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

Bucket List Living For Moms: Become a More Adventurous Parent

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I’m so pleased to welcome the author of Bucket List Living for Moms: Become a More Adventurous Parent, Lara Krupicka! I’m a huge believer in “bucket lists” and was so pleased to be asked to interview Lara and learn more about this intrepid writer, journalist, and mother. Welcome Lara.

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q What’s so special about bucket lists?

A bucket list is a non-threatening way to think through what exhilarates you and which aspects of exploration and adventure are most appealing to you. Not everyone’s list is going to be the same. Different things interest each of us, which makes creating a bucket list an exercise in self-exploration. Then acting on those goals can take our lives in so many different directions.

Plus, it can be powerful to talk about bucket list longings with those we love. When everyone is encouraged to be vulnerable and honest, it can be eye-opening to learn what those around us really want to do and see in life. That knowledge gives us opportunities to bring encouragement and support to our family and friends. There are plenty of relational benefits to creating, sharing, and accomplishing bucket lists with others.

Q Why a book like this for moms in particular?

In a family, Mom usually comes last, to the point that many of us end up sacrificing our own identities in service of our spouses and children. We no longer remember what we like to do for ourselves – for enjoyment or self-improvement. The overall homogeneity of modern moms (irrespective of actual parenting practices) is troublesome. So I wrote this book as a guide for helping moms get ideas on how to uniquely care for themselves, to model for their kids the importance of continuing to go after your dreams, and as a means to prioritize their goals for spending what time they have to invest in themselves.

Q Don’t moms have enough to do these days without adding in a bucket list to worry about?

It’s true. Moms today are very busy. But with most of their time and attention going toward their children, I think every mom deserves a bucket list of goals they look forward to completing. A list prepared with care will be motivating instead of anxiety-producing and will be individualized enough to skirt the competitiveness that often sneaks into the realm of motherhood. Not only can it be invigorating and refreshing for a mom to complete a bucket list goal, but also the benefits extend out to her family and her relationship with her kids. In other words, a good bucket list should be a life enhancer, not a stressor.

Q What was the personal or professional lesson it took you the longest time to learn, and why?

It took me a long time to learn that my words matter. I blogged for a few years and had very few readers, which was frustrating, but not unexpected. Somehow I assumed that no one would want to read what I was writing. And yet I kept on writing because I could not keep from sharing my stories. Even after a number of my articles were published, I still did not think I had anything worthwhile to say. Part of the reason I took so many years to get into writing was because of that self doubt. Finally I decided that maybe my experiences weren’t so boring or unique. I still have a tendency to stick to “safe” subjects, but my writing is much more self-assured. I am thankful for the readers who have chimed in to say how my stories put their experiences into words or how my writing has encouraged them or helped them in some way. That knowledge – that my words do matter and can make a difference in the world – has given more depth and meaning to my work. I am so glad I learned that lesson.

Q What about bucket lists for dads, kids, or other people?

Family is a great setting for living out your life longings. Dads tend to be a little clearer about their goals in life for the most part, but even still every dad should create their own bucket list. Kids, because of their natural curiosity about the world, have lists of things they want to do (learn how to skateboard, be tall enough to ride a rollercoaster, etc). They just do not formalize them as bucket lists – and why would they when “kicking the bucket” is far from being top of mind for them? Again, I would still encourage kids (and really anyone) to write those down. If nothing else, writing down your dreams makes them more likely to happen.

I am also a big advocate for the family bucket list – a list of things a family wants to do together before the children are grown. It is a great tool for being intentional about our family identity and making the most of those 18 or so years.

Q Couldn’t people make a bucket list without having to read a book?

Absolutely. In fact, I think all of us already have a bucket list of some sort. The problem is that most of the time it exists in our heads and we don’t act on it very often. Plus, the common concept of a bucket list tends to limit us to considering only travel goals. But a fulfilling list is more than that. In both of my books, Family Bucket Lists and Bucket List Living For Moms, I encourage readers to think through their dreams and hopes across their life and across a variety of categories. The result is they have articulated their deepest longings and pinpointed long and short-term goals; goals that are easy to achieve and those that will take years, along with goals that they would like to accomplish with other people.

