Casualties: A compelling and convincing read by debut novelist Elizabeth Marro

February 2, 2017

“His war is over. Hers has just begun.” ~ from the book jacket of Casualties, published by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

What others are saying:

“… this powerful first novel will leave the reader reflecting for days. – Library Journal 

“Marro’s perception of the hurt and guilt her characters carry is deftly portrayed… Marro provides a clear sense that, while the past can’t be undone, the future always offers a chance to make amends, and the human spirit can triumph over pain and find hope in family and forgiveness. Marro casts a ray of hope that a good life can be lived after terrible tragedy.” Kirkus Reviews

“Elizabeth Marro made me care about these two people so much that by the end of the novel I’d forgotten they were fictional characters and I was ready to call them up to see how they were doing and if they’d finally found their way toward peace and forgiveness.”—David Abrams, author of Fobbit.

To find out how to win either an E-book or signed hard copy, read on.

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen M. Rodgers: Welcome, Elizabeth. I must admit, as a military mother whose youngest son served in combat, I approached your novel with some trepidation. From the book’s description, I knew going in that Robbie, a Marine fresh home from the war, was going to break his mother’s heart. In breaking Ruth Nolan’s heart, he broke mine as well. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading. Without giving too much of the plot away, can you describe how the story first came to you?

Elizabeth:

I knew this story would be about a mother, her son and one of the scariest “what if” questions that keeps parents awake at night. I didn’t know until we moved to San Diego in 2002 that it would be about a mother whose son goes to war. My husband and I had been living and working in central New Jersey, an area dominated by the pharmaceutical industry and other corporations. We knew few people whose immediate family were in the military. My own family’s involvement in the military ended with my father’s generation. Now we were in a city that many think of as a sunny escape to paradise but is one of the largest military communities in the country. Here we saw the recruits come in, the families waving goodbye, the pews in church occupied by one less family member as troops were deployed. Then we began to read the names of the fallen in our local newspapers and see the photographs that went with them. Each of those names led to a family whose lives would never be the same. It became important to me to try to understand their journey.

KMR: The story alternates between three point-of-view characters. First we meet military mother Ruth Nolan, an affluent executive who works for a major defense contractor. Next comes Robbie, back on American soil after fighting in Iraq. After tragedy strikes, we meet Casey MacInerney, a wounded warrior and con artist with a heart of gold. All three characters are equally convincing in their roles. How did you get inside the heads and hearts of your main characters to create story people readers care about, enough to still worry over them days after finishing the book?

EM: It’s wonderful when characters stay with you, isn’t it? I think part of it is that I lived with these people for a very long time. I had conversations with them, asked them questions, and sent them down blind alleys a few times. After all that you find you have them or, more accurately, they have you. You hear them in your dreams. They start telling you what happens. Some opened up much more easily than the others. Casey, for example, came quickly and easily. Robbie was also accessible in a way that his mother, Ruth, was not for a long time. I think that to crack to code for each of them — particularly Ruth. Initially, I was a harsh judge of Ruth but writing isn’t about judging. It’s about understanding. When I wrote a number of scenes about Ruth’s childhood that never appear in the story, I recognized her vulnerabilities in a way I couldn’t before.

KMR: Casey’s character is so authentic, not only with his war injury but his need to find a loved one he’d abandoned years ago. By the end of the story, I felt complete empathy for him due to the physical and mental anguish he’d suffered. I wanted him to be happy. Did you interview wounded warriors who’d lost limbs?

EM: Casey emerged not from interviews but from piecing together elements of men I’d observed and imagined. His conflicts stem only partly from losing part of his leg in the first Gulf War. He is shaped as much by his upbringing, the losses he’d had over the course of his life, and his need for family which is complicated by his conviction that he doesn’t really deserve that kind of love. Having a feel for who he was before the injury helped me to understand how his injury and the events that followed could land him in the situation he was in when he met Ruth.

 KMR: Casey’s love of reading and his respect for books turns what could be a cliché down-on-his-luck-character into a well-rounded person. Why is reading so important to the development of a person regardless of his or her background?

EM: As a lifelong book addict, I’m very aware of how stories have opened the world to me. They challenge me, they help me to go places and meet people I’d never otherwise meet, they help see life a little more fully. Books are also a refuge, a place to go and live for a while and to come back with a fresh perspective. Knowing Casey the way I did, I knew he’d not want to sever every connection he had with who he’d been as a promising younger person.

KMR: Is your book an indictment against war?

EM: I’ve never thought of it that way for the simple reason that I’m focusing on people, not an agenda. There are very human universal issues at stake for the characters in this story and war is one of them. Human history seems to be inextricably bound with war and I venture to guess that most of us all over the world would like to see less of it. The consequences of going to war are tremendous and far-reaching. It is important for as many of us as possible to recognize and feel those consequences on our youth, families, and communities. It is important for those of us who do not serve to recognize what we are asking those who serve to do on our behalf. We need to do what we can to be sure we are going to war for the right reasons and make sure the needs of our veterans and military families are met. And we must consider the consequences suffered by the civilians living in war zones whose lives are affected for generations.

KMR: Ruth drives an expensive jaguar. It’s sleek and represents the trappings of her well-heeled life. But later, after days on the road, the jaguar begins to show signs of a long journey. Then near the end of the story, you gift the reader with an image of the hood ornament and the symbol becomes a metaphor for the possibilities awaiting both Casey and Ruth. During the writing of the novel, did you ever find yourself wanting to take a road trip and travel the exact route of your characters?

EM: Yes! In fact, I’ve driven portions of this trip but not the whole of it. I’d love to do the whole thing some day.

KMR: I finished the last pages of your novel with a tissue pressed to my nose. When Ruth turned onto Lost Nation Road, I found myself wanting to be alone as she pulled up in front of the house she grew up in. The ending was quite satisfying and I can imagine life continuing on in this fictional world you created. Will there be a sequel?

EM: There are no plans now for a sequel. We may catch glimpses of Ruth or Robbie or Casey and his daughter in future stories about other people.

KMR: What are you working on now?

EM: I’m working on my next novel, a few short stories and some essays. The novel, as it is currently evolving, is a complete departure from Casualties.

KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?

EM: I tried everything with Casualties. I wrote thousands of pages and threw out hundreds. One thing that seems to be true for me: nothing happens unless I understand my people first. I have the basic story for my next novel but before I plot it out extensively, I want to make sure of them. That way, they can help me fill in the parts I don’t know.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

EM: I start with messy scenes and fragments, see what I’ve got, then write a draft. Then another draft, Then another one. Lots of drafts, lots of revisions. About half way through my work on Casualties, I threw out about 600 pages and was left with the last scene and a few disconnected chapters. That was the moment that got me closest to the book that was finally published.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

EM: There is always a deadline in my mind. I have only so many years on this planet and I want to use them as well as I can. Writing is an important part of that. These days, I feel worse when I’m not writing than when I’m struggling. Self-doubt comes with the territory. There is no getting away from it. I try to treat it as I would an itch or a cold, something temporary to be endured. The best medicine for self-doubt are writing friends who can listen and urge you on. Give yourself permission to write really awful stuff on days when it isn’t coming. Chances are you’ll stumble on a line that gets you to where you want to go the next day. Writing is like anything we’ve done in life and there is a way to draw confidence from that. We weren’t born experts in anything we’ve had to learn to do. We’ve had to figure it out, do it, practice some more. I say try anything – meditation, walking, screaming but sit down and write what you can each day even with the self-doubt riding on your shoulder.

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” Are there other writers in your family? 

EM: I was pretty young when I had dreams of writing but I was sixty when my book was published. I credit two teachers with spurring me in the direction of actually putting pen to page. The first was my third grade teacher Sister Maureen James and the second was my English teacher in high school. I wrote a story that made Sister laugh and then, later, an essay that my English teacher praised. There is at least one other member of my extended family in the business. My cousin Megan Mulry has written a series of women’s fiction novels and erotica. There may be others. I’ll start asking around! I do come from a family of die-hard readers and nothing fosters the desire to write more than reading.

KMR: You mention your ten siblings in your acknowledgements. I come from a family of six kids; I’m the third one down. I jokingly tell people I became a writer to have a voice. What role, if any, did growing up in a large family play in your becoming a writer?

EM: I’m the oldest of five and, later, my mom married a man with six kids. While still at home was always escaping into my own world. I read, I made up stories that I told to myself. I was the kid who would nod at everything my mother said while hearing nothing over the sound of my own thoughts and imaginings. I was the one who would disappear into the bathroom with a book when it was my night to do the dishes because the dishes could wait but the story I was reading could not.

KMR: When did you take up walking and how does it affect your writing? Do you go for long strolls or do you power walk to get your heart rate up? Do you have a walking partner?

