Monday, June 5, 2023

#BookReview of Letters From Jenny

Letters From Jenny: A Historical Novel

By: Heidi Laird
Publisher: Fulton Books
Publication Date: September 2022
ISBN: 979-8-88505-150-7
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: May 31, 2023
Heidi Laird delivers poignant prose and eye-opening information in her latest book, Letters From Jenny, A Historical Novel.
This compelling story opens with a riveting preface that provides the author’s connection with ‘Jenny,’ the main protagonist in Letters from Jenny. Heidi Laird is the great-granddaughter of ‘Jenny’ and from the onset, Ms. Laird clarifies that while she never knew Jenny, she knew of her and her "...formidable matriarch and her compelling personality..." (page 5) Jenny was born into a Jewish family in 1863 and grew up in Imperial Germany. She survived the First World War, the revolution of 1918, the Weimar Republic, and most notably, witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. Jenny lived in Mainz, Germany and she and her husband Albert raised six children. Sadly, Jenny was widowed in 1912 when her husband passed away at the age of forty-nine. For the next two and a half decades, she lived through famine, a pandemic, financial constraints, and the reality of a government that was ineffective at best. The beauty of this story focuses on the treasure trove of letters from Jenny to her twin sister, Martha, that covers a period of time beginning in February, 1918 to March 1933, the contents of which is rife with fascinating observations and viewpoints the two sisters had while living through the infamy of this period of time in Germany’s history.
Chapter One titled "The Nuremburg Trials" lays the foundation for the discovery of Jenny’s Letters. Captain Milton Cramer is assigned to the JAG Corps team in Wiesbaden, Germany in April 1945. For the next year, he would pour over countless documents and have first-hand witness to the images of unfathomable atrocities that would provide the evidence presented during the actual Nuremberg Trials. His office space had already been established and a translator was assigned to Captain Cramer. His workspace would be that of a "...beautiful, dark-stained desk with a satin finish high-lighting a carved frieze along the edges of the writing surface, the intricate joints and fittings of the three deep drawers on each side evidence of the fine craftsmanship of the furniture maker..." (page 12) On the back of the desk was the stamp ‘Property of the U.S. Military.’ What Captain Cramer didn’t know was "...this was one of many pieces that had been requisitioned from the houses and apartments of the German civilian population of Wiesbaden as they were being evicted by the U.S. Military, and their homes converted to housing for the soldiers of the American occupation forces..." (page 12)
On the last day of his assignment in Wiesbaden, Captain Cramer was advised of space available on an Air Force cargo plane that would transport him back to Langley Field in Virginia. In his desk, Cramer had discovered a neatly wrapped package tied together with string, a package that contained letters - should he take them with him? The cab was waiting to take him to the airport, and Captain Cramer had a moment of hesitation as to whether he should take the letters. He decided to take them and tucked them into one of his shirts inside his duffel bag. Once reunited with his wife Ruth and his three children, Rebecca, Benjamin and Ella, Cramer didn't give the letters much thought. However, as Ruth was unpacking Captain Cramer’s duffel bag, she discovered the packet of letters. When Ruth first discovered the letters, she thought they belonged to a soldier who had written to his loved one during the war. Upon closer inspection, she realized they were not only written in German, but in antiquated script on paper that had yellowed and aged over time. She knew Milton didn’t speak German and upon taking a closer look, she noticed the dates of the letters began in 1918 and continued until 1922 and resumed in 1932 for another year. It is with Ruth’s discovery that the anchor was set and the story of Jenny’s Letters was about to unfold.
Words cannot express enough the level of praise I have for Ms. Laird for penning such an impactful read. The letters from Jenny cover a well-documented period of time in history that is exceptional and phenomenally captivating to read. Ms. Laird deserves tremendous accolades for taking on the challenge of sharing these letters given the heart-wrenching reality of life in Germany during such a tragic period of time. Her tone portrays amazing poise (versus a nuance of contempt). There is a sublime gentleness to the way the story plays out; equally complemented with rich history. There is a profound sentiment Ms. Laird emotes in her opening statement in the synopsis on the back cover of this book: "History tells us that a big lie, repeated often enough, can begin to sound as if it could be the truth..." I could not ignore the goosebumps that often rose on my arms when reading this book. There isn’t a traditional dialogue between Jenny and Martha, but the letters contain a profound and raw emotion that is a phenomenal guide for the reader to hear Jenny’s voice as she tackles a myriad of discussion points from letter to letter. This book is far more than a ‘good read.’ It is a lesson in the daunting reality of the capabilities of history repeating itself. Thank you for this tremendous body of work, Ms. Laird. You are a master of your pen and I have nothing but praise for your magnificent writing ability that supports your delivery.
Quill says: Letters From Jenny is a profound affirmation to the notion that history is more than capable of repeating itself.

