Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Interview with writer John Wagner

Today’s special guest is writer John Wagner. We’re chatting about his memoir, Baby Boomer Army Brat.

John has lived in many places and has had many “careers.” One of the first of what would be called Baby Boomers, John was born in Tennessee to an Army family shortly after WW II. The family’s claim to fame is that, while John’s dad was fighting overseas, his mother, Evelyn, became the first woman parole officer for the US federal Justice Department. Then the Army sent the family to Germany (his dad, an MP, provided post-war assistance to Displaced Persons), and later to a variety of Army bases around the US. His dad’s last duty assignment was in Colorado, where John went to junior high, high school, college, and had his first permanent job. Until he moved to California (where he continues to live) after becoming a lawyer, John considered Aurora, Colorado to be his family home.

John graduated from Colorado Western State University, where he discovered creative writing and considered pursuing a career as a writer. Then reality set in—he needed a job—and he found work as social caseworker in the child abuse field in Colorado Springs. Because of that experience, he applied to the University of Chicago’s renowned School of Social Service Administration. After graduation from SSA, he worked in the mental health field in New England and Wisconsin. Because of legal issues arising in that work, he applied to the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he excelled: being on the Law Review, on the Dean’s List every semester, and receiving numerous honors. He was selected to serve as a Law Clerk for the late Judge Robert Sprecher of the Seventh Circuit federal appeals court.

John then moved to California where he had a 30+ year career as a lawyer, developing a specialty in challenging complex governmental rules and regulations, especially related to healthcare. When California introduced “geographic managed care” for certain counties, John was selected to be a patient advocate on the GMC Oversight Committee.

John took a three-year sabbatical from the law to work on human rights in Peru, where he met his now-wife, Bella. His memoir of those turbulent times in Peru is: Troubled Mission: Fighting For Human Rights, Spirituality, and Love in Violence-Ridden Peru (Kelly House, 2015).

After he retired from the law, John gradually realized he wanted to pursue his earlier dream of becoming a writer. He wrote the above memoir of his experiences in Peru and then this memoir of being one of the first Baby Boomers in the unique subculture of the military. He is now working on a novel. John is a self-described “old fart” who does not know much about social media and just wants to focus on his writing.

Welcome, John. Please tell us about your current release.
We all know about the Baby Boomer generation. But no one, to my knowledge, has focused on the experiences of this generation growing up within the military subculture, which is very regimented and restrictive. As soon as they can understand, kids are hit with this scary warning from their dads: “Everything you do reflects on me and can destroy my career in the military.”

This was a time before. Before the new civil rights laws (although during civil rights demonstrations and violence from racist police and citizens). Before the explosion of new music—rock n roll was exploding but the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the psychedelic and blues music of the later 60s were yet to come. Before drugs, which were not seen as a mere “high” that might be habit forming but as “mind-opening,” leading to a new conscious. (The “drug scandal” in John’s junior high was about toothpicks dipped in cinnamon oil!) Above all, before Vietnam—or, more correctly, before the public knew about what the US and others were doing in Vietnam. The military was respected and military personnel were “good guys,” not “baby-killers.”

Baby Boomer Army Brat is about John’s coming-of-age experiences within this subculture and during this time. But it is much more. He reaches deep to reveal dark secrets and to grapple with how many experiences would affect him for life: spirituality, sexuality, physical and sexual abuse, having severe acne, and more. He does not complain. There is not an ounce of self-pity. The book is a genuine voyage of hard-earned self-discovery.

What inspired you to write this book?
Throughout the years, as I reflected on my life, I realized how much I was shaped by the military culture and how that made me different from non-military adults. Many things I took as normal, they saw as weird and vice versa. I began to realize that my experiences might be interesting to readers and might even offer some lessons. In addition, in reading other memoirs, I felt frustrated when the author did not really reach into their inner self but just rattled through a series of events. I wanted to force myself to stretch, to grapple with my most private and secret fears and struggles—as they occurred at the time and then with later, hopefully mature, reflection.

