Friday, April 21, 2017

Interview with novelist Kate Brandes

Novelist Kate Brandes joins me today to talk about her newest women’s fiction, The Promise of Pierson Orchard.

During her virtual book tour, Kate will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

An environmental scientist with over 20 years of experience, Kate Brandes is also a watercolor painter and a writer of women’s fiction with an environmental bent. Her short stories have been published in The Binnacle, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Grey Sparrow Journal. Kate is a member of the Arts Community of Easton (ACE), the Lehigh Art Alliance, Artsbridge, the Pennwriters, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kate lives in a small town along the Delaware River with her husband, David, and their two sons. When she’s not working, she’s outside on the river or chasing wildflowers.

Welcome, Kate. Please share a little bit about your current release.
This story is Erin Brockovich meets Promised Land, about a Pennsylvania family threatened by betrayal, financial desperation, old flames, fracking, and ultimately finding forgiveness.

In the novel, Green Energy arrives, offering the impoverished rural community of Minden, Pennsylvania, the dream of making more money from their land by leasing natural gas rights for drilling. But orchardist, Jack Pierson, fears his brother, Wade, who now works for Green Energy, has returned to town after a shame-filled twenty-year absence so desperate to be the hero that he’ll blind their hometown to the potential dangers. Jack also worries his brother will try to rekindle his relationship with LeeAnn, Jack’s wife, who’s recently left him. To protect his hometown and to fulfill a promise to himself, Jack seeks out his mother and environmental lawyer Stella Brantley, who abandoned Minden—and Jack and Wade–years ago.

When LeeAnn’s parents have good reason to lease their land, but their decision leads to tragedy, Jack must fight to find a common ground that will save his fractured family, their land, and the way of life they love.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve spent most of my career, not as a writer, but as an environmental scientist. I didn’t start writing creatively until I was in my mid-thirties. I’ve always loved stories about complicated families and relationships. When I learned about fracking through my environmental science career, one of my first thoughts was that it would make a great metaphor in a novel about a fractured family.

Excerpt from The Promise of Pierson Orchard:
“A brand new black pickup was parked between LeeAnn’s red Chevy and Jack’s old beater. A man stood beside it, with his hand raised in greeting, but he said nothing more. Coming from the bright light of the barn into the dusk prevented Jack from making out the man’s face. Jack stared in his direction. Some tug of memory caused him to hesitate. There was something familiar about the slight curl in his shoulders.
LeeAnn emerged from the edge of the orchard and the man turned at the sound of her boots on the gravel drive. “LeeAnn?” the man said.
She stopped. “Wade Pierson?” She hesitated a moment more and then walked slowly toward him. “Is it really you?”
There, right in front of him, was his brother. Wade. Back after twenty years. He was still alive, at least. Wade’s arms encircled LeeAnn.
Jack clenched his fists and went back into the barn. He offloaded the fruit from the wagon, bruising most of it. He washed apples with shaky hands and then crushed them for the cider press. LeeAnn and Wade came through the doorway.
“Jack, look who’s here.” Jack glanced up and then couldn’t take his eyes from his brother’s face for a long moment. He wasn’t a sixteen year-old kid anymore. He’d grown taller than Jack and filled out. Damn if he didn’t look even more like their dad now, with that same dark red hair and fair skin. That curl of the shoulder used to give Wade the look of someone unsure of whether he belonged. But now Wade stood there smiling, like he would be welcome. Like he could just show up after all this time with as much warning as he gave on the night he left.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m at work on my second novel, partly inspired by Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. It will be another book club fiction novel with an eco-bent, but it’s a completely different story from my first novel.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s an interesting question. Since I’ve spent my career as a scientist, it took me a long time to think of myself as a writer and not to refer to my writing life as a “hobby.” Honestly, it’s taken me more than a decade and a publishing contract to truly feel like I could call myself a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t write full time. I still work part-time as an environmental scientist. I write when I can, which is usually in the early morning hours before the rest of the world is awake.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to draft long hand with a notebook and pen. For whatever reason, the story comes out deeper and more fully formed if I begin with paper and pen.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A geologist. Then I grew up and became a geologist. I’ve also always loved fiction and words, so it seems inevitable now that I would figure out a way to become a writer too.

Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
Bookclub Giveaway: In celebration of my upcoming book launch, I'm offering 8 signed paperback copies, 8 small prizes, a $25 Amazon gift card and a list of book-related discussion questions to one lucky book club member to share with your club. All you have to do to enter is tell one person about the book and sign up here. Contest runs through my book launch date, April 22, 2017. The winner will be announced the following day! Good luck!


Thank you for being a guest on my blog today, Kate!
Thank you so much for having me!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview with thriller author Thomas Booker

Thriller author Thomas Booker joins me today. We’re chatting about his new novel, The Persian Woman.

Thomas Booker has roughnecked in the oilfields of Texas, dined with royalty in Europe, forded crocodile-infested rivers in Africa, and trekked the backwoods of Canada, among many other adventures. He currently is helping to build a children’s clinic in Southeast Asia.

Welcome, Thomas. Please tell us a little bit about your current release.
The Persian Woman traces the struggle of an American man to overcome his prejudice against Muslims. Main male character Jeffrey Quinn is a former Navy SEAL whose wife was killed by a jihadist. Perhaps understandably, he is embittered toward all Muslims. His attitude is challenged when he comes into possession of information that a terror attack is being trained on the United States. When he takes this information to the FBI he is chagrined to learn that the agent assigned to the case is Parvin Sassani, the Persian woman of the title. He refuses to work with her because she is Muslim. He continues his recalcitrance until she puts her own career on the line to save him from a false charge of homicide. From then on he helps her every way he can, in the process discovering that she is a woman of great warmth, culture and courage. He concludes that “she had been the best human being of us all.”

What was your inspiration for this book?
This book began with a disconnect between what I was seeing in the media about Iranians (i.e. Persians) and what I was seeing in my travels. The media invariably focuses on the rabid zealots such as the ruling mullahs and the Revolutionary Guards. They make good villains for the daily narrative. But the Iranians I was meeting were among the most cultured and hospitable people I ever encountered. I decided to tell their story in The Persian Woman.

Excerpt from The Persian Woman:
I was not a bigot, I told myself. A bigot is a person who dislikes another because the other is different: Catholic, Jewish, black-skinned or copper-skinned or yellow skinned, or simply from a part of the world where not all the buildings are air-conditioned. A bigot burns crosses in front yards, lynches innocent men, and blows up churches filled with children. A bigot wears goofy uniforms and comic book masks and attends secret meetings late at night to hear other bigots spout conspiracy fantasies or just tell snide and nasty little jokes. A bigot takes a bath once a week in a galvanized tub and brushes his teeth with his fingers. A bigot is a classless jerk who hates for no reason. Well, that wasn’t me. I wasn’t a bigot. I just wasn’t going to have anything to do with the woman, that’s all.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A venture by mercenaries into Mexico to capture a wanted terrorist.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When a publishing executive in New York phoned me and said they wanted to publish my book. She said, in a complimentary way, that it was “unbelievable” anyone could write a first novel like The Persian Woman. Nevertheless, independent spirit that I am, I elected to go the Kindle self-publishing route. It’s my belief that traditional book publishing, like traditional newspaper publishing, is fading into the past. This belief has been bolstered recently by Kindle’s new service to make e-books available in print-on-demand paperback format. The Persian Woman is now available in paperback on Amazon. It has a great book design. Check it out.

Do you write full time?
Yes. In the mornings I do research and general background boning-up. I write in the afternoons.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My mother wanted me to be a priest; I wanted to be anything but.

Amazon author page | Amazon buy link

Thanks for being here today, Thomas!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Interview with children's author Rene Cournoyer

Children’s author Rene Cournoyer joins me today and we’re chatting about The Fantastic Adventures of Sticky.

Welcome, Rene. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am blessed to have two wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren. They have kept me young at heart.

Writing a book has been a lifelong dream. Science fiction and fantasy are what I love to read and wanted to write about. However, I could never get the book out of my head and onto paper. My grandchildren have always told me I’m a big kid at heart and suggested I write a children’s book. It resonated at once, the children’s genre is where my book belonged. The next day I started typing and never stopped. As a result, Sticky was born and grows in time.

You’re all invited to come take this journey with Sticky and his friends.

What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
Each of my characters are a part of me and I feel like I am living the adventure with them. If there’s comedy, suspense or even pain from injury, I feel it all when I write. Even though my characters are a part of me. I feel a stronger connection with each one of them. I find writing to be very therapeutic. When I find myself laughing out loud while writing, I know something is going right, because it feels so right.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
This is my first book. I do have more planned after this 4-book series. I have another 3-book series that continues where this one leaves off. There’s an ongoing story built into all the adventures that happen throughout the series. Sticky has a way of finding trouble and trouble almost always finds him. He can go from total klutz to hero of the day.

