers can the vegetables. They called it “putting up” the fruit and vegetables. That meant preserving or freezing fruit or vegetables from fruit trees and garden vegetables. I favor many comfort foods because my mother was an exceptional cook, and she enjoyed making our favorite meals.

Breakfast was my favorite meal. Often, my mom or dad would cook bacon and eggs for breakfast. Daddy made pancakes. Mesmerized at the way he would flip the large griddle-size pancakes high above the pan, I eagerly anticipated delving into the hot cakes drenched in Log Cabin syrup.

Mother generally made biscuits. I have fond memories of hot biscuits dipped into ribbon cane syrup. There is a certain technique to eating the thick rich syrup with biscuits. First, you pour the syrup onto your plate, add a slice of butter, and mash the butter into the syrup with a fork. Then you dip a hot biscuit into the syrup/butter mixture. It’s terribly difficult to indulge in only one biscuit with the ribbon cane syrup.

Lunch might be a sandwich or leftovers, but dinner – back then we always called it supper – consisted of meat, bread, and plenty of vegetables. My favorite meats were meatloaf topped with ketchup, baked chicken, or roast cooked in an oblong stainless steel pot with potatoes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions. Oh, yes, my family believed in having many vegetables.

I love vegetables, but I’d rather have yellow summer squash cooked with butter and onions any day. Mother liked to make big pots of meat and veggies – like Hamburger Soup, Stew, and Hamburger Pasta with onions – always served with cornbread. Days when I was sick, I recall having her hot creamy chicken soup and crackers. One time, my daughter and I flew into Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas to spend a few days with my parents. I hadn’t been feeling well. When my brother picked us up at the airport, he handed me a tray with hot chicken soup and crackers specially prepared by our mother.

Desserts definitely must be included as my favorite childhood comfort foods. I had three: Chocolate Meringue Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, and German Chocolate Cake. When I was a young girl, Mother often baked. Her German chocolate cake was the most incredibly good- tasting cake, liberally layered and topped with a thick buttery coconut icing – and I have her recipe! Later on, in my teens, I asked her, “Why don’t you bake German Chocolate cakes anymore?”

“We were all gaining weight, so I stopped baking the cakes,” she replied.

Q: Favorite comfort food as an adult?

A: I don’t think I can narrow comfort foods to only one. Favorite breakfast? Bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Favorite vegetable? Yellow summer squash. Favorite soup? Creamy chicken soup. Favorite dessert? That’s a tough one. Depends on the mood. Chocolate Meringue Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, or German Chocolate Cake.

Q: What’s the first thing you ever cooked (start to finish) by yourself?

A:The first simplest thing I ever cooked was, most likely, toast. Easy. Quick. Then I learned how to make cheese toast. Mmmm. So good. It’s easy, too. Cut slices of Cracker Barrel extra sharp cheddar cheese. Place the cheese slices on top of a piece of bread. Put into the oven and broil. It’s ready to eat in a jiffy.

Q: So what inspired you to write a cookbook and how did you decide on its theme?

A: Food is comforting. Food, no matter what type of cuisine, is universal. I like to eat, cook, make favorite recipes for family and friends, collect cookbooks, and write about food. Food culture interests me. I especially like to create recipes from ingredients I have on hand – like eggs, seasonal fresh vegetables, and leftover grilled steak or hamburger.  If I’m helping with my grandchildren, I love to cook for them. They love to eat simple and easy things – like peanut butter toast and pancakes.

Simple recipes are in demand. We live in a fast-paced society, so quick and easy recipes that don’t take all day to make come in handy for most families. Inspired by the things I like about food, I included easy recipes of comfort foods, summer favorites, and seasonal fruits, herbs, and vegetables in Southern style for the first of my seasonal cookbook series, Simple Summer Recipes.

Q: How did you go about putting it together and testing the recipes for accuracy and completeness?

A: I’m a food blogger and had previously blogged about favorite and new recipes I made. My family and friends are the honored tasting candidates. When I come up with a new recipe, I know it’s good when my husband says, “That one’s a keeper.” For instance, my Simple Summer Recipes cookbook includes salsa. I like to make salsa from my kitchen garden. If my husband loves it, he’ll let me know that it’s perfect and not to change a thing.

A food blogger friend and I have met once a week for over a year, planning our blog posts, sharing our recipes, and including tastings of our new recipes. We make suggestions of different spices or ingredients that could improve on our recipes in addition to proofreading our blog posts.

Q: Your cookbook’s subtitle “& Foodie Storytime” suggests the inclusion of anecdotes. Are they nostalgic, comical, or do they primarily give the history of the recipes?

A: The “& Foodie Storytime” subtitle relates to nostalgic and comical stories about the cookbook’s recipes.

