Canaries Can’t Cry

Canaries Can't Cry

Anchored in the Adriatic is the tiny island called Sansego, where people live their lives in heavy labor, faith, and superstition, working the land from cockcrow to vespers and the sea from vespers to cockcrow. This is the birthplace of author Antonia Burgato who, in Canaries Can’t Cry, stitches the stories her mother told of life on the island that, in part one, spans the time between two world wars. The author’s voice changes in the second part, as she comes of age in an America of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Elvis Presley and becomes an adult during the Civil Rights uprising, the VietNam War protests, and the women’s liberation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Your new book, Canaries Can’t Cry, focuses on the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus following World War II. This being a geographical. political and sociological period with which many readers may not be familiar, could you indulge us with a brief history lesson?

A: The Dalmatian comprises a group of islands off the coast of Croatia. They belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until WWI, then to Mussolini’s Italy until WWII, and then to Yugoslavia until its breakup in the nineties. Today they are a part of Croatia. By the time my mother turned 32, she had lived in three different countries without ever having moved as far as across the street.

Q: The title alone is compelling. How did you come up with it?

A: When my brother visited me in boarding in school, he told me of a canary he had bought for my mother to keep her company while at home alone. The bird flew on her shoulders chirping while she was at her chores. She loved that bird, but he had a habit of biting. She patted him on the head each time he bit her. One day she patted him too hard, and the bird fell lifeless in her hand. I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with a time when I was eight years old, and she had humiliated me with a public beating in front of the school. She had killed my spirit as much as she had killed the canary.

Q: One of the challenges of penning an autobiographical work is striking the right balance between telling too much, telling too little and finding a place of common ground which will resonate with readers who otherwise have no frame of reference or context regarding the events and dynamics which unfolded. What was your approach to developing this very personal project?

A: In writing an autobiography, the author must expose her inner self. For example, I was still a teenager when I was thrown into the world of Rome alone. It was a painful, growing up experience better left buried. However, I needed to unearth details to take the reader on the journey with me. I chose details that are translatable to any woman too young to be out on her own without guidance.

Q: Your mother escaped from Yugoslavia to go to Italy where your father had an apartment. What did you find there?

A: It was after Italy had surrendered to the Allies and declared war on its former Axis partner. Germany had begun to occupy Italy. Living quarters were scarce for anyone, and my father found his apartment occupied. We lived first in a chicken coop and then in a barn until the Germans left and the apartment became available.

Q: After his death, she brought you and your brothers and sister to America. Why did you leave Italy?A: With my father gone, my mother lost her privilege to live in the factory-owned apartment. America had opened a quota system to accept the many emigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Everyone my mother knew from her island in Dalmatia had already gone. She asked her father for her share of the inheritance, and she followed them.

Q: How old were you at the time and what were your first impressions of the country you would now call “home”? A: I had become a teenager in America. We had living room with television, a washer and dryer in the home, a refrigerator, and there were supermarkets. Wow! I also discovered Bazooka gum.

Q: What was it like being a teenager in America? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

A: That’s a tough and painful question. I was disassociated with family and with school. I tried hard to fit in with other teenagers from the neighborhood, but I wasn’t like them. I belonged neither here nor there—and I wanted to belong. I’m thankful that such times didn’t have violent gangs as today. I could have joined a gang, if the opportunity was there, just to belong somewhere.

Q: You also have three older brothers and a younger sister. How did your mother manage such a “full house”?

A: She put us all to work, and she took our paycheck. Some people are stupefied by that. But is it better to go to work and leave the children unsupervised or to send the children to work and let them contribute to the family’s well-being? There are arguments for both cases.

Q: Best advice she ever imparted to you?

A: It’s never one piece of advice but a sum of them. She guided us children to value education and responsibility in everything she did, in all her scolding and caring—not always the best for everyone. Our (my siblings) values in strength of character, of compassion, and of a drive to self-improvement emanate from her role model.

Q: Mixed marriages are fairly commonplace in the 21st century but not so much back in the 1960s. How was your marriage to a black university student received by family, friends and coworkers?

A: My family saw his color and his character and embraced him into the family. I had nothing but warm memories of my 14-year marriage to a black man in the sixties. His family and friends were the kindest people I have known. They were academics, belonging to the Harlem black elite. They roused in me a desire to further my education. The story was different in the working world. Some states still had anti-miscegenation laws, and feelings were strong in the southern states. I had been fired twice from jobs for being a “n….r lover.”

Q: Was it a happy, fulfilling partnership?

A: I would not be the person I am were it not for my first husband. He had exposed me to universities and to conversations beyond gossip and frivolous niceties. He taught me freedom of expression and helped me to revive my spirit.

Q: Your move to California ignited a passion to start writing seriously. How so?

A: My husband had released in me a spirit that wanted to fly. My marriage had become confining, and I left a man I loved to search for my own identity.

Q: And your passion for playwriting—who or what was the prominent influence there?

A: I would have to say George Bernard Shaw was my primary influence in playwriting. I went on to major in dramatic literature after discovering his plays. The works of Ionesco, Beckett, Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Sartre ignited passion in me. My second husband was a well-known playwright and a founder of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance. I had begun to find my voice.

Q: Tell us about reconnecting with your brothers and sister. Would you consider yourselves close-knit or has time and distance pushed you farther apart?

A: My mother had sent us all to boarding school. We did not get to know each other until we came to America. She sent us to work as soon as we could to support the family. We learned responsibility and to care for each other. Today, we are closer than we’ve ever been.

Q: Your mother’s death, with the word “Finally,” had a powerful effect on you, and it seems that it was a turning point for you. How so?

A: In her life, she was demanding of me, trying to mold me in her image of a woman. I distanced myself from her, but physical distance does not break the emotional bond. Her death released her grip on me and my resentment of her. With that gone, I could see her strength, frailty, and courage, and I wish she could be here for me to tell her so.

Q: What was the easiest part of the book to write? And the hardest?

A: It was easier to write about my mother’s story because she told them often and with great passion. Once I switched to my story, I had to do much soul-searching and reveal long buried things. I didn’t want to delve deeply into my rights and wrongs, but if I didn’t, my readers would have felt something amiss.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress?

A: I had a beta reader. A dear friend and very supportive. I also gave parts of it to a few family members. They knew my mother’s story needed to be told; they didn’t always agree with my version of it. It is the old Roshomon effect when everyone sees the same event differently.

Q: Is there a message you want readers to take away from Canaries Can’t Cry when they finish?

A: Live your life to the fullest but do not trample on others. Your accomplishment is attained through your own efforts. If someone has given you a position, be grateful for the opportunity but question what you’ve done to earn it. If you throw someone under the bus to get somewhere, you have cheated.

Q: Define “home.” Is it the place you were born, the place you live now or the place that holds the fondest memories?

