Tales From The Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives

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What happens when sibling rivalry goes awry? As challenging as it is during one’s formative years when it’s an ongoing quest to prove via Mother’s Day gifts, handmade cards and good deeds that “Mom likes me the best,” fractious relationships with brothers and sisters tend to escalate in adulthood if a deceased parent’s final wishes are neither written down nor carried out. In her latest book, Tales From The Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives, Deborah Carroll serves up an entertaining and insightful retrospective of dysfunctional family dynamics as seen through the lens of personal experience.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction. Would you say that’s an apt label for the vitriolic interactions that transpire(d) in your own family tree?

A: Let’s put it this way: My family tree is so screwy, even monkeys are frightened! I leave it to the reader to decide if our story is stranger than fiction but I surely think it is. If what transpired wasn’t so bizarre, I’d have had no tale to tell. In a way it was easier than fiction to write because I didn’t have to create the plot or the conflict, I just had to live it. (Okay, maybe that part wasn’t so easy after all.)

Q: At what point either growing up or becoming an adult did you and your husband start to see that your respective siblings were teetering toward dysfunctional? Was there an inciting incident, for instance, that ignited a succession of destructive behaviors toward one another or did such behaviors actually exist all along and become more pronounced with the passage of time?

A: We thought we had normal families growing up. In retrospect we were forced to conclude something must have been rotten in Denmark (or on Long Island and in Philadelphia, respectively) for things to go so horribly awry. Kids know no reality other than their own, though, so perhaps very few find out early in life something is amok in their families. When my husband and I were young marrieds and beginning our life together, we began to notice things which didn’t quite fit our vision of happy family, though. When my sister-in-law had children – the first in the family to do so – she chose to have her kids call her friends “Aunt” and “Uncle” but they didn’t call their actual aunts and uncles that. My mother- and father-in-law were afraid to ask her about it. That began a lifelong pattern of people in the family not communicating honestly how they felt. When my sister inexplicably stopped talking to me and refused to say why, that was a red flag too.

Q: What prompted you to write a book about these unsettling experiences?

A: We didn’t see these difficulties coming and my husband and I are analytical people, so we’ve spent years discussing how the whole family saga played out. We wanted to understand our part in it and even more so to make sure we did things differently with our children. When the last of our four parents died and the drama reached astronomical levels of dysfunction, it was such an interesting story I thought it worthy of sharing. Maybe more importantly, the number of people who have similar craziness in their own family is astounding. Reading about how we dealt gracefully with the adult sibling rivalry and the isolation from our family could help others know they’re not alone and maybe learn strategies for dealing with this dysfunction.

Q: I take it that their reaction to your decision to publish was less than pleasant?

A: OMG! I didn’t use anyone’s real name or any identifiers so no one would have or could have known who our family members really were unless they told them. So, they could’ve just kept quiet and no one would’ve been the wiser but if our siblings were that smart, we might not have had a problem in the first place. Nope, they didn’t keep quiet. First they wrote scathing reviews of the book on Amazon. My brother-in-law wrote under the screen name MISC. I think he meant ANON as in anonymous but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. It was obvious it was his review from the things he said. Not only did he write a review (which started with “Hitler wrote a book justifying his behavior too.”), he began commenting on every review. All were 4- and 5-star reviews and there were about 20 or so fairly soon.

On every positive review he’d write:

Misc says:

I happen to know this is one of the authors (sic) friends and this review along with most of the other highly rated reviews is bogus.

Christ 1 star

Hitler 5 stars”

He’d add other abusive remarks and direct them to me personally. My favorite was, You and your husband Ned Carroll have once again crossed a line but this time it will not be tolerated. The real truth will be revealed and this fantasy that seems to play out in your head which you call a book, will soon be obliterated. The best is yet to come Debby and Ned Carroll.”

I was pretty curious to see what “best was yet to come” and what the “real truth” was because honestly I lead a pretty boring life so if he was going to say something juicy about me I wanted to hear it. Alas, he revealed nothing. And eventually Amazon deleted his comments (And then he’d write another comment about how I was deleting his comments but they deleted those, too.) but they did leave his “Hitler” review and you can see it if you check out the listing on Amazon.

