Thursday, March 21, 2019

#BookReview - Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart @skyboyphotos

Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart

By: David Bayard
Publisher: Skyboy Press
Publication Date: October 2018
ISBN: 978-0996738037
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: March 2019
Wordsmith David Bayard provides an enlightening window into nature and self in his baker-dozen collection of poems, Gathering the Self.
Some people are weirded out by the number 13 for a variety of reasons that go beyond its prime classification; others could care less. To David Bayard, the odd number is nothing less than “spiritually irreducible and emotionally magical.”
A compilation of thirteen writings that span thirty-nine years, Gathering the Selfencompasses Bayard’s “poems of the heart,” or as he would put it—Pommes de Coeur: Apples of the Heart. “Tools of self-discovery and healing medicine,” which were initially used to help him “reclaim” himself, are woven into each poem.
Bayard utilizes his sharp eye and fine-tuned analytical skills for woodworking and photography to look beyond self to understand self through the power of nature. His writings presented either from his viewpoint or an item of nature include an assortment of free verse, prose, rhyme scheme, (extended) limerick, cinquain, and one poem that has a haiku-ish feel to it.
While each piece of work has the ability to stand on its own, permitting readers to meditate on Bayard’s words and embrace them in a way to raise self-awareness and enlightenment, what makes his work unique are the accompanying stories behind the poems. The stories not only add depth to the “who, what, why, where, when, and how,” but also gives readers a glimpse into the author and his personal life journey.
Bayard opens with two of his older writings before entertaining his recent poems. His vulgarity-free lingo largely speaks to relatable issues while at the same time exploring.
While some themes focus on personal struggles and the ability to overcome them through the healing power of the natural world, like in his opening works, “To Cherish” and “Drink Me,” others are reflections on death (“Chrysalis”) and suppressed feelings (“Who Died to Make This?”).
The poems that stand out the most are the ones that are written from the point of view of items of nature since they not only capture possible thought processes, but also provide perspectives of how very small and insignificant humans are to the rest of the world.
In “Katydids,” an ant has difficulty working with carrying dead katydids back to the queen. Bayard likens the ant’s struggle to a wood worker manipulating dead wood:
“Struggle bump, breathe
I carry dead katydids back to the Queen
They yet misbehave in my mandibles
Juices flow as if alive
They will not comply
Inertia! Gravity! They cry. It’s the law!”
Stones offer words of encouragement to persevere through the trials of life in “Runes”:
“We could do more, they say, but all that can be pulled away is at the bottom of the sea
Think not, thou ephemeral brief skins, that they are lost, for nothing that exists is without our memory
Sing and dance upon the deck and challenge just this once supremacy, for all is hope and all is pain mixing endlessly in rhythms great and small.”
Quill says: Enlightening and thought-provoking, Gathering the Self provides poetry lovers with a fresh perspective on life.
For more information on Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart, please visit the website: skyboyphotos.com/collections/books