One of my favorites is when Sticky cracked the Liberty Bell with his head and another is when he saved a little girl from a fire in the barn. Klutz to hero, that’s my Sticky.

What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
Children’s fiction. There is not a doubt in my mind that I belong in this Genre. I am a kid at heart and I have so much fun creating adventures, suspense and comedy.

Because my book has Sticky going from the fantasy world and into the real world in Philadelphia – 1776. I get to teach kids some of our history and they can have fun while they learn it. To be honest, I learned a few things myself. I have Sticky reliving the events and then I put footnotes that teach the real history. The second series, ‘Sticky and the Magical Portals’ is a trip to Boston in 1777. They make a trip from Springfield to Boston and have many adventures along the way.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have 10 other books in their 1st stage of writing. They are all adding to Sticky’s adventures for Sticky. These 10 books create 3 more series You get to read about how these characters grow in many ways. There are also many life lessons for the kids as Sticky does a good deed and is commended for it. He is also told when he is doing something wrong and is corrected by Robyn, the leader of the group.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have always wanted to write a Science Fiction novel like Enders Game or Lord of the Rings. I wanted to create different worlds and have continuing stories about them. I always wanted a continuing series. I have that kind of imagination.

The problem was getting the book out of my head. I started many novels and stopped after a few chapters. It just didn’t click. Back in 2011, I was sharing this story with my grandkids. They suggested that I write a children’s book. Because I am a kid at heart, I should be writing for kids. That was all I needed to hear. It hit me like a brick.

The next day when I was driving to work, I had to pull over and take notes. A massive volume got downloaded into my head. The ideas were floating around in my head and needed to come out. And come out they did. I typed for months, morning, noon and night. When it stopped and I went back to see what I wrote. I couldn’t believe it. Hundreds of pages, mostly in 1 paragraph. I had my work cut out for me. So, I divided and conquered the manuscript. I knew nothing of how to properly format a children’s’ book. I had so much to learn. It was overwhelming and thoroughly exciting at the same time. I loved the whole journey and continue to love it today.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
Google is everyone’s best friend, no matter what you’re doing. I go from one writers site to another. I don’t leave a site until I have learned something new. When you write, you must keep reading. It’s probably your best teacher. I read books at home and listen to audio tapes when I’m driving. I don’t listen to music or news stations on the radio. It’s all about the books.

Believe it or not, writing your book is the easy part. It gets difficult after that. There is so much to learn. Never give up your dream.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I would have to say that the character flaws of my characters, are my own. They are truly a part of me.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an astronaut. Soaring to the stars on an endless adventure. I do get to enjoy the endless adventure. It’s here on earth and not in the stars. However, you never know what the future may bring for Sticky. Anything is possible with this crazy little elf.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I have found that my books are good for all ages. I read them weekly to my grandchildren when they couldn’t read. They couldn’t wait for the next part of the ongoing story. My brother and sister read them and loved every bit of them. My father, who is 90, read the series. When he finished, he came up to me and hugged me. He thanked me for letting him feel young again for a brief moment in time.

Thanks for being here today, Rene.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interview with YA author Sheri Levy

Young adult author Sheri Levy is here today and we’re chatting about her new book, Seven Days to Goodbye, part of the series Trina Ryan’s Dogs in Training.

During her virtual book tour, Sheri will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift certificate to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit herother tour stops and enter there, too.

Sheri, originally from California, moved to South Carolina with her husband, two children and a Siamese cat. Soon they adopted their first rescue dog who influenced their need to continue living with dogs. Sheri taught a multi-handicapped Special Ed class, and then a GED-parenting class, which included home visits. Because of her love of reading, Sheri found unusual ways to encourage children to read. After her rescue of a difficult dog, Sheri enrolled in dog classes to change his behavior. Her dream of writing, Seven Days to Goodbye, came from the culmination of her beach experiences, her understanding of behaviors, and from research with PAALS, a service dog organization.

Welcome, Sheri. Please share a little bit about your current release.
Soon after Seven Days to Goodbye, a young adult novel, was published, it won with the Dog Writers Association of America in their Special Interest category, February 2015. The Planet Dog Foundation funds the award for the story that reflects the best use of service dogs.

