Riots of Passage by James McGathey // Book Review, Interview

Length: 732 pages
Publisher: Independently published (December 11, 2019)
Independently published (December 11, 2019)
Genre: Non fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Synopsis:

“We have spent this entire summer living on chipped ham and No-Doz…”
In this highly anticipated follow-up to his memoir “One Hundred Virgins,” the author continues to document in riotous fashion life on a major college campus, in a major U.S. city. Though specifically Ohio State University and Columbus, Ohio, in a sense the particulars don’t matter because such experiences, though often outrageous, are universal ones.

Joined by his familiar cast of fellow reprobates, along with a healthy crop of fresh recruits, this crew closes out their final year exploring campus. If the first six months were centered around discovery, then this epoch finds them operating under the banner of refinement and expansion. As always, the journey is nothing if not wildly unpredictable, and a continual reminder that it’s often best to just start running, with no end goal in sight.

If I had to describe how any of us, and certainly yours truly, ever manages to accomplish anything, McGathey observes in these passages, I would say it runs something like this: we start down a hallway toward the object of our desire at the other end, but a rug is pulled out from under us, just about on a daily basis, before we get anywhere near it. Yet every so often, after landing on the floor, you happen to spot this secret passage in the wall that you never would have noticed otherwise. Certainly not by remaining back on the starting block. And this passage commonly leads to something as good as or even better than what you originally mapped.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I have to start out with saying I was very disappointed in this book.

For one, I did not think there was anything unordinary in this book to make it a memoir. I read memoirs to learn about a persons extraordinary life–not ordinary. I can experience an ordinary life by looking at any other person’s life–i read memoirs to experience something NEW and unique.

For two, there was an unnecessary amount of language. Like WAY too much. I can handle language–when its used in moderation and the right wayhowever. Unfortunately, neither was the case in this book. I thought the language was completely a down fall to the book. The language was so overused that I could not find what the author was tying to get across in his writing. I felt like I was spending too much time just trying to avoid reading so many cuss word a. My brain did not have a filter large enough. Not to mention, the book was extremely long, so by the time I reached the end, I was tuckered out from attempting to filter so many dirty words. I thought it was very unfortunate because I did not think the author needed any of the language to tell his story. The book would have been much much better if it were cleaner.

All that being said, if it were not for the language, Riots of Passage could have been more enjoyable. The author wrote with a writing style that intrigued the reader, and made an ordinary story sound exciting. Even though I did not find any thing extremely unique about his story, I would have recommended this book if it had been a lot cleaner.

Riots of Passage is a acceptional book hidden behind a curtain of language.

Author Interview:

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I can’t really say I’ve done a ton of this. It might be a cliché but in my early twenties I did become enamored with going to Vegas and checking out some of the famous sites Hunter S. Thompson and others had written about. Although this wasn’t the only attraction, obviously. My wife and I have had some fun trying to figure out where various Poe stories were written, and also visited his grave in Baltimore. It’s actually in this sad little spot off to the side of a church, not the least bit remarkable. So that was kind of touching in a weird way.
More recently I’ve actually been getting a kick out of researching what kind of obscure writers hail from this same region as me, and then getting their books from the library, as well as possibly visiting the sites. Like this woman who grew up in an old house just a few blocks from ours and published domestic drama type books in the mid 1900s. Or this horror writer who lived around here, whose short stories I’ve really liked. It’s a great way of discovering authors you never would have before, and also learning quite a bit about the region in the process.

What is the first book that made you cry?

By this I assume you mean something that was profoundly sad. In that category, although it didn’t actually bring me to tears or anything, but the most relentlessly sad book I think I’ve read was Rick Moody’s Purple America. And yet it’s a gripping page turner, all the same, which is kind of the best of both worlds. For whatever reason heartbreaking tales have me more kind of scooping my jaw off the floor and thinking about them nonstop instead of actually bringing tears.

But I have definitely laughed myself to tears. Your questions are probably making me sound like a cliché-spouting machine but Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and then basically everything Flannery O’Connor wrote, in a really demented, black comedy kind of way, come to mind when I’m thinking about things that had me laughing from start to finish. Also a little lesser known one, which might be the funniest I’ve listed here, would be Chuck Klosterman’s collection of essays called Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Well, everyone knows about these gaming tricks to rig the numbers on Amazon and elsewhere. I actually read this hilarious piece recently about how easy this is to do, from a guy who wanted to make a point about how ridiculous and empty these “best-selling” categories are. He did nothing but take a picture of his foot – for the quote unquote cover – and come up with a fake table of contents for the alleged

book, then have a few friends purchase a copy. Now he has an orange “best-seller” flag on Amazon next to his name, as a result. But again, he did this on purpose to prove what a joke the process is.

Having said that, Amazon itself is certainly getting shadier and shadier with some of its practices, with throwing its weight around just because it can. This whole POD revolution has been nice in one respect, as far as democratizing who can get their works into print, but on the other hand this whole bit about how we’re going to make more money from our books is proving false. We’ve just created a different kind of almighty beast than what was in place before. Amazon is proving no more noble or altruistic than the major publishing operations it replaced. For all of their billions upon billions, it seems like they always have some nonsensical reason – even though you’re supposed to get, say, a 70% cut – as to why you’re only making 54 cents per copy sold, or the affiliate link sale didn’t count, et cetera.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Ha ha, good question. The writing itself must be enjoyable, because I can’t seem to stop! In all seriousness though, it’s something I still really love to do. Thinking about writing is exhausting, when you allow your mind to drift to all of these things you need to knock out. So in some weird way actually sitting down to write is a distraction from all that. This is one great reason to just jump in and start hammering stuff out. Then when you’re trying to shut all that down at night, go to sleep and stop thinking about your projects, that’s the exhausting part.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

I think the rush to publish your first book, believing it will validate you, is something you probably want to avoid. Of course, it helps to have realistic expectations, and remind yourself of why you’re doing something, what your long term objectives are. My first novel I knew even then wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, probably borderline terrible in spots, but I felt like I’d talked about being a writer for long enough and wanted to get some tangible proof, to show people. And at least start hopefully getting my name out there. But then after releasing a few more, I quietly took it out of print.

But something Bukowski once said has always stuck with me. I know, that’s a controversial name and possibly another cliché, yet this little interview is something I’ve thought about often. He was saying how grateful he was, looking back, that nobody would publish his stuff when he was just starting out. Now, at the time I watched that, I thought, b.s., this is just some sort of false modesty he’s spewing here. Nobody would wish for that. Then a handful of years down the road, I felt like I got it, and knew exactly what he meant. It’s that point at which you realize that everything you’ve written up to that moment is garbage. Then I was kind of doing the whole kid-screaming-in-Home-Alone face and thinking, holy smokes, can you imagine if all of this stuff was in print? How horrific would that be? Thank you, everyone, for rejecting it!

So the bottom line I would say is, don’t screw around, you know, don’t spend ten years talking about the book you’re going to write. Get in there and start working on it. But if you’re steadily working on things, don’t obsess over whether or not it’s been published yet.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I think a big ego is counterproductive for pretty much everyone. Not to bring you down, but chances are nobody is going to care about any of this 100 years from now. If you scroll through an old list of Pulitzer or Oscar winners or whatever, from decades ago, you’ve never even heard of half these people. Nobody is reading Booth Tarkington these days. The universe will probably go on exactly as it is without our input.

But at the same time, you don’t want to drift too far down into these bleak viewpoints. I actually think a more even handed outlook is the most productive, and probably the most accurate, too. Recently I stumbled upon this thought which I’ve kind of been using as my own little internal pep talk: I tell myself that it’s delusional to think that anyone cares about anything I’ve written up to this point. However, it’s inspirational to think that they someday might.

This tends to kind of keep your ego in check while at the same time motivating you to keep getter better and do your best work.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Well, I’m not sure if this metaphor completely matches, but I think even though Kryptonite was bad for him, Superman was drawn to it anyway, right? If that’s the case, then without question I would say these handwritten notebooks are my own personal devil. I know the latest hot theory is that writing stuff by hand is supposed to be good for you, and I’m sure that’s true in many respects. But all I can say is it’s also made an unholy mess for me over the years, as far as attempting to sort things out later. Because for some reason I can get into typing up actual books just fine, but when it comes to, like, a journal, and random notes, these are all over the place, in notebooks and stray scraps of paper. I just can’t seem to get motivated to type that stuff up initially instead, to start with. Even though I know finding and sorting it out later will be a nightmare.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

For most of us who write a lot, I think we also are obsessed with reading a lot. And that’s certainly true for me. There’s never a point where I’m not reading a ton. However, you definitely go through these stretches where you’re completely burned out on everything you know, and need to find new topics or authors or genres to get into.

I actually had this recent little epiphany where I realized that most of the highly touted, highbrow quote unquote “literature” of the 2000s, you know, it really kind of sucks. And yet for the past 15 plus years, I keep checking this stuff out, and reading it, even though I really am not all that into it. For all this talk about building character, most of these books seem to focus more on artful sentences to the extent you actually don’t care about any of the characters. And somehow we’ve also been on this kick where plot is a bad thing.

So once that thought sunk in, my enthusiasm kind of cratered for a little bit while looking for something else to get into. That’s when I realized, hey, maybe these genre books I used to read, but everyone’s convinced me to get away from and scoff at for the past couple of decades, maybe these weren’t so ridiculous after all. Maybe we left something on the table by abandoning them.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Yeah, and I still think about that from time to time. It’s just often really hard to write personal stuff. I’ve kind of dipped my toes into writing about the kooky hijinks of my early 20s, and some of my friends from then, and that’s about the extent of it. But thoughts of anything more serious than that whatsoever, like, a family history or anything, these are completely paralyzing. Even if converting them to fiction.

That’s when I begin to entertain thoughts about how much easier it would be to have a pen name. Also more morbid ones of, heh heh, maybe my name is the actual problem. Maybe this stuff would sell better if nobody knew who I was.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

In general I’ve had a tough time writing anything other than exactly what I want to do at that moment. There’s one book where I got to page 300, and realized the ending was still more than half the distance away – and I thought the entire book should be 300 pages – and lost all interest that day, haven’t returned to it since. And this happened 16 years ago. So it’s been a lot more productive to me to just bounce around, even though everyone in the world advises against it, and work on exactly what I feel like at any given time. My thinking is the ones I’m inspired enough to complete, then that must be for a reason. As long as you’re always working then this isn’t a problem.
So the thought of writing something for other people – be it imaginary readers, or an editor or whoever – is just not something I’m very good at. Sometimes I look at magazines or forums where jobs are listed, or articles that a magazine wants, and it just draws up a blank. It’s much, much easier for me to write whatever I feel like, and then see about shopping it around, if anyone’s interested.
Having said that, there are occasional situations where you are going to have to write stuff for other people. I think this is a good experience to work on, as far as improving your skill. One trick I’ve found useful in these situations – I used to do this at a job where they would ask me to write blog posts for the company – was to amuse yourself going off on these tangents where you were 100% certain you would cut them out anyway. But writing the stuff kept you entertained enough to complete the project in question, after which you could go back and delete it before turning the piece in. Maybe even use that stuff for a later project of your own, if you’re really crafty

Jay Got Married by James Robinson Jr. // Book Tour

Length: 142 pages
Publisher: Independently Published (September 6, 2019)
ASIN: B07WQQ28WW
Genre: Non-fiction / humor
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

Jay Got Married consists of 9 humorous and, at times, poignant essays chronicling the ironies of everyday life in word and picture. Take for example the lead essay, aptly titled, “Jay got Married,” where I find myself mired in a horrendous dream. 

In the fantasy, my aging father–dressed in his favorite Champion t-shirt with stains covering the front–marries my wife and I like he did 42 years ago but, this time around, the my 92-year-old ex-clergy dad forgets his lines causing me to coach him through the event with hints like: “ask for the rings, ask for the rings.” All the while, my best man sings Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe.” 

Finally married, my wife and I end the ceremony with a kiss. But as I turn to exit, my eyes catch a glimpse of the bridesmaid who is no longer my wife’s best friend but now Gal Gadot from Dell Comics and Wonder Woman Fame. She is dressed in full Wonder Women regalia and looks totally shocked by the whole affair. 

My mother turns to my father (now in the audience) with a quizzical look and says, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” She doesn’t get out much. 

As we exit the church, and the bubbles fill the air–no one uses rice anymore—my wife ignores the limo and takes off on a sleek motorcycle, leaving me in the lurch—hence the cover. 

Sure, it’s sounds crazy. But, in truth, isn’t the world of marriage crazy these days? In my case, what would one do when faced with the prospect of losing their beloved wife after 42 years? At age 67, would they remarry? Would they even want to remarry? These and other marital tidbits are discussed with humor and as much reverence as I could muster.  

P.S. The author pairs up with Wonder Woman again in a final bit of photo wizardry Why? How? How are tricky copyright infringement laws avoided? Read Jay Got Married and find out.

BOOK EXCERPT:

JAY GOT MARRIED

I had a frightful dream. I was standing at the altar with my wife and 400 guests in attendance. It seemed to be a repeat of our wedding in 1976. My now 95-year-old father performed the ceremony for my wife and me the first time around, and that’s how old he appeared to be in this vision. He kept forgetting the lines and was forever looking at me for support. At one point, I was whispering, “The rings, the rings.” I kept reaching for them, but they were disappearing before I could grab them.

Albie, my cousin and best man from my first wedding, was singing Sonny and Cher’s, I Got You Babe. Normally, he can’t sing for shit, but in this scenario, he had his hand on his chest and his head back, sounding like Luciano Pavarotti. What was this all about? 

