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Today, the Dames are pleased to present multi-genre author/poet/songwriter Allen Rizzi. Welcome, Allen. Tell us about your latest book, Our First Year – Sketches from an Alpine Village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur First Year – Sketches from an Alpine Village is the true story of an American couple’s first year living abroad in northern Italy. Told through short, often humorous sketches, this book introduces the reader to life in Italy’s South Tirol region through the eyes of newly arrived American residents. Centered in the small alpine village of Tret, the people, language, and customs here come to life through a personal narrative of everyday living. This book is available exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

I’m not much of a traveler but if I ever do travel abroad, Italy would be #1 on my list of places to go. Since I’m terrified of flying, I’ll have to read your book and live vicariously through you and your wife. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I have just released a second book on Amazon’s Kindle platform entitled, The Blackest of Canyons. This is a personal memoir set against a background of 50 years of fly fishing in the American West.

Two other books will be released in March of 2013. The first is scholarly work devoted to the history and restoration of an antique cemetery in northern Italy. The second is an anthology of my 1970s song lyrics. I have also just started an historical fiction novel about the inner workings of the music industry entitled, Hey, Mr. Publisher. These are diverse subjects, to be sure!

Very diverse! It sounds as if you have a little bit of something for everyone. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

I have always loved T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain and Homer. They get to the point and waste very little ink while forcing the reader into their worlds. As a child I read a whole lot of poetry. I think Poe, Coleridge and Eliot taught me the rhythm and meter that I have used successfully in all of my writing, from music to nonfiction. As a child I was introduced to obscure and formidable classics such as Homer and Chaucer. What I took away from reading these was that I’d better learn to be a really terrific writer just to get by.

A few of my own favorites in there. How long have you been writing?

I have been a professional (paid) writer for over 50 years. I started writing poetry as a child and received my first check at thirteen. I have successful experience in poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction, and music. Additionally, I have written biographies, human interest stories and articles for magazines and periodicals. I currently write in English, Italian and German.

Your first check at thirteen? That’s impressive, as is the fact that you write in so many different genres and forms. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My family has been the biggest influence because of their support and encouragement. Writers need a bit of applause now and then and I have been fortunate to receive that from my parents and my wife. As far as song writing is concerned, I would have to mention both Gordon Lightfoot and Johnny Rivers as both influenced my lyric and composition styles.

Oh, yes, every writer needs a bit of applause in their world and family is often the best source of encouragement—at least that I’ve found. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

Currently, my wife and I live both in Etowah, North Carolina and Tret, Italy. We have been residents of Italy for eleven years and honorary southerners for only three years. We find both locations fascinating with loads of great people. I have been retired for ten years and I do a lot of volunteer work both here and in Italy. Some examples include cemetery restoration and teaching genealogy, English, Italian and German. Prior to retiring, I worked as a teacher, music producer and petroleum consultant in California and Oregon.

Honorary southerners, I like that. You sure do stay busy and I’m sure Etowah is delighted to have you and your wife in their midst. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I often find inspiration in the past, perhaps from an old photograph, an old piece of music or simply wondering where someone else’s life has taken them. Also, certain musical chords (E minor, A minor 7, etc.) often propel me into a writing theme or mood. Travelling the world and learning foreign cultures has also inspired much of my recent work. Ideas for my writing have even come from obituaries.

I’m with you on the old photographs and obituaries, both of those have played an important part in my writing. Traveling also, but only within the confines of our state—there’s that fear of flying thing again! What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

My major themes almost always involve appreciation for the past, acceptance, and optimism for tomorrow. I also like the occasional epiphany. I am a realist who doesn’t see the point in complaining about yesterday. The reason behind raw emotions is a recurring motif as well. My readers don’t normally find anything in my work that was not specifically intended.

Again, I’m with you on the appreciation for the past and optimism for tomorrow. I used to hate anything to do with history but since my sister and I started writing about our great aunt’s life, I’m hooked. During our research, I’ve often been amazed at the hardships they faced and their faith that they can accomplish anything. How many hours a day do you write, where, and are there any specific circumstances that help or hurt your process?

I am very sporadic. Sometimes, I will write for ten hours or more without a break. Sometimes, I don’t write forRizziAllen months. I write, on average, two hours a day. However, I vary my writing time and balance my writing with the rest of my life. I write at home and while travelling. The surroundings often help rather than hinder my writing. Quiet reflective moments are best. However, I once wrote a song with a complete score while eating lunch. Basically, I write when I have something to say that I feel is important.

It’s nice to hear another writer say their writing is sporadic. I never have been an “every day” writer and often wonder if it’s a curse or a blessing that I can’t seem to force myself to sit down every day at the computer and pound out a certain amount of words. But I dearly love those times when I can’t force myself to quit! What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”

You’re talking to a believer! I write only what I know and not what I might like to know. Since my motivation for writing is to share, I can only share what I know. I call it the “Colonel Sanders” way of writing; don’t try to be all things to all people and do it right.

I’ve never heard it referred to as a “Colonel Sanders” way of writing, but it sure does fit! Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?

BlackCanyonCoverFinalI come from a creative, competitive family. My brother is a well known poet, my sister is a writer and my father was a concert violinist. My mother supported her entire family’s creative endeavors and was the most widely read person I’ve known. Our home always encouraged reading and the value of creativity. I have completed two memoirs of sorts: The Blackest of Canyons and Three A.M., the latter being a song lyric anthology with complete histories of 81 song lyrics.

Wow, there’s that family influence again. How wonderful for you to have such a supportive and creative family. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

My wife and I have e-readers. I am a recent convert to electronic publishing and proud that I was able to overcome close to a half century of “old school” thinking as a writer. The internet and e-readers have broadened my audience to include people who live all over the world. I certainly could not have had this opportunity years ago with just my typewriter and local publishing house.