A: A home is where you find love and fulfillment. That place for me, at this time, is in California with my husband, surrounded by encouraging and caring friends.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did quite a bit of reading about traditional publishers and decided to go hybrid because, at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to spend the lengthy time in submissions and rejections. It took me 10 years to write this book and I wanted it out.

Q: What are you doing to market the book?

A: In addition to this interview, I do much social media contacts, book signings, and speaking engagements to immigrant associations, especially to those engaged in second language learning.

Q: What have the reactions been from family, friends and fans?

A: Their encouragement motivates me to write my next book. Some of have expressed a shared feeling, especially in the various “me too” scenes. They didn’t know that about me. I had never talked about them because I thought I had done something wrong.

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

A: A few of my readers have remarked that they didn’t know what an interesting life I have had. I’m not so sure it was any more interesting than anyone else’s life. I’ve lived with curiosity, adventure, and risk. That is my wealth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My next book, Secrets of the Very Old, is now in its editing phase. I’m already thinking of more projects. Four years ago, my husband and I took a year off to live in Italy. It’s in my mind to write that memoir. Another one is my displacement after my house burned to the ground from one of the California fires. I’m still displaced with lots of emotions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: People say their life is boring compared to mine. I’d say no one’s life is boring. Even an uneventful life has its unique story. Live life to fill your cup and shout it out. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book.

 

 

Ghost Grandma

Ghost Grandma cover

Right before the start of her sophomore year, Brett O’Brien is visited by the ghost of her grandmother. The only issue? No one seems to believe her except for her best friend. In her captivating book Ghost Grandma, author S. Kay Murphy leads us through a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after the death of her beloved grandmother.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: What inspired you to write Ghost Grandma?

A: To be honest, the premise came to me as I was walking through the halls of the high school where I was teaching at the time. No doubt I was ruminating on two things: Visitations from those who have passed over plus the way high school students often treat each other. At times, it feels like a war zone, with everyone at odds with everyone else.

Q: Is there anyone in your life that you based Brett off of?

A: Brett is absolutely the girl I was at 14 or 15, only she is the new and improved version, the one who is braver and stronger and has better hair.

Q: Do you have a rigid writing schedule or do you write whenever an idea comes to you?

A: Both. I wrote Ghost Grandma in 30 days. True story. I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I did it, much to my surprise. Of course, during that month, I still had to go to work every day, so I wrote 800 words in the morning before I went to work and 800 more at night after dinner, sometimes falling asleep at the keyboard. I knew the premise when I started, but had no idea where the story would take me. It was one of the most fun and most exhausting projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Having said that… I am now retired from teaching, so I have plenty of time to write. But I also have plenty of time to go out and play—go hiking or exploring, ride my bike, have lunch with friends, see a movie—so it has been hard for me to be as disciplined as I should be. But I’m working on that.

 Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: What works best for me is this: When I’m working on a particular project, I’ll spend some time—30 minutes to an hour—composing. Then I get up, walk around, make more tea, take the dog out or pet the cat. In that time, I generally edit in my head. (I love to write poems this way, and when I do, I’ll write them out in longhand, leaving the notepad on my desk so I can swing by as I’m putting in a load of laundry and change a word or a phrase.) When I go back to what I’ve written, I’ll spend a few minutes making those minor changes, then move on. In the early days of my writing, every paragraph had to be perfect before I moved on. Books don’t get written that way. It’s important to get the narrative down while you’re still excited about the project. Editing is satisfying to me, so I don’t mind doing it. Ghost Grandma went through at least six drafts before I felt it was ready for publication.

 Q: Do you believe in ghosts and/or the supernatural? If so, have you ever had any supernatural encounters?

A: It is possible that I have had supernatural encounters. It is also possible that my experiences can be easily explained away. One of the reasons I wanted to put Ghost Grandma out there was to get young people thinking about what they believe regarding those who have crossed over. In my own spirituality, there is definitely a place for signs and messages from those who have passed. Part of my daily meditation is talking to my deceased loved ones. If that sounds all creepy and séance-y, it’s really just me saying, “Mom, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, good morning. Help me to remember that extending love and kindness to others is the most important thing I can do today.” I definitely feel guided by them at times. One of my best friends is a medium, so we’ve had some pretty fascinating conversations about all of this.

Q: What’s your favorite part about writing?

A: I love having done it. Sometimes, sitting down and beginning a project is absolutely terrifying. When I sat down to begin writing my memoir about my great-grandmother (who has been accused of being a serial killer), I was literally trembling. I wanted that book (The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford) to be perfect because so much was riding on it—I wanted to bring the truth to light and bring closure to my mother (Bertha’s granddaughter). When I finally finished the book, I sat at my desk and sobbed. The same was true for The Dogs Who Saved Me. When we put heart and soul into creating truth and beauty with words, it is a humbling, mystifying, spiritual relief to have the project completed.

Q: What would be your advice for dealing with bullies like Brittany and Jason?

A: In the vast majority of cases, I would say that the best action taken against bullies is to ignore them. It’s also the most difficult. Part of us always wants to fight back, to make a snarky or rude comment, even if it’s behind the person’s back. But we rarely know what other people are going through in their personal lives. Both Brittany and Jason are based on students I actually taught. Brittany started a fight in my classroom in which another girl was badly injured. But in her senior year, she stopped by to thank me for my patience with her. I was never angry with her. I understood that she felt, as I have mentioned previously, that she was in a war zone. She acted accordingly. Sometimes bullies just need to get to the point in life at which they can love themselves. In Jason’s case, he was truly a bad dude, and once I met his angry, abusive father, I understood why. With a bully like that, my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

 Q: What’s different about writing a coming-of-age novel like Ghost Grandma and writing a book like Tainted Legacy?

A: Oh, that is a really great question. In writing Ghost Grandma, I could rely solely on my imagination for the narrative. Fun! Except when I couldn’t for the life of me think of what should happen next. That was grueling—especially since I couldn’t just wait for inspiration, since I had to get my word count in every day. With Tainted Legacy, the fun came in doing the research. There were times when the truth I overturned made me feel absolutely surreal, as if I were living inside a novel. While in Missouri doing research, I kept calling my best friend back home in California to tell her everything, and I would often add, “I swear, I’m not making this up!” Of course, getting down to actually writing the memoir and formulating some sort of chronological coherence was challenging, as I was telling both my story and Bertha’s as well, so the process was completely different, but nonetheless equally satisfying.

Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration to write?