My father, the minister, wearing his trademark Champion sweatshirt, with coffee stains on the chest portions, pronounced us man and wife. I turned to kiss my new bride and caught a glimpse of her bridesmaid. But instead of her best friend who was her attendant back in the day, it was Gal Godot from DC Comics and the movies. 

She was wearing her Wonder Woman garb, but she didn’t seem primed for a wedding. In fact, she appeared to be totally shocked by the whole affair. What kind of dream was this?

My wife and I ended the ceremony with a kiss. My mother turned to my father (who was then in attendance in the audience) with a quizzical look and said, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” 

She was close. She doesn’t get out much.

Oh, and then, though neither of us would be caught dead on a motorcycle, in this weird musing, we were apparently bikers. Instead of a limousine waiting for us at the curb, there sat a racy motorcycle with cans in tow. It looked like this one:

a person riding on the back of a motorcycle: The ground-up redesign for the S1000RR could catapult BMW to the pointy end of the literbike class.

I Googled it. It’s a BMW S1000RR—sleek, fast, and flashy.

But before I could get on the bike, she pulled off without me, as the cans tied to the wheels of the hot machine banged on the street, while her gown billowed in the breeze. She had left me standing in the street like a lost soul.

True, I shouldn’t have been drinking the caffeinated tea before bed, but more to the point, maybe, just maybe, this crazy vision was a warning, a forecast, an omen. Maybe it was God’s way of telling me that Wonder Woman could show up at your wedding without even paying her an appearance fee. Or even more to the point, perhaps it was to make me appreciate what I have. 

What if the unthinkable happened to my wife? What if she succumbed to a disease, or was killed in a terrible auto accident? Or worse, what if her life were cut short in a vicious pit bull attack? 

I jest. But you never know.

MY REVIEW:

I will start off with my negative review of the book…

Memoirs are usually my favorite genre; however, I am not usually a fan of memoirs in multiple short-story format. I prefer to read books in chronological Real-life events. When I saw this book, I hoped it would be different than the many other books, I have read in this format because, it had added humor to the genre. Unfortunately, I did not think it was.

I did not think the humor was very humorous–it was more absurd. I understand that the absurdness was the whole point for the humor, so if you are a fan of this type of genre, than I totally recommend this book. However, I am not a fan of absurdness, so I did not enjoy the humor that much. The only time I laughed in this book, was when I was laughing out of the pure ridiculousness of the stories–and it was not because I thought it was funny. I would have liked if the stories made me laugh because they were actually funny–not absolutely ridiculous. I think the author should have added genuine humor to the book–the type that makes yu laugh until your sides hurt.

All that being said, now on to my positive review…

I thought the author had a great writing style–and even though his stories were not very funny–he knew how to tell a good story. His stories were absurd but I have to give it to him, because he did a great job of telling them. He sure keeps the reader entertained and waiting to see what absurd thing is going to happen next. The stories are light reads but full of insightful nuggets about history and life that are nostalgic and fun. He also wrote the type of experiences in his own life that made you think “Yay, I’m not the only one who does that or thinks that way!”. I could relate to several of his stories–and thought they were so true. I did enjoy that he related to the reader a lot.

Overall, I am only taking one star off for the content–just because I think a humorous book, should have been just a bit more humorous–but I think the book really earned the other 4 stars. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy short, “humorous” reads. I personally did not think it was very funny, but I read several review of other readers who thought it was hilarious. So you never know! You should give this book a try!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Robinson, Jr. is so formal; call me Jim. People have also referred to me as James, Jay, Jayzer, and even Jimbo. (You can thank my middle daughter for the Jimbo thing. Kids have no respect for authority these days.) I’m a sixty-year-old father of three, thirty-plus daughters and grandfather of four who has been battered by gravity unmercilessly (see Fighting the Effects of Gravity). I was late getting into the writing game. Mainly because I was busy having children and trying to keep them fed.

I have written and published most of the books that you see here since 2012. My first book, Fighting the Effects of Gravity, was a long-term project that I started long before the digital revolution. My next book, Death of a Shrinking Violet, consists of 13 essays including the memorable entry, “Damn You Sam’s Club!” My latest work, a novella, is my first foray into the world of fiction. Along the way, I have managed to take home two Five-Star Readers’ Favorite Reviews and become an Indie Excellence and Readers’ Favorite Award finalist.

Author Links:

Instagram : Facebook : Amazon

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My most dramatic literary pilgrimage has been my lifelong journey from babe in the woods (in literary terms) at age 43—the year 1995–when I began writing in earnest to now as I write my 7th book. As I look back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how little I knew when I first began writing. 

When I began writing at age 45, there was no digital media—no internet, no email, no Kindles or Nooks. I wrote query letters to agents and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I went through 4 agents without getting a book deal. I put out my first Kindle book in 2012 at the age of 60–it took me 15 years to get the right cover and content–and entitled it: Fighting the Effects of Gravity: One Man’s Journey Into Middle Life. 

I’m on my 7th book since then including three fiction books but nonfiction seems to be my thing. As they say, It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.

2. What is the first book that made you cry?

Since I’m a fan of non-fiction genre, especially satire and humor, I’d have to say I’ve never really cried while reading a book. Sorry.

3. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Since I self-publish, I haven’t found too many unscrupulous practices in that industry. Early in my writing career when I was soliciting agents, they would sometimes ask for a reading fee before they would look at your manuscript even though such fees were strongly forbidden. I’m not sure if this practice is done anymore. 

With my first book, I joined a company called iUniverse just to take advantage of the new digital publishing craze that was taking place. They helped to improve my book. They editor whose services I purchased, really changed my life. But when I tried to get out of their group, I found out that they essentially owned the rights and I had to buy my way out.   

4. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. Working on a first draft or the initial stages of a book or other work is exhausting. Working on a piece that I’ve already put the hard work into is exhilarating. Especially when dealing with humor. 

5.What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Thinking that your writing is the best that it can be without professional editing. Offer up the best that you have, hire a professional editor, and get ready for a long period of editing. Thinking that you will make a great deal of money with your writing. I only know of a few people that do. Work hard getting your books out there to readers and be happy with whatever few books that you manage to sell.

6. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

A passion for writing, a willingness to learn, and hard work are the basis for a good writer. An ego helps nothing. A person with a large ego would probably think more of their writing than they should and refuse advice.

7. What is your writing Kryptonite?

I would have say that first drafts are like Kryptonite to me. Sometimes my initial drafts are so bad that I don’t see the need to go any further. “This will never amount to anything,” I say to myself. But I keep on plugging away and that horrible duckling using turns into my version of a swan. 

8. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

I am inflicted with reader’s block. People can’t understand how I can be a writer and read so little. I think I worry that it will ruin my originality. Sometimes I think that I just don’t have the patience. I am also a lover of movies and that  takes away from reading time. I will, however, diligently read a friend’s book and leave a review and they will do the same for me.

9. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I actually have considered it. I thought it might be fun. A couple of my writing friends do it. But I think it’s mainly for romance authors and I’ve never been able to come up with a good name. What would I call myself? How about Jerome Alexander? I’ll keep trying.

10. do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

My only goal is to be original. Have you ever heard the song, “I gotta be me…? Well, I can’t be anyone but myself. I’m sure I could write romances if I wanted but I hate the stuff. I have this warped sense of humor. When I sit down to write, that’s what comes out. It would be nice if readers enjoyed it but, if not, oh well.

Merry Christmas!! Happy Day SEVEN of Blogmas!

Better Off Bald by Andrea Wilson Woods// Book Review, Author Interview, Giveaway

Length: 394 pages
Publisher: Build Your BLISSS (October 15, 2019)
ASIN: B07X3N6TCP
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Adrienne Wilson is a depressed, suicidal teenager–until the day she receives a diagnosis of stage IV liver cancer. Facing the fight of her life, Adrienne discovers how much she wants to live. In Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, Andrea Wilson Woods chronicles her sister’s remarkable life, from the time she was born to the day she dies at age fifteen. Written like a journal, Andrea takes the reader inside her and Adrienne’s journey explaining how she gained custody of Adrienne from their mother and how the sisters’ relationship evolved over time. Adrienne’s courageous spirit shines through as she squeezes more life into 147 days than most people do in a lifetime. From meeting Jay Leno to spending the day with Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Adrienne makes every moment count.As she lay dying, Adrienne teaches Andrea how to live.

My Review:

Cancer stories are always so hard for me to read, because it is so devastating for me, to read how helpless people are when they go through such an almost incurable disease. “Better Off Bald” was no different.

However, Adrienne fought the cancer with such a determination and bravery, that her story was also encouraging to read. She had more courage when she was sick and dyeing then most strong and healthy people have.

I had a hard time read parts of the book because Adrienne was so brave and optimistic during the toughest of times, that it made me realize just how much I have to work on.

I don’t mean to make this review about me, I am just trying so hard to let you know how strong and brave this girl was. I just cant imagine what it was like to go through it.

Better Off Bald was not just a story of an amazing life and cancer journey, but also a story of true love and devotion. I have never seen so much love and devotion between two sisters then Adrienne and her older sister Andrea.

Andrea stepped up to the plate and took on the role of Adrienne’s mother who had failed to take true care of her. Andrea loved Adrienne and encouraged her to be her–and nobody else.

Andrea showed Adrienne what true love between a mother and daughter should look like. She also showed her what true love between sisters is like.

Even throughout Adrienne’s entire cancer journey, Andrea stood beside her like a rock. She stayed through so many sleepless nights at the hospital, meticulously learned how to administer the meds so that Adrienne could suffer at home instead of a clinic, and just altogether made Adrienne know she was loved.

I do not think a sister could love her fellow sister more than Andrea loved her sister Adrienne. Just from reading the book I could tell Adrienne left this world with her heart as full as her life.

Adrienne is such an example of what strong and brave really is. And Andrea is a perfect example of how powerful love is.

Better Off Bald is such an incredibly amazing uet tragic story, and I hope I showed just a little bit of how much it meant to me.

If I could be just a fraction as brave as Adrienne was, and be able to love just a fraction of the amount Andrea did, I would be content.

About the Author:

ANDREA WILSON WOODS is a writer who loves to tell stories, and a patient advocate who founded the nonprofit Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. Andrea is the CEO and co-founder of Cancer University, a for-profit, social benefit, digital health company. With Cancer U, Andrea synergizes her talents of coaching, writing, teaching, and advocacy. For over ten years, Andrea worked in the education field as a teacher and professor for public and private schools as well as universities. Andrea obtained her master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California; her nonfiction writing has won national awards.

Author Interview:

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? Write more often. Write every day. Write for yourself.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? It hasn’t. At all. What people don’t tell you is that writing like training for an ultra marathon. The marathon isn’t over when your book is finished. The marathon begins the day your book is published. 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? Investing in my education which connected me to terrific mentors. 

What does literary success look like to you? If someone comes up to me 10, 15, 25 years from now and tells me my book has made a positive impact on their lives, then I consider myself successful–not that I would turn down a Pulitzer. 😉

How many hours a day do you write? Right now, not nearly enough. Even when I’m not working on a new project, I journal every day. When I’m working on a book, I aim for 1500 words a day. 

What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult) Hmm … probably adulthood though our childhood shapes our experiences. 

What is your most unusual writing quirk? When I’m on a deadline, I reward and punish myself for meeting or not meeting my word count respectively. When I didn’t make my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of my book, I punished myself by contributing to Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. I wrote a note explaining why I was giving money asking them to never contact me again. They never did!

What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written? When I’m really tired, I forget how to spell the simplest of words like the. (Seriously.) 

When did you first start writing? I wrote a book in first grade about a little girl with a cat. I think it was part of a school project. I’m sure the book was awful!

What’s next for you? I have several other memoirs about other periods in my life, but they are on hold until I get my health tech startup Cancer University (https://cancer.university) off the ground and running smoothly.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night Afternoon!

Trek by Rand Bishop // Book Review and Author Interview

Length: 376 pages
Publisher:   BookBaby; 1 edition (July 10, 2019)
ASIN: B07V2K64T6
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Early 2017. Rand Bishop’s heart was breaking. With post-election America turning mean, the Grammy-nominated songwriter/author couldn’t sit idly by. So, inspired by the woman called Peace Pilgrim, Rand — at 67, with chronic knee and foot issues, minimal camping experience, and zero knowledge about long-distance hiking — decided to TREK from Southern California to the Central Oregon Coast, a distance of 900 miles.

Understandably, concerned friends and family members attempted to dissuade Rand from a venture fraught with such potential peril. Still, he remained undeterred, convinced that traveling by foot offered his best opportunity to meet folks one-on-one, listen to their concerns, engage in civil, constructive dialogue, and locate patches of common ground. Amid the dissonance of tribal rancor and blame, Rand needed to know there were still nice people out there. So, he went searching for a kinder America.

With TREK, the author invites the reader along, as he pushes a jury-rigged cart christened “the Pilgrimmobile” over urban sidewalks into the hinterlands, along dedicated bike paths, aside interstate highways, through neighborhoods and massive industrial parks, on narrow, decaying blacktop and remote, rutted, mountain trails. The pilgrim treks past windswept corporate farms, then inhales fresh, salty breezes, dwarfed by the awesome, dramatic beauty of the Pacific coastline.

Facing constant alienation from the common presumption that a grey-bearded, cart-pushing pilgrim must be homeless, he confronts seemingly insurmountable grades, spans precarious bridges, encounters wild animals, endures relentless wind, moisture, hunger, blisters, exhaustion, and loneliness.