EM: I began to walk in a serious way a couple of years ago. Until then, it had been something I did with my dogs (a lovely way to walk), but not a way of actually getting anywhere or of seeing anything. I gave myself a goal in 2015 to walk 800 miles for the year. I never came close but I did develop a habit that has led to so many wonderful things for me and my writing. I stroll and walk fast. I look for hills but my favorite thing is to walk the cliffs near my home and see what is new that day. I enjoy walking with others but I walk most often alone and I enjoy that too. I don’t walk with earphones in my ears and I try to notice something new each time.

Special OFFER:

To celebrate the first anniversary of Casualties, Betsy is offering a free copy of her novel to my readers. Winners can choose between a signed hard copy or a free e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks. To enter, comment below before midnight on Monday, February 6. The drawing will be held on Tuesday, February 7.

BIO:

Elizabeth (Betsy) Marro is the author of Casualties, a novel about a single mother and defense executive who loses her son just when she thought he was home safe from his final deployment. Now she must face some difficult truths about her past, her choices, the war, and her son. A former journalist and recovering pharmaceutical executive, Betsy Marro’s work has appeared in such online and print publications as LiteraryMama.com, The San Diego Reader, and on her blog at elizabethmarro.com. Originally from the “North Country” region of New Hampshire, she now lives in San Diego where she is working on her next novel, short fiction, and essays.  Casualties, published in February 2016 by the Berkley imprint of Penguin Random House, is her first novel.

 

 

 

One Cup Bitter, a moving essay by Randal Jentzen

December 31, 2016

The author in Tehran, Iran, November 1976

Forty years ago I traveled a great distance and saw many things and places. The highlight is always the people we meet along the journey. In this case, we were asked to have a cup of tea with an Afghani storeowner. We sat on the rug in his shop while he prepared the brew. He served the piping hot tea and told us how to hold the sugar cube in our mouths and during each sip; the sweetness blended with the subtle flavors of the tea, resulting in a perfect and exquisite experience. When we finished, he asked if we wanted another. Then he sat with us and told us that in his family, they drink the second cup bitter, thus there was no need to use sugar.

I think he could tell from my expression that I did not understand. He said, we enjoyed our first cup and we enjoyed each other’s company. He said the second cup reminds us that life is not very sweet for so many people and we do this in honor of those less fortunate. I understood what he meant….I thought.

Four decades later, my plane arrived late in Philadelphia. We had faced inclement weather all day and were forced to divert to Harrisburg to refuel. I was six hours behind time. When I tried to hail a taxi, my driver was eager to assist me. He said I was his fourth call in fourteen hours. The weather caused more than my plane to divert. We had a thirty-minute ride to my destination. It was late, but I could tell the driver wanted to talk. Within minutes he talked about what life was like in his village and the villages of his region of Afghanistan. I sensed the longing in his tone. The life he knew was extinct…except in his mind and in his heart.

“When we were boys, just young teens, we walked to a neighboring village. It was not long before someone stopped us and asked where we were from. We told the stranger our village. The man invited us home and told us we could stay at his home and that he had extra carpets we could use. He invited us to dine with his family. It was not long before the neighbors heard about the strangers and they brought food to make sure there was enough. They invited us to be part of their lives and took us to prayers and to meet others within their community. We were not strangers nor could we buy a meal.”

I asked him if he still had family over there. He said, “Yes, but nothing is the same. I miss my home.”

He blessed me when we arrived at my destination and told me that my plane being late may not have been a bad thing. He left Afghanistan some time after the Russians invaded and worked as a driver in New York. He said he had a passenger late for his plane that he seemed anxious and seemed distraught when he arrived to the airport after the plane’s departure and had missed his flight. He said, “Do you know what flight he missed? He missed TWA Flight 800.”

I wished him a good night. I will likely never see this person again, though he left a lasting impression in my heart.

There are many things in this life to celebrate. The biggest is family and friends. The world is brimming with beauty and wonder, but there is a dark side of the picture. There are places like my driver described that now only exist only in memory and there is the hope of better times and for the strength to endure the hard knocks and challenges that lay in our path.

I just finished my second cup of coffee. I drank it black.

I wish everyone a wonderful and blessed New Year and hope for better times and for strength to endure the challenges, though seemingly unbearable.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  Numbers 6:24-26

Randal Jentzen, Trier Germany, November 2015

Author Bio:

Randal Jentzen is a native New Mexican, a full-time medical provider, and enjoys reading, cycling, and travel.

Baby Bailino: Long Island Author of the Year Dina Santorelli pens another thriller full of heart and soul

December 13, 2016

What others are saying about Baby Bailino, a follow-up to Baby Grand

“Dina Santorelli writes a terrific thriller. Baby Bailino will grip you to the end—and long after.”

—Andrew Gross, New York Times best-selling author of The One Man

“Dina Santorelli has done it again—delivering a taut thriller with believable, flesh and blood characters and a story that stays with you.”

—Anne Canadeo, best-selling author of the Black Sheep Mysteries

Book Summary:

It’s been two years since Jamie Carter escaped captivity and saved Charlotte Grand, the infant daughter of New York Governor Phillip Grand, becoming a national hero for foiling the kidnapping plot that incarcerated reputed mobster/entrepreneur Don Bailino—the man who abducted and raped her. As Governor Grand considers his candidacy for U.S. president, Bailino inexplicably escapes from prison, and soon Jamie’s fifteen-month-old daughter, Faith—Bailino’s biological child—disappears. Jamie sets off to find her and, in the process, finds an unlikely ally in Bailino, who is on the run not only from the FBI but from members of organized crime who have a score to settle. Can Jamie trust the man who once held her prisoner? Can she rely on her instincts? And can she again find the strength to save a child when, this time, that child is her own?

My thoughts on this well-crafted story:

Dina Santorelli’s Baby Bailino kept me in a quandary from the moment I started reading until the very end: at times I wasn’t sure who to root for. Just when I thought I had the characters figured out, along came another twist and turn in an action-packed thriller full of heart and soul. Sometimes the “bad guy” might turn out to be your favorite character. As I read the last lines in this incredible story, I smiled to myself with a deep sense of satisfaction at the way things turned out.

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen: Baby Bailino is a sequel to your debut novel, Baby Grand. Was writing the sequel easier or more difficult than the first book? How long did it take you to write both books?

DS: Although it took the same amount of time to write the first drafts of both books (about a year and a half), I found writing Baby Bailino easier in one sense and more challenging in another—easier in that I felt like I was really comfortable with the characters already and felt an immediate connection, like I was reuniting with family and friends, and more difficult in that I felt the pressures of sequelhood—not wanting to repeat too much for those who read the first book, but knowing that I needed to acclimate new readers to the story. I always was conscious of that fine line between telling too much and telling too little.

KMR: Can people read the sequel if they haven’t read Baby Grand? In other words, can Baby Bailino be read as a standalone book?

DS: Yes. I wrote the sequel so that it can stand alone. However, readers of the first book will certainly get a fuller and more satisfying read—they know the backstory of these characters and bring that knowledge to the new plot.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a sequel? How do you decide how much backstory to include in the second book?

DS: Oh, that’s the million-dollar question! I wish I knew.  I just try to include enough backstory so that new readers don’t feel completely lost. I find writing to be such a go-with-your-gut kind of endeavor. Whatever feels right, I try to do and hope for the best.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you write the first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

DS: Oh, I revise as I go. My modus operandi is to write a chapter or so at one sitting, and then at the next sitting look over what I did the session before, edit, and then go on to new material from there.

KMR: Early in the sequel, there are some fast-paced scenes that take place inside a prison. As a reader, I was pulled along with my heart in my throat. Without giving too much away, can you describe how you created this realistic setting? Did you visit a prison or talk to former inmates before you wrote this section?

DS: Actually, I made the entire thing up! For me, that’s the best part of being a fiction writer—just using my imagination. Because I’ve been a journalist for more than 25 years, I have always been tied to facts—getting descriptions right, getting attributions right. I feel so much freer as a novelist. I can do whatever I want!  That’s not to say that I don’t like to mix a little fact into my fiction. I think when novelists incorporate factual information it makes their works more believable. For instance, when I mention that Phillip Grand (fictional character) had a photo of Barack Obama (real person) on a table, that helps tie Phillip to a certain place and time that is real. I like doing that. But to write the prison scenes, I just tried to tap into that imagination and take the reader on a really interesting ride. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” How did you get your foot in the door at publications like CNN and Newsday?

DS: I’ve always felt like a storyteller. Feeling like an actual writer came later. When I was in my teens, my head was full of stories, but I didn’t think my writing was good enough to make those stories come alive. It took more than twenty years as a journalist—working on my writing every day, learning how to make observations every day, meeting new and interesting people every day—to hone my craft. By telling other people’s stories, I learned how to tell my own.

