Monday, November 11, 2019

#BookReview - Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller

Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller, Book 9
By: Susan Fleet
Publisher: Music and Mayhem Press
Publication Date: October 2019
ISBN: 978-1-7321301-1-1
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 2019
Susan Fleet doesn’t disappoint in her latest installment of her Frank Renzi crime thriller series, Payback.
Convict Brian Devlin is down to hours before he is released from FCI Ray Brook, a medium security federal prison in upstate New York. Devlin is native to South Boston and he can’t wait to get back to life outside of prison. He can hardly contain himself when he thinks about the imminent reunion with his gal, Sunny. However, Frank Renzi is the one piece of unfinished business Devlin needs to take care of as soon as possible once FCI was in his rear-view mirror. Devlin has had lots of time to plan his revenge scheme while in the can and he is anxious to set it in motion. One minor detail that could present a challenge to his plan is the fact that the State thought it would be wise to fit him with the latest ankle bracelet model to make sure Devlin walks the straight and narrow and above all else, stays on the right side of the law. 
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Detective Frank Renzi is living a decent life. After getting the likes of Brian Devlin off the streets of Boston, followed by a nasty divorce and empty nest, all signs pointed toward the necessity of a change of scenery. Just when Frank thinks life is on the upswing, he catches a case that sets his life into overdrive once again. A ten-year-old boy minding his own business and doing his homework in his bedroom catches a stray bullet by a gang drive-by shooting. New Orleans is in the news again and tempers are flaring. Frank needs to button this case up sooner rather than later. What he doesn’t know is that while all his attention is being poured into this new case, Brian Devlin is perfecting his plans to derail Frank Renzi’s ‘happily ever after.’
Susan Fleet is a master with her Frank Renzi series. The book is set up with chapter upon chapter of mystery and intrigue that keeps her audience engaged in a page-turning frenzy to keep up with the twists and turns between New Orleans and Boston. She has that ‘Sam Spade’ gumshoe cheeky dialogue that is her signature style and it works! The scenes are set up with terrific balance and iconic descriptions of the scenery native to the area. She follows up great scenes with credible dialogue amongst the characters. And speaking of characters, Fleet nails believability with each fictional character introduced as the story evolves. I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few other titles by Ms. Fleet and I must say, Payback is yet another book she’s hit out of the park. Well done!
Quill says: Payback is the perfect title for a story that truly takes the premise of "Payback" to a heightened level and then some.
For more information on Payback: A Frank Renzi Crime Thriller, please visit the author's website at:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Mushtaq Jaafri