The pilgrim gets spat upon, spattered with gravel, nearly knocked down a cliff by a Goliath RV. One fateful afternoon, the earth literally swallows him whole, buries him in dirt and rocks, and straps him down with thorny blackberry vines.

But, readers can take heart, because these difficulties are far outnumbered by spontaneous demonstrations of kindness and generosity from myriad Good Samaritans. Meanwhile, the pilgrim hangs with the homeless, convenes with fellow seasoned adventurers, lends an empathetic ear to the forlorn, the dispossessed, and the self-possessed, performs impromptu campground concerts, and withstands evangelical attempts to save his immortal soul.

By TREK’s end, after meeting a thousand fellow humans over the course of one life-changing spring and summer, Rand Bishop returns home nourished with the knowledge that, one-on-one, the vast majority of us are not only nice, but kind, caring, and often generous. And, despite our obvious differences, we have far more in common as individuals than we might have assumed.

My Thoughts:

Trek was an incredibly unique memoir. I have read many memoirs in the last few years as memoirs are my current favorite genre, but none nearly as unique as Rand Bishop’s. Of course, each writer’s story and book is unique in its own way, but Rand’s story just made me read in awe. I have never read about a person’s pilgrimage–let alone from an author’s point of view–so his story was so neat to read. I loved how he wrote his book in the form of a journal/diary with an entry written every day of his pilgrimage. It made the story so much more personal to the reader as it gave the impression of reading Rand’s personal life and thoughts. He gave a glimpse of what it was like to walk 900 miles across U.S. terrain both physically and emotionally. I admire his devotion to peace as well as his courage to do something about it. We all have something in our lives or the world that we want to do something about, but it takes someone special to actually do something about it. Rand Bishop did something about it.

About the Author:

Oregon native Rand Bishop grew up in the suburbs of Portland fixated on two equally impractical career paths: stage actor or rock star. Between attending Oberlin College and the University of Washington, a season of bit parts at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival made his choice obvious. Rand ran away with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. During the 1970s and ’80s, Rand recorded for Elektra, A&M, Sony, and MCA and shared stages with The Doors, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, and Credence Clearwater, while honing his tune-smithing craft. Tiring of the road, he transitioned to “the other side of the desk,” to earn his stripes as a platinum record producer, talent-development executive, and music publisher. An in-demand studio singer, Rand harmonized with the Beach Boys, Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo, Graham Nash, Tim Curry, and Quiet Riot. As a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning, Million-play songwriter, Rand counts 300-plus diverse credits: from Cheap Trick to Tim McGraw, Heart to Indigo Girls. He has contributed compositions to more than a dozen feature-film and TV soundtracks and several stage musicals. Rand’s song catalogue has generated over 20 million sales and continues to rack up millions of broadcast performances year after year. Positive public response to “My List” (Tim James/Rand Bishop) ― a five-week #1 for Toby Keith, and the most-played country single of 2002 ― inspired Rand to co-author My List: 24 Reflections on Life’s Priorities (McGraw-Hill, 2003). After that publication, he authored two career guides for aspiring songwriters (Makin’ Stuff Up and The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success) both issued by Alfred Music Publishing. Rand’s self-published novel/mock memoir Grand Pop spent a year in development as a premium-cable series under producer Ken Topolsky (The Wonder Years, Party of Five). Rand’s latest book is the self-published memoir, TREK: My Peace Pilgrimage in Search of a Kinder America. Rand is a produced playwright, an award-winning/optioned screenwriter and, for six years, contributed a regular column to American Songwriter Magazine. He has guest lectured at colleges, sat on music industry panels, facilitated creative workshops, and remains a highly respected songwriting coach. Rand has served on the boards of directors for three non-profits: Songwriters and Artists for the Earth (SAFE), the Nashville Film Festival, and Peace Village, Inc. In 2012, after four decades in Los Angeles and Nashville, Rand returned to his home state to be of assistance to his aging parents. Residing in Newport, on the Central Oregon Coast, he is developing and staging a one-man musical multi-media performance piece entitled TREK on Stage, comprised of stories and songs inspired by his 2017 900-mile pilgrimage. Most days, Rand can be seen on Nye Beach taking his beagle Millie for yet another long walk.

Author Interview:

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? TREK is my fifth published book but my first attempt at a full-length memoir — if you define memoir as an autobiography that covers a specific period in the author’s life. I come from a songwriting background. A lot of people — even a lot of aspiring songwriters — assume that songs are beamed down from the Muse whole, complete and perfect, that we write them in a few minutes. While that might happen on rare occasions, the fact is, everything after the initial inspiration is about craft which means there’s almost always quite a bit of rewriting involved if you really want to create an airtight song. Introducing characters, situations, developing relationships, and conveying the entire story in three or four minutes with clarity and emotional impact means trying out a lot of ideas, making difficult word choices. Songs require succinct writing, using language economically. 

When I wrote my first book, I felt liberated, like I’d escaped the confines of the three-minute song. I enjoyed being able to expand and spread out, using words to explore the dynamics and nuances of thoughts and emotions. I could indulge in lengthy descriptive passages. And, even with all that freedom, it wasn’t a struggle to keep my earlier books within reasonable lengths. TREK was an altogether different experience. My first draft turned out to be more than twice as long than the recommended length for a commercial memoir. That surprised me. It was like I’d written a seven-minute song that needed to be shortened by half. It took many months to hone the tale down to a digestible portion. And, honestly, I still wish I’d been able to write a shorter book — if only because I’d prefer the font in the paperback to be bigger. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned over the course of your pilgrimage?   Before I started, I envisioned myself gaining a certain amount of notoriety along the way — you know, as the old Pied Piper Peace Pilgrim with his beagle pushing a cart up the west coast inspiring folks to set aside their differences and communicate civilly and constructively. I’m a Unitarian. It seemed reasonable to expect that Unitarian fellowships along my route would invite me to sing for their Sunday services, that parishioners would invite me to stay at their houses. Some would even invite friends over for spontaneous house concerts. One Unitarian minister put me up and another church gave me shelter. But that was it. I got smiles, some hugs, lots of encouraging words. But, no invites, no house concerts. Aside from friends I hadn’t seen in decades, the most open and generous people turned out to be friends of friends, or folks I just happened to meet purely by chance. 

And, as I trekked on, the more right it seemed that I wasn’t drawing attention from anyone outside of my Facebook friends. Because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think I was doing it for fame or ego. Being anonymous and unexpected actually gave me much better opportunities to meet people on an equal basis and have honest, unguarded communication. Still, it surprised me that I felt so content to trek those 900 miles without a bit of fanfare.          

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Actually, I’ve never been on a literary pilgrimage per se. That being said, I guess I could say that my entire life has been a literary pilgrimage of sorts. Life is a journey, often a pretty challenging one at that. Writing is my default mode, my way of coping with the short falls and the disappointments. When my brother died suddenly and unexpectedly, I sat down to write. Every time I got up from my desk, I’d start sobbing and break down. Writing about my brother got me through the initial shock and anger of losing him. 

I like to say that I write to find out what I know. And, when I come back later and read my own writing, I nearly always wonder how I could have possibly come up with those exact words… half the time because it sounds like a bunch of pointless, pretentious gobbledygook, and the rest of the time because I can’t believe I came up with these ideas, and had the wherewithal to capture them in writing. 

People often ask me if I’d do it again — another 900-mile pilgrimage. My knee-jerk response is always a very emphatic, definite, “No!” My feet still hurt two years after completing my trek. By mid-afternoon nearly every day of the 90 I spent pushing a heavy cart northward through California and Oregon, I questioned my own sanity for taking on what often seemed a totally foolhardy endeavor. Then, the next morning, I’d get up and start again with new vigor and optimism. I love to walk. Walking not only gives my body exercise, it sets my creative subconscious free. I still walk three to five miles a day on the beach with my dog. Typically, that’s when I come up with my best ideas. And, I really enjoy getting out in nature on a day hike. Sometimes I fantasize about walking the Camino de Santiago. But, I seriously doubt I’ll be taking on any more peace pilgrimages, especially on pavement, breathing heavy metal exhaust, climbing long grades, and jamming my toes into my sneakers on the other side. From now on, I think I’ll use more conventional transportation when I go out to meet people.     

What does literary success look like to you? Good question. Because success is always relative, isn’t it. In 2002, I was already what most people would call a successful songwriter… with a Grammy nomination, songs recorded by superstars, on platinum albums, movie soundtracks, all that. Then, one of my tunes spent five weeks at #1 and I experienced success on a whole different level. Public response to that song “My List” got me my first book deal, which is how I got bit by the literary bug. Having a #1 hit was an accomplishment that could never be taken from me. The recognition and the financial rewards felt really fulfilling. But that experience was transitory. The honest truth is I’m on the cusp of 70 and I still feel like I’m trying to make it in show business. 

Here’s something I’ve learned: Any success in the entertainment business depends on a whole lot of essential factors somehow converging together. Some of those factors are in the artist’s control — doing quality work, networking, etc. But a whole lot of what’s required for mass exposure and commercial success is about persevering long enough to allow synchronicity to happen. And still, even for some of the most talented creative people, that convergence never happens. Even though I haven’t achieved the commercial success and recognition of a Jon Krakauer or a Brene Brown, I feel fortunate to have survived as long as I have, and enjoyed the successes I’ve had.

Would I like greater success and recognition as an author? Absolutely — if for no other reason than it would give me the opportunity to go out and perform my one-man show TREK on Stage for packed houses of adoring fans. And, it would be really gratifying to know there’s a large, avid audience out there eager to read whatever words I write next. 

But, bottom line, it’s pretty cool to think that someone out there is probably listening to one of my songs right now, or reading my written words, and those people’s lives are being affected, hopefully in a positive way. Most writers write because we have to, not because we want to sell a ton of books and become famous authors. But, since we write, we should also want people to read our work, and be moved by it. So, I guess success for an author — or any creative artist, for that matter — has a lot to do with real people getting emotionally involved or intellectually stimulated by the work we feel compelled to create.      

Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” So, I guess, by that standard, I should consider myself a very successful and fortunate man.         

What was the most difficult scene to create in Trek? I tend to use an excess of descriptive words, especially in my earlier drafts. In TREK, I wanted to bring the reader on my journey with me. I want them to, as much as possible, visualize the dramatic beauty of the landscape, feel the chill and the strength of the wind and the heat rising from the blacktop. Choosing the precise language to capture my actual experience on the page, keeping it lean and economical, without getting self-indulgent or banal was an especially huge challenge in this book. 

Recounting the physical pain of walking up and down steep grades, crossing narrow bridges, while being exposed to constant traffic noise and pollution was also a challenge. As these were constant, everyday experiences, as essential as they are to the story, I had to pick and choose when and how I could even write about them. Otherwise, the entire book would have turned into a redundant list of complaints that no one would ever want to read. 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?  Not intentionally. Any secrets I might have, I keep to myself. The rest, I lay out there, naked in the light of day. I think negotiating everyday life is complicated enough. Just when we think things are going along smoothly, something invariably happens to throw us off the track. Life is about problem solving, which sometimes is a whole lot like decoding a puzzle, or a secret.  

There’s a scene in TREK where the metal frame of front wheel of my cart (“The Pilgrimmobile”) crumples. At that moment, blood rushed to my head and all I could hear was the pounding of my own heart in my ears. I was in overwhelm and my ability to comprehend anything was gone — temporarily. Here was a situation that required rational thinking and a realistic, step-by-step plan of action. But, in my addled brain, my only thought was worst case scenario — that my pilgrimage was over, my crazy, idealistic endeavor had come to its very inauspicious ending on a disintegrating sidewalk in Fremont, California. What seemed like a disaster in that moment turned out to be the segue into an important chapter during which I met some amazing people and learned some important, essential lessons. In life, secrets are revealed as they need to be revealed, and they can only be understood when we have the capacity to pay attention. Now that I think about it, that’s one of the major themes I explore on the pages of TREK. 

What are the best and most challenging things about being a writer? When people ask me what I do, I like to say “I make stuff up in my pajamas.” Then I’ll wink and add… “Beats laying bricks. No offense to any brick layers out there.” I’m not built for labor. So, I feel fortunate that, for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to spend most of my time doing what I love to do, what I feel compelled to do. I find satisfaction in laying my head on my pillow every night knowing that I’ve created something that wasn’t there before I woke up in the morning. Then comes the difficult part: creating commerce, which, like most creative types, I feel very uncomfortable about. 

Lots of talented, creative people don’t give themselves permission to live creatively. Every human being is born with a unique set of gifts. So, if we were granted our individual talents by a creative God force of some kind, don’t we have an obligation to reciprocate by developing those gifts to their highest potential and sharing them with others? I’m not saying that everybody should spend their lives making stuff up in their pajamas. Nor am I saying that everyone should be an artist of some kind. I’m saying that the world would be a much more peaceful, loving place, if more of us followed our natural childlike impulse to express ourselves creatively in our own unique ways. That’s how we pay that creative God force back for this brief life and for our native gifts. 

On the flip side, choosing to live a creative life is also a choice to live a life of uncertainty, or what most people would call “insecurity.” So, it’s understandable why so many people deny their creative natures and decide to take a more “secure” career route. And, I know — because I’ve experienced some very lean years and some very abundant ones — that life is a whole lot less stressful when have enough money and a solid roof over your head, food, all the essentials for a comfortable life. But, really, any sense of real “security” is imagined, and temporary. There’s always something we can feel insecure about, something to stress over, something we can find to be afraid of. It depends on how we look at it. We’re never in complete control of our actual life experience. All we can control is how we experience life — do we look at it as a daily grind or a trial by fire, or as an adventure. You either trust that the universe will always provide or you worry that it won’t. It’s your choice. There’s a phrase I love. I can’t remember where it came from: “I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t blinded by optimism.” Ironically, I’m not a cheerful, optimistic person by nature. My Finnish bloodline doesn’t flow in that direction. So, it takes constant, daily practice to correct my natural inclination to look on the dark side. 

