A Conversation with Daniel Blanchard

Daniel Blanchard

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What inspired you to write Feeling Lucky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you working on now?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

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Loneliest Time of Her Life

LTOHL_Book_CoverFor a high school senior like Dakota Washington, the only thing worse than enrolling in a different school for her final year is the discovery that she already has a ruthless enemy cruising the halls and waiting to destroy her reputation. In her edgy new novel, Loneliest Time of Her Life, author Erika L. Banks skillfully juggles multiple points of view against the contemporary backdrop of a high school that every reader will not only be able to relate to but will also cause them to contemplate what their own choices might be in the same volatile situation.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What inspired you to make bullying the cornerstone premise of your debut YA novel?

A: Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and communities.  The recent spike in bully-related suicides and violence among youth has inspired me to pen my first book, Loneliest Time of Her Life.

Q: How much research was involved in capturing the vulnerabilities of today’s young people as well as the cruel realities of what is becoming an escalating problem in schools throughout the country?

A: I, unfortunately, had a great deal of knowledge about the vulnerabilities of today’s youth prior to starting this project. I had spoken to and read stories of middle and high school students who experienced bullying first-hand. It was interesting to learn about the characteristics of these young people which are evident in each one of the characters in the book.

Q: What role do you believe technology contributes to the way that teenagers – and even adults – are interacting with each other these days versus earlier eras in which texting, iPhones and social media venues didn’t exist?

A:  Technology has taken bullying to a whole new level. There has not just been an increase in the number of bullying incidents, but the severity of the words and actions used to bully have increased significantly as well. Bullies now have a powerful platform to harass their peers with little to no chance of being caught.

Q: It’s often said that there are multiple sides to every story based on individuals’ respective frames of reference and interpretations of events. You’ve taken a unique approach in Loneliest Time of Her Life by not only mixing first and third person narrative but also advancing the plot through the viewpoints of four diverse individuals. Tell us about how you chose that structure and why you feel it works.

A: The structure in which the book was written gives the reader a well-rounded view of bullying. I felt that this was important because everyone is involved. Whether you are the bully, victim or bystander, everyone has an opportunity to impact any bullying situation. By presenting the story from the perspective of all involved, the reader is able to identify with and relate to the story in a personal way.

Q: Which of the characters do you relate to the most?

A: I relate to Brooklyn the most. I, like Brooklyn, am a very fair and impartial person. I stand up for what’s right and I am not afraid to defend something or someone if I think it’s appropriate. I value my friendships deeply and will do everything I can to keep the peace. However, when push comes to shove, I will walk away from friends who bring harm to others and relationships that are filled with drama.

Q: If Hollywood came calling with an invitation to adapt this compelling novel to a feature-length film, who would your dream cast be?

A: I would love to see Dakota Fanning play Dakota, KeKe Palmer play Brooklyn and Maia Mitchell play Paige. They are very talented actresses and I think they’d do a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. I pulled from them when I developed each of the main characters, so their personalities are reflected in the book.

Q: Your three teen females – Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn – have been raised by mothers and fathers with radically different approaches to parenthood. What influence do you feel each of those parents had on the volatile situations in which their daughters subsequently find themselves as seniors in high school?

A: I think the parents had a big influence on each of them. Dakota’s dismissive mother and uninvolved father, Paige’s clueless parents and Brooklyn’s uninformed parents hindered their ability to help the situation. They all, in their own way, felt like they had no one to turn to. I believe if the parents were more aware of what was going on in the lives of their daughters, things would not have gone as far as they did.

Q: What advice would you give a real-life young person in Dakota’s shoes if she felt she had no one to whom she could turn with her problem?

A: Although not always obvious, I believe that everyone has access to someone who could support and offer advice in this situation. Whether a doctor, pastor or neighbor, everyone always has someone to turn to. There are also a lot of great resources out there that people in this situation can use. Stomp out Bullying, The Trevor Project and Stop Bullying are three of many helpful organizations that one can contact for help.