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Mushtaq Jaafri, author of How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World: How I Remain in the Presence of God Daily?.
FQ: How did you organize your time and energy to compose this book, given what must be a very busy life of work and spiritual dedication?
JAAFRI: I believe that you are referring to what I mention on page 41 of this book. This book came from my ‘inner-knowledge’ –and not from me. But perhaps, the most significant benefit of the practice of the presence of God came about by the discovery and the revelation of the practice of the way to stalking the Spirit.
Let me explain! If I had only one day left on earth to live how would I spend it? Perhaps it is a silly question, but for me it’s worth spending time thinking about it. I reasoned that since I don’t know the exact moment I am going to die, so I can forgive myself and pray and focus on the presence of God and say: “Lord, I did the best I could.
I want to make peace with everyone. Why? Because everyone lives inside me! Suddenly, I was starting to see how precious is and the time I already have? This helped me organize my time and energy to compose this book in my busy life.
FQ: You use examples from the Bible to illustrate certain points; are any of your own spiritual views reflection in religion other than Christianity?
JAAFRI: Barbara, this is an excellent question and does go right back into the core component to what hinders the spiritual paths of most people who are seeking a direct way to the practice the presence of God anytime, anywhere, day and night 24/7. talking and conversing with God isn’t something new.
For example, Abraham talked to God when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son to show his love and devotion only of God. Moses talked to God when he was ordered to free the slaves from Egypt. Noha talked and have conversation with God and he was commanded to build a boat large enough to carry a pair of humans and animals in the sea. God gives us the time and energy to do His will.
This book is a testament to the true meaning of our existence, our being, and our Relationship with our creator. It’s a proof that God speaks to us and we speak to him. A relationship with God is the only way to peace and salvation in a world that can sometimes be overwhelming. Time and energy to do will just seem to come.
The funny thing is that you do not need any special skills, talents and knowledge to talk and have a heart-to-hear conversation with God. I’m a living proof of the validity of talking with God 24/7, anytime, day and night anywhere. Try it. You will be pleasantly surprised to know how easy it is and it does work for all.
FQ: Do you identify with any particular personage ties to in the Bible?
JAAFRI: Barbara, I believe what you re referring to is about what I mention in Chapter One, page 2 about my identity with any particular personage in the Bible. But, before I answer your question please let me share this with you.
When I was trying to compose this book, I did a Google-search for my identity with this particular person in the Bible and to my amazement, I found that this person was also mentioned in all the holy books, Qur’an and in the holy Torah.
An even more amazing thing about this person’s identity in all the holy books of God was that the story of this person was mentioned word-for-word and, was repeated several times and verbatim in all the holy books. Just think of it!
Here’s what I say about my identity with this particular personage in the Bible: It was Adam. Then, suddenly I remembered the Adam, one of God’s prophet and how God blew His Spirit into his body and he became a living human being.
FQ: Have you traveled to or maintained any personal ties to the country of your birth; how that affect your thinking?
JAAFRI: Barbara, I do believe that just now, you are asking me two questions. Here are your two questions as I understand them. Correct me if I’m wrong. First, Have I traveled to or maintained any personal ties to the country of my birth. Second, how that affects my thinking?
Barbara, the answer to your first question is given on page 60 of this book: Here’s what I say: “In August of 2019, I had the opportunity to visit my family in my home land Pakistan. One day I met a very famous artist who showed me his world famous painting about the nature, all things living and the universe and specially about the Soul. I truly enjoyed looking at his outstanding paintings. I was indeed very impressed by work of art.
One of his paintings caught my attention. This artist had painted beautiful flowers, trees and people. Then, this artist told me that when his father saw this painting for the very first time, he said: “Flower buds are nice but be sure not to paint faces because Allah will ask you to put Soul in them.”
Suddenly, I began to ponder on what his father had said to him about Soul. I began to mediate and contemplate on what if God had asked me to help mankind and humanity to become aware of our Souls not, just in theory but, a living reality in human life.
Barbara, to answer your first part of the question: Yes, I do travel to or maintain my own personal ties to the country of my birth. In fact, you may have noticed that I dedicate this new book to the Sialkot City, Pakistan where I was born along with my Mother, Father, Grandparent who I still admire the most.
Now to answer the second part of your question: How that affects my thinking? Barbara, please let me be perfectly honest with you and confess to you that it is indeed a privilege and an honor for me to live in America. To think that someday I will be an author of a book that will share my own permanent relationship with my Creator God—would be no more possible for me than my going to visit the moon. But, it did happen to me.
Barbara, with this in mind please let me confess also that you never ever forget your own roots. I believe that you know what I mean.
I would love to die in my home land country and be buried next to my own MOM’s grave in Sialkot city Pakistan. But, since all my children were in America, this is my home now. But, I think you get the picture.
FQ: Is your book offered as a manual for workshops or gatherings within your spiritual organization?
JAAFRI: Barbara, this is another wonderful question you have asked. I believe that you have already given in details in your book review. Here’s what you write in your book review, and I quote:
‘In his newest book, How to Maintain the Presence of God in This Hectic World, author Mushtaq Jaafri, a Minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), offers a glimpse into his personal contact with God, showing its origins and gradual evolution.
As Dr. Jaafri emphasizes many times, he experiences not merely daily but constant communication with God, talking to Him and consulting with Him “24/7.” He recognizes that he has a physical being, which he has come to regard as something akin to a movie that he watches and performs in, while fixing his mind on the separate, higher reality of God’s presence. He likens this to being able to listen to a sermon while drawing a picture or making a list. He believes that God dwells within him; connecting to Him took practice but by now, it has become “second nature.” In daily life, he splits his mind; one half is involved in worldly activity and the other, in spiritual exercises. Jaafri is careful to distinguish between religion, which entails rituals, and spirituality, which is a free and open expression of God’s continual blessing.'
So, to answer your question, “is my book offered as a manual for workshops or gatherings within my (MSIA) spiritual organization?" Barbara, please understand that what I offer in this book is just a drop in the vast ocean compared to what my organization (MSIA) offers in workshops or gatherings, live at the Church or On-line. Log on: You’ll see what I mean. The book is more for any who is searching for the truth.
FQ: You state that you experience a constant sense of oneness with God; do you think your unique experience led you to this point, and if so, would someone who did not have those experiences naturally reach the same plateau of understanding and you have? 
JAAFRI: As I fully explain in the INTRODUCTION of this book under the headline that NO SPECIAL SKILLS NEED to have heart-to-heart talk and conversation with God anytime, anywhere, day and night, 24/7.
You don’t need any special talent or any advance degrees from the universities to talk and have conversation with God. Some of the most holy people this world has ever known who constantly commune with God were just average people like you and me. Some were not even educated, intelligent or intellectual in the worldly sense. People can be a cook by profession or a shoemaker for making a living.
God does not care who you are. All that is necessary for anyone is a heart committed to entirely and completely to God out of love and devotion for God above all others, nothing else. That’s all.
Like most of us, I used to believe that you have to be a very holy and spiritual person to ever talk or have conversation with God. Nothing can be more true . Just try to talk to God and see how it works for you. Sinners make the best students.
If it works for you accept it as a reality. If it does not work for you let go. Let me make something perfectly clear that my own experience a constant sense of oneness with God to this point isn’t unique only to me, the experience of oneness with God is for you and me and everyone on the surface of the earth just for the asking.
For 40+ years, I’ve experienced this oneness with God and I became quite well off. Everything I ever desired or wanted just seem to come from nowhere. The most important part of holding the presence of God lay in renouncing, once for all, whatever does not lead to God.It allow you and me and everyone else, to become involved in a continuous conversation with God in a simple manner.
Finally, let me assure you that someone who does not have those experiences naturally reach the same plateau of understand that I have attained—and much more than I. Remind me if I am wrong.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read your work with no previous knowledge of your spiritual philosophy?
JAAFRI: Barbara, you have asked a question that is very dear to my heart. As I mention in the Author’s Notes (page 141), that this book is a reflection on my own forty plus years of spiritual understanding of the subject under discussion.
It isn’t intended to speak for any other modern-day religion or spiritual path. It wasn’t until I joined an organization called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), and became a student of its teachings that I began to learn that beyond my mind, body and emotion there is the Soul.
Soul transcendence is a journey of traveling into and above the consciousness of Soul—and into oneness with God—where you see things in perspective, attune to Spirit and releases karma.
Soul transcendence is an active process and a positive state-of-being. It lights up a path for you to become established in Soul consciousness and beyond, where you are freed from creating more karma, and can stop the wheel of 84. (This is a direct excerpt from the MSIA. Please log on:
FQ: Do you have plan for more writing of a similar nature?
JAAFRI: Barbara, as I repeatedly mention in this book that one of the key things I do is that whenever I want to do some good work, I always ask God for His help. The reason is that whatever I’m writing in my book, is directly from God given to me intuitively, and I make sure that it isn’t from my own intellect(mind) or my intellection (emotions) or my Personal-self the (ego). Over the years during my meditation, contemplation and spiritual exercises, what I have discovered is the three parts of the human psyche—Mind, Ego and True-self. Ego, Mind and Spirit—the Spiritual Trinity. Interestingly enough, what I have found is that the human ego has the same ability to use the Soul ‘energy’ just as readily as the Spirit can use the Soul “energy.”
And, the only difference between the ego and the Soul is that the human ego uses the Soul “energy” for the most technologically advancements on the planet earth; and on the space. And the Spirit uses Soul “energy” for reaching into the Kingdom of Heaven while still in our physical body. Amazingly, both the human ego and the divine Spirit uses our mind as tool or a vehicle to gain the power of the Soul-energy. When humans came into physical embodiment, humans did exercise their choices. Thus, within the concept of free will, human-made choices. Sure, we have advanced enormously technologically, but as a human race we are still doing the same destructive things that were reported in the Bible thousands of years ago.
So, to answer your question (I bet you thought I forgot it), that do I have plans for more writing of a similar nature? My answer is that it is all up to God. Frankly, I thought that my very first book was the last one to write but, this new book is my seventh book of a similar. When I do write my next, I do hope you will be the one to review it, Barbara. May God bless you always—in in ALL ways—‘amen.’
Lastly, let me say this Barbara, it was an honor talking with you. I truly enjoyed our conversation. You have asked some of the most ‘thought-provoking’ questions. Bar None! Peace!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