My sister-in-law employed a different strategy. She and her daughter wrote nasty reviews, not of the book but of me, referring to me as “evil, controlling, egomaniacal and nasty.” They hired a lawyer who threatened to sue me. Ultimately, he had to admit there was no case and no lawsuit would be forthcoming. I think he advised them to delete their reviews or maybe Amazon did but both reviews are gone and I haven’t heard from them since I spoke to their lawyer and let him know he failed at scaring me because I knew I had a legal right to tell my story. My niece also Googled my name and contacted other places my work (unrelated to the book) appears to trash me and threaten them for publishing my writing. I sent her a few emails telling her what she was doing constituted defamation and eventually, after their lawyer told her to stop, she did.

Q: The argument could be made that certain things which happen in the privacy of one’s home shouldn’t be aired publicly. What are your own thoughts about that?

A: Believe it or not, there were anecdotes about our siblings I did not share. I included incidents germane to the family dynamic but left out personal aspects of their lives that would embarrass them but not add anything to the story.

Q: The book is defined as “narrative nonfiction memoir.” Why did you take this particular approach rather than penning it as straight fiction with just enough separation of personality tags so as to keep the wrongdoers from going ballistic?

A: I could have written this book as fiction. Many people suggested that would be a kinder and gentler way to go, rather than to present our family members as they are in real life. I opted for nonfiction because I thought if I made up characters who did the things our siblings actually did, readers would not find them believable. My story reads like fiction but I thought it important for readers to know every word is true. I felt the story was more powerful because it was real. Seriously, if you read a fictional work about a character who sued her sister over, among other things, 8 plastic corn cob holders, wouldn’t you reject that plot point as exaggerated and ridiculous? But it happened. As to the wrongdoers going ballistic, I suppose I just didn’t care anymore. None of our siblings speak to us anyway so I had nothing to lose. Readers fully understand why that estrangement is in many ways a gift. These are not people anyone would want in their life.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling and wants to make a movie about Tales From The Family Crypt. Who’s your dream cast or would you go with an ensemble of unknown actors so as to make the story more relatable to an audience?

A: I love this question and this is the first time anyone has asked that. Unknowns? No way, I want big names! My husband has to be played by Richard Gere because he’s always thought he looked like him. (No comment, I prefer to stay married.) Me? Young me should be played by Jennifer Lawrence. She works and plays well with crazy based on her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” and she can shoot to kill based on “The Hunger Games,” so I think she could handle our crazies. Older me? Susan Sarandon. We have similar hair.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

A: The end. I try to look back and see where it all went wrong. It was painful and difficult to figure out but for the book to be an honest account, it had to be done.

Q: And the easiest?

A: My father’s death chapter. It was (and yes I know this makes me sound a bit nuts) beautiful to live through, to witness his graceful and peaceful transition from life to death. He died in my home with my husband, my three then-young daughters, and me. He lived his last few weeks surrounded by love and died the same way. It was my honor and privilege to take care of him.

Q: Did catharsis enter into the equation during the book’s development?

A: I’ve counseled others repeatedly – if you live through something like this and you are holding on to anger, to grief, to guilt, to unresolved issues, write it down so you can let it go.

Q: Litigious society we live in these days, did you consult an attorney prior to moving forward with publication?

A: I didn’t speak to an attorney but I researched the laws carefully. While I could have legally used their real names, I chose not to in order to have an extra measure of privacy protection for my siblings.

Q: Let’s step back to childhood a moment. There’s been no shortage of psychological studies on whether the influences of a dysfunctional home life will cause children to either repeat those patterns when they become parents themselves or do a complete reversal (i.e., a son whose father was frequently absent will subsequently want to be a very engaged “pal” to his own offspring). What was the case for you and your husband in terms of raising and guiding your children?

A: We have three amazing daughters, all of whom have grown up to be teachers, a lovely reflection of who they are. Our experiences with our families absolutely directed the parents we were and the way we raised our daughters to love and respect each other, to value the family and to understand that strong relationships require work and begin with love and honesty and trust.

Q: What is your family like today?

A: We are so grateful. We laugh together, we’ve worked together and played together and now it’s passing to the next generation as we have the most awesome two-year-old grandson who pretty much rocks the Carroll family world. I think the dysfunctional family made us treasure what matters most – each other. In a way we felt like it was us against the world at times and we came through it stronger.