Q So, was being a writer on your bucket list?

It was! I decided when I was about 6 or 8 years old (once I could formulate my own stories on paper), that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I took a few detours along the way, but never forgot that dream. And now here I am – living it!

Q How does that work – being a writer and a mom?

Like any working mom, I can‘t say that it balances perfectly. But writing in particular lends itself to fitting in the gaps of family life. Most days I write and take care of work details while my children are at school. Many times that bleeds over to dinnertime. Yet I am also free when my kids need me, like for volunteering at school or taking them to appointments and activities.

Q Who would you say was your greatest mentor, and why?

I have been so, so fortunate to have some wonderful mentors in my life. As a writing mom, I have to say Christina Katz has been a great mentor and coach. She has helped me hone my skills and sort through what I have to say that will have the most impact. Under her tutelage I have gone from being a hopeful writer to professional journalist. What makes her such a great mentor is that she never stops pushing me to do better, to take the next step. She is incredibly observant. Christina can often see before I can what aspect of my life needs to be poured onto the page to help others. And she is so practical with her advice.

Q I suppose as a bucket list expert you have plenty of opportunities to live out your life dreams. Tell us what that’s like for you.

I am an ordinary mom, with kids to feed and clothe, and a job to fulfill. Nobody is footing the bills for my adventures. But I have come to believe so strongly in the importance of doing what matters most, that it seems someone in our family is checking off a bucket list goal almost every month. The biggest reason for that is awareness. I am much more open to spotting opportunities to achieve goals – big and small. And I have my family in a mindset to jump on those opportunities as often as we can, which is a big deal. I learned the hard way that hesitating doesn’t help. It also doesn’t help to not be clear in communicating your desires. Our bucket lists have given us a tool to communicate better.

Again, we are not out scaling mountains or traveling the world. With our family’s temperament, we could not handle that pace. Instead, most of our days are pretty ordinary.

We just do not let too much time go by between trying new experiences. And we don’t try to cram it all into school breaks and summer vacation. I find there are so many great adventures we can have right at home, that we don’t need to put everything off to vacation time.

Q As a writer, what advice would you give to new writers who are coming up the ladder?

Stick with it. Keep on writing. That blog you write may not get many visitors, but it may be honing your voice. Your first novel may get rejected over and over. But your second might be a big hit. The learning curve in the world of publishing is a long, steep one so you have to be committed for the long haul. And don’t buy into the scarcity mindset – that someone else’s success in writing comes at your expense. Be supportive of other writers and you can build the kind of camaraderie that will sustain you along the path to becoming a published writer.

Q From your own bucket list, what is the biggest goal or your most favourite goal that you have left to accomplish?

I cannot wait to spend time in the Tuscany region of Italy. Everything I have seen and heard about it sounds ideal in so many ways – the scenery, the food, the history. I have been studying Italian on the side and watching as many movies filmed in the region as I can find. At some point I want to read up on Italian history. It may be a long time before I get there, so I want to be prepared to make the most of every minute I will have once it arrives.

 

Thank you Lara! For more information about Lara and where to connect with her, click on the following links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amusingmom

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/amusingmomlara/

Google+: https://plus.google.com/105008897027927463869

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1045860.Lara.Krupicka

 

 

 

 

The Ugly Daughter

The Ugly Daughter

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”-Helen Keller

Tragedy and heartbreak resulting from a past of horrific abuse may sound like the next bestselling fiction novel in a world of dramatic storytelling. But for Julia Legian, author of The Ugly Daughter, there is nothing imaginary about harrowing, life-changing subjects such as abuse at the hands of family members one trusts the most. Packed with a powerful message about finding your strengths and leaning on God to restore faith, The Ugly Daughter is a memoir readers will not be able to put down, and will remember long after they do.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us a little bit about yourself—Julia Legian, Author Extraordinaire!