Thank you for joining us today, Allen. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you a little better—even though we’re in a writers’ group together, the time for socializing isn’t always there. I hope you’ll come back and visit us often on the blog.

For more information on Allen and his books, visit his Amazon Author Page, or find him at http://allenrizzi.wordpress.com or on Linkedin.

 

 

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by Betty Dravis

As most of you know, I’m a big ham and a Drama Queen who enjoys tooting my own horn. The good news is that I’m forgiven by everyone because I also enjoy tooting theirs… I love people and it shows!

So by way of celebrating the release of my latest book and to tell you about two more to follow, I decided to write this blog and invite some of my favorite authors to answer a fun question, thus giving them some good PRESS also.

I’m also introducing a new author, C. Robert Lee,  a high-school friend whose first book will soon be published.  (YES, people of our generation are still active and productive, so knock off those snide remarks, please…)  After you read about my latest books and go purchase Dream Reachers II on Amazon.com or BN.com, then and only then can you finish reading this blog. 🙂

DREAM REACHERS II is second in a series of celebrity interview books wherein my co-author Chase Von and I interview high-achievers who work hard to make their dreams come true. Some are celebs, like Bryant McGill, founder of the Good Will Peace Treaty & famous author/radio host; actress Katherin Kovin Pacino (Al’s Step-mother); Actor/Director Tony Tarantino (Quentin’s father); Hollie “Hot Stuff” Dunaway, four times world female boxing champio; SOP and American Perspective Founder Judyth Piazza, etc. And some are average people like you and me. This book has been two years in the making, following the publication of the first Dream Reachers. It can be purchased on any online bookstore, but here’s the most popular link: http://tinyurl.com/3gdw4gz

Published by Von Chase Publishing Company of Southern California.

(We all adore the photo of the beautiful actress and pop star Darcy Donavan on the cover of the first Dream Reachers, but are elated with the cover on DRII. It’s adorned by a rare, special photo of the gracious, talented actress Katherin Kovin Pacino. The cover has a special story behind it and deserves a blog of its own…which I promise to write in the near future.) You will see what I mean in the montage below:

TWO MORE BOOKS COMING SOON: Another dream of mine is being fulfilled by a two-book contract with Canterbury House Publishing who is re-releasing my most popular out-of-print books… I’ve desired to bring back 1106 GRAND BOULEVARD and THE TOONIES INVADE SILICON VALLEY in the innovative e-Book format, so am pleased that Wendy Dingwall of Canterbury House took an interest in me. When she told me she was going to “take Toonies to the moon” she blew me away… I expect her to keep her word because I’m ready for some heady adventures. 🙂

Following is a montage of the covers of the new e-Books and the two DR books (my latest works). When I signed up with Canterbury I had no idea they would work so fast and that the release of the e-Books would come so close to the release of DRII… Double PR work, but with the help of my friends and readers, like you, the word will spread. I am impressed with the covers on all these books, aren’t you? 🙂

OK, and now that you have ordered MY books, I welcome you back so you can check out my guests and order their creative books. There is something here for all literary tastes: YA, Romance, Mystery, Humor, Dark Humor, Fantasy, Adventure, etc. – Betty Dravis – http://www.bettydravis.com

Chris Platt, Author of Willow King, RWA Golden Heart Award Winner

I’m Chris Platt and I write horse books for the eight-to-thirteen-year-old crowd. My fifteenth book just came out this past September, but the character that I liked best came out of my second book, Race The Wind, and she wasn’t even a main character. RTW was a sequel to my first book, Willow King, and I was looking to add a new character to the ones already established in the first book. The character of Camela, a little blind girl, kept popping into my head.

I kept tossing the idea out because it would be really tough to be around horses and stay safe if you couldn’t see. But the idea wouldn’t go away, so I put the little girl in the book and had a great time writing that character. Even though she was blind, she had excellent hearing and a good sense of place and distance. When there were people she didn’t like, she’d trip them with her cane, then stand around and look all innocent. She also spouted old Irish sayings that she got from her grandpa. I need to write another character like that; she was a lot of fun and very courageous.

Chris Platt – RWA Golden Heart Winner – http://tinyurl.com/3uz3qmx

Author Michele Van Ort Cozzens Has an Easy Choice

My favorite character is Anne Shields from the novel Irish Twins—although I must pause and reflect on whether or not I can claim full responsibility for “creating” her. Anne, an eighty-year-old woman who dies while water-skiing and then narrates this family saga from the afterlife, has a rather provocative opening line:

“I have a little God in me,” she claims.

Granted, I created that line for her—and no matter how many workshop critics didn’t approve of it—I kept it for good reasons. There were powerful forces of imagination at work as I told the story of her life; however, Anne Shields was based on the true character of my mother, who did indeed die back in 1999 while water-skiing. Since my mother didn’t share much about her life with me, or any of her children, I elected to use the few things I did know to tell the story called Irish Twins, and made up the rest. Because her character was developed with love and respect, she materialized on the pages in a manner that made her not only loveable to me—which encouraged me to continue writing—but also to my readers.

When initially work-shopping the material that would become Irish Twins, I had used multiple voices. Anne was first, but I also used her sister—her Irish Twin Molly—who greets her in the afterlife, and the voices of Anne’s children—her own Irish Twins, Jenny and Caylie. Anytime I posted a chapter that wasn’t narrated by Anne, a wave of protests ensued. Readers, without question, wanted MORE ANNE!

Even though the story begins with Anne’s death, she is the driving force and heart and soul of this tale. Having her voice in my head as I wrote kept my actual mother alive for me, and it helped me to appreciate her life and her choices in ways I never anticipated. I also didn’t anticipate the incredible loss I felt once I finished writing the story. For a brief time, it was like losing her all over again.

I truly believe that because of Anne Shields and my mom—twins in my mind—Irish Twins is the best thing I’ve ever written.