Q: In a perfect world, every cooking experience would be perfect. Have you ever had embarrassing cooking experiences and were there any witnesses to them?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is when, as a newlywed, I prepared a baked chicken dinner for my husband and a friend he worked with. Their job site was not far from where we lived, so my husband invited the guy for dinner on their break. It was planned, and I had dinner ready for them when they arrived. Before I sat down to join them, I stepped out for a moment – but not out of earshot. I heard my husband ask, “Shall we pray again?” I returned to the dining room to ask why they should pray again. The chicken had baked but had uncooked, bloody pockets! I put the chicken back into the oven and nearly burned it the second time. It was horribly embarrassing.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party for three people you most admire from the pages of history. Tell us what would be on the menu and what would be your dinner party’s theme?

A: My dinner party’s theme would be Come As You Are Summer Dinner, and I would invite Jesus, Joseph (Jacob’s son – Old Testament in the Bible), Naomi, and everyone I could possibly invite to meet my three special dinner guests. I would serve the following menu:

  1. cold water as the beverage
  2. cucumber, grape tomato, strawberry slices, walnuts, butterhead lettuce, olive oil and red wine vinegar as dressing
  3. grilled salmon, topped with fresh cilantro and lemon slices
  4. sautéed yellow summer squash with butter and diced sweet onion
  5. grilled red potatoes
  6. multi-grain bread loaf and seasonal fruit jam for the bread
  7. peach cobbler with cream

Perhaps Jesus would turn the water into wine for our dinner, thus making it a most memorable dinner.

Q: How is Simple Summer Recipes connected to your blog, Kitchen Southern Hospitality?

A: Simple Summer Recipes includes some of the recipes from my food blog, Kitchen Southern Hospitality. The cookbook and blog are both written with a Southern flair from my love of Southern cooking and upbringing.

Q: Now that you’ve covered summer, are there plans in the works to cover the other three seasons as well?

A: Yes, I am planning cookbooks for each season

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I publish through JoyLife Press, my own publishing company that I began after the publishing company of my first book, Phantom Seven: Secret Heroes of WWII and OSS, closed. My first book was reprinted through JoyLife Press, and Simple Summer Recipes was published through JoyLife Press.

Q: What are you doing in terms of promoting your book?

A: I promote my book through Amazon, my blogs, book fairs, book reviews, and social media – mainly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Q: Best tip for new cooks?

A: Learn to use what you have on hand, create new recipes from leftovers, and include fresh foods daily.

Q: Best advice to aspiring cookbook writers?

A: First, always write down every ingredient to a new recipe, or you will forget. Next, it’s good to become familiar with other cookbooks with the style of cooking you prefer. But be yourself. Write with your own originality.

Q: If you were marooned on an island for a month (and assuming shelter and safety were assured), what three foods could you happily live on until you were rescued?

A: Assuming I had a way to cook, my three food choices would be eggs, vegetables, and fruit.

Q: When you’re not penning recipes, are there other genres you like to write?

A: I like to write nonfiction and historical fiction.

Q: Are food and recipes involved?

A: Certainly. Whether I’m blogging or writing my Civil War historical fiction series, food and recipes are involved.

Q: What inspires you the most as a writer?

A: Inspiration to write Simple Summer Recipes came mostly from my love of Southern foods, comfort foods, gardening, and preparing meals for my family. Nature inspires me – like sunshine, flowers, organic gardening. Whether in cookbooks, historical fiction, or blogs, food always finds a way into my writing.

Q: What’s next on your plate (so to speak)?

A: A historical fiction series is in the works, beginning with the Civil War era.

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

A: What you eat can influence your health and well-being. It’s up to you to eat nutritious food for your health’s sake. Choose fresh foods, and eat moderately. Check with your healthcare provider to help you determine the best food and exercise plans for you.

My dad lived until he was 90. My first book, Phantom Seven, is about him and his World War II cohorts. The stories in Phantom Seven are from men who served in espionage. My dad was chosen during World War II to serve in the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He was known by his OSS comrades as Benny McCoy, but to me he was Daddy.

One thing Daddy taught me was to never give up, “never give in” – Winston Churchill’s famous quote. Daddy taught by example. He learned to conquer the overweight battle by cutting back on unhealthy foods, eating a lot of vegetables, and exercising. He exercised up until his last year of life. He used to walk and run six miles about three times a week. He’d run a mile then walk a mile.

Daddy’s example still inspires me. In his latter years, he once told me he had cut back on eating red meat and advised, “You don’t need to eat a lot of meat.” He liked eating. His favorite dessert was banana pudding. But if he started gaining weight, he stopped eating what was putting on the extra pounds and increased the exercise.

Struggling with being overweight, feeling sluggish, not feeling your best? Try a healthy food plan. Exercise. Never give in to allowing cravings dictate to your health and well-being.

 

 

 

A Conversation with Don Martel

Don Martel

 

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 Don Martel is a Canadian photographer who has an eye for detail, and whose work is, by any standards, outstanding. He has a way of looking at the world around him, and at life, that most of us simply don’t have. He’s also not afraid to leap outside his comfort zone, as evidenced by his recent adventure of cycling solo across Canada in a bid to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Disease. Even more surprising is the fact that until undertaking this monumental task, he hadn’t cycled since he was a child! Now, he’s written a book, Loaves and Fishes, about his incredible experience.  Welcome, Don Martel.

Q: Can you tell us how this whole incredible journey started?