A: Harry Cauley, author of the award-winning novel, Bridie and Finn, said something in a writer’s group 20 years ago that has been my mantra ever since: “Writing is the loneliest work you’ll ever do.” Isn’t that just spot on? One of the reasons writers have a difficult time being disciplined—especially nowadays—is that once we sit down and begin, we know (at least subconsciously) that we are retreating from the world to be absolutely alone for a time, and that is a frightening prospect. It’s much more pleasant to scroll through Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world or Instagram to see yet another adorable dog or cat photo or Facebook to say hi to family members and beloved friends. Doing all those things makes me feel less alone in the world, and I live alone (except for Purrl and Thomas, my cat and dog), so I spend a great deal of my day by myself. I adore social media. But I have to make myself back out of that rabbit hole in order to work—and it is indeed lonely. When I heard Harry Cauley say that, he became my writer-hero for life, and I am blessed for that. I also have a handful of cheerleaders, including a couple of pushy Irish cousins, who keep reminding me that my gift is writing so I should be doing it.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: Last spring, I finished a middle-grade urban fantasy novel. I have been looking—with no success so far—for an agent for it. In the meantime, I’m doing short writing projects. I will be starting on another book soon.

Q: Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: All my books (except the first, which is out of print) are on Amazon. To get a sense of who I am and my worldview, I recommend scrolling through my blog until you find a post that resonates—about dogs or cats or the #MeToo Movement or gay rights or gender equality or whatever. It’s here: www.skaymurphy.blogspot.com. I am on Instagram (posting photos of food, as I am a vegetarian, and I love sharing all the gorgeous, delicious food I eat) and Twitter (where I follow back most folks who follow me—unless they’re a bot or a stalker). Handle for both is @kayzpen.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: For writers: Write your heart out and never stop! You are not alone in the world, though you may feel lonely while you are ‘away’ in the world you are creating. Never let rejection slow you down; keep putting yourself out there. If you begin to feel like giving up, find a friend or a cousin who believes in you and ask them to set goals with you then check back to see if you’re working toward them. I did this with The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford, and it is the only way that book ever got published. I wanted to give up, but my beloved cousin Danny wouldn’t let me. He’s the reason the book is in print, may he be blessed forever.

For readers: You are everything for those of us who write. You are the friends who listen as we speak—even if we never meet you. I feel so very blessed for every email I’ve ever received that has begun with these words: “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve just finished reading your book….” You make all the hard work, all the loneliness, all the nail biting and junk food indulging so very worth it. Thank you!

 

 

The View From Mars

Larsen 4

Many stories are about protagonists who somehow manage to balance completing schoolwork, falling in love, and saving the world all at the same time. But let’s be honest, that’s not how life usually works. The View From Mars by Seth Larsen and his twins, Dylan and Kai Larsen, presents the wonderfully crafted tale of a young boy named Mars who is trying to juggle living in a new state, protecting his family, and saving his parents’ marriage. Relatable, enthralling, and humorous—this coming-of-age story is one you definitely won’t want to miss!

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: Why did you decide to write a book with your children?

 A: The seed was that I wanted to connect and spend more time with my twins Daylen and Kai, who were in fifth grade at the time. I knew they enjoyed creative writing—they sometimes write short stories just for fun, the same way I did when I was their age. I suggested the idea of writing a book together, and they immediately said yes. I cautioned that we’d have to meet regularly, and it would take a long time, but that didn’t temper their enthusiasm at all. We didn’t fully understand what we were getting into, but before any of us knew it, we were off and running.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

 A: I’ve loved writing stories ever since I was a kid. When I was eleven or twelve, I would hole up in my room to write ambitious stories, although I rarely finished them. I used to watch sporting events on TV and write articles about what I saw—then compare it to the article in the newspaper the next day, to see “who did it better.” I moved to Los Angeles after college to try and make a go of it as a writer. I was never really able to make a living from it, but I’ve never stopped writing in one form or another. It’s just too much of my DNA—I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.

Q: Who came up with the idea for Mars?

 A: From the outset, we spent quite a bit of time coming up with a catchy title for the book. We wanted it to be kind of a play on the character’s name—something that conveyed a specific point of view. After bouncing around countless character names and title ideas, we arrived at the name and title. It’s unusual to come up with the title first, but we wanted to have an idea and concept to keep returning to—something that would sustain our inspiration. We all agreed that we wanted a “fish out of water” character, because those were the types of characters my twins really enjoyed reading. My kids enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, and I showed them some episodes of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, “The Wonder Years.” We definitely wanted a mix of humor and real life. From there, most of the characters came from the minds of Daylen and Kai. I asked a lot of questions, and helped shape the overall story arc (and the grammar!).

Q: What was your process for writing The View From Mars, considering that you had three writers and two illustrators?

 A: My twins and I met up Wednesdays and Sunday nights. Initially, these were whiteboard sessions, and our ideas were all over the place. We focused on characters—developing people that would be fun to write…flawed people that you could take a journey with. Once we felt we had a strong set of characters that would generate conflict with one another, we developed story lines and character arcs for each of the primary characters. Nearly all of the story points were conjured up by Daylen and Kai. We jotted down countless ideas for specific chapters, many of which were based on things that had happened to my twins (or to me when I was their age), and things that we’d observed on the playground. My role was to help us connect these ideas into coherent story lines and themes…making sure the story was building toward something, with an effective set-up and pay-off. My other two kids, Savahn (aka Shiu Shiu) and Seth (aka Sumo), had been expressing an interest in being involved in the creative process somehow. Savahn loves art and drawing, so I suggested she illustrate—and she was really excited about that. Sumo isn’t necessarily wired toward art in the way my daughter is, but he has a great sense of humor and helped integrate that into the drawings. Besides, we couldn’t leave him out! Once we finished the first draft of the book, Daylen and Kai began describing the scenes to Savahn and Sumo so that they could start creating looks for each of the characters. After a series of revisions between the kids that was surprisingly collaborative and mature, they started generating drawings that could be used in the book. Then we all voted on which ones made the most sense to include.

Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing this book?

 A: Without question, the biggest obstacle was time. For the twins, balancing their schoolwork and activities with writing the book. For me, balancing the commitments of being a husband, a father of four, and fitting in my actual day job. That’s why it took a year and a half from our first meeting to having an actual book in hand.

Q: How did writing this book affect your relationship with your kids?

 A: Writing this book was easily one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It benefited our relationship in ways I didn’t anticipate. The twins always really looked forward to our writing sessions, and so did I. I expected that. But the surprise for me was that it helped them see me as more of a “person” with actual feelings than just a robotic “dad.” When Daylen and Kai would toss out story ideas based on things they were dealing with, or things their friends were dealing with, it gave me the space to say, “Oh, yeah—that happened to me when I was your age, too.” I’d proceed to tell them these childhood stories, sometimes things that I hadn’t even thought about in 35 years. It gave them a perspective and an understanding of me that they would have never otherwise had. You could literally see their eyes widen—it blew their minds that I’d gone through many of the same emotions and feelings they’re going through now. And many of these things wove their way into our book, one way or the other. It was a special time that we’ll share for the rest of our lives.