Michele Van Ort Cozzens – http://tinyurl.com/3fv4ysk

Author Lance Carbuncle Has a Tough Choice

It’s a funny thing trying to come up with a good answer to the question: “Who is the favorite character you ever created?” It’s kind of like trying to decide which one of your children you love most. It is an unfair question and, for me, one that’s impossible to answer. I’ve created many characters (and many children) and I love each and every one of them in different ways and for different reasons.  But, I would have to say that currently, I am quite proud of the titular characters of Grundish and Askew. I can’t say that I like one more than the other. They complete each other and come together as a single unit (much like one can consider a married couple as one person). Considered individually, each character would come off as slovenly, immoral, corrupt, contemptible, violent and scary. They are the kind of guys that you would give a wide berth on the street. But together they bring out each other’s humanity and even become (hopefully) loveable in some twisted way.

I found my inspiration for Grundish and Askew in the Elvis-obsessed Japanese lovers in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train.  At this point, I cannot even remember much about the movie or the couple. But I do know that I loved the interaction between them. Something about the way that they argued, but clearly still cared about each other, gave me the starting point that I wanted for Grundish and Askew. I wanted them to argue about things constantly. I wanted them to get on each other’s nerves. And, in the end, I wanted them to be the most important things in each other’s lives. Those two white-trash, bottom-of-the-barrel losers had nothing. They lived in a trailer park amidst a swarm of convicted sex offenders. In Grundish’s case, he repeatedly found himself incarcerated. Those boys couldn’t keep jobs or girls or even self-respect. But together, they found something meaningful. They found true friendship of a quality that many will never be lucky enough to experience.

I loved the challenge of taking two detestable bums and digging deep to try to make my readers feel a connection to them. Yes, Grundish and Askew burglarize houses. They’re dirty and probably smelly. Grundish abuses substances and sleeps with his probation officer to avoid being thrown back in prison. Askew becomes an out-of-control psychotic – he kills and maims people. These are guys on an absurd crime spree. But through it all they stick together. They have each other’s backs. They are family. And, somehow, despite the fact that they should be thoroughly unlikable, I think my readers want to see Grundish and Askew come out on top at the end of the book. And that, for me, was the joy of creating the characters of Grundish and Askew – taking those two good-for-nothings and somehow crafting them to be endearing characters.

Lance Carbuncle – http://tinyurl.com/3e5ocnl

Deborah Grace Staley: on Miss Estelee of the Angel Ridge Series

I write a series called the Angel Ridge Novels in which three of six have been published by Bell Bridge Books. Book One was Only You (May 2009), Book Two was A Home for Christmas (December 2009), and Book Three was What the Heart Wants (September 2010). Book Four will be out later this year.

Angel Ridge is a small southern town in East Tennessee filled with a cast of, shall we say, “unique” characters that readers get to visit each time they read one of the novels; that’s the series part. Each novel also features a different sweet romance.

I think my favorite character in Angel Ridge has to be Miss Estelee. She’s the town’s oldest resident. In fact, she’s so old, no one knows how old she is. No one knows her last name either. She lives in the oldest house in the town proper. The streets are lined with hundred-year-old Victorians, but her house doesn’t have all the fancy architectural details of a Victorian, save the gingerbread trim, which has angel’s wings in it.

Legend has it that an angel appeared to the first settlers in Angel Ridge and saved them from an Indian attack. In appreciation, the settlers named the town Angel Ridge (see the short story that appears at the end of Only You). Miss Estelee has a particular attachment to the focal component of the Town Square: a bronze statue of a warrior angel standing sentinel on a brick pedestal. She sees that flowers are planted around him in the spring and fall. She also says he reminds her of her only love, yet she never married.

Miss Estelee turns up at odd times in the novels, as if she knows in advance where she’s needed. She’s full of folksy wisdom for the town’s residents, particularly in matters of the heart. There were women in Southern Appalachian history known as “granny women.” These women just knew things, like what sex a baby would be, when someone was coming, how to heal common ailments, and when something bad was about to happen. Some people from outside these mountain communities called these women witches. Having come from a long line of these women, I say they were full of common sense, practical knowledge and were more than a little clairvoyant.

Another oddity about Miss Estelee is that when she’s around, nothing bad seems to happen. But when she’s gone, like the time she disappeared in the middle of What the Heart Wants, trouble abounds in Angel Ridge. Readers have speculated that Miss Estelee is an angel. When asked to confirm or deny, I can only say, “What do you think?” Truth is, I don’t think I’ll know myself until I write the last word of Book Six.

For more information on the Angel Ridge Series, see http://www.deborahgracestaley.com and http://www.bellbridgebooks.com. Books may be purchased at http://www.amazon.com. For a chance to win an autographed book, “like” Deborah Grace Staley’s Fan Page on Facebook.

Deborah Grace Staley – http://tinyurl.com/5vve2xj

 Poet Dawn Huffaker Selects Her Favorite Poet

What poet do I admire, and why? Well, as a teenager, my first love was Robert Frost. His poems would draw me in and totally captivate me. The nature poems were my favorite. I felt as if I was there with him and could see the poetic scene of deep snow or falling leaves.

As I compared our writing styles, I noticed that they were very similar. The poems were:

1.   about nature or country life

2.   in blank or free verse form

3.   with a “bigger picture” message as a poem’s basis

4.   inspirational and meaningful

There was a poster in my bedroom. It had a light green frame around a forest of trees. At the bottom was written the last few lines of A Road Not Taken. They were:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

When I saw those words for the first time, they gave me chills. They were words to live by. I decided to use them as my philosophy.

Time moved on. High school came and went. College flew by. Then, I had to make a decision for a job. At that time, working with computers was a more stable income than trying to publish poetry. I founded a local computer store. Kept it running for seventeen years. After a lengthy illness, the business was closed in the spring of 2007.

As a hobby, I have returned to writing. Still not completely well, but I have progressed quite a ways. I compose poetry and short stories while looking out into the forest from my window. It is a very peaceful and inspiring place to be.

