Four Letters

Four Letters

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you reading now?

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

Q: What was the inspiration to write Four Letters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

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

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

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

Q:  What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

Luke’s Tale

Luke's_Tale_-_Final_Cover

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

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

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why do dogs make such good listeners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

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

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