#BookReview - Christmas on Nantucket

Christmas on Nantucket

By: Leslie Linsley
Publisher: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
Publication Date: October 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4930-4494-8
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 5, 2019
Leslie Linsley delivers a lovely compilation of Nantucket’s allure in her latest publication: Christmas on Nantucket.
This is a beautiful compilation of the many charms and draws that Nantucket, Massachusetts has to offer. Methodically laid out, the publication is broken into the many wonders of the Christmas season on this lovely island. It opens with ‘Christmas on Nantucket’ where the author sets the tone with the essence of Christmas: memories. The first page has a wintery scene laid out in all its glory on a page adorned with snowy streets and trees ablaze with holiday lighting. It steps beyond the first scene and showcases a picture of Brant Point Lighthouse, one of three on the island. As the book gains momentum, Ms. Linsley guides the reader on ‘A Christmas Stroll Around Nantucket’ with pictures and epithets that enlighten the reader about the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce’s festival the first week in December and the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Clause by boat only to be transported to a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Nantucket.
Throughout the book, Ms. Linsley infuses subtle nuances of what makes Nantucket special to those who have made it their home year ‘round. The island is bountiful with its historic buildings and homes as much as it is magical with many specialty shops and eateries. It is also quite the artisans haven and many talented artists live on the island as a result. There is a sense of tradition throughout this read ranging from the history of the whaling community it was prior to the turn of the century to the types of wreathes (cranberry) hung on many doors during the season. 
Ms. Linsley has done an admirable job of delivering a well-thought-out assemblance of all things Nantucket. I had the pleasure of spending a summer in Hyannisport years ago and made many a trip that summer across the water to Nantucket. Ms. Linsley has created a beautiful coffee table rendering of the beauty and allure of this magical place. In addition to the imagery, she has done her homework in showcasing the importance the community embraces when it comes to respecting the past not only in the architecture, but the overall ‘vibe’ of the beauty Nantucket has to offer. In summary, this book is a wonderful resource for the novice to pick up and read prior to making his or her ‘first voyage’ to Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Quill says: Christmas on Nantucket is a must add to one’s ‘bucket list’ of not only books to read, but places to go.

#BookReview - Once Upon a Dickens Christmas

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas: 3 Charming Christmas Tales Set in Victorian England

By: Michele Griep
Publisher: Shiloh Run Press
Publication Date: September 2019
ISBN: 978-1-68322-260-6
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: November 4, 2019
Michele Griep delivers three cozy holiday stories in her latest release: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas.
The book opens with the first story, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. Set in 1850 Holywell, England, Clara Chapman is the first of a cast of characters who will be invited (summonsed, actually) to participate in the '12 Days' at Bleakly Manor. If she is the chosen one to survive the twelve days of occurrences and happenstance within the confines of Bleakly Manor, after the twelfth night, she will be the victorious recipient of five hundred pounds. Clara’s life hadn’t played out quite the way she envisioned it would. She was the sole caretaker of her infirmed and housebound Aunt Deborah Mitchell. There was a time when Clara thought she would be betrothed to the one and only love of her life, Benjamin Lane. Life hadn’t panned out in a good way for Mr. Lane, either. He too was about to receive a similar invitation to spend his 12 days at Bleakly Manor. However, the stakes for Benjamin lasting the twelve days were far greater than Clara’s. It would seem his current residence was behind bars; nine months to be exact and if he were the sole survivor, not only would he receive the coveted five hundred pounds, but his criminal past would be erased. One by one, the eclectic group of houseguests assemble and once situated, the (ahem) games were set to begin.
In story two, A Tale of Two Hearts, the reader is delivered to the Golden Egg Inn. Mina Scott is a voracious reader and it is amongst the pages of David Copperfield where she escapes to forget about her lowly existence. She is at the beck and call of the Inn’s master, Jasper Scott, and while he’s not necessarily an ogre all the time, most of the time he is just that. Mina’s only solace to hope for a brighter future is when suave and debonair William Barlow graces the Inn’s presence. Painfully shy, it’s everything Mina can manage to wait on the dashing and gracious Mr. Barlow. As the story unfolds, the future has a way of providing more than hope for Mina and her ultimate destiny.
In the third and final tale, The Old Lace Shop, the reader is transported to the home of recently widowed Mrs. White. While most would imagine such a loss would have devastated Mrs. White, to the contrary, it was a blessing in disguise to be relieved of the abusive chains her dearly departed husband had wrapped around her for the entirety of their marriage. She is greeted with a caller, Mr. Percival Barlow, clerk to Mr. Gruber. He assures Mrs. White she will not be destitute and has been left a fair amount of comfort for the rest of her life. However, there is one document Mrs. White must sign and the good clerk will be on his way. When asked the proverbial question of what happens if she opts not to sign, the rest of the story will be an adventure Mrs. White never could have dreamed of.
Michele Griep has done an outstanding job of penning three captivating tales set in 1800s England. The history she has woven in and out of the story lines of all three tales is fantastic and there is ample opportunity for the reader to learn more than a little something of a period in history long gone. The dialogue is relevant, and the scenery is wonderfully descriptive and engaging. While each story is full-bodied and has strength to stand on its own merit, the fact that Ms. Griep paired them in one book is spot on. The flow from the ending of one story and the beginning of the next is seamless. I also want to commend Ms. Griep for not only a beautiful cover selection but the overall assembly of this book. The pages are ragged-edged, with tea-stained pages which pays a bit of homage to the period within which the stories take place. This is the perfect book to cozy down over a weekend and lose one’s self in the many moments of wonderful writing. Well done, Ms. Griep! May I have another?
Quill says: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas is a must-read this holiday season.