I was born in 1972 in South Vietnam, though truth be told nobody in my family really knows my real date of birth. During the war time I suppose people had other priorities than birth registries. My childhood was pretty tough, and that is the subject of my memoir The Ugly Daughter. In the early 80s my family managed to escape Vietnam as “boat people” and after a few years in a refugee camp, we immigrated to Australia, where I live till this day. I’m happily married to my husband, Simion and I have a wonderful son, Jeremy.

Your latest book is autobiographical. Tell us about The Ugly Daughter.

The Ugly Daughter is my memoir. It covers the early years of my life from a young age till the time we escaped Vietnam and headed to Australia. I had what many would consider a horrific upbringing and despite all that, I managed to survive and become a successful person in my own right. I wrote the book to demonstrate that anything is possible as long as you have firm faith and believe in yourself. I also hope I can inspire and encourage others to persevere and better their lives.

Why did you choose the genre you write in?

I’m not a professional writer. I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary story I’d like to share with the world in the hope of inspiring others.

How would you describe your writing style?

My writing style is brutally honest, simple and sincere and it’s written from my heart.

What are your preferred routines to use while writing?

I write at home in bed. The moment I wake up in the morning. I lie in bed and try to recall as many memories as I could. I have a notebook next to me and as soon as a new memory resurfaces I start to write it down. Later on during the day I go through my notes, sort them chronologically and refine the words until I am satisfied with the result. I have my favourite Buddha chill-out meditation music playing in the background to keep me calm and focused.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?

Definitely nonfiction; a memoir for women, I’d say.

Did you learn anything in particular that stood out for you once you began writing your book?

I learn the power of forgiveness, the power of letting go and to be compassionate towards the people that hurt me. I also the realization that I’m the only person that could free me from the prison of pain. And happiness is a personal decision and a personal choice and it has very little to do with our circumstances.

Are there any books that have most influenced your life?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Power of Positive Living Norman Vincent Peale

The infamous question- what advice would you give to any aspiring and new authors out there?

Do what you love. Work hard and never give up on your dream.

What can we look forward from you in the future?

The Ugly Daughter Part 2 is the follow up to my first novel.

Where can readers find a plethora of information about Julia Legian online?

http://www.theuglydaughter.com/ would be a good start.

Also https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7827024.Julia_Legian

And https://www.createspace.com/4653825

 

Seasons of Raina

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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.

 

In The Shadow of Sacrifice: Thoughts on Life and Success

Calhoun

Born amid poverty, illiteracy, and abuse, Howard Calhoun lived his youth as a sharecropper’s son and spent a large portion of his formative years moving from one shack to the next. Saddled with a serious stuttering problem and demoralized by a succession of demeaning employment experiences, this soft-spoken observer of human nature went on to become an owner of several successful businesses with a workforce that numbers in the hundreds. For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed, helpless or threatened by events beyond their control, In the Shadow of Sacrifice encourages them to look within, tap their faith and use that positive energy to recognize their own excellence.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with the $64,000 question: who is Howard Calhoun and why is he here?

A: I consider myself as a simple person who acquired modest and humble values from an upbringing populated by a large, tight-knit family and a very involved community.  I believe I have been entrusted with some very important gifts that I have been compelled to share.

Q: You’ve had a number of diverse careers over your lifetime. Who – or what – charted your course to pursue each of them?

A: A relatively unknown school counselor was the first one to actually sit me down and tell me that he thought I ought to be thinking about something (college). That opened a world of opportunities to me! My successes from that point expanded my interests and desires and helped me identify and crystallize areas of strength without losing the value of multiple exposures.  I have tried to align my career choices with my passions and strengths.

Q: Which of your careers did you enjoy the most?