Robert Frost encouraged me to see the beauty all around me. And, after my business closed, I came back to the two roads in his forest and I’ve chosen the road less traveled again. I thank him for both of these.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my poems.

Night Made Day

Night made day

By moon on snow.

Sleeping trees whisper

In their dreams.

Biting air keeps the animals

In their burrows.

Branch shadows glide across snow

With ease.

I look out with wonder

At the scene before me.

Magical it has become

After the mighty storm.

Nothing is as it was, and

The world is weighted down.

Only the wind can come and go

As it pleases.

What a blessing it is

To live in my mountain home!

God’s handiwork is so close

I can touch it with my own hands.

Indeed, I am made rich with the bounty

That is set right before me.

Nothing man-made can compare

With His Masterpiece.

2011 © Dawn L. Huffaker

All rights reserved.

 I’ve self-published two books. One is a collection of poems that were written over twenty-five years. The title is Flights of Fancy (Volume 1). The next book is a collaboration with a floral photographer, Michele Duncan, where I wrote a poem for each of her wonderful photos. The title for this one is Flower Escapes (Book 1). The poems are about God’s garden. They give an inspirational boost to people who need a little TLC. Both are at Amazon and Lulu.

Dawn Huffaker – http://tinyurl.com/3vbmonk

Author Laurel Rain Snow’s Characters Are Her Friends

My characters feel like they are my friends, especially the ones who show up again and again, like Rainbow Luft. We meet her in Miles to Go, at a point in her life when the secrets of her past are beginning to surface. We see her again in Web of Tyranny, in “prequel” moments that showcase her time during the 1960s.

When she first appears on the canvas in MTG, she is an artist who supports herself after the end of her marriage by working in restaurants, and then later takes a job in an art gallery.

In the early 1970s, she is still clinging to the freewheeling “hippie” lifestyle, and, as someone once described her, she looks like a “moving sculpture” with colorful layers draped over her body. Her frizzy hair stands out like an aura around her slightly moon-shaped face. But her ebullient energy, combined with a peaceful demeanor, draw others to her.

She first meets Lindsay Malone and Gia Greenbaum in a consciousness-raising group in midtown Sacramento. To the others in the group, she is like a leader. She seems to have incorporated all the feminist teachings and epitomizes everything about freedom and independence that the others only dream of espousing.

But beneath that serene exterior lie the secrets of the past that haunt her. What happened to Rainbow in her turbulent teens that led her to a commune in the sixties? And what deeply buried pain continues to daunt her days, even as she pursues her art? Who will finally unlock the key to the previous versions of Rainbow and lead her into a happier life? And then, when she finally believes that the past has been dealt with, what betrayals will catapult her backwards into pain and despair?

Laurel Rain Snow – http://tinyurl.com/5srynrn

 Circles of Destiny Author C. Robert Lee Chooses Professor Danny Barcea

This blog is about a character from Book One of the trilogy, Circles of Destiny, titled The Other Face of God. The story is set in the Peru of 1968. This book will be published by Imajin books and be available as an e-book around July 1, 2011.

Professor of anthropology, Danny Barcea, PhD, finds a way to non-violently free 2,567 feudal serfs whose ancestors have been attached by law to a forty-thousand acre fundo for four hundred years. He helps them gain title to the fundo and teaches them how to compete in a twentieth-century marketplace.

By 1955, the professor’s teachings and actions shame the Peruvian legislature into passing an emancipation law that goes widely unenforced . By 1968, two percent of the population owns ninety-eight percent of all arable land. Oligarchic large land owners are frightened and infuriated by a new president sympathetic to land reform. The lords of the fundos back a dictator-in-the-making to assassinate the president and to establish a secret policy of genocide to stop the outcries for land reform generated by the professor’s ideas and actions.

The professor’s assassination is made to look like an accident on a mountain road between his car and a bus in which forty-eight people die fiery deaths. The blueprint of his work in the form of an autobiographical manuscript is hidden deep underground in a secret vault known only to his son and daughter who are now marked for death by the dictator. On his last night alive, Danny Barcea shares secrets with Father Ryan that he would never share with a family member. The professor’s work becomes the seminal reality that subsequently results in land reform without civil war.

His spirit of sacrifice and generosity resonates throughout the trilogy. The name of the corporation he forms on behalf of the Indian owners is an ancient Quechan word, Achirana, that means: That Which Is Clean Flowing Into That Which Is Beautiful.

Excerpt from The Other Face of God:

Epitaph on professor Danny Barcea’s gravestone.

HE GAVE LAND REFORM A HEART AND POURED HIS OWN BLOOD INTO IT

 Loud applause greeted President Ricardo Soriano’s arrival on stage at Danny’s Wake. He began, “Most of you don’t know that Danny Barcea was my best friend. We both enrolled at Cornell University the same year, Danny in Anthropology, me in Architecture. He was best man at my wedding.

“We had a lot of disagreements as young men often do who are trying to set a course for their lives. The question Danny always asked himself was ‘Does this action help without hurting?’ One of his eternal verities that went on to include ‘Does this act contain any seeds of self deception that in time will grow into a choking vine of self destruction? If so, it will also hurt others as well and should be avoided at all costs.’

“Almost every day of my life I have awakened with Danny’s question. Finding an answer to the question has saved me from making many mistakes. His legacy of love for the disenfranchised will last forever.”

ENDNOTE: Bob’s new website is under construction and I’ll share the link when he launches it and his first book. Best of luck, my friend.

Author Linda Rettstatt Invites Readers to Meet Photographer Rylee Morgan

My favorite character is photographer Rylee Morgan in Shooting Into the Sun. When I began to develop this story (no pun intended), I started with the title and mindful of one of the cardinal rules of outdoor photography: Never shoot into the sun. The story unfolded from the ‘what if’ question: What if a young female nature photographer worked according to the rules of her trade and lived her life in much the same manner—within the bounds of the rules? What I love about Rylee Morgan is that she is eventually willing to admit, at least to herself, that the rules keep life orderly, but also keep her lonely.