Enter June's FREE Book Giveaway Contest!

Oceana Hebel of Kentfield, CA won a FREE copy of Luna's Green Pet, the book giveaway title for May. Why don't you head on over to Feathered Quill to enter June's contest? What's the book this month, you ask? Hmmmm... 

Thursday, June 1, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Teresella Gondolo, author of Fifty Shades of Gray Matter

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr. is talking with Teresella Gondolo, author of Fifty Shades of Gray Matter.
FQ: You begin the chapter “When Your Face Turns against You,” with: “We are programmed for symmetry.” The word programmed is very specific in this case. Can you generally define what you mean by programmed, and is being programmed also directly correlated to both self-consciousness and identity?
GONDOLO: We are programmed when society leads us to distinguish between what is viewed as normal and acceptable versus what is not. It is an intrinsic part of our human experience and self-consciousness to have a symmetric left and right composition.
FQ: As a follow-up, many chapters of your book focus on your patients’ faces, as well as what you observe about your patients when they first come into your office. Can you speak more about how the art of observation plays a role in neurology?
GONDOLO: As a neurologist it is important to make observations related to the patients, particularly their physical appearance, their affect, the way they walk and express themselves. For instance, patients affected by Parkinson’s disease have an emotionless expression and accentuated hand tremor during ambulation. Stroke can paralyze the lower contralateral face and Bell’s palsy causes weakness of the complete hemiface...
FQ: Many of your chapters are a mixture of storytelling, artistic expression, and medicine. From your perspective, how do you see the three connecting with one another?
GONDOLO: Every patient is a story, not just a case study. Giving medical care is not just obtaining tests or prescribing drugs. The most successful way to treat patients is to apply the hard facts of science in a compassionate and sensitive manner that takes into consideration their human feelings and hopes.
FQ: Based on the essays/narratives in Fifty Shades of Gray Matter, would it be safe to say that, when it comes to your field of work, that everything is explainable even if not explained?
GONDOLO: In our imperfect understanding of the human brain there are some diagnoses that we can explain as neurological facts whereas others can only be explained as neurological conjecture.
FQ: You present to readers a multitude of fascinating stories, and we learn a great deal about a variety of neurological disorders throughout your book; what went into the picking of these particular stories, and were there stories that you wished you could have added but decided to reject? For what reasons?
GONDOLO: I specifically chose unusual cases because the field of neurology is not just about strokes and headaches. I wanted to attract the reader’s curiosity with a description of very unfamiliar diagnoses. I could have added more stories but the book was already voluminous enough. Perhaps in Volume 2 (lol).
FQ: Many of the stories in Fifty Shades of Gray Matter speak not only to the patients’ experiences but to the patients’ families’ experiences as well, and I was astonished to see how many family members seem to lack empathy towards those who are sick and, at times, dying. What do you see as being the contributing factors to this lack of empathy, even when the family dynamic is seemingly solid?
GONDOLO: I believe that feelings of hopelessness, desperation, frustration and mental and physical stress may be the factors causing some families to give up on their relatives or significant others.
FQ: The writing-style choices made for this book are very traditional, meaning that it reminds me of books by psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists written in the early 20th century. Who are some of your influences as it pertains to your writing? As it pertains to your medical practice?
GONDOLO: I was inspired by the famous and renowned author Oliver Sachs. My father, who was a famous and dedicated physician, also contributed to my medical philosophy. My writing styles were greatly influenced by my classic studies in Italy that included ancient Greek, Latin and all the famous Tragedies and philosophical theories.
FQ: Your book at times delves into religious faith and the supernatural, but in such a way that somewhat subtly undermines the two. Do you see the two as being of detriment or a hindrance to the way you work with your patients? In more basic terms, do you see the two as getting in the way of you providing realistic, sound medical advice?
GONDOLO: In my approach to patients, I always evaluate the scientific facts relating to each illness in a purely cognitive fashion, without influence of religion, the Supernatural or personal inclinations. When I converse with patients regarding their illness, I always keep in mind their humanity and psychological needs. Many of my patients have profound religious beliefs and I am happy to offer them a more spiritual and hopeful view of their medical situation.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Verlin Darrow, author of Murder for Liar