A: Actually, I wasn’t intending on doing a story book at all. Initially I planned to do a Canada Coast to Coast photography book, since photography is what I know and do. The truth is, this book has been a journey. Since returning home, I often tell people that although I cycled solo, I was never alone. Loaves and Fishes is a collection of short stories about some of the miraculous events that happened to me during this epic adventure, and the wonderful people I met along the way.

Although I thought I was prepared, in fact, I knew little about cycling, especially long distance cycling, which is a whole other challenge. A chance meeting and one question started it all. I was in Temagami, Ontario for a photography workshop when I met a man, Marcel Cisv, and a woman, April Pennington, at a grocery story. They had all these bags on their bikes, so I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were cycling across the country to make memories for lost memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Intrigued, I invited them to the cottage I was staying at. Marcel customized his bike, and it looked awesome, so that aspect intrigued me as well. We shared a meal, talked long into the night, and in the morning we said goodbye and they headed east. That incident really sparked my imagination, so I started following their blog. They finished their journey in October 2014, and I saw on Facebook that they became engaged. I sent Marcel a note of congratulations and half-jokingly asked if they were looking for photographer. Marcel replied they were, and would love to have me out to be their photographer, but couldn’t afford to pay me my going rate. Instead, they sent me two tickets to Kelowna, B.C, and arranged for three nights in a local hotel for me. Marcel remembered how much I admired his bike, so he custom built one for me! In the meantime, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That became the catalyst for my entire journey. To me, it was a no-brainer that whatever I did, it had to be for Alzheimer’s. I got the bike in September, then trained from September to April in New Brunswick’s many hills and valleys. I cycled 66 km (approx. 41 miles), even in winter, just about every day, with few exceptions. I honestly thought that would get me ready for the Rockies, but I’ve since learned that nothing prepares you for the Rockies. *laughs* It’s a much bigger hill!

On June 4th, 2015 I started out from Vancouver (mainland), British Columbia, and finished on August 15th, 2015 in Halifax, N.S. It took a whopping 76 days to complete and 8200 kilometers (approx. 5095 miles), and irrevocably changed my life.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your book, Loaves and Fishes? (www.donmartel.com)

A: It’s essentially a book about the people I met along the way, and the many crazy, sometimes miraculous adventures I had during that 76 days on the road.

I have a favourite saying that I think applies to this journey. Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitating. A chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself. Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that would have otherwise not occurred, and a whole stream of events issue from the decision. Raising one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidences and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”

After reading the book people often ask if these events actually took place, or did I make them up.
These things did happen! The stories in the book needed to be told. Odd as it sounds, coincidences and timing became part of a recognizable pattern. Karma? God? Angels? Synchronicity? I’ve learned that amazing things happen when you go off the path. The trip changed me. I never for a moment dreamed I’d do something like this! But then again, writing a book is another thing I never thought I’d do, yet I have.

Q: Where did the title come from?

A: The title came from actual, literal stories about loaves and fishes. Let me explain a little. Christians understand the biblical stories about loaves and fishes, and how God was able to provide both when they were most needed. You see, when you cycle long distance, you eat flat bread (it doesn’t squish). However, I’d been cycling for hours and needed to eat, but ran out of bread, and there was no flat bread available in the stores of the town I was in at the time. Of course, I could get some the next day, so I resigned myself to a meager meal of peanut butter and a few bits and pieces I had on hand, but I was hungry, so this didn’t exactly thrill me. Still, I had little choice. I was cycling down the road that night, and saw a car coming toward me at a high rate of speed. Suddenly the car pulled over. I thought the driver needed directions, so I approached the car. The driver was French, and without preamble, he begins to tell me that he’s the best baker in Quebec. He tells me, “I’m a retired baker”. I’m waiting for punch line, and wonder why he’s telling me this. Then the driver got out of his car and went to the back of his car. He reaches in, and I think, “Oh, oh!”. The driver retrieves a huge baguette (of bread), then proceeds to break it in half. He hands half of it to me. Still confused, I thanked him. The driver then abruptly gets back into his car, and drives away, leaving me standing at the side of the road with my baguette. I’m completely astounded. Is this a coincidence, that I should be hungry and was needing to buy bread earlier in the day?

The next morning I arrived at the next town, and stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast. There, I met a man from London, Ontario, who was hitch-hiking. As we’re talking, another man approached. It’s the same man from previous night who gave me the bread! Excited, I took photo of the two men, then turned to put my camera away. When I turned back, the bread man was gone. I had no chance to ask why he stopped the night before, who he was, or where he went. When I asked, the hitch-hiker simply shrugged and said the other man said he had to get going, and walked away. Now that’s weird, and that’s part of how I got the title for the book. There are so many similar stories that it just seemed to fit.

Q: You are known for your outstanding photography, Don. What did it mean to you to be able to take this journey and really see this beautiful country, coast to coast, from a photographer’s perspective?