A: My last public job was as a school counselor. It was my most rewarding one. In a sense, it was as if I had come full circle from that afternoon as a senior when I had that conversation with a school counselor.  This has been my opportunity to give back as so much has been given to me. After I completed my public career, I have added several more professional counseling credentials to my resume and it has been a joy to make counseling and changing lives for the better my life work.

Q: Is there a single life-changing event that leads you to be the person you are today? If that event had not occurred, where do you think you would now be instead?

A: Actually, it was an event in which I did nothing. It occurred on the heels of a supervisor telling me that I would work where he damn well told me and that if I didn’t like it, then I could let the door knob hit me where the good Lord split me. And he finished with, “Now get the hell out of my office.” This occurred because I was inquiring about the fairness of being passed over for transfer to a shift of my choice by other employees with less seniority than me. The decision not to be rash taught me a value in restraint that I still use today.  It allowed me to continue my career without what most likely would have gotten me terminated, locked up and a criminal record. My young career did not have the sustainability at the time to take such a hit. Also, personally, mishandling that situation certainly would have placed me on a trajectory counter to my life’s choice.  A full recovery may still lay in wait.

Q: What was the inspiration that led you to tell your compelling story in the genre and format you chose?

A: My mother’s sacrifice and the encouragement of so many others.

Q: Tell us the meaning behind the book’s title and how it reflects the book’s core themes.

A:  The book is a loving tribute to my parents, siblings, and community; all who had a hand in my development, but especially my mother. With her life, she demonstrated unwavering love, strength, courage and faith. She encountered constant stress and uncertainty that was complicated by a disability (hearing impairment). I learned early that my speech impediment (stuttering) was not to be used for sympathy, pity, or an excuse. My personal and professional successes were made possible because of her examples. Amidst poverty, abuse, and illiteracy, the strength of my mother’s life in quietness proved too much not to be heard.  I am that voice. As a product of that sacrifice, her constant message of love, above all else, is the resounding inspirational theme throughout this book.

Q: Would you define your book in terms of being motivational or would it better fit the label of self-help?

A: It is both, but I could see how it may be considered more motivational because the format of loosely connected short stories easily translates into motivational pieces where self-help generally offers step-by-step guidance over many stories on how to achieve a specific goals. My book implores readers to draw comparisons and contrasts from my life’s experiences with theirs and to use those experiences as encouragement to enrichment their own lives.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book will resonate with anyone 15 years or older. What do you think a teen reader might have in common with a reader who is over the age of 60?

A: Life experiences and stories are common for all ages. A youth with few experiences can use help in connecting the dots.  As a more seasoned individual, I hope that telling my story is helpful in ensuring that youth get a better understanding of how their experiences at an early age can serve as a foundation for tomorrow.  Many of my stories in the book had their genesis before age fifteen.  For adults, many are still vibrantly chasing their dreams but sadly, many others have given up on what they deserve. I want my stories to keep the adult engaged, sober, and in pursuit of his or her dreams.

Q: Do young people today have it harder or easier than you did when you were growing up?

A: I think levels of difficulty are hard to compare and measure from one generation to the next because each era offers different variables measured against factors germane to that era.  So without a reliable tool to account for an accurate rate of adjustment for eras, I think to say one is harder than the other is…just too hard to say.  History has shown that advantages and disadvantages have neutralized each other so often by people failing to capitalize on advantages or others using disadvantages as motivation. One generation has limited opportunities and another generation, limits their opportunities. What gives!

Q: What are some of the takeaway values and lessons you’d like your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A:  We are all products of sacrifice. If we are here in 2013, much has been sacrifice for us. We are a survival of billions of years of evolutions and to be tripped up by so many trivial matters shames our miracle birth, divine purpose, and our Creator.  My mother’s life was difficult, but it was as if her purpose was always greater than herself, perhaps connected to evolution in a way that always made the moment look small, yet appeared too important to waste in complaining or gossip.

Q: “Soft negative” is a recurring phrase in your book. What, exactly, does it mean?