Q: What advice would you give someone around Mars’s age to survive becoming a teenager?

 A: Life is messy. But it can also be full of beautiful moments if you choose to recognize them. Realize that you can work through life’s challenges, and there can be positive outcomes, even if they aren’t always wrapped up nicely in a bow.

Q: How was your publishing experience?

 A: Our publishing experience was very positive. We didn’t want to self-publish because we didn’t have money to spend upfront, and also didn’t want the stress of potentially carrying a lot of inventory that we were desperate to sell. So, we went the publishing-on-demand route. We used CreateSpace for the paperback, where you send them your files, and when people order through Amazon, the book is printed and sent. They, of course, take a healthy percentage of the profits, but we aren’t risking our own money—and it’s relatively easy and stress-free on our side. CreateSpace doesn’t do hard cover versions of books though. We knew we wanted a hardcover version because artistically they’re just cool, and also we found out that libraries prefer hardcover—and we knew we wanted to try and get our book in the LA County library (which we ultimately did!). For our hardcover version, we used Ingram Spark, who works with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most distributors. When someone buys the book through any of those channels, Ingram Spark prints the book, and it ultimately gets to where it needs to go.

Q: This book covers some pretty heavy topics, such as bullying and parental separation. Why did you choose to write about these issues?

 A: We wanted the book to include some daunting challenges for the characters because that’s more interesting dramatically, but we also wanted the book to be relatable. We wanted sixth graders and young teens to read the book and immediately identify with the characters and what they’re going through. We wanted to deal with these things honestly, and with humor where possible. In one form or another, my twins and I have wrestled with many of the things described in the book, or been close to similar situations. Real life, after all, informed the book.

Q: If there was one message that a reader could take away from reading your book, what would you want it to be?

 A: We have precious few family rules, but one of them is, “Always protect your family.” Sometimes it’s all you have, and the fabric of your family is only as strong as you make it. My wife and I drill this message into our kids all the time, because we believe it’ll carry them through life’s challenges into adulthood, long after we’re gone. That’s not to say the family isn’t full of its own complexities and conflict, but we have a deep desire for our kids to remain close. Thematically in our book, Mars and his siblings desperately want to get their parents back together, which is a beautiful thing, even if the way they go about it is naïve (and dishonest!). Mars’ brother and sister drive him nuts, too, but you can tell the love they have for each other.

Q: Are you working on any other projects (like a sequel!) that we should keep an eye out for?

 A: Yes, we plan on writing a sequel. Savahn and Sumo also want to work on spin-off books, focusing on the journeys of the siblings. Ideas aren’t fully baked, but we’ll get there.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

 A: Fun fact: Mars’ younger brother is named Sumo. The character was heavily influenced by their real-life brother “Sumo.” The character name was a placeholder, and we never found a better name, so it stuck.

 

Free

freecover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Who will this story appeal to and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Your best advice to new writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation with Daniel Blanchard

Daniel Blanchard

“The surest way to corrupt a youth,” wrote German scholar Friedrich Nietzsche, “is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

As teens of any generation go through the painful process of individuating, it’s not uncommon that they either try to model themselves after the cool kids that belong to the “in” crowd or they fall into a state of despair that there is nothing unique about their own personalities or skill sets which will deliver the attention – and validation – they crave. Compounding the problem are parents who are trying to live vicariously through their offspring by pushing unrealistic expectations or those who lament that celebrities seem to have more influence on a teenager’s behavioral choices than any lessons imparted throughout childhood.

In his recent interview with You Read It Here First, author and educator Daniel Blanchard talks about his new teen leadership series, Granddaddy’s Secrets, and the importance of being a positive role model for the young people in our lives.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The passion for helping young people find their way in a troubling world often stems from either having been influenced by supportive mentors throughout adolescence or, on the flip side, having no one to turn to and learning to overcome personal hardships through trial and error. What was your own background in this regard that shaped your career decisions as an adult?

A: Believe it or not, some of my earliest role models that shaped my life were sport heroes that I watched on television. I would watch these amazing athletes do something special and then I would want to do something special too. The next mentors that entered my life were my athletic coaches. I learned a lot from these men. They were strong, skilled, and smart. These were the things that I wanted to become too. However, I am quick to acknowledge that I didn’t have enough mentors in my life growing up, and thus I felt that many times it took me twice as long to accomplish things. Even though we do learn from our mistakes, mistakes are painful. Teens should go out of their way to pursue mentors.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you when you were growing up?

A: One of my early wrestling coaches told me after one of my losses that life was a marathon, not a sprint. And if I just hung in there, someday I will pass out these other kids that got an earlier start than I did in this sport. I did hang in there, and became very good over time, and eventually passes them all out.

Q: There’s an escalating sense of “entitlement” among today’s tweens and teens – a mindset that has evolved as much from bad parenting as it has from political leadership that believes the have-nots are owed whatever the haves earned through hard work. What’s your response to a young person who has no role models in his/her life from which to learn an appropriate and disciplined work ethic?

A: A young person has to start reading biographies of successful people. Here in these books they will learn how hard and how long these great people had to work for their success. Once they really get to know someone who has done something special, they will see that there are no handouts. Or at least now handouts that create any person of real quality. My first book, Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is a good example that explains how there are no handouts that could ever make one a real leader, and what many of our friends and society is doing is wrong. We need to think for ourselves, stand on our own two feet, and create our own luck.

Q: How about the highly visible role that celebrities play in reinforcing bad behaviors (i.e., arrogance, substance abuse, out-of-control spending, out-of-wedlock pregnancy)? I’m guessing you’ve heard no shortage of teens say, “Well if So-and-So can do it and they’re famous, why can’t I?”

A: I’m tired of stars saying that they are not role models. They couldn’t be more wrong. They are role models whether they like it or not, so they better start behaving like role models because our youth is watching. I feel that it is our responsibility as adults to be those role models that our youth is looking for. And if we’re not big enough yet in their eyes, well then, we better get busy getting bigger, while we point them to real role models that really are doing something special and don’t behave badly. Finally, we need to open our mouths and tell our youth about the bad examples that celebrities are reinforcing. Let’s point out their bad behaviors and get it into our youth’s heads that that kind of behavior isn’t okay. If we can get our youth to start viewing celebrities’ bad behaviors as wrong, then maybe celebrities will think twice about what they are doing.

Q: What inspired you to write Feeling Lucky?

A: My students asked me over a ten year period to write the book. I finally broke down and wrote it. I figured they must be seeing something that I’m not if they are continuously telling me to write a book in order to tell other students what I’m telling them. So, I figured, why not have faith in them and do it.

Q: How did you decide on the title for this book?