Getting my foot in the door at any publication or with any new client meant getting myself to a place where I had enough experience to show I could do the job. I wrote for many publications and outlets that paid terribly and had small readerships, but I didn’t care; I wanted the experience and the clips for my portfolio. (Turns out, I learned a hell of a lot, as well, working for these publications and made contacts that impacted my career greatly.) Getting my foot in the door also meant hoping that the person/publication I wanted to work with would take a chance on working with someone new. I always say to my students (I teach Continuing Ed. at Hofstra University), “All you need is one person to take a chance on you.” I was lucky enough to have had several.

KMR: Do you attend many writers’ conferences these days? If so, which ones?

DS: The conferences I go to are more about publishing—the business of writing—such as Digital Book World, which I’ll be attending in January.

KMR: What was it like growing up in Queens? As a child, did you and your family go into New York City very often? And did living so close to the city have an influence on your writing career?

DS: I loved growing up in Queens. I was lucky to live with two parents who loved me and a strong friend network. It was really one of those “city” upbringings that you see on television where packs of kids are outside playing handball or punchball or playing tag and Red Rover well into the night. That was us. We all felt like family, and when I see old friends on Facebook, they say the same thing. We loved and protected one another—kind of like the kids on the Netflix series, Stranger Things. That was us, riding bikes and having adventures.

My family and I went to New York City on occasion, but it wasn’t really until I was driving on my own that I would go into Manhattan—“the City,” as we called it—to see plays and shows. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is such an electricity to New York City that is palpable—I still feel it to this day when I go there. It never gets old.

And, oh, yes, living there did have an influence on me! Not only did commuting to Manhattan for work foster my love of reading—I read thrillers by John Grisham, James Patterson, and Michael Crichton on the buses and subway every day—but it is just rich with people and activity. There’s a novel lurking on every corner.

KMR: You and your husband have three kids. How do you juggle family time with your professional duties as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter, nonfiction author, and Executive Editor of Family and Salute Magazines (distributed at military installations around the country). Do you designate certain days of the week for your editing job and other days for your freelance work? And how do you squeeze in ghostwriting other people’s books on top of writing fiction? I feel like a slacker next to you.

DS: I have no idea how I do it.  I do believe, though, that you can find time for anything you want to do, if you really try. I’m a firm believer in: If there’s a will, there’s a way. To write Baby Grand, the kids were younger and demanded more of my time, so I used to set my alarm for 4 a.m. to write. I’d write for an hour or two, crawl back to bed, and then get up with them for school. It’s all about time management. I’ll designate a morning to working on a nonfiction project and an afternoon to working on a freelance article and then an evening to going out to dinner with my friends. A spiral notebook on my desk is my best friend—I write down all the things I want to get done in a day and then try to do them (my kids make fun of me for not having acclimated to Google Calendar). I may not always get to everything, but I try. Of course, as my children have gotten older, juggling has gotten a whole lot easier—at least until we got our shih tzu.

KMR: Please describe the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. In your opinion, is one more difficult to write than the other?

DS: To be honest, I’m not sure which is easier or more difficult. Both present interesting challenges. I find fiction to be an all-encompassing kind of writing. When I’m in the throes of writing a novel, I become consumed. The characters follow me around while I’m running errands, trying to sleep, taking a shower. My brain is always trying to piece together threads of plot and dialog. It can be exhausting. It’s like I am in a constant pursuit of authenticity. For nonfiction, it’s less consuming, but just as demanding. Here, too, I strive for authenticity. In a freelance article, my concern is presenting the authenticity of whomever I’m writing about. As a ghostwriter/collaborator, I strive to bring to life the authenticity of the author of the book: Am I capturing his/her voice? Am I conveying what he/she wants to say? Did I nail the lingo? Writing fiction and nonfiction, for me, is all about finding truth, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

KMR: In a television interview you gave a few years ago, you talked about how most writers deal with self-doubt. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

DS: Ah, the dreaded self-doubt! One of my professors used to call it the “shit bird” that sits on your shoulder and constantly tells you you’re no good. Not fun. How I push through really depends on the day. Some days, I’ll just step away from the computer—I’ll take a walk or take a shower or spend time with my kids. Usually, I’ll do this when I’m feeling particularly frazzled. Other days, I’ll just sit there and push. I usually strive for 1,000 words a day when I’m writing, so I’ll just write and write until I get there, even if I think what I’m writing is awful. I have this saying: Bad writing is better than no writing. Even if I’ve written 500 words of blah, I can usually find one or two gems in there that would not have gotten written if I didn’t push.

KMR: You’ve interviewed several celebrities over the years, both in person and over the telephone. Can you give us a peek into this process? For the most part, are they friendly and accommodating or have you ever dealt with any rascals (male or female)?

DS: Most people are friendly. Usually, they are promoting films or television shows, so I expect them to be, although there have been a few “rascals,” as you describe them. (Being from New York, I would have used another word.) Some of my favorite interviews have been with James Gandolfini (telephone), Paul Reiser (in person), and Norman Reedus (telephone).

KMR: After all these years, is it still thrilling to see your byline on a story for a national publication and on the cover of your books?

DS: Yes! But, to be honest, what’s even more thrilling is when people stop me to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, especially my novels. It’s one thing to write, but it’s another to connect, and I feel honored that so many readers have taken my characters into their hearts.

KMR: What are you working on now in terms of fiction?

DS: I am currently writing the third book, titled Baby Carter, in the Baby Grand thriller trilogy. I’m planning to publish it in the summer of 2018.

KMR: In closing, is there anything else you want to share about your career?

DS: Yes, not so much about my career, but I’d like to say this to all aspiring writers: Never give up. The road can be dark (and not because you’re nutty and write in the middle of the night like I do) and sometimes you’ll wonder if it’s worth it. It is. Tell your story. Stay tough, and keep on keepin’ on. Sometimes you are the only one who can see a dream, but, really, you is all you need.

BIO:

Voted one of the best Long Island authors for two consecutive years, Dina Santorelli is the author of the award-winning debut novel, Baby Grand—a Runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition and an Honorable Mention, Genre Fiction, in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. She has been a freelance writer for nearly 20 years and has written frequently about travel, entertainment, lifestyle, bridal, and pop culture. Dina currently serves as the executive editor of Salute and Family magazines for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including Norman Reedus, Vince Vaughn, James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Angela Bassett, and Kevin Bacon, among others. She has collaborated on a variety of nonfiction book projects, including Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons (St. Martin’s Press, May 2016), I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator (St. Martin’s Press, February 2016), Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, The Brown Betty Cookbook, and Bully, and her book Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid has been published in several languages. Dina also lectures for Hofstra University’s Continuing Education Department and is a SELF-e Ambassador for the Library Journal. For more information about Dina, visit her website at http://dinasantorelli.com

For another great interview, check out Dina’s Q&A with author and journalist Deborah Kalb.

http://deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com/2016/09/q-with-dina-santorelli.html

Winner!

Dina Santorelli: 2nd Place, Best Long Island Author, 2013 & 2014 (Long Island Press)

Dina Santorelli: 1st Place, Best Nassau County Author, 2013 & 2014 (The Happening List)

Baby Grand: Honorable Mention, Genre Fiction, 2013 (Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards)

Baby Grand: Top-rated Mystery/Thriller (Amazon Kindle)

Baby Grand: Best-selling organized crime thriller (Amazon Kindle)

 

Baby Grand is available for purchase on Amazon: https://t.co/YCFnttLfy7

Baby Bailino is available for purchase on Amazon: https://goo.gl/JZd5qO

 

Join Dina’s mailing list! http://tinyurl.com/dinasmailinglist

Twitter: http://twitter.com/DinaSantorelli

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dinasantorelliwriter

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dinasantorelli

Blog: http://makingbabygrand.com

Firebrand: A Novel rife with tension on every page

October 28, 2016cover-image-med

“In the summer of 1860, when slavery ruled the heart of America, two young abolitionists discover how dangerous it can be to believe in freedom for all.” From the book jacket of Firebrand by Texas author Sarah MacTavish (Dove Hollow Books).

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen: Welcome, Sarah. Your story is so well crafted. The writing is tight, and from the opening sentence until the closing scene, you pull the reader along at a breathless pace. How did you breathe life into this emotionally charged story where your characters rise up off the page fully formed? I’m in awe of your talent.

Sarah: Wow, first of all, thank you! Well the first thing that comes to mind is just time–I started writing this book when I was a teen, so I’ve spent so many years with these characters, and I got to know them pretty well. But I think I just focused on knowing their hearts–who they were at their core. And at risk of sounding cliché, after I gave them a historical framework, I just let them drive the story. After many many revisions, they finally took on lives of their own with their own distinct voices.