A: This was the original intent of the book. I’ve travelled cross-country by car and by plane, but on a bike, it’s slow. Slow is good. As a cyclist, you become aware of every crack in the highway. By cycling, you can observe things you wouldn’t ever normally see. When you go slow, you get to appreciate the small details you’d otherwise miss any other way. I was able to observe so much more of what was around me, moment by moment. When you cycle, you get to see more than just the normal tourist attractions, or destinations. I was able to see, up close and personal, that beauty is everywhere. Make no mistake, it’s a long ride, but it gave me time to take it all in. Any time I saw a potential photograph, I could stop and make the shot. Every mile, every stop, everything, was entirely up to me.

Q: This book is dedicated to everyone affected by Alzheimer’s. How has the disease affected and impacted you personally?

A: Obviously, it impacted me hugely when a friend’s mother was diagnosed. The more I talked about the disease, the more I realized just how many people are affected by it, or know someone who is affected. I hadn’t realized before how prevalent it is. Marjorie was very special to me, and it was incredibly heartbreaking to watch her decline. I wanted to do something to help make a difference.

Oddly enough, the coincidences (or whatever you want to call it) were at play from beginning to end. My birthday is May 21st. May 21st I signed the copyright for the book, and on that same day, May 21st, Marjorie Symons, my friend’s mother, passed away.

Q: What surprised you to learn about yourself while making this journey?

A: The amount of determination I had to do this trip! I don’t mind saying that it’s a huge task! I hadn’t realized I had that kind of persistence. I’m truly surprised that I was capable of it. The entire time I was cycling, I kept repeating to myself, “Keep going. You’ll get there.” Eventually I did, and I learned I’m capable of anything I truly put my mind to.

Q: What surprised you to learn about others?

A: I’m blown away by the generosity of Canadians coast to coast. So many contributed to my success. I keep saying that although I cycled alone, I was never alone. People cared about what I was trying to do. People took time to help, talk, and share what they had with me – food, stories, a warm place to sleep, whatever I needed.  I also learned that people love to tell their own stories. If you listen, they are so interesting. I also learned that laughter really is the common language, and so are tears. We are all the same. No matter who, what, or where you’re from. People actually just want to be friends and be helpful.

Q: What has been the ultimate take-away for you from this whole experience (the ride and creating the book)?

A: The greatest take-away for me is the realization that great things will happen when you get out of your comfort zone. Amazing things! It doesn’t have to be a huge coast to coast journey. It can be anything. It’s so important to be open to opportunity. Great things are possible when you get past being scared.

Q: How has your photography influenced how you see the world around you?

A: Photography forces you to change how you view the world. It forces you to go slow and really focus. You have to be willing to take the time to observe. You see, the camera sees differently from the human eye. Shadows are shown different from the naked eye. They are darker. You have to know what your camera is going to do before you make the shot. *laughs* I’ve been at this photography gig for 30 years now, but I’m still learning all the time.

Q: This is your first book. What have you learned about going through that process?

A: Oh! I’ve learned that writing a book is like having a baby! It’s a very painful process. Just when I thought it was done. It wasn’t done. I thought I knew, but I had to learn how to write. I had to learn how to write from passive voice to active voice. Writing is also very personal. It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a book, but it’s a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it. I guess you could say that the journey to write the book was similar to the cycling journey. Although I had to do write and compile it on my own, so many stepped up to help me make it the best it could be. Once it’s published, it’s fun. Now I get to talk to so many more interesting people. When people tell me they enjoy the stories, there’s absolutely nothing like it. I can honestly say that I never worried about what people would think of the book. Of course I want people to enjoy it, but I felt the material spoke for itself. They’re all amazing true stories, and people keep sharing their own remarkable, true stories with me, so I know I’m not alone.

Q: Would you publish another book? If so, what subject matter?

A: YES! I definitely do still want to do the photography book I thought I’d do when I started this whole adventure. I have literally thousands of photographs of that trip, and I want to share them with others. We live in such an incredibly diverse, beautiful country. I also want to write a book similar to this one. There are still so many more examples of amazing true life stories that have happened to me personally over the years. The truth is; the journey never ends. Maybe I’m open to it. I believe that if you aren’t out there, you can’t have the experiences.

Q: How has this experience changed your photography?

A: It’s made me slow down even more. Now, I look at things a little more carefully, and really seek the opportunities around me. They’re everywhere. Everything is more than it appears to be on the surface!

Q: When you teach photography workshops, what is the key take-away you hope people leave  with?

A: You’ll never see the same again. I have three principle elements I want people to understand. 1) Understand how the camera sees things different from your eyes. 2) The principals of visual design. The organization of shapes speaks volumes, and the art of subtraction is key. You have the whole world in front of you, but as a photographer, you have to narrow and focus on the subject. 3) Line, rhythm, dominance, balance, light, shadow, and how they all affect a photograph. Everything else is just practice, and continuing to being open to opportunities.

Q: What’s next for you, Don?

A: Maybe another ride across the country. *laughs* I want to explore new countries too, and bring new groups of people with me. I’m 59 years old now, but when I’m 65 I’d like to enter the Via Italia seniors cycling group. I may even try my hand in bike racing. Now that I’ve done it, I can’t stop cycling. I bike everywhere now. It gets in your blood. Besides, the benefits to my physical health are great. I guess I’ll keep biking, until I can’t.