A: I wanted to change the paradigm of luck being when one lazily sits back and waits for something good to come to them, to working hard and going out and creating good things in one’s life. The new definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity. We create our own luck through hard work. I was hoping by calling my first book, Feeling Lucky? I can get people to think about what luck really is.

Q: In a nutshell, what’s the book about?

A: Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is about a struggling teen who lives in a rough neighborhood and goes to a rough school. On his 16th birthday he meets up with his estranged and mysterious Granddaddy who shares with him what it means to be a leader and a real man.

Q: I understand this is part of a teen leadership series. Tell us more.

A: Yes. My Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series has three books in it. The first book, Feeling Lucky? is the 10th grade story of a struggling teen who spends his 16th birthday in the park listening to his Granddaddy’s wisdom. The second book, Feeling Good,  is the 11th grade story of the same teen who has grown from his Granddaddy’s wisdom and is now trying to apply some of these secrets of success and leadership to his own life. The third book, Feeling Strong! is the 12th grade story of the same teen as he is getting ready to graduate high school and take that next big step of going out in that great big world.

Q: There can certainly never be enough books on the market to encourage young people to be independent thinkers, to stay positive, to be kind, and to make a difference as they go forth into the world. The question, though, is how do you get them to read these books – including yours – when there’s such a multiplicity of distractions (especially technological) to take their attention elsewhere?

A: It’s always a struggle to get teens to read. However, the best way to get someone to read a book is still word-of-mouth. A teen needs to constantly hear us talking about these books like they are something really special. They need to constantly hear how books made a difference in our lives. If teens hear this kind of stuff enough, they will become curious and just may read these books that we keep telling them about.

Q: Speaking of technology, is too much of a good thing actually a bad thing in a teen’s social development? For instance, is insularity and anonymity breeding a generation of youth that can no longer communicate in person or, worse, feel they shouldn’t be held accountable for anything hurtful they say via an electronic medium?

A: Sadly, I do believe that that is happening to some degree. We adults remember what it was like to actually talk to people. We must go out of our way to talk to teens. They aren’t getting old fashion human conversations from most of their younger friends, so they need to get it from us. During these interactions we can build relationships with them and work on their communication skills, as well as their life skills, and let them know that they can’t hide behind electronics and say hurtful things to each other.

Q: For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and is prompted by feelings of stress, depression, inferiority, anger, or powerlessness. What do you tell a struggling teen who is overwhelmed by life’s unfairness and believes that the only solution is a fatal exit?

A: Talk to an adult. Adults do care. In return, as I mentioned above, we adults need to go out of our way to constantly talk to our youth and build those relationships. No teen should ever feel that he or she does not have an adult that they can turn to. In addition, I also tell our youth that life drains us all, and all of us need to constantly fill up our emotional bank accounts. We fill up our emotional bank accounts by reading positive, self-improvement books, and by having great conversations and relationships with others. So whenever, life makes an emotional withdraw from our emotional bank accounts, we can handle it because we are always making positive emotional deposits back into our emotional bank accounts. By constantly doing this, we never let life emotionally bankrupt us.

Q: What do you say to the parents of that struggling teen?

A: You are the most important person in your child’s life. Don’t give up. They are listening to you, regardless of how they are acting at the moment. It may take years, but eventually, our youth will show us that they were indeed listening.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on my third book of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series, as well as a second edition of my first book.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: They can check out my website, blog, and vlog at: www.GranddaddysSecrets.com. I also have a Granddaddy’s Secrets Facebook page they can visit and like. In addition, they can find my book on Amazon, as well as other major distributors.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Teens, you are special. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel like you’re winning the race at this very exact moment. Stick with it and you’ll do plenty of winning before your time is up. And when you are all grown up, remember the people that helped you get there, and make sure you return their acts of kindness to the next generation.

 

The Promise of Living

grahamcover

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What authors have greatly influenced you as a writer? 

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

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

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

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

Have you always want to be a writer? 

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

What’s next on your plate? 

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

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

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

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

Where can readers find out more about your work? 

The Promise of Living is available at Amazon.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Deadlight

Lasher Lane

Eons ago I dated someone who went into a freakily depressive funk that started every October and lasted until mid-February. Not only was he subject to lethargy, weight gain and extreme despair but he would also become paranoid, quick-tempered and even quicker to accuse everyone around him of being untruthful. While some of this bizarre behavior could be attributed to the fact he was a descendant of the Mary Todd Lincoln gene pool (cue The Twilight Zone music), he was finally diagnosed as having Seasonal Affective Disorder – a condition experienced by approximately six percent of the U.S. population, primarily those who live in northern climates. I hadn’t thought about this for years but was reminded of it when I recently discovered author Lasher Lane’s compelling new book, Deadlight. In this work of literary fiction, the story’s haunted narrator, Henry, struggles with sanity, wondering if his friend’s fatal bet was a stunt for attention or suicide…and if “solar deprivation” might be to blame.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Little did anyone suspect back at Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx that your birthdate marked the debut of a future author! When did you first know that being a writer was in your blood?

A: At six years old I was struck by a car, leaving me bedridden for months due to a serious head injury. As I was healing, for some odd reason I had the strong desire to write poetry, but as soon as I was able to return to school and friends, excepting written homework assignments, I put the poetry aside.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: No, not until I married and told my husband of thirty years, a voracious reader himself, that I’d like to write a novel about my childhood town, to which he said, “You don’t read enough authors to write.” So for the past thirty years I’ve been reading a few pages from ten to twelve books a night to get a sense of different styles. Of course, it takes a while that way, but I do eventually finish the books!

Q: Did writing come easily to you in school or was it something you had to work hard at?

A: While I dreaded math tests in school, I looked forward to the weekly lists of spelling words and essay/book report assignments. I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember, but I feel writing will always be a learning process for me.

Q: Who were some of your favorite authors that not only captivated you but also may have had an influence on your own storytelling style?

A: T.C. Boyle for his Tortilla Curtain, Darin Strauss for Chang and Eng and Jan Yoors for The Gypsies. They are my three favorite books that have always stayed with me.

Q: If you could go to lunch with one of these people, who would it be, why would you choose him/her, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Sadly, Mr. Yoors has passed away, but I’d like to have met all three separately! I’d like each author to choose a place for lunch in any California, North Carolina or European setting from their novels. I’d imagine the writing came easiest to Mr. Yoors, living alongside those he wrote about, but I would ask all three authors the same question: how they so deftly breathed life into their beautiful, but less than fortunate characters, especially Mr. Strauss, creating a personality/ego for each adult conjoined twin he’d never met.

Q: “Lasher” is an unusual first name. Is that your given name or a pen name?

A: Three characters from my novel, Russell Winterburn, Adelaide Leary, and Sterling Hilliard are actually combined street names from my town. While writing the story, I thought that Lasher Lane, where my childhood house still stands, sounded like it could be either male or female, so I used it as a pen name, hoping my novel would appeal to both sexes.

