Friday, September 23, 2016

#BookReview - Black Flowers, White Lies


Black Flowers, White Lies

By: Yvonne Ventresca
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: October 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5107-0988-1
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 22, 2016

The YA tree has, of late, seen only two distinct branches grow. The dystopian world where the future is more than bleak and teens represent the only rebellion that will succeed; and a branch that offers depressive, sometimes suicidal tales representing teens who just can't make it in this hideous world no matter how hard they try. Either oddly cool or dark and dreary, it seems that over the past decade (once those run-o'-the-mill "pretty" vampires exited the scene), the YA genre became easy to figure out and lost a bit of its vibrancy. But with books like this one, that vibrancy comes back in full, unimaginable color.

Ella is our main character. Her mother will be getting married in a few days, but Ella is actually more focused on how to let go of her father's memory. Although her father passed away before Ella was born, she's been thinking about him and visiting his grave her whole life. Convinced that her father watches over and protects her, no one-including her mother-understands Ella's complete fascination/obsession with a father she's never even known.

Is this a ghost story, or simply ghostly in appearance? Ella's father might really be watching over her. Or could it simply be the imagination of a girl who wants life to be different? With no hard evidence either way, readers find themselves at the mercy of this author's spectacular ideas.

A lie surfaces. A lie that perhaps her father did not die in a car accident after all. A statement made by her future stepbrother, Blake, shows that perhaps her dear, old Dad spent his remaining time on earth in a psychiatric hospital. From a mother who may have told her child a web of lies and raised her in a world of deceit; to a solid belief Ella has in the supernatural; to a mysterious handprint found on a mirror that matches one left on her father's grave - the elements of this tale all come together to provide the most amazing psychological thriller written in a very long time. (YA or otherwise.)
This fresh tale is so well-developed, so creepy, so intelligent, and so off-the-charts that readers will be absolutely riveted to this plot until the very last spell-binding page. The author grabs everyone with both her characters and her ability to weave a mystery of quiet, yet epic proportions. And, in the end, makes sure the reader knows that the old wives' tale is absolutely true: "Lies will come back to haunt you."

Quill says: The YA genre can rejoice. A dystopian world is not needed in this psychological suspense that literally deserves time up on the "big screen."






#BookReview - Behind Closed Doors


Behind Closed Doors

By: B.A. Paris
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 2016
ISBN: 978-1250121004
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: September 22, 2016

A mere eighteen months ago, Grace Harrington, a fruit buyer for Harrods store, and her younger sister Millie, who has Down’s Syndrome, met Jack Angel in a park. Millie and Jack shared a dance and Grace was immediately smitten. Jack was a strikingly handsome lawyer, and like his namesake, a perfect angel who defended battered women from their abusive husbands. He had never lost a case, and Jack’s charismatic, gentlemanly behavior quickly won the heart of Grace, thus beginning a whirlwind romance that culminated in marriage. Grace believed she had the perfect life and was delighted that Jack was her husband and wanted to eventually move Millie into their home. As time goes by, the reader gets glimpses of a completely wonderful marriage filled with inseparable love, wealth and happiness and, at the same time, strange cracks in the relationship are artfully revealed making readers wonder if everything is truly as perfect as Grace and Jack portray to the world.

Each fast-paced chapter in Behind Closed Doors is written in Grace’s voice and switches back and forth from the past to the present. Novels which time-travel in this manner often confuse readers, however, in this story it only enhances the suspense, leaving the reader hanging on the edge of their seat, while the author explains what events have occurred to lead into the breathlessly scary present. The two main characters, Grace and Jack, are so well-developed that readers easily get swept up into the story, feeling every bit of the terror that Grace experiences, which at first leaks out in a trickle, and then rushes in like a flood, while Jack cunningly hooks readers in with his charm and slaughters this facade with the shocking reality that he isn't exactly the wonderful man he portrays himself as being to the rest of the world.

Readers may be somewhat disappointed with the ending because it feels a bit rushed. After being provided a detailed blood-chilling, horrific and claustrophobic feeling throughout the book, there is a desire for an equally dreadful and justified ending, which is not completely provided. Perhaps even an epilogue could provide more closure for everyone who has taken this thrilling ride into the horrors of the marriage between Grace and Jack. However, this should not dissuade readers into skipping Behind Closed Doors. On the contrary, it is a recommended read that goes beyond a mere fictional story and peers into what can occur in real life domestic violence situations.

Quill says: B. A. Paris’ debut novel is a tremendous psychological thriller that is destined to be featured on the big screen.