Connect with Don Martel here:

Twitter: @donmartelphotography

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Martel-Photography-359216777621/timeline/

Website: www.donmartel.com

Instagram: don_martel_photography

 

 

 

 

Pray Every Day

Pray Every Day

Where does the time go? It’s easy for our fast-paced lives to become so overstuffed with items on our To Do list that we sometimes lose sight of making the well-being of our own hearts and souls a priority. Inherent in that objective—but often lost in the shuffle—is the need to give thanks for our blessings, to ask forgiveness for our flaws, and to seek gentle guidance when personal crises overwhelm and debilitate us. EmmaLisa Hill shares insights on the development of her new book, Pray Every Day, an inspirational guidebook on learning to listen deeply to the wisdom of a higher power and to recognize that we are never truly alone.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Is prayer something that was instilled in your heart at an early age or did you come by this path more recently?

A: I was taught to pray at an early age, before I started to school actually. My grandmother, my mom’s mom introduced me to the church and prayer. It was instilled in my head and as a habit, or way of life more so than in my heart.

Q: What was your inspiration to share your beliefs about prayer in a book?

A: I was diagnosed with colon cancer in November 2002. I was so depressed and disgusted with my life during that time that I decided to stop praying. After all, what good was it doing anyway? I was a “good girl,” and God let me get cancer. So, I was not going to pray any more and I wasn’t going to take the recommended treatments for cancer. I was already an ordained minister when I was diagnosed and during that time I decided God wasn’t working for me.

A minister, who was one of my teachers while I was a student in ministerial school and who also was trying to hook-up with my ex-husband at the time, heard that I had cancer and called me. She recommended a doctor who I eventually ended up working with. The doctor charged me $300.00 for one hour, and told me to talk to the cancer and meditate. Since I had given him $300.00, I thought “What the hell? What do I have to lose?” So, I talked to the cancer. However, I stop talking to people. The cancer talked back. And the word got out that the cancer said to me: decide if you want to live, laugh, and learn to love yourself.

My classmates from school, my friends, my family, my church family, and my friend’s church families were praying for me and calling. I would not take any calls. They didn’t give up on me. Everybody who had my email address started to email me prayers and jokes. I am still surprised that I read them, but for some reason I did, and I saved some of them.

God spoke to me and said write a prayer book and told me how to do it, on a Saturday in March 2010.  My response, “I will when I have time.” I didn’t feel like I was being disobedient. I didn’t say no. After all I had plans that weekend. I had things to do. As I was getting dressed, getting ready to do my thing that Sunday morning, God let me get dressed, and said, “I said write a book,” rather forcefully. That’s how this book got started.

Q: Did you perceive any risks in taking a very private mindset into a public platform?

A: I don’t think I felt like I was taking a risk. I did know I wasn’t going to respond well to criticism and judgments.

Q: The age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

A: Because we, people, decide who is good. For me, I thought I was good because I obeyed people. I did what my mom, and the preachers, and teachers, and leaders told me to do, and they told me I was a good girl. I believed them. I was very obedient to human rules. They used the bargaining, bullying, deal making, and tricky techniques to get what they want from me. God wasn’t always in the picture. Emilie Cady said in her book Lessons In Truth, “Every person believes himself to be in bondage to the flesh (to people) and to the things of the flesh. All suffering is the result of this belief.”

Q: In your mind, is there a difference between being spiritual and being religious?

A: Oh yes. I have learned the difference. Being spiritual for me is listening to the God in my Being. Being religious is being in bondage to human rules. People created religion.

Q: What do you hope will be the takeaway value for your target readership?

A: First of all, I hope they will learn to listen to the voice coming from within, and not only listen but act on what they hear. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” No matter what’s going on in my life, I recognize THAT voice when it speaks.

Alexandra K. Trenfor said, “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” I hope my readers learn that faith comes by hearing the Voice of God within.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book teaches people how to pray. Is this to suggest there is a right and wrong way to go about connecting with a higher power?

A: I hope I have not tried to teach people how to pray. I believe the “right or wrong” way to pray has caused suffering. I believe praying based on what’s in your heart and the way you need to pray at the time is sufficient to connect to a higher power. My intention in writing this book was to just encourage people to pray.

Q: How did you go about collecting prayers from total strangers?

A: Many of the prayers in my book did not come from total strangers. The ones that came from people I have never met I read them some place or took them from some books. They spoke to me in some way at the time. Many of the prayers are just straight out of the Bible.

Q: Is there a favorite prayer or author that stood out and had an influence on you?

A: Yes, there is. The favorite prayer is on page 165, May 18th, it’s titled “The Truth About ‘Me’ and My Future,” written by Doctor Ruth M Mosley and her son, Doctor Bill Mosley. Rev. Ruth Mosley is the founder of the Detroit Unity Urban Ministerial School and author of many prayer books. Other than God, she had the greatest influence on me becoming an ordained Unity Minister as well as writing.