Excerpt from Baby Boomer Army Brat:
Dad got us up while it was still dark and made eggs and bacon. It was freezing. I shivered as I got out of my sleeping bag but was warmed by the breakfast. When we crawled out of the little trailer, we could just barely see the landscape. Everything was cold, grey, and cloudy. I became cold all over again, but soon enough, the sky turned blue and clear. Dad was wearing woolen Army pants, which he saved for outdoor trips like this. Tom and I had jeans but with long underwear underneath. We all had sweaters, hats, tall boots, and orange safety vests as we started out into a meadow. After walking for a while, I felt warmer. We walked spread out, in formation, letting Dad take the lead. I felt like a soldier in Dad’s squad. I’d seen enough war movies to know I was supposed to follow him and to be calm and quiet.
“Perfect,” Dad stage-whispered. “Now be quiet.” Tom and I hadn’t been talking, but Dad kept whispering his order to be quiet, just in case we were tempted to start babbling.
As we approached the area where the meadow turned into a forest, Dad held up his hand to signal movement and that we should stop. I hadn’t seen anything. Typical. I was mystified by Dad’s skills and wondered yet again why I had no abilities. He raised his Mauser to his shoulder, twisting the shoulder strap into a tight sling. He seemed to take forever, looking through the telescopic sight. I looked to where the rifle was pointing but still didn’t see anything.
I saw something move. A deer, running. It had blended right into the landscape, a combination of grey and brown. Dad wasn’t worried about keeping quiet now.
“Okay, boys, now we have to follow it. Soon we’ll pick up the trail of blood.”
This was the tough side of Dad. Dad, who could shoot a living being and talk casually about following its blood trail. The same Dad who could smash us with his fist and not care if we were hurt. The no-nonsense Dad who, if I had dared to ask whether it was right to shoot an animal and follow its blood trail, would have said, “This is the real world, son. You’d better learn to cope if you want to live in it.”
I pulled the thirty ought six, now much heavier than it had seemed before to my shoulder. I watched the deer run and tried to track it in my sights. My eyes were blurry, sweat had gotten in them, and my glasses had slipped crookedly down my nose. I wiped my eyes but, by that time, the deer had turned out of sight. I saw myself as if in a movie, a tough hunter on the outside, a queasy sissy on the inside. It took a few minutes for us to get to where the deer had been hit, and, sure enough, we saw a trail of blood. I hadn’t pulled the trigger, but I still felt sick.
Yeah, this is what it feels like to kill something, I thought, even though, technically, I hadn’t fired a shot. But that was its own problem, I was not really a hunter, didn’t want to kill anything, was not a manly man. I felt even worse than when I’d secretly shot and killed the chipmunk with my BB gun in Rocky Mountain National Park a few months earlier. Thinking of that moment, I didn’t remember any blood, maybe because I ran away so quickly. Now, we—yes, it was “we,” no way to avoid that on a technicality—had shot an animal, and now we were watching its life juices so we could follow it and kill it. Why did I do it? Because it would have seemed cowardly and shameful to refuse. I wanted to emulate Dad, but I also wanted to yell at him for what he had done. Dad, why are we doing this? Cowardice won out. Not only did I follow Dad, I kept my eyes peeled so I could follow the blood and be the first to spot the deer.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Sorry, I have to invoke author’s privilege. I have started the book, which I plan as a novel rather than memoir. I know my overall theme, but I haven’t worked out all my characters, locations, plot developments, etc. Who knows what’ll happen.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was in the first grade, I think, my parents gave me a toy typewriter that actually worked. I decided I was going to be a journalist (and publisher) and start a newspaper. I went around to our neighbors asking for any stories they had. That was ok. But then I called my dad’s MP company, asking about any crimes going on. Dad hit the roof! And actually my first writing as an older kid was journalism-related. I was on the student newspaper in junior high, high school, and college. It wasn’t until I took a Creative Writing course in college that I discovered the wonderful possibilities of writing beyond a journalistic, “just the facts ma’am,” approach. This was when I first started writing short stories and thinking of myself, as least for the course, as a writer.

Then real life struck and, after college, I realized I needed to work. I threw myself into my work, first as a social worker, then as a law student and lawyer, so I never even considered writing at night and I would have been too tired anyway. It wasn’t until I retired from practicing law that I realized, hey, now I can do what I’ve always wanted to do: write!

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write?
I try to keep Tuesdays and Thursdays free for full-time research and writing. I try to work until Rachel Maddow comes on. I love her analysis of current events. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are for exercise, appointments, all the other demands of life, and then if there’s time, research and writing. Evenings and weekends are for further research or pleasure reading and watching too many movies on Netflix or cable. I hate watching TV, not so much because of the many stupid programs (which could easily suck me in), but because I just can’t stand commercials. I have to put up with them for news programs, but otherwise, if I watch any TV, I’ll gravitate to C-SPAN’s “Book TV” (weekends) or to Turner Classic Movies.

I’ve had to give up riding a motorcycle, which I often did on weekends. I still miss my Harley, but I do have time to read more.