#AuthorInterview with Norman Whaler

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Norman Whaler, the author of Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge: The Sequel to a Christmas Carol.
FQ: Writing a sequel to A Christmas Carol is something I believe few authors would dare to undertake.  What made you decide to tackle the story?
WHALER: It was always one of my families Christmas traditions to make some popcorn, turn the lights down, and watch A Christmas Carol movie! And it was always fun to speculate about what happened to Tiny Tim Cratchit after he didn't die! It had to be answered!
FQ: Becky was an interesting character with a full backstory.  How did she develop?
WHALER: Becky is the true hero of the story. Not Tiny Tim. While she is in poverty, he is in comfort. While she fights the good fight, he crumbles and gives up. While she is faithful, he is faithless. A true counterbalance to Tim's character.
FQ: Speaking of Becky, a line that stayed with me was from a section where you were discussing Becky’s background – “It was the habit of despair that ultimately condemned a soul.” Would you share your thoughts on this with our readers? 
WHALER: I feel that any emotion repeated over and over becomes who you are eventually, whether it's pessimism or optimism, love or hate, joy or anger. Therefore, I believe we should try not to be the person we are, but be the person we want to be.
FQ: You’re obviously a big fan of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Any plans to tackle a sequel to any of his other novels, or a classic by another author?
WHALER: I have been focusing on children's picture books right now, so no plans at this time. But you never know!
FQ: Tim asks Scrooge an age-old question that many people have asked of God – “...why does God allow such misery in the world, such hatred, and evil, and indifference?”  It’s such an important question and plays a major role in your story.  Without giving too much away, how would you answer somebody searching for an answer?
WHALER: For me, the answer is simple. WE CHOOSE every day how we behave towards each other. We can, therefore CHOOSE decency and respect and reject anger and violence.  Every day we all help create the world in which we live. The choice is ours.
FQ: Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge is a very different book/style from your other books, which are all children’s books. What are the challenges of writing in a different genre/style? 
WHALER: I have always been taught that with words, less is more. In Tiny Tim, every word had to earn its place on the page, using one word instead of 10. Children's picture books are mostly 550 to 1000 words. Writing a picture book is more challenging on many levels, to be sure!
FQ: Your stories all have strong Christian themes of love, acceptance, faith, etc. How important is it for you to pass along this important message to today’s young readers?
WHALER: In a world that has been polarized by racism, bigotry, anger, and hatred, I believe it is more important than ever to have messages that show that there is another way, and that we are not alone.
FQ: I noticed that book one in your new children’s series – Oink and Gobble – has recently been published.  Would you tell us a bit about this series and what future books in the series might be about?
WHALER: Oink is an adventurous young pig who gets in some trouble from time to time because of his overactive imagination. His best friend is Gobble, a cautious turkey, who tries her best to keep Oink grounded, but gets caught up in his adventures. Book 2 is now out and is called Oink and Gobble and the Men in Black!
FQ: Are there any other future projects that you wish to share with our readers?
WHALER: Yes! A third Oink and Gobble Book 3 is on the way, and a PB with an ecological focus!
FQ: You’re a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), and CIPA (Christian Indie Publishers Association) as well as several other writer groups.  Would you recommend new authors look into joining these or similar organizations?
WHALER: Oh, yes! The resources available to writers are vast and everyone should take advantage of them! I definitely recommend!