#BookReview - How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World

How to Maintain the Presence of God in this Hectic World: How I Remain in the Presence of God Daily?
By: Mushtaq Jaafri
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication Date: September 2019
ISBN: 978-1982234065
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: November 5, 2019
In his newest book, How to Maintain the Presence of God in This Hectic World, author Mushtaq Jaafri, a Minister in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), offers a glimpse into his personal contact with God, showing its origins and gradual evolution.
As Dr. Jaafri emphasizes many times, he experiences not merely daily but constant communication with God, talking to Him and consulting with Him “24/7.” He recognizes that he has a physical being, which he has come to regard as something akin to a movie that he watches and performs in, while fixing his mind on the separate, higher reality of God’s presence. He likens this to being able to listen to a sermon while drawing a picture or making a list. He believes that God dwells within him; connecting to Him took practice but by now, it has become “second nature.” In daily life, he splits his mind; one half is involved in worldly activity and the other, in spiritual exercises.
Jaafri is careful to distinguish between religion, which entails rituals, and spirituality, which is a free and open expression of God’s continual blessing. The examples he uses from conventional religious literature are few and mostly draw from Christian themes such as Adam as the first man and first sinner. Jaafri often uses examples from his own life to explain the development of his convictions. He sees himself as having left the heavenly realm to live with a family that he chose: a brilliant father and generous, kindly mother in Pakistan. Their decision to send him for education in the US led to the discoveries he has made of the higher realms of perception, an ascent beyond the physical to astral, causal, mental, etheric and soul consciousness. Contact with MSIA and its founder John-Roger had a profound effect on his understanding, so that, as Jaafri often stresses, for more than forty years he has enjoyed a state of higher awareness. 
Jaafri writes with sincere conviction, using simple examples as needed in his attempt to convey to his readers the ease with which they, like he, may access this special knowledge and contact. He once had a total financial collapse after poor investments, and looking for an understanding of that catastrophe led him to many revelations, and ultimately, to the sense of comfort he has gained in the realization that he can control his thinking and free his soul to the sense of the immediate, constant presence of God. His book expresses his wish to share both this knowledge and certain techniques that would allow others to experience this awareness, “right here right now.”
Quill says: Dr. Jaafri’s insights can serve as an inspirational guide for sincere seekers who are prepared to go a step beyond the usual boundaries of thinking about higher realities to experience inner peace.