KMR: The story alternates between two teenage narrators, Saoirse Callahan in North Texas (longing for a lost brother and her native Ireland) and Westleigh Kavanagh in Pennsylvania (longing for the truth about his parentage). How did these two characters come to you? Did they appear as voices in your head demanding to be heard? Did they first show up together or separate?

SM: Westleigh was definitely first. He came from a very old draft that bears little resemblance to Firebrand now, and I don’t remember much of how he first came to me. But even as the story changed over the years, his quiet voice stayed pretty constant. Saoirse sort of barged in–as is her way–many years later, after I discovered that there were women in history who disguised themselves and fought in the Civil War. I knew I had to tell that story. So then the original book I started became a series, and Firebrand became the background for why these characters will go on to fight in the war to come.

KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?

SM: I did a little of both. The characters really shaped the story early on, but after a while I had to give myself an outline to keep track of the alternating POVs, and the historical timeline, etc. Plus it helped give the story focus. So I did a one-page overall outline with one sentence chapter summaries, then I would do chapter-by-chapter outlines that could be 2-3 pages of notes, character dialogue snippets, historical background, etc.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

SM: I did some revision as I went. I had an amazing critique group that met weekly, and they helped push me along by getting a chapter to them every week. And their feedback definitely helped me shape the story as I went. Later I got an editor who helped me to revise it even further.

KMR: About midway through the story, there’s a scene that grips the reader by the throat. I found myself stopping to catch my breath in places. Although you wrote about an extremely cruel act of violence, you handled it with class and didn’t push the reader over the edge. Without giving too much away, can you describe how you created this vivid scene where so much is at stake for Saoirse, her beloved cousin, Jack, and Abigail, Jack’s secret sweetheart?

SM: Oh, that scene. I absolutely hated writing it–I still cringe every time I think about it, sometimes I wish I had not written it at all, but I didn’t want to sugarcoat just how awful slavery was. And it was a way to stress how helpless these characters were, and how much power men like Reeves (the antagonist) had. It’s really a character-testing point for everyone involved–even Saoirse’s father, Brian. I think we all, when we look back at history, like to think we’d act or do things a certain way, that we’d stand up for injustice and be heroic, but it’s not always that simple, or easy, and this is the point where idealistic Saoirse begins to understand that.

KMR: There’s a lot going on in the story between Saoirse and her family in Texas and Westleigh and his Da, David, in Pennsylvania. How did you keep track of your fictional family tree?

SM: I had a literal family tree! I kept notes with names, dates of birth, places, family timelines, even a little chart with how old everyone was in certain years (because math is definitely my weakness). I referred to those notes quite often! I’m probably going to include some of this information in the second book, too, for readers’ reference.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

SM: Find a critique group. Make sure it’s full of encouraging, challenging writers who will push you to finish, cheer you on, and help you improve along the way. I never would have finished without mine, especially since I did not have a deadline. My group made me brave enough to believe I could do it!

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” And how do you handle the naysayers who tell writers, “You’ll never make a living at it?”

SM: I was probably a teenager–13 or 14, but even younger than that I knew I wanted to be one. I’ve never really had to worry about naysayers per se, I’m usually my own worst enemy when it comes to discouragement. I have had an incredibly supportive family, and as a teen I had a few powerfully encouraging teachers. They probably called me a writer before I called myself one. So it’s their words I usually try to remember whenever I’m feeling like a fraud. And I try to remember that this is my passion, this is who I am, and even when I’m feeling discouraged, I couldn’t imagine being or doing anything else.

KMR: Please tell us about the writers’ conference you hosted in Roanoke, TX two years in a row.

SM: Well, I’m also a librarian, and for years at work I’ve had this idea to put together a sort of local mini-conference for aspiring writers in our area to come and network, learn, and get fired up with their own writing… and to give them this for as little cost to them as possible. Writers conferences can be so pricey. So our library finally made this happen in 2015, and it was successful enough that we expanded this year, and hopefully will continue to expand each year. We bring in a keynote speaker and other local authors and offer classes, workshops, one-on-one critique sessions, and plenty of chances for networking. We’re also trying to offer more writing related programs like small workshops throughout the year, contests, NaNoWriMo events, grow our local critique groups, and really just make our library a hub for writers.

KMR: You end the book on a bit of a cliffhanger with “to be continued…” I saw on Instagram where you recently visited Andersonville Prison, a former Confederate prison camp located in southwest Georgia. You mentioned that you were on a research trip for the sequel to Firebrand. Can you tell us the name of the sequel and hint at things to come?

SM: Shh, spoilers! Kidding. Well, Firebrand is the first book of four, and I’m currently working on book two, which will pick up right before the Civil War starts. I haven’t released the title yet but I’d love to do that for you–Book Two will be called Paladin. Concerning my trip to Georgia, my research in Andersonville will probably be making its way into Book 4, but that’s all I can hint at right now! I can say that the next three books (including Paladin) will be following some of the main characters–Saoirse especially–as they fight in the Union Army.

KMR: In closing, is there anything else you’d like share?

SM: Just want to point out my short stories on my website–if you want to read a little more, I have three “prologues” for Firebrand available for free online, and I plan on writing three short stories for in between each of the rest of the books. So check out the ones I have now, and stay tuned for more to come before Paladin releases next year! *fingers crossed*

author-photo-mediumBIO: Sarah MacTavish is a small-town Texan with Yankee roots and a heart that belongs to Ireland. In addition to being a writer she is also a teen librarian, incurable Star Wars nerd, and proud Hufflepuff. When she isn’t writing, she’s either gaming, watching British television, or chasing down “just one more hint” on her family tree. Sarah is a member of the Historical Novel Society, and finalist in Novel Rocket’s 2014 Launch Pad Contest in the Historical Fiction category. Firebrand is her first novel.

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The President & Me: George Washington and the Magic Hat by Deborah Kalb

September 24, 2016gw-and-the-magic-hat-by-deborah-kalb

 “Adventure, history, and the drama of school life intertwine in this engrossing tale of a fifth-grade boy struggling to find his place after his best friend abandons him. Find out what happens when Sam’s class takes a trip to Mount Vernon, where he accidentally buys a bossy three-cornered hat that sweeps him off to the eighteenth century and a warm friendship with George and Martha Washington.” Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 

Q&A with the author

Kathleen: I admire how you weave historical facts into the narrative that features Sam, a modern day fifth-grader from Bethesda, Maryland, as he travels back in time to meet George Washington at various stages of his life. How did you come up with the concept for this story that is targeted toward middle grade readers but is clearly enthralling for adult readers as well?

Deborah: Thanks so much, Kathleen! I thought it would be fun to look at various presidents—starting from the beginning, with George Washington–in a way that combines history and fiction. This is the first in what I’m hoping will be a series, called The President and Me, featuring modern-day kids who end up taking amazing time-travel journeys to the past, while also dealing with their 21st century problems. For example, Sam is no longer on speaking terms with his lifelong best friend, Andrew, which is clearly very painful for him. So the story goes on parallel tracks, I guess, with the time travel interspersed with the modern-day interludes. I’ve heard positive reactions from both kids and adults who have read the book, which makes me very happy! 

KMR: As a middle-age woman and reader, I found myself totally caught up in the story. How did you get into Sam’s head to create such a believable character?

Deborah Kalb with longtime friend and illustrator Robert Lundsford
Deborah Kalb with longtime friend and illustrator Robert Lunsford

DK: I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the book! To answer your question, it probably helps that I have an 11-year-old son! (The book’s wonderful illustrator, Rob Lunsford, based the pictures on my son—although my character Sam is not based on one person in particular.) Being around kids that age is certainly a plus. But part of it also probably comes from having been a voracious reader my entire life, and remembering so many wonderful books I read when I was younger.

KMR: The magic hat is an important “character” in the story. When I think of the hat, I visualize a wise but slightly grumpy old man leading Sam on a journey. Did you know from the beginning that you would use personification to make the hat come alive?

DK: Yes, I figured it would be fun to have a somewhat curmudgeonly talking hat as one of the main characters. I think some of my inspiration came from magical creatures in various books, particularly the Half Magic books by Edward Eager (some of my favorites!), which often included grouchy magical beings of various kinds.

KMR: The story held my interest from the opening line to the clever ending. How long did it take you to finish the book, say from the earliest concept to publication?

DK: I’d say overall it took a few years from beginning to end. Lately I tend to think about book projects for a while before actually starting to write them. While this is not my first book, it’s my first children’s book—and my first published fiction book! I have various unpublished mystery novels hidden away in my closet. Maybe I’ll go back to them at some point! 