#BookReview - God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers

God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers

By: Darlene Laney
Publisher: Halo Publishing International
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61244-721-6
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: March 2019
You know them. Whether they met you in the hallways of the school and issued the term “nerd,” or made a fat joke at your expense, they were there. “They” were deemed bullies. Most liked to make as much fun of you as possible in order to get others to point and laugh. Maybe you were one of the strong ones who held your head high and made sure to only show your pain to the people you trusted—those parents at home who were there for you and wanted to do anything they could to help. Yet, no matter what they did, the bullies just seemed to get worse.
For those lucky enough to read the first book in this series, The God Squad Mission Him-Possible: The Distorted Mirror, you were lucky enough to meet up with a group of kids who work together in order to help others. In the newest book, God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers, the kids are back, and the mission they are about to take on is a truly tough one. Angel is a member of The God Squad and the narrator of this tale. She brings readers along, telling them the story of a girl named Taylor Williams. Taylor is currently being bullied by Marcie. It wasn’t so long ago that Taylor was Marcie’s BFF. In fact, when Taylor first got to Carver Preparatory School, she became part of Marcie’s not-so-nice group and is guilty of doing the same type of bullying she’s receiving now. Let us just say that she and Marcie had a falling out, so Taylor is now the target of Marcie’s wrath.
Taylor’s mom has tried to help. She has phoned the principal, she’s spoken with her pastor…everything. But the principal chalks it up to “girls being girls” and does not see the need to intervene. She believes that the girls will work it out. But as time moves forward, the bullying gets worse, even to the point where Taylor states that she would rather die than go back to school the next day.
Ms. Foster is the head of The God Squad that includes Angel, Chris, Eve, Sadie, Mia, and Jade. She meets with the girls and shows them a picture of Taylor. The sad, doe-like eyes of the girl affect Angel in a hard way. You see, Angel has been bullied. She’s sickened by what’s happening to this poor girl because she still holds a bit of pain inside from when the teasing happened to her. She knows that if she hadn’t met the Squad when she did, she would’ve been in the exact same place Taylor is now…too scared and upset to talk to anybody about her predicament. Angel is assigned to be the team leader of this mission. By doing this, by helping Taylor, perhaps it will give Angel time to work through her own remaining demons and battle the giants that show up in her dreams; giants that make her feel small and alone.
This book is fantastic, just like the first one in this series, The God Squad Mission Him-Possible: The Distorted Mirror. The God Squad is something I wish every school had. This teaches one and all that the Lord is there and is helping. You even meet some older women when you’re with Angel. Women who appear during times of great need (and disappear just as fast). The one thing I hope will stick with readers is a line that states: “God didn’t make junk when He made you.” I hope victims of bullies never forget those words, and I hope the bullies (“the giants”) who make people feel bad, come away knowing that there’s a mighty Giant Slayer in each one of us. These are not only fun reads with memorable characters, but these books also show how much easier life can be when you have faith in your heart, and true friends by your side.
Quill says: This is perfect for many ages and is definitely a much-needed “must-read” for all.
For more information on God Squad Mission Him-Possible II: The Giant Slayers,please visit the author's website at: www.darlenelaney.com

Thursday, March 14, 2019

#BookReview - Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished! @Clairitage

Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished!: Helpful Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Family History and Putting Life Stories on Paper

By: Karen Dustman
Publisher: Clairitage Press
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1-731536341
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: March 12, 2019
“Everyone has great stories to tell.” This is one phrase I completely agree with and is something that this book professes profusely. Writers who tackle this specific genre, whether it be in the form of biography, autobiography, family history, and so on, look back at past times and people and usually have regrets. They wonder why they didn’t get their grandparents to tell them more stories about themselves: where their family came from; what they did as careers; and, basically, what life was like “back then.” We also run across people in our lives and wonder why we didn’t sit down with them, have coffee, and get their stories on tape in order to learn more about history. In fact, after reading this great book, I remembered a time when I was lucky enough to work in an office with a client who was born and raised in Roswell, NM. He worked at the military base here during that “extraterrestrial” time period, which meant he was in “the thick of things” back in 1947. We were going to talk. Yet, unfortunately, he passed away before it could be done. That is a personal regret, but millions of authors have at least one of their very own.
Author Karen Dustman touches upon those regrets in her book Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished! and talks about all areas of memoir writing. However, she has done such a spectacular job in a variety of arenas that this is a book that will help writers in all genres. She dives into the difficult issue of writer’s block. But instead of using “Yale-speak,” she uses good old common sense to explain what the “block” is and how, exactly, to get over it in order to move on and bring to life your creation. She addresses three different reasons as to why writer’s block occurs; she offers up the cause and effect for each, as well as the solutions to use in order to stop things like negative self-talking and attempting to find a way to “begin at the beginning.”
But there is so much more. As a woman who has preserved life histories for 20+ years, teaches in-person Life Story writing classes, has authored over a dozen books, and is currently working on an e-course for Memoir writers, this is most definitely a voice you should listen to when it comes to creating your manuscript. Ms. Dustman goes through the very important steps of organization. She addresses how to put together interviews so that your subject will answer questions that make you better understand what time period you’re writing about. She also tells you the importance of how to manage your manuscript by offering up tips on everything from finding information on clothing styles, news and events by year, cultural histories by decade; to photo and scanning tips so that your end product will look its absolute best.
Life is a learning experience, as is writing. With Karen Dustman’s information, whether you are an established writer or a wannabe just starting out, each chapter is a learning experience that is necessary in order to become that “great writer.” There are even bonus resources and tip sheets given in the back of the book that will make it easier for you to sit down and begin putting that “life story” down on paper. And if you have already begun the process and have just set it aside because you told yourself you were no good at writing, then this is the book you need in order to take that half-written manuscript out of the drawer and get back at it immediately.
Quill says: This is a resource book that should be sitting next to your computer at all times!
For more information on Writing A Memoir from Stuck to Finished!: Helpful Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Family History and Putting Life Stories on Paper, please visit the publisher's website at www.Clairitage.com