Q: Speaking of interesting names, what’s the meaning behind the title you chose for your debut novel?

A: My story takes place in and around a marina, and I chose the nautical term deadlight, which is a window or prism mounted flush in the deck of a ship to provide light below. The compound word seemed to work as a title since my story has a nautical setting, and it involves both death and light, or the lack of it…dead light.

Q: What was your inspiration to write Deadlight?

A: A New York times article that stated my “blue-collar mentality” town with its “sense of clannishness” suffered from “solar deprivation” and “collective psychic depression” from living in the shadow of the 200 ft. Palisades that served as a backdrop. The article has always haunted me and I wanted to incorporate those powerful sentiments into my story.

Q: Did you start with an outline or just listen to your muse as you went along?

A: I don’t usually use outlines, and most of the time, for whatever decade I’m writing about,  listening to the music of that era works as my muse and helps me to get ideas.

Q: What governed your decision to set the story in the 1960’s rather than present day?

A: Besides being my favorite decade, the town featured in my novel had a unique, gritty yet pastoral character in the Sixties. The author Joseph Mitchell even noticed and chose to write about the place in his short “The Rivermen.”

Q: You’ve indicated that this coming-of-age novel is part memoir. Why, then, is the protagonist a male and not a female?

A: Again, I wanted my story to appeal to both sexes, not just women.

Q: Elements of Mother Nature – water, wind, light – often serve in literary fiction as a metaphor for life’s multiplicity of challenges. Was this the case in Deadlight insofar as the inhibitions, trepidations, addictions and emotional growth of your characters over the course of the story?

A: With all of the town’s residents living under the cliffs and being hidden by their enormous shadow, in some ways the lack of light represents our invisibility and insignificance.

Q: How much research was involved, given the tie-in to solar deprivation?

A:  Living in the town for forty years, my research was experiencing the “solar deprivation” firsthand. I recently read about the Norwegian town of Rjukan that lives in darkness and is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder for five months each year. They’ve installed 538-ft. mountaintop mirrors to reflect sunshine into the town. Although my town’s lack of light wasn’t nearly as severe, losing only two to four hours a day of sun definitely had a behavioral effect on us.

Q: Is your backdrop a real place or a composite of different locales with which you’re familiar?

A: Although the story is fiction, the backdrop is the real town of Edgewater, New Jersey, which once was named Pleasant Valley and is the name I chose to call the town in my novel.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for this project?

A: I am Patteran Press. I decided to start my own press after waiting months to hear from small presses if they’d accepted my novel manuscript. I’m not in my twenties anymore, so I don’t have the luxury of waiting for long periods of time between submissions.

Q: How have you gone about promoting the book? Which of these activities has been the hardest/easiest?

A: I’ve sent letters to libraries asking about their shelf inclusion policy, sent press releases to newspapers, letters to bookstores, all of them regional and close to the town I write about. I also try to promote the novel on social media, hopefully without being too annoying. The mailing part is easy, but with all the other books out there, I wouldn’t say the results of any self-promotion are easy these days.

Q: What skill sets and experience do you feel you brought to the table as a result of your career path prior to penning Deadlight?

A: For thirteen years I worked for Prentice-Hall’s Art Department, laying out and shooting camera copy for authors’ books. I envied them, so I began writing shorts of my own and submitting to online and paper journals, which I still like to do and is great writing practice.

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

A: I believe my desire to write, just like other authors, comes from a past life memory that was viewed in that life as a positive experience. I also believe there’s a reason we come in contact with each and every person during our time on Earth.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a book of short stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  Through lasherlane.com, readers can find me on Twitter. I’m also on GoodReads.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I want to sincerely thank you so much for this opportunity!

 

 

Seasons of Raina

Seasons of Raina Cover_Seasons of Raina

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Capsized: A Novel in Verse

Capsized

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

What accounts for our longstanding fascination with the sea, with ships and with the siren call to distant destinations? Anne Tews Schwab applies her own love of all things nautical to Capsized: A Novel In Verse – an imaginative story told in poems about sailing, music, family and swirling teenage emotion.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with telling us how your personal journey as a writer began.

A: My writing journey began at age three. I had recently mastered writing my first name, and was eager to share my writing prowess with my whole neighborhood.  Red crayon clutched in my hand, I hurried outside and proceeded to write on the walls of the house, the door of the garage, the silver trash cans and the slats of our white picket fence. I was proud of my work but my mother seemed to disagree.  Soon after my crayon masterpiece was discovered, I had my first experience in editing as my mother handed me a bucket and a sponge and instructed me to start scrubbing!

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: Yes! We weren’t allowed to watch any television except for PBS, so my sisters and I all became voracious readers at very early ages.

Q: What authors and titles especially resonate(d) with you (and why)?

A: I read so many covers off so many books, I wouldn’t have the space to name them all here, but a few that come to mind include: The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M Montgomery (because my mother read a chapter out loud to me every night before bed), Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (because I dreamed of one day having a family as big as theirs), the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene and Bobbsey Twin books by Laura Lee Hope and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (because I had dreams of one day becoming a detective or spy),  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (because I wanted to be as smart as Meg and wanted to believe it possible to time travel).

Q: What are you reading now?

A: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka, J. K. Rowling)

Q: What is Capsized about and what was your inspiration to write it?

A: Written as a series of poems, Capsized is a fictionalized version of the some of the highs and lows and joys and woes of scow sailing and lake racing combined with a deep love of piano playing and music. Dani’s story began many years ago when I wrote a short story featuring a girl from a sailing-centric family who was deathly afraid of the water. Like Dani, I grew up sailing and playing piano, but unlike Dani, I loved the water, and my sailing and piano stories are quite different from hers!

Q: Who is your target audience and what is the takeaway value you hope to achieve with those readers?

A: I hope that young adult readers will emphasize with the plight of the main character as she struggles to balance the demands of her father, her mother, her brother and the friends that come and go in her life.  In addition to empathizing with the story’s theme, I hope that teens and tweens will come away with a new found love and/or appreciation for power and beauty of poetry.

Q: You describe Capsized as “a novel in verse.” What influenced your decision to go this particular route?

A: As part of my MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University, I had the privilege of penning two theses – one critical, one creative. For my first thesis, I researched extensively in the field of poetry, focusing specifically on the epic poem and how it related to a novel of my own.  As I dove deep into the epics of yore and was immersed in the world of verse, I had the lightbulb idea to rewrite a shelved prose novel entirely in poems.  When the award-winning verse novelist, Ron Koertge, was assigned as my final semester advisor, I knew I had made the right choice.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the story and its themes?