Q: What type of impact and takeaway value do you want your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A: I hope that everyone who reads this book will walk away with a deep understanding of each character’s emotions, feelings and reasons for their actions. Because everyone who reads this book will be able to relate to at least one of the characters, I hope that they will learn from the good and not so good decisions made by them. I would love for this book to open up a dialogue between students, parents and school professionals about this difficult topic.

Q: This book should be required reading in high schools – and even junior highs – as a starting point for discussions about how to treat one another. Are you taking steps to make that happen?

A: Yes, I am hoping to use this book as a basis for book clubs, workshops and informal discussions among high school students, teachers and parents.

Q: Although the book is clearly a stand-alone title, you deliver a positively chilling cliffhanger that begs us to ask, “What happened next?????” Do you have plans in the works to answer that question with a sequel or do you prefer readers to formulate their own conclusions?

A: Both. I do have plans for a sequel, but also want the readers to create their own conclusion. By imagining a variety of possible outcomes, I hope the reader will think beneath the surface and want to take action.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to self-publish Loneliest Time of her Life.

A: My initial desire was to publish through a well established publishing agency. There are many books out there about bullying, and these agencies tend to favor already established writers. When considering self publishing, I realized that getting my book out there was the most important thing and how I did that didn’t really matter. I was happy to find several wonderful self publishing companies available to choose from to publish my work.

Q: What do you know now about the business of publishing and marketing that you didn’t know when you first set out to write the book?

A: Publishing through an agency has its advantages, but I learned that it may not always be the best way to go. Self publishing has come a long way and is much more respected today than it was years ago. I also learned that marketing is key. Whether you self publish or publish through an agency, you must be willing to devote time to marketing your work if you want it to be successful.

Q: Have you done other types of writing in addition to YA?

A: I have self published a second book called High School Graduation: What I Want For My Life. It is a book for high school seniors graduating without a plan.

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

A: You will find a little bit of Erika in Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn. In high school I was in each of their shoes at one time or another.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to my full time corporate job, I am working on a few projects. I am working with Georgia Tech to identify a way to effectively help high school students prepare for post high school life. I am also in the process of setting up The Margaret G. Banks Foundation, a non-profit foundation in honor of my mother. It will provide scholarships to high school students who would like to go to college but need financial assistance. I am also working on another book for high school students that will help them do what they need to do now so they can do what they want to do later.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Our youth have so much to be excited about when it comes to their future. Unfortunately, many of them are not. We need to do better in helping our youth not only prepare for their future, but provide bully free environments where they can focus on learning, creating and becoming everything they were meant to be. I’m excited about the future of our youth and it’s time to get them excited, too!

 

 

 

 

Surviving The Fog

morris

While most of us looked forward to sleep-away summer camps as exciting, what would we do if upon arrival, frightening things began happening and the expected world of wondrous fun turned into a deadly nightmare? If you plan a stay in this cryptic version of camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, author Stan Morris warns you to be prepared to survive much more than wild animals and sunburns.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about Surviving the Fog. Is it part of a series?

It is part of a series, and there are currently two books available in the series.  The first is Surviving the Fog, and the second is Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections.  I am currently working on Surviving the Fog-Douglas Lives, and I have written snippets for Surviving the Fog-Sasha and Kim and Surviving the Fog-Howard the Red.

Is this series more post apocalypse or is it science fiction?

Definitely more post apocalypse.  The science fiction aspects are only present in the prologue to Surviving the Fog.  It describes the Earth moving through a region of space containing the Fog.  The book centers on the efforts of the teenage campers to survive.  They must obtain food and shelter, and perhaps more importantly, they have to decide what kind of community they will create.

How was the idea conceived, and what influenced the conception?

There are two books that influenced Surviving the Fog.  The first is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and the second is Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.  I disagree vehemently with Golding’s suggestion that a group of boys would degenerate to that extent.  I think it is much more likely that a group would create a community similar to Heinlein’s.  The reason for my belief is the archeological record.  In almost every case humans have formed stable communities.  It’s in our DNA.  Bees create hives, ants create mounds, and primates create communities.

You have both male and female characters as leads. Is one more of a focus than the other?