Q: If you had life to live over, what would you do differently to change your family situation?

A: Hardest question ever… I’d implore our parents to communicate more or at least some and to be honest with all of us, something they were woefully unable to do. Maybe I would have tried to understand the siblings better earlier on. They are challenged people. I used to see some of them as evil. I’ve come to understand they’re not evil, just a mess.

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

A: I’m not as nice as I’d like to be but not as bad as my siblings would have anyone believe. On a lighter note, I run 4-5 miles a few times a week. It helps me process and write.

Q: There’s nothing that can tear families apart faster or uglier than estate issues, especially in cases where beneficiaries assume a level of entitlement that doesn’t necessarily mirror reality. Is there anything people can do to prepare for – as well as avoid – the types of infighting, inheritance battles and rivalries that erupt when parentals pass away?

A: Absolutely! The power lies mostly in the parents’ hands, though. Communication is key. The battles can largely be avoided with open talks about end of life care and wishes, about death and money, three things people are loath to talk about. We need to tear down those taboos if we are to avoid the fighting. Newsflash: you are going to die, talking about it won’t make it happen and not talking about it won’t stop it from happening. But talking about it can make it easier on the dying and the living.

Q: Why should people read your book and what do you believe is its strongest takeaway value?

A: Read it first because it’s a good story, well told. (If I do say so myself. But then reviewers say so, too, so it must be true.) Second, it may help you deal with any family issues you might encounter and if you are like most people, sadly you may encounter them so forewarned is forearmed.

Q: Is this the first book you’ve written? Will it be the last?

A: I’ve written two parenting books, published by Penguin and Berkley Books in the 90s. I even appeared on Good Morning America with one of them. (One of the most embarrassing events of my life. If you meet me, ask.) I’ve just updated and self-published that one, “Raising Amazing Children: While Having A Life of Your Own.” It’s on Amazon. I’m currently working on a children’s book, “Real Grandparents: From A-Z, Everything A Grandparent Can Be.” I’m writing that one because I don’t love the way grandparents are portrayed in children’s books. They seem to wear nightcaps and knit (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and spend a lot of time rocking and not in a good way! My grandparent friends are vibrant and active people. We run, we play hard, we work hard, we’re creative and talented. I think it’s time for an image upgrade for all of us grandparents out there redefining aging.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you read my book, please consider reaching out to me to let me know your thoughts. I’m so grateful to readers and especially to those who take a moment to check in and share their reactions.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m blogging at talesfromthefamilycrypt.wordpress.com

Twitter @thefamilycrypt

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The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say

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“The best executive,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Suffice it to say during all of the years I was employed by someone else, there was only one boss I ever had who fit T.R.’s definition of quality leadership. Woefully, the rest were either manic control freaks and paranoid blame-gamers or women that were gung-ho about teamwork and upward mobility…until, that is, they crossed over into managerial positions and promptly pulled the drawbridge up behind them.

Such are the individuals who could benefit mightily from David M. Dye’s new book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. Targeted to leaders and managers, this how-to guide is packed with practical and encouraging tools for cultivating energized, responsible, and results-oriented teams.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With 20+ years of experience in multiple business sectors – including nonprofits – who would you say had the greatest influence in honing your professional skills (and passion!) for leadership and employee engagement?

A: I’ve always believed that the very best life-textbooks we have are when things don’t go well. I’ve had some excellent leadership mentors, but often the people who weren’t very good taught me the most and helped me honed my own professional skills. My passion often came from realizing what would be possible if only the leadership was more effective.

Q: How has your mindset changed and evolved from how you originally approached leadership issues and how you address them now in consultations with your clients?

A: When I was young, I went searching for the secret to changing people (naïve, I know!). Of course, as I matured, I came to understand that the only person you are responsible for is you. Consequently, my approach to leadership shifted from fear, power, and control to real engagement based on taking responsibility for myself and the environment I create for the people I lead.

Q: Once upon a time, individuals fresh out of college (or even high school) would go to work for the very first company that hired them, climb the promotional ladder, and remain there until the day they retired. Nowadays, many students are not as wedded to the idea of corporate loyalty and, accordingly, view every job as a revolving door to somewhere else. How then, can today’s employers create an environment that will not only engage the members of their team but also provide incentives that will make them want to stay?