And I love opera, especially those of Richard Wagner (no relation). I’m addicted to his “Ring Cycles”—a series of four operas usually held over a week—and will travel all over the world to see them. (This gets to be an expensive hobby!)

I’m really not as dedicated a writer as I should be but once I’m in the flow of something, all else fades away and I’ll stay with it as long as I can, skipping meals and sleep sometimes. I have a web site but I really need to do a better job of keeping it up. I confess I’m really not a social media person.

Finally, our three children and five grandchildren live nearby and my wife and I enjoy visiting them or having them over.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Once I get started, I can usually accomplish something. But it’s really hard for me to get started. I’ll look for other things to do, decide I’m tired even if it’s nine in the morning. I have to talk to myself, literally saying out loud, “OK, this is your job now. So commute to your office [5 seconds] and get your ass in your chair and get going.”

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, just like their famous Stan Musial. But when I got into Little League, it turned out I was “all field, no hit.”

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Keep reading books! Support your local newspapers! We need to keep our intellects alive and not be lured in by political parties or slogans—of any stripe. We can’t capitulate to demagogues and shouters. Our democracy and freedom are precious, but we can lose them if we don’t jealously guard them and think for ourselves. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had a wonderful quote:

“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

Thank you for being here today, John.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Interview with writer Fiona Maria Simon

Welcome, readers. My special guest today is Fiona Maria Simon. She’s chatting with me about her business memoir, Gambling on Granola: Unexpected Gifts on the Path of Entrepreneurship.

Fiona Maria Simon was born and raised in a tiny mountaintop community in southern New Mexico. Former owner of Fiona’s Natural Foods, she holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in Spanish. She has worked as a journalist, travel copywriter, and bilingual editor. An avid writer, traveler, and dancer, Fiona loves to cook, bake, and develop food products. Her hobbies include hiking, biking, spending time with family and friends, and exploring other cultures. Fiona enjoys live music, expanding her cultural horizons, spiritual growth, and learning. She currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Welcome, Fiona. Please tell us about your current release.
This is my story of starting a granola company as a single mom, and of my trials, tribulations, and triumphs as I grew my company and raised my daughter.

What inspired you to write this book?
Many people over the years asked me to share my story.

Excerpt from Gambling on Granola:
That night, I shared the story with Natalie. I related how helpful Spice had been and what a huge favor he had done for us. She listened, processing the information. Then she got up, found paper and pencil, and started drawing. She folded the paper into fourths. At the top of the page, she drew a granola bar. Then she wrote:

Thank you! Spise. For being so nise!
We aprishrat that you’v ben so kind to us.
Why do you have so meny peersings?
      Love Natalie

True enough, Spice had piercings. His ears had gauges, those large earrings that stretch the earlobe and need to be replaced as the hole enlarges. His nose was pierced, and he sported a few tattoos. Natalie was keenly observant, and she didn’t let these aspects pass her by.
She opened the card and drew Spice, with his piercings, then wrote “Spise” with an arrow pointing to him. She drew a wide smile, with mouth open, and a dialogue bubble: “I Love Fionas prodect.” On the adjacent page, she drew shelves of granola, granola bar caddies, and signs that read, “Fionas.” On the back, she drew a heart with curlicues at the bottom and wrote “I Love you Spise” inside it. At the top, she added, “This page is dron by Fiona.”
“Honey,” I said, “I didn’t draw that page, and maybe we shouldn’t tell Spice that I love him.” She just smiled and said, “Let’s give it to him the next time we go in.”
I gave her a big hug, thanked her for making the card, and said okay. How could I refuse? He’d get a kick out of it, and I wanted to honor Natalie’s efforts to make him such a heartfelt gift. A few days later, Natalie gave him the card. He broke into a huge smile. “This is friggin’ fantastic! Thank you, Natalie! I’m gonna hang it right here so everyone can enjoy it.”
Sure enough, he did. For well over a year, Natalie’s card hung in that office for all to see. Occasionally, receivers would ask, “Fiona, did your daughter make that for Spice?”
“Yep,” I’d proudly reply. “That’s my Natalie.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
A mental image of what the next year of my life might look like.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve loved to write since I was young and received many words of praise for my writing talents starting at a young age.

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?
For the past few years, I have dedicated most of my time to writing my book. I start early in the morning, take a mid-day break, then get back to it in the afternoon and evening. I also tend to travel a lot.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I listen to different music styles all day long.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer for National Geographic and an anthropologist.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I hope they enjoy and are inspired by my story.

Thank you for joining me today, Fiona!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Interview with romance author Kenzie Macallan

Author Kenzie Macallan joins me today to chat about her new contemporary romance novel, Edges, Art of Eros Series, Book 2.