KMR: I admire how you introduced an important moral question in the story when young Sam asked his teacher, Ms. Martin, “How could George and the founders of this country have had slaves, anyway, when they were writing things like the Declaration of Independence?” Have you heard from any of your readers about this? And if you the author could travel back in time, what would you say to George Washington about slavery?

 DK: Thank you for asking that. I’ve heard from readers that they really appreciate my including the issue of slavery in the book. Honestly, it never occurred to me not to include it. It’s such an important topic, and it’s one that I think about all the time. I would certainly want to ask George Washington—and other early presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison–that very question.

 KMR: What were you like in the fifth grade? Did you daydream much or were you super studious? Have you always been interested in history and politics and what was your favorite subject in school?

 DK: I spent a lot of time in fifth grade reading, playing kickball, and attempting to do gymnastics. I guess I would say that I daydreamed AND was studious, although I’m sure the two conflicted at times! I have always liked history. My favorite subjects when I was in school were English, history, and languages, and I majored in history in college. So it goes way back!

 KMR: You are an accomplished journalist and author. Did growing up with a famous father, renowned journalist Marvin Kalb, have an influence on your career choice? As a kid, what was it like watching your father and your uncle, Bernard Kalb, on national television?

Author Deborah Kalb with her mother, Madeleine, and her father, renowned journalist and author Marvin Kalb.
Deborah with her mother, Madeleine, and her father, renowned journalist and author Marvin Kalb, at Deborah’s book signing at Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse, Washington, DC. Photo by family friend Nancy Edson.

DK: Oh, definitely! My father and my uncle have always been role models for me, both personally and professionally, and it was an incredible experience to work on the book Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama with my father. As a child, it was oddly natural for me to see my father on the CBS Evening News and wave goodnight to his picture on the TV. As I recall, the two shows I was allowed to watch back then were the CBS Evening News and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood!

 KMR: Your book is dedicated to both of your parents. Can you tell us a little bit about your mother, Madeleine?

 DK: Yes, she’s also a writer, so I got that gene from both sides! She is an incredibly meticulous editor, and clearly another one of my role models as a person and as a writer.

 KMR: I admire your generosity in supporting countless authors through your blog, Book Q&A with Deborah Kalb.

How do you juggle your writing, reading, and author interviews while also raising a young son?

Deborah with son, Aaron, hanging out with George at Nats Park book signing for George Washington and the Magic Hat.
Deborah with son, Aaron, hanging out with George at Nats Park book signing for George Washington and the Magic Hat

DK: It’s a challenge to balance everything, but I’m really enjoying it! I often find that I get so caught up in reading other people’s books and interviewing authors that I forget to write anything of my own. I need to set some deadlines, I think! And my husband and son are very understanding and supportive about all my hours at the computer. I want to thank you, as well, for your own generosity in getting the word out about your fellow writers!

 KMR: What was it like to have a book signing at Nationals Park, the ballpark where the Washington Nationals play baseball, especially since a key scene in the book takes place there?

George the mascot reading about himself in Deborah's book.
George the mascot reading about himself in Deborah’s book.

DK: So much fun, especially when George the Racing President, one of the Nationals’ mascots and a character in the book, showed up in the store and spent half an hour reading the book and holding it up for everyone to see!

 

KMR: What are you working on now?

DK: Book 2 in the series, which features Sam’s neighbors, Ava and J.P., who travel back in time to meet John and Abigail Adams. The tentative title is The President and Me: The John Adams Bobblehead.

 About the author:

 Deborah Kalb has worked as a journalist and freelance writer in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades. She has focused on covering Congress and politics as a writer and editor for various news organizations including Gannett News Service, Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.  She is the co-author (with her father, acclaimed journalist Marvin Kalb) of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to ObamaDeborah also has a blog, deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com, where she interviews authors about their books. 

A graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in history, Deborah received a master’s degree in American Studies from Yale University.  With this book for young readers (with crossover into the adult market), she is drawing on her knowledge of presidential history and taking it in a different direction.

***

Deborah Kalb interviewed Kathleen M. Rodgers about her novel, Johnnie Come Lately, on 2/2/2015 

 

 

Ladies of the Canyons: a book to savor about women with gumption

September 17, 2016

Published by University of Arizona Press
Published by The University of Arizona Press

Winner of 2016 WILLA Award and
Winner of 2015 Reading the West Nonfiction Award

“Both enjoyable and edifying.”—Library Journal

“Ladies of the Canyons shows the way in which O’Keeffe and others were just the latest in a tradition of audacious women who carved a well-traveled path of freedom and challenge.”—Bookslut

My thoughts on this exceptional book:

Long before artist Georgia O’Keefe and patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan fell in love with New Mexico, other gutsy women from privileged families back east set out to explore “The Land of Enchantment” and claim it as their own. But their names were lost to history until recently.

Just as Natalie Curtis Burlin left the comfort of privilege in New York City to capture the songs of the Hopi, author Lesley Poling-Kempes left the comfort of sitting on her literary laurels to dive into the past and recreate the lives of some remarkable women who blazed new trails in the American Southwest. As I savored this engrossing and educational tale, it was almost like the author had gone back in time and accompanied her subjects as they bounced along in lumbering touring cars or trotted on horseback under the blazing sun, taking notes that would become The Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest.

Even now, a year after the release of this amazing book, I like to envision the author seated at a place of honor in a tiny casita a few blocks off the plaza in old Santa Fe. “The Ladies” are all gathered around Lesley when Natalie Curtis Burlin bustles in and offers her special guest a nice cup of tea. And with piano music drifting in through an open window, Carol Bishop Stanley (founder of Ghost Ranch), stands up and declares, “Dear Lesley, we knew you would come. It was just a matter of time.”

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen: After reading Ladies of the Canyons, I am in awe of how you gathered your material buried in archives and private collections and assembled it into an intriguing story. Can you describe your process? How do you puzzle together bits and pieces of the past into a narrative that feels alive?

Lesley: For Ladies of the Canyons I knew I had to begin by finding and making sense of the stories/biographies of the four main characters, Carol Stanley, Natalie Curtis, Alice Klauber, and Mary Wheelwright. Because they lived a century ago, it meant visiting in person many of the places they lived, and also locating the physical archives that held what scant scraps they left behind in diaries, letters, journals, paintings, and music. I kept notebooks about each of the women and also a massive timeline that showed where and how they intersected with major events of their time and also with each other. It took about two years to gather the material together, and another two years to write their stories into one narrative. The ladies came alive for me about halfway into the research as my connection to their lives strengthened and I began to get a real sense of who they were as people. They began to feel alive in my life and time.

KMR: How long did it take you to write the book, and were you ever overwhelmed as you sifted through historical documents?

LPK: About four years. I was overwhelmed daily, truly, every day, by the size of the task and the amount of material involved. I never let myself look too far ahead. I just kept to the page before me. I likened it to laying track over a very long and often forbidding distance.

KMR: I’m a huge fan of your novels Bone Horses and Canyon of Remembering. As both an historian and a novelist, can you describe the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction?

LPK: The freedom I feel when writing fiction cannot be overstated. I do research for my novels, but not to the extent I do for nonfiction. And living in ‘fictionland’ for months at a time is liberating and often just good fun. It is hard work, as all novelists know, but without the sense of intense responsibility that goes with writing history and biography where getting the facts right, and documenting sources and etc., is fundamental to the success of the book. The contrast – working on a novel for a few years after working on a book of nonfiction – is satisfying and therapeutic.

KMR: When you first started researching your nonfiction subjects for Ladies of the Canyons, did you have any idea that the story would take you (and the reader) from New York and Boston to the desert Southwest and all the way to Paris?

LPK: I did. I had glimpsed the stories of the ladies while writing the book Ghost Ranch and knew Natalie’s and Alice’s stories would involve Europe, New York, and San Diego, and Carol’s and Mary’s stories would involve Boston and environs. Still, I had to give myself a crash course in the birth of Modern Art in Europe and the US, and also read up on everything Victorian, especially as that era affected women.

KMR: Art plays a big role in this book. You come across as someone very comfortable at writing about art, music, important historical events, and even former presidents. Does this come naturally to you or is it a skill you’ve acquired over your career.

LPK: It comes naturally because I’m curious about art and music and the intersection of historic events with common and uncommon folks. I live in Abiquiu within the cultural landscape that extends to Santa Fe and Taos. Many remarkable and creative people (O’Keeffe tops the list of local lights) have come to work and live here over the last century. And the making and celebration of art has been part of daily life since prehistory and the culture of the Pueblo people.