What was the most gratifying experience of traveling by foot for 90 days? Well, first, there was that sense of accomplishment, conquering seemingly insurmountable grades against powerful, relentless winds, through heat, pushing myself physically, finding out what I’m made of. 

But, honestly, my greatest fulfillment came in the conversations I had with so many fascinating people, the characters, the eccentrics, the borderline crazies. These were people from every walk of life, all ages, ethnicities, religious faiths or lack thereof, the gamut in socio-economic status. Interestingly, most conversations would begin with them asking a question like, “Wow! What are you up to?” Then, most of the time, the subject would quickly be about them, not about me. Most folks were actually far more interested in having someone to listen to their story than in hearing about mine. So, I had to practice my listening skills, to really pay attention, and ask sincere questions of them. Because, ultimately, what we’re all looking for is connection with other people. And, connection begins with knowing that someone else cares enough to really listen without judgement. I had to rid myself of the bad habit of thinking about what I wanted to say next. There’s a reason for the phrase “giving” your attention. Because listening is a gift. On many occasions, listening to the most egocentric, sometimes even incoherent ramblings required dipping into my reserve tank for extra patience. But, it was worth it because I could actually see, in their body language, in the pitch of their voices, that having somebody to talk to was providing them with a measure of healing.  

And, in the long run, I discovered that even in a nation turned mean, not only are most of us nice, and kind. Many are truly generous. And, knowing that provided healing for my fractured heart. It gave me hope. And, that’s the main reason why I felt compelled to sit down in my pajamas every morning for well over a years and write the TREK story. A lot of people are feeling discouraged and disillusioned right now. If I can help someone see a glimmer of sunlight on the horizon, then I’ve done my job. And, by Emerson’s standards, that is success in and of itself.             

Rough Way to the High Way by Kelly McCoy // Book Review, Author Interview, Giveaway

ROUGH WAY TO THE HIGH WAY
Kelly Mack McCoy

October 1, 2019


Length: 268 pages
Publisher:  Elm Hill (March 5, 2019)
ISBN-10: 031010372X
Genre: Fiction, Christian fiction
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Disclaimer: Kelly McCoy provided me with a free copy of Rough Way to the High Way and an additional fee of $5 for the review and $3 for posting on consumer websites in exchange for my review. He did not expect or require me to write a positive review. All thoughts are my own.

SYNOPSIS:

Pastor turned long-haul trucker, Mack, struggles with grief and perceived failures as a minister while he is confronted with a mysterious hitchhiker, smugglers, and a determined killer. After an unbearable tragedy strikes his life, he sells everything he owns and buys a new Peterbilt truck, returning to the trade he learned decades earlier.

Hoping for some windshield therapy and peace of mind behind the wheel of his new rig, Mack gets neither after God nudges him to pick up a hitchhiker near the Jordan State Prison outside Mack’s childhood home of Pampa, Texas.

When his world is ripped apart, he seeks to run away from it all, going as far as to cut off communication with all but a handful of people. But he is pursued by God, who will not let him go. Unbeknownst to Mack, God is equipping His servant with tools to handle events his past education and experience could never have prepared him for.

The story unfolds as the hitchhiker enters Mack’s Peterbilt. The man reminds Mack of his father, a hard living, hard drinking oilfield roughneck who died in prison. God begins to do a work in Mack’s heart while Mack seeks to minister to his new passenger. But Mack soon rues the day he let the hitchhiker into his truck.

His old life in ruins now, Mack learns he has angered a new enemy who threatens to destroy his life on the road as well. Mack suspects he is being followed and is in the sights of a killer who plots a revenge no one could have seen coming.

God works His mysterious way in Mack’s life steamroller-style all the way to an ending that will leave the reader thinking about it long after reading The End at the bottom of the last page.

Rough Way to the High Way is the first of a series of novels about Mack’s adventures on the road as lives are transformed through his new ministry. The first life to be transformed as Rough Way to the High Way develops appears to be that of the hitchhiker. But God is working in Mack’s life all along, preparing him for a new ministry that will transform lives across the country.

MY REVIEW

Although the nature of this book is not a topic I would have chosen on my own, I enjoyed the fast pace and the suspense, as well as the strong characters.

Characters:

More stories need characters like Mack! He is adventurous and spunky, yet wise and mature. He adds just the right amount of spice to the story.

Barb–the spunky, friendly waitress who tries to mentor Mack.

The Hitchhiker. I do not want to say much to give anything away, so I’ll just describe him as a shady character.

Cons:

I felt that the story was weak in the area of names. I mean Mr. Target, Officer Pipe Cleaner, Mr. Bull Header…to me these names told me the author lacked inspiration when coming up with them. I definitely am not an author, but I can come up with more intriguing names right now on the spot.   I would have enjoyed the story more if the names were more creative. This might sound a trifle picky on my part, but to a reader, the names are the first thing they are introduced to in the book. The names introduce them to the characters they will be spending the next few hours, days, weeks, etc. with. And they give the reader a glimpse at the author’s writing style before diving deep into the story. Therefore, I have to say that I was disappointed in this area.

Pros:

The story was especially strong in the area of descriptions and language. All the scenes were written so well as to give the reader a feel of living in Mack’s shoes.

As this was a trucker-themed book, the language is certainly very important in really giving the story the correct feel. Let me just say, the author aced this! He wrote the language so well, that if I were to read it as a read-aloud book, I would not need to make up my own accent because the author already wrote it down for me.

I especially enjoyed/appreciated the authors’ sense of adventure in his characters. Mack sure didn’t lack an adventurous spirit and he was willing to go off the beaten path to add some spice to his life. He also never passed up an opportunity to better someone else–even if it meant risking his own safety and comfort. I really appreciated that in a character.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and would reccomend it to a friend! It was fun to read, kept me glued to the page and wrapped up in the story, and gave me all the surprise twists and turns that I love finding in a story!

Mack’s grip gave way, sending him spiraling into the void. He shot his hand upward as if reaching for a lifeline and looked at the light…

AUTHOR BIO

Kelly Mack McCoy is a semi (pun intended) retired truck driver turned author. He spent most of his career behind the wheel of an eighteen-wheeler traveling extensively through forty-eight states gathering a lifetime of material for his books. Rough Way to the High Way is his first novel and the first in a series of novels about the adventures of trucker turned pastor turned trucker Mack McClain.

INTERVIEW

If you could tell your younger writing self anything what would it be?


Just sit down and write. Tell that inner critic to shut up long enough for you to get your writing done for the day. If I had done that years ago, I would have several books out by now.
After you get the inner critic to shut up, slap your hands over your ears if you have to and don’t listen to the outer critics either. I’m not talking about fellow writers in writers groups you may be blessed to belong to. Receiving honest critique from those who have your best interests at heart is crucial to your success. They can offer invaluable feedback that will make you a much better writer than you could ever be without it.
I’m talking about shutting out the critics who may disparage your writing because they don’t appreciate or understand your style. Writing is an art form. There is no objective standard as to what constitutes good writing.
With a tongue in cheek apology to the literary critics with noses stuck up in rarified air waxing nostalgic for a time of standards in the publishing industry that never existed, get over yourself, it’s all subjective. There have always been some very bad books on the shelves. There are just more of them now. What has changed is the technology.
I’m not talking about putting out books that haven’t been properly edited or formatted. I had top of the line people do that for me. I’m talking about style of writing. The same book may bring tears of joy to one person and tears of boredom to another. Why? Because one person liked it and the other didn’t. Simple as that. The problem comes in when critics get that fact confused with their own high estimate of the value of their opinion.
If I sound a little tough on critics, it’s because I am. They often leave behind a trail of crushed dreams due to their inability to distinguish between something that’s bad because it’s bad and something that’s bad because they don’t like it.
So, you have to just sit down and write with a target audience in mind from the beginning. And then you have to persevere to see your book through to publication, target your audience and never look back.

When did you first start writing?

Writing is something I’ve had in my heart since childhood. I’ve always loved to browse through bookstores, even as a kid. I would thumb through some of the books on the shelves and read parts of them at random. Sometimes I would be so awed by the prose I would think I could never be a writer.
Then I would pick up another book and think, Man, this is really bad writing. Yet the author somehow managed to have that book published and get it into a bookstore. If he could do it with writing that bad, I knew there was hope for me after all.

But kids from my neighborhood didn’t grow up and go to college or become writers or anything of that nature. I had it in my heart, but believed it was unattainable, so therefore it was to me at the time. My main goal as a child was to survive to adulthood. That was enough of a challenge for me at the time. I thought I would be able to do something about my circumstances after I grew up, which I did, sort of. I hit the road in a big rig and drove away from it all – or so I thought.
It may seem that I started late in life, but I really didn’t. I’ve just spent my life on and off the road gathering material. Most books and dreams remain in a dusty drawer so to speak, never to be seen by others. But they are not forgotten, just hidden away. When the dream-bearer dies, only then is the dream forgotten, never to be seen by the rest of us whose lives may well have had been enriched by what he or she had to offer.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I’ve taken the advice now I wish my younger writing self could have heard then. I know I don’t have to stress about how what I’m writing is going to be published. I hear some writers say they write for the joy of writing and they enjoy the process. And no doubt many of them do. I’ve been around some good writers who never plan on writing for publication. They may be writing a memoir for future generations in their family to cherish. And I can see the joy in that kind of writing.
By writing for publication I mean for publication directed toward the general public. Your family likely will not harshly judge your writing – at least not in your lifetime. Writing for publication to an audience that doesn’t know you or care about how you think or feel about anything is something else altogether.
That’s one reason it’s so important to target your audience. Many people absolutely love my book and my writing style. I’m sure Rough Way to the High Way could easily sell well over a million copies if I could get it in front of the right people.
But not everyone will like it and that’s fine. We’re all different and therefore have different tastes in writing and everything else. I have tried to just let go and be true to myself in my writing style since I have a unique gift to offer.
I have my own tastes. I won’t mention any names of books or authors, but I’ve read some classics that made me wonder how they became classics because the books were flat-out boring in my estimation. But those books have stood the test of time so who am I to judge? Someone likes them. But not the students who are forced to read them in school. People are free to like or dislike Rough Way to the High Way. My job as a writer is to be sure they can’t in all honesty say it’s because the book is poorly written or edited.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I chose a hybrid method of publishing my novel. Many people in the publishing industry look down their noses at self-published books – often with good reason. The good news for would-be authors is anybody can publish a book these days. The bad news for readers seeking to find a gem of a book in the ocean of new books is anybody can publish a book these days.

My publisher is Elm Hill which is a self-publishing division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. I worked with Elm Hill during the publishing process and now HarperCollins distributes my book worldwide.
There are a number of advantages in going this route. Many critics say you should never pay anything to publish your book. But these same people will spend much more money than I did going to writers conferences and retreats. Some will chase after agents hoping to be noticed by them and get a chance to pitch their book to them.
I did begin contacting a few agents on the advice of fellow writers who thought my book was good enough to attract the attention of some. But I soon decided I didn’t have the time for that, so I explored other options. I decided to go this route and I’m glad I did.

As a truck driver turned author, I could send out query letters to agents until the cows came home and would likely never get a positive response back from any of them. These guys are more closely related to steely-eyed bean counters than riverboat gamblers. If one of them took too many chances on books like mine, they would be kicked to the curb in front of their Manhattan office. It’s a tough business.

In a way I have the best of both worlds. My book is considered a self-published and a traditionally published book. I can be an indie author one moment and a traditionally published author the next. Yes, I did pay to have my book published. But I had to meet the same standards as any other author to have it done this way and I have the HarperCollins name attached to it.

If you go into a bookstore and pick up my book and then pick up a one hundred percent traditionally published book next to it, you won’t be able to tell the difference. The only way you would know is by looking at the name of the publisher and by being familiar with all the intricacies of the publishing industry.

Potential readers don’t care about any of that, they just want a good book to read. This only matters to those of us in the business who are paying attention to whether a book is traditionally published or self-published. We often pre-judge the book based on our own conception (or misconception) of the quality of a self-published book.

I’ve been around some good writers for quite some time. Some of them have numerous books in print and have always worked with traditional publishing companies. Many have only been self-published. I even know one lady who owns her own publishing company and has published a number of titles under the company’s name and has helped others do the same at a very reasonable price.

Of the self-published authors, some have done their own editing and formatting and spent close to nothing to have their books published. Others have been ripped off big-time and paid way more than was necessary to have a quality book published. Some have gone the hybrid route I’ve chosen.

Many people are surprised to learn how little I spent to partner with a huge publishing house to get a top of the line novel out for distribution to a worldwide audience. It was less than a cup of coffee with one of those New York agents if that cup of coffee includes the cost of flying to New York and staying at a hotel and all the related expenses. A lot less of a gamble too.

The number of books published each year is staggering. It’s quite a challenge getting yours noticed no matter how good it is or the route you choose for publishing. If you plan on going the route I did you have to plan on selling a lot of books to cover the costs involved. This is not for vanity projects.

If you just want a book out there for that reason or feel you need one professionally, go with something like KDP and print on demand. If you are able to land one of those one hundred percent traditional publishing deals, keep in mind they aren’t offering it to you out of the kindness of their hearts. You will pay for it anyway through book sales. The only difference is they’ve thrown in the chips hoping to rake in more chips from the sweat of your writer’s brow. There is no free lunch in this business anyway we go.

