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

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On every positive review he’d write:

Misc says:

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

Christ 1 star

Hitler 5 stars”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: And the easiest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What is your family like today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Twitter @thefamilycrypt

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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.

 

Thresholds

Adrianne Hall

“In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful that may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve,” wrote Gilbert Parker. “Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.”

Throughout her debut novel, Thresholds, Adrianne Marie Hall’s skill as a storyteller deftly demonstrates that no matter the intention behind the smallest lie or casual secret of fleeting convenience, it holds the power to become a weapon of mass destruction. Hall shares how her journey as a writer began…and what path she plans to take next.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

A:  When I was eight years old, my third teacher gave the class an assignment to read the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening by Robert Frost. I absolutely loved that poem and as we discussed the poem in class, the concept of describing and or expressing one’s thoughts, feelings and ideas into something as compact as a poem was the spark that ignited my interest in writing poetry.                           

Q: Did you read a lot as a child and young adult?

A: Having older siblings and parents who loved to read and write was a blessing that resulted in my learning to read and write before I started kindergarten. As a matter of fact by my first day of kindergarten I had read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White but I hadn’t yet learned how to tie my shoe strings. I am still an avid reader… and I still don’t like shoestrings.    

Q: What were some of the books and who were some of the authors that made a lasting impression on you as an aspiring writer?

A: My favorite book will probably always be To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Not only is the story fantastic, I just love the fact that Harper wrote just one fabulous book in 1960 and it is still in print all of these decades later.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is also a book at the top of my favorites list but I also have to mention The Stand by Stephen King, Runaway Jury by John Grisham, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I love to read and have read hundreds of fantastic books in my life. What I look for is a story that keeps me engaged, and surprises me at the end.    

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I am actually reading through the 4 volume Digital Photography Library by Scott Kelby which might sound boring to some people but I love photography almost as much as I love to write. Just a few weeks ago I was able to meet Scott in person when I attended a photography seminar that he was teaching at the LA Convention Center. He is a photography guru.    

Q: If you could go to dinner with your favorite author, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A: My favorite author is none other than Harper Lee. I would love to invite her to the Four Seasons Tea Room in Sierra Madre where we would sip tea, munch on some of their delightful finger sandwiches and delicious scones. Then I would ask Harper if she could share with me what her process was for deciding to write the classic story To Kill a Mocking Bird. Finally I would ask her to sign my copy of the novel which my father gave me when I was 12 years old.   

Q: Tell us about what inspired you to write Thresholds.

A: Well, Thresholds began 18 years ago when I decided to take some of the characters that I had in my arsenal and bring them to life in a novel. The story line has been rewritten and reworked over the years but my focus was always the same. Using the premise that “Everyone has a secret and some of those secrets cross over the threshold to being outright lies I wanted to tell a story about how secrets and lies take on lives of their own. They get out of hand and wreak havoc in the lives of the secret keepers, the lie tellers, and most often in the lives of those who are innocent bystanders.     

Q: Who’s your target audience for the book?

A:  I would say that my target audience would be any adult who enjoys fiction packed with twists and turns and adult content. Recently, I autographed a copy of Thresholds for a very spry woman in her late seventies. She shook my hand and told me that she not only enjoyed reading the novel, but she thought it was “Juicy”.  I think I actually blushed.     

Q: How do you go about creating and developing authentic characters that will resonate with your readers?

A: I have characters that pop into my head all of the time. Sometimes they are born from an unusual name that I hear or a quirky personality trait that I see in someone. I create short character bios that are 2 to 3 sentences long which I file away for a while until I decide to develop the character a little more. When I develop a character I create a mini-story about them that may range from a few paragraphs to a few pages, and again I file that away until the time comes for me to bring that character to life in a story.      

Q: Do you work from an outline or just let your characters guide you as you go along?

A: I actually start with a story idea and then work on the last two pages of the story. During this process I decide on which characters from my arsenal I plan to include, and from there I just let the writing juices flow. With my novel Thresholds, I wrote down the title of the novel, the premise for the story which is that “Everyone Has A Secret……” and I decided to use Carley and Winter as my main characters both of which were characters that I pulled out of my arsenal that I created at least four years or so before I started writing the novel.      

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you over the course of bringing them to life?

A: Oh absolutely. Without giving away any details and ruining it for those who have not yet read Thresholds, the character Patrick Bernard had to die.   

Q: If Thresholds were turned into a movie, who would play the two lead roles?

A: Wow that’s a great question. To be honest, I would love for the characters of Carley and Winter to be played by two aspiring and gifted young women who have never before been down or near a ‘red carpet’. For every movie star that we see or hear about, there are dozens of undiscovered and equally talented people just waiting for their chance. It would be spectacular if two unknown young women were able to take their talent and make the characters of Carley and Winter shine on the big screen. 

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or do you make them wait for the finished product?

A: I make them wait for the finished product.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – writing fiction or nonfiction (and why)?

A: I still write poetry every now and then just for fun which is about as close to nonfiction as I can get. I have a collection of poetry which I might publish one day. For short story and novel writing, I prefer fiction because I love surprises and playing around with reality. I grew up watching the Twilight Zone, Creature Features, Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock which fed my already overactive imagination. Writing fiction is not a challenge at all… I love everything about it. I might someday try my hand at writing nonfiction. When and if I do, the challenge for me will be not including something that was completely over the top, unimaginable, or out of the box.   

Q: How did you go about identifying a publisher for your project?

A: A few years ago, I met Azaan Kamau who runs Glover Lane Press. She was such a delight and took the process of publishing seriously. When it was time for me to pursue publishing my book, I naturally contacted her. She liked my novel and the rest is history. 

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when your publication journey began?

A:  I know more now about ISBNs than I could have ever thought necessary!

Q: You also recently launched your own business which has a unique connection to the book-loving world. Tell us about it.

A: You must be talking about Beadie Beads BookJewelry which is “A bookmark that is so unique, it has to be called BookJewelry. I actually started that company 14 years ago.

(Editor Note: Adrianne’s interview on her BookJewelry business can be found at http://thefaceofbusiness.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/beadie-books-bookjewelry/)

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: For over 15 years it has been a dream of mine to get into the independent publishing business but I put off pursuing that dream while raising my children. Now that the three of them are adults with college degrees and careers of their own, I am moving forwarding with Anthurium Publishing LLC.   

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

A: Readers can learn more about me at www.authorstourusa.com and at www.thresholdsthenovel.com.  My novel can be purchased in both paperback and in the Kindle versions through Amazon. On the Thresholds website there is an Amazon.com link that will take readers directly to the Amazon website where they can make their purchase. The Thresholds website also includes information for those who would like to purchase an autographed copy of Thresholds directly from me. Webster’s Fine Stationers located at 2450 N. Lake Ave, in Altadena, California also carries copies of my novel as well.      

 

 

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.