A: A negative that camouflages not as a true negative. It may be even appear positive, but over times always produces negative outcomes. Human beings will stay in situations that they believe aren’t that bad a lot longer than they would in situations that are obviously bad.  Many times the negative effects of situations aren’t present at the outset or it may not be the intent of the person in charge of the situation, but it turns out to be negative, nonetheless. Often we just pass it off by saying that’s life or that is the way it is. Perhaps it is the lack of careful examinations of routine matters because they are routine matters that set us up for negative outcomes.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: Actually, we operated as our own publisher, but did research to find the best support we could in helping us produce a quality product.  We were satisfied with much of what Book Master was able to do for us.

Q: What do you know about today’s publishing business that you didn’t know when you began this journey? Are there things you might have done differently?

A: It was a little harder than I anticipated and much more time consuming than I expected.  One pays dearly for what one don’t know. I did enjoy the experience. I wish I knew how to use a crystal ball. One of the things, I would do differently would involve learning more about the intricacies of book releases, so I would not mislead so many about release dates.

Q: How involved are you in the marketing and promotion of your new title?

A: I am involved in a lot of the promotion.  I try to do something at least every other day. I wish I could say daily, but because of the demands of my other ventures, I have to integrate marketing and promotion into my other commitments.  I could probably use someone dedicated to marketing.

Q: If your book were adapted to a movie, who do you think could best capture you?

A: Terrence Howard.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Promoting this book to a larger audience, even foreign markets.  I do have enough material for an In the Shadow II, but I would like to maximize this project first.

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

A: www.facebook.com/calhoun705 and www.librikamedia.com.

The Sharing Moon

The Sharing Moon

“It’s only in hindsight,” wrote artist/architect Maya Lin,

“that you realize what indeed your childhood was really like.”

In her debut fantasy/romance YA title, The Sharing Moon, author Christy Campbell weaves a compelling tale of do-overs, regrets and redemption as experienced by a pair of troubled, star-crossed teens.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start by telling readers about how your creative journey as a writer first began.

A: I first started writing short stories and poems in middle school. I won numerous awards for fiction and in high school, my Creative Writing teacher read my work as an example and told me that I should pursue writing. When I was unemployed last year, it was a good time to get down to business and finally start the book I’d put off for so long.

Q: Did you read a lot as an adolescent and teen? If so, what were some of your favorite titles/genres and who were some of the favorite authors that had the most influence on your personal style as a storyteller?

A: I read a ton and still do. In earlier years I loved Carolyn Keane, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and I would say Judy Blume’s young adult novels stuck with me the most. Mysteries and adolescent angst were my favorites. Then in high school I got heavily into Dean Koontz and found a pull toward science fiction/fantasy. I liked that he threw romance sometimes into such dark stories. I got into John Grisham too, who reminded me of Koontz in a way.

Q: If you could have lunch with one of those favorite authors, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him/her?

A: Definitely Dean Koontz! We’d go somewhere near the beach, since he always impressed me with his details of the California coast. I’d ask him where on Earth he comes up with the compelling ideas for such ‘out there’ topics.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished the last book in the Delirium series, Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. It’s in the YA genre.

Q: So tell us what your new book, The Sharing Moon, is all about.

A: A teen boy, Elijah, has died, and cannot recall any memories of his former life. He is stuck in between two dimensions, Before and After. Given a second chance to go back and live a new life, he finds the cost of such involves more than he imagined. He’s sent back to help another teen who battles her own emotional issues and the relationship becomes quite complicated. Elijah has no idea how his past has led him to the girl, but he learns along the way and it is very intriguing and heart wrenching as well. There is mystery and romance and some spirituality as well.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A: I had this jumble of thoughts in my head to write about depression and how it affects teens. But I wanted to place a fantasy/romance aspect into the story so that it wasn’t too gloomy. I have dealt with depression and my husband, who was the same age as my character when we met, inspired a lot of the ideas. I wasn’t as severe as the female character, however. To portray both sides, I needed to have dual protagonists.