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Verlin Darrow, author of Murder for Liar.
FQ: The list of industries you have worked in and jobs you have held in your lifetime is quite extensive. Is there one particular job or career that stands out to you as the most rewarding or exciting?
DARROW: Being a therapist has proven to be the most rewarding career/job I’ve ever had. Playing professional volleyball in Italy was certainly the most exciting.
As a therapist, I utilize all my hard-earned life experience, insight, professional skills, emotional and spiritual development, and whatever else gets pulled out of me in sessions in service to others. As I’ve aged, a lot of things that used to be important to me dropped away, leaving helping whoever I can as the remaining worthy activity. After all, we’re truly all in this together. (It could even be argued that our sense of ourselves as separate individuals is an illusion, but that’s a discussion for another time).
As a professional athlete, the excitement factor might seem obvious, but it went deeper than the competition and the fans. It was simply challenging every day to live in another country and try to build a life that worked. I have a lot of respect for anyone who manages to do that successfully, especially in this country with our gnarly language. For me, challenging equals exciting. For better or worse (and often worse), I’ve always pushed myself past psychologically safe bounds.
FQ: Murder for Liar is your fourth standalone book. Would you say there is a central theme that unites all four of your novels, or are they each their own separate entity?
DARROW: While separate novels, with unique characters and plots, all my books thus far embody underlying themes of how people change, what might lie beneath the physical world, and how do people cope with extraordinary events. In my latest book, Murder For Liar, Tom is a psychologist who has to figure out how to deal with seemingly impossible events, as well as several murders. To do so, he has to expand his sense of most everything. In my first novel, Blood and Wisdom, a private investigator solves a murder at a spiritual retreat center, while falling in love with its teacher. Coattail Karma is a wild, no holds barred fantasy thriller, taking similar themes to extremes. And Prodigy Quest explores what happens when a genius ten year-old is tasked with finding a book of wisdom. In that one, I include the contents of the book he finds as an appendix—the world according to Verlin.
FQ: At its core, Murder for Liar is a mystery but the psychological components of the story make it dark, intellectual, and at times, simply horrifying, which in turn makes it impossible to put down. What inspired the story? With you being a practicing psychotherapist, did you base some of this on your work with clients, or did you simply develop this remarkable story yourself?
DARROW: Actually, as hard as it might be to believe, a great deal of the plot, at least early on, was autobiographical. A long time ago, I was approached by a charismatic, spiritually-oriented guy who told me I was someone special in that realm, with a vital mission to perform. I posited that he was either crazy or quite spiritually advanced and knew what he was talking about. Biased by my ego—who doesn’t want to be special?—I settled on the latter since he could do things beyond logic and science—impressive, mind-blowing stuff. So I signed up as the first disciple of what became a small, benign cult, serving as my guru’s assistant. I eventually realized that our sincere and hardworking leader was also delusional, and I graduated myself and everyone else out of the group. So I grappled with some of what my protagonist does, which I think lends authenticity to being in Tom’s head as he weathers much more than I did, including murders.
As a therapist, I did indeed use amalgams of former clients to help me create believable characters. The story itself more or less wrote itself. My style is to get started and see what the hell happens. Then I fix the screw-ups later.
FQ: The supporting characters in Murder for Liar, including Zig-Zag, Dizzy, and George, are unique, to say the least. How did you develop such distinctive characters?
DARROW: I really don’t know. It feels like they write themselves, pretty much. I guess that represents the presence of my subconscious in my process. When something bubbles up, I’ve learned to trust it. Perhaps a character says—for no discernible reason—that they’re allergic to strawberries on page nineteen. Lo and behold, on page 248, this turns out to be an important plot point. It’s all a bit mysterious to me.
FQ: What would you say has been the biggest surprise to you thus far on your author journey since publishing your first book?
DARROW: How humbling the process is, leading to diminished pride about myself as a writer. As in other endeavors, when I reach a goal, especially one in relationship to creativity—like getting published—what feels as though it’s going to be the end result turns out to be just one more step in my process. In other words, whatever expectations I had around being a published author making my life complete or filling me with never ending warm puppy vibes inside got squashed. I’m still me, warts and all, and the fifteen minutes of fame, even if it’s stretched longer, is never sustaining in and of itself. The real satisfaction comes from the writing, not the result.