I have always admired the life of TR Roosevelt and being able to include him in the story of Ladies of the Canyons was a wonderful gift. I read most of Roosevelt’s writings about his time in the American Southwest, and studied his opinions and the evolution of his policies and thoughts about and toward Native America so that I could place his time with Natalie and Alice in the desert Southwest into historic perspective. Natalie Curtis and Roosevelt’s relationship was fascinating to piece together. And theirs is a great story, too, one that had never been told. Finding the archival photographs and rare film footage of Curtis and Roosevelt together in Hopi land in 1913 was among the most affirming and satisfying moments of my writing career.

KMR: What are you working on now? Last time we chatted, you mentioned that you were eager to get back to work on the sequel to Bone Horses. I’m looking forward to reading your next novel.

LPK: Yes, I am writing the sequel to my novel Bone Horses. Ten years have passed in the town of Agua Dulce and there are some familiar characters and also several who will be new to readers. I love being immersed in this fictional place in northern New Mexico. It’s challenging – I find the first draft of any sort of book, fiction or nonfiction, extremely difficult. But writing, completing, and publishing 6 books have given me one gift: faith in my ability to get through a messy, awkward, crappy first draft. I know how to rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) my first drafts into something coherent and hopefully beautiful.

I recently completed my first historic novel, Gallup. Set in World War 2 New Mexico, this novel is based on the screenplay written by Robert N. Singer with whom I share co-writer credit on both the novel and the screenplay. I’ll keep you updated on the development of the film and the publication of the novel, both of which I hope will happen in a few years.

Photo credit Joyce Davidson
Photo by Joyce Davidson

BIO:

Lesley Poling-Kempes is the award winning author of fiction and nonfiction books about the American Southwest, including “Bone Horses” winner of the 2014 WILLA Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Tony Hillerman Award; “The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West,” winner of the Zia Award and recently optioned for a US-UK television series; “Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu,” and “Ghost Ranch.” Her first novel “Canyon of Remembering” was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist.

“Ladies of the Canyon: A League of Extraordinary Women & Their Adventures in the American Southwest” was released in 2015 and won the Reading the West Award for nonfiction, the WILLA Literary Award, the Silver Medal for US History from the Independent Publishers Association, and is a WWW Spur Award finalist.

She lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Ladies of the Canyons Exhibit Opening at Ghost Ranch

October 22, 2016 3:00 pm-5:00 pm

 

Civil War author J. Keith Jones discusses his latest book, Echoes From Gettysburg

September 4, 2016

Amazon Hot New Releases in Civil War Gettysburg History!EchoesGettysburgSC_Front_lowerres

Book summary:

South Carolina contributed two brigades of infantry, two regiments of cavalry and several artillery batteries to the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Their veterans related accounts of heroism and fear, triumph and loss for the remainder of their lives. These are their stories.

Kathleen: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?”

Keith: Ha! I’m not sure I’ve proclaimed it yet. Seriously, I suppose mentally it would have been somewhere in my early thirties. Of course it can be tough keeping yourself convinced during all the starts and stops you encounter in the early stages until your first big break. Then you realize that this supposed break is just the camel’s nose under the tent. That is followed by years where you sometimes believe that this is all of the camel you will ever manage to infiltrate into the vaunted big tent. I am far from having “arrived,” but there does come a day when things start falling into place and you have the feeling that there are serious people who know who you are and take you seriously. So who knows, maybe my camel might find his way into the tent after all.

KMR: Please describe your journey as an author and your road to publication. Take us from those early days of your first efforts to “award-winning author.”

JKJ: Great question. I have a page on my website, called “My Journey” in which I make the statement, “I dreamed about writing even before I realized that was my dream.” I have wondered where this desire actually comes from, and I think that it relates back to my childhood as an introverted farm boy who spent hours playing alone. To entertain myself, I would spend long periods playing alone in the yard, the cotton fields or the woods. To pass the time, I would make up stories to tell myself. This evolved into writing the stories down. Writing is a wonderful form of expression because it is about the only one where you can take the time to shape it into exactly what you are trying to say and don’t have to get it right the first time, but more than anything, it is about the only way to say these things without interruption.

KMR: What fascinates you about the Civil War and how do you approach your research?

JKJ: It is hard to put my finger on exactly why I have this fascination. I have always had a strong interest in genealogy, and it’s interesting the historically significant things that one runs across while researching that. In school you get the quick over with the basic facts, dates, people and places. In my day you got between one and two weeks for this. Now I understand high schoolers get less than two days. So, kids today spend less than 90 minutes of class time studying one of the most devastating and profound periods of our history. That said, even in my student days, it was not really enough to make it interesting, so I dug deeper on my own and that is when the more personal stories began to emerge.

When you can connect these events to real people and you can begin to understand the relationships they had with one another and the ties they had to the places they lived and the ties they formed with the places they fought, that is when it all begins to come alive. That is when you begin to understand that these were real people who lived real lives, experienced real joy, suffered real pain and grappled with real fear. In most cases, depending on whether they survived the war, they lived anywhere from eighteen to eighty years, but what happened during those four years defined their whole lives. Reading the stories told by the common soldier about his family back home, about the men he served with and those times he had to push down his fear and go forward, because that is what was expected of him, makes me all the more aware that these were real people just like me. They had mothers, wives and sisters back home who worried about them and in all too many cases grieved over them. Past wars are so often both glorified and trivialized to the point that we forget the humanity of those who did their duty and suffered the consequences.

KMR: How did you find your subjects for Echoes From Gettysburg?

JKJ: Good old-fashioned leg work. Various online newspaper archives and archives of public domain books – memoirs mainly. There are hardbound copies of the old Confederate Veteran Magazine in libraries. This was the official magazine of the United Confederate Veterans.

KMR: What do you want the reader to take away from reading this story?

JKJ: Good question. I guess mainly that these were real people with real lives. Had it not been for the upheaval of war, they would have been tending their farms, minding their stores or working at their law practices. There are any number of things these men would have rather been doing and they frequently said so in their letters and diaries. Every life is a story. History class teaches us about dates, places and names. These things are the metadata of life, but they are not really what we live. People live relationships and interactions. These are the things that make up the stories that are our lives. No one lives life alone and these real people who witnessed history were no different.

KMR: If you’d been alive during the Civil War, would you have kept a diary?

JKJ: You know, keeping a diary and journaling are things I always mean to do, but don’t. If I were alive at that time, and so far away from my loved ones, I expect I would have. In those days the soldiers didn’t have Skype or email, so letter writing was their only means of communicating with home. Along with letter writing, many soldiers kept diaries, something that is not only frowned upon today, but is usually forbidden due to security concerns. I believe there were two primary reasons they did this. One was boredom. Except for the times they were in battle, they mostly drilled or pulled guard duty, then they had long hours with little to do. The other was therapy. They needed a way to sort out the things they had seen and done. These men were forced to witness things that no person should ever have to see and worse, do things to their fellow human beings that we as a species are not wired to find acceptable.

So, I imagine given the same landscape, I would do much the same.

KMR: Can you recall the first story or book you read as a child that had an impact on your life?

JKJ: Probably Baa, Baa, Black Sheep by Colonel Gregory Boyington. Pappy Boyington has been criticized for self-aggrandizement, and I have little doubt that he was guilty of that, but the first person perspective of a man who had a front row seat to history and the plainspoken way he had of relating these events really grabbed me.

KMR: How do you juggle your day job with research, writing, and marketing and promoting your work?

JKJ: Probably not very well. I do have an advantage of living and working close to some good research libraries. That said, sometimes I will research at lunch or after work in the library. Most every evening I am trying to do something toward the cause of advancing my writing. I speak a lot before history and heritage groups. Some large, but many small. The fact is that you have to put yourself out there and you can’t be too picky. I have learned that the help you seek comes from the most unexpected places and frequently, the places you expect help from never materialize.

KMR: With your busy schedule, when do you find time to read for pleasure? Do you think we writers can ever really read for pleasure or are you always studying the writing?

JKJ: I usually read just before bed. I am a lifelong insomniac, so reading is about the only way to calm my mind to allow sleep to come easy. Being a writer does make you a bit of an automatic critic. I have learned to turn loose of some of the overly judgmental side and lose myself in the story. There really are two parts to writing, one is the mechanical side of writing where you allow your inner Grammar-Nazi to run free and you beat people over the head every time you run across a sentence with passive voice. Making writing as tight as you can and avoiding passive voice is important, but I believe that if you never take any liberties with language, then every book will read like a technical manual and the imagination will never come out to play and let the real story emerge.

KMR: What are you working on now?

JKJ: Well, for one thing I am updating Georgia Remembers Gettysburg with additional material, maps and photos to become Echoes From Gettysburg: Georgia’s Memories and Images. Also on the history front, I am gathering material for books on the Battle of Gaines Mill and for Alamance County, North Carolina in the Civil War.

On the fiction front, I continue writing short stories, and I am about to start work on revising a political thriller that I wrote the first draft of several years ago.

JKeithJonesAuthorPhotoBIO:

Keith Jones is the author of four books, one novel and three histories. He is a two-time winner of the Gold Medal for History from the Military Writers Society of America. His articles have been published in Georgia Magazine and Gettysburg Magazine. He also has short stories in journals and anthologies. To read more about his work, visit his website.

 

 

The Angels Were Waiting

July 24, 2016angel feather1

By Joy Ross Davis

I felt at first like I was dreaming. When I received the message from the International Women Writers Guild (IWWG) that they wanted me to be a presenter at their upcoming conference, I could hardly believe it. It isn’t often that a small-town Southern writer is asked to do such a thing, especially in Pennsylvania, far from my home in Alabama. I’d dreamed of this for three years, submitting several proposals in hopes of garnering a spot. And now, I was to be the presenter of two workshops at the IWWG conference at Muhlenberg College in Allentown!

Once I arrived, I felt that familiar sense of place, a college campus buzzing with activity. I walked around the Commons relishing memories of the campus in my hometown where I’d taught for many years. The first workshop went even better than I could have imagined. I shared a part of my life with those in attendance, and every day thereafter, we shared, we talked, we cried, we laughed, and we healed.

On my fourth night there, I was laughing with my roommates, all of us gathered in my room, when my phone rang.

“Mama,” the voice on the other end sobbed, “she’s dead, Mama. Rachael died.”

I thought I must be dreaming again. No, this couldn’t be true. Rachael, my son Matthew’s fiancée, was only thirty-six years old.

“Mama,” he struggled again amidst his sobs. “She’s dead. Rachael died tonight. Do you think she will go to Heaven?”

My heart broken and shock setting in, I remember very little about the rest of that night. But what I do remember is this: I dreamed that Rachael and I were standing on an immense, glimmering white sidewalk. I tried to pull her forward, but she resisted. I reached for her again, and she relaxed. We walked together up that shining white sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, a shimmering—almost blinding—white light glowed, and in the background, I thought I could see two immense white wings. Rachael looked over at me and I nodded. She stepped forward, off the sidewalk, and into the light.

I left the conference early to be with my family. And with that dream in my mind, now I could answer Matthew’s question.

“Yes, honey, she did go to Heaven, and the angels were waiting for her.”

In loving memory of Rachael Headrick, a young woman tortured by demons: a mother, a daughter, and a loving partner now safely home in the loving arms of angels.

 BIO:

Joy Ross Davis is of Irish descent and a student of the lore and magic found in the hills of Tennessee. After a twenty-five year career as a college English professor, she traveled to Ireland and worked as a writer and photographer, publishing numerous travel articles and photos for an Irish travel agency. She has been a contributing feature writer for a local newspaper and has published articles in Southern literary magazines. She lives in Alabama with her son and beloved dogs. She loves to speak at conferences, book club meetings, and events to share her connection with angels and the stories behind her books. To learn more click here.

 

Always a Soldier…

May 31, 2016angel and soldier

ALWAYS A SOLDIER

By Joy Ross Davis

When I married in 1985, my husband was still fighting the war in Vietnam, although it had been over for years. In his mind, though, the war raged on, year after bloody year. As a civilian, he was an attorney, but as a young enlisted man of 19, he was a member of the elite Green Berets.

He’d left an unhappy home and enlisted when he was 18. He took to the military life and within a short time, he gained the respect of many of his fellow enlisted men. He became an expert target shooter, won several awards, and because of his skills with a weapon, was eventually called into the Green Berets. It was his crowning glory.

And this is where his story stops. Dead still.

His memories would become clouded, he said. Dates, times, and places lost all of their continuity, but not all of their power over him. He was enlisted in the Green Berets to be a “cleaner.” It was his job to advance into areas to make sure that they were clean….devoid of any living soul. It was his job, he said, to clean up. He couldn’t remember anything else.

There were nights when he screamed in his sleep, nights when he woke enraged, terrified, fighting back an enemy. Even though he loved me, at night in his dreams, I became that enemy he tried to choke, beat, and strangle…the enemy that must be crushed. When he was in that killer mind, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t happen every night, not even once a week, but when it did happen, I’d be caught unawares, terrified and defenseless. And he would be exactly the same….caught unaware, memories flooding his mind of terrified screams and pleas for life.

He was a big man, my Jack, tall and broad shouldered with powerfully muscular arms. They were arms that could hold and comfort and arms that could break a neck or crush a windpipe. He was a good man with a generous heart, but at night in those horrible dreams, he became the hunted, the soldier defending his life, striking out at anyone in his path.

By day, he was a successful lawyer winning every case that came his way. But by night—no matter how much medicine he took–he became again a member of the Green Berets, that young man whose job it was to “clean” every area.

Our marriage was not a successful one, but by some miracle, our love for each other stayed strong. When he passed away in 1993, I was at his bedside, listening with tears in my eyes as he breathed his last words, “Joy. Joy.”

BIO:

The author is a student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee. She writes imaginative fiction featuring unusual angels as main characters. She has lived and worked in Alabama for most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and for many years, taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer. She lives in Alabama with her son and three rescue dogs.

An Exclusive Interview with Romance Luminaries Paris Afton Bonds and Rita Clay Estrada in Southern Writers Magazine

May 2, 2016SW Cover May 2016 FB

What an honor to interview Parris Afton Bonds and Rita Clay Estrada for the May/June 2016 issue of Southern Writers Magazine. Many thanks to Editor-in-Chief Susan Reichert for accepting my proposal and to Gary Fearon, Creative Director, for coming up with a beautiful cover. To read the complete interview, click here to order your copy now. RWA article teaser SW May 2016

Running On Red Dog Road: “The Waltons meet Little House on the Prairie told with Mark Twain’s humor”

April 12, 2016Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 6.43.48 PM

Every once in a while, a voice comes along that makes you yearn for a childhood you never lived. Author Drema Hall Berkheimer invites you to skip along with her, big sis Vonnie, and best friend Sissy into the coal mining hills and hollers of West Virginia, at a time when gypsies and hobos were as common as doctors who made house calls.

My husband is a longtime fan of Drema’s work. Tom calls Running On Red Dog Road “The Waltons meet Little House on the Prairie told with Mark Twain’s humor.”

We both highly recommend this book.

Drema and I met at the The Writer’s Garret, Dallas, TX in 2008. I fell in love with this book the moment she started reading those early chapters in critique.

Dallas Morning News says, “The narrator’s sometimes saucy voice is that of “the little girl I once was.”

Publishers Weekly says, “Berkheimer’s voice is captivating, bringing a vast array of strange but thoughtful characters to life: vagabonds, faith healers, farmers, and miners.”

About Drema Hall Berkheimer:

Drema at the 2016 Public Library Association annual conference in Denver, CO.
Drema at the 2016 Public Library Association annual conference in Denver, CO. To read more about her visit, click here.

Born in a West Virginia coal camp called Penman, Drema Hall Berkheimer now lives on Word Street in Dallas, so maybe writing was her destiny all along. Her memoir, Running On Red Dog Road, is a testament to her life in small town Appalachia, the child of a miner killed in the mines, a Rosie the Riveter mother, and devout Pentecostal grandparents. Chapters from Running on Red Dog Road won First Place Nonfiction and First Honorable Mention Nonfiction in the 2010 WV Writers Competition and were published in WV South, an award-winning magazine where she has been a frequent contributor. She has memoir, fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and essays published in numerous online and print literary journals and other publications. Affiliations are WV Writers, Salon Quatre, and The Writers Garret in Dallas, where she lives with her husband and a neurotic cat who takes after her. Her husband is mostly normal.

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Writing from Your Soul, new book from author Linda Apple

Posted February 12, 2016

Guest author: Linda Apple

Writing For Your Soul by Linda Apple

Writing From Your Soul is a small book with big ideas, encouragement, instruction, and tips. It is an inspirational tool for everyone who wants to make a worthwhile difference in the lives of their readers.

The book covers the following topics:

  • The POV of inspirational writing
  • Using the Creative Nonfiction style of writing
  • Finding a story
  • Encouragement for growth as writers

Passage on what inspirational writing is and what it isn’t:

There is a fine line that defines inspirational writing and divides it from all other forms. In my years of teaching, I find there is a lot of confusion about this type of writing. Some writers immediately equate it with religious writing. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Some think if the story is uplifting, it is inspirational. It might be, depending on the focus. Is the focus of the story on the writer or the reader? All inspirational pieces should be written with the reader in mind.