A: The first challenge came when my advisor advised me to put the whole prose novel away, make a bare bones outline of the general story structure from scratch and then begin again, but this time in poetic format … Yikes! The next challenges arrived as I struggled to find the poetic forms that would best represent character, setting, action and emotion.

Q: What part does setting play in the development and progression of the plot?

A: Dani’s home lake — Black Bear Lake — plays a large part in her life and the lives of her friends and family. In addition to being essential to the sailing action that takes place in the story, the lake also sets the tone and pace of the poems and prose throughout the books.  The rhythm of the winds and waves across the lake are reflected in the rhythmic development of the story and the ebb and flow style plot progression.

Q: If you could be any character in the book, which one would it be?

A: Mary — so I could tell her story (there’s so much about her that the reader never gets to see!)

Q: If you were to set sail around the world with only one person for company, who would it be and why?

A: My first choice would be my amazing husband, although it would take some convincing since he has often stated — in no uncertain terms — that he has zero desire to sail anywhere where he can no longer see land 🙂

Q: How long did this book take you to write from start to finish?

A: If we count all of the prose drafts, plus the short story that began it all, the whole process adds up to nearly ten years. If we only count the poetic drafts, it would be closer to two.

Q: Tell us a little about your writing process. For instance, do you do outlines and research in advance or create and research as you go along?

A: I am more of a pantster than an outliner – I tend to write by the seat of my pants, letting the plot develop and the story grow until the first draft is done. After that, I will go back and outline the basic structure to find the holes, pinpoint the flaws and discover what more is needed.

Q: What are some fun or interesting facts about Capsized you’d like readers to know?

A: The sail number and name on the X boat pictured on the cover are the same as my boat’s name and number from back when I was an X-boat racing teenager, but that’s not me or my boat in the picture!

Q: In classrooms across the country, the study of poetry has seriously fallen by the wayside. Further, aspiring writers are often discouraged from writing poetry because there just isn’t any money in it. What’s your reaction to this?

A: It’s true, there is not a lot of money in poetry, but, as I tell teens today, poetry has a power that cannot be denied.  With poetry, deep emotions can be expressed in non threatening ways.  With poetry, teens can speak deep truths. I like to borrow the words of a certain wise doctor when I speak with teachers and teens and tweens of today about poetry, telling them that, with poetry in their pocket, “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” (apologies to Dr. Seuss).

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

A: I submitted my book to a wide range of traditional publishers, but as a quiet verse novel, Capsized did not garner a strong interest from agents and/or publishing houses.  After some careful research, I found North Star Press, a local publisher with strong poetry collections. Through their guided self-publishing arm, Polaris Publications, I was able to bring Dani’s story from manuscript form to published fruition.

Q: What kinds of things are you doing to promote the book now that it’s out?

A: Interviews, book signings, mailings, book club appearances, teaching classes about poetry, teaching online workshops, contacting schools and libraries.

Q: For writers that are just starting out, what are your three best tidbits of advice?

A: 1. Write.

2. Write.

3. Write!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A middle grade fantasy fiction story about pirates and mermaids and destiny and family.

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

A: I write a poem a day and I would encourage all of your readers to do so as well —  poetry is perfect for all people, all places, all the time.  Poetry is perfect for you!

 

Readers can learn more about Anne by visiting the following:

Website: http://piratepoems.com/capsized

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/capsized.anovelinverse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoetryPlunder

 

 

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS

LTTCover“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes,” wrote an unknown author.  “Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”

Was there ever a more mystifying or mercurial entity sharing your roof and eating all of your food than a human teenager? In her new parenting book, LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, popular columnist Myrna Beth Haskell wisely and whimsically affirms the empathetic message “You’re not alone” to the bewildered moms and dads of today’s younger generation.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start out by looking at how – and why – your popular syndicated column Lions and Tigers and Teens transitioned to a full-fledged book of the same name.

A: Since I have dialogue with parents on a regular basis, many of them suggested I put the columns together into a guide.  I started to look at all of the columns I had already written, and I realized that compiling my favorites together was a fabulous idea!  The chapters are actually longer than the original column installments.  I added more from the original interviews, and I added additional tips.

Q: Newspaper and magazine columns are typically stand-alone fare on a variety of different topics. In compiling columns for inclusion, how did you keep the whole thing cohesive for prospective readers?

A: This was easier than one might think.  I was able to group the columns into sections so that parents could easily scan the book for “general” types of issues/solutions.  For instance, the section “Firsts” deals with issues such as a teen’s first time behind the wheel or first boyfriend/girlfriend.  The section titled “The Bad and the Ugly” deals with serious problems teens might face (i.e. depression, substance abuse, bullying).

Q: What is the overarching theme of the book and who is your target demographic?

A: Theme/Central message:  No parent is perfect. However, if you are willing to try different approaches and communicate with your teen regularly, you are well on your way to solving any issue.  Collaborate with your teens to find solutions to problems, and your teen will be well on his/her way to becoming an accomplished adult.

Demographic: Caregivers of teens (moms, dads, secondary teachers, etc.) – generally men and women between the ages of 38 and 55. 

Q: Do today’s teenagers have it harder or easier than they did when you were a teen yourself?

A: I think that many of the issues are the same.  Teens are still dealing with peer pressure, body image, self esteem, bullying, violence, and academic stresses.  One stark difference in my opinion: the amount of violence teens are exposed to.  I do not remember movies and games being so focused on gratuitous and graphic violence – many times void of consequences.  I think teens have more access to this type of media today due to the Internet and social networking.  Violence is exploited and easily accessed.

Q: Knowing what you know now as a product of life experiences, would you ever want to go back for a do-over? If so, what would you do differently?

A: I would never want to “do-over” any stage of my life.  I truly believe that we are who we are today because of our past experiences – good and bad.  This also goes for parenting.  Every parent makes mistakes.  You learn from them and you move on.

Q: What fascinates, inspires and/or troubles you the most about the modern teen mindset?

A: Technology can be wonderful and it offers teen’s exposure to places and ideas that help to expand the mind and imagination.  However, there is a dark side to all of this exposure.  Today’s technology exacerbates “instant gratification.” Texting, IMing, and other forms of shortened/instant messaging create problems we didn’t once have.  To some extent, many teens are losing the ability to express themselves in reasoned and thoughtful ways.  They are building relationships where the only contact is via a computer, as opposed to taking the time to actually “be together” and talk to someone.  Bullying has also become more hurtful (cyber bullying) where egregious comments or harmful images can be sent to hundreds of peers in an instant.  

Q: Should parents allow celebrities to be their teenagers’ role models?

A: Teens should understand that celebrity is a business…that what they see on TV or in movies is a fabrication of reality.  Many celebrities are portrayed in the media as going down the wrong path because it sells newspapers and advertising space.  Parents should make an effort to point out good things teen celebrities are doing in their communities and talk about why instant celebrity might cause a person to make bad choices.  It is a pipe dream to think your teenager won’t be curious about celebrities, so you need to have frequent and open discussions about celebrity.