#AuthorInterview with Joseph O'Donnell

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Joseph O'Donnell, author of The Tall Tree.
FQ: So many children’s books today just tell a goofy, silly, or adventurous story without delivering a teachable message. Was it important for you to write a children’s book that conveys an important message (the value of diversity)?
O'DONNELL: My three granddaughters are biracial so a story that conveys a theme of the importance of diversity is important to them while they are young and will, hopefully, become even more meaningful when they get older.
FQ: While the message of the importance of diversity comes through strong in your story, there’s also a message about not wandering off by yourself (as Sammy does, and as many young children might be tempted to do). Was that intentional or did it just happen as you wrote the story?
O'DONNELL: I needed a way to introduce “Mister Gray” into the story. So Sammy’s adventurous nature was a convenient way to do so. But, I knew I had to send a message to the little readers later by including a line about Sammy’s regret for running away and his vow to never wander off again. I loved the way my illustrators made this point very clear by showing Sammy shivering and afraid in the forest when he realized he was lost.
FQ: Where did the idea for The Tall Tree come from? Why a tree in the forest full of animals, rather than, say, a group of school children? Did you know before you solidified the plot that you wanted to teach children about diversity?
O'DONNELL: When our oldest granddaughter, Alessandra, was almost three, she had a very difficult time falling asleep at night. When she was visiting us at my in-law’s home in New York one holiday weekend, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that might help her fall asleep.
I thought for a few seconds and remembered that my mother-in-law had a feral cat that she named “Mister Gray.” Alessandra always ran to the back door with great excitement whenever her great-grandmother put food out for Mister Gray to be fed. Then Alessandra waited patiently for him to appear. She was truly fascinated by this cat.
With this thought in mind, I tried to come up with a little story that featured many different animals that lived together in perfect harmony until one day something happens that “opens the door” for Mister Gray to come to the rescue.
I made up the story in about five minutes—most of it “on the fly” as I held Alessandra on my shoulder and worked my way to a happy ending with Mister Gray as the hero. By the time I finished, Alessandra was sound asleep.
The next night, Alessandra was still awake at 9 PM and showing no interest in bedtime. Once again, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that would help her fall asleep. So I went into her bedroom and began telling her another made-up story. But she stopped me immediately and said, “No, Grandpa. Tell me about the tall tree.” I must admit, I had to gather my thoughts for a few seconds to remember the details of the previous night’s story—I had never written it down! However, I was able to pull it together and get to the same happy ending.
Sure enough, by the time I was finished, Alessandra was sound asleep. A week later, my wife and I were back at our home in Florida. Our daughter called to say she was still having a difficult time getting Alessandra to fall asleep at night. She asked my wife to make a video of my telling the story of The Tall Tree so she could play it for Alessandra at bedtime. My wife has a “flair” for such assignments and jumped to it without delay. Like a Hollywood director, she instructed me to sit on our bed, adjusted the lighting, and surrounded me with a large group of stuffed animals. Then she recorded my reading of the story of The Tall Tree. When we were finished, she sent the video via email to our daughter. Our daughter reported back to us that the video worked like a charm—from then on, Alessandra fell asleep to that story every night.
Alessandra is now age 8 with two younger sisters—Shira, age 5 and Hasana, age 3. All three of them love to listen to The Tall Tree. It seems to be the perfect non-pharmaceutical sleeping potion.
FQ: You’re known for writing mysteries, in particular, the “Gallagher” series. What made you decide to try your hand at a different genre? And why children’s books?
O'DONNELL: As you can see from the above statements, it really happened by pure circumstance. But I am so pleased that I have been able to make a small contribution to this important genre. Children need more books that are not only entertaining, but stimulate their imagination and teach them about values. In The Tall Tree, Sammy, the little mouse, comes face to face with a large cat that would normally be considered a mortal enemy. But Mister Gray is gentle and comforts the frightened Sammy to not be afraid. Then he encourages Sammy to hop on his back for a thrilling and exciting ride back to his family of friends at The Tall Tree. The message is subtle but profound: Don’t pre-judge someone as your enemy until you know more about him/her.
FQ: As a retired pediatric dentist, did you tell stories to your young patients to keep them relaxed during their exams? I see, also, that you have three granddaughters – do you make up stories for them? And did you test The Tall Tree out on your grandchildren? 
O'DONNELL: There were many occasions in my career as a pediatric dentist where I had to “talk a child through” a difficult procedure. I learned very early that, in these situations, children need a steady, low-speaking voice with a repetitious cadence to help reassure them that everything is fine and that they will be all right. I believe that the success of The Tall Tree as a bedtime story is that I have incorporated this concept of a repetitious cadence into the story.
As far as my granddaughters, they love to play “made-up” games with me. The current favorite of the two younger girls (ages 5 and 3) is “Pizza House.” All that is needed is some red construction paper, a scissors, a sheet of white paper, a piece of cardboard, a medium size cardboard box, some adhesive tape and a cell phone. With the scissors, I help them cut the red construction paper into a circle. Then we tear off some small pieces of the white paper, crinkle them, and attach them to the red circle with the adhesive tape. (This is the cheese.) Then we cut triangular “slices” of the pizza, re-arrange them in a circle and place them on the piece of cardboard (the tray) in the delivery box. When all of this is done, I give the girls my cell phone and ask them to hold it while I go into another room. Then when I get to the kitchen I use another phone to call my cell. When they answer, I order a pizza. Taking my pizza order over the phone and then delivering it is the best part of the game for them.
FQ: Speaking of changing genres, many people who have never written a book seem to think that writing a children’s book is much easier than adult genres/novels. What would you say to those people?
O'DONNELL: I believe that, in many ways, the challenge of writing a good children’s book is no different than that of writing a good novel. The author in either genre needs a “hook” in the beginning, a compelling story and a narrative that leads to a satisfying ending. In the case of a children’s book, the author also needs the assistance of a talented illustrator. I was fortunate to work with two very talented and creative illustrators.
FQ: Now that you’ve written a children’s book, do you plan to write more? Or will you be returning to mysteries? Is there another genre that you’d like to try?
O'DONNELL: I have thoroughly enjoyed writing in both genres and may do another children’s book. However, at the present time, I am writing the biography of a man who has been “connected” to The Mob through friendship and a legitimate business for his entire life. His experiences are nothing short of fascinating and help to shed light on the personal side of this criminal enterprise that has previously been largely unreported. I expect to finish this book by the end of this year. Stay tuned.
FQ: You used two illustrators for this book, Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. This is the first time I’ve seen a team of two illustrators work on the same book. How did that work? Do they always work together?
O'DONNELL: I was very fortunate to have been introduced to two very talented young illustrators—Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. They worked closely with me throughout the production phase to develop an understanding of the images I imagined for the story. As we progressed, they provided dozens of samples for my approval. In the end, they beautifully captured exactly what I had in mind—a group of different little creatures and birds that lived happily together in perfect harmony. The colors are bright, vivid and, as you stated, the characters are wonderfully adorable. No doubt, the illustrations help to move the story along. I could not have been happier with the end result.
FQ: Speaking of the illustrations, I mentioned in my review how much I enjoyed the bright and cheery artwork. Since this is your first children’s book, I’m guessing you didn’t have an illustrator in mind before you began this project. How did you find your illustrators and what was the creative process like between you and them?
O'DONNELL: Kasidy is the daughter of my publishing representative at Outskirts Press. Kestrel is Kasidy’s friend from their days in art school. Our working relationship was conducted via the frequent exchange of emails and telephone calls. It worked out perfectly. I recommend them to any author who is considering an illustrated children’s book.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Daniel V. Meier, Jr.