Thursday, September 22, 2016

#BookReview - The Illusion


The Illusion

By: Patrick Garry
Publisher: Kenric Books
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9833703-5-2
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: September 2016

In his deliciously quirky way, Patrick Garry delivers another home run in his latest novel, The Illusion.

Luke Sellmer is an investment banker and is on the fast track to becoming one of the top producers with his firm. Pretty amazing and quite the climb from his earlier days in the Saginaw Reformatory for Young Men. However, what goes up must eventually come down and perhaps Luke wasn’t quite as careful when it came to burying his past.
Luke is about to marry the perfect girl. She is the quintessential catch in that she is everything Luke was not growing up. She is charming, has an eye for fashion and is quite connected in the world of who’s who.

Meanwhile, Luke manages to catch a coveted case in his firm. Apparently, his boss sees his promise and assigns him to a prestigious and rising political star; this is to say if he is able to keep one particular proclivity from his fiancĂ© Lauren’s knowledge. Lauren has her own skeletons to deal with. She sees her upcoming nuptials to Luke as the answer to her freedom from her socially connected and quite wealthy parents. Perhaps she has a few insecurities. Does Luke truly love her for who she is (or does he tolerate her because of her wealthy parents)? Will he agree to buy the perfect home she’s found even if it’s a bit beyond their financial means? On the other hand, are the secrets Luke desperately tries to keep at bay about to rear their ugly head? What if these secrets wind up subjecting him to a murder charge and social scandal? The clock is ticking and time isn’t necessarily on Luke’s side.

I have had the pleasure of reading two of Mr. Garry’s previous novels: Finding Flipper Frank and Blind Spots. When asked to consider this latest novel, it was a no-brainer for me. Mr. Garry has the innate ability to grab his audience from the first page and never let go until the proverbial ‘the end.’ He has done so again with The Illusion. Mr. Garry has an established and signature style that wills his audience to sit up and pay attention willingly. There is a pace and tone of fast moving parts established early on that is delightful. His dialogue is believable and his characters fit together beautifully. There is no predictable formula as the story unfolds and there are ample elements of surprise that keep the reader entertained and engaged throughout the novel. He is a true storyteller in that you never know what you’re going to get from one book to the next other than solid entertainment. Well done Mr. Garry! I look forward to your next novel.

Quill says: The Illusion is the epitome of things that may not be what they seem...at all!

For more information on The Illusion, please visit the author's website at: patrickgarry.com







#BookReview - Letters from Paris


Letters from Paris

By: Juliet Blackwell
Publication Date: September 2016
Publisher: Berkeley Books
ISBN: 978-0-451-47370-7
Reviewed by: Diane Lunsford
Review Date: September 20, 2016

Juliet Blackwell takes her audience on a journey to Paris in her latest novel, Letters from Paris.

Claire Broussard survived the accident that took her mother’s life. When she was old enough, she worked hard to leave her small Louisiana home behind in her rearview mirror. Sadly, the benefits of a great job and relationship in Chicago couldn’t keep her from returning to her roots and caring for her ailing grandmother. Little did she know the unearthing of the captivating sculpture her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II would be the catalyst to launch her on a journey once more far away from her Louisiana home.

Claire’s grandmother is on her deathbed. She urges Claire to go to Paris and solve the mystery of ‘L’Inconnue’ (The Unknown Woman). Once in Paris, Claire begins her assimilation into an environment quite foreign and out of her comfort zone. The Lombardi family is a legacy of talented sculptors who create death masks. In due time, Claire learns this was the birthplace of the mask her great-grandfather had acquired many decades before. What Claire hadn’t bargained for was a job working at the Lombardi shop as a translator to the English speaking tourists on holiday who frequented the shop. As time unfolds, Claire realizes not only must she solve the mystery of The Unknown Woman, but she must also break down the walls Armand Lombardi has erected. In a unique course of events, Claire learns her journey to Paris would deliver much more than the answers to the mystery of the woman behind L’Inconnue.

With a cache of works under her belt, Juliet Blackwell confidently delivers her latest novel. The place is Paris and she does a delightful job of tying the iconic Belle Epoch era together with present day. Her eye toward detail and historical information concerning the process and reason behind the creation of ‘death masks’ is superb. Ms. Blackwell strategically weaves the facts into the storyline and creates a tandem life between Claire Broussard and Sabine (the model of L’Inconnue). The complexities of the lives of both characters complement the story in that the reader can ease into the story and listen to Blackwell’s voice as the tale unfolds. The scenery is romantic and the credibility of situations is spot on. There is a terrific balance of dialogue and ample and descriptive scenery to move the reader along from one conversation to the next. Toward the book’s end, Blackwell throws a terrific and quite unpredictable ‘left hook’ that will delight her audience with a fantastic ‘aha’ moment. Well done Ms. Blackwell! I look forward to your next book.