I needed a character who was strong and who had been shaped by events in her past that had a negative impact on her and skewed her view of life. And to highlight Rylee’s strengths and challenge her character flaws, I created Lexie—her younger sister and polar opposite. Many readers have been drawn to Lexie and asked about a sequel telling her story. Well, we’ll see about that.

Rylee is both complex and transparent all at once. She’s not that good at disguising her emotions or her motives. Her list of rules mostly consists of the things one does not do, leading Lexie to ask Rylee if she even has a ‘do’ list. The rules are what give Rylee’s life order and safety. But I admire her willingness to finally take chances when she comes to terms with the fact that those things that create safe boundaries to keep the bad out are the very same things that keep her locked inside. It’s not easy for Rylee to admit she’s wrong or to let her guard down. But a cross-country trip with Lexie and the hitchhiker, Josh, whom Lexie invites to join them, stretches Rylee’s rule book to the limit.

Rylee’s transformation is not without cost, soul-searching and a lot of emotional turmoil. But she dares to delve into the depths of her own fear and anger to find freedom and happiness.

I like to think that Rylee is a composite of women I’ve known. But my friends who have read Shooting Into the Sun tell me Rylee has a lot of my qualities, characteristics and stubbornness. Okay, so maybe they’re right—just a little bit. And perhaps that’s why, of all the characters I’ve come to know, Rylee holds a special place in my heart. That and the fact that as a former psychotherapist, I love to see someone plumb the depths of their inner fears and past hurts and come out whole. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

Linda Rettstatt – http://www.lindarettstatt.com

2010 Author of the Year – Champagne Books

1.      You’ve published several books of poetry. Can you tell us a bit about each one?
My first three chapbooks From the Depths of My Weak and Tortured Soul, Victorian Poems: Volume I and Victorian Poems: Volume II are out of print. They were originally hand made chapbooks that I did on my home computer. I printed the covers and pages myself and stapled it all together. I have no plans at this time of re-publishing these chapbooks but I do have another book coming out later this year called Forever From Now: Selected Poems which will include some of the poems in my first three chapbooks along with a few previously unpublished poems. Forever From Now is being published by PublishAmerica.
Internal Civil War and Melancholy Dreams were also early chapbooks of mine that I made myself at home in 1996 and 1997. I published the second editions of these chapbooks in 2010 on www.lulu.com with new cover designs. The new cover for Melancholy Dreams is a photo taken by my girlfriend, Siripañña Sophie Lichtenstein.  South of Heaven and Hard Rain & Thunderstorms: Selected Poems both came out in October 2010. South of Heaven is a title that I’ve had in mind for a book for a long time. It’s been around since at least 1996 when I published Internal Civil War, I thought about calling it South of Heaven but when I wrote the poem Internal Civil War, I really wanted that to be the title. So, I held South of Heaven back but it was such a great title that I knew I’d use it some day. I was going to use it as a chapbook title but I decided instead to use it for my first full length collection of poetry. The poems in South of Heaven and Hard Rain & Thunderstorms span many styles and forms, from poetry that rhymes to poetry that doesn’t, short poems and long poems. “As I Stood Upon the Mountaintop” is a pantoum in South of Heaven.
2.      Tell us about your latest book and where we can purchase it.
South of Heaven and Hard Rain & Thunderstorms: Selected Poems both came out in October 2010. South of Heaven was released on October 31 and Hard Rain & Thunderstorms came out earlier in the month. South of Heaven can be purchased at http://stores.lulu.com/reyjamiei or for Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004G4COIW. Hard Rain & Thunderstorms: Selected Poems can be purchased through the publisher at http://www.publishamerica.net/product25012.html or on Amazon.com. All of my books can be purchased through my website too at http://www.jamiecollinspoetry.com.
3.      What are you working on now?
I have two poems being published in an anthology called Making Waves: A Book of Little Known Poetry by Swyers Publishing. It should be out April 15, if there are no delays. I also have a new book of selected poems being published at PublishAmerica. This new book has gone through a couple of title changes before we settled on the title Forever From Now: Selected Poems. And I am working on another book that I will publish myself on Lulu. I hope to have this book out some time this year. I haven’t settled on a title for this one yet.
4.      What is a typical writing day like for you?
A typical writing day for me probably isn’t typical at all. I rarely have time to devote a day to writing, instead I have a small composition book that I carry around with me in my back pocket and I write whenever I can. I still write the old-fashioned way. Everything I write is written with pen and paper first and then I type it out on my computer.
5.      You’re an accomplished poet but I wonder if you’ve considered writing a novel. If so, any particular genre?
I have considered writing a novel. Every once in awhile the idea of writing a novel comes to me again then it’s gone for awhile. I doubt I will ever write a novel but I’m open to the idea. If I were to write a novel, I think it would probably be science fiction because I like the idea of being able to create your own worlds and populating them with your own creations. Science fiction is pretty much an “anything goes” genre as long as you get the science right. I would also like to write a Western because I love westerns and that time in American History. A Sci-Fi Western sounds like it could be fun.
6.      I note you name Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams as people who have influenced you. Good choices. In what way?
Leonard Cohen is a great poet and singer/songwriter and Hank Williams is a great singer/songwriter that I consider a great american poet. Leonard Cohen is such a great poet that when I read his work or listen to his music it makes me want to be a better writer. The same can be said about Hank Williams. I listen to them or read their work when I need inspiration.
7.      What works best for you re; promoting?
I’m still fairly new to promoting and I’m not sure if I’ve gotten it right yet. It’s mostly trial and error. I use Facebook, I have a fan page there. It’s a good place to get yourself “out there.” I also use author networking sites like authornation.com and authorsden.com as well as poetry sites like originalpoetry.com. And being interviewed in blogs like Dames of Dialog is a step in the right direction.
8.      When you “hit a wall” while writing, is there anything specific you do to break through that?
Usually when I “hit a wall” while writing, I take a break, do something else for a while, let my mind rest. Usually, I’ll read other people’s poetry or listen to music. Then when I go back to writing, I feel inspired, sometimes I’m able to finish what I was working on before and sometimes I start from scratch and write something new.
9.   Who is your favorite poet?
Leonard Cohen is my favorite poet. He’s probably the greatest living poet or at least I think so.
10.  Tell us about your part of the country.
I’m from southwest Georgia. I’ve always lived in small towns. I grew up in Cuthbert, GA and I lived the past 8 years or so in Cairo, GA. It’s very hot there, mostly boring. But we do have some nice places to go if you don’t mind driving a while, like Westville in Lumpkin, it’s an 1850’s town living history museum. The movie 2001 Maniacs was filmed there. We also have Providence Canyon, also known as the Little Grand Canyon in Stewart County and Kolomoki Mounds in Blakely. Tallahassee, Florida is only 35 miles or so from Cairo, GA so it ain’t all bad. In February 2010, I moved to Seattle, WA. It’s a lot different from what I’m used to. There’s more to do, more to see. I like it here but I’m still adjusting to living in a big city. It rains a lot here but not like it does in the South. It rains almost everyday but some days it rains for only a few minutes and some times it rains for two days. Sometimes the rain is so soft and light that it seems like the raindrops are floating to the ground and sometimes it rains hard but I haven’t seen a thunderstorm since I’ve been here.
11.  We love animals. Do you have any? If so, tell us about them.
We have a dog named Mesa. He’s old and senile but we love him anyway. His name is a Thai word, it means April, because he followed my girlfriend and her brother home from school one day in April and he’s been part of the family ever since. We have three cats, their names are Lucky, Mihang, Tinai. We also take care of two strays, there names are Granny Cat and Julie. Mihang and Tinai both have Thai names. (I’m not even sure I spelled their names right.) I don’t know the exact translation but Mihang’s name means he has a tail. Granny Cat doesn’t actually have a name or either it’s long forgotten, she’s old and blind so we call her Granny Cat. Julie moved into our back yard a while back. She’s been living there ever since. She’s wild and nervous around people but she recently started wandering into the house since it’s been cold out. All of our pets have personality and character. I like that in pets.
12.  What’s your favorite saying?
My favorite saying is “I’m southern born, and southern bred, and when I die, I’ll be southern dead.” It’s from comedian Lewis Grizzard.
For more information about Jamie and his works: http://www.jamiecollinspoetry.com