My main character, Trina, a thirteen-year-old puppy raiser, has completed training her first service dog, Sydney. In seven days, he will be returned to his facility to be matched with his forever companion. Trina and her best friend, Sarah, are on vacation at Edisto Island, S.C., but seem to have grown apart over night. Trina plans to swim and play on the beach, and turn Sydney into a water dog. Sarah dreams about meeting guys.

During their first beach day, Sydney meets a Logan, young boy with autism. Their magical connection brings the older brothers in contact with Trina. When Sarah’s jealousy erupts, a new tension alerts the girls about the changes happening in their relationship.

As Logan’s family recognizes the special abilities of Sydney and the need for Logan, the mother is overwhelmed with fear. She is terrified of dogs.

Each step forward in the story, gets a bolt of lightning before things change. And Trina knows she has a difficult decision ahead. Saying Goodbye is harder than she thought. Will she be brave enough to train another puppy? This story has humor, teen issues, and plenty of puppy-love in both varieties.

Excerpt from Seven Days to Goodbye:
Once the boys passed over the jetty, Sarah shoved her folded chair under her arm and chugged past me. “How dare you flirt with Chase! I told you yesterday. I liked HIM. Now you’ve screwed it all up.”

Ten steps behind, I called, “Sarah, I can’t believe what you’re saying. He’s just being friendly because of his brother.”

Sarah stormed toward the house. One arm swung at such a fast pace, she looked like a soldier, marching.

“You’re being ridiculous,” I said as Sarah moved so fast the space between us grew. I yelled the next time. “Was I supposed to get your permission to talk to him?”

She didn’t answer.

I jogged ahead of her and walked backwards. “I didn’t do anything. Chase offered to help me. That’s it. I’m only grabbing this chance to train Sydney with Logan. It’ll give him more practice around kids with autism.”

“Right.” Sarah finally spoke. “No wonder you never told me about the guys this morning. See, you really DIDN’T want me to be with Chase.” She plodded further toward the house.

What exciting story are you working on next?
My sequel, Starting Over, will be published July 18, 2017. I can offer some ideas of the story, but I have to be vague and not cause a spoiler-alert for Seven Days to Goodbye.

I have added a new character, Morgan, who is a very angry fourteen-year-old. She is new to the town, has a new gorgeous horse, and will attend a new high school. Trina hopes to perfect her riding skills on the barn’s schooling horse, works at the barn next door to help pay for her lessons, and continues to train dogs. With Morgan interrupting the barn’s carefree atmosphere, Trina is compelled to uncover this new girl’s problem. As the girls become friends, Trina risks her safety to help Morgan and suffers the consequences. Morgan faces new life decisions, which brings Trina to doubt her own goals. Will she be able to change directions?

Here’s a short pitch:
Two girls.
One confused. The other hurting.
Underneath they are the same.
It takes courage to risk being real.
And strength to change directions.
As friends, they both start over.

Since Starting Over is complete, I am working on the first draft of book three, For Keeps.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I always wrote as a young girl, but I never imagined writing a novel. After I retired from teaching special education and a literacy program, my students had spurred my desire to write books they loved to read. That’s when I started my long affair with writing. One day, I met a young boy in a store walking a dog wearing a vest. I asked, “Are you a puppy raiser?

He told me. “NO. This is my diabetic alert dog.”

I interviewed him, wrote his story, and sent it to Club House Magazine. They accepted it. I revised, and I had my very first publication. A writing friend encouraged me to send this article into the DWAA writing contest. In February 2011, it won in their Special Interest category. This gave me the confidence to continue writing, take classes, attend conferences, and complete Seven Days to Goodbye.

Do you write full time? If not, what do you do other than write?
Since I retired from teaching, I am free to write as much as I want. I try very hard to balance my time with my two Australian shepherds, my friends and family, and I usually turn off my computer at 5:00 p.m. to have the evening with my husband.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I prefer writing in my office space, overlooking the tops of the trees, with a piece of dark chocolate, and a few minutes of singer-song writer tunes to get into my own thoughts.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had many silly ideas as a very young child, a forest ranger, a dancer, have a daycare for animals. In the fifth grade, I had made up my mind, I would teach special needs children. I twirled a baton competitively, and began teaching baton to many students at age thirteen. This only increased my decision to be a teacher.