Quill says: Letters from Paris is a wonderful account of perseverance and the quest for answers.





Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interview with Author Andrew Diamond

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Andrew Diamond, author of Impala

FQ: Your protagonist, Russell Fitzpatrick, is a software engineer, as are you. How much of your real life experiences did you inject into the story?

DIAMOND: A few of Russ’ attitudes and observations come from my experience as a developer. At the beginning of the book, he’s burnt out and feeling a little empty. I think that’s fairly common in the tech world, particularly among workers in startups and small entrepreneurial companies, where there is a culture of overwork. There’s a cycle, where you throw yourself wholly into something, give it everything, wear yourself out, and then need to recharge before you go on to the next thing. And you don’t necessarily know what that next thing is going to be.
Russ is at that point of being worn out and needing to recharge. He has no idea what’s about to happen to him. Poor guy. But the intensity and unexpectedness of it all, that fact that he can’t turn away from it forces him to wake up and be present in his own life, which is exactly what he needs.

FQ: When I first realized there’d be ‘computer lingo’ in the story, I thought, “oh, oh, this is going to be hard to follow.” Fortunately, I was wrong. Was it a challenge to keep the language simple enough for readers who aren’t computer savvy to understand, while still making sense and advancing the story?

DIAMOND: No. I like to keep a tight focus on the story. Technical details are usually a distraction, so I include them only where and when they’re pertinent. I explain as much as the reader needs to know for the action to make sense. The funny thing is that when you put technical information into a narrative, people find it much more meaningful than when it’s presented in the abstract, or in textbook format.

Several early readers said they learned a lot about computers and hacking from reading Impala. That surprised me. I wasn’t trying to teach anyone anything. The technical details were just there because they needed to be there for the story to make sense. I have to say, though, I took it as a good sign when an editor whose eyes glaze over at the mention of technology said she loved the book, and when another reader who hates technology and doesn’t read thrillers also loved it.

FQ: My new favorite term is ‘zero-day.’ Would you briefly explain to our readers what it means?

DIAMOND: Most software companies these days offer what are called "bug bounties." When developers find a bug that compromises the security of commercial software, they report it to the manufacturer and get a reward, on the condition that they not reveal the bug to anyone else for 60 or 90 days. That gives the software company time to fix the problem.

Zero-day exploits, or "zero-days," are security bugs that have not been reported to the software manufacturer. Hackers start exploiting them before the software companies even know they exist, which means the companies have had exactly zero days to prepare for them.

The Dark Web, where people buy and sell all sorts of illegal goods, has whole markets for zero-days. Organized criminals who want to steal data, and governments who want to snoop on their enemies will buy zero-day information from independent hackers to help them break into their targets. If a hacker finds a zero-day that affects a large number of computers—for example, a major security flaw in Microsoft Windows—he can get a high price for it.

The funny thing is that security consultants, law enforcement agents, anti-virus researchers and others lurk on the same Dark Web sites as the criminals, because they want to find out about zero-days as soon as they can. No one knows who anyone is on the Dark Web, so sometimes hackers wind up selling their zero-days to the very security analysts they’re trying to outsmart. Once a software vendor is tipped off to a zero-day, the clock starts ticking. Maybe they can fix it in five days. After that, the bug is worthless to hackers.

Author Andrew Diamond
FQ: I also found the idea of “Whisper” (a sound-based network) to be fascinating. Is this, or will it one day, be possible, in your opinion?

DIAMOND: It already exists. Some computer researchers in the 1960s built sound-based networks in their labs, where the computers would talk to each other, using speakers to speak and microphones to listen. They didn’t talk in words. It was more like simple tones.

A few years ago, a Google engineer named Boris Smus built a program that let computers talk to each other using ultrasound, which is inaudible to humans. A few years before that, a security consultant named Dragos Ruiu discovered an incredibly insidious computer virus called badBIOS that infected all of his computers, regardless of what operating system they were running.

He could tell the infected machines were communicating with each other, but he couldn’t figure out how. He unplugged the network cables, removed the WiFi hardware and the Bluetooth hardware, and the machines were still exchanging data. Finally, he made a guess that they were sending ultrasound messages to each other. So he ripped out the speakers and microphones, and the communication stopped.