1.  Tell us about your book, Row Away From the Rocks.

Row Away From the Rocks, a family drama, tells the story of Carrie Barnes, who is raised by her grandmother after the mysterious loss of her parents.  Carrie puts her life on hold to care for her terminal grandmother.  All of her reserves of love and compassion are tested as she cares for her feisty, strong-willed Gram, especially when she learns family secrets including the fact that Gram played a role in the death of her parents.  Before Gram dies, Carrie is able to forgive her and find a sense of peace.

2.  Share a little bit about how you came up with the idea for the main character.

My novel is a work of fiction, but is emotionally autobiographical.  I cared for my mother when she was dying of lung cancer. So, much of my story relates to my own struggles.  Using a fictional frame work, I chose to use, Carrie, a granddaughter as the main character, taking care of her dying grandmother.  My mother lost her mother when she was an infant, so she is not only reflected in the role of the grandmother but also at times in the role of Carrie. 

3.  Can you tell us about what you’re working on now or what is coming next?

I am working on another family drama, Tessa and Claudine, a story about two sisters with opposite personalities who are locked in psychological triangle with a rudderless, alcoholic mother.  The two girls face a terrible tragedy before they accept one another.

4.  Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

My writing usually starts with a strong feeling.  I wrote Row Away From the Rocks because I was angry.  While taking care of my mother, I was not offered any assistance from the medical community. They offered me hospice care 24 hours before she died, which really frustrated me.  I had begged for help, and no one listened.  Others caregivers have read my novel and have related to this situation. I hope my book will help improve the relationship between the medical field and caregivers.  Doctors have recommended it as required reading for nursing and medical students.

I was inspired to write Tessa and Claudine after I lost my only sister in an automobile accident.  In this case grief was the catalyst.  Losing my sister made me realize the importance of bonding with siblings, even if major personality differences exist.  

5.  What is a typical writing day like for you?  Do you have any habits or established routines that work best for you?

I usually work on my writing between eleven in the morning and two in the afternoon.  I stop to take a couple of short breaks during that time.  Many days, I do more writing later in the afternoon, depending on my schedule.   The best advice I have for getting your writing done is to simply sit your butt down on the chair.  That is the hardest part.  Once I sit down — I don’t want to get up. I have to remind myself to go take a walk or do some stretching exercises – anything to give my mind a rest.

6.  You recently published Echoes, a book of poetry that you co-wrote with your granddaughter, Rachel Nelson.  Can you tell us how the idea for the book came to you and your granddaughter and share a little bit about how you wrote it?

Caitlyn, thanks for asking about Echoes.  I was visiting Rachel at her home in the Minneapolis area and, after reading her writing notebook, was amazed at the quality of her work. I sensed that we had a strong connection.  I asked 12-year old Rachel if she would like to collaborate on a book of poetry.  She agreed.  We spent the summer of 2009 bouncing poems back and forth between Minnesota and Georgia.  I’d write a poem on a particular subject, Rachel responded to my poem and also sent me a new poem.  I would respond to her poem and add a second poem.  We did this for 50 poems.  We had great fun and learned a lot about one another.  The generational idea made the poetry book a unique concept.  It is being used in classrooms as a teaching tool.  Echoes is available at: www.amazon.com  and www.Xlibris.com.