Anything additional you want to share with your readers?
To write Seven Days to Goodbye, I did research with PAALS, a non-profit service dog organization. They train for autism, mobility, and PTSD. Any veteran, or public service person injured on the job, may get a service dog. The founder, Jennifer Rodgers, included me in their volunteer programs. I learned about the skills the dogs use with their forever companion. The proceeds from each book go to PAALS. The biggest thrill of having my novel published is doing classroom presentations, teaching writing skills, and sharing my ideas with students about setting goals and never giving up.


Thank you for being here today, happy writing.
Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Interview with writer and novelist Terence A. Harkin

Author Terence A. Harkin is here bright and early on a Monday to chat with me about his new wartime love story, The Big Buddha Bicycle Race.

Terence A. Harkin earned a BA in English-American Literature from Brown University while spending weekends touring New England with bands that opened for the Yardbirds, the Shirelles, the Critters and Jimi Hendrix. 

His play, Resurrection, produced during his senior year, was a winner of the Production Workshop Playwriting Contest. He won a CBS Fellowship for his screenwriting while completing an MFA at the University of Southern California and went on to spend twenty-five years as a Hollywood cameraman. 

His credits include The Goodbye Girl, teen cult favorite The Legend of Billie Jean, Quincy, Designing Women, Seinfeld, Tracy Ullman, MASH, and the mini-series of From Here to Eternity

The Big Buddha Bicycle Race and its sequel, In the Year of the Rabbit, are set in Ubon, Thailand, where he served with Detachment 3 of the 601st Photo Squadron during the Vietnam War. He is currently at work on a third novel, Tinseltown Two-step, set in L.A. and Chiang Mai.

Please tell us about your current release.
The Big Buddha Bicycle Race transports the reader to upcountry Thailand and war-ravaged Laos late in the Vietnam War. On one level a cross-cultural wartime love story, it is also a surreal remembrance of two groups who have been erased from American history—the brash active-duty soldiers who risked prison by taking part in the GI anti-war movement and the gutsy air commandos who risked death night after night flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In Big Buddha the twain meet.

What inspired you to write this book?
I spent a year during the Vietnam War with an Air Force photo unit that operated out of Ubon, Thailand, but which flew all over Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, maybe even a little of southern China. I witnessed a secret war that devastated Laos and air war in general that devastated Southeast Asia. And no one in the States knew about it—not even historian Stanley Karnow, who produced the ten-part PBS series on Vietnam. And on a personal level, I saw Thai farm girls desperately trying to make their lives better and young Americans lost halfway around the world, involved in a war that by 1971 looked like a lost cause. Drugs were cheap and plentiful, and both groups were vulnerable.

Excerpt from The Big Buddha Bicycle Race:
 31 December 1985 (The Present)
Falling Backwards