What does literary success look like to you?

Great question. We know how John D. Rockefeller answered when he was asked, “How much is enough?”. He said, “One more dollar.”.
I think we can fall into the trap of never being satisfied with where we are in our journey as published authors.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced since the publication of my book is seeing how so many others have been inspired by my story. Many people who have had the own manuscripts hidden away in a dusty drawer somewhere have been moved to take them out and dust them off with a new determination to finish their books and see them through to publication.

I had such a crazy family background I couldn’t see myself as being a published author. My father stayed drunk for about twenty-five years straight and my mother was in and out of insane asylums, as they were then called, when I was a child. As you can imagine I learned a lot and have plenty of stories to tell so I’m as qualified as anyone.

And here I am today as a published author with a book that is doing very well. I don’t know the numbers as far as average sales of books by new authors. But I do know a lot of writers and have been around published authors for some time. I would venture to say my book is doing much better than the vast majority of books released by unknown authors like me.

So, is this trucker-turned-author thrilled with his success? In a word, yes. I’m very grateful for all the people who have given me such awesome feedback after reading Rough Way to the High Way and for those who have been inspired to pick up where they left off on their own journey to being a published author. And for all the many people who have taken time from their busy lives to leave the awesome reviews the book has been getting. Authors live and die by those reviews.

Being a published author was never a vanity project for me. I have goals that have been met in that readers’ lives have been changed for the better in some small way – some in a big way. The journey has just begun. There are many more to be reached. Authors rarely get rich and famous. I’m more famous than rich at this point, but I’ll take the riches when they come, thank you very much.

So, to answer your question, I am happy and grateful for the success of my book thus far. But satisfied? There are more literary worlds to conquer. One more reader is needed all the time. Maybe I’m more like Rockefeller than I realized.

How many hours a day do you write?

To answer that I would need a definition of the word write. I used to sink into a state of despair because what writing I managed to get done during a given day was, as Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it, “…****”. He was, of course, referring to first drafts which are always bad no matter who you are – even Hemingway.

The fact that the writing I managed to get done that day was bad often kept me from getting any writing done. This is one reason so many writers who may be more talented than they imagine just throw up their hands and quit.

I have learned during this journey that a good book did not become a good book because the author was a great writer but rather was good at rewriting – and rewriting again and again. This is one reason it’s a great idea for a writer to find a good writers group. Not only will he or she receive invaluable critique of his or her own writing but will see that others have the
same struggles.

That’s a roundabout way of answering your question about how much time I spend each day writing. I’m a firm believer in having balance in all areas of life – including your writing life. The problem I’ve had is I’ve never been able to pull it off. My life has always been so crazy I have rarely had anything resembling a set routine so I can schedule writing time. I used to envy writers who did, but I know they have the same struggles no matter what amount of time they have to write. So, to give a definitive answer I’ll have to say, it depends.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

I’m a total, one hundred percent pantser. I couldn’t outline a novel before writing it if you held a gun to my head. I don’t understand how someone can outline or plot out a novel before writing it. I just have to start at the beginning and see where it goes. In seems to me you must have at least a vague ending in mind or you will wander aimlessly getting nowhere with the novel. So, I do have those two things – a beginning and an end in mind and also the message or underlying theme I want to get across along with a few events in between. That’s it. Other than that, you know as much about my next novel as I do.

I was asked recently who was my favorite character to develop in Rough Way to the High Way. I said it was Barb, the waitress introduced early on in the novel. Why? She’s a lovable woman who is obviously smitten with Mack, the protagonist. Even I wasn’t completely sure how their relationship was going to turn out, but I was pulling for her myself.

What is your most unusual writing quirk?

I like that word you used. Quirk. Other people are weird. I have quirks. I don’t think I have any kind of defined writing style, besides being a pantser, but I have a lot of quirks.

By quirk I don’t think you mean my tendency to want to sharpen my writing pencil and fall on it to end it all because I’m sure I can never write anything worth reading again. No, I think that’s probably a pretty common trait writers have – at least novelists, anyway.

To get any productive writing done I have to be alone and not have any distractions. I know that’s not unusual in itself for writers, but one little interruption can pretty much blow a day of writing for me. Wait – I think that’s probably pretty common too.
Come to think of it all fiction writers may be a little weird. Maybe that’s because of all the noise going on inside our heads that has no relation to reality. To talk about a novelist being quirky is a little redundant. I have too many quirks to mention without taking the risk of scaring off potential readers.

Like in a movie, there are a lot of experts behind the scenes. Where did you find yours?

I’m grateful to the awesome group of professionals who helped me along the way in this journey. The stories about how I found them could fill another book.

Here are a few: Brenda Blanchard, and so many of the great writers at the Christian Writers Group of the Greater San Antonio Area https://brendablanchard.com/, Judy Watters http://franklinscribes.com/ and all the other bunch of great writers I’ve been associated with at The Hill Country Christian Writers Group, Al Mendenhall, the creator of that jump-off-the-shelf cover almend2@gmail.com and my world-class editor, Ninfa Castaneda.

My lovely wife Miss Emily has been an enormous help with the book signings we’ve done. She basically does everything in these promotions. I just show up and sign books. You can see Miss Emily and my life-size cutout, Mr. McCool on my Facebook author page.
https://www.facebook.com/kellymackmccoyauthor/

What’s next for you?

As I said earlier, marketing has been my primary focus since the release of Rough Way to the High Way. I have started on the sequel but can’t give you a timeframe for publication. But again, rest assured that the first is a stand-alone novel. The sequel will have some of the characters you will grow to love in the first book and will continue Mack’s adventures on the road. But you’ll be able to pick up any novel in the series and read it alone to understand the development of each story.

There is also a creatively written nonfiction book in the works. I’ve had this one in mind and partially written for some time. I made the mistake as an inexperienced author of working on this one and Rough Way to the High Way at the same time. I put this one aside and concentrated on my novel. I knew I needed a partner for the nonfiction book. The reason will be obvious when the book comes out.

I’ve now found the right partner to co-author the book. The details are still being nailed down on that one so I’m unable to say much more about it for now. I realize in most cases success in one genre does not translate to success in another. But this project will be the exception that proves the rule.

GIVEAWAY

Kelly McCoy is very graciously donating a free, autographed copy of his book Rough Way to the High Way to the winner of this giveaway!! All you need to do if you want to win a copy of this awesome book is either, like, comment, and–only if you haven’t already–subscribe to my blog. Each of these count as an entry and will be entered into the giveaway! The winner will be chosen on October 7 at 10 AM MST and announced October 8 at 10 AM MST.

*Special thanks to the author, Kelly McCoy, requesting a review from me, participating in and giving awesome answers to, the interview, AND donating a copy of his book for the giveaway!

Happy October!

Ani

They Slay Me by Holland C. Kirbo

Disclaimer: The author–Holland C. Kirbo–provided me with an ARC ebook copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts are my own and I was not required to write a positive review.

THEY SLAY ME
Holland C. Kirbo

SEPTEMBER 3, 3019


Ebook: 229 pages
Publisher:  Illadian Publishing, LLC (September 1, 2019)
ASIN: B07VBW4CC1
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

Holland C. Kirbo has learned a lot in her fourteen years of raising triplets, perhaps the most profound is that two lawyers should never breed. Laugh along with her stories of her children putting her on the spot, nearly bringing church to a stop, and making mortifying (and loud) observations about the world and people around them as well as their growing pains, independence hits and misses, hilarious conversations, vacation frustrations, and more. You’ll be holding your sides in stitches!

MY REVIEW:

They Slay Me is a comical story of one mother’s experience raising triplets. From infancy, to terrible twos, and school kids, and beyond, Holland brings the reader along for her story of raising her three same-age children and the adventures that went long with them–triple the trouble and triple the comedy.

Memoirs are my favorite category of non fiction to read. Hands down. There is something about reading about someone else’s life that compels me.

Anyway, Holland C. Kirbo’s book reminded me why I like them so much. They Slay Me was such a joy to read–it was both humorous and entertaining.

The author had an awesome writing style, and kept you wrapped up in the story. She explained all the “scenes” in such an expertise way that I could experience them with her. The way she described her triplets’ questions, explanations, interruptions, demands, and just their speech, kept me laughing the whole time.

I have been kept very busy with loads of reading lately, and therefore, was feeling a little deflated, so They Slay Me was the perfect book to read. It picked me up, brought a smile back to my face, and gave me that “good feeling” that I always love experiencing after reading a book. What I loved even more, was that it was a nonfiction book, so I could experience that about real-life humans–not fictional ones.

I did not want the book to end, and was so sad when I reached the end! I would totally read this again and defiantly recommend it. They Slay Me is the perfect rainy day, sunny, day, snowy day, and everything-in-between read!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Holland C. Kirbo is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller A FLAME IN THE NIGHT and SWORD AND SHIELD, the first two books in her young adult Christian fantasy series, THE LEGENDS OF AEWYR. She is also the author of the memoir TRIPLE TREASURES: OUR JOURNEY FROM INFERTILITY THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR WITH TRIPLETS.

Holland is a Double Dawg, having received both her undergraduate business degree and her law degree from the University of Georgia, and she’s convinced Athens, GA is the most fabulous place this side of heaven. After graduating from law school, she clerked for a federal district judge then worked for over a decade as in-house corporate defense counsel for a publicly traded company. A few years ago, she retired from her successful legal career to focus on her family and her writing.

She’s known to her family and friends as Holly, to her husband as Holls, and to her children as Mama, Mom, Moooooooooooooooom, and, on occasion, Mother (imagine exasperated eye roll and classic huff of testy adolescent). Today, she spends most of her time raising her fourteen-year-old triplets (two boys and a girl) and writing. She’s forever hauling her very active teens all over creation. They keep her on her toes and on the go, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She lives in Southwest Georgia with her husband, kiddoes, and five pets.

Link to author’s website: https://www.hollandckirbo.com

INTERVIEW:

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? ​Don’t be scared to take a leap of faith. Follow your dreams. Give writing a novel a try. Do it sooner rather than later so that regret doesn’t fester within you. Have faith in yourself and your dream!

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
​I’m self-published. I think self-publishing my first book made me more aware of the need to be sure there were no (or as little as possible) errors in my writing, including things like grammar, misspelled words, formatting problems. These things can turn off a reader. For example, too many errors can stop a reader cold and take them out of the world you are trying to build for them. Readers can be wary of taking a chance on self-published books because they worry the quality of the writing isn’t as good. This isn’t necessarily a fair perception, but I have read self-published books that looked like they’d never been proofed a single time. That’s why I strive to ensure my books have been proofread numerous, and I mean numerous, times before I finally publish them.


What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
​I’m not an English major, and I don’t have a degree in creative writing. I’m a lawyer by trade. Lawyers have to write a lot, but it’s a completely different type of writing than creative writing. So, the best thing I did before attempting to write a novel was to buy all kinds of books on the novel writing process. I read them voraciously, and they really helped me strengthen my creative writing skills and avoid pitfalls that new writers often inadvertently fall into.


What does literary success look like to you?
​For me, literary success is publishing or self-publishing my latest novel or memoir (about my struggles with infertility and my life raising triplets). It’s not about money for me but a sense of accomplishment in my writing.


How many hours a day do you write?
​It depends. When I’m really into writing the bones of the book, I can write all day. Kind of like a stream of consciousness flow that I have to get down before it disappears. Well, I should clarify. I can write all of the day during which my kids are in school or otherwise occupied during the summer. When I’m tightening up the book and proofreading, I usually spend anywhere from 3 to 5 hours a day.

What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
​For my memoirs, it’s definitely the age of 30+, basically motherhood.


What is your most unusual writing quirk?  ​
I don’t write by an outline. I’ll have a general idea of my story arc and how I want the novel to end, but for me, the bones of the story flow from my brain as I sit and write. 

What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written?
​In my first novel, I originally used “whelp” when I mean “welt.” A kind reader pointed out the error to me in a comment, and I immediately changed it. Given I meant to described a swollen area of the skin but actually used the word for the offspring of a dog, I thought this was kind of funny.

When did you first start writing?
​I first started writing when I was a young child, around 8, and would write a summary of what had happened in my world over the last month. I called it the Homestreet Journal and sold it to my parents for a quarter. I’ve always loved to write and am thrilled to be able to follow my dream of writing and publishing novels and memoirs.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on and almost finished with a Christian speculative fiction novel tentatively entitled When Angels Fear: The Race for Heaven. It’s set in a heavenly realm and involves Lucifer, three young humans, a cast of angels, an enigmatic lion, a prophecy, and a thrilling race to save heaven and the world from Lucifer’s attempt to jumpstart Armageddon. I’m looking forward to publishing it when it’s done! 


GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway is going to be run the same way that my previous giveaway was done. Here are the instructions: the way this giveaway works is that you MUST either LIKE this post or COMMENT on it to be entered into the raffle. The people who both like AND comment will be entered twice to win a FREE ebook copy of They Slay Me (formats are available in .mobi, .epub, and PDF)! The winner will be chosen September 20, 2019 at 12:00 PM MST. (I have an app that randomly picks a name as a winner–there are no favorites :)) I will announce the winner on my blog shortly after. ONLY ONE WINNER WILL BE CHOSEN!

I really enjoyed reading this book, doing this interview, and hosting this giveaway! Thank you so much Holly, for giving me this opportunity and sharing your entertaining story with me!’