FQ: Do you have any plans for future books, and if so, what can you share about these plans?
DARROW: The first book of a more genre-ish mystery series is currently at a couple of publishers, and early indications are that it will be out next spring. The current title is The Not Quite Enlightened Sleuth. In it, a former Buddhist nun returns to her dysfunctional family of origin in northern California and tries to solve multiple murders. She’s both psychologically and spiritually-oriented. It was fun—and challenging—writing in a woman’s first person voice.
FQ: From reading your author bio, it seems like you have undergone some rather unique experiences in your lifetime. Two especially notable ones are surviving the natural disasters of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Can you share a bit about these experiences?
DARROW: I played in a volleyball tournament a couple of days before Mt. St. Helens blew its top. As our plane departed Portland for home, the pilot told us he was going to detour to fly over the volcano so we could all take a look—which we did. The eruption reached a crescendo ten minutes later, once we were barely out of range. So that experience was largely conceptual, but still sobering. At any time, from however unlikely a direction, I learned that most anything on any scale could happen.
I was in Mexico City at the end of a buying trip for a folk arts store I owned. At seven-twenty in the morning, I was tossed out of bed by what was an 8.1 earthquake. I was at the center of it on the top floor of an elderly wooden hotel. Huddled in an archway, I endured four and a half minutes of shaking, rolling, and swaying, hearing deep rumbling, screams, and buildings crumbling into the street. When the hotel swayed, it was extreme enough that I could see the ground beneath my window—an array of decorative metal spikes atop a restaurant roof. With each sway, I was sure the next one would bring me down to my death. Now here’s the interesting part. I wasn’t scared. I just waited patiently to see what would happen. In fact, dying felt okay—not good, not bad, just what was happening. The quake was so out of my control, so beyond me, that any reaction seemed pointless. And I became curious about what might happen once I died. Then I didn’t die, of course. I no longer fear death, I no longer kid myself that I’m in charge of my life, and like the volcano experience, I now know that you never know—not about anything, not for sure.
FQ: You have previously written manuscripts of children’s books but did not publish them. Do you have any plans to write for this audience in the future?
DARROW: At the time I wrote them, my writer’s mind operated at a fifth-grade level. That was the vocabulary and complexity that naturally came out of me in a first draft. I was a slow bloomer about most things, but especially writing. These days, I would have to translate from a more mature style into something compatible with younger readers. I’m afraid my ideas about life and the themes I care about might be lost. At the least. I’m not confident that it could be any sort of maestro if I tried. I did have some wonderful titles back in the day: Nightmares Are Caused By Bad Dust Bunnies, The Dog Who Burped His Way to Mars, and others.
FQ: The ending of Murder for Liar is unexpected, to say the least. Seeing Tom become a better version of himself after all he has been through is quite satisfying, although the events leading up to it are surprising. Did you have an “aha” moment when it came to how you would conclude your story, or did you know this from the beginning of writing?
DARROW: I never know how things will turn out in my books, which keeps me interested to find out. Often, I write myself into a corner and have to figure out how to proceed, which sometimes leads to major plot twists. That’s what happened in this book. About three-quarters of the way through Murder For Liar, there’s as big a shocker as I’ve ever created. That’s because the first draft ended there, much to my chagrin. Not only would the manuscript be too short, I didn’t like those scenes as my ending. So I came up with a way to go forward, which wasn’t easy, but led to some surprises that readers seem to like.
FQ: If someone who had never read any of your books wanted to read just one, which one would you recommend he read and why?
DARROW: Actually, that depends on the person, but so far everyone who has read my latest—Murder For Liar—has liked it the best. I guess I get a little more skillful as I continue to publish books. Personally, I like Coattail Karma the best, but I’m a rather idiosyncratic reader and I wrote that one aimed at myself. At the time, since it was actually written before the others, I felt hopeless about getting published, so why cater to the world at large? As it turned out, after an editor’s heavy hand, the book actually has wide appeal and garnered good reviews. Anyway, you can check out all these on Amazon or my website——and see for yourself what interests you.