In Surviving the Fog the focus is clearly on the boys with a few notable exceptions.  But Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections is from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl, and most of the focus in on the girls.  After Surviving the Fog was published, I received numerous requests for a sequel.  I resisted this for a time, for I felt that I had nothing more to say about these kids.  But a few years after the book was published, I was engaged in a conversation with a woman at Goodreads.  She was complaining about how I had neglected the girls.  This was not the first time I had heard this complaint, but this conversation led me to consider how Kathy, one of the characters, might have viewed her situation and how she might have viewed the events that occurred in Surviving the Fog.  I began writing her story, and I became absolutely obsessed with it.  I usually write about 100,000 words for my novels, but in this case I decided to keep writing until I was satisfied with the story.  I finished Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections with over 200,000 words.

The New Adult category has taken off for writers who like to put a more mature spin on things. Is your book along the lines of YA or NA?

It depends on the definition of YA.  I’ve seen some definitions of YA that go as low as twelve years old.  Having raised two boys, I can say that describing a twelve year old as a “Young Adult” is flat out irresponsible.  Young teenagers should never be labeled “adult,” because doing so robs them of the right to linger in their childhood.  I define YA as sixteen to twenty-one, and my books meet that definition.  At the beginning of the book, the youngest camper is twelve and the oldest is seventeen.  The teenagers age as the story progresses.  I think this book skirts the line between YA and NA.  There are sexual situations but nothing graphic.

You’ve got us stranded at a mysterious camp in your novel. Where did you come up with the setting?

The camp is set in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.  When I was a kid I attended camp in the Sierra’s almost every year, so it was a natural setting for my camp.  The purpose of the camp is to preach sexual abstinence and to teach the various methods of birth control.  Some people have objected to the premise, but I wanted to challenge the notion that abstinence and birth control education are not compatible.  These ideas are not only compatible, it is irresponsible not to encourage both.   There is an irony here, because once their society and culture is destroyed, and the adults have mostly disappeared from the scene, the kids don’t have any rules to follow except for those they create, and as in all communities, rules about sex are created.

Did you do any specific research while writing the book?

Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada by Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas was very helpful and like most writers these days, Wikipedia is my best friend.  I did a lot of research on subjects like soap making, edible plants, temperatures, and the animals of the Sierra Nevada.

What kinds of details were more important than others as you wrote the book?

One of the most compelling aspects of Tolkien’s writing was how he described the countryside as the Hobbits moved about.  Many times I was forced to use a dictionary (pre-internet) to learn the kind of plant life he was referring to.  When I write, I try to remember to add details to the scene like the flora, fauna, and the weather.  The kids build a “lodge” in the book, and I had to describe the construction in a way that made sense.

Are there any sequels waiting in the wings?

I have written about 10,000 words for Surviving the Fog-Douglas Lives and about 2,000 words for Surviving the Fog-Sasha and Kim.

What book genres do you enjoy reading?

Science fiction, romance, and history books make up the bulk of my reading.  I branch out occasionally into fantasy and anthropology.

Where can we learn more about you?

My Website: https://sites.google.com/site/stanandrene/home

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Stan-Morris/e/B004KB2HG0/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Barnes and Noble Author Page: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/stan-morris

iTunes Author Page: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/stan-morris/id366779015?mt=11

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2884264.Stan_Morris

Smashwords Author Page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/morriss003

 

 

The Promise of Living

grahamcover

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What authors have greatly influenced you as a writer? 

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

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

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

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

Have you always want to be a writer? 

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

What’s next on your plate? 

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

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

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

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

Where can readers find out more about your work? 

The Promise of Living is available at Amazon.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Capsized: A Novel in Verse

Capsized

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

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

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

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

Q: What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: 1. Write.

2. Write.

3. Write!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

 

Readers can learn more about Anne by visiting the following:

Website: http://piratepoems.com/capsized

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoetryPlunder

 

 

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS

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

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

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What were some of your favorite books?

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Which chapters proved the most challenging?

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

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

Q: Conversely, which chapters were the most fun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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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.