Monday, March 11, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Steve Zell @stevezelltales

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Steve Zell, the author of True Creature.
FQ: You have several powerful female characters in True Creature – is it easy for you to get inside their heads and their thinking processes?
ZELL: Boys like myself growing up Catholic in the 60s knew absolutely nothing useful about females except that it was a sin to let your mind wander about them... As warping as growing up that way was, it gave me a very strong desire to listen and learn and find some common ground there. I think you learn how connected we all are when you find yourself consoling someone you’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with whose heart has just been broken by an idiot – and you suddenly realize your heart is now being broken by an idiot too...and you’re the biggest idiot of all for putting yourself in that position. I guess it comes down to the fact we’re all idiots in one way or another. At times we’re all heroic too. That partly answers one of your later questions – if there’s any character in True Creature I see myself in – and the truth is, good, evil, male or female, brave or cowardly, I really have something in common with all of them.
FQ: You feature some funny scenes with adolescent love (and lust) gone wrong. How much humor do you think can safely be mixed with horror?
ZELL: Hah! Adolescent love can be a horror story on its own. As far as the mixture of horror and humor goes in my writing, there was a glut on the bully market when I was a kid. I eventually developed two survival techniques – one was a fast straight punch, the other was humor. I think, in some of the most horrific situations – having a sense of humor is the one thing that will keep you sane – it’s also a very powerful weapon. I think humor gives the reader a chance to recover, it can also make the characters more human and even underscore their terror. But you do have to be careful where and when you use it, otherwise you can diffuse the situation, which isn’t something you want to do. If the truly “horrific” element you’ve just written evokes a truly funny image...you may need to rethink it and rewrite it.
Sara uses humor to shield herself from the very real horror of her job as a medical examiner. And, without giving too much away, I think one of the most horrific scenes in True Creature is one you don’t actually see. Deanne knows what’s going on, she hears it, smells it, there’s even a very detached running commentary by the killer throughout it. There is some very dark humor in all of that, and I think the little bit Deanne pulls from her seemingly hopeless situation keeps her sane.
FQ: You mention Wallace and Ladmo, the TV characters, numerous times in this book. Can you comment on their place in your childhood and in Arizona culture?
ZELL: Oh man. Did I EVER look forward to that show after school! We all did. We probably give folks credit for being “ahead of their time” too often, but Wallace and Ladmo really were. It was a “cartoon show” but the cartoons weren’t the draw – the reason for watching were the skits between the cartoons, and the humor was funnier the more you thought about it. Sure, they had slapstick elements, but they were a little more like Fractured Fairy Tales from Rocky and His Friends (The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) – they challenged your ideas about the world (their bizarre version of The Civil War which I believe they filmed mostly at Papago Park, comes to mind). Pat McMahon, a local newsman, appeared as various characters – his spoiled rich kid, Gerald, was one of the staples of the show, but he also played a clown who hated kids and smoked – and THAT was hilarious, and this was the 60s! Wallace and Ladmo often appeared live around town – notably at our frighteningly old-west-themed park, Legend City, which I mention in True Creature, but they could be anywhere. They appeared at a Der Wienerschnitzel (remember those? Yes – Phoenix was a testing ground for the finest of fast-foods) near our house and I went to see them. I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to win a giant, foot-long, Baby Ruth bar and have Ladmo himself call me by name and congratulate me. They were rock stars.
FQ: Is there a particular political model for Todd Worwick?
ZELL: As a Catholic boy, John F. Kennedy was a god. I was so affected by his assassination that I wrote that date on all my school papers for several years. But I was a little kid and back then they kept the sexual “exploits” secret. It was a big disappointment for me finding out just how “human” he was. As it became more obvious that sexual attraction had as much to do with power and fame in all aspects of life whether it was the high-school athlete, the popular cheerleader, teachers, priests, the bad-boy in the movies, politicians, etc., I came to realize it’s part of the fabric of things. The fact Congress has a fund set up specifically to protect its members from sex-abuse scandals and it’s widely used should be front page news but it isn’t. Male or female, power games are a sometimes evil but often simply intoxicating part of many human relationships. Todd borrows from a lot of folks I’ve known or know of. On the surface, he’s one of those affable jerks we all know who take advantage of their power and good looks when they can – but he’s caused, and suffered, real tragedy because of it.