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Daniel V. Meier, Jr., author of The Dung Beetles of Liberia: A Novel Based on True Events.
FQ: On the front of your book, it states that this is a novel based on true events. Whose life is it based upon, and why did you decide to write this story?
MEIER: A pilot friend and I worked together at the FAA and he was always telling these amazing tales of his life in Africa. He had dropped out of Cornell and was in search of adventure, so Liberia seemed the perfect place to test his skills as a small aircraft pilot. Little did he know! His stories were incredible. I kept telling him to write this stuff down. So, when I retied, I interviewed him for over 30 hours (and spent a lot of money for lunches) and amassed enough material to write a cohesive and thematic account of his adventures,
Book Launch
FQ: Has your friend been able to read a copy of your novel, and if so, what did he think of it? 
MEIER: Absolutely he’s read it.  He read the ARC.  Fortunately. he’s my biggest fan.  He loves it! However, I made a point of not letting him read anything before that point. As I told him, the book is not about HIM, but about a society headed toward ruin and his (true) adventures serve as a powerful way to illustrate the corruption and wealth of the time..
FQ: Were there any stories your friend told you that you enjoyed hearing, but had to leave out?
MEIER: Yes.  Animal rights groups would probably have banned the book.
FQ: The book’s title, The Dung Beetles of Liberia, is quite eye-catching. What motivated you to choose this particular title?
MEIER: The Dung Beetles was always the working title as it served as an appropriate metaphor of Liberian society at the time.  It seemed to fit at many different levels: the wealthy hoarding their treasures; the poor living in filth; the expats scurrying for profits—and the list goes on.  But I have to admit, I don’t like the title and I never have. The scatological reference is quite off-putting to some (including me) but I haven’t been able to come up with a more appropriate title. It’s a little rough, I admit, but life in 1960’s Liberia was a rough place.
FQ: While reading this novel there were a few shocking moments concerning the happenings in Liberia and the treatment of its people that this reader was unaware of. Did you ever come across any such similar experiences while you were writing or researching this story?
MEIER: Yes, absolutely.  The stories my friend told piqued my interest in Liberia—its history, its customs and what the future held after 1969 when he left. My research revealed not only the shocking events that I described in this book, but atrocities that cannot be fathomed both in the past and especially in the future.
FQ: As a former pilot yourself, have you ever flown into, or visited, Liberia?
MEIER: No. First of all, Liberia is not the same place today as it was in the 1960’s. Monrovia is a shell of its former self, with no infrastructure to speak of and very little law and order.  It is a dangerous place. But also, I have to tip my hat at what my friend did back then. To me, it’s a miracle he alive today. Call it young and foolish, but truth be told, his courage and piloting skills played a huge role in his survival. I have no interest in visiting or flying in Liberia today and I am doubtful I would have ventured there in the 1960’s.
FQ: Throughout the story, the main character is often forced to pay all sorts of bribes (referred to as "dash") to the locals from the lowliest kid on the street, to the highest government officials, in order to get even the most basic of things done. This of course is a foreign concept to many Americans. Why do you think this took place in such a wide area, and does it still occur in modern-day Liberia? 
Author Daniel Meier
Author Daniel Meier
MEIER: As I understand it, ‘dash’ is prevalent throughout Africa, even today. I personally ascribe it to the poverty on the lower rungs of society and greed at the top. The street boy who wants dash to watch your car has no other source of income. The small-time clerk needs dash because his paycheck is not a regular occurrence. The police do it because they CAN and as for the wealthy, that is just out and out corruption that has existed in this county for years and does still to this day.
FQ: Can you recommend any further readings into the history of Liberia so that readers may further their education on this fascinating country?
MEIER: The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood bHelene Cooper
Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf By Helene Cooper
Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It by  James Ciment
FQ: What can readers expect from you in the future? Will there be any further adventures in the life of Ken Verrier?
MEIER: I’m so pleased you asked!  I am now finishing up the first draft of a covering the Liberian revolution and the death of the last Americo-Liberian president, William Tolbert. This book may have less humor in it than The Dung Beetles as it depicts the particularly gruesome coup by Sergeant Doe who declared war on the ruling class of Americo-Liberians and introduced the use of military atrocities that set the tone for the next 25 years.

Friday, November 1, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Tracy Stopler