Some Israeli researchers recently came up with a way to steal data from a computer by manipulating its cooling fan. A virus takes control of the computer’s cooling functions. A nearby cell phone listens for subtle changes in the fan speed and translates those into meaningful data, kind of like morse code. It’s crazy. Most people would never even imagine that their bank account information might be leaking through their fan onto someone’s iPhone, but those are the kinds things clever hackers do.

FQ: Russell, your protagonist, is very conflicted about his life, at one point saying, “Half of me wants to walk the narrow road of responsibility...half of me wants to destroy everything.” What was the reason behind making him so conflicted rather than a man who knows exactly what he wants and goes out and gets it?

DIAMOND: I think many people have this same conflict in them, though it’s less persistent, and maybe not at such a deep, existential level. Almost everyone has been in the position where they’re looking at something major in their life and trying to decide, “Should I try to fix this? Or should I just abandon it?” People think that about their jobs, their relationships, their homes, their cars, the city they live in.

Those can be interesting times, when you’re not sure of what you want. You wind up seeing the world and the people in it from many different angles, and you’re open to change. There’s both hardship and opportunity there.

A conflicted character really becomes fascinating when you throw him into a series of tough situations that really force him to choose what is valuable, what is worth fighting for, and what is worth having. Russ’ enemies close in on him from all sides, and none of them have any idea how he’s going to behave, which really puts them in danger. Russ himself doesn’t know what he’s going to, and the reader doesn’t either. That makes for an engaging story.

FQ: I loved the names Russell gave to those chasing him, such as “Donkey Kong” and “Mario” (from Mario Brothers). Was it fun to write their scenes?

DIAMOND: It was fun. Those guys do some pretty nasty things to people, and while I like noir and crime fiction, I don’t really like dwelling on graphic violence or rubbing people’s faces in it. Mocking the thugs every now and then kind of lightens the mood. Russ makes fun of his pursuers, in part because of his contempt for their crude brutality, and in part to make them a little less terrifying to himself.

FQ: I was familiar with Bitcoin before reading Impala. Do you think that it is used for nefarious purposes as suggested in the book?

DIAMOND: Yes. Bitcoin is the de facto currency of the Dark Web. People access sites on the Dark Web using special software that protects their anonymity and makes their activities difficult or impossible to trace. They don’t want to use credit cards to buy drugs online, because then the transaction is tied to an account with their name on it. So they use Bitcoin, which is anonymous.
The first major Dark Web market was called The Silk Road. It was run by this hacker named Ross Ulbricht, and you could buy drugs and even arrange assassinations using Bitcoin. Wired magazine has a long and fascinating article about the rise and fall Silk Road. It’s remarkable how this one hacker could have the FBI and law enforcement agencies all around the world on their heels for so long without being caught. How the FBI finally brought him down is equally remarkable. What Russ’ friend Charlie does in Impala is very similar to what Ross Ulbricht was doing in real life with Silk Road.

Purchasing on Silk Road and other Dark Web markets goes through an escrow system. Say a person wants to buy $1000 worth of cocaine. He sends $1000 in Bitcoin into an account run by the administrator of the ecommerce site. The administrator tells the seller that he has the money, and the seller ships the cocaine to the buyer. When the buyer says he has received the shipment, the administrator transfers the $1000 from the escrow account to the seller. Actually, the administrator takes a little cut for himself. That’s how he earns his keep.

The buyers and sellers rate each other, just like on eBay. No one wants to buy from a seller with bad ratings, and sellers don’t want to do business with buyers who have a reputation for complaining or not paying.

The transactions are fraught with risk from beginning to end, but still, the markets thrive. One risk is that the buyer might get caught receiving the cocaine in the mail—and they do send this stuff through the US mail. Buyers will often hire intermediaries to receive the drugs. In some cases, the intermediaries are real estate agents who have keys to empty houses that are waiting to be sold. The drugs are mailed to the empty house, addressed to some made-up name. The realtor stops in every day or two, makes sure there are no cops around, and picks up any mail not addressed to the actual owner of the house.

If there are cops around and they spot the package, there’s no way the can tie it to any real person. The package doesn’t have the homeowner’s name on it. It doesn’t have the realtor’s name, and it was sent to a house that no one lives in. There’s no one they can arrest.

The other big risk in the online markets is that the administrators will run off with all the money in the escrow account. That actually happened to a site called Evolution Market. The administrators disappeared with $12 million in Bitcoin that was sitting in escrow.

I came up with the idea of the escrow heist in Impala before I ever knew about Evolution Market. After I finished the first draft of the book, I asked myself how plausible such a heist would be. I looked it up and found it had already been done.