FQ: Do you ever “see” yourself as one of your characters, major or minor? If so, who would that be in True Creature?
ZELL: I mentioned earlier there’s some part of me in everyone in True Creature. Donovan probably has the most – but, hey, there’s a nerdy part of me in Sara too – and quite a bit of my own regret and need for vengeance carried by Barney and Tahoma.
FQ: Can you say a bit about your central theme – water – and its meaning for the state of Arizona? Does it still loom large as an issue there as it clearly did in the 1960s in True Creature?
ZELL: Phoenix, and southern Arizona in general, is as much a manufactured environment now as it was in the 60s or as the first outpost on Mars will be. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it, or Tucson – where I went to college and is a place I really, really love. Arizonans will always need to redirect water to survive. But that isn’t such an unusual situation, California, where I lived for twenty-odd years, is technically a desert too. Mono Lake has been drained to the point where it’s practically gone. I think Phoenicians are less aware of the tenuous situation they live in now than they once were precisely because of the construction of the Central Arizona Water Project which is the backdrop of True Creature. Many waterways are “permanently” in place now or as permanently in place as anything can be in the desert. You still hear arguments about how much water passing through or around the state belongs to Arizona. Living in Oregon now (and it’s raining as I write this) I still worry about water reserves. Forest fires are a huge problem here...we also have volcanoes. Man...scary stuff everywhere...
FQ: You’ve found a comfortable niche by following the old rule, “write about what you know.” Could you envision leaving that literary comfort zone for another locale entirely?
ZELL: I’ve been lucky enough to be many different things in my life and I want to be more. I owe a lot to the University of Arizona for putting me on the Interdisciplinary Studies path, or recognizing that was where I needed to be! True Creature is a detective novel at its heart which is a little bit of a departure for me, and I love doing research. The LA Crime Lab has Forensic Pathology classes for the “not-so-faint-of-heart” which I’ve taken advantage of. But...I know that isn’t what you mean :). I likely will go in a completely different direction at some point, I really love exploring people – their minds and their hearts. The great thing about supernatural suspense is that I can place people somewhere they’re forced to think of something bigger than themselves – and really explore their minds and hearts. We’ll see...
FQ: Your first book, WiZrD, originally published in the 90s, and then re-released as an ebook several years ago, is enjoying a renewed life, having recently won the “Best of Backlist” award in the Feathered Quill Book Awards. So many large publishers set aside books older than a year, but as a small, independent publisher, you’re able to bring the book back to the reading public. Do you think it’s time for large publishers to re-visit how they handle backlist titles?
ZELL: That is a really great question and I think it’s part of a broader problem. Like every other entertainment form, the landscape and business model is changing for publishing and traditional houses haven’t embraced that. They need to be working with the indies to find a way to get those backlists, and publishing in general, to work better for everyone involved – including the reader. When e-books began becoming popular St. Martin’s Press had already become part of Macmillan and I couldn’t even find a phone number there. Everyone I knew from the WiZrD days was gone – including my editor, Reagan Arthur, whom I love, who had moved on to Little Brown. So...I published WiZrD on the Kindle myself. I can’t say I recommend that, but you have to be bold and that did get Macmillan’s attention; we signed a new contract, and they re-published it for the Kindle and other e-books.
Good books are good books – even if they didn’t receive mass attention when they first came out because they didn’t have the name-recognition and budgets to be mass-marketed back then.
I thank Feathered Quill for the Best of Backlist category in their book awards for the renewed interest in WiZrD! The fact that WiZrD ties into True Creature and to Running Cold makes it all the better!