It must have been a hallucination. Sitting in a mountain cave along the winding road that led northwest to Luang Prabang, I could smell the incense floating in the air—pure, not burned to hide some weekend hippie’s marijuana cigarette—a dusky smoke perfume that had burned in Asia for a thousand centuries. The light was golden, an aura unseen in America since brigantines stopped bringing whale oil back from the Pacific….
How can I trust dream-visions that keep floating up from the murky depths? Hasn’t my memory been obliterated by drink and drugs and the passage of time? Why am I afraid to ask, afraid of being mistaken for a rambling derelict on an L.A. street corner?
Alone on New Year’s Eve in a bungalow atop Mount Washington, I snort cocaine and chase it down with Jack Daniels when I run out of stale champagne. Mesmerized by blurry car lights floating in the distance up and down the Pasadena Freeway, I can hear the voice of Ajahn Po—my first true teacher—calling to me, but I’m not sure I understand his words.
Would anyone believe that I was once a Buddhist monk who sat in Noble Silence on the rock floor of that cave, cushioned only by a thin straw mat? Deep in meditation, I recollected the painful days of my Irish Catholic youth when my heart wanted to love Jesus while my mind warred with Pope Pius and Martin Luther, with Saint Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and would give me no peace. When did my father, my aviator hero, become my oppressor? Why was he angered by questions about race and politics and faith? Why did he offer to help me with drums or flying lessons, but not with both? Was it a test? Did he already know the answer? Why did he never talk about his days in Florida, already a man at age eighteen, who turned English farm boys into the pilots who drove back the mighty Luftwaffe?
While candles and incense were burning on the cave’s stone altar I went into a trance so deep that the graceful bronze image of a Sukhothai Buddha, sitting in eternal serenity and wisdom, transformed into a television that droned with an endless loop of John F. Kennedy—young and handsome—giving his inaugural speech with unblinking, granite-chiseled confidence that made me eager to pay any price and bear any burden he asked of us. Deep in dreams and memories, I forgot I was a holy man and drifted in a cloud to those tragic days from high school to college when I lost my innocence but tried to cling to my ideals. I would pay any price and bear any burden to go to film schoolthat was how I would do my part to save the world now that JFK was gone. But when I meditated even deeper I had a troubling vision within my vision: Harley Baker was burning on a funeral pyre, his outlaw-bluesman’s heart and mind blown away with amphetamines, his hard, white body and redneck soul wasted with opium-tainted grass and BX booze.
I didn’t meet Harley until I stood toe to toe with Death. A warrior, an Air Commando, he taught me how to laugh at it and fear it and quash it away and never quite ignore it. Nothing in my Boston childhood had equipped me for the realities of Southeast Asia—the smooth, cool pages of National Geographic magazines stacked in our attic in the outskirts of Boston made Indochina look like Eden. It was Harley who prepared me for combat, accidentally preparing me for monkhood along the way. But in my vision I knew that Tech Sergeant Baker was as doomed as President Kennedy. And I could see my own soul, lost in the void, lost along the sidelines of the Big Buddha Bicycle Race.
My mind skids past fading memories I want to recall and lands in catastrophe on days past I have forgotten just as vividly as days I never lived at all. It must have been the whiskey. Or the red-rock heroin. How did we survive the plane crash? It seemed so real when the North Vietnamese took us prisoner. Why do I still dream of fire and fear a candle burning in the night? Who was Tukada? Baker survived two crashes, but didn’t he kill himself shooting up speed? Why aren’t I certain? What has happened to my mind?
I too walked away from the burning wreckage. I too survived a SAM missile’s direct hit—or was it a Strela? Harley looked off a thousand yards into the tree line when he talked to you, often rambling and unable to make sense. I needed someone to tell me that I had escaped the thousand-yard stare, but how did you translate that into Laotian? Had I survived the crash or was I a ghost trapped in my own nightmare, unable to escape even to the Buddhist samsara of endless rebirths, never-ending cycles of worldly suffering and delusion? Was I living in hell or purgatory or just the twentieth century?
Sitting in that cave in Laos, I could not erase my memory-visions of Colonel Strbik and Captain Rooker—the best damned pilots in the unit. I could see them burning, their faces serene like the face of Saint Polycarp, except there would be no miracle—streams of their own blood would not put out the flames. My visions were seared by burning wreckage and smoldering villages and I could no longer distinguish the mangled corpses of war heroes from beauty queens, of Asians from barbarian invaders, of friends from enemies. I was haunted by grunts like Pigpen Sachs, the door gunner, and Jeff Spitzer, my fellow cameraman, who dreamed of being held in the arms of college girls as they died—and called out for their mothers. Reporters said that bodies were being stacked like cordwood in Vietnam, but in Laos nobody was going to that much trouble. Human beings were being chopped down like the weeds the hill-tribe Hmong dried out by the side of the dirt road to make into hand brooms. Only nothing could be made from something so useless as a dead human being. Cremation was merciful in the jungle.
In the distant days between college and monkhood, in the days when I failed as a draft-dodger and failed as a soldier, I would have been satisfied waking up in the boondocks of Thailand with day lilies filling the vase that sat on the rickety rattan table next to my bed at Bungalow Ruam Chon Sawng. I would have been content with flowers that lived a single day, even though waking up with a tiny bar girl’s hand on my chest, whispers of “lovely, so lovely” alighting like soft petals, was what I really needed to put my mind at ease. In the boondocks of Thailand along the Lao frontier, Baker, Washington, Wheeler and Shahbazian usually got to the Corsair Club before me and I often went home from the bars alone because even in my days as a lover of whores I maintained certain standards. I had to know her name and where she was from and if her dad was a rice farmer or a sailor in the Royal Thai Navy, because whores were people too, just like GIs.
Vietnamese villagers prayed for us every September, wrapping the sculpted Buddhas that sat inside their pagodas with saffron to appease the souls of the unburied dead—the wandering restless souls of beggars, soldiers and prostitutes. But I fear those prayers were not enough. So many nights on the Lao frontier it was not until the first pink glow of dawn that I finally fell asleep, and even then it was not peace that came but my own private samsara. To this very day I ask: Will I wake up ten thousand times without awakening? Or will these cycles of rebirth become the path to my redemption?