FQ: As a software engineer, I’m guessing you’ve run into hacking ‘issues’ in your work. Can you share one of the more interesting cases?

DIAMOND: I always try to hack my own code, and I used to always try to hack my coworkers’ code, which was frighteningly easy. Early in my career, I was working at a startup in Seattle that built software to run online surveys. I noticed some code that opened files and sent the content back to the user.

I thought to myself, “This isn’t coded right. I bet I can type in any file name, and I can view the contents of it right in my browser.” In a few seconds, I got the application to show me the server’s password file, which lists all of the user account information.

I found the programmer who had written the code and asked him why he hadn’t added any safeguards to prevent people from reading random files. His response was, “Why would I? Who goes around reading random files off of other people’s servers?”

“I do.” I showed him how anyone could read the password file, and he was horrified. I fixed the problem for him, but I was always put off by other programmers’ disregard for security. Most of them had no awareness whatsoever, like toddlers at a cookout who hold their hamburgers three inches in front of the dog’s mouth. They’re always shocked when the animal takes the food from their hand.
In the early days of the web, security was terrible. An amateur could learn how to break into thousands of websites in just a few hours. It’s gotten better in recent years, but it’s still not that great.

FQ: Charlie Taylor warned to keep secrets away from the computer world. With so many aspects of our lives being played out on computers, via social media, etc., this is getting harder and harder. Will it one day be impossible?

DIAMOND: I think it will be nearly impossible to keep your personal information to yourself, unless you specifically engineer your entire life to achieve that goal. Some organizations are already taking steps in that direction. Russian and German security services have reverted to writing sensitive reports on typewriters because it’s easier to secure a file cabinet full of paper than a computer full of data.

Most people have no idea how much information they’re giving away, or who they’re giving it to. Google and Facebook and a thousand other companies know much more about you than you think, and a reasonably savvy person can dig up a lot of that information without much effort.

I don’t like the idea of having so much of my personal information accessible to so many people. But on the other hand, I often think, “What if all information was freely available to everyone? What if we could know everything everyone does and thinks?”

I think that might be a good thing, in the long run, because people would start to see that strangers all around them think and feel a lot like them. They have many of the same dreams and hopes and doubts and fears. And maybe people wouldn’t be so ashamed of their worst thoughts and feelings if they could see that the people they look up to and revere often think and feel the same way.

But to answer your original question, yes, I think it is already virtually impossible to keep private information private in a world in which our devices are silently gathering and sharing data 24 hours a day.

FQ: Impala is your first venture into the world of computer hackers. Will there be another with Russell Fitzpatrick or are you going in a different direction with your next book?

DIAMOND: I’m not planning anything new with Russ. I have drafts of two other novels: a dark, brooding mystery, and a romping, irreverent satire. I’ve also done about a year of research on a fascinating criminal from the early 20th century whose life was so bizarre and improbable that, if it were a novel, people would toss it aside and say, “That’s just not believable.”

Someone once said that reality is stranger than fiction because fiction has to portray what’s probable, while reality is only limited by what’s possible. The realm of the possible is much broader than the realm of the probable, as this guy’s life illustrates again and again. So my next book might just be a true-crime biography.

To learn more about Impala please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.













































#BookReview - Impala


Impala

By: Andrew Diamond
Publisher: Stolen Time Press
Publication Date: September 2016
ISBN: 978-0996350730
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: September 21, 2016

A computer hacker trying to make good by staying on the 'straight and narrow' gets dragged into a high stakes mystery of trying to find the "key" that is, literally, the key to vast sums of illegal funds. Along the way he is followed by some seriously bad guys, and meets a woman who may just change his life for the better...or is she really out to get him too? This is the premise for Impala, an action-packed computer hacker mystery that I read in record time.

Russell Fitzpatrick knows his way around computer code. In a previous life (four years earlier), he and a few friends did some illegal hacking that drew the attention of the FBI. After being forced to help the agency, Russ had had enough of hacking and tried to lead a normal life. He found a relatively boring job, working for a small software development company. Now, his biggest challenge is to stay awake during his software presentations to clients.