Q: The plot unfolds in South Haven, Michigan. Why did you choose this particular setting?

A: We love South Haven. There is no other Lake Michigan location in our state that is prettier, in my opinion. We’ve been there so many times and it’s so hard to leave. I know the area well and felt a lakeshore town was an interesting place to place teenage characters who live there year round, and don’t consider it just a tourist’s city.

Q: Which of the characters in your book was the hardest to write? Conversely, which one was the easiest?

A: Seraphina’s mother, Marah, was the hardest to portray. As a reclusive, emotionally damaged woman, there was a lot of background I had to cover and do it with her being a character who isn’t featured as often. Elijah and Seraphina were equally easy to write, the two lead characters, because I was a teen girl once, and remember first love very well. Writing a strong teen boy wasn’t as hard as I thought; his personality came very naturally to me. I thought of my husband.

Q: Do you see aspects of yourself in any of the characters?

A: The female lead, Seraphina, suffers a form of depression from a traumatic experience. I have been through a different type of depression and related to many of her issues.

Q: If you could go back and be the age of your young protagonists, what “do-over” moment would you most want to change and why?

A: In my own life, I would spend more time with my father, who died when I was 22. As a high school girl, I wish I’d appreciated the days I had with him more. High school years are all too consuming. Maturity seems far out of reach at 17 and 18.

Q: Did you start with an outline or simply wing it as you went along?

A: I used nothing except the mass of thoughts in my head! No outline, although I stopped dozens of times when I was out somewhere or doing something and sent myself long text messages of scenes I’d just came up with out of the blue.

Q: Was anyone in your circle of family and friends allowed to read chapters in progress or did you make them wait until the whole thing was done?

A: No one was allowed to see anything. I’m not sure why I was so protective about it. My mom is the first to have read the paperback from start to finish and absolutely loved it. I was worried what my family might think, even though I was proud of my work.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. In your view, what’s the value of having a support network or critique group?

A: It can be good and bad. Unfortunately, I’ve found only a few family members and online groups to be the most encouraging. I’ve not received the support from friends and colleagues as I assumed. If I did, however, I’m not sure I could handle their opinions. What if they hated my work? I’ve gotten some great comments from some contacts who have made it so worth it already.

Q: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges – and joys – of writing for today’s young adult market?

A: A positive right away that sealed it for me was the fact that YA novels cross over to the adult audience as well. With YA there is more to play with when it comes to fantasy type storytelling. The challenge, though, is breaking out a plot that hasn’t already been covered by all of the other YA authors.

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

A: I self-published, which has some advantages. I was able to list my book as an eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and with the help of a publishing press called Lulu, I have paperbacks available now.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: That hiring people is stress-free for a reason! Editors, agents, marketing people, you pay for those services and don’t have to worry about anything. I’d love to go that route.

Q: Is there a takeaway message from The Sharing Moon you’d like YA readers to discover?

A: I’d like readers to understand that mental illness during the teen years, or any age, is not to be taken lightly and we need to reduce the stigma. I’d also like to inspire young people to face obstacles with strength and learn that friendship and love can move someone to really embrace faith and hope.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling to turn The Sharing Moon into a movie. Who is your dream cast for it?

A: If I ever had faces pass through my mind it was someone who looks like Zac Efron now but 18 years old, for Elijah and someone who looks like Dakota Fanning at 17 for Sera. As for the rest, I can’t come up with anyone yet!

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

A: Well, I only have a few (smile) but they might not know that I am somewhat introverted, desperately want to learn to play the piano, and that I cry at the drop of a hat.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: If something successful happens with my book, I will begin a follow-up about one of the secondary characters in The Sharing Moon. The antagonist named Damian. I also will be job hunting, since my college degree is actually in the human services field.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have Facebook and Twitter pages listed under The Sharing Moon, and a Goodreads profile under Christy Campbell/The Sharing Moon. I am working on a blog as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Letters

Four Letters

“Family quarrels are bitter things,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” In her recently released family saga, Four Letters, author Diane Kasulis makes her publishing debut with a bittersweet story certain to resonate with anyone who has ever experienced estrangement with parents, siblings or their own children.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your journey to become a published author undertook quite a circuitous route, starting with a college major in pharmacy and followed by stints in photography, sign painting, milking goats, and driving semi-tractor trailers from one coast to the other. Which of these pursuits do you feel was the biggest influence on your vision as a storyteller and the discipline it takes to stay with a project from start to finish?