#BookReview - True Creature @stevezelltales

True Creature

By: Steve Zell
Publisher: Tales from Zell, Inc.
Publication Date: March 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9847468-6-6
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: February 18, 2019
Author Steve Zell has created a twisted tale that centers on vengeance, memory and the mystical powers of water in his newest book, True Creature.
Set in and around Phoenix, Arizona, Zell’s book intertwines a number of stories flashing forward and back in time. In 1968, Todd Worwick is running for senator. His campaign manager, Sondra, is getting more involved with Todd than she probably should. Todd’s beautiful, almost-teenaged daughter Cassandra is conflicted and confused since her mom, Susan, has inexplicably retreated to a desert hideout. Deanne is an investigative reporter who, recognizing that Todd and Susan’s estrangement could be a big scoop, is trying to wangle an interview with Susan, but in the meantime, she’s contacted by a woman named Sara, a medical official who’s just performed a couple of weird autopsies. Sara feels sure the two deaths are related: two men have drowned in places miles from any source of water. 
And water, it seems, is the focus of everyone’s lives, since they live in a dry region. Todd is campaigning on his promise to open up a new water source for the state. But when Deanne questions Susan, she learns that Todd is trying to dam up the very lake where his brother drowned in the 1950s—and that may not be all the supposedly squeaky-clean candidate is covering up. Deanne determines to find out Todd’s connection to the monstrously huge, superhumanly strong man known as Red Hawk. A rogue Native American, Red Hawk is so powerful that, as Deanne will discover to her horror, he has no hesitation in ripping a human head off its neck in a few short twists. 
Steve Zell is no stranger to suspense with a fantasy spin. Horror thrillers Running Coldand Urban Limit have established him as a talent in that genre. He is also a keen observer of his environment, the dry dusty southwest US where he grew up and where he still loves to seek out strange, sacred or profane places and delve into their ghostly past. In this book he contrasts the bright lights of an urban political campaign with secrets trapped deep in a disused mine shaft or under the surface of a deceptively placid lake. His characters are full-blown and believable: attractive but macho-tough Sara; lonely, career-driven Deanne; fatherly but possibly manipulative senatorial hopeful Todd; Donovan, a lovelorn teen who is a lot older than he thinks; and Barney, who keeps a shrine in the wilderness to a long-lost love, swearing revenge. Zell is at home with lively dialog, whether among kids at an amusement park or grown-ups in the throes of building passions. He also keeps a tight grip on scene and time changes, so there is no doubt where and when we are as we follow along in this fast-paced tale, enthralled.
Quill says: Zell’s fans will want to grab this one, and new readers of his work will be entranced by his settings, people, and most of all his eerie, unchained true creature.
For more information on True Creature, please visit the author's website at: www.talesfromzell.com

#BookReview - Your Light

Your Light: A Musical Storybook

By: Jillian Aversa
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1793498854
Reviewed by: Gina Montanha
Review Date: March 2019 
Beautifully simple and soothing...Your Light is the story of a baby bunny’s sweet dream that will have your little one drifting off in no time. 
The author of Your Light, Jillian Aversa, an American vocalist and composer has written this whimsical tale of a mama bunny encouraging her baby to sleep with promