Off-Screen with Loretta Swit

SWITHEART

It’s a fact of life. At 79, there is no one on the planet who can rock a tube of red lipstick better than Loretta Swit. Although she’s well known by many for her roles in stage, film and television productions (most notably Major Margaret Houlihan in M*A*S*H), it’s almost eclipsed by her passionate talent for painting and her international reputation as an advocate for animal rights. Art and activism find a happy marriage in the release of her new book, SwitHeart, a coffee table edition of 65 full-color paintings and drawings, 22 photographs, and anecdotes about the furry and feathered friends that inspire her.

As she confided in our recent interview, “The toughest part of the book was deciding which images to use. My publisher, Mies (Hora), and I have concluded that we’re just going to have to do another one so as to fit everyone in!”

Proceeds from the book (which is available at SwitHeart.com) are donated to her ongoing campaign to end animal cruelty and suffering across the country and around the world.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You first discovered your passion for painting when you were six. How have you sustained that passion for all of these years?

A:  By painting, of course, you silly twit! If I’m sitting still, I’m doodling. Constantly! I had a touch of insomnia last night and was thinking about the latest painting I’m working on. I was up until 3 am. Sometimes things just happen. They occur. It could be a stroke or a color or even a background that suddenly makes a painting pop in a way it wouldn’t have in any other context. It’s an incredible journey for me and I sustain my love for painting … by painting! If I’m away from it or if I’m busy traveling, as soon as I can I get back down to it, it’s the first thing I want to do. It’s really not anything regimented. I see something, I’m moved by it, and it becomes my next project.

Q: After you won your first prize for art at such a young age, did you ever think of making that your career?

A: Looking back, it was kind of a cartoony sort of thing. I stalked my mother through the house until she finally agreed to submit my drawing. The next thing I knew, I won! My prize was a cute little pirate’s chest bank. I kept it for years—it was really adorable. It was thrilling for me at six years old to be recognized. As for thinking art could be my career, though, no. Never. Art is something I do the same way I breathe or sleep and it will always be a part of my life. But I also always knew I wanted to be an actor. This is what I wanted, this is what I’m doing and I can say that I’m living the dream. Other people go on vacations. What I do is my vacation because I love being there so much. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to combine wonderful travel with my work. When you’re doing evening work like being in a play, you have time during the day to paint and that’s where you’ll find me.

Q: How does your approach to painting compare/contrast with your approach to acting from a preparation and emotional perspective?

A: For me, they’re different but they both require craft. For instance, I’m a self-taught painter and I’m a hard-working, craft-oriented teacher. I believe in having a strong foundation of craft for your method, for your approach to whatever work you’re doing. There’s nothing mystical about acting but it’s infinitely interesting to me because it’s the study of human behavior. You never really know yourself inside and out because there’s always some new discovery for you. You evolve, you change, you’re affected. When it comes to painting, I very often feel that a higher power reaches out and guides you. For example, I only paint in watercolor and I feel that with watercolor you need the discipline to step back and quit. Otherwise, you can muddy and actually ruin your painting. Not so with oil painting where you have lots of do-overs.

I have had the almost spiritual feeling of something being produced by inspiration and intuition, tweaking colors here and there and then saying, “Did I just do that? That’s really good.” That said, I’m a very harsh critic of my own work. Maybe more lenient as I get older but I’m always taking into consideration that I am self-taught and have learned quite a lot over the years. I think if you’re earnest and committed and it’s a sincere effort, there is always even a small part of every painting that will speak to you and affect you. I compare this to movies. Maybe the movie overall isn’t that great but there’s a moment in it—even a small moment or scene—that stays with you long after it’s over.

Q: Which do you feel is more of a challenge – to act in a live play where there are no “do-overs” in front of an audience (no matter what goes wrong) or to act in a TV series where storylines are not only shot out of sequence but the same scenes are done multiple times as well?

A: They’re both challenging and they both have different rewards. I prefer the stage because I love the size of it. I love the feeling that I’m shot out of a cannon! I love to journey with the audience and feel that we experience all of those moments together and for the very first time. Therein lies tremendous challenge because even if you’re in a long-running show and have been saying the same lines over and over, the people in those seats are seeing and hearing something that’s brand new to them. What you’re creating is an intimate love story that invites them to get to know your character and witness how that character grows and evolves from start to finish.

In film, you’re shooting a character’s growth and feelings out of order, and it’s a huge challenge to know how it all works out without betraying that knowledge in the flow of nuance and energy the camera is capturing. Really good actors also don’t rely on the fact they can shoot a scene over and over until they get it right. I remember a story about Joanne Woodward where she was shooting a particularly emotional scene and something went wrong that required that entire scene to be reshot. She groaned about having to dig down to her toes and pull up all the energy again to re-deliver this highly-charged, high-voltage piece but that’s just what actors do. She was good, she was brilliant, and she was faithful to her craft.

Let me give you another example about attitude from a brilliant actor. Alan Alda. Alan and I were doing a scene we thought was really good. We finished and looked at each other, cheering about the moment of completion. Except something technical went wrong. We were directed to take the scene over again from the very top. We were so sure it was perfect. Arghghghgh! I couldn’t believe this was happening. Alan nudged me with his elbow and said, “Great! We get another chance to do it even better!” Now that’s a winning attitude I appreciate and I try to apply it to everything I do. You can always, always do it better the next time around.

Q: Actors are often warned against acting with children and animals because they will be ruthlessly upstaged. What, then, was it like for you to be a guest on The Muppet Show?

A: It’s like I died and went to Heaven! Seriously, the creativity was so thick and amazing that you couldn’t help but have a wonderful time. They flew me to London, put me up at the Dorchester, and I got to sing and dance around with a bunch of pieces of fur and felt and have the time of my life. I could rave about them forever.

Q: Favorite play you ever acted in?

A: It’s always whatever play I’m doing at the moment. Isn’t that what every actor says? Well, it’s true. I’m very fickle about that. I have a list of favorite plays, things I’ve loved that I completely adored. There are roles like Shirley Valentine that I went after before I had even closed the script. It’s a remarkable piece of theater written for a woman. I also loved doing Same Time, Next Year. Bernard Slade, in fact, wrote the first film I ever did so he really had me pegged to do the play. I loved the female character in it and, at that time, the play was very current in its notions about marriage and relationships. Too much has happened in our world since then to have the play current now but as a timepiece it’s an absolute jewel.

I also played Sister Aloysius in Doubt and Agnes Gooch in Mame and you couldn’t have had two characters farther apart! I think the more you have to stretch in different roles, the more fun it is for both you and the audience. I enjoyed doing Love Letters and The Vagina Monologues and Love, Loss and What I Wore—all fun stuff that was a joy to do and that I’d do all over again. It goes without saying that I loved M*A*S*H, too, because it was like doing a sweet little play every week with writers and actors I adored. It gave me the opportunity to work on a single character for an awfully long time and fortunately I had visionaries as producers who allowed me to continue to grow within that character. It was the first time in television that this actually happened, that Margaret continued to evolve, mindful of reruns and the order in which viewers would be catching the episodes.

Jeff and Loretta

Loretta at a Southern California book-signing with friend and actor Jeff Maxwell (aka Private Igor, the 4077th doofy cook).

Q: Had you seen the film version of M*A*S*H prior to the audition that won you the role of “Hot Lips?”

A: No, and it’s a funny story actually. I was in Hawaii at the time working with Jack Lord on Hawaii 5-0. By the time I came back, a lot of the flap about casting the TV version of M*A*S*H had already died down and I didn’t know they had already seen 200-300 women trying out for the part of Hot Lips. My then-agent called and asked me if I had seen the movie. When I told him I hadn’t, he said, “Great. No problem. Doesn’t matter.” He set up an appointment for me to meet Gene Reynolds, Larry Gelbart and Burt Metcalfe. He told me there wasn’t anything to prepare for or read and that it was just to show up.

My agent, meanwhile, had an offer for me to do a film with Olivia de Havilland which put me in orbit because I had always admired her. Out of courtesy, he called Fox to tell them he had had an offer for me to do a movie and that we were going to go for it if I didn’t get cast in the show because there was a conflict of dates.

Gene Reynolds told him, “Oh, we were just going to call you. We’ve decided to go with Loretta.” Anyway, I’ve been told that our series was closer to the book in terms of characters and episodic and, thus, closer than we ever were to the movie. After I got cast, there wasn’t really any reason for me to watch the film. Now and again I’ll be channel-surfing and catch what looks like the 4077th but it’s not really my M*A*S*H and I keep on going.

Q: In addition to an endearing ensemble cast, top-notch scripts and an artful blend of comedy and drama, M*A*S*H has the distinction of lasting longer on the air than the actual war it was depicting. Well over 30 years after the series finale, it’s still possible to channel-surf on any given day and find it playing in syndication. In your opinion, what accounts for the longevity of the show and its ability to resonate with viewers of all ages (even those too young to have watched it the first time around)?

A: Well, for one thing, the writing was superb and it just kept getting better and better. They also never repeated themselves. They kept coming up with one luscious idea after another and matching some of us together to see what would happen. Next came the extraordinary group of actors who also loved each other. You can always work on friendship and politeness but love is something that’s either there or it isn’t. It happened so deeply that, to this day, it’s the closest family I personally have ever had. We have always been there for each other. On the sad occasions when one of our own has passed away, we mourn them just as we would a flesh and blood family member and cry and hug and share favorite stories. That bond came across very clearly and without working at it in every episode we did. And audiences knew that.

There were also the core values the producers put forth, timeless values that hit people at just the right time and mindset to produce synchronicity. They were ready for a show about peace even though the backdrop of M*A*S*H was about war. Integrity, love, friendship, ambition—M*A*S*H had all of these things. It was about experts—expert doctors and expert nurses—doing their very best under the worst of circumstances. To be able to laugh at their clowning which was a relief for them and at the same time get a lump in the throat when things went wrong—it was a beautiful balance. Families could watch this show together because they trusted us and they trusted the writers to deliver something that was real, that was authentic and that reinforced the message we are all human.

Because we were on the air for so long, the children in those families grew up, got married, had children of their own and yet M*A*S*H is still a family thing. Our fan mail always reflected that. Little girls, for instance, who grew up to become nurses after the years of watching me play-act. For all intents and purposes, M*A*S*H was a sitcom—and I hate that word—but it was so much more. It was a slice of life and its own category that audiences trusted because everyone involved was giving their heart and soul.

It’s also funny that occasionally when I’m channel-surfing and I come across an episode, it instantly seduces me. I can sit there and recall in amazing clarity everything we were doing that day—whether I was needlepointing a pillow or Alan was playing chess with Mike. Sometimes I’ll even call my fellow actors and say, “Wow! Guess what I’m watching! Was this a great episode or what?” It’s almost like I’m seeing everything again for the first time and appreciating it even more.

Q: When actors play a particular role on TV for a long time, they can become so closely identified with their fictional personas that it can be challenging for audiences to accept them as anyone else. As the iconic “Hot Lips,” for instance, you were starring on Broadway in Same Time, Next Year at the same time M*A*S*H was on the air. Did you ever get a sense that the audience was murmuring, “Does Frank know about this?”

A: Never. Ever. Ever. And I can point to several reviews that support that. I remember one in particular—and I have to mention I was never someone caught up in reviews of my work—where a gentleman came up after a performance of Shirley Valentine and said, “I understand you don’t always read reviews. Well, I’d like you to read this one.” And it began, “If you’re headed to the theater in the hopes of seeing Margaret Hot Lips Houlihan, you’ll be disappointed in that way but joyous in being riveted for two hours and fifteen minutes by an actor on stage bringing so many different characters to life.” He took exception to people liking to come to the theater to see a television icon, but this goes back to my own relationship with the audience. If I believe in the character I’m playing, an audience will be swept along and believe it, too. If I do my best, the audience will respond to it.

Q: Speaking of painting, let’s talk about the gorgeous animals that fill the pages of your new book.

A: Yes, let’s. Enough about me. Let’s talk about them.

Q: Since furry and feathered subjects can’t sit still for a studio portrait like their human counterparts, tell us a little about the process you go through to capture their essence.

A: It’s a number of things, actually. It’s memory, it’s imagination. It’s doing a sketch of something I’ve seen, as well as working from photographs. Sometimes I’ll start a new project based on friends’ snapshots of their pets. Other times, I’ll draw inspiration from a picture in a calendar. Every painting in the book is accompanied by short stories about what inspired them.

The cover of the book, for instance, is my painting of a Jack Russell. He was a rescue pup from BIDE-A-WEE, which is the oldest animal rescue organization in Manhattan. I just can’t say enough good things about the remarkable work they do. Anyway, I was the recipient of five lovely little “mistakes” by two uneducated youngsters who knew nothing about spaying and neutering. Believe me, they know now! I took them to BIDE-A-WEE and they were fantastic in terms of giving them their shots, socializing them, and happily, placing them in forever homes. They scrutinize every adoption request thoroughly. In fact, it’s probably harder to adopt a dog from BIDE-A-WEE than it is to adopt a child from Russia.

Q: I’m assuming you had beloved pets when you were growing up?

A: I did indeed. My first little dog was named Cheetah. Seriously. Today I share my home with my little Yorkie and two 15-year-old cats. I was told the latter were littermates. My vet thought this was hilarious and said there was no way that cat parents could have produced a Siamese and a black and white tuxedo. I call Nubie—the black and white—my Velcro cat because he attaches himself to me and likes to just hang there while I walk around.

Q: Your love for animals and your passion to advocate for them go hand in hand. In general, how are we progressing in the fight to stop animal abuse, and if you could change any one aspect of this issue, what would it be?

A: First thing on the agenda would be to erase every single puppy and kitten mill off the map. It’s as disgusting as a bloodsport and a boil on the complexion of our society that we continue to allow these places to exist. Whenever we hear about one, we shut them down. Just as quickly, though, they pop up somewhere else. I have a friend who adopted a Yorkie that had been in a puppy mill. For the first couple of years, this poor little thing kept walking around in circles. They realized she was walking the perimeter of the cage she had grown up in through her whole ordeal as a baby machine. It’s a horror and the conditions are even more horrible.

Laws also need to be more stringent on what’s done with the “discards” from breeders, the dogs that don’t meet all of the standards to be show quality. This also goes along with the elimination of “backyard breeding”—another horrible and sad practice. Professional breeders have to pay a license to breed dogs but, of course, this doesn’t stop people from doing this in their basement and trying to make a profit from excessive inbreeding.

We need to step up in terms of educating people about the important of spaying and neutering. On top of that, if we can’t reach people on a compassionate level, it’s also costing tax-dollars every time an animal has to be euthanized. Multiply that by the millions of animals we put to death every year. We also need to ban the practice of selling dogs and cats at pet stores, many of which have come from mills. There’s no vetting of strangers who come in off the street and want to buy a live animal from a shop at the mall. Will those owners be responsible or will those “purchases” end up dead through no fault of their own?

Q: Tell me about the concept behind SwitHeart Animal Alliance and how your partnership with Mies Hora came about.

A: I absolutely adore Mies, mostly because he never disagrees with me! He’s a brilliant designer and editor and publisher and we couldn’t be prouder of this book. Funny story—Mies is Czech but for some reason I always assumed he was Dutch. Through the course of getting the book out there, I introduced him as Dutch. Well, he let me do it a few times and finally one day he said, “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m actually Czech.” Down the road we were working on some marketing ideas and very mildly arguing about whose idea was better. “As a joke, I said, ‘you know, I think I really liked you better when you were Dutch!’ and we laughed and everything was fine from there. It has become our running gag and whenever we hit a roadblock, I tell him that I wish he was Dutch.

As for how it began, we met on a private plane on the way to Florida where I was receiving the Red Cross Humanitarian Award. I had my iPad out and he happened to notice some of my paintings. He asked if he could see it. He really loved them, we got to talking and everything just sprouted from there. The whole process took about a year—to me, it really doesn’t seem that long—but every bit of it was exciting in picking, choosing, writing, and defining what we wanted this book to say. Work is in progress on a second edition and—like the first one—proceeds from sales will go to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves.”

A Conversation with Carol McKibben

Carol McKibben

I’m so pleased to introduce my latest interviewee, Carol McKibben, author of Riding Through It, Luke’s Tale, and the newly released, Snow Blood. As an avid advocate for animals, and a special love for dogs, Carol’s latest books are written from the dog’s POV. Weaving tales of unconditional love, commitment, and the bonds that form our closest relationships, Carol reminds us of the valuable lessons we can all learn from the animals who share our lives. With 30+ years of experience in publishing, marketing, public relations, business management, education, and project management, Carol also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her writing. Join me in welcoming Carol McKibben!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Q: Who has been the greatest mentor in your life on a personal or business level and why?

A: It’s impossible for me to just pick one. I’ve had so many. My daddy, brother and husband Mark have all had equal parts of encouraging me to be independent, strong and true to myself. But, three others particularly stick out in my mind. The first was G. Glenn Cliff. He was the editor of the Kentucky Historical Society and one of my early bosses. He encouraged my writing talent and pushed me to go back to college and complete my education. The second was another boss, a dean at Rollins College. He encouraged me to get my Master’s Degree. The third is my publisher, Stephanie at Troll River Publications. She has encouraged and supported my writing for years. The loveliest part of that relationship is that she also happens to be my daughter. And while we’re on that topic – she’s my harshest critic. So, when she finally likes something I write, I know I’m in good shape!

Q: Dogs and humans have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for eons, which is seldom replicated between other species. What would you say dogs and people give each other, and why has this bond held true for so long?

A: The reason the bond has held true for so long is that dogs give humans unconditional love as only a dog can. No other human will love you, no matter your mood, your circumstances or the amount of attention you pay to them like dogs will. All dogs are descended from wolves. Man gave wolves food and warmth, and they evolved to be our companions and give us what we needed in return – unconditional love.

Q: You obviously have an interest in the paranormal, as evidenced in your last book, Snow Blood, about a vampire dog. Have you ever experienced anything of a paranormal nature in your own life, and if so, what was it?

A: I haven’t personally had a paranormal experience, but I have observed them in my family. Both my mother and my daughter are what I call “sensitives.” They are open to things that others can’t see. When my brother was thrown from a horse, he was unconscious for three weeks. My mother never left his side until my father forced her to go home and refresh herself. As she stretched across the bed, she felt a weight next to her and a hand touching her forehead. She looked up into her father’s blue eyes and his voice telling her that everything would be all right. Her father had passed away one month before my brother was born! At that moment, my father called to tell her that my brother was out of the coma. Years later, when my brother was in a car accident, I was sitting next to my mother who kept rubbing her leg, saying that she was in pain. When the phone rang to tell her that my brother had been in an accident and was in the hospital, she didn’t even say “hello.” The first words out of her mouth were: “I know my son has been in a horrible accident. Where is he?”

My daughter has that same uncanny ability.

Q: As a writer who has vast (30+) years of experience in publishing and editing, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this journey?

A: Use your passion to fuel your writing. Write about things that you love. Write every day. Hemingway believed that the only way to become a great writer was to practice, practice, practice every day. The more you write, the better you become. And understand that if you want to get published, that the writing is just a quarter of the effort you’ll need to make. Getting the book published and then marketed will be the majority of your effort.

Q: What has your writing journey taught you about yourself?

A: Most of my career, I wrote non-fiction for business purposes. After finishing my memoir, Riding Through It, I approached writing a novel for the first time with a bit of fear. I knew that I had an active imagination, but I had never written pure fiction. To my amazement, my stories just seemed to pour out of me onto the keyboard. What has amazed me after almost three novels (Snow Blood Season 2 will be out this summer) is how my main character leads the way. William Faulkner said, “It almost always starts with a character. Once he stands up and starts to move, it’s all I can do to run along behind him jotting down everything that he says and does.” And this is so true for me. So, my writing journey has taught me to trust myself.

Q: What would you say are your personal strengths and weaknesses, and why?

A: My strengths that are beneficial to being a writer: I’m organized; I’m persistent and stick to a schedule. I enjoy the time alone to write. I write every day. My weaknesses: I’m a bit selfish with my time – I need to get over that. Bad reviews still bother me, even though I try not to show it. (I’m a writer, so I’m insecure!)

Q: How have you used your strengths and weaknesses to good advantage in your writing?

A: Organization, persistence and enjoying, no loving, what I do allow me the luxury of being creative and getting a lot written. Being selfish with my time means again that I get more done as a writer. Because I am sensitive to what others say about my writing, it makes me strive harder to be better.

Q: What are your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing in today’s writing landscape?

A: I co-authored a business book back in 1996, and it was traditionally published (by a very well-known publishing house). I didn’t feel that the publisher did much to promote the book. My writing partner and I were the ones that went out and got all the sales. Then, I self-published Riding Through It. Again, I had to market and sell it myself, but I didn’t have to give up so much of the revenue like I did with a traditional publisher. (Minus distribution, printing, etc.) For Luke’s Tale and the Snow Blood Series, I am working with a boutique publishing house that really produces for its authors – marketing plans, actual marketing, covers, editorial support, etc. And, I feel like the commission TRP takes is fair for the work they do. Let’s face it, unless you are John Irving, Stephen King,  or one of the big name authors, you won’t get that type of attention from a big publishing company. And now, there are lots of companies out there that will work with authors to self-publish. I think there’s room for both. Much of it depends upon whether you want to hold your new book in your hands in a short time span (self-publishing) or if you don’t mind going through a longer process (traditional publishing.) Then there’s the boutique publishing option, for which I’ve opted.

Q: Writing and publishing take a great deal of time, more than most people can imagine, and tenacity. How do you structure your day to fit in everything you need to accomplish?

A: I spend 50% of my day working with my clients (other authors and companies that require my writing/editing/marketing skills.)

I spend 25% of my day writing for myself, and another 25% marketing my books.

I use a DayTimer, schedule my work by degree of importance, and work through it until everything gets done. Please keep in mind that I don’t work an 8-hour day! It’s more like 12-14 hours.

Q: What would you say are the three most common mistakes new writers make when starting out?

A:

  1. Lack of Editing. The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to think that editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spelling errors. That’s the very last thing to do. New writers tend to want to submit a first draft if they have an editor. Don’t do it. Put it aside for a week, then go back to it and rewrite. The first draft of a story needs to be sharpened, reworded, and it needs a professional editor when you have given it your all. I usually am up to Draft 6 or 7 before it goes to my editor.
  2. Poor Dialogue Skills. Dialogue in fiction isn’t real but it must sound real. It has to be sharp. No long confessional speeches. Engage your characters with each other. Reveal plot through dialogue and action. Use it to provide essential information and above all to show character. It’s critical to “show” and not “tell” and the proper balance of dialogue and action does that.
  3. No attention to Language. Too many writers are so busy telling a story that they don’t choose their words carefully enough. Writing should always be clear. Use intriguing language in new ways. The wind doesn’t only blow, it whips, rips, roars … really wordsmith … go over your draft for that specific purpose.

Other things newbies do are: include irrelevant detail; they rely on clichés and don’t use imagery; they don’t “set the stage” and leave out the details of the setting. They leave out taste, smell, etc. They also don’t have structure or know how to pace a story – when to give and when to withhold information, how to create tension, speed up or slow things down. This is all done by choosing the right words and the length of syllables. They sometimes shift point of view, without carefully introducing it. Finally, lack of technical knowledge (grammatical errors.) They need to learn the reasons behind the rules. Only when you know the rules can you break them! How do you learn them? By reading published fiction.

Q: What has been your most difficult lesson to learn in life so far, and why?

A: That everything changes. I tend to want to pre-plan and control my environment, my life, my situation. Change is inevitable. It always happens. Being the organizational, slightly OCD person that I am, it takes me a few minutes to warm up to changes!

Q: Rescue dogs are a lot like foster children. They often come with a whole host of emotional and physical scars. What can people who are considering taking in a rescue dog (or any animal for that matter) do to help ensure their home is the best fit for themselves and the dog?

A: I work with a great organization, LA Animal Rescue (LAAR). I suggest approaching a reputable rescue like LAAR and letting them work their magic. They take in to consideration your lifestyle, your living situation, your comfort levels and the needs of the dog. If you are a runner who wants a dog that you can take out on the trails, or a couch potato who wants a cuddle buddy, you need to be paired with the right dog. Organizations like LAAR put emotionally and physically scared dogs with fosters who will work to help them overcome their issues. They won’t pair a dog with issues to someone not willing or capable of working with them, and they never place a dangerous animal.

Q: What’s next on your plate, Carol?

A: I’m working with my editor to complete Snow Blood Season 2. I hope to have it out by this summer. (We’ve been editing since before Christmas, so you can see how important editing is to me!) After that, I plan to do the third installment in the Snow Blood Series. Then, I hope to write a novel based on quirky characters who love each other unconditionally. This is inspired by my author idol, John Irving.

Where to find Carol McKibben:

 

Website: http://www.carolmckibben.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolMckibbenAuthor
https://twitter.com/@carolmckibben

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolmckibben

Amazon Link to Snow Blood Season 1: http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Blood-Episodes-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00JOWG05O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-2&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Luke’sTale: http://www.amazon.com/Lukes-Tale-Story-Unconditional-Love-ebook/dp/B00ASZNBW6/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-4&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Riding Through It: Paperback version: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben/dp/1598009419/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-13&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Kindle Link: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00E2C0OR6/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-5&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4046806.Carol_McKibben

 

 

 

A Conversation with Patricia Fry

Patricia Fry

Of Ms. Fry’s varied achievements (40 books to her credit, published by traditional and small presses, in the business for 40 years and the Executive Director of SPAWN [Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network] www.spawn.org), she is entering new territory as a fiction writer with her “Klepto Cat mystery series”.

For me, Ms. Fry’s greatest achievements lie in the things she won’t see, and the things that can’t be counted; the power of self-confidence gained from minor successes, and from knowledge; the warmth of someone reaching out and honestly wanting someone else to succeed; and the natural Pay-it-Forward sequence that occurs when someone finds their wings and wants to help others fly.  She is open to receiving email: PLFry620@yahoo.com.

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: With your latest story, Catnapped, a Klepto Cat Mystery, you are entering new fictional territory. How is your writing process for fiction different than nonfiction?

A: As you said, I’m a beginner when it comes to fiction and I’m still finding my way in this genre. As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that my process and approach isn’t a whole lot different between writing fiction and nonfiction. Both must be written with the audience in mind, both require a sense of organization (of material—of plot/story), both require a beginning, middle and end. The author must be consistent when writing both fiction and nonfiction. And both require attention to detail—grammatical, punctuation and factual. I guess where my process differs is in the building of the story for fiction, as opposed to the gathering and compiling of facts for my nonfiction articles and books. With both fiction and nonfiction, I find that I can start with a basic premise (story or theme) and I can sit down and let it develop as I write. Only occasionally do I need to refer to a storyboard or an outline. I do keep a character log, however, so I don’t forget what color hair someone has or if they’re rotund or stick thin, for example.

Q: Smart tip! How did the idea for the Klepto Cat series come to you?

A: I’ve wanted to try writing fiction for a long time. I enjoy reading cozy mysteries and especially those with a cat in them. I’ve lived with cats for years. I currently have a sweet cat who carries things around in her mouth—her toys, teddy bears from my collection and so forth. My mother has a large grey-and-white cat with a huge personality. So when my daughter told me about seeing some guy walk up on her porch and take off with her cat, I decided that cats being catnapped would make a good plot for my first novel and I expanded on our kitty’s habits and my mother’s cat’s confidence and demeanor and created Rags, a kleptomaniac cat. I figured it would be a fun exercise coming up with ways that a cat with this habit could help to solve the various crimes in the series. In the second book—Cat-Eye Witness—coming in October 2013, Rags actually participates in a police line-up, of sorts.

None of the cats, dogs or horses in my stories talk. They’re as ordinary as most animals, some with more interesting quirks than others. The people in the stories are the focus, with the animals charmingly making appearances and, of course, revealing important clues.

Q: I like how you give the cat such a sense of character within the normal traits of kitties. How do you have a second novel ready for publication in October, when Catnapped has just come out?

A: I wrote three starting in June of 2012 all one right after another. I am doing my final self-edit for book two now and will turn it over to my proofreader next week. Also I have engaged a few test readers. Then I’ll start the final work on book 3. I have book 4 sketched out and am eager to start actively working on it. Of course, my progress with writing new books will slow down now that I have books to promote.

Q: In a previous how-to, Talk Up Your Book (http://www.spawn.org/blog/?p=2326), you give many options for promoting one’s work, even if someone is shy (who would likely imagine they could never become self-promoters). What do you find is the greatest misconception of marketing?

A: Probably that someone else is going to do it for you. The truth is that no matter which publishing option you choose (landing a traditional royalty publisher, paying a “self-publishing” company or establishing your own publishing company), the author is required to promote his or her own book.

Q: Good point. When and why did you join SPAWN?

A: Mary Embree started SPAWN in 1996, before the Internet was so active. She had in mind bringing authors, artists, illustrators, cover designers, printers, publishers, agents, editors, etc. together to meet face-to-face for the purpose of networking and possible collaboration. I joined Mary early on in her vision as President for many years and I am now the Executive Director of SPAWN. We are online only now. Our mode of networking is via an online discussion group and we still keep our finger on the pulse of the publishing industry and continue to provide information and resources through the website and two e-newsletters.

Q: Over the last two decades you have helped authors, artists and publishers find their way, through your engagement and care (as an editor, Executive Director of SPAWN, with your books, etc.) When did you know this was your life’s passion?

A: My passion is and has always been writing. I began writing articles for magazines early on as a way to justify spending time writing. If I’m being paid for my writing, then I can justify continuing to write. And for decades, all I was interested in was writing. Over the years, I had people asking me to help them with their writing projects. I declined—I was completely absorbed in my own work. Finally, I decided to teach a workshop for local writers. It was such a success and I felt such satisfaction for having helped other writers, that I wrote my first book for freelance writers. It was about then that I began accepting manuscripts for critique and editing. Along with this, I began speaking to authors and writing articles and books for authors. I discovered that I loved this work—again, it felt wonderful to be able to help authors to succeed in the highly competitive field of publishing. So yes, I still have that passion for writing, and I am passionate about helping other authors. Now, I am also passionate about developing stories from my own head and heart as I attempt to move into the realm of fiction-writing.

Q: Awesome! Is there a particular thing you find coming up as a challenge among the people you guide and mentor through your various works?

A: Many new authors today are writing for themselves. There has always been this faction—I mean before technology and the various service companies that have cropped up within the publishing industry, people wrote for themselves. Now, everyone wants to publish and not every book is suitable. Authors need to think about their audience before ever launching a book. They must keep that audience in mind through the entire process of writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. They need to understand the publishing industry and how to navigate it. Most new authors do not understand that, while writing is a craft, publishing is a business—an extremely competitive business.

Q: In all your years as a self-published author, is there a moment you could pinpoint where you felt like “a real writer”?

A: This is an interesting question—I do recall hesitating to consider myself a writer back in 1973, even after I was writing regularly for a few magazines and I was a columnist for a newspaper. I guess it was when my first book came out in 1978 that I felt comfortable introducing myself as a writer. Today, it seems that people apply the term author or writer to themselves as soon as they finish typing out their first draft of their first manuscript. Really, does it matter?

Q: It’s something that I’ve run into as well; I feel I always have to qualify myself with “I’ve been published a lot but my only paying gig was as a Teen Reporter” or “But I’m not like published with my own book yet”, so I wanted to see your thoughts on it. I wonder if all writers run into the need to qualify what kind of writer they are. Like how you would define “a real writer” by today’s standards, when it is so easy to get published and the lines between traditional and self-publishing are becoming blurred so that both carry their own weight?

A: I must say that sometimes when I introduce myself as a writer, I find myself qualifying this statement by saying, “I’ve been writing for publication for four decades,” or “I have 40 books to my credit.” I do this in order to separate myself from those who claim they’re writers just because they have an idea for a book and are spending a few hours each week working on it. Again, it doesn’t really matter how we represent ourselves to others, does it? The proof in the pudding is what we produce, right?

Q: Yes, definitely. Though to me, it wasn’t the way I represented myself to others, it was how I saw myself. You’ve seen a lot of changes in the publishing industry; from your experience, what has been the most important?

A: One of the most important changes is probably the one that has made it so easy for people to become authors. And this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Successful authorship is not easy. And it does not have to cost a lot of money, either. Another important change is the way we’re reading books—via Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. And the way books are being sold. Some authors, who have not studied books such as my Publish Your Book, still hope to sell beaucoup books through major bookstores. And this is just not happening for anyone I know. People are selling books online and through personal appearances. Some books sell well at specialty stores related to the theme or topic of the fiction or nonfiction book. It’s through the author’s efforts that books sell. For a greater understanding of book marketing, read my book, Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Technique for the Enterprising Author.

Q: I’ll check that out. What, if anything, do you feel the industry has lost in its myriad evolutions?

A: Integrity (too many “self-publishing” companies making outrageous offers and promises) and quality books (too many companies and authors in a huge hurry to get their books out and not taking time to work with a good editor). There’s also the issue of individuals having come out of the woodwork to jump on the lucrative publishing services bandwagon in hopes of getting a slice of the pie. It’s almost impossible for authors to weed through all of their options and make the right choices on behalf of their books.

Q: Where do you see the industry going from here?

A: I believe that things will level out at some point—left standing will be savvy authors and credible companies.

Q: It will be interesting to watch that unfold. Which of your books would you recommend to anyone starting out?

A: Publish Your Book, Proven Strategies and Resources for the Enterprising Author. Available at Amazon.com in print, Kindle and audio—also at most other online and downtown bookstores.

Q: Thank you. How do you manage your time and resources so you don’t burn out, and yet are so productive and successful?

A: I’m afraid I’m a bit of a workaholic. I put in 8 to 12 hours per day at least 6 days a week. And yes, I do suffer burnout sometimes. But I find that a brief respite in the yard or at the beach helps. I walk every day and I enjoy getting out and doing a little photography. I find that I sometimes need a creative outlet from my main creative outlet—writing. Go figure.

 Q: I know what you mean; for me, it’s baking or cooking. As a last note, you say that an author is their own brand. How would you define yours?

A: I’m an author and an editor dedicated to teaching and guiding other authors through the treacherous publishing waters. I’m reliable, professional and I have a passion in my heart for writing and the written word.

 

 

Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time

Driving with Cats Cover_Driving with Cats

“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth,” wrote Jules Verne. “A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.” In her recently released memoir, Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, author Catherine Holm offers a lovely and poignant collection of stories and lessons about journeying through life with feline companions. As any lover of cats might be inclined to agree, nine lives will never be quite enough to fully get acquainted.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: For a sneak peek teaser, what is Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time all about?

A: Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time is a memoir of life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond. There are three things going on in this book. The overall book is framed by the story of my 21-year-old cat Jamie’s amazing last two months of life. Other chapters tell the story of milestones in my own life and the lives of the unique cats who have joined me on the journey. Also, interspersed through the book are short essays, both thoughtful, humorous, and informational. (Several of these essays were expanded and adapted at catster.com, where I blog.)

Driving with Cats is about the amazing things our companion animals teach us and bring to our lives. It is also a story about learning to move through the letting go process, and appreciating the gifts that this transition brings.

Q: What was your inspiration to write this book?

A: I wanted to write a memoir, but obviously, just focusing on “my life” seemed a bit huge, and not real compelling. I love cats and feel strongly about the human/animal-companion bond. When it occurred to me that I could write a memoir slanted through the bond I share with my cats, I got excited.

Q: Did you start with a formal outline or did you make things up as you went along? Why did your chosen process work well for you?

A: I tend not to outline. I wrote as I went, having no idea how it would turn out. Strangely, that seems to work best for me.

Q: As a long-time dog lover, I’m curious: what is your personal connection to cats?

A: I think this is a result, for me, of spending lots of time around cats. I love dogs too, but feel I understand cats better. I spend a lot of time observing my cats. We’ve always had more cats than dogs in my adult life, due to space and the layout of our household.

I did start out as a dog lover when I was a child. I knew all the breeds, devoured dog fiction, and visited every dog I could on the way home from school. I still love dogs, and there are a few references to and mention of dogs in Driving with Cats.

Q: Besides the obvious physical differences, what do you think differentiates cats from other animals insofar as being companions to humans?

A: That’s a good question. I’m not sure I have an answer, or if there is an answer. I’ll just say that I think cats’ personalities are uncovered differently than dogs’. A cat may reveal herself more slowly, and more subtly, than a dog. It’s just the difference between the two animals. I don’t know enough about all other animals to compare them to cats.

Q: What’s so special and significant about the death/dying/grieving process that you go through with your pets?

A: For me, death has often been a tender and profound process. (This goes for the people in my life that have passed on, as well.) I think that if there’s time to say goodbye (such as in a hospice situation, or an instance where you know an animal will be terminal, but you’re providing palliative care and trying to make them as comfortable as possible), that some really deep and tender bonds can grow and become stronger. The goodbye experience, in these cases, has been as wonderful as it has been sad. The animals, it seems, have really gone above and beyond to say goodbye in the best way possible.

Q: What can companion animals teach us about how to become better human beings?

A: I think any of us who share a household with a companion animal will have an answer for this! To me, they teach us how to be better people. They teach us to love unconditionally, and to receive unconditional love. They teach us to live in the moment, because their lives are usually shorter than ours. They teach us responsibility. Learning that I could love completely and unconditionally was a big realization for me.

Q: What do you believe is the strongest takeaway value from Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time?

A: We only have the present (not the past, not the future), so get good at truly appreciating the present moment. This applies to loving your companion animal, or loving anyone. Also, there’s opportunity for love, and loving behavior, everywhere.

Q: A former friend of mine once had no less than 22 cats in her household, many of whom were living long past their expiration dates. No matter their age or state of decline, she felt it would be too hard on her to ever have them put to sleep. Given that we are the stewards to domesticated animals, what is your response to a situation like this?

A: I try not to judge without knowing all the variables. Of course, there are many cases where animals may live too long because the person can’t let go. There are also many cases where an animal may be put down too soon — for many reasons. I know of a woman who has (I think) 19 cats, but she has the resources to care for them well. I don’t. I’m stretched at five or six at most.

Putting an animal to sleep can be a very difficult decision. On the other hand, it may be the better solution than a painful death. On the other hand, I have had animals die peacefully, on their own, at home. Every situation is going to be a little different. When I’ve had to take an animal in to be put down, the anticipation and dread has been worse than the actual experience. The actual experience, in my case, has been positive and peaceful.

Q: Describe your work space…and are cats involved?

A: Sometimes I work in the house, but I usually end up distracted by the cats, who love to lay over whatever I’m doing. I do have a separate small office building next to our house, that we put up ourselves. It provides distraction-free space. Sometimes I will bring a cat out, but haven’t done this for a while. Jamie (the 21-year-old who frames the story in Driving with Cats) absolutely loved being taken to the office and spending time with me there. It was one of his favorite pleasures.

Q: How do you shape your life to facilitate writing?

A: What works best for me is to write first thing in the morning. My mind seems more amenable to creative writing at this time. I try to not let other life factors press in until I do the writing (such as promotion, social media promotion, and the freelancing I do from home). I try to make my life as flexible as possible so that the writing gets done.

Q: Tell us about the decision process that went into finding a publisher.

A: It was really pretty simple and fairly fast. I approached my first publisher, but they were not interested in a cat-themed memoir. Then, I sent it to a bunch of agents, got rejections, and some encouragement. I sent it to a midsized press, who also rejected it with some encouragement. I sent it to a regional small press, who asked me to contribute funds to publish it (I didn’t want to go that route). Then, I sent it to North Star Press, another regional small press. They got back to me very quickly, saying that they wanted to publish Driving with Cats.

Q: What did you learn about publishing that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: This is my second book. I tend to really throw myself into things. My first book taught me what hard work promotion is. It is continuous. My second book, hopefully, is helping me refine the process more and make better decisions about which opportunities to go after, and which to not pursue. I’m learning that a published writer must work hard at promotion, but also not let the promotion consume the creation of new writing. It’s a tricky balance.

Q: You also write cat fantasy fiction under the name of Ann Catanzaro. What prompted you to go with a pseudonym and how did you go about choosing this particular one?

A: The cat fantasy fiction is self published and I wanted to distinguish between these self-published chapbooks and my traditionally published work. Both names are family names and names I like — of course, I also like the “Cat” in Catanzaro!

Q: What’s your best advice to someone who comes to you and says, “I want to become an author”?

A: Develop a sustained practice of writing and reading. Think long term. Getting better as a writer takes time. Be prepared for the difference between “writer” and “author,” though it may not really be possible to understand this until you step into the author role. (I blog about this here.) Read Stephen King’s On Writing — I found it really inspired and resonated with me.

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

A: I’m not sure…I have done a lot of different things. I taught voice and piano, I teach yoga now. I love to travel, I love wilderness camping. I’m generally pretty calm, or I try to be. I’m pretty passionate, but that’s probably not a surprise. I think what may surprise people most about me is an inner strength that is not immediately apparent. I’m pretty quiet unless I need not to be.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m in the middle of a novel about a mother/daughter relationship. I have also outlined and am ready to write another cat-themed memoir.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is http://www.catherineholm.com and it also links to my facebook page and my LinkedIn page. I blog occasionally on my website (mostly announcements and that type of thing). I blog quite a bit at http://www.catster.com— one of my freelance jobs. Read any of my writing — I’m really pretty transparent!

 

 

 

Luke’s Tale

Luke's_Tale_-_Final_Cover

 “If there are no dogs in Heaven,” wrote Will Rogers, “then when I die I want to go where they went.”

It’s a quote that anyone who has ever been rescued by a dog can relate to, for who but a dog can find complete contentment curled up by your side, greet you enthusiastically even if you’ve only left the room for five minutes, and gaze at you through old-soul eyes as if you were the center of the universe. Whether your canine companion is big, little, young or old, Carol McKibben’s new book, Luke’s Tale, is a heart-tugging reminder that our four-legged best friends often know us better – and love us even more – than anyone else can begin to imagine.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your new book and what inspired you to write it.

A: Luke’s Tale follows the obstacle-riddled journey of a couple’s search for unconditional love, told from the point-of-view of their blind dog, Luke.

The novel was inspired by two things. The first was my blind dog Luke who was such an inspiration for me. As he spiraled into blindness, he was my constant companion. He was fearless. He had always been my barn dog before he went blind. After Progressive Retinal Atrophy took his sight, he continued to go to the barn with me every day, and, stuck to me like Velcro everywhere I went. He was never afraid to go somewhere on his own, feeling gently with his front paws as he went along. It was his loyalty and love for me that made him so courageous.

Secondly, I truly believe that couples today give up on their relationships because they place unrealistic “conditions” on each other. But, no matter if you are sick, tired, unemployed, had a bad day or are even angry, your dog will love you. That is why I made Luke, the Dog, the narrator of this story. I want people to see what it means to stick by those they love, no matter how bad it gets.

There are dog owners who would have “put Luke down” because of his blindness. It never crossed my mind. Our love was without conditions. Life is full of ups and downs, and it’s important for people to understand how to ride through the ‘downs’ and why not placing our own expectations on others will strengthen any relationship. This may seem ‘too out there,’ but this message came to me in a dream. That and my blind dog, Luke, were the inspiration for this novel. So, perhaps angels inspired my story? I know that Luke was an angel here on earth, and maybe angels brought the idea to me in my dreams!

Q: Your dog, Luke, is the narrator of the story. What governed the decision to deliver your message via his unique canine perspective?

A: First of all, a dog is the only creature on this earth that loves unconditionally. You can be in a bad mood, sick, speak to him harshly, ignore him, have pimples all over your face, and he will still lick your hand, sit by your side and love you, no matter what. I needed the representative of true, unconditional love to guide the story. I am heavily involved in fostering rescued dogs that have been abandoned and mistreated by their human owners. I have seen the compassion that those in dog rescue offer their canine friends. With this story, I wanted the dog to be the one to rescue his humans and save them for a better life. It just felt like something a dog would do, if he could, especially my real-life Luke.

Q: Have dogs always been a part of your life? Tell us about some of your favorites (including Luke, of course).

A: Yes, I’ve always had dogs since childhood. As I stated earlier, my husband Mark and I foster rescued dogs and help them find forever homes. We currently have two dogs of our own, Neo, a 113-lb. Labradoodle, and Binks (a rescue and black Lab with a heart condition.) Our current foster is Blanca, an Australian Cattle Dog, but we’ve had many fosters – from Beagles to Huskies to Pit Bulls.

Luke was a certified therapy dog, both before and after his blindness. He also played Annie Potts’ dog, Scout, on the Lifetime Series, Any Day Now for three years. He was my constant companion. Luke was one of a litter of 10 born in our bedroom to our black Lab, Leia. We kept three of the pups, along with Leia and dad, Darth. So, we had Darth, Leia, Luke, Yoda and Obe wan Knobe (Tipper for short).

Our current Labradoodle, Neo, is a therapy dog, and Binks, who wasn’t supposed to live past four years of age, is now six and knows how to regulate his exercise to contain his heart problem, along with regular meds.

Yes, dogs are a huge part of my life, as well as horses.

Q: Why do dogs make such good listeners?

A: They aren’t judgmental. They don’t interrupt! They love you no matter what you say.

Q: On a regular basis, the media brings us no shortage of stories about animal abuse and cruelty. Do you see a correlation that people who can harm, abandon and torture defenseless creatures for no reason have just as little empathy for human life?

A: People who can harm and torture defenseless creatures are sociopaths. They have no conscience, no sense of right and wrong, no remorse, shame or guilt when it comes to their actions. What they do is all about them, and this extends to their interaction with human beings. Many a sociopath started out as children capable of unspeakable cruelty to animals and extended it to humans. So yes, there is a correlation.

I have yet to understand people who abandon their pets. And, there are so many animals that have been pushed aside for reasons that I don’t understand. One woman told us she just didn’t “have time” to take care of her dog. It was a case of “you take him or he goes to the shelter.” I have very low regard for this type of person.

Q: Coupled with a growing trend toward no-kill shelters and behavioral training to make stray animals more adoptable, there are numerous rescue missions both here and abroad (particularly in Afghanistan) to find homes for dogs that would otherwise be put to death. Please share your thoughts on why rescue and adoption are such vital issues.

A: I am involved in a rescue that has brought animals from abroad here to find them homes. Rescues are the only hope for abandoned and abused animals. I have never met more caring people than those who tirelessly devote their lives to helping those who can’t speak for themselves.

There is a movement for pet stores to start offering rescues for adoption instead of buying from breeders and puppy mills. I know of several stores in the L.A. area who are displaying rescues in their stores and working with rescue operations to host adoption events for animals needing forever homes.

Because there are countless numbers of animals that are abused and abandoned, it is vital that we trend in this direction.

Q: As humans, we are constantly placing conditions and behavioral expectations on our partners, our children and our peers as “proof” of their love and loyalty; i.e., “If you really cared, you’d do such-and-such for me.” Dogs are completely opposite to us in this regard, steadfast as our best friends even on the occasions when we have been neglectful of their own needs. In your opinion, what are animals – and especially dogs – trying to teach us about the importance of unconditional love?

A: Wow, that’s such a great question. I think dogs show us by example, don’t you? Their entire being is waiting for us, loving us, being our best friends. What better way than to lead by example?

I once heard a story about a little boy who, with his parents, watched his beloved dog pass away at the vet’s. The father posed the question, “Why is it that our dogs live such short lives compared to human life?” The little boy piped up with, “I know why!” The mother, father and vet looked at him simultaneously with “Why?” The little one smiled as he petted his dog’s head, “Because humans come into this world not knowing how to love, but dogs are born knowing how.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Q: When a couple’s relationship is in trouble, there is often a tendency to shut down communications as either a defense mechanism to safeguard anxieties or to avoid overwhelming the partner with problems s/he can’t possibly resolve. Why are these actions harmful to the health and longevity of the relationship?

A: Open communication is the key to a successful relationship. It’s often what is not said, what is withheld, that creates problems in a relationship. Withholding information can be viewed as dishonesty by the partner who is shut out. It also allows the person being shut out to feel disrespected. This, in turn, creates mistrust. There is no real love without honesty, trust and respect.

There’s another factor at work here. Oftentimes, women just want to be heard…they want their partners to just listen to them. Adversely, men just want to “fix the problem.” That, too, can create issues.

Q: “The best thing about the future,” wrote Abraham Lincoln, “is that it comes one day at a time.” Too many people, however, sabotage that future – as well as their present – by obsessing about all of the mistakes they’ve made in the past. How does one get past the fears that are preventing them from “living in the moment” and moving forward, day by day, in a positive manner?

A: I call this self-victimization and have a 7-step method: 1) Decide that you are a worthy human being. Those who live in the past are still hiding behind past events and think they aren’t worthy of better than they have. 2) Surround yourself with winners, not losers. Associate with those who make you feel positive about yourself, who help you believe that you “can if you think you can!” 3) Don’t let others rule your destiny. Take control of your life. 4) Label yourself as STRONG, not weak. Believe in that strength. Know that you can do anything you set your heart and mind to do. 5) Take responsibility for your past and current mistakes, and then leave them behind you. Don’t blame anyone else for your past…it’s all you, baby. 6) Stop living in a “poor little me” pity party. Get out of the doldrums and focus on what you want out of life. 7) Stop always choosing the “easy way out” of things. The easy road is rarely the right road. The bottom line? It’s all about attitude. You may not change the situation, but you can change your attitude about any and everything.

Q: When something good happens, a person is likely to take all of the credit for it; i.e., “I got an A on my math test.” Conversely, blame is usually placed on another party when the outcome is negative; i.e., “It’s all George Bush’s fault.”  Why – and how – is it easier for people to make themselves victims rather than assuming personal responsibility for their actions and taking control of their lives?

A: It’s always easy to play the victim, blame everyone else and never take responsibility for one’s actions. We all have blame moments. But, if we go back to my theme of unconditional love, isn’t it important for us to see the soul inside even the worst of us? And, isn’t it important for each of us, in our individual blame moments, to dig deep inside and take responsibility for our words and actions? If others didn’t place conditions on us in those moments, we might feel freer to take responsibility for past, present and future. Think about how that might work.

Q: Whether it’s a product of technology, insularity, impatience or perceived entitlement, respect for the opinions and property of others seems to be radically falling by the wayside, especially with the younger generation. What are some of the traits of a respectful person and how can those traits lead to success?

A: Trait #1: They’re honest. They don’t lie. People can depend upon them. Think of the heroes we admire in books, movies and real life. Don’t they act with honesty and integrity? Aren’t they generous with others? Doesn’t everyone look up to them?

Trait #2: They don’t lose their tempers, scream, yell or strike out against others when things don’t go their way. In other words, they rarely lose control. When negative things happen to them, they remain positive. They treat people as they would like to be treated.

Trait #3: They are tenacious. They don’t give up easily. They become resourceful when the going gets rough.  They totally get that they can’t change other people or the circumstances, but they can change their attitudes about situations.

Trait #4: They admit when they’re wrong. Instead of sticking to their guns (no matter what) just to be “right,” they fess up to their mistakes, particularly when it lets another person “off the hook” or eases a situation.

Trait #5: They aren’t lazy; they strive. They are hard workers who always want to “get it right.”

Trait #6: They have their priorities straight. They put what is truly important, what will really help others or a situation, above their own needs.

Trait #7: They have an inner sense of right and wrong. They innately know the right thing to do, and they understand clearly when an injustice is being served.

Trait #8: They tend to be role models for other people. Others admire and looked up to them.

Trait #9: They are givers. Most successful people are. They know the “secret” that the more you give, the more you receive when you are genuine about your gifts. We’re talking not so much about money but time and expertise. They operate on Zig Ziglar’s quote, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough people get what they want.”

Trait #10: They have high self-esteem. They believe they deserve success and know they can do anything they go after. They know that a mistake is something that they do and not who they are. They also keep a positive self-image because they know that self-esteem is a state of mind that they have chosen.

Trait #11 – They are loyal, even when it’s tough to do so. They stand behind those with whom they have forged relationships and don’t betray them.

If a person has all these traits, how will that help him be successful? Isn’t it obvious? These are the qualities of highly-successful people in our society-I’m talking Bill Gates; Oprah; Warren Buffet; George Washington; Abraham Lincoln and the like. It isn’t a coincidence that both highly-respected and highly-successful people possess these traits.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on an episodic series for Troll River Publications to be published online in installments. Its working title is Snow Blood. I don’t want to say much more than the story is told through the eyes of a vampire dog…do you see a pattern here?

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your book?

A: I want people to see what it means to stick by those they love, no matter how bad it gets. People need to learn to ride through the ups and downs of life and how not placing our own expectations on others will strengthen any relationship. I mean, honestly, if a dog can love us unconditionally, why can’t we love each other in the same way?

Luke’s Tale is available on amazon.com in both Kindle and print formats.

Please visit www.carolmckibben.com and tell me what you think about unconditional love.

 

The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures

the spirit of birds

“One touch of Nature,” wrote William Shakespeare, “makes the whole world kin.” Why then, is man’s coexistence with the diverse creatures great and small with whom he shares the planet such a fragile – and often destructive – relationship? In his first book, The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures, author Dennie Williams offers his perspectives on environmental preservation, interspecies communications, and the need to recognize that we’re all in this together.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So tell us what your new book – and hopefully the first of many! – is all about.

A: This is a book of true to life nature tales emphasizing animal and bird interaction and communications with humans. The tales start with a short poem about Chickadees and end with a poetic tour through the Costa Rican jungle. The book opens with a prologue relating how I became fascinated with animals and birds through family influences and experiences. Then, in an introduction, it explains the significance of interactions and spiritual communications among birds, animals and other creatures with humans. Finally, it starts with the first of sixteen true stories or descriptive chapters of interesting interaction among people and birds and animals.

One of the critical issues facing the world today is the vital obligation to preserve and protect the environment. As a result of the momentum of destruction of nature world-wide, it will take generations, if ever, to repair all the damage. Hopefully the erosion, already generations old, will not continue at its present pace. But, whatever happens, children, teenagers and adults need to educate themselves as much as possible to the very soul of nature. This book and its short stories are a small and humble effort at catching the attention of as many readers as possible to the need to appreciate wildlife and the actuality that wild creatures can and do communicate their vital needs to people around them, even if they don’t listen or observe the many attempted interactive approaches to them by the non-human world.

Once people, at as early an age as possible, become educated to the needs of wild life, the less destructive they will be toward nature during their lifetimes, and perhaps they will even become devoted to help the causes of all living beings including those humans other than themselves. If the skill to appreciate nature and interact with wild creatures is honed at an early age, it becomes almost impossible not to take up or support environmental protection causes as one grows older.

Q: If there were a single quote in the book that summed up its takeaway value, what would it be?

A: “As kind as people are to animals, birds, fish and other living creatures, they have to think more about those creatures’ innate desires for freedom and independence. Above all, humans need empathy toward wild animals, birds and all other untamed critters. If more of them expressed it, nature could flourish in wider areas worldwide and man-made pollution disasters might decrease in kind. Can you imagine poisoning, torturing or intentionally running over a rabbit, squirrel or roadside crow? I can’t! Then how do corporations operated by people endlessly pollute the air, water and earth where wildlife lives?”

Q: And yet these practices not only continue to exist but also escalate. Are we sowing the seeds of our own destruction in our disregard for the planet and its non-human inhabitants?

A: Even as I was writing this book, my own concern for wildlife has grown so much that sometimes I have a very hard time reading, watching or listening to its incredible destruction during wide spread forest fires, hurricanes, oil spills, munitions explosions in war and after war or every day pollution of the air by nuclear plants, factories or just plain exhaust from hundreds of cars I pass by with my own car every week. And, yet for all of my working life I was a news reporter writing hundreds of stories of environmental disasters including investigative human health tales involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The environmental decimation of those wars, particularly from radiation dust caused by depleted uranium munitions, will impact on nature, wild creatures and humans in the Middle East for untold numbers of years. Radiation is hard if not impossible to eradicate and some say its hazards can last billions of years. And yet it seems news reports about its repercussions as well as the health effects of depleted uranium contamination and other huge environmental disasters focus on harm to people but not wild creatures, the earth or the oceans.

Q: Is there any bright spot we can draw to?

A: The nature tales in this book look largely upon the positive side of the relationships among people and wild creatures. They are lively, poetic and funny stories all with a focus on interaction, not always friendly, among people and birds and animals. Some of them involve my own experiences at all ages.

In order to put those stories and the book in perspective, I open up with my own family background, not as an ego trip, but to show how I very gradually became a kind of minor league nature fanatic. On the other hand, however, the first short story, “Blueberries, Butterflies and The Pig,” explains, how only at a late age, as a so called senior citizen, I finally realized there exists a spiritual, fascinating and inspiring interaction among humans and wild creatures, in this case butterflies, and people. Of course, that only occurs if the person already has a sensitive and regular appreciation of wild creatures. After some weeks of thinking about these butterfly experiences, it occurred to me that I and some close friends had a reservoir of experiences interacting with birds and animals.

Just as inspiring still was doing some extensive research on communications among humans and wild creatures and discovering it was not just my imagination. My thinking wasn’t craziness, it related to the real world! That research is part of the introduction to the short stories and is necessary to create credibility with the reader.

Q: So what inspired you to roll up your sleeves and put pen to paper…or fingers to the keyboard?

A: I was picking blueberries one beautiful, sunny day in a patch 10 or 12 miles from home, when a butterfly suddenly landed on my out stretched hand. I began showing it first to my wife then to several other pickers before I saw two young children, a boy and a girl, just outside the patch laughing and rolling down a grassy hill. Loudly, I asked them if they would like to see my pet butterfly and warned the boy to stop running toward me, as his curiosity overwhelmed him. He rushed on next to me and scared the butterfly 30 or 40 feet into the air.

“See what I told you!? You scared my pet butterfly away,” I exclaimed. But a second later, the boy exclaimed, “No, it’s on your ear!” I told the boy he must be mistaken. Then, suddenly, my wife appeared from out of the patch and said, I thought with sarcasm, “Yes, it’s on your ear.”

So I walked carefully over to the blueberry selling shack and asked the sales lady if she could see my butterfly. She confirmed its presence and quickly warned me that her two friendly dogs were approaching. Sure enough, one of them scared the butterfly up into the sky and away forever. Two days later, I was shocked when I remembered that about ten years earlier I had experienced another wild butterfly episode in Barnard, Vermont. There on a porch near a pond on a beautiful day, a local character took me by surprise and started telling me a wild tale. As he did, two white butterflies began flying just over his head with their flights matching the excitement of his tale. They did so until he finished and then quickly disappeared into the sky and over the pond.

Q: Would we be right to assume that you’re an animal lover?

A: Yes!

Q: When do you recall first taking such an interest in creatures of the wild?

A: I have followed the flights and eating habits of all sorts of birds on my feeders ever since I was a little boy. I loved seeing moose and bears in the forests of Canada and the Wild West.

Q: Did you work from a formal outline or did you allow the content to just flow from consciousness once you started to write?

A: In writing the book, I composed each story soon after it was told to me. Then I sent a copy to those being interviewed to make sure it was accurate. Then, I organized the investigation of the reality of interaction and communications among wild creatures and people. Next, I felt I needed to explain to the readers about my own life and family experiences as they related to my love of wild critters.

Q: How much research was involved in pulling all of the elements together?

A: My research on the Internet about interactions among people and all sorts of animals, birds and fish went on for months. Of particular help in proving the book’s thesis was the Internet’s YouTube which has dozens of videos showing wild creatures communicating and interacting with all sorts of people.

Q: Was it your style to do all of the research first or to start writing and do the research as you went along?

A: I did this research before I wrote the book to prove the existence of these extraordinary relationships among humans and the wild creatures of all sorts.

Q: By profession, you’re an investigative reporter. How different are the experiences of investigative reporting and the nuts and bolts of being an author of a book?

A: My investigative reporting for almost five decades was instrumental in writing the book because credibility, particularly involving this rare subject, is essential. Since the book involves short stories, the ability to write them was not that much different from checking out, interviewing and writing a news story.

Q: Who do you see as the book’s target demographic?

A: I believe the book is intriguing for most lovers of nature, but it is particularly inspiring for young adults because they need to learn that wild creatures can and do interact and communicate with people; and once they do, they may have more respect for preserving the environment, not only for themselves and other people, but for birds, bees, bears, butterflies and other beautiful wild critters.

Q: What impact did the development and writing of this book have on your own life? Do you feel that you see things differently now than you did before?

A: This nature book increased my appreciation of wild creatures tenfold because I had not the slightest idea that they had this people-inspiring capability to be so spiritual and friendly. As a result, I now often have trouble even thinking about swatting an annoying insect!

Q: What is the most amazing interaction you have ever heard about between humans and wild creatures?

A: I believe the most amazing interaction ever was the one shown on 60 Minutes in which Anderson Cooper followed “The Sharkman” into the ocean without being in a cage below South Africa and played a simple game of letting white sharks, the most dangerous of those creatures, bump them with their noses. After a couple of bumps, The Sharkman grabbed one of the shark’s fins and took a short ride. This is all on film!

Q: Why is it important to realize that wild creatures indeed interact and communicate in their own manners with humans?

A: As I hinted earlier, it is critical for humans to realize the communication skills of wild creatures because it makes them think that all environments need to be preserved, not only for us, but for animals, birds, fish and insects.

Q: How did you go about proving to yourself and, ultimately, to your future readers that these dynamics are critical to understand?

A: The content of the nature book itself deals with stories that prove this reality, and that is why I think the younger the reader, the better. So it was my investigation, leading up to the writing, that convinced me of the truth of what I was to compose. That probe is written into the book to convince others as well that these dynamics of nature are indeed critical to understand.

Q: How can readers benefit the most from this realization and which ones might benefit most?

A: If people begin to accept this inspiring reality, it means maybe we will have a remote chance of keeping the earth healthy and livable.

Q: Spirituality is an overarching theme throughout the book. What is your own definition of this state of being? Do you believe it exists in the animal kingdom or is it an anthropomorphic trait we ascribe to them?

A: Spirituality is the essence of keeping this thought forever in your mind and doing all you can possibly do to think of kindness and to think of helping others to include all living things including plants. And, indeed, spirituality is a reality for any living being desiring to communicate and preserve any other living being.

Q: It’s often said that our dogs understand more of what we’re saying to them than we understand about what they’re trying to say to us. Do you believe this same disconnect exists in the “wild” world?

A: There is no question that, like pet dogs, wild creatures frequently understand much more than people ever think they do. Although children with imaginations, sometimes know how pets and wild creatures communicate with them.

Q: Can hunters truly say they’re concerned about survival of critters in the wild when they are, in fact, hunting them?

A: Within the book, I describe the rather complicated ethical thoughts and actions good, competent and caring hunters have about killing animals and birds. American Indians taught some of them these lessons. We must remember that long ago, in order to survive, cavemen killed animals and hunted them, much as animals do to other creatures. During those times, however, it seemed from all the ancient tales that those ancient hunters only took down what they needed to survive. They didn’t go out and plant almost tamed pheasants in wooded areas, and then grab their shotguns to pursue the game they had just released.

Q: Environmental change, habitat destruction and human intervention have collectively contributed to the extinction of countless animals since the dawn of mankind. An alarming number of these have been within the past century. What’s your reaction when you encounter such statistics and what do you think we should be doing about it?

A: My reaction to this incredible destruction is partial disbelief that some people, many of them political leaders with powers to pass laws and enforce them, are incredibly egocentric, ignorant, thoughtless and cruel. Those leaders, aware of the potential disasters of the future, need to assemble in the United Nations or elsewhere, anywhere, and create a plan to stop the slow disintegration of our planet.

Q: Now that you’ve written your first book, what do you know now about the world of publishing that you didn’t know when you first began?

A: The writing, publishing and now the marketing of this nature book was indeed one of the toughest experiences of my life. Very, very few in the publishing business have any time at all to help a first-time author. Many agents and publishers don’t answer emails, phone calls or letters. For a first time author to get a book published and marketed they must be famous, infamous, rich or lucky beyond belief.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My book plate of the future is empty and I would find it hard to believe I could ever create another one. But if the inspiration hits me hard enough, I will! It sure helps to have been an investigative reporter because the tasks involved with that job are often so difficult and nerve wracking that patience and determination are the only qualities allowing one to get all the tasks done.

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Readers can learn more about The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures at http://birdscrittersbutterflies.webs.com/.