Unfortunately, Charlie, who was always the instigator in all those hacks, had other plans for Russ. Before he careened off a cliff in Bogota, Colombia, and got himself killed, Charlie created an encryption key that allowed the user of said key to get a whole lot of Bitcoin funds that was worth millions of dollars in the real world. The Bitcoin came via The Twilight Bazaar, a very illegal cyberspace place where heroin is bought and sold. Of course with so much money at stake, there are some very unsavory criminals who want to get the key - and are convinced that Russ knows where it is. Before Russ realizes what's happening, two nasty Colombians, as well as some beefed-up Russians, are chasing him, and beating him up, every time they find him. Poor Russ doesn't just have those criminals after him...the FBI wants to talk to him, again, and his girlfriend just dumped him too.
Russ, a very gifted computer "genie" (Charlie's nickname for him), decides that he's not going to go down without a fight. The only clue he has to finding the key is a Craigslist ad that Charlie had arranged to post upon his death. Along the way, Russ meets Cali, a beautiful young woman who Russ believes to be his soul mate. But is she really in love with him or just trying to get the key like everybody else? The tensions run high as Russ tries to stay one step ahead of the bad guys and the FBI, although he doesn't always manage to avoid a fight.

It took me exactly four pages to get drawn into Impala, and once caught up in the story, I couldn't let go. Told in the first person by Russ, I found him to be a very likeable protagonist. Frequently self-deprecating, often funny (when talking about his new love Cali, "I am not Mr. Smooth. The way I'm acting right now, I'm halfway between Mr. Lost and Mr. Restraining Order."), the author does a great job of bringing Russ to life and getting the reader to root for him. The author, a software engineer, shows his expertise with computer code as he guides the reader through some fascinating computer lingo and hacking tricks in an easy-to-understand way. I didn't just enjoy a good read; I learned a few things about computer hacking too.

Quill says: A fast-paced, can't-put-down suspense story that will keep you guessing along with Russ as you try to solve the mystery of where/what the key is and beat the criminals to that stash of money.

READ THE INTERVIEW!

For more information on Impala, please visit the book's website at: adiamond.me/books/impala








Monday, September 19, 2016

Interview with Author Rick D. Niece @RickNiece

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Rick D. Niece, author of Perfect in Memory: A Son's Tribute to His Mother (Fanfare for a Hometown)

FQ: Sporadic yet aptly placed poetry dots Perfect in Memory. You are quite the poet! How old were you when you realized that you had a flare for this branch of literature?

NIECE: For as long as I can remember, I have felt the natural rhyme and rhythm of words and word combinations. I think it began when I was an infant. Classical music was always playing in our house, and the rhythmic meters and sequences became naturally internalized during my formative years. Also, my mother read aloud to me every day and at bedtime, with classical music playing in the background. As a result, musical sounds and word rhythms became second nature for me.
I try to capture the same type of rhythm and flow in my prose as I do in the poetry.

Words are a writer’s musical notes.
Sentence sounds and rhythms are literature’s melodies.
Prose is poetry in paragraph form.
That is the essence of my writing.
When I was in junior high and senior high, my classmates seemed to enjoy my doggerel verse. I had a knack for it, and as a consequence, was given two nicknames. Or I gave the nicknames to myself. I honestly cannot remember how I got tagged with them. But I was called Henry Wadsworth Shortfellow (I am not very tall!) and Alfred Lord TennisShoe.
I was asked to write our senior class poem, my first serious poetry assignment.

“We have journeyed through school’s gateway of wisdom
And strived to learn and achieve,
The goals we have set and struggled to get
All knowledge we sought to believe...
There are three more stanzas, but I think you get the point—doggerel!

FQ: One of your poems titled “Simplify Life” is set as an acrostic. Can you expound on why you wrote this and what affect it has played on your life?

NIECE: I enjoy writing acrostics and have composed a number of them over the years for a variety of occasions. Because I am donating one dollar for each copy of Perfect in Memory sold to Arkansas Hospice, I wrote an acrostic for hospice.


Hope in times of helplessness
Open arms for heartfelt hugs
Selfless service to others
Passionate about providing comfort
Instruments of loving grace
Compassion with care and concern
Ensure life’s ending with dignity


“Simplify Life” represents my personal and professional creed. Everything has gotten so complicated and invasive: too much technology, too much information, and too little privacy. The acrostic “Simplify Life” represents my methods for keeping grounded and in touch with life’s real priorities. I hope by reading it, others will take pause and reflect on how to make their own lives simpler, especially when chaos threatens to overtake them.

For example, the advice for the first letter “S” is a great place to start. See the world through a child’s eyes. Pay attention like one who is experiencing wonderment for the first time.

FQ: You share your Arthur Murray dancing experiences with an unlikely partner--an elderly widow named Eloise. Equally unlikely is a common interest you and Eloise shared. Tell us about that encounter and how it impacted your life. Do you believe young and elderly people today can benefit from developing relationships with one another? Explain.