7.  How do you promote your book?  Any tips for other authors?

I speak at book clubs and all kinds of organizations.  I had sharp looking business cards printed, using a great design with three colors, nice script, and plenty of information (address, e-mail, phone number, website).  On the back side of the wine colored card, I have the name of my book,  ROW AWAY FROM THE ROCKS, in bold print, a novel in nice script, and down at the bottom: Available for readings, book clubs, conferences, and the website address one more time.  It is worth the money to have a nice looking card. And I carry them with me at all times.  I advertise on my blog, which is on my website and on Facebook.  I ask others to put my web address on their site.  I go to book festivals, book stores, writer’s conferences, workshops and constantly look for stores that will carry my books. 

8.  I have to tell you, I love your blog.  You’ve hit upon an amazing combination of personal stories, tips for writers, and inspiring articles about your writing life.  I know from my own blog that I sometimes struggle to come up with things to write about.  Do you have any advice for authors on starting and maintaining a blog?

Well, first of all, Caitlyn, thank you for the kind comments about my blog.  Before starting my blog, I looked at other blogs, (I highly recommend this).  The ones I liked were fun to read and had a variety of things to offer.  So I followed those guidelines.  As a writer, I wanted talk about writing to be my main emphasis, but I also wanted to share more of myself.  I just happened to add a recipe one day.  After getting fun comments, I started adding a recipe now and then.  After I started a writing workshop, I started my writing tips. I sort of go with the flow. My advice is to go with your gut feeling. Be yourself.  Get some kind of theme – It doesn’t have to be major, just something that interests you.  I try to make sure I do it once a month or more.  Check out my blog at: www.lisbeththom.com.    This also connects to my website, actually a weblog.

9.  Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

I credit a professor at a continuing education class that I took many years ago at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for getting me jump-started.  He insisted that writers should write for publication so I started sending my essays, poetry, and short stories out.  And soon they were getting published.  I think writing for publication and constantly attending writing workshops has motivated me to keep writing.  Writing is a huge part of my life.  At this point, I need to write as much as I need to breathe. 

10.  What part of the craft of writing has improved since you wrote your first book?

I’m writing with more honesty, using more concrete detail, and paying more attention to revision, eliminating parts that do not move the story along.  In my first book, I added a lot of unnecessary information.  I worked closely with my editor at NewSouth Books in Montgomery, Alabama, and together we cut about 15,000 words from the novel.

11.  You’ve lived in numerous places and also traveled quite a lot.  Do you have a favorite travel destination or is there anywhere you would like to go but haven’t been able to get to yet?

 
 
 
 

Lisbeth and her husband, Doug, on a recent cruise

Yes, I have traveled to many countries including Africa, China, South America, Tahiti, Turkey, Greece, England, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Italy, Budapest, Amsterdam, Hungary, Slovakia, and New Zealand.  So far, New Zealand is a favorite.  It is such a beautiful place and has such friendly people.  I want to return.  I’d like to travel more in the United States and see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and also many places in New England that I have not visited.

12.  Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” So true but I also believe every place has its own language that is beautiful in some way. Do you have a favorite saying/expression/colloquialism from you next of the woods?

Well, I grew up in Southern Illinois, in Vandalia, and I can still recognize the Midwestern twang spoken in that part of the country.  Once I heard a man in a distant outpost, six miles from the entrance to Denali Park in Alaska speaking in that familiar twang.  I stopped at his dinner table and asked where he was from.  And sure enough, he grew up seven miles from my home town.  We knew many of the same people. We talked a while, and his voice sounded like music to me.

1.    Tell us about your latest book and what comes next.

Death Will Help You Leave Him is available for preorder now and will be out from Minotaur on October 13. It’s the second in the series featuring recovering alcoholic LZheadshot FINALBruce Kohler and his friends, Jimmy the computer genius and Barbara the world-class codependent. This one is about bad relationships. Barbara’s Al-Anon sponsee is the prime suspect when her abusive boyfriend is murdered in her apartment. Bruce has to juggle the investigation, his sobriety, a crush on the bereaved girlfriend, and his addictive relationship with his crazy but compelling ex-wife, who’s always on the brink of self-destructing and is in another abusive relationship.

The next in the series, which is on my editor’s desk but no contract yet, is my Hamptons book. Bruce, Barbara, and Jimmy take a share in a lethal clean and sober group house in an imaginary Hampton. And a Bruce Christmas story, “Death Will Trim Your Tree,” will appear in the anthology The Gift of Murder, to benefit Toys for Tots, in time for the holidays.

2.    The protagonist of Death Will Help You Leave Him and the first in the series, Death Will Get You Sober, Bruce, is interesting because he’s a recovering alcoholic.  Is there any particular reason you chose a recovering alcoholic as the primary character for your series?  

I don’t think any writer makes that kind of decision by accident. I worked in the addictions field for many years and have been amazed and inspired by the courage and honesty of alcoholics and other addicts who turn their lives around in recovery. I was directing a treatment program for homeless alcoholics on the Bowery when I started to talk about writing a mystery about people in recovery that I’d call Death Will Get You Sober. That was all I knew about the book before I started to write it. I also have a lot to say about codependency, so Barbara is a very important character for me. Her tendency to help compulsively and control and mind everybody’s business make her a good amateur sleuth and drive her commitment to addictions counseling, but they get her in a lot of hot water.

deathwillhelpyou3.    Is this a series that you plan to carry forward or will it be limited?

That will depend entirely on the publisher.  In this economy, it’s a struggle for a midlist author to keep going. And whatever happens with the novels, there will surely be more short stories about Bruce and his friends.

4.    You have lived such an interesting life and have accomplished so much: as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, as a textbook and reference book editor, then on to a master’s degree in social work and your many years as a psychotherapist and directing alcoholism treatment programs. And now you have an online therapy website, LZcybershrink.com.  You’ve also published professional material and and two books of poetry, and you’re a singer/songwriter too. Very impressive! I imagine you enjoyed each, but which do you think you enjoy(ed) the most?