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Skyler Boudreau is talking with Tracy Stopler, author of The Ropes That Bind: Based on a True Story of Child Sexual Abuse.
FQ: The Ropes That Bind is a work of fiction based on a true story of child sexual abuse. Why did you decide to approach the story as fiction, rather than non-fiction? What kind of impact do you picture your novel having on readers? 
STOPLER: The Ropes That Bind started out as my personal journal that I hid away for several years until I was ready to revisit it in therapy. My healing (please know that it’s different for everyone) took a positive turn when my therapist asked me to share my trauma in a third person voice rather than a first-person voice. So, for example, I was now telling the story about some other nine-year-old girl, not me. This was so eye-opening for me because it gave me permission to see the experience as an outsider and therefore I was able to be more objective. Although I was still anxious about the storytelling, I was no longer swimming in the stress hormones that previously flooded by bloodstream.
Several years later when I was writing my memoir, I turned the voice back from third person to first person and experienced an emotional setback. My therapist suggested that I keep the voice in first person but rename the narrator—and so, Tali Stark was born. Talmeans morning dew in Hebrew and Stark means strength in Yiddish. Tali Stark discovers the inspirational meaning of her name at the right time in the story.
The nonfiction part of this story includes naming many other missing children—the children who were abducted and found alive, the children who were murdered and the children who are still missing.
The impact of my novel has already exceeded my expectation. I have heard from many survivors (young and old from different backgrounds and different countries). Women and men have shared their stories and how reading The Ropes That Bind empowered them to break their silence. They were less afraid to take that first step. They understood there would be many more steps to follow as they began their own journey to Freedom.
FQ: Your main character, Tali Stark, takes decades to heal from her abduction and assault. By the end of the novel, she’s still healing. Do you think trauma ever truly goes away, or is it something survivors must live with forever?
STOPLER: The answer to this question will be different for each person and dependent on many different factors. For example, STRESS (on any given day) + ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglectand/or household dysfunction consisting of alcohol/substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, parental separation or divorce and/or incarcerated household member) =ALLOSTATIC LOAD (the wear and tear on the mind and body.  However, one’s resilience (healthy eating, exercise, mediation, sleep, family and friend support, spirituality, cognitive skills) can improve the allostatic load. Researchers, McEwen and Stellar, [“Stress and the individual. Mechanisms leading to disease.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 1993. 153 (18): 2093-101] reported the higher the allostatic load, the higher one’s vulnerability for disease. So, intellectually one may feel that they’re handling it just fine, but the body keeps the score and knows what’s really going on.
Individuals who have not experienced trauma cannot possible understand why it’s so difficult to move on. As mentioned in one of Tali’s therapy sessions, trauma does not go away simply because a child grows up. There are real tangible effects on the developing brain and body. There are changes in brain chemistry; there are changes in the immune function; and there can even be changes in the DNA. The sooner a child gets help, the better the outcome. This is much easier said than done because the problem we are facing is that the majority of these children are keeping their traumatic experience a secret.
Just to give you an idea of how big this problem of secrecy is, one in four women and one in six men report having been sexually abused before their 18th birthday. The majority (87%) never told anybody. Keeping secrets plays a terrible role in staying stuck in trauma.   Even after disclosure, it’s a long road to recovery.
Author Tracy Stopler
FQ: It takes Tali time to discover what helps her own healing process and what doesn’t. It’s not a clear cut path and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Is this a typical scenario outside of fiction? Is there any way to make it easier?
STOPLER: You are correct—healing is an individualized journey that requires self-awareness and self-care. It’s important to nurture your brain—eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest and discover a relaxation response (mediation is just one form). It’s also important to seek wisdom, understanding and knowledge from compassionate health professionals as well as others. Although this may provide a short-cut here and there, the road to recovery will be scattered with many obstacles that will need to be experienced prior to reaching the finish line.
FQ: Tali keeps silent about her assault and abduction for many years, as is often the case with survivors. What can society do to change this, and encourage more survivors to come forward and seek healing?
STOPLER: We’ve got to get better at observing the physical and behavioral signs of sexual abuse. We’ve got to listen more. We’ve got to be brave enough to ask the tough questions. And we’ve got to address the secrecy(caused by fear tactics of those who abuse).
Physical signs (like bruising and bleeding) are not identified in many cases because some sexual touching offenses like fondling, kissing and masturbating as well as non-touching sexual offenses like exposing a child to pornography, taking nude pictures, communicating sexual messages on the Internet, exposing oneself, do not leave physical (visible) signs. For this reason being aware of the behavioral signs is extremely important.
Behavior signs include: using new words to describe genitalia or sexual behavior; using toys or dolls to act out sexual scenarios; being afraid to be left in the care of a particular person or to play with a particular child; being reluctant to give details about time spent with another adult or child; experiencing headaches, stomach pain, change in appetite or eating disorders, nightmares, sleeping problems, bed wetting, anxiety and/or depression, frequent urinary tract infections, abusing alcohol or drugs; engaging in self-harming behaviors. Sexually abused kids are three times more likely to show their genitals to other children and 14 times more likely to imitate intercourse when compared with non-abused children. Parents who see or suspect any abuse should take their child to a pediatrician or ask to see a nurse examiner who specializes in sexual abuse examinations.
Although these signs are not 100 percent indicative of sexual abuse, they are signs that a child is under stress and parents should take action. Some questions parents can ask include: “Is something upsetting you?” “You seem quiet, is everything okay?” This can be an important start to help a child begin to communicate about what is happening to them.
We’ve got to address the secrecy issue and teach our children that in order for us to protect them, there cannot be any secrets. We can explain this by saying, “Surprises are secrets that are meant to be fun when they are told, like a surprise party. But secrets that are not supposed to be told can be dangerous. If someone is playing with your private body parts or asking you to touch theirs, please tell me so I can protect you.”
Adult victims keep secrets too. They may fear repercussions from their abuser or they may not want to go thru the trauma of an investigation/prosecution. They may be experiencing self-blame, embarrassment and/or humiliation. Perhaps they are unable to report the crime due to a mental or physical disability. If you suspect something, remind your loved one that they are not alone and tell them that you will be with them every step of the way.
FQ: Your interest in preventing childhood sexual abuse goes beyond fiction. You’re also The Enough Abuse Campaign Coordinator at the Safe Center on Long Island. What does an average day on the job look like for you?
STOPLER: There is no average day for me. As a trained facilitator, I go where I am needed when I am needed. Once a year I use my skills as a Master Trainer for a two-day seminar at The Safe Center. During this time we train volunteer facilitators using a series of six workshops—all focused on recognizing the signs of sexual abuse in children, the personality traits of abusers, the short-and long-term impacts of child sexual abuse, how adults can be proactive in protecting children and the steps to take to report child sexual abuse.
The Safe Center and The Enough Abuse Campaign are fighting child sexual abuse. Together, along with 60 volunteers they have begun an exciting initiative which is making a significant difference in the lives of children on Long Island. The Enough Abuse Campaign is an awareness raising and prevention initiative designed to reduce the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the community. Using a public health model of prevention, trained volunteer facilitators deliver FREE educational and inspirational presentations [to parents, professionals and concerned community members] that focus on identifying warning signs that may suggest an adult is a danger to children or may indicate that a child has been abused. Participants also learn how to create safer environments at home, in the schools and in the community that make the sexual abuse of children less likely. Its mission is to stop adults from sexually abusing children today and to prevent children from developing sexually abusive behaviors in the future.
FQ: Why did you decide to pursue a career in preventing child sexual abuse, and how has it impacted your life?
My first career is as a registered dietitian/fitness trainer. I have a private practice, specializing in Mind/Body Medicine and working with people who have disordered eating as a result of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). My second career is serving as a volunteer child victim’s advocate and Enough Abuse Trainer for The Safe Center. My decision to do this work is simple—it feeds my soul. Any time I have the opportunity to give back—to share my knowledge—it is an opportunity for me to grow. This keeps me on the ‘freedom’ path.
FQ: What is the first piece of advice you give survivors to begin to seek help in healing from trauma? What is one piece of advice you would give to the families and friends of survivors trying to help them through it?