What exciting story are you working on next?
Tinseltown Two-Step, the third volume of the Big Buddha trilogy. Leary grows disillusioned with Hollywood and never adjusts to life back in the States. When the First Gulf War breaks out, he chucks everything and returns to Thailand. After a series of misadventures he runs into Lek, the earthy former girlfriend of an old buddy. She’s tending bar but has always dreamed about opening a restaurant. They move to Chiang Mai where he finances her restaurant, she gets miraculously pregnant at age forty, and as the story ends, Leary sits down in their upstairs apartment and begins writing The Big Buddha Bicycle Race…

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
At my fiftieth high school reunion I was reminded I always took writing seriously. A college fraternity brother just wrote and said he always knew I would be a novelist. Looking back, my lit and creative writing teachers were the ones I really connected with. In college and later teaching English I wrote poetry. While I was working as a cameraman I wrote a lot a spec screenplays—often for shows like MASH and Quincy that I was working on. It all built my writing chops.

Do you write full-time?
I am blessed to be comfortably retired from the film industry and from teaching, so I can finally write full-time.

If so, what's your work day like?
For the last six months it has been lots of editing. I tend to be a late riser, try to exercise every day, and read—novels, Bill Bryson travel books, mags like the New Yorker, and the NY Times online—in the daytime. Maybe it was years playing in bands and doing camera work on live sitcoms, but I tend to be a night owl, writing in the quiet hours from 10 PM to 2 AM.

How do you find time to write?
Ah, that is the question!!! I tried to write during the twenty-five years I spent as a cameraman, but hustling for work and then working 60-80 weeks when we found it made it hard to write in a disciplined way. For years I wrote in spurts, mostly when the industry was on hiatus, often filling notebooks when I traveled, especially by train. I thought teaching English would be the answer, but high school in California meant 150-200 students. I hear that teaching college works better—much smaller student loads. Now that I’m retired, no problem.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
An editor I respect says I have a gift for working humor into dead-serious situations. Gallows humor seems to be part of my Irish heritage.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, a pilot like my dad. Instead of a tricycle, I had a little airplane on wheels that I rode around the house. By middle school, a rock drummer. High school—an architect. College—Ingmar Bergman.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I was always impressed in the television industry by writers who could turn out a script a week. Knowing I was not prolific, I have shot for quality.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Interview with historical fiction author Katherine Stillerman

Historical fiction author Katherine Stillerman joins me today and we’re chatting about In the Fullness of Time: One Woman’s Story of Growth and Empowerment.

After thirty fruitful years as a public school educator in North Carolina, Katherine Stillerman retired to take up writing as a second career. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or relaxing with husband Bill in their empty-but-cozy nest in Winston-Salem, or spending time with one of their nine delightful grandchildren, who keep her young and on her toes.

Welcome, Katherine. Please tell us about your current release.
Set in South Carolina in the early 1900’s, In the Fullness of Time is the story of Hattie Barton’s struggle to reconcile her life as a wife and mother with her passion for women’s suffrage. The book, a sequel to Hattie’s Place, is loosely based on the life of my grandmother, who graduated from Greenville Female Academy in 1906, got a teaching job in a neighboring community, and ended up marrying the man in whose home she was boarding, after his wife tragically died and left four young sons behind. Those were the circumstances around which the plot revolves in Hattie’s Place, the coming of age of a young woman into adulthood and independence.

In the Fullness of Time continues the story, with Hattie now married to Charles Barton, widowed father of four young sons and twenty-three years her senior. Hattie loves the boys unconditionally, though she longs to have a baby of her own. To complicate matters, her lingering feelings for Will Kendrick, to whom she was once engaged, resurface and threaten to undermine her relationship to Charles, when Will unexpectedly comes to town. As she struggles to keep her marriage on course and pursue her work for women’s suffrage, Hattie embarks on a second coming of age journey in which she searches for a way to have it all.

What inspired you to write this book?
When I began writing In the Fullness of Time, I wanted to thrust Hattie into the women’s suffrage movement, aware of the constraints that would have been imposed on her by the southern social order. I wanted to explore the quotation attributed to Cary Chapman Catt, who said, “No stronger characters did the long struggle produce than those great-soul southern suffragists. They had need to be great of soul.”