Author Dr. Rick Niece


NIECE: As you read all three books in the “Fanfare for a Hometown” series, you begin to realize that a number of elderly women had a lasting impact on me when I was growing up. I cannot explain why we had such a strong connection, but it was there, and it was real: Fern Burdette, Miss Lizzie, Mrs. Waite, Jenny Knief, Mrs. Harshbarger, and of course, Eloise.

When my parents forced me to take six weeks of dance lessons with them, my partner was an elderly lady named Eloise. As a kid (and even now as an adult), I had no idea how old she was, but she seemed ancient. I was afraid I would step on her fossiled feet, and they might crumble! We had nothing to talk about until we discovered we had one thing in common—we each had someone we cared deeply about who was confined to a wheelchair. That commonality opened the floodgates, and we spent the dance lessons chattering away. Other than that, I think we connected because at the time, we both needed someone to depend upon.

I believe the young and the elderly are still able to connect. We each have so much to learn from one another. The elderly have wisdom, and the young have wishes. The elderly have experience, and the young have enthusiasm. The elderly have a life to look back on and share with pride, and the young have life to look forward to and dream about with hope. It certainly makes sense for us to share this together.

I hope my books cause generations to interact. Grandparents can introduce them to grandchildren, or grandchildren can share them with grandparents. There is no embarrassing language or improper situations. A younger generation can learn about a time of simplicity and innocence—something they may not experience firsthand.

FQ: One characteristic that stands out about your mother was that she was a survivor. It was her endurance and resilience that pulled her through familial hardships. What advice would you give to young people today who are going through rough family situations?

NIECE: I was an educator for forty-five years, with a career spanning from high school English teacher to university president. Throughout those years, I encountered a number of young adults who were dealing with difficult family situations. Most of them had something in common: they were missing one, two, three, or all four of the foundations of influence I had as a boy growing up in small town DeGraff, Ohio, population 900. Let me explain.

As a youngster, four influences guided me: family, school, church, and community. I am who I am today because of those nurturing factors. I am amazed at the number of students who have experienced none of those positive influences. Thus, I tried to establish a campuswide atmosphere that provided a sense of community—the kind of place where people look out for one another, care about one another, and where students feel safe and secure. My wife and I invited students into our on-campus home for meals, movies, and conversations. I had an open door policy at my office, primarily for students to have access to me. My wife and I encouraged students, faculty, and staff to attend the campus weekly chapel services. My goal was to create, maintain, and surround students with the same type of positive influences I experienced as an impressionable young man many years ago.

Specifically for students with difficult family situations, I have two pieces of advice. First, we don’t choose our families, but they are with us for life. Do all you can to resolve the dilemma, and if that doesn’t work, at least you know you tried. Second, don’t ever say the one thing—that lowest of blows or personal insult—that can never be taken back and that may negatively resonate for a lifetime. When parents shared concerns about their sons or daughters with me, I would urge them not to give up. Someday, the foundation they established as parents would be remembered, re-established, and respected. They may even watch it being instilled in their grandchildren.

For parents and sons and daughters alike, I encouraged them to keep caring about one another and to keep talking. Get passed these moments—better ones wait ahead.

FQ: Knowing that your mother was afraid of death, it became apparent that the reason for her fear was many-fold, one of which was unresolved conflict from her past. What have you learned from observing how fear gripped your mother?

Writing Perfect in Memory became a cathartic experience for me. Some chapters, especially the last ones, were extremely difficult for me to write about. But the remembering, the writing, and the re-reading of what I had written gave me insights about my mother, and how two tragic incidents that occurred when she was sixteen affected her throughout her life. Ironically, much of my realization occurred during the final days of her life, and I never had the chance to tell her I finally understood why she felt so “out of place” throughout her lifetime.

I honestly think it was something more powerful than unresolved conflict that caused my mother to fear death. In fact, I think her fear was quite natural and understandable. Her mother died when Mom was only sixteen, and Mom was left to raise her two younger brothers when their father inexplicably panicked and abandoned them. My mother wanted to live to raise her boys. I think her fear of death was as simple as that. She did not want to abandon her family.

“All I ever wanted in life was to be a good mother and to make everything perfect for my boys,” she had said.

“Mom, you were a good mother, and we tried to be good sons. But nothing is perfect, except in memory.”

FQ: What advice would you offer to readers about preparing for death?