Q: Why did you feel the time was right to develop and publish this book?

A: Everything just came together for me this year. The book was already finished just over a year ago, in March, I might add. I had the money to pay the editor. I had the time to proof and work with the editor. The cover was complete. The High Desert California’s Writers Club was sponsoring a lot of events that influenced me to move forward with the publishing. All these things contributed to me releasing this great work into the world at this time.

Q: Like many authors, you opted to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: There are a lot of things I don’t know about the publishing business. I have written and written but never taken the next step to publish my work. I didn’t feel I had the money needed to publish a book. I feared no one would pay me for my work. I feared no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I felt unworthy. I wanted to finally complete an assignment God had given me. Self-publishing feels right for me doing this time. As I learn to follow God’s promptings.

Q: What did you learn during that process?

A: All things are truly possible. I learned to listen to the experts and let people help me. I learned God will put what and who you need in your life at the time you need it. I had to examine the real reason I am writing this book. I wrote the whole book and completed it without thinking about selling it, until a friend made light of the fact that no one was going to buy it. “Okay, you are going to sell ten copies,” she said. Why are you doing this? That’s when I really had to deal with my reasons for writing and publishing this book. Writing satisfies me. Writing gives me a voice. I learned it is okay to share me with the world. I felt so good and high when I held the first proof copies in my hands. I really learned how much I rely on an inner guide for directions in my life.

Q: What are you doing to market and promote the book, and what methods have been the most effective for you?

A: I have participated in many of the events The Writer’s Club has sponsored. However, so far the most effective marketing has been Facebook and word of mouth. I want to reach new people. So, marketing is something else I have to learn.

Q: To be candid, it strikes me that a list price of $25 could put your title out of reach for some of the people who might need it the most (i.e., students, the unemployed, retirees on a fixed income). Your thoughts on that?

A: If I can be candid also, I don’t think we can decide that a person who can afford the book needs it any less then the ones who can’t afford it. Needing prayer doesn’t have anything to do with a dollar amount. I believe God makes a way for the person who desires or want a copy to get one, whether it’s through buying or a gift.

I have already given away as many copies as I have sold. For three days on my birthday weekend on all three of my sites I gave away Kindle copies for free to anyone who wanted to download a copy. Most students only do electronic books. The book is now available on Kindle for $9.99. I have also given away many hard copies, not to people who I necessarily thought could not afford the book, but to people who I thought would appreciate it or could use it. I offer copies, as I am led, and give the person the opportunity to accept it or not. I try not to force my views, opinions, and choices on other.

Q: What are some ways people can make the time to pray every day when their schedules are already overstuffed?

A: I think one can pray as they go about their day. “God help,” is a prayer. “Thank You God,” is a prayer. “Lord guide me in this,” is a prayer. This belief that prayer has to be done a certain way at a certain time will keep a person from praying. It did me. I hope I properly dealt with this myth in Pray Every Day. A person has to want a relationship with God to pray. When I want some divine intervention, I pray. I don’t put aside a time to pray. I pray right where I am in the mist of what I am doing.

Praying is us talking to God. Meditating is us turning our minds off and listening to God. I have done this sitting on the toilet.

Q: Is the content specific to a Christian perspective or are there elements that other religions could embrace?

A: There is content that any and every one can embrace. The content is not specific to a Christian or religion. My purpose in writing this book was to encourage people to pray. Prayer is one of the tools that can be used to connect with a higher aspect of the self. I call it God. “God is Love.” When we pray, we don’t pray to a Love outside of ourselves. We pray to a God within. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a teacher who taught LOVE. Christianity started after Jesus left the planet.

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

A: LOL. I don’t know the answer to that question. I have put forth an effort to live a more authentic life by honoring myself since cancer. So, this is something I have to learn as people become more willing to share their opinions of me with me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am praying this book makes the New York Times bestseller list. So, learning how I can get this book in the hands of more people. I would love to see something about prayer on that list that I wrote. I am working on writing two more books. I would like to dance on “Dancing With The Stars.” I would like to do more traveling and speaking about living, laughing, and loving, and getting paid very well for my gifts.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The direct URL for my CreateSpace eStore and Amazon detail pages are:

https://www.createspace.com/7296986
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1548453145

Follow me on facebook @Love EmmaLisa

Also on Instagram: hillemmalisa

Twitter @RevELH

Email: emmalisahill@gmail.com

 

 

Retribution

Margotta Cover

What happens when a 1,000-year-old goddess, a supernatural wolf, and an untested youth lead a band of heroes to fight against unrestrained violence in medieval Europe? It’s all part of the fantasy adventure for young adults in Retribution. Author Jenny Margotta (writing as J Margotta-Ferrara) shares her insights on the craft, what it was like to collaborate on a book with her spouse, and whether she’d want to cross paths and match wits with a witch, a werewolf or a vampire.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: By the time I was ten, I was reading on an adult level, and one of the first adult-level books I read was The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. It was set in the late 1700s in a frontier town near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, which is close to where I grew up. There was a line in the novel about the sun shining through the overcast sky like a pewter plate and I knew, right then, that I wanted to write things like that, use words in unusual or memorable ways to capture the attention of readers and, hopefully, have my stories stay with them for decades, like those words of Ms. Turnbull’s have stayed with me.

Q: Who encouraged (or dissuaded) your dream of earning a living as a wordsmith?

A: Although I was encouraged by my mom and high school counselor to earn a degree in English —the thinking was that I would teach—no one really encouraged me to write until I met my late husband, John. He loved my writing style and pushed and prodded until I did something about it.

Q: What’s the first thing you remember writing? And have you gone back since then to read what you wrote?

A: I think I began writing as soon as I could hold a pencil in my chubby little hand. At least I know I began telling stories at a very early age. But the one I most remember—and that I have kept—is based on the Turnbull novel I’ve already mentioned. I was captivated by that story, and for a history project in fourth grade, I decided to write my own “diary” about a young girl captured by the Indians. Not only did I write the story, but I took some of my mom’s good stationery, soaked it in tea and dried it in the sun, bound the paper in a cloth covering, and wrote the story on the “parchment” using an old fountain pen. I still have that diary in my Things to Keep box.

Q: On the path to becoming a rich and famous author, a lot of writers pay the rent and put food on the table by having a day job. What was the first job you ever had and what did you learn from it that could be applied to what you really wanted to be doing?

A:  The very first job I ever had was picking strawberries for a nickel a quart. It certainly impressed upon me that manual labor was not how I wanted to earn a living. I didn’t know then what I wanted to do, but I sure knew what I didn’t want.

Q: Do you write full-time?

A:  No, and I’m not really sure I would want to. I spend most of my working hours editing other authors’ efforts—a process I absolutely love. But I also enjoy so many other facets of everyday life that I wouldn’t want to be tied down to any one thing. How boring would that be?

Q: How have your personal and professional experiences shaped who you are as a writer and influenced what you enjoy writing about?

A: I honed my writing skills while earning my degree in English/Language Arts and then spent many years writing industry-related HR documents, magazine articles, contracts, and software manuals. That required me to be very clear in my meanings without a lot of flowery speeches. But more importantly, I began reading at the age of three and have continued to read voraciously ever since in a wide range of fiction and non-fiction genres. I think that, more than anything, has helped me develop my writing skills. When I am spellbound by a story, I analyze why. When I’m having trouble with dialogue or a story issue, I go to my favorite authors and see how they’ve treated a similar issue. I can’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader.

Q: What was your inspiration for the plot and characters behind Retribution?

A: In all honesty, most of the plot and characters came from the very imaginative mind of my late husband, John, with whom I co-authored this book and two others. I did have some input into the main character, Luc, when I suggested we make him left-handed. I am left-handed, so I know how it can both hinder and be advantageous in a predominately right-handed world. I also added some of the softer, more feminine aspects of the female characters.

Q: From the time that storytelling first began, fantasy and adventure have had a hold on our imaginations. In your own view, what would you say accounts for our fascination with things that go bump in the night, return from the dead, and are not of this world?

A: Man is blessed with an imagination and an unquenchable desire to learn “what’s out there.” Also, we often feel our own lives are mundane and uninspiring, so stepping into a world of fantasy and excitement gives us that “kick” we need to make our lives more interesting. And the adrenaline rush of being scared or excited is quite addictive.

Q: A witch, a vampire or a werewolf—which would you feel the most comfortable dealing with in a winner-takes-all game of cunning, intellect and strength? And which one would scare you the most?

A: I think I’d deal best with the witch. Most of a witch’s arsenal is based on mental games—spells and tricks and such—and I live my life mostly in my head, as I have some mobility issues.  In a game of matching wits, I think I’d do pretty well. Vampires would scare me the most because they live in darkness and, if a lot of stories are to be believed, can be very persuasive in drawing you to them.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution?

A: For me, the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution was making sure there were no anachronisms in the story. The story takes place in early medieval times; we don’t give a specific year, but we imagined it to be around 1100. There are so many things we take for granted that just didn’t exist in that timeframe. For instance, they have few references to time, so we couldn’t say, “They rode for eight hours,” or “Wait a minute.” And food was an issue, too. We originally had our heroes eating dried beef along the trail, but only the very wealthy ate beef at that time. We did a tremendous amount of research on clothing, boats, weapons, all aspects of day-to-day life in those times.

Q: It’s often said that two heads are better than one. In co-authoring Retribution with your husband, what did you learn about each other’s writing, project development and time management skills?

A: John liked to sit down every day and write for four or five hours. And he liked to move quickly from one plot point to another. He would very quickly turn out ten or more pages, then go back and start to flesh out what was, in many cases, almost an outline. He would often say something like, “Let’s see where the story takes us today.” I prefer to think about what I’m going to write—sometimes for several days—before I actually sit down in front of my computer. John would have multiple rewrites, while I often only had one or two, since I’d done all the “rewrites” in my head.

Q: Please share with us the process of how your co-authoring worked.

A: You can probably guess, based on my previous answer, how our team process worked. John would write the key story points then I’d take his work and begin to round it out. He didn’t like to use a lot of description and I do, so that was my job, to add the color and flavor to his raw action.