Small Town Kid by Frank Prem // Review, Interview, Giveaway

SMALL TOWN KID
Frank Prem

AUGUST 26, 2019


Paperback: 104 pages
Publisher:   Wild Arancini Press (November 22, 2018)
ISBN-10:  0975144235
Genre: Biography/Autobiography/Memoir
Buy On: Amazon


SYNOPSIS:

Small Town Kid is the experience of regional life as a child, in an insular town during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, remote from the more worldly places where life really happens, in a time before the internet and the online existence of social media.

It is a time when a small town boy can walk a mile to school and back every day, and hunt rabbits with his dog in the hours of freedom before sundown. He can hoard crackers for bonfire night and blow up the deputy school master’s mailbox in an act of joyous rebellion.

A time when a small town teenager will ride fourteen miles on a bicycle for his first experience of girls, and of love. A time when migrating from a foreign country to a small town means his family will always feel that they are strangers, while visitors to the town are treated like an invading host.

It is also the remembrance of tragedy for inexperienced friends driving on narrow country roads.

This collection of poems and stories shares the type of childhood that has mostly disappeared in contemporary times. Come and revisit it here, in the pages of a Small Town Kid.

MY REVIEW:

Let me just start by saying, I am not a poetry fan. I read a book to read a story not to try to piece together dry poetry. When I pick out a book to read, it is NEVER poetry. I don’t know why. It must just be because all of the poetry books I have read are very dry, dull, and uninteresting. I just do not like poetry books.

Frank Prem changed that. He has a very unique way of writing poetry. He writes in free verse form and tells the story of his life. He takes the reader from his childhood to adult days, and everything in between. I was quite taken aback by his style.

I must say that before I started reading his book, I was worried that I would “fall asleep” in the first chapter. However, this was definitely not the case. Frank Prem has a way of drawing his readers into his story, and despite the fact that it is poetry, paints a beautiful picture of his life. I am a classic book LOVER–I love the deep and rich language used in the stories. It is something I miss in modern books.

However, I was so happy when I read Small Town Kid, because the author uses such deep language, yet in a modern form. I loved how he used lines like “the cakes of my grandmother were moist with overflowing flavor deep crust filled with rich dark seed…” It made me actually taste the crust in my mouth, and picture it on the plate.

I absolutely adore reading books that I can picture–so Small Town kid was a delight to read. Memoirs are another of my favorite genres to read, and I thought it was so cool to read one with a twist of free verse poetry. I can now add a new accomplishment to my book of records–I read a memoir written in poetic form!

Even if you are not the type of reader–like me–who does not typically enjoy poetry, I recommend this book, because I guarantee you will be surprised. I really enjoyed this book overall! I loved the style, poise, scenes, pictures, and-yes-poetry. It is a book I will add to my “to-be-read-again list”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Frank Prem has been a storytelling poet for forty years. When not writing or reading his poetry to an audience, he fills his time by working as a psychiatric nurse. He has been published in magazines, e-zines and anthologies, in Australia and in a number of other countries, and has both performed and recorded his work as ‘spoken word’. Frank has published two collections of free verse poetry – Small Town Kid (2018) and Devil In The Wind (2019). He and his wife live in the beautiful township of Beechworth in northeast Victoria (Australia).
Frank Prem Contacts and Social Media:
Author Page (Newsletter sign up): https://FrankPrem.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/frankprem2
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvfW2WowqY1euO-Cj76LDKg
Twitter: Frank PremAmazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07L61HNZ4
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18679262.Frank_Prem

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

Do you like audiobooks, eBooks, or paperback books the best?
My personal preference is to hold a book in my hand. Partly I think that’s because of my age – I’m in my 60’s now and have used books all my life, and partly it is because I spend most of my day, every day, in front of an electronic device for my work, and for news and for such a lot of things, these days. When it comes to reading for pleasure, I enjoy something other
than an electronic device. I have enjoyed e-book reading when traveling by plane – it is so convenient when there are luggage constraints to consider.
With audio books, I have used educational audio, but not listening for recreation. I do enjoy reading my work to an audience, so I don’t rule out creating audio books in the future. I do wonder if I would be adequate narrating my own work, and I’d love to get any reader’s thoughts on that, so here is a link to some recorded work I’ve done. Let me know what you think: https://wp.me/PaAqWh-21

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it? If not, why?
I’ve experienced writer’s block in the past, and I believe it was the result of having too many things on my mind to allow me to settle into the kind of meditative state that allows me engage with my thoughts so that I can capture them on paper. That changed when my need to write became greater than my other preoccupations and I felt compelled to pursue my poetry. I am not experiencing writer’s block at present and am truly grateful for that.

What was your favorite childhood book? What made it stand out to you?
When I was a child I loved our school readers, which consisted of selected short stories and poems. A different one each year. They were wonderful primers for reading, I think. I was also very fond of a WW1 bi-plane pilot called ‘Biggles’ – a series written by someone named Captain W. E. Johns. I think those books might be collectors’ items, now. As a young father I enjoyed reading a book of illustrated nonsense rhymes to my children, and also a book called ‘The Oath of Bad Brown Bill’ by Stephen Axelsen (The link to the Author’s page is here: http://www.stephenaxelsen.com.au/the-oath-of-bad-brown-bill). Wonderfully illustrated and very funny.

When you write a book, do you write it in the chronological order that the readers see, or do you write the scenes whenever they come to you, and when finished piece all the parts of the book together to make the finished product?
With my earlier collections such as Small Town Kid and Devil In The Wind, I wrote the poems as they occurred to me, or as events unfolded, and then assembled them into a story arc and book sequence afterwards. They weren’t originally planned as books, but simply as episodes that I wanted to record. In both those collections, I think the order flows well, but is not strictly chronological. With more recent works in progress, I know that it is likely I will want to publish these collections in book form and I am writing with more thought for chronological consistency, to a far greater extent than in the early works.

How many drafts, do your books generally go through before they are published?
I don’t do a lot of revising. My work is largely stream of consciousness, and isn’t affected by any need to rhyme, so, if I’ve captured my thought clearly enough and expressed it well, then it shouldn’t need content revision. If I haven’t caught the idea well, no amount of revision is likely to fix it. I’d rather discard such a piece and move on. I do use an external professional editor and there may be several iterations of the manuscript back and forth between us during the editing process, but by and large, mine is clean copy and the concerns are more about consistent usage of language conventions,
rather than content.

You have a new poetry collection scheduled for release toward the end of 2019. Will that also be a memoir?
Yes, Ani, this collection will be titled: The New Asylum – a memoir of psychiatry, and it will be the memoir of a lifetime spent by myself in psychiatry, extending from when I was a child visiting my parents at the Mental Asylum where they worked, to later training as a Psychiatric Nurse, working in an acute psychiatry service, managing such a service and then
in a hostel for long term rehabilitation and care. I think it will be a unique presentation and expose of public sector psychiatry, which may be
quite confronting for readers, but which needs to be read, and discussed.
There is humor, and the ironies that become so evident in any form of institutional care.

Your three collections (including The New Asylum) are all either memoir or ‘true life’ collections of stories. Do you write to other themes in your poetry?
I do, indeed, Ani. I’ve come to think of what I have been writing in recent times as a form of Speculative Fiction, with a surreal twist. I take a lot of pleasure from imagining what if situations. What if a writer is an ink junkie? What if I could write something so realistically, that the object came to life? What if a man were stuck in a spaceship, doomed to travel in a straight line through space forever?
What if . . .
There is no end to the what if’s that are possible and I delight in exploring them. Here is an example, called ontol-echo: https://wp.me/p7yTr8-54c
I also write in a short form that I call Seventeen Syllable Poetry. Seventeen syllables, like Haiku, but written in my usual way without form. Only the syllable count as a restriction.

What are your sources of inspiration to help you write?
I love to deal in images, Ani. Either by writing in such a way that nan imagery is accessible to the reader to facilitate a deeper reading experience, or by using pictorial images – of clouds or objects as an inspiration and a point of departure for a poetic journey. I love trying to interpret tricky ideas and render them into an accessible form that encourages a reader to comment and discuss. A little while back I walked around a Collectibles Barn – one of those places that is filled with second-hand goods. I was celebrating my first smart phone at the time, and had fallen in love with the ability to take pictures in the way that smart phones allow. When I came
home, I sat down and wrote a series I called Voices in the Trash (and the Treasure) using those pictures as the prompt. Here is one called Voices #19: we do not/ you do not: https://wp.me/p7yTr8-6l9

Do you write in ‘first person’ or ‘third person’?
I very much prefer to write in the third person. My character is generally a ‘he’, although I don’t really have gender in mind. Third person allows me to act as a narrator and observer. In this role, I am just behind the character’s shoulder as he looks at things, just inside his mind, as he thinks. I feel that writing in first person takes away objectivity for myself as a writer, and perhaps a little accessibility for the reader.

What do you hope will be your legacy, as a writer?
Once upon a time I wanted to have a copy of one of my books resident on every bedside table in the land, because I would be (of course) the most famous poet of the times and my work would be irresistible. Now? Well, I hope to be able to have an impact on a few lives through my work and through my live readings, but it has become more important, I think, simply to represent my work in the best way I can. To turn it into books and at least enable folk to find a copy, should they choose to look.

In the end, I have no control over legacy, but right now, I can make another book and let people know that it exists. I can read for them and talk to them about what has been written and what they have heard. Perhaps, that might be enough.

GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway is a bit different than my last giveaway. The way this giveaway works is that you MUST either LIKE this post or COMMENT on it to be entered into the raffle. The people who both like AND comment will be entered twice to win a FREE ebook copy of Small Town Kid (formats are available in .mobi, .epub, and PDF)! The winner will be chosen September 7, 2019 at 12:00 PM MST. (I have an app that randomly picks a name as a winner–there are no favorites :)) I will announce the winner on my blog shortly after. ONLY ONE WINNER WILL BE CHOSEN!

Childish Spirits by Rob Keeley // Book Review and Author Interview AND Giveaway

*Disclaimer: The author of Childish Spirits, Rob Keeley, provided me with a free ebook copy of his book in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts are my own, and I was not required to post a positive review.

The Giveaway has ended!

CHILDISH SPIRITS
Rob Keeley

JULY 28, 2019


*Kindle edition information

Publisher: Matador (May 8, 2019)

ASIN: B07RLDX7Q1

Length: 119 pages

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis:

When Ellie and her family move into Inchwood Manor, Ellie quickly discovers strange things are happening. Who is the mysterious boy at the window? What secrets lie within the abandoned nursery? Who is the woman who haunts Ellie’s dreams – and why has she returned to the Manor, after more than a century? Ellie finds herself entangled in a Victorian mystery of ghosts and tunnels and secret documents – and discovers that life all those years ago isn’t so different from the world she knows today… Rob Keeley’s first novel for children brings out all the ingredients of the classic ghost story within a recognisable modern world setting. Readers of his short story collections for children will find in Childish Spirits the elements which made his past books such a success – strong and contemporary characters, inventive twists on traditional themes, and a winning combination of action, suspense and humour.


My Review:

Wow–Childish Spirits certainly had it all: fantasy, historical fiction, fiction, young adult, spirits, suspense, friendship, and plot twists. I was surprised at how much content was packed into such a short book. Childish Spirits was not a very long read–only 119 pages–but it had as much plot content as most long novels have.

Don’t let the “mysticisim” scare you off. I was leery of it at first as well, but the author assured me that there was no horror or “halloweenish” twists to it, so I finally decided to read it. I ended up being very pleasently surprised. It was not at all what I was expecting. I did not think it was creepy or horror”ish” at all. I actually REALLY enjoyed the book. I would even read it again. I loved it!

Rob Keeley told me that he had intended Childish Spirits to be for a younger audience–age 8 and up–however, I thought it was so well written that the age range could be from 8 to 80. I that really any type of audience could read and enjoy it.

The book was written from a Ellie’s, a young teenager, point of view. The plot was easy to read and follow and the author’s dialouge was very well written. Edward, the young “ghost” that Ellie befriends, is the other main character in the story but is not told from his point of view. The friendship between Ellie and Edward was very humerous and intriguing, but also very unique. I thought Rob Keeley did an awesome job balancing the human/ghost friendship, and didn’t blure the lines too often.

The author described each and every scene expertly and made me feel like I was in the story the whole time. I could picture each scene in my mind and could picture it almost as good as movie.

I enjoyed each plot and twist in the story, and it definately kept me guessing the whole time, and attached to the book.

Like I said earlier, I would defiantely reccomend this book to all audiences. Even if you are someone like me, who does not typically like “ghostly” or fantasy stories, I suggest you try this book–you will probably be surprised!


Author Interview:

What were your schooldays like?
They were fragmented, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and utterly bananas. I use a wheelchair and was first put into a special school at three years old, which I hated. Then they started to introduce me gradually into mainstream education, but I didn’t get into a mainstream primary school full-time until I was ten. So for a few years I was spending mornings in one school and afternoons in another. At one point my special school was going to another mainstream school – where my mother was Deputy Head – one morning a week for Science lessons. So at that time I was in three schools in one day!
Another time the kids in wheelchairs at my special school formed the Bicycle Reflector Club, with membership depending on acquiring free reflectors for your spokes from cereal packets. I would get all the kids at the afternoon school to save up their reflectors for me, so I soon had more than anyone else without having to eat any cereal! One day I’ll make that into a short story.
And then at eleven I was sent to a high school miles away from home, where I had a very rough time indeed. But in those days it was the only mainstream high school in the entire area that was equipped for disabled kids. Thankfully things have improved a lot. All these experiences gave me plenty of material to draw on for my school stories, published in The Alien in the Garage, The (Fairly) Magic Show and The Dinner Club collections.