During her virtual book tour, Kenzie will be awarding an all-new Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa (US ONLY) to a 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!

Kenzie lives with her husband in New England. She has been fortunate enough to travel all over the world to places like Africa, Greece, Switzerland, Holland, France, England and, of course, Scotland. Edinburgh is one of her favorite places. Creativity seems to be part of her soul as she paints portraits, takes photographs, and bakes. They have all added to her overactive imagination especially writing about strong women and alpha men. She looks forward to adding to her adventures and yours through secrets, strength, and passion.

Welcome, Kenzie. Please share a little bit about your current release.
My upcoming release focuses on Leigha, the middle sister in an artist family. On the outside, she appears in control of her life. Underneath, she lives with nightmares, fears, and doubts. Her nightmares become stronger after her sister Mara reveals her secret, an abusive marriage. Leigha knows the nightmares are the key to unlocking her self-imposed cage. Dean enters the picture and helps her to unlock her secret. But with that, more lies come to the surface. As she unravels the truth about her life, she gets caught in a web of other people’s secrets. It’s a story of secrets, strength, and passion.

What inspired you to write this book?
This is book 2 in the Art of Eros Series. The suspense storyline continues but this book is all about Leigha. She starts in the modeling industry full of illusion and manipulation. She becomes a photographer to get out from being in front of the camera. The modeling world has always fascinated me and I take a lot of photos. I wrote this story before the #metoo became popular and many men and women stepped forward to face their predators. This movement to step forward was long overdue. It’s the underbelly to many different businesses especially in entertainment.

Excerpt from Edges:
Her head came up and turned to him. “I never thought about men getting molested. I always assumed it only happened to women models. My memories from long ago still haunt me.” Blowing out a breath, a tight string let go just a bit to give her some wiggle room in the confines of her web. She rubbed the side of her neck with her hand.
“What haunts you?” He pushed a few strands of hair behind her ear, letting the tops of his fingers and thumb skim her cheek.
Her fingers curled painfully into her neck. She fought with the idea of revealing her nightmare to him. Tears pushed their way to her eyes of their own accord. Someone showing interest in her threw her off-kilter.
He leaned over and murmured, “Secrets have a way of destroying people from the inside out. Yours are eating away at you.” He took her chin in his fingers and turned her face to him. “Your secret’s safe with me. We all have them. Maybe one day, I’ll make you the keeper of mine.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
My next story will be the final book in this series. This novel will focus on the youngest of the Luccenzo sisters, Raquelle. She brings a lot to the table including a smart mouth, feistiness, and a great deal of talent. She’s the portrait artist of the family. The story will conclude and readers will find out the connection between their father, the Russians, and other unexpected family ties.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I published my first book. Even then, I still continue to grow and learn as a writer. How do I become better? Where can I get more emotions out of my characters? Is the plot line strong enough? I enjoy the learning process and the community of writers that are really supportive.

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?
Unfortunately, I can’t write full-time. There are things like paying the bills and health insurance that get in the way. Finding time to write can be very difficult. It’s not just writing you need to focus on in this business. Whether you are indie or with a publisher, you need to get yourself out there on social media, advertising, and making a multitude of connections. For the beginning writer, there is so much more than writing that has to be taken into consideration. I find myself getting whatever time I have to write even it’s thirty minutes a day. Creative planning of the day becomes crucial as I also need to find time for just me.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I read my favorite authors as I’m writing and especially as I’m editing. They inspire me and motivate me to write better, more effectively, and stronger. I study how they structure their sentences, do plotlines, develop their characters, etc. Some of my favorite authors include Pepper Winters, CD Reiss, Jennifer Probst, and Lexi Blake. They are each strong in these areas and I learn so much from each of their writing styles.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pediatrician. I started out in pre-med but quickly realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in school. As it turned out, I have several degrees in many different areas. One thing that always came to the forefront was my interest in being a creative person. I love to take photos, which morphed into painting portraits. The stories that I’ve had in my head for so many years morphed into me finally taking the plunge and writing and publishing them. Early on, I never saw myself as a writer. But I think self-publishing allowed more people to take the dive to see their stories in print.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I really love to hear from readers about the things they loved and the things they didn’t love about my books. I enjoy the feedback and constructive criticism. It can be extremely helpful to hear from someone who’s looking at your book through a different set of eyes.

Pre-order links:
Amazon | Kobo | Nook

Thank you for being a guest on my blog!