Most writers are familiar with the acronym POV—Point of View. In order to illustrate the difference between Inspirational writing and all other kinds, I’ve come up with another POV: Purpose, Objective, and Vision. These three elements are what make the defining fine line I wrote about in the introduction.

BIO:Linda Apple, author

Linda Apple is a Mississippi gal whose roots run deep in the South. Her stories flow from generations of southern women who share their tales while cooking, enjoying meals together, and rocking on the front porch in the velvety, magnolia perfumed evening breezes. From these memories, her debut novel, Women of Washington Avenue, the first book in her Moonlight Mississippi series, was born.Women of Washington Ave by Linda Apple

She also writes Inspirational Nonfiction. Linda has a strong conviction that we need to write our personal experience stories, our observations and epiphanies for future generations, which is why she wrote, Writing Life: Your Stories Matter and Writing From Your Soul.

In addition to writing, she is also a public speaker. Through workshops and motivational presentations, her desire is to encourage, affirm, nurture talent, and equip people in order to help them achieve their goals and follow their dreams.

She lives with her husband, Neal, in Northwest Arkansas. They are the parents of five married children and have ten of the most beautiful grandchildren ever born.  And she’d like everyone to know she is, “*ahem* a very young grandmother . . . really!”

To read more about Linda Apple, click here.

Find her on Facebook and Twitter

COLLATERAL ORANGE DAMAGE: flash fiction & art by author Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Posted February 4, 2016

© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

COLLATERAL ORANGE DAMAGE

            “Farewell, Rob.” I laid my battered dog tags on his grave.

            Prostate cancer took him. Doctors say I’m next.

            Please try to understand. We were soldiers following orders.

            “A little defoliating agent to clear the jungle and expose the enemy.” Our commanding officers assured us. “Nothing that will harm a human.”

            I had to go back and see for myself.

            Last night I visited a children’s hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where the fruits of our labors languish with twisted or missing limbs and eyes that bulge from enlarged skulls.     

            We have exposed the enemy, and he is us.

 

BIO:

Wall crop 2015Kansas City native Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is married to a veteran of the Viet Nam Era and the Gulf War. A woman of Jewish descent, Rochelle is the granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants whose close personal connection to Jewish history is a recurring theme throughout much of her writing. Growing up, she was heavily influenced by the Sholom Aleichem stories as well as Fiddler on the Roof.

 

Psk Cover IIHer novels Please Say Kaddish for Me and From Silt and Ashes were born of her desire to share the darker side of these beloved tales; the history that can be difficult to view, much less embrace.         

Before becoming an author, Rochelle attended the Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied painting and lithography. Her preferred media are pen and ink, pencil, and watercolor, which she uses in her book covers, character studies and will be used in her upcoming companion coffee table book for the series, A Stone for the Journey (Argus fall 2016).


FSAA Front Cover
Rochelle’s short story “Savant” was published in Voices, Vol. III; “The Swimming Lesson,” in Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol. VI; and “Reap the Whirlwind” in Voices, Volume IV. Two of these are included in her own short story collection, with original artwork, This, That and Sometimes the Other (High Hill Press). She is currently working on the third in the series, As One Must, One Can (Argus, 2016.

 

Johnnie On the Spot: Family Magazine features Kathleen M. Rodgers in the January 2016 issue

January 2016

Terri Barnes, author of the book Spouse Calls and a former columnist for Stars & Stripes Newspapers, was shopping at the commisary this morning at Charleston Air Force Base, SC when she spotted the article in Family. She says she stopped by the peanut butter and jelly section to snap this photo.
Terri Barnes, author of the book Spouse Calls and a former columnist for Stars & Stripes Newspapers, was shopping at the commisary this morning at Charleston Air Force Base, SC when she spotted the article in Family. She says she stopped by the peanut butter and jelly section to snap this photo.

So honored to be featured in the January 2016 issue of Family: The Magazine For Military Families. The magazine is distributed free at U.S. commissaries worldwide the middle of each month (500,000 circulation). Family and I have been around since 1958. In 1988 (the magazine’s 30th anniversary), they published two of my short stories, “Happy Landing” and “On Top Of the World.” In 2009, they interviewed me about my debut novel, The Final Salute.

This past July, my husband and I were thrilled to meet the executive editor, Dina Santorelli, and feature writer, Barbara Jarvie Castiglia, when they came to see some of my work on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York.  I’m blessed to have such support from a top-notch publication that gives back to military families by providing valuable coupons for items in the commissary.  This is another full circle moment in my writing career.Dina and Kathleen

With NJ based writer Barbara Castiglia (L) and Long Island based editor/author Dina Santorelli at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, NY. Barbara and Dina have known each other for years and we are all Facebook friends, but this is my first time to meet them both in person. Barbara drove two hours both ways to come see me.
With NJ based writer Barbara Castiglia (L) and Long Island based editor/author Dina Santorelli at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island, NY. Barbara and Dina have known each other for years and we are all Facebook friends, but this is my first time to meet them both in person. Barbara drove two hours both ways to come see me.

https://www.facebook.com/familymagazine

http://familymedia.com

 

 

Tension abounds in this critically acclaimed debut novel by Andria Williams

The Longest Night releases from Random House 1.12.16The Longest Night book cover

What the critics are saying:

Starred Kirkus review. “Scintillating….A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way.”

Starred review in Booklist. Kristine Huntley writes: “a luminous debut…utterly absorbing and richly rewarding.”

The Longest Night listed by Library Journal’s Barbara Hoffert as one of “Five Key Literary/Historical Debut Novels”

The Longest Night will be a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick for Spring 2016!random-house-randomhouse-2-twitter-mozilla-firefox-10272015-40838-pm

My review:

From the moment I received an advanced reader copy from the author’s editor, Andrea Walker, I knew I held a treasured story in my hands. The ARC opens with a letter from Ms. Walker that addresses each reviewer in a respectful and endearing manner. She gives us a brief summary of the novel and ends her letter with these words: “In this atmospheric and immersive debut, big historical events play out in the intimate context of a marriage…”

The story unfolds with Army Specialist Paul Collier racing down a lonely road outside of Idaho Falls on the frigid night of January 3, 1961. All we know at this point is that something bad has happened at the CR-1, a nuclear reactor where Paul works as an operator. As he heads toward the reactor, his thoughts are on his men working the night shift and his beautiful young wife, Nat. She’s back in town fifty miles away at their cute little pitched roof rent house where their three young children are tucked in their beds. Would Paul ever see them again? And would he get a chance to apologize to Nat for the way he’d stormed out?

Then the story moves back in time to June 1959, when we first meet Nat Collier and her two preschool aged daughters, Samantha and Liddie. Nat, short for Natalie, plays the dutiful Army wife as she follows her husband on a cross-country move to his new duty station in Idaho. The story really gripped me at the opening lines of chapter one when Nat first steps out of their 1955 Desoto Fireflite: “Nat was the first one out of the car. She stepped into the dirt parking lot, her low-heeled shoes printing chevrons into the reddish dirt.”

After reading these lines, I kept going back to stare at the cream-colored pumps on the book’s cover. The shoes took me back to a time when women wore dresses and heels to clean house, run errands, and throw dinner parties to impress their friends and neighbors. For me, a former military wife, these pumps on the cover and the imprint Nat’s soles leave in the dirt, represent a formality that came with marrying into the military during this era.

But much of the story will resonate with today’s military spouses. In a passage where Nat is chatting with another young Army wife, the author says it all about the vagabond lifestyle and how quickly friendships are formed. “Nat was learning the hard way that if you wanted friends in the military, there was no time to waste. Years worth of closeness and trust and shared jokes were accelerated into weeks.”

Then there’s the temptation that comes from long separations during deployments and temporary duty assignments where the spouses are left to fend for themselves on the home front. Nat’s temptation turns out to be a local cowboy named Esrom, and wouldn’t you know, he turns out to be one of my favorite characters in the story.

For those characters you love to hate, especially the ones who abuse power, Andria Williams does a superb job with Paul’s boss, Master Sergeant Richards (who drives a 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville), and his perfectly coiffed wife, Jeannie.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who values good writing and a story that both entertains and educates. I’m especially impressed with how the author writes about a nuclear reactor on a level that I can understand, as I am not a science person. After reading whole passages aloud to my husband, he got so intrigued that he started researching the history behind the real accident that took place on January 3, 1961.

The Longest Night is one of those novels that will live on in your head as if you were actually one of the characters in the story and now these are shared memories.

Andria Williams, author of The Longest Night, Random House 1.19.16Author bio:

Andria Williams is a Navy wife, the mother of three children, and the founder of Military Spouse Book Review, a site which promotes the writing of women veterans and military spouses and publishes book reviews and essays. She holds a BA in English from UC-Berkeley and a MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota.

The Longest Night is her first novel.