Monday, May 29, 2023

#BookReview of Laban Learns Mindful Breathing by Sara Taher

Laban Learns Mindful Breathing (Mindfulness for Children)
By: Sara Taher
Illustrated by: Vanessa Moreno
Publication Date: May 20, 2023
ISBN: 978-9948791898
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: May 26, 2023
A beautiful white cat who easily gets stressed and frightened, but learns how to control those scary situations, is the first of a planned series of books focusing on mindfulness for children by author Sara Taher. Parents and caregivers take note - this is a fantastic start to this new series.
Laban (his name means yogurt in Arabic) has just been adopted and is getting used to his new home. Laban is a curious cat who loves to explore, but sometimes, not knowing what is around the corner can be quite frightening. In fact, just this morning, when Laban strolled onto the balcony "...suddenly, out of nowhere, a dreadful, dangerous, dark dragon came at me! Can you believe such a thing happened? I was Cat-rified!" But was it really a dragon?
It was, however, a busy day and there were more scary things to come. At lunchtime, Laban headed to the kitchen (he was sure he smelled fish - yum!). But as he approached the kitchen, he was sure he saw "...a wild ninja coming at me with shiny, sharp, shearing swords! It was terrifying! Can you believe such a thing happened to me? I was meow-struck!" But was it really a ninja?
There were more scary things waiting for Laban - would he ever get over his fears? Would mindful breathing help him?
Laban Learns Mindful Breathing is such a fun book that manages to entertain while also teaching youngsters an excellent way to deal with their fears. For each of Laban's stated fears, an illustration first shows what is really happening (the dragon is really a dragonfly, the ninja is a prickly cactus, and so on), so readers can see what the "thing" is before another illustration shows what Laban imagines the danger to be. Eventually, Laban is backed into a corner, literally, and closes his eyes. When the monster that is chasing him is still there when he opens his eyes, Laban decides to try his breathing exercises. The author, Sara Taher, does an excellent job, through Laban, of explaining just how mindful breathing can help overcome stressful, scary things. And through this relaxation process, Laban realizes that those things that were frightening him were really harmless. Adorable illustrations add to the tale to make Laban and his experiences come to life.
Quill says: An absolutely adorable book, Laban Learns Mindful Breathing isn't just fun - it teaches a valuable skill that children can use to overcome their fears. I can't wait to see what else Laban has to teach in his future adventures.
For more information on Laban Learns Mindful Breathing (Mindfulness for Children), please visit the author's website at:
Messy Mama Sara – Children's book Reviews and more!
Messy Mama Sara – Children's book Reviews and more!
About Sara Hello Book Lovers! So glad you stopped by! My name is Sara and I’m an indie writer, former Kindergarten teacher, and my special skills include speaking like Arnold Shwarzenegger and making an exceptional mess in record time. Ever since I started reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five serie...

Friday, May 26, 2023

#authorinterview with David Towner, author of The Spectacular Life of Benito Martin del Canto

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with David Towner, author of The Spectacular Life of Benito Martin del Canto.

FQ: Have you traveled to or maintained any personal ties to Spain, the setting for much of this work?

TOWNER: Yes. I was stationed in Spain briefly while in the military and subsequently have visited many times as a tourist. We continue to expand our time in Spain each time we visit and in the next few years, we plan to make our primary home somewhere in Andalusia.

FQ: Given your graphic novel background, do you envision this remarkable story as graphic, or film-ready, in nature?

TOWNER: Yes. I actually wrote the screenplay first and adapted it later as a novel. I envision a hybrid animation/live action film.

FQ: Can you briefly describe the research needed to piece together this complex, historically-based saga?

Author David Towner

TOWNER: There were many elements that I had to research, and the collective process took over 5 years. Firstly, the story isn’t plausible unless the historic dialogue closely replicates Cervantes’ voice. I read nothing but his material for almost three years to get the cadence and vocabulary correct. I also had to make sure that the historic elements mirrored reality as well as the chronology of Cervantes’ life. I took several creative liberties with historical elements, such as implying that Don John of Austria, King Philip II’s half-brother, was the inspiration for Don Quixote. And although there are many hopeful conspiracies, there is no evidence that Cervantes and Shakespeare ever met, let alone had a personal relationship.

FQ: Do you see Cervantes as a saintly person - one whose miraculous life might, as you seem to indicate, provide substance for miracles among his readers?