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Interview with dark fiction author Lincoln Cole

My special guest today is dark fiction author Lincoln Cole and we’re chatting about his new occult horror novel, The Everett Exorcism.

Welcome, Lincoln. Please tell us about your current release.
Something strange is happening in the city of Everett, Washington and Father Niccolo Paladina is tasked with investigating possible demonic activity. Nothing is as it seems, however, and things quickly begin spiraling out of his control.

When his path crosses with that of an old rival, they discover that things are worse in Everett than either of them could ever have imagined. As his world collapses around him, Niccolo will be left with one terrible question: what is my faith worth?

The Everett Exorcism is set in the same universe as my World on Fire series and takes places twenty years earlier. It sets the stage for events to come and introduces readers to Arthur before his fall from grace and the man he’s become in Raven’s Peak.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to tell this story after a lot of readers requested to know more about Arthur before he became the Reverend. He lost himself, so I felt it was important for readers to find out more about him and this world from a new perspective before continuing my later books.

Excerpt from The Everett Exorcism:
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Father Paladina knelt in his uncomfortable position beneath the staircase, eyes closed and struggling to control his breathing. Each gasp sounded like the cracking of a tree branch, and he couldn’t fight down an occasional sob of terror. His heart beat in his ears, and his veins seemed about to burst open.
“I can smell you, Priest. I know you didn’t run far. Where are you?”
The voice came from upstairs in the local priest’s office. Niccolo couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had been so on edge and afraid. It felt like a sickness in his stomach, as all of his muscles tensed simultaneously. It made his body shake, and he worried that he might throw up at any moment.
“We both know how this will end. If you come out now, I’ll do it quick. If you make me come and find you, though …”
Niccolo struggled to control his breathing as hot tears ran down his cheeks. He reached into his front-right pocket for the single item he kept there. His rosary, which he held between his fingers and pressed against his lips, praying as hard as he could for the strength to deal with whatever was happening to him.
Not to overcome it, though. Part of him—if he were honest, a large part—knew he was about to die alone in this church, and the only thing he prayed for was the strength to die well. 
After all, right now, not only his life hung in the balance: so did his everlasting soul.
“This basement has no exits. I know this church. This is my church. Not yours,” the man—if still a man—said from just upstairs. “I never thought I would actually get to kill a priest here. This is delightful!”
What is he waiting for? Niccolo wondered, in fear. Tim Spencer—or whatever controlled him—seemed to enjoy taking his time. Every muscle in Niccolo’s body ached, and he had to fight to keep from sobbing. Why is he doing this? Why is he waiting up there?
It felt like he’d been hiding under the stairs forever, but it had probably lasted for less than a minute.
“We’re having fun, aren’t we, Priest?” Tim asked. 
Niccolo couldn’t contain a shudder, and the movement caused his shoulder to bump against one of the boxes behind him. The noise it made wasn’t that loud, but to Niccolo, it rumbled like an explosion in the stillness of the basement.
If his pursuer heard, though, he didn’t let on. Tim hummed to himself as he took his first step down the staircase. It creaked heavily underfoot, and Father Paladina winced when dust fell on his head.
Another step; the sound of the boot on the stairs sounded like a nail in the priest’s coffin. Tim kept on coming, humming a tuneless tone, until the father could see muddy boots in front of his face.
“Priest? You know I’ll find you. You can’t hide from me.”
Niccolo’s whole body trembled, and the man had called it true. His hiding place seemed weak and pathetic now. As soon as Tim reached the bottom of the staircase, he would spy Niccolo. The priest had backed himself into a corner and had nowhere to go.
He shouldn’t have stayed here at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral alone. Should have gone with Father Reynolds to his home; splitting up had turned into a terrible idea, and one that might well cost him his life.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m finishing up the third book in the series, The Bishop’s Legacy, before moving on to write more books in my Graveyard of Empires series.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wanted to be a writer from when I was a little kid and I read my first Stephen King novel. I wanted to tell stories and build worlds.

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 am a software developer full time, which means I spend a lot of time doing other things. Writing is a hobby for me, something I work hard on but has to take a backseat to day-to-day life.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know that I have one. I’ve written every book differently, some with an outline, some without it, and for me it’s just about connecting scenes and telling fun stories.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be a hacker. Not the illegal hacking, but the taking apart and putting back together part. I love computers and figuring out how they work.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I love writing stories and trying to make them fun and different. I don’t like authors who just keep pumping out the same book over and over again with a different skin on it, so I try to shakeup my style and genre as much as possible. I’m not really in it to make money, just find readers and interesting people to share the journey with me!

Thanks for being here today, Lincoln.