A: No team can thrive without trust. The tension you’ve described is a lack of trust between employers and employees. When neither group feels that the other cares about them, it is tough to build high performance organizations. The answer begins with something Stephen Chbosky, Writer and Director of Perks of Being a Wallflower, said: “The generation gap is nothing more than a conversation we haven’t had yet.”

People want similar things, but they want them in different ways. They want meaningful contribution, purpose, recognition, a feeling of growth, a sense of power over their own destiny, the opportunity to use their strengths in meaningful ways. These express themselves in different ways in different people…so start with conversation. What is important to you? What is important to them? Why are you both here?

Q: How do these principles of engagement and esprit de corps extend to the external teams with whom a company does business, especially, for instance, if their management practices are radically different?

A: It depends on the nature of the interactions. If an external group is going to be closely related to day-to-day operations, you want to be very careful about doing business with someone whose values are very different from your own. More generally, however, treat those individuals and their teams consistently with your own values and practices without judgment or criticism. You may even change how they do things.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that managers make under the umbrella of “Motivation”?

A: Band-Aids!

What I mean by Band-Aids is when manager becomes aware that there is a motivation or morale problem and they respond with a team bowling day or a pizza party. The team collectively rolls its eyes and now feels even worse. Why?

They feel worse because now the manager is essentially telling them, “I’m not going to address the real issue. In fact, you must now feel better because we did something ‘fun’.”

This is so demotivating. Fun is only fun when fundamentals are sound. If there are broken systems undermining productivity, having a pizza party is like slapping a Band Aid on an infected wound without first cleaning it, disinfecting, and getting stitches.

Q: Is leadership a natural born talent or one that can only be learned through hands-on experience?

A:  It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. Leadership has many components and most everyone is born with strengths in one or two areas. Effective leaders learn their skills and acquire ability through study, mentors, and experience.

Q: There are lots of leadership books on the market but you’ve approached the topic very differently. How did you come upon the idea of the ‘things your team needs to hear you say’ as a structure for your message/book?

A: Above all, I want the tools I share to be practical – something you can read during lunch and apply as soon as you return to your team. I focused on what leaders say because words are an easily modified behavior, because words work, and because what we say is often the start of further behavior change.

Q: You’ve included a number of individuals and stories in your book. Was there one in particular that profoundly touched your heart and made you say, “Wow”?

A: I share a story about a time my daughter asked why nothing she does is good enough. It is difficult to share, even now, how impactful that was. It goes back to why I focused on what leaders say: our words have incredible power, either to create or devastate.

Q: What’s the first thing you hope your readers do after finishing your book?

A: I hope the first thing readers do is tell themselves, “You can do this!”  The second thing would be to pick a phrase and share it with their team.

Q: What prompted you to launch Trailblaze and what are its core objectives?

A:  We have thousands of years of leadership wisdom available to us and yet 2/3 of Americans say they’d prefer a better boss to a raise in pay.

Clearly, there are so many leaders in need of practical wisdom they can apply in a fast-paced, pressure-filled environment. I launched Trailblaze to provide leaders, managers, and supervisors with practical tools they can use to get more done, build teams that care, and meet their goals.

Our core objective is to help leaders be effective at what they do. I think of my work as a “force-multiplier” for all the wonderful vision, passions, and energy people bring to their jobs.

Q: If you had to summarize your message on a billboard, bumper sticker or tweet, what would it say?

A:

Everyone’s a volunteer.

Lead to bring out the best, not wring out the worst.

Be the leader you want your boss to be.

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

A: My website is http://trailblazeinc.com.

For more about the book, check it out on Amazon or get more information at http://trailblazeinc.com/7things

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Imagine what can happen when people take responsibility for their corner of the world and work with those around them to make a better tomorrow. I invite you to be one of those people!

 

The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.

 

 

Interactive Ethics

Thomas Schear

Honesty. Integrity. Sincerity. Respect.

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

Q: What was the inspiration behind Interactive Ethics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

 

 

Luke’s Tale

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

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

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why do dogs make such good listeners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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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.