TOWNER: Like many brilliant creators who are only recognized for their work posthumously, I think Cervantes was a mis-understood genius who was way ahead of his time. His work stands the test of time and has inspired millions. I think most writers and artist who believe in themselves can identify with a sense of being greater than their recognition. If Cervantes were born 400 years later, he would likely have been a global sensation by the time he was 30. Yet, he died penniless with a long history of incarcerations, rejections, and failures. That is really the underlying theme of the book. Benito is pleading for the world to recognize the gift of creators while they have access to them. Yet, he is also not deterred by the lack of recognition. Fortunately, artists are driven to create, with or without prosperity. But of course, a bit of acknowledgement can be quite inspiring.

FQ: Do you envision a sequel or series involving the book’s modern heroine, Taryn?

TOWNER: I have a series of short stories based on some of Benito’s magical experiences that I didn’t include in the novel. I think those could serve as a catalyst to an expanded second edition or perhaps, a follow up novel.

FQ: I’m intrigued by your film, Our Scripted Life, which was downloaded half a million times in the first three months. Wow! Would you tell our readers about this film? 

TOWNER: I had a series of sketches built around a goofy hillbilly family and over the course of several years, I experimented with different ways to expand the sketches into a feature film. During that period, I also conceived a story about a low-budget soap opera actor who was secretly in love with his co-star who he believed to be an aristocrat from the UK. He decides to produce a low budget film to lure her into his world because “film actors always fall in love on set”. I decided to blend the two stories and one thing leads to another, and his love interest takes him home to meet her family. Not in London, as he expected, but in rural Kentucky. Fortunately, we finished the film in late 2019 and premiered it at TCL Chinese Theater 14 days before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once everything got shut down, we uploaded the film to Amazon and it was a hit. Not bad for an ultra-low budget, experimental film. I am very proud of that film and a true creative family was born as a result of it. I am still in touch with the entire cast and many of us have worked together since then.

FQ: I believe our readers would also love to learn about your popular graphic novel series, Aztec Warrior God. Please give us a little background on the series, how it started, and what makes it so popular. 

TOWNER: I conceived the origin story in 2009 while visiting Mexico. Over the next several years, I developed the story to include indigenous people from around the world and the series included 24 novels. Due to the series’ very specific timeline, I had to release the first novel in August 2021. The pandemic also was a blessing for this project because the two top-tier artists I approached were on hiatus from their previous engagements and they agreed to help me. We created the art for the main character, Amoxtli, and I posted the art on a facebook page without much thought. Two weeks later, when I checked on the response, we had over 50,000 followers. Today, we have 21 million active readers, and our recently released animation has over 2 billion minutes streamed. I think the appeal to the series is multi-faceted. People love the indigenous representation and historical elements, the art is so high-quality, it could stand on its own, and people are ready for positive stories that focus on diplomacy, compassion and tolerance. Our characters are traditional superheroes, but they always approach conflict with diplomacy, using violence as a last resort.

FQ: I worked in a college physics department for almost 30 years. Please tell me about your theoretical physics background! What did you study? Where? Any interesting papers I could look up? 

TOWNER: I remain fascinated by Physics and if you read the Aztec series, you will see many familiar references including multiple theories and even appearances by Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I studied Physics while still in the military but never pursued it as a career since most of the opportunities were in academia and required a PhD, which never appealed to me as a young person. Academically, I am quite a contradiction. I have undergrads in Criminal Justice, Physics, and Marketing. I also have 30-40 credit hours of electives that were not applicable to any of my majors. I blame my thirst for knowledge and my ADHD.

FQ: I also see that you're a fan of Dinosaur Jr. It's certainly a small world as I lived a few houses away from one of their leads, Jay Mascis. His family and ours were good friends.

TOWNER: I consider J Mascis as brilliant as Miguel Cervantes. Way ahead of his time and not nearly as recognized as he should be. He is responsible for some of the most incredible guitar riffs (and entire songs) in history. Dinosaur Jr. should be playing extended engagements in sold-out stadiums but the last time I saw them, there may have been 800 people in the audience (mostly 40+ guys like me). Yet, three chord country artists or rap stars who can’t even write music, get to perform in front of 100,000 people. This is the bane of an artist’s existence.