I’m what a friend of mine called a “Renaissance soul” in a book she wrote about people like me, who have many interests and focus first on one and then on another. I’ve reinvented myself several times, though being a writer was the one I’ve wanted my whole life. When the writing is going well and you feel as if you’re just a channel for something that’s coming through you from whatever you call it—inspiration, the Muse, a Higher Power—that’s a great feeling. So is performing for an audience, whether it’s singing and playing the guitar—or even better, singing with real musicians backing me up and doing harmony vocals—or giving a talk or a poetry reading. Getting a laugh from a big audience—it hasn’t happened that many times, but it’s a peak experience. Moving someone to tears, which I know I’ve done with my songs and poems—it’s harder to tell with a novel, because I’m not there when people are reading it. As a therapist too, having a session in which a client reaches a deeper level and experiences insight, or even better, hope—knowing I’ve really helped someone is a terrific experience too. The point of being a Renaissance soul is that I don’t have to choose.

5.    Your road to fiction publication is an interesting one that I find quite motivating. Could you share that with our readers?

I’m always afraid everybody in the world—or at least New York and cyberspace—have heard that story till they’re tired of it. The short version is that I queried 125 agents and 35 publishers before I sold Death Will Get You Sober to St. Martin’s. But first I had to rewrite the whole thing for an editor who then quit publishing. The drop of luck in a sea of persistence was his giving the manuscript to the legendary Ruth Cavin before he left. And the fact that she liked it was more than luck, it was a miracle.

6.    What inspires you as a writer?

I can think of two ways to answer that question. One, what inspires me as a writer is what inspires me as a person—the transformational quality of recovery, which is what I chose to write my series about, and also, in general, love and honesty about one’s own shortcomings and willingness to change and grow. But the inspiration that sends me to the keyboard with my fingers flying, that knocking on the inside of my head when a character has something to say and wants to get out and say it—that’s a completely intuitive process. I only know I have to get it down before it disappears. Novels are hard because you can’t do the whole thing that way. You get fragments, and then you have to slog. But a poem or a song or even a short story can come to me that way. It’s a gift I’m awed by and grateful for.

7.    Do you have a specific writing ritual?

I tend to spend the whole day at the computer whether I’m working on a novel or not. I sit down at the keyboard right after breakfast and fall in. If I am actively working on a manuscript, I try—not always successfully—to get right to it rather than looking at my email first. The email is important—it could be a therapy client, or I could see opportunities for networking and promotion or information I need to know on one of my e-lists—but fiction writing goes better for me if I put it first. I try to get out and run for an hour—around the Central Park reservoir if I’m home in New York—and then I’ll come back, sit down at the computer, and fall right in again.

8.    You’ve received many accolades regarding your writing, as well as some pretty amazing letters from readers. Is there any one award or letter that stands out?

Getting an Agatha nomination for my first short story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” was pretty cool, and it inspired me to go on writing short stories. And I love hearing I made a reader chuckle or moved someone to tears. Even better, the emails from readers who have experienced the devastation of alcoholism first-hand or reached a new understanding from reading the book have warmed my heart and made me very proud: the woman with 35 years sobriety who wrote, “You are the first professional that I have come across that really seems to get it;” the reader who said, “I was profoundly moved by the struggle of the recovering addict. I finally got what it means to crave something so bad for you.” I hope the same thing will happen with what I’ve tried to show about relationships and codependency in Death Will Help You Leave Him.

9.    What do you find works best for you in promoting?

I’m lucky in that I was born to schmooze. It’s all about connecting with other people on an emotional level—just like writing and doing therapy. Whether I’m at a mystery conference or a signing at a bookstore or library, even if only a few people come, or posting on an e-list like DorothyL or on Poe’s Deadly Daughters, the blog I do with other mystery writers, or at someone’s launch party, I throw myself into it with enthusiasm and a lot of love. You can’t fake it, and I think people appreciate it. I’ve certainly found an enormously supportive community among mystery lovers—writers, readers, booksellers, librarians, and others in the book world.

10. We are interested in learning about other areas of the country. Tell us about where you live.

LOL. I live in New York City—where do I start? Both my mysteries are set in the city, and I had a lot of fun with the location of various scenes for Death Will Help You Leave Him. I took a lot of photos and even shot some video, which you can see on my book trailer by going to my author website at www.elizabethzelvin.com and clicking on the cover of Death Will Help You Leave Him at the bottom of the page. I set scenes in Spanish Harlem, a funeral in Brooklyn, an Italian bakery, a fancy East Side lingerie shop, an art gallery in SoHo, and a traffic jam on Canal Street in Chinatown. Bruce lives on the Upper East Side—which was an old ethnic neighborhood, Yorkville, when he and Jimmy grew up there—and Barbara and Jimmy live on the Upper West Side, more or less where I do, so they’re always walking across Central Park, which I do all the time.

11. What’s your favorite Southern expression or place or food?

I recently visited Nashville, which I loved for the music—and the great people I met at Killer Nashville—and I ate pulled pork more than once. You can get it in New York, but not easily. I can’t deny I’m fond of fried chicken and pecan pie as well, but I think I’d have to go further south for those. I do say “y’all,” at least in email, and I know it’s plural.

12. What’s your favorite animal?

I love giraffes, ever since I was very little and had a couple of cuddly toy ones. I love their long eyelashes and the way they move. No, I didn’t see any when I lived in West Africa for two years–wrong side of the continent. My best encounter with giraffes was at a safari park in New Jersey. You weren’t supposed to feed the animals, but the folks in the pickup right next to our bus had loaded the bed of the truck with Cheerios. We were surrounded–eight giraffes, including a baby. So if you ever need to know, giraffes love Cheerios.

Elizabeth Zelvin, 2007 Agatha nominee
DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM, October 2009
DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, David nominee for Best Mystery Novel of 2008

www.elizabethzelvin.com

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