Q: Would you co-author another book together?

A: Unfortunately, John passed away in 2012 when we were only about halfway through the book. We originally intended to have only one book, by the way, but I ended up making it two by the time I finished the project in 2015. If he were still alive, I would definitely continue to partner with him—we made a very strong writing team—but I’m not sure I’d like to co-author with someone else.

Q: Did any of your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, the main character, Luc de Lassier, surprised us. He was only supposed to be in the first twenty or thirty pages, but he just wouldn’t go away. I remember John sitting at his computer and almost yelling at Luc. “What are you still doing here? You’re only supposed to be a minor character!” Luc just took over the story to the point where we gave in, stopped fighting him, and made him the hero.

Q: Who will Retribution appeal to?

A: Although it’s described as a fantasy adventure for young adults, I think the story appeals to older adults as well.  It’s a coming-of-age tale that deals with many aspects of society, injustice, and human determination to overcome adversity. We just wrapped it all up in a rollicking adventure. Readers can certainly just enjoy the first layer—the adventures—but there are also some very serious issues to think about.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, is there a dream cast you’d love to see?

A: Ving Rhames would be my choice now for the character of Otieno, although both John and I pictured the late Michael Clark Duncan when we began writing the book in 2009. And John most definitely developed the character of Edeva with Nicole Kidman in mind. Peter Dinklage would be a great fit for Aldwyn, but surprisingly, neither John nor I had anyone specific in mind for the main character, Luc. And then there’s Aatto, the wolf. I don’t know any famous actor-wolves.

Q:  When and where do you feel you are at your most creative at the keyboard?

A: Creative writing is almost exclusively a morning task. I’m definitely the most productive early in the day. Most nights I mentally lay out my schedule for the next day, and I always put my most difficult projects first, whether its editing or my own writing. By mid-afternoon I want to be doing lighter things, like working on a cover in PhotoShop or researching on the Internet. And when I’m editing others’ works, I need to switch between two or three manuscripts. I stay sharper that way. When I focus too long on a single project, I lose my objectiveness.

Q: What famous author (living or dead) would you most want to have lunch with and why?

A: I’d love to have lunch with Tobias Smollett. Smollett was an 18th century author—he died in 1771—who wrote, among other things, the satirical, very funny novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The book is written in the form of letters between the characters and, as such, is basically all narrative. I love to write descriptions, so this really appeals to me. I only wish I could be as humorous as he was.

If Smollett isn’t available, I’d invite W.E.B. Griffith. I’m a World War II historian, and in my opinion, Griffith is one of the best fiction writers in that genre.

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

A: I certainly don’t look the part, but I rode a motorcycle for several years. I once made a trip of over 4,500 miles—through seven states and two countries—in just 18 days. I also dreamed of being a singer. I performed my first solo when I was three, sang in bars and nightclubs in college and later years, and still do karaoke when I get the chance.

Q: Tell us about the California Writers Club and how it offers support and resources for wordsmiths at any stage in their writing careers.

A: The California Writers Club has 21 branches and over 1,700 members statewide. I belong to the High Desert Branch. We host workshops by prominent professionals in the writing world, we have a variety of speakers at our monthly meetings—ranging from social media experts and marketing professionals to editors and authors—and our members can belong to one or more of many critique groups. Within our branch we have artists and illustrators, social media experts, website developers, professional editors, marketers, and writers from every level of skill. If one of our members expresses a need for a certain service or help with something, we strive to introduce them to another member who can provide that help or give them the tools to find their own answers. We also offer venues throughout the year for authors to showcase their work. (Visit www.hdcwc.com for more information.)

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your book?

A: I knew from what I’d learned in the writers club that self-publishing was the most viable option. I researched several online, on-demand printers and found that CreateSpace was the best choice for me.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?

A: Well, for one, don’t count on getting rich. Chances are you won’t. But if you want to write, then do it. Don’t worry about all the technical issues up front, just write your story. There are so many people out there who are afraid to write that first page because they don’t think they have anything to say. Everyone has something to say. Write your story. Then find the experts to make it publishable.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Most of my time is spent editing—that’s how I put food on the table. But when I can make the time, I’m currently working on two very different novels of my own. One, The Woman in Room 23, is very loosely based on my mother’s less-than-happy life and her 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, a battle she lost in 2011. The other is a murder mystery set in Orange County, California, called The Red Braces Murder.

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

A: Two of my books—Retribution and the sequel, Resolution—are available on Amazon.com. Both books, along with the cookbook John and I wrote called Some Like It Hot … the culinary adventures of one hot mama and one cool dude, are showcased on www.writerslairus.com. I can also be contacted directly at jennymargotta@gmail.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: J Margotta-Ferrara is a combination of my name and John’s. He was a prolific writer who often wrote under the name John Ferrara (Ferrara was his mother’s maiden name.) Listing both authors individually can sometimes be a hassle, so combining the names just seemed like the natural choice. Although I now write alone, I continue using the name in remembrance of John.