Did you have a mentor?
I never had a mentor in the literary sense but did have one at high school. Thanks to my fragmented primary education, my Maths was all over the place when I started secondary. Then in my second year came Mr Moore, a fabulous young teacher and a very nice guy, who was one of very few people who listened to and understood me, alongside helping me with my work. Thanks to him, I was in top set for Maths a year later. I’m pleased to say he’s now Head of a school in London, where he’s invited me to give author workshops at some point.

How did you first get into professional writing?
I was fifteen and having a meal with my parents and then-girlfriend at a fabulous restaurant called the Alacadoo. One of my teachers from special school came in and she was involved with a local magazine for the disabled. She asked me to write an article on life for disabled kids at secondary school. I did it, it was edited without reference to me and I was never paid for it! But little by little I worked my way up via magazine articles, educational journals, and then started to have fiction published. I wrote part-time for about fourteen years and then took the plunge into full-time writing in 2011 when The Alien in the Garage was published and I began my Master’s in Creative Writing, for which the creative work was the book you’ve just reviewed, Childish Spirits.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I’ve followed in the footsteps of Shakespeare with regular visits to Stratford-upon-Avon, also Wordsworth and Coleridge at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and Jane Austen in Bath. For my own work I’ve visited lots of stately homes, castles and country estates, which was good material for the various Journeyback houses and castles in the Spirits series.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book Childish Spirits?
I’ve been surprised by the number of media to which the story lends itself. It began life as a rejected idea for a TV series and I then turned the rejected script into the book – the first six chapters are effectively a novelisation of that script. I still have hopes it may appear on TV someday. It’s since been a paperback (longlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award and nominated for the People’s Book Prize), an ebook and is now an audiobook, read by the actor Sally Millest. So in a sense we’ve come full circle as it was originally written to be performed and now it has!

What was the most difficult scene to create in Childish Spirits?
Without giving too much away, it’s probably the scene where Ellie finds the old letters and the mystery of what happened at Inchwood Manor finally makes sense to her. I remember my uni tutor was concerned that these were “adults’ letters” and would be boring to a child audience. But I think I overcame that by placing Ellie, then a young child, right at the centre of the scene and showing her awe as the past opens up to her. It’s a pivotal moment and she then realises what she has to do to help Edward, the Victorian boy ghost.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes, sometimes – especially in the final Spirits novel, The Coming of the Spirits, which was published earlier this year. There’s a secret word hidden across the very start of each of the opening chapters, and at the time I posted a challenge on my Twitter which stated that the first person who sent me the correct word would receive a free signed copy of the book. But so far, no one has found it! The offer is still open – I’m willing to offer a free signed copy to readers within the UK, or a free download of the Childish Spirits audiobook elsewhere – to the first person who emails or DMs me that word!
There’s also a lot of bonus material on the Extras page of my website. For Childish Spirits there are deleted scenes, a writing activity and a quiz. And there are various Easter Eggs hidden around the site, with rare material and even a bonus short story concealed somewhere! See what you can find.

What do you think of modern children’s literature?
There are some very good authors out there and I particularly like Francesca Simon, David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson. In some other quarters I’m concerned that ‘dumbing down’ has taken place and there’s a lot of crudeness and toilet humor in books for younger children. I’m a great believer in not talking down or writing down to them and I think they deserve better than jokes about underwear or bodily functions. People who write crudely for children always seem to cite Roald Dahl as their inspiration, not realizing there was so much more to his work than rude jokes – his stories are dark modern fairy tales in the tradition of European folklore. For myself, I will not use lavatorial humor or unsuitable material in anything I write for children.
My other current concern is this idea that’s got around that “children want to see themselves in books”. While it’s important for books to reflect the society we live in, and I try to make mine as inclusive and diverse as possible, I think it’s slightly odd to assume we can only empathize with characters who look exactly like us. This promotes division rather than
inclusivity, by compartmentalizing individuals into categories. There is so much more to people than their gender, race, cultural background or disability, and we need to show children those who are different from ourselves, or may appear to be, but underneath are fellow human beings with hopes, fears, aspirations and personal tragedies just like our own. I’ve a great distrust of the “tickbox” approach to inclusivity, knowing from personal experience that it only scratches the surface and does nothing to eliminate real prejudice and discrimination.

What does literary success look like to you?
Is that what this is?! That’s good to know. Seriously, I feel very fortunate, having first been rejected for the profession I trained for (the law) and then been made redundant three times, that I now have a job I love, which I can do from home, and which has had an unbelievable degree of success and brought pleasure to many children and adults.

What’s next for you?
I’m busy promoting The Coming of the Spirits in paperback and Childish Spirits in its new ebook and audiobook forms. Then after that I have my first standalone novel for older children ready and waiting, which I hope will be published next year. Meanwhile I’m about to start running a Creative Writing course for adults and have a school workshop booked for the autumn term. Visit my website and Twitter to find out all the latest news!


Giveaway:

For those of you who own an APPLE device, this giveaway is open to you! This giveaway is different and unique because it has new rules. The VERY FIRST person to answer this question correctly in the comments below will win a free eBook code emailed to them as well as the instructions on how to activate it.. Note: ONLY APPLE DEVICES WILL BE ABLE TO ACCESS THE CODE! Million-dollar (or more like eBook dollar 😉 ) question: How old was Rob Keeley when he did his first professional work as a writer? Please, only answer this question if you own an Apple device, so as not to spoil it for those who do. The answer to that question is found somewhere in this post. Look hard, and answer quick!

Special thanks to the author, Rob Keeley, requesting a review, being willing to do an interview, taking the time to answer the questions in depth, and for sponsoring this giveaway. Make sure to check out the awesome Childish Spirits, as well as, the rest of his books!

Ani

Optimisfits by Ben Courson // Book Review and Author Interview

READ TO THE END OF THIS POST IN ORDER TO SEE THE NEWEST UPDATE!

I had the great honor of interviewing a very inspiring author and speaker, Ben Courson, who just came out with his brand new book Optimisfits. I emensely enjoyed reading the book as well as reviewing it and interviewing Ben, so I hope this review and interview are inspirational to you as well–and convince you to read his book!


OPTIMISFITS: IGNITING A FIERCE REBELLION AGAINST HOPELESSNESS
Ben Courson

April 21, 2019


PUBLISHED BY: Harvest House Publishers (March 19, 2019)

ISBN-10: 0736975845

LENGTH: 205 pages

GENRE: Non-fiction

BUY ON: Amazon


Did you know that depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world today? It is a growing problem that is becoming rampant in our world. Ben Courson, founder of Hope Generation, addresses this issue in his newest book, Optimisfits: Igniting A Fierce Rebellion Against Hopelessness. Stop fitting in, comparing yourself to other people, and living in hopelessness; start standing out, being different, and living with “child-like wonder”. Ben Courson encourages the reader to go on friendventures with joy and enthusiasm. He helps lift the curtain of hopelessness or depression off the readers by explaining that we don’t always know why God does what He does, why He lets us go through the things we go through, and why we experience the tragedies we experience, but we do know that God does it all for a bigger purpose. We will one day understand God’s ways, but for now, our job is to just live every day as it were our last. With humor and passion, Ben Courson explains how to start a squad of optimistic misfits who rebel against society and live adventurously with joy and optimisim. A squad called the optimisfits. Join this squad and start living your life in optimism and wonder, ready for each and every new day that life brings your way, in Ben Courson’s Optimisfits.

I absolutely LOVED Optimisfits! It is now my favorite book! I preordered it several weeks before it came out, and I waited for what seemed like forever before I finally got it in my hands. I was so excited to read it and I read it pretty much immediately after I recieved it in the mail.

I thought it applyed so well to our generation today. No matter what age a person is, Optimisfits will aply to their life. Ben Courson wrote in my favorite style as a non fiction author. He shared his own real-life stories and he wrote with humor and conviction. His zeal for God is contagious and inspiring. His story is so amazing; he has experienced quite a bit of loss in his life, and yet he didn’t let it get him down. Instead, he uses it to inspire others. I was inspired and encouraged in Optimisfits as it seemed to be written just for me.

Optimisfits will encourage and inspire you like never before!


About Ben:

Ben Courson is the founder of Hope Generation, has a global TV and radio program, and is a gifted and nationally renowned speaker. His humorous, uplifting, and high-energy style couples with a gift to communicate God’s heart in an impactful way. His ultimate mission is to generate hope in God to build a generation of hope in others.

INTERVIEW:

I know you are a public speaker as well as an author–which do you prefer?

Oh gosh that’s such a good question! That’s such a good question! I feel like Chris Martin put it really well (the lead singer from Coldplay). Like, when he’s thinking of his love for his piano and his love for his guitar, they are like children. And you can’t love one more than the other. Because you’d feel unfaithful if you opted for one. For me, they’re two sides of the same coin. They’re different expressions of the same part and defiantly if I didn’t have both venues and avenues to express my vision and my passion and my message and what is really my ideology, ideals, and ideas, what would happen is I would feel I would have this blockage–like a traffic jam in my brain–and if I don’t get my thoughts out, there’d be a lot of accidents up in my head. So I think both of them are equally essential and important and self-expressioned. The simple answer is I like them both.

What would you say caused you to launch your TV and radio program?

Paul the Apostle used the highest technology of his day (the Persian mailing system, the Roman roads, the dictation of letters—these were all avenues of technology in Paul’s day) so for me I wanted to use the media because that’s sort of the public square-the marketplace-of our day to get a message out. I want to use the most cutting-edge technology. Jesus said the wise man pulls from treasures new and old. The wise teacher pulls from treasures new and old. And so I want to use kind of the older medium of cutting-edge technology. . Back in the previous generation which was tv and radio and also employing the newest means of technology which is social media so we try to really utilize both of those two to get a message out. And I honestly for ten years I had a flip phone—I didn’t even have social media because I was just focusing on doing the ten-thousand hour rule. And then when I finally realized that you can’t really get a message out in our day if you don’t have social media so like it’s kind of like trying to be a speaker while cutting out your vocal cords. It just doesn’t work that way. But I’m really grateful that I had fifteen years with no social media so that I could really focus on honing my craft. And I think we need to prioritize our ability and secondary is our opportunity but we need them both.

Do you think one of the social media platforms works the best?

TV is great because one of the networks on the Hillsong channel literally airs in prisons and palaces. Like one of my favorite things is when I hear a testimony of a guy in prison for example. And a lot of people hear about Hope generation because they’re channel surfing and so they’ll find it on TV. Radio is great because when people are driving on the freeway just seeing what’s on they’re dial and then we’ll pop up and crop up, drop by and stop out in the air waves and we can kind of infultrate their cars with out them even meaning to invite us specifically. I love Instagram because Instagram-what that does-it allows us to really post what’s happening in the moment. The daily you know kind of behind the scenes stuff along with our newest videos. We can kind of do the jab and the right hook going back and forth with stories and the walled feed and that’s really great for connecting with 18-25 year olds-that kind of age group specifically. Facebook is great for my parents’ generation; and with that generation is a lot of sharability. So if we have a video or a post or an article or a book that we really want to spread, we can share links very easily on Facebook. But mainly my favorite is youtube. That’s where we post all of our videos and we post a new video almost every other day-pretty close to that. One more thing about social media is social media is a good thing, but a good thing becomes a bad thing when you worship it as a lowercase God thing. So John opens one of his epistles by saying “Little children keep yourselves from idols…” And my friend levi, calls it an i-dolatry. You know, like an iphone, or an ipod or an ipad or an ishuffle—it’s i-dolatry. What happens is all technology is, is it is an expansion on already present human capacity. Like, for example, inventing a microphone did not invent vocal chords, it just made your voice louder. If you look at a car, it didn’t invent motion it just made you go faster. And so too social media did not invent connection, it just made us more inner-connected. But if you turn up the volume too loud on any technology, the very connection it was intended to create collapses on itself and you start to compare an not really connect. That’s when technology really collapses on itself—when you turn up the knob too loud.

I know you have a very busy schedule traveling and doing interviews, how do you find time to relax and decompress?

I’m actually trying to figure that out, Ani. That’s a very good probing, interlocketive, type of investitory journalism because I don’t know. Right now, I’m really trying to figure it out. Okay, so I’ll tell you my favorite thing to do. When I’m in Southern California-and I speak there a lot-I like to go to this place called Gwen Ivy. So, for example this past Saturday (April 6th), I was speaking in Orange County and before I spoke that night I woke up early, excercised, did my daily reading and then I drove from there to Gwen Ivy and, it’s a hot spring, like a huge outdoor spa. Like you can get a message or you can go in these mud caves or, you know, go in some salt saline pools and hot-cold pools that are really good for if you have allergies or things. It will contract your muscles to release toxins. So I went there for eight hours Saturday because I was so tired from traveling and I sandwiched it in between the rest of my stuff. And that was like very, very life-giving for me. So whenever I get a chance, I try to find a hot tub. If there’s a hot tub anywhere, that’s where I am—or a sauna. That’s where I really feel rejuvenated. Yeah, hot tubs and saunas are the B’s knees, in fact they’re the whole B. They’re just so good.

When you are not writing, speaking, or filming, what is your favorite thing to do?

Relaxing in a hot tub is my favorite thing to do to relax but my other favorite thing to do is I love to be around my friends. You know, the phrase introvert and extrovert to me is so binary; it’s a construct innovated by Carl Yumes who was a psycho analist. There’s no real objective reality to introvert and extrovert—its just an opinion. Like to me I’m a raging introvert and a raging extrovert. I think those two are too binary for my case so I like to say I’m a “Godvident Hopetrovert”. Yeah, if he can make up words, I can too!

What genres do you most enjoy reading?