Excerpt from In the Fullness of Time: One Woman’s Story of Growth and Empowerment:
The following excerpt from Chapter 1 expresses it in Hattie’s words:

Hattie knew that woman suffrage was an uphill battle in her male-dominated state. Their politicians consistently praised the virtue of their women as keepers of the hearth and home, as well as guardians of all that is pure and good. They elevated their women up on pedestals, as high as the woman depicted in the Statue of Freedom that crowned the top of the Capitol dome—pedestals that were lofty enough to serve as prisons without bars.

Hattie thought that such an atmosphere was why strong southern women, such as Alice Barton Rivers and Lila Givens, became so pushy and aggressive. Their intellects and organizational abilities far exceeded those of most men. Forced up onto their pedestals, they were kept far from the reach of public decision-making, politics, and commerce. With their spheres of influence severely limited to “women’s work,” they had to satisfy their ambitions with trivial and mundane tasks.

Thus, they elevated the trivial and the mundane to the highest level of importance. They became obsessed with the running of their homes, organizing political events for their husbands, setting the most elegant banquet, and fretting over every detail—the color of the napkins and the arrangement of the flowers—as though the turning of the world upon its axis depended upon it. If these women had been born men, they would have inherited fortunes, been groomed to attend the finest colleges, managed vast resources, run local and state governments, waged wars, and made important decisions that could have truly impacted the outcomes and lives of others.

The denial of equal rights placed a restriction on all women, and of course it was devastating to poor and colored women. But Hattie thought it had a unique disadvantage for women of means like Lila and Alice. For the first time, as she compared them to these liberated women at the suffrage headquarters, she had a new respect for how they carried on anyway and how they operated within the constraints of the social order imposed upon them to get things done. She definitely wanted to be counted among them. Somehow, she would find a way to manage all of her marital duties and still make time for this all-important cause.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on the 50,000-word draft I finished during National Novel Writing Month (Na-No-Wri-Mo). The working title is Mountain Brook Memories: 1961-1963. It’s about a preacher's kid whose family moves to Birmingham, Alabama, into the affluent and highly segregated neighborhood of Mountain Brook. The main character, Harriet Elizabeth Oechsner, the granddaughter of the protagonist in my first two novels, is faced with the challenge of being an outsider and of finding her place in a society steeped in tradition and staunchly resistant to change. The story is played out against the backdrop of the Cold War and the American Civil Rights movement. My goal is to publish the novel at the end of the year or early in 2018.

This book would be the third in the series of the Hattie novels, only it skips a generation. Ultimately, I envision filling in the gap with one or maybe two more novels, taking Hattie through the Great Depression and World II, and then following her into her later life, in the 1970’s when she develops into a quirky and impulsive older adult, who learns to drive at 76, and is plagued with the onset of dementia.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve thought of myself as a writer for most of my adult life, having taught writing as a language arts teacher and having written numerous curriculum materials and guides during my career as an educator, as well as publishing articles based on my doctoral dissertation. What I wrote then was for very specific, limited, and sometimes captive audiences. It was not until I published my first novel in 2015, that I began to view myself as an author, with a much broader audience, none of which is captive and all of which is dependent for success upon my ability to engage and entertain my readership. And the scariest part in this writer-turned-author process is the potential to be critiqued, rejected, and worst of all ignored. Sometimes I think I’d be content to drop the author part and just be a writer, but then what would be the challenge in that? I’m in it now for the long haul.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’m fortunate to have the luxury of being retired on a generous pension from the state of North Carolina, so I can pretty much write whenever I choose to. There are very few days when I don’t spend at least six hours at my computer, either writing, editing, researching, or working on a blog for my website. When I’m not actively working on a novel, I try to read and review as many books as I can.  

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
As a writer of historical fiction, I love reading newspapers from the era of the book I’m working on. The community columns are my favorite. One in the Keowee Courier in 1908 told of a church bake sale where each cook put a sticker with her weight attached to the bottom of the baked item she donated. Each item was priced according to that number, e.g. if the cook weighed 110 pounds, the pie would sell for $1.10.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a veterinarian or a ballet dancer. Instead, I got a dog and taught school.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thanks for allowing me to share my work with you today.


Thank you for joining me today, Katherine.