A: Everything I have done has had some impact on me as a storyteller. I have always tucked away experiences and emotions that might fit into a story one day. The biggest influence, however, has been from any job involving driving either over the road in a big truck or school bus driving. The reason for this choice is because when you are driving for hours, it gives you a lot of time to think, and construct a story. When writing Four Letters, I was able to visualize the chapter I was writing that day, in my mind as if I was watching a movie. Once I had the scene perfected, I went home and just wrote it down. As the story progressed in my mind, it became easier to record it from chapter to chapter and scene to scene. The hardest thing was just beginning.

Q: Were you an avid reader when you were growing up?

A: I remember doing a fair amount of reading growing up, mostly the classics such as Charles Dickens. I was too preoccupied with art, drawing and painting, however, and that  took precedence.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I am currently reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. She is my favorite author and truly a master at what she does. I am learning from reading her. For example I have learned that I need to up my game and provide more plot twists and turns.

Q: What was the inspiration to write Four Letters?

A: Unfortunately, the inspiration for Four Letters was a wedding in my own family, where my youngest daughter got left out. I have five children, and after that wedding, two of my children didn’t speak to me for a while.  I was driving school bus at the time with too much time to think. I started a journal but that didn’t help. Then I concocted this storyline, took it to extremes, and started writing this story. By writing a story about other characters, it kept my mind off of my own issues, and gave me something to focus on. Fortunately, after a short time, my family did come around, and everything worked itself out. But I decided to tell this tale to the extreme that I did as I wanted to get my message across about the importance of family. I suppose this message was one that I wanted to impress upon my own children at first. Needless to say, they are proud that I published a book, and for now, wish to avoid reading it like the plague needless to say!

Q: Did you start with a detailed outline or simply make things up as you went along?

A: I had an outline of sorts in my head. I knew the beginning and the ending of the story. I knew just what I needed to tell of Ella’s story. The rest was made up as I went along.:

Q: Your choice of narrator for this story – Ella’s caregiver, Janis, rather than Ella herself – was an interesting one. What governed this particular decision?

A: From the beginning I pictured the opening scene where Janis is writing the letters for Ella. If I just told Ella’s story, it would not only make for a sad story, but a short one as well. Because Ella was the age she was, I felt I needed some young characters to weave a story around, as well as to lend some lighter moments to the story. So at times, it was very much like writing two stories in one. Perhaps, because of my own experiences, I needed to just get Ella’s story and feelings out in the open; however, I found that by telling Janis’s story and her up-and-down relationship with her only sister, my message about the importance of family would get across.

In my own life, I felt that this message wasn’t received by my own family, so I was in a position to put that in a book and maybe influence others, just as Ella’s message wasn’t received by two of her own children, yet she was able to influence another family, namely Janis’. I felt that narrating this story from Ella herself would be too limiting, too sad and too concentrated upon the family rift. At the same time I wanted to get a message across. I felt that by having a secondary character, Janis, through her eyes, the reader would, like Janis, learn a lesson, one taught by an older, wiser generation.

Q: How might this story have been different if told from the perspective of Ella or, for that matter, her offspring?

A: This story would probably not take place in today’s world, but instead it would a story centered around the family rift as it happened in the seventies. There would be no other family to advise, however it would concentrate more on Ella herself as well as her children directly. Being told through Janis, the message of family is clear. Being told through Ella, the message of family would be too intense, like beating a dead horse, perhaps. This is a tragic story that I lightened by telling it through a stranger’s eyes.