NIECE: My advice will sound clichĂ©d, but it is all I have for an answer. Love every day as though it might be the last one. Don’t merely fantasize about a bucket list, actually create it, and then check the items off one by one. Trust the human spirit, and treat people with kindness. There is not enough kindness in the world today. Because death can come so unexpectedly, your act of kindness might be the last kind act someone experiences. Also, be kind because if you aren’t, the church could very well be empty for your funeral!

When I was in the third grade, we had a substitute teacher, Mrs. Cloud, for a week. On Friday afternoon, a few minutes before school was to be let out and the weekend would begin, she caught me watching the classroom clock. Mrs. Cloud spoke to me and loud enough for all of my classmates to hear. To this day I remember her exact words. “Rickie, you seem anxious for these last few minutes to pass. Someday, when you are older, you will wish you had them back.”

Her words have stayed with me, and even now I dislike wasting a minute. Okay, that’s my advice: don’t waste your minutes. Tempus fugue.

FQ: Although your mother finally let go at the end, she held onto regrets for a long time. Having observed your mother's life journey, what advice would you give your readers about holding onto regrets?

NIECE: Several months ago, my youngest brother Kurt and I were having a deep, philosophical conversation. Kurt enjoys deep, philosophical conversations, and I always learn something from him during our talks. He asked if I had any regrets, and I quickly answered I did not. He was surprised, and then proceeded to tell me a few of his.

When he finished, I asked him why he had regrets and if, in fact, he hadn’t learned some valuable life experiences from those things he regretted. He thought about it—Kurt is a deep, philosophical thinker—and answered I was correct. He had learned from the things he regretted. He decided that, maybe, they were not regrets after all.

I really do not have any regrets. I am amazed at people who live their regrets—and eventually become regrettable themselves—for a lifetime. Why hold on to something that makes you unhappy? Now, that is something to regret!

FQ: While your stories have great appeal to baby boomers, they also reflect basic themes that are relevant today, such as love, respect, patience, and kindness—to name just a few. What themes do you hope young adults will learn from your stories?

NIECE: When I was pitching my series of books to various publishers, one of the typical questions they asked was, “Who is your target audience?” When I’d reply, “Pretty much everyone,” their skepticism quickly turned into rejection. Fortunately, Five Star Publications and its president, Linda Radke, believed in what I was writing and in me. Also, to validate my belief even more, a reviewer wrote that my books were appropriate for anyone age 10-110. I like that.

I hope young adults will learn more about an era they have only heard about. I hope the memories I recall will assist young readers in thinking about what memories they will hold sacred in forty years; to reflect upon who their major life influencers will be; to appreciate the moments they are living now. Those are the themes I want younger readers to take away from my stories.

I also hope to inspire baby boomers not only to remember, but to write their memories. Current and future family members will appreciate the documenting of family history and past lives.

I am proud that my books reflect the values of love, respect, patience, and kindness. Those are important traits to revere and honor. We seem to have lost our sense of civility presently. In a recent article I wrote for my Huffington Post blog, I lament the loss of civility. I titled the piece, “Can We Spell Civility Anymore, Let Alone Practice It?” I begin the article with an acrostic.

Concern ourselves with the well-being of others.
Initiate positive discussions about controversial topics.
Voice a differing opinion, then pause to listen.
Include more and exclude less.
Limit labeling and eliminate name-calling.
Interject a debatable point without being demeaning.
Temper intensity and hostility.
Yearn for compassion, tolerance, and understanding.
I think my books reflect a respect for civility.

FQ: Do you foresee you writing more memoirs?

NIECE: That is a great question. A number of my readers are encouraging me to write book four and to continue the series. Although I have not completely closed the door on the idea of an additional book, writing another “automythography”—a word I use to explain the genre instead of memoir—it will be awhile before I tackle a project of that nature. The three books in the series took twelve years to write, with Perfect in Memory taking four. Plus, writing Perfect in Memory drained me emotionally, and I need time to recharge.

FQ: What do you foresee will be your next literary project?

NIECE: My wife Sheree and I conceptualized a series of children’s books several years ago. We envision five books in the series and have completed three. We are in the illustration stage and will soon be in search of a publisher.

We are finding that we are not only a great team as husband and wife, we are pretty good writing collaborators as well. These books will have a nice range of appeal, from pre-readers to beginners. Adults will enjoy reading them aloud to their children and grandchildren. However, they may have to explain some of the stuff we think is pretty clever.

The first book has a working title of Lots! The second book is Lots and Lots! and the third Lots of Lots and Lots! Be on the lookout. We promise you will like them lots!

To learn more about Perfect in Memory: A Son's Tribute to His Mother (Fanfare for a Hometown) please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.