#authorinterview with Susan Dormady Eisenberg, author of One More Seat at the Round Table

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Susan Dormady Eisenberg, author of One More Seat at the Round Table: A Novel of Broadway's Camelot.
FQ: Thanks so much for your time today. Let’s start with your bio. It’s interesting how a lot of your early career was devoted to promoting performing arts while living in New York, and then it transitioned to writing publications for banks, hospitals, schools, and other organizations once in D.C. You are such a natural with your storytelling toward theatre, and I have to ask how much of Jane’s character is channeling the ‘inner workings’ of you?
EISENBERG: Thanks for interviewing me and offering such kind words about my work! Your opening question is very interesting. When I’m writing, I’m never aware that I might be putting part of myself into my characters. In Jane’s case, I envisioned her as detail-oriented, sensitive to the moods and feelings of colleagues, and eager to expand her skill-set. As we know, she applies these qualities to her early production work for Camelot. In hindsight, I suppose I shared these traits doing promotion for the arts and also in my freelance writing, so maybe I was channeling my own ‘inner workings’ with Jane’s work ethic. But I get so involved with my characters, they appear to live in the world and seem entirely separate from me.
FQ: In line with my previous question, was there ever a time when you would have liked to be on the Broadway stage? If so, what would be the play that would satisfy such a ‘bucket list’ coup?
EISENBERG: When I was young, I desperately hoped to perform on Broadway in musicals, and I trained my soprano voice for years—in high school, college, and a long while afterward. And though I didn’t make it to Broadway, I performed the role of Guenevere in an amateur Syracuse production of Camelot when I was 28. And guess what? Our director persuaded the producers to let him borrow Oliver Smith’s original Broadway sets. When I stood on the high platform to view “the Jousts” between Lancelot and the knights, I had to pinch myself because Julie Andrews, my idol, had stood in that exact spot in the 1960 production. But I quit performing after doing Camelot, having realized I was a better writer than singing actress. But the experience satisfied my “bucket list” requirements. It was done on a grand scale in a large civic center with a full orchestra. I got an authentic taste of doing a Julie Andrews role and it was thrilling! Best of all, I met my wonderful husband Barry Eisenberg, who played a knight in the chorus. We’ve been happily together ever since.
FQ: Why do you suppose actors and actresses are on a much higher pedestal?
EISENBERG: Actors and actresses, whether in plays or musicals, sacrifice a lot for their art, and the struggle to get a foothold in theater can be soul-numbing. I put them on a pedestal because I know how much talent, training, perseverance, and will it takes to reach the professional realm, even if they are mainly working in regional theater or tours. I’ve heard veteran actors tell aspiring actors not to pursue this field if any other career will do, and I believe that’s a good yardstick. Which means the people we see on the professional stage need to be there and are giving us their all.
FQ: In line with my previous question, what would be your one solid piece of advice to an aspiring author when it comes to not only publishing but marketing their body of work?
EISENBERG: There is always a two-fold process when I’m planning to release my work to an audience beyond my family and small circle of beta readers. First, though I find a lot of joy in the writing process, I work hard to produce the best book—and tell the best story—I’m capable of. Then, when the novel is in the hands of a publisher, I turn my full attention to marketing because in order to find your work, potential readers need to know it’s there. The main advice I’d give aspiring writers is to take some online classes at Writer’s Digest or the Authors Guild and steep yourself in what book marketing professionals suggest. They know what works and what doesn’t, and with the increasing importance of social media, there are many creative ways to reach your potential audience. Also, I’ve heard it’s never too early to start developing your email list of contacts, even if your book won’t be out for many months. The conventional wisdom is that your best reader prospects are people who are willing to add their contact info to your email list.
FQ: I was intrigued by the many nuances throughout One More Seat at the Round Table in how the ‘rules’ on the road when it comes to ‘dalliances’ are a different set than those assigned to day-to-day life off the road. By no means am I priggish, but why do you suppose this is? I would imagine there’s more fact than fiction to this notion. What’s your opinion?
EISENBERG: When I worked in regional theater, I noticed how lonely performers got when they were away from their partners and families for weeks at a time. Actors tend to be extroverted, convivial people who form close friendships with colleagues, and sometimes those friendships morphed into sexual relationships (so I heard on the grapevine). It was my observation, however, that much of what happened on the road, stayed on the road.
FQ: In line with my previous question (and without too much of a spoiler), I enjoyed reading the outcome of the relationship between Dan Elsdon and Jane’s best friend, Sarah. Did you allow their situation to write for you, or was this a storyline that you had a few scenarios in mind and how did you make the decision on what the ultimate outcome would be?