STOPLER: Sorry to disappoint you—there is not ONE piece of advice when it comes to working with survivors and their non-offending family members. I can give one piece of advice to the trained child victim advocates and the Enough Abuse Trainers—listen. Listen and hear. Listen and feel. Advocates and Trainers are special individuals who have a sixth sense. Their knowledge, wisdom and understanding provide them with an intuition to guide each survivor and their family members toward their own individualized path of healing.
FQ: According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, self-report studies show that 20% of women and 5% - 10% of men recall an incident of childhood sexual abuse. What steps can parents and people without children take to protect children and lower these numbers?
STOPLER: Thank you for asking such an important question. Perhaps the answer can be found by exploring more questions.
  • Who abuses children?
  • Why do people sexually abuse children?
  • What skills can we develop that will help us prevent sexual abuse before a child is ever hurt?
There is so much focus on child sex abuse treatment, which is great and important for those who need it. However, as the public health model demonstrates, the benefits clearly are with child sex abuse prevention. This is where we believe we can have the greatest impact. Common strategies to prevent child sexual abuse include identifying, prosecuting, treating and monitoring the abusers. Also, preventing perpetration and preventing re-victimization through educating the community through programs like the ones offered by The Safe Center and the Enough Abuse Campaign.
It’s important that we understand the character traits of those who sexually abuse children. Collecting data can be challenging because what we know comes from those who have been caught and convicted. The majority of sex abusers have not been caught, convicted or even suspected and are known only by their victim(s). [Which reminds me—please don’t use the sex offender registry as your only source. The names on this list are a small percentage of the actual number of offenders out there]. From the data collected for these studies we know that the majority of abusers are male, heterosexual, married, have some college education, hold steady jobs and belong to some religious organization. However, women and youth also abuse. There are also a significant number of cases where a child sexually abuses another child.
These adult sex offenders are generally nice and likeable. They are patient and select jobs where they can work with children. Preferential (high risk) abusers, like Jerry Sandusky, often take jobs that will put them in positions of trust with easy access to children. They target single-family households with children. Children who lack a father or adult male in their lives are especially at risk. Male abusers often nurture relationships with the single mothers of these children as a strategy to gain trust and eventual easy access to their children. They build attachment through gifts, money, special treats. They befriend children who appear more vulnerable or in need of adult attention. While all children are vulnerable to abusers, children who are socially isolated with few or no friends or who lack adequate parental supervision may be easier targets.
Children who are developmentally or physically disabled are at greater risk since they would be less able to explain what happened to them or to stop abusive acts. The fastest growing age group experiencing sexual abuse are children six and under. Deaf and hard-of-hearing children are two to three times more likely to be sexually abused than their hearing peers. Deaf females reported sexual abuse more than twice as often as hearing females and deaf males more than three times as often as hearing males. The abuse of deaf children also tended to me more serious and less likely to be reported to parents, teachers or authorities. Risk for these children increases as their number caregivers increases.
Zabin, A.(2013). Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children. Barricade Books, New Jersey.Salter, A. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders – Who They Are, How They Operate, and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. Basic Books. New York. Poole, D. A., & Wolfe, M. A. (2009). Normative sexual and nonsexual behaviors that may be confused with symptoms of sexual abuse. The evaluation of child sexual abuse allegations: A comprehensive guide to assessment and testimony, 101-128.
FQ: Are there any precautions children can take to protect themselves? If so, what are they, and how can parents and schools teach them?
STOPLER: Both parents and teachers share the responsibility to reduce the opportunities for child sexual abuse. Here are some things we can do. When a child is enrolled for individual lessons, whether it’s for piano, acting or singing, sports coaching or tutoring, let the instructor know that you are serious about protecting your child from sexually inappropriate behaviors as you know they are. Ask what their policies are around keeping doors open and allowing parents to drop in.
Observe your child playing with other children and when they are in the company of adults. When you leave your child with a new babysitter, come home earlier without warning and be sure to ask your child how time together was spent. Observe any changes in your child’s mood or behavior.
The Enough Abuse Campaign recommends for parents to begin talking to their child about personal space and privacy by age three. Parents should only allow those they trust to provide personal care for their child. Encourage your child to become independent in their personal self-care. Parents should introduce the concepts of “OK touch” and “Not OK touch,” rather than the phrase of the past, “good touch” and “bad touch” (which is more confusing to the child for a number of reasons). Parents should discourage co-bathing with siblings and adults once children begin elementary school. Parents should also teach their children to respect adults’ and siblings’ privacy by knocking on closed doors before entering.
Parents should teach their children that the actual names for what some people call ‘private parts’ are penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks. When we purposely avoid mentioning private body parts, we send our children the message that these parts are not to be spoken about and mentioning them makes us uncomfortable. This is exactly what the perpetrators want because it increases the likelihood that the child won’t tell.
Parents should tell their children, “Nobody should be touching your penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks.”“Sometimes grown-ups need to help children wash or wipe these body parts, but that’s not the same as playing with them.” “Sometimes doctors or nurses examine these body parts to make sure they’re okay.” “It should never be a secret.”
“Grown-ups and older children never need help from children with their private parts.” “If any grown-up or older child should ask for this kind of help, or if any grown-up or older child shows you their private parts or pictures of private parts, please tell me, even if it’s someone in our family or someone we know. That would be a brave thing to do. I promise I will listen and I will not be angry.”
Parents teach your child that it is important not to cross another child’s body boundaries and touch their private parts. Clothing stays on when playing with friends. Tell them “The only time you take your clothes off is when you take a bath, get undressed for bed, get ready for swimming and when you go the doctor for a check-up.”
Children with a strong sense of self-esteem and who are confident and assertive may be less likely to be targeted by a sexual offender and children armed with information about personal safety are 6-7 times more likely to develop protective behaviors, talk more openly about abuse and experience less self-blame.
If your child discloses to you, remain calm. Responding in an upset way may make the child feel badly that he or she told and could make them stop sharing information or even recant. Be sure to tell your child: “Thank you for sharing” “It’s not your fault.” “You’re brave to tell me.” Make sure there’s a plan for safety so the child will not be left vulnerable to the alleged abuser's actions if they learn or suspect the child has disclosed. Communication is a very important part of preventing the perpetration of child sexual abuse.  If you are concerned about an adult’s inappropriate behavior around children, you can call your local child protective services office for support and advice on how to deal with the situation.  If you are concerned that a child may be being abused, you must immediately report them to child protective services and/or the police.
Visit and for more info and resources.
FQ: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from both writing The Ropes That Bind and working on The Enough Abuse Campaign?
STOPLER: First, child sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes—a silent epidemic. The vast majority (87%) is never reported to child protective services, law enforcement, a teacher, parent or even a best friend. What we do know comes from retrospective studies—studies that gathered information from adults who report on abuse they experienced as children. From these studies, researchers estimate that as many as one in four women and one in six men report having been sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Second, although “Stranger Danger” exists (as portrayed in The Ropes That Bind), sexual abuse is usually committed by someone the child and family knows and trusts. Most people who sexually abuse children do not look or act differently from the norm. They are part of our communities, circle of friends, and yes, even members of our families.
And finally, children rarely make up accusations of sexual abuse. Do children lie? Absolutely. They lie that it isn’t happening. It’s far more common for children to minimize or deny the extent of abuse they have experienced. Children will often test the waters by disclosing lesser offenses to see if the parent/adult will respond with belief and support or react with disbelief and anger. And just because a child recants their story doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Experts say that recanting is common and should be considered part of the disclosure process rather than an indication that the abuse did not occur.