Q: Your love of the written word was ignited at a very young age. Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and a teenager?

A: I was definitely into books.  I was into the horror genre as a teenager.  I read a lot of Stephen King.  I also loved books about adolescent angst written from the adolescent perspective.  I wrote a book review column for my high school newspaper.

Q: What were some of your favorite books?

A: Favorites in adolescence: The Shining, The Stand, The Exorcist, Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Favorites in College: Catch 22, Beloved, Misery, A Clockwork Orange, The Sound and the Fury

Other favorites: In Cold Blood, Memoirs of a Geisha, Angela’s Ashes

Wow…I guess these lists are quite diverse! Basically, I love any book that really goes into “character.”

Q: What are you reading now?

I’ve just started Stephen King’s 11/22/63 about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I also have Killing Kennedy on my shelf – waiting to be read.  Unfortunately, I do not have the time I would like to read strictly for pleasure.  Much of my time reading is spent doing research for my features and column installments.

Q: At what point did you awaken to the realization that you wanted to make your living as a full-time writer?

A: In elementary school I knew I wanted to be a writer.  However, I didn’t start out as a full time writer.  That is extremely difficult to do. Most budding writers have day jobs.  I used to teach at a community college, and I also worked as a technical writer.  Once I began freelancing in 1997, my writing career developed from there.  It takes time to build relationships with editors.  It was very part-time the first several years when my children were young.

Q: Did you have mentors to guide you on that journey? If so, what were the most valuable lessons you learned from them?

A: I’ve stayed in touch with two former teachers – one is an author and one a poet.  I’ve asked them both for advice over the years.  More recently, I’ve had contact with other writers via social networking, as well as folks I’ve had contact with whom I’ve met through my work.

I guess I’ve learned through experience and from mentors that you have to love to write -first and foremost.  Most writers do not strike it rich.  They write for the love of writing…which is what I do.

Q: You’re the parent of two children. Over the course of writing your columns and developing the structure of your book, did you learn anything new that could be applied to your own parenting style?

A: I definitely learned to lighten up at times.  My lead-in for “Tornadoes and Other Hazards” has a light-hearted tone partly because I realized I had to let my son’s sloppy lifestyle go a bit – “pick your battles” comes to mind.  There is a difference between issues that drive us crazy because they just “drive us crazy” and issues that concern our teens’ health and well being.  I decided to focus on the latter. I’ve also learned that there are many approaches that work.  You need to decide what’s best based on your family dynamic and the personality and maturity level of your teen.

Q: Are you a parent, a pal or both?

A: I’m a “parent” most of the time.  I think some parents try too hard to be “friends” with their teens.  Teens need parents…adults to guide them and draw boundaries.  However, at times, I do things with my teens that a friend might also do…including giggling with my daughter until I have the hiccups or playing video games with my son.  You have to know how to have a good time with your teens even though your first job is to “parent.”

Q: At the end of each chapter in the book is a section called Tips and Tales. What were some of the best tips that other parents contributed?

A: The “Tips and Tales” sections include great advice from other parents.  My best tips:  One parent wrote in about her own experience with depression in her teen years for the “Down in the Dumps” chapter which addresses teen depression.  I also received some great tips on anti-bullying programs at various schools.  Parents, who also happen to be principals, high school guidance counselors, and teachers, wrote in with great tips.  Their advice is obviously coming from more than one perspective.

Q: How much research went into the planning of the book?

A: Research is extremely important for the type of writing I do.  I consider myself an educator, so I have to get it right.  I do general research on each topic before I even approach experts to interview.  The direction my topics take is influenced by my experiences, but often changes a bit once I do research and interview experts (psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, educators).  This is information my readers need to be armed with when they approach a problem.

I also did research on how to put the book together.  I looked at other compilations and popular parenting books.  The chapters are grouped into sections to make it easy for parents to find a particular topic.  I opted to do my own foreword because I was able to talk about my inspiration for the book and column.  The afterword (“Common Parentisms…and the answers your teens are thinking, not saying”) is humorous and goes with the tone of many of the lead-ins for the chapters (It kind of raps up the “generation gap”).  After all, parents of teens have to have a sense of humor. 

Q: Were there existing parenting books that influenced your approach to Lions and Tigers and Teens?

A: Since my book is a compilation of my favorite column installments, I would say the influence started with my column.  My work falls into the parenting genre, and I favor a lighthearted, down-to-earth, or humorous tone in the books and columns I choose to read by others.  I absolutely love Erma Bombeck!  I also enjoy the Newbie Dad column, by Brian Kantz.  Actually, I enjoy several “dad” columns and books, including work by Bruce Sallan (A Dad’s Point of View).  I think dads have a propensity to laugh at themselves more so than moms. 

Q: What do you feel is the most serious problem confronting teens in the 21st century and what is the remedy to help them deal with it?

A: There seems to be a lot more stress on teens today – school stress, social stress, stress about finding a job when they get out of school, stress about affording college, etc.  Stress is the underlying factor for a lot of problems that adolescents face (teen depression, substance abuse, test anxiety…the list goes on).  If parents can guide a teen to focus on their goals, improve their self esteem, face issues head-on, and allow them to make mistakes…stress will decrease and teens can focus on becoming a valuable member of society.

Q: Which chapters proved the most challenging?

A: “The Truth, the Whole Truth, well…sort of” (about what to tell your teens about your past) was difficult because there were many diverse opinions.

“That Ain’t the Way to Have Fun” (about teen substance abuse) required a lot of research.

Q: Conversely, which chapters were the most fun?

A: “The Locked Door” (about teen privacy): I just loved writing the lead-in for this one.

“No Jacket Required” (about teens refusing to wear jackets): This was fun because of all of the great comments I got from parents on this one.

Q: What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you?

A: I am an avid gymnastics fan – another passion of mine.  I was a gymnast.  I also choreographed routines for NCAA Division I teams, and I was a Level 10 judge for over 15 years.  Today, I still try to make it to local championship meets and, of course, I follow what our US girls are doing on TV.

Q: What advice would you give other writers who are in the process of writing their first book?

A: Don’t get discouraged and have the courage to allow other writers to critique your work.  Understand that when you’ve finished your book…your work is not done.  Prepare to market your book even if you’ve signed with a traditional publisher.  This process can be a daunting one if you are not aware that you have to put in just as much – if not more – time marketing as you did writing.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m always writing new features concerning children’s health and development, and I continue with the column each month.  I have plans to start a new column for empty nest folks and a possible second edition of LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS.

******

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, published by Unlimited Publishing, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as a paperback and ebook. To learn more about Myrna, visit her website at http://www.myrnahaskell.com.