EISENBERG: Thanks so much for asking about Dan and Sarah because their trajectory is vital to my plot. When I introduced Dan, I assumed he was a compulsive Don Juan and I didn’t imagine he would form a deep attachment to anyone in Camelot, given his engagement to a prominent socialite. When Sarah got involved with him, I figured her goose was cooked. But since I had no plan for these characters, I allowed their relationship to evolve organically. Their choices surprised me, and I found Dan’s growth as a person rewarding. From Jane and Sarah’s first dinner at Sardi’s, I was also committed to deepening the bond they forged in college. I believe in the importance of female friendship, so I was glad that, in the end, the main women characters supported one another in meaningful ways.
FQ: With the ever-evolving world of technology and the wonders of AI, do you think in the future, the theatre will take its last bow only to be replaced with feature-length virtual experiences where one sits with headgear on alone in his/her bedroom?
EISENBERG: Historians such as the great Oscar Brockett trace the origin of theater to Athens in the 5th century B.C. when dance-drama was presented before an audience. These rituals entertained and often incorporated costumes and masks. Flash forward to the present day when theater thrives in most places in the United States, whether it’s professionally produced (on Broadway or at regional companies) or presented by amateurs in community or school shows. The universal element is the live interplay between actors and audience members who respond to one another in real time. In my opinion, nothing could ever rival or replicate being “in the room where it happens,” to quote Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. But perhaps access to virtual theater will be a good option for those who are unable to visit an auditorium. As for the art form itself, theater may change, but I believe it will endure.
FQ: You capture the essence of the beat of the city streets of New York, and I had a grin on my face when I read this particular passage: "...I bolted across 42nd Street with all its girly shows, but the city’s seamier side didn’t bother me. If you were going to live here, you had to accept the shady stuff along with the glamorous parts, and as long as you walked fast and looked confident, you’d stay relatively safe..." This is such a melancholic passage because I think the beat of this once-iconic place has changed quite a bit. What is your view in today’s climate toward the city’s character?
EISENBERG: I lived in New York City in the late ‘70s before 42nd Street was “Disneyfied.” I worked for The Joffrey Ballet then, and being in Manhattan was the answer to a prayer. Honestly, I didn’t feel at risk, even in Times Square, which was an unsavory area. Instead, the theater district with all its warts felt wonderfully exotic to me. I liked its energy. Nowadays it’s cleaner and seems safer, but I miss the old electricity when I visit. Honestly, I hated it when they tore down some historic theaters and the Hotel Piccadilly to build the Marriott Marquis.
FQ: I was enthralled with your devotion toward the light you would shine when folding Richard Burton’s character into the storyline; particularly how he was a cad, but a lovable one at that. There is a scene between him and Jane that I read and reread; it was so profound: "...Before you go, I’d like to put a thought in your mind about engagement. It’s a wise anonymous poem from the seventeenth century and in sonorous voice, he intoned: Love not me for comely grace for my pleasing eye or face, Nor for any outward part, No, nor for a constant heart. For these may fail or turn to ill, so thou and I shall sever. Keep therefore a true woman’s eye and love me still by know not why, So hast thou the same reason still to dote upon me ever..." I emphatically believe there are moments in a writer’s life when a passage grabs their creative mind in the most unexpected moment and writes profound magic for the writer. Was this one of those times?
EISENBERG: Yes, writing that scene was a transformational moment for me. I was casting about for something Burton could recite to Jane that would be new and fresh when I found that anonymous verse online. It was perfect. And when I put those words into Burton’s mouth, I was enthralled, as if he were in the room reciting the poem to me. I had not planned what would come next for Jane and the leading man, but I felt in my heart that he was seductive more than predatory. I like many scenes in my book, but that one is among my favorites.
FQ: Thank you again for writing an utterly delicious body of work. I cannot wait to read your next novel where you stated in your bio the subject will be Annie Oakley. Any chance we can get a teaser of what to expect?
EISENBERG: I worked for many years on my new book, Annie Oakley & The Wild West, which follows the career of American “trick shot” Annie Mosey Butler (stage name Oakley) from her teenage match against her future husband, Irish marksman Frank Butler, to her amazing success as the marquee star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West when it performed in London during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887). Though Annie is often confused with a brash western woman, Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary, she grew up in Ohio and was a prim Victorian, a lady who sat in her tent embroidering while Buffalo Bill’s rip-roaring show was happening in the ring. The central conflict in my novel is between Annie and her vain, temperamental boss, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who resented her prowess with a shotgun and her growing fame that threatened to eclipse him. I had a great time writing this book about the hopes and dreams of an icon who left few letters and gave few interviews. It was a challenge, but I had terrific sources.