Q: What were some of the challenges of interweaving the two women’s respective family issues?

A: Presenting two different families and their issues was complicated. In a sense there were two protagonists, with the emphasis on Janis vs. Ella. I had to be able to relate to a younger, twenty-something and thirty-something generation, with the issues that they would face today. I had to do this side by side with Ella, who grew up in a different world, and portray her values from that time period, which differs from today’s.

Q: How much of the plot and characterizations in Four Letters are drawn from your own life or those of people you know?

A: There is probably more plot and characterizations drawn from my own life and people that I know than I would care to admit to. The wedding scenario was based on my own experiences, the rest is fiction. I did, however, draw on some experiences in my own life. For example, the ice cream run was something that my father would sometimes do when I was little. I remember past summers, being young, going to bed, and being woken up to be taken out for ice cream in my pj’s. As far as drawing from people I know for some of my characters, I did picture someone for the role of Charlie, as the fishing buddy of Janis’ dad. It brought this character to life. The fishing stories he tells, however, are pure fiction…then again, aren’t fishing stories always fiction?

Q: The premise of Ella’s story – the estrangement from her children and her desire to reunite with them – seems awfully sad. Won’t readers think that this is too much of a downer tragedy to add to their book list?

A: Ella’s story of estrangement is really sad, which is another reason why I chose to narrate it from Janis’s perspective – a younger woman with her own family, including all the happiness, love and laughter one would expect to see, along with some hilarious situations at work, to balance the tragedy.

Q: What are some of the lighter moments of the story?

A: The break room scene in chapter three is a hoot. It is a lively discussion about bridezillas. You just have to read it. The antics of some of the residents where Janis works will make you chuckle.

Q: What, ultimately, is the takeaway value you want readers to have by the final chapter?

A: Bottom line, the message that I have been trying to impart is that all you really have in this world is family. It seems that in today’s society, everything is fast-paced, and based on instant, Internet communication, losing the personal touch, and family bonds seem to become more strained.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make a movie adaptation of Four Letters, who would comprise your dream cast for it?

A: If this book were to be made into a Hollywood production, then I would love to see it directed by Clint Eastwood. I think it would be right down his alley as they say. I would trust him to come up with a killer cast. There was a movie called In Her Shoes, about two sisters. That casting would work here. And Betty White could be Ella! And by the way, my oldest daughter, Krystal, who is also on the cover, would most likely love to do some acting as well. She majored in theater in college.

Q: Despite the popularity of e-publishing and the artistic control it affords today’s authors, why did you opt to go the traditional route?

A: I did my homework regarding the publishing field. The general consensus was that there was more credibility publishing traditionally through a publisher as opposed to self-publishing. Here someone, in this case North Star Press, was willing to take a chance on this book, as opposed to my paying someone just to print it.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I found North Star Press by taking a couple of publishing and writing courses that were offered through them. Each publisher seems to have something that they are looking for. North Star likes to publish new authors that have written about Minnesota, or the upper mid-west, which is why I set my story locally.

Q: What surprised you the most about the publishing process that you didn’t know before?

A: I expected to receive a little more advice and guidance from my publisher. I was surprised at how much editing and such that I was able to do.

Q:  What’s next on your plate?

A: I had an idea in mind, and then I decided to use Janis and Joyce in this story. Originally, I wrote Four Letters as a stand-alone book. However, I am taking the story further (Ella’s is done) and concentrating on Joyce. This story is narrated by Joyce, and follows her through her shaky college experience, as well as her bitter, almost violent relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ty from the first book.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Yes, I wish that the original synopsis for the back cover was what got placed there. It is on my website http://www.authordianek.com and went into the relationship between Ella and Janis. I was asked to also provide something short and snappy. This short paragraph only focuses on Ella. By reading this, one would assume this story may be a bit different than what it actually is. I think this also sells the story a bit short. There is a lot more to this story than what the back cover portrays, and is worth an extra look, or checking out my webpage.