I try to read very eclectic. So, I’ll do anything from—right now I’m reading a book by a catholic priest, the next book will be by my friend Greg Laurie, and then I’ll read fantasy, I’ll read sci fi, I’ll read apocolyptic, I’ll read meta physics. I’ll read a lot of science astro physics. Phsycology. I also like rebelit, like Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye—these kind of anti-establishment books. That kind of stuff. I also love reading poetry by like Homer, and Dontae, and Shakespere, and Tenison, and Whitman. So I read everything and I try to read as eclectic as possible.

I know some people think you should only read nonfiction—like fiction is just mush—what are your thoughts on that?

No, that’s hogwash. Fantasy and sci fi have actually changed my life. In fact, in Optimisfits I quote my favorite science fiction author, Matthew Stover. For example when he says, “Pain either has the power or break us or it is the power that makes you unbreakable. What it is depends on who you are.” And then in another book he says “It is not the power of darkness, that gives power to fear. It is fear that gives power to darkness.” I think he is one of the greatest living authors and those few quotes I was mentioning were actually from Star Wars books. I think people think “Oh, they’re space operas” and they kind of really put them down , but actually those are some of the great novels I think and the most underestimated of our time. Matthew Stover’s Traitor and Revenge of the Sith are truly amazing works of art that actually changed my life. Definitely the book Traitor changed my life. Studies show that when you read fantasy—or fiction—it actually increases your empathy because you’re able to get in another character’s skin.

Outside the Bible, what are your top three favorite books?

Star Wars “Traitor” and Star Wars “Revenge of the Sith” (I’ll put those two together since they are both Star Wars); “MockingJay”; and the third one—gosh—I don’t even know. I don’t know. What would I say is my third favorite book of all time? Probably, maybe–I’m going to think of something else later on that I like more–but probably “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

Are you reading any books right now?

I’m reading a book about the Enneania Gram” and then I’m reading “The Odyssey”—I’m listening to the audiobook–by Homer translated by a woman actually which is really interesting because that was a very mastagamistic time. A W Verall, a historical scholar, said “Greece died because of a low view of women”, so its kind of cool hearing it translated by a woman. I also just finished reading books like When Faith Fails, Girl Wash Your Face, and Falling Upward.

Do you think your reading influences your writing?

I know it does. In fact, the great writers always put reading first as their to-do list. Stephen King said “The great commandment is to read a lot, write a lot”. And he said you’re supposed to read and write 4-6 hours a day. And I did that for years and it absolutely impacted every way I communicate. Reading is just as important as writing in my opinion. If you’re writing and not reading, you’re like drawing from an empty well. I’m not saying it can’t be done , but the most interesting authors to me are the ones who are very well read. It’s very anomalous for there to be a good author who is not well-read. In fact, I don’t know of any (who are very adept writers that don’t read).


What author has influenced you the most?

I would say Suzanne Collins and Matthew Stover.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

First of all, writing in the morning is very important. Your prefarental quartex are most active immediately after you wake up, so that first thirty minutes following when you roll out of bed is the most important time for you prefarental quartex , which is the center for creative thinking, to be activated. So it’s very important to write in the morning—or read in the morning. But also, I wrote the entire book, Optimisfits, from my iPhone. I’ve never heard of anyone writing an entire book from their phone. I would just turn my phone on airplane mode and, yeah, I wrote it from my iPhone. And I’m really happy I did. It’s a book about rebellion, so I figured I should write in a rebellious fashion.

What exactly inspired you to write Optimisfits?

Well I noticed that depression and despair is really running rampant in our country. I mean, people commit suicide every 40 seconds around the world. And I wasn’t okay with our planet falling into hopelessness, so I decided to rebel against the culture of despair—against the system that is supressing us into being caugy in it’s gears so I wanted to write a book were we were enabled and ennobled, equipped and empowered to ignite a fierce rebellion against hopelessness. Also the adventures I had with my friends were so wild that I was like, I have to write this because it doesn’t even seem real but they are. Like these are real people. Usually these characters have to be made up, but I found out like these people actually exist.

What made you pick the title and main topic of Optimisfits?

I needed a title that represented both otimisim and rebelliousness at the same time, and my brother-in-law was like, “You should call it optimisfits”. And right then I thought, “This is it!”. Usually, publishing companies don’t like made-up words, because it’s not the best for marketing, but in this case they were like “No, this is too good—we got to use it!”

What research did you do? (Like I know you have a lot of interesting little facts in your book–where did you get them?)

Well, I’m very obsessed with work so I read and I listen to audios all the time. And it’s just that simple—listening to podcasts and listening to educational YouTubes and reading A LOT of books. And then listening to a lot of sermons.

What has been your most powerful encounter with God?

When I was seventeen years old, I was in San Diego, and I was looking out over the water, the night was on the edge of the coming day and it was running out of things to say to itself. And the Lord told me my destiny and really revealed to me what I was going to do with myself—and that’s what I’m doing now. Yeah, and that was my most powerful God-experience probably ever. As far as getting direction for my life.

How can we know when it is Jesus talking to us?

All I can say is “deep calls into deep” and it’s a mystery. That’s why the name for God has been used in so many ways—the source , and the universe, the prime mover, the principle behind which you cannot go the mystery, and for me it was that. He’s not heard in the whirlwind or in the fire or in the storm but in the still, small voice—that’s when it’s heard. Mother Theresa and Dan Rather were talking in an interview and Dan Rather asked, “When you talk to God, what does He say?” and she said, “He doesn’t say anything, He listens.” So he said, “Okay, well when God talks to you, what does He say?” And Mother Theresa said, “He doesn’t say anything, He listens.” Dan Rather looked confused and Mother Theresa said, “If you don’t understand it, I can’t explain it to you.” And that’s what deep calls into deep can be like.

In your book, you talk about how we are to be optimistic about being a misfit; what would you say are the two most important practical ways to live that out in our day to day life?

That’s a great question! The two most practical ways we can be Optimistic Misfits:
Number one: Going on adventures with God and with squad. Finding friends that are not going to beat you up because of your failure, but build you up in your most holy faith. Finding friends who don’t suck the life out of you like a drain but give you life like a fountain. I think the friendventures are super important.
And then also I think to live the Optimisfits life is to not heed what society and authority is often telling us we need to be. Like the system’s broken so when we’re told you have to spend 150 Gs on a college education you can get for $1.50 at the local library, to work forty hours a week for 40 years, retire on 40% of your income, get your 401K, your 2.5 kids, your white picket fence, a time share in Palm Springs, touring around in you golf cart, only to claim a spot in a cemetery in a few years—like if that’s the American dream, then no thanks. And I think a very practical way to be a misfit is to say, “I’m going to be anti-establishment and I’m going to live my own adventures.”

Was there a point in your life when you think you exhibited being an Optimisfit the most?

I think like this past two years when my friends started coming into my life and taught me theres no such thing as a moderate rebolutionary and they encouraged me to stop being vanilla. When I started speaking more truth to power, and really not caring so much about what people thought of me, and just realizing as one artist said, “ I’d rather be hated for who I am then loved for who I am not.” I think, yeah, this past year of like my messages, I gave a message called “The Tale of Two Systems” or on YouTube its called “Why I’m Not Religious”. I think that really was a big moment for me in being a misfit.

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

That they would realize that fun is fundamental and that you were called to be a non-conformist adventurer who lives with wild abandonment and in child-like wonder and un-apologetic optimism.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion? Your book?

In my opinion, you got to finish it. Fifty percent of high school graduates never read through another book for the rest of their life cover-to-cover. So I always say finish it.

After writing this book, do you feel that this is something we can expect more from you?

Yes. That was a softball question—I liked it!


I had a blast doing this inbterview (thank you so much, Ben!) and I hope y’all enjoyed reading it! Make sure to visit Ben’s website and check out his book, Optimisfits as well!

UPDATE:

This past week, I had the amazing oppurtunity to hear Ben Courson’s inspiring message of hope live (you can view that here) as well as meet him in person! It was so amazing to meet him and I was encuraged greatly by his message. I encourage all of you to read his book and listen to his message. And stay tuned because, I have an exciting giveaway coming up! (*hint*)

BOOK TOUR: “Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy” by Babara Casey // Book Review, Author Interview, & Giveaway

This is my very first book tour and I was so excited to participate! You can read the synopsis, my thoughts, author bio and interview, and then enter the giveaway at the end of the post! Special thanks to Barbara Casey for allowing me to feature her book and interview her!

Book details:

Title: Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy
Author: Barbara Casey
Publisher: Strategic Media Press (April 1, 2019)
Length: 171 pages
ISBN-10: 1939521742
Genre: True Crime/Historical/Biography
Buy On: Amazon

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own

Synopsis (from back of book):

Velvalee Dickinson was born in Sacramento, California, graduated from Stanford University, married three times, and then in the early 1930s moved to New York City where she eventually opened her own exclusive doll shop on the prestigious Madison Avenue. It was there that she built her reputation as an expert in rare, antique, and foreign dolls. She traveled extensively around the country lecturing and exhibiting her dolls while building a wealthy clientele that included Hollywood stars, members of high society, politicians, and other collectors.

When medical bills started to accumulate because of her husband’s poor health and business started to fail with the onset of World War II, she accepted the role as a spy for the Imperial Japanese Government. By hiding coded messages in her correspondence about dolls, she was able to pass on to her Japanese contacts critical military information about the US warships. After surveilling Velvalee for over a year, the FBI arrested her and charged her with espionage and violation of censorship laws. She became the first American woman to face the death penalty on charges of spying for a wartime enemy.

Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy is a carefully researched glimpse into the “Doll Woman’s” life as a collector of dolls, and as the highest paid American woman who spied for the Imperial Japanese Government during World War II.

My Thoughts:

I absolutely love reading historical books! However, I usually prefer reading historical fiction, since many of the historical non-fiction books I have read are not very well-written, and therefore very dry and boring. This was not the case with Velvalee Dickinson: The Doll Woman Spy.

My favorite historical time period to read about is World War II. I will read just about any book that has anything to do with WW II. Surprisingly though, I had never heard of the story of Velvalee Dickinson–in fact I did not even know she had existed–before reading this book, so it was neat to hear about a completely new story and person. Her story was so unbelievable that if it were not for the FBI-proved evidence, I would not have believed it.

I would say that this was on my list of most-readable history books, however, i did think a few parts were a little dry. Overall, though, I would say that it was very readable. I thought Velvalee’s story was unique enough that a movie could be made on her–and I would totally watch it.

I was disappointed on the ending of the book because I think that any person who betrays his/her country should be punished by death. Velvalee Dickinson was charged with espionage and given the death penalty, but somehow it all fell through and she just died peacefully at home of old age. I am not taking off any stars for the ending though because this is a non-fcision book so the author did not choose trhe ending. I believe that the author did an amazing job of writing about this extrordinary story, and I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys historical books and especially the topic of WW II.

Meet the Author:

Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2014 Barbara became a partner in Strategic Media Books Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in true crime and other cutting-edge adult nonfiction. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix, Fitz, a miniature dachshund, and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.

Connect with the author: website

Author Interview:

How did you discover the story of Velvalee Dickinson?

I was doing research for my book Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly when I discovered that a female American WWII spy was serving time at the same prison as Kathryn Kelly. The spy’s name was Velvalee Dickinson. I was intrigued so made a mental note to learn more about her once I finished my book about Kathryn Kelly.

Where did you get the research for your book?

The research on Velvalee was challenging. To begin with, there are no other books written about her. But at the time of her arrest and trial, newspapers around the world carried the story and I was able to access those. Also, I was given permission to access the FBI Vault files and go through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) for material. The amazing thing I learned through my research was that many people who lived through WWII still remember Velvalee, and I disovered interesting information through those connections.

How long did it take for you to write this book from start to finish?

I spent almost eight months gathering all of my research before I even started to write my book. Once I had the research, however, I knew how I wanted to organize my book so the actual writing and editing took about three months.

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

My last three nonfiction books have been about strong, intelligent women who have somehow lost their sense of what is right and wrong. They paid the price, but it was surprising to learn how easily they were able to justify their moral compass toward the negative. It could happen to anyone.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion? What about your book?

I write both novels and nonfiction. In each case I try to write a story that is entertaining, but also gives the reader something to think about. Velvalee does exactly that. She was a world-renowned doll collector, and that part of her life was fascinating. How she was able to use that to spy against the United States is remarkable.

Do you read a lot? If so, what genres do you most like to read?

I don’t have as much time as I would like to read for pleasure. When I do, I tend to read mysteries, especially those written by authors from Great Britain.

After writing this book, do you feel that this is something we can expect more from you?

Right now I am working on another novel for adults. Once I finish it, I want to turn back to nonfiction. I have already started looking into the background of a new subject. I am superstitious, so I don’t talk about my new projects until they are published, but I think this next nonfiction book will be another amazing story.

Book Tour Schedule:

May 27 – Working Mommy Journal – review / giveaway
May 28 – Readers Cozy Corner – review / giveaway
May 28 – My Devotional Thoughts – review / giveaway
May 29 – Library of Clean Reads – book spotlight / giveaway
May 30 – Literary Flits – review / giveaway
May 31 – #redhead.with.book – review / giveaway
June 3 – A Mama’s Corner of the World – review / giveaway
June 3 – Ani’s Books – review / author interview / giveaway
June 4 – Rockin’ Book Reviews – review / guest post / giveaway
June 4 – Books for Books – review
June 5 – Cheryl’s Book Nook – review / author interview / giveaway
June 6 – Readers’ Muse – review / guest post / giveaway
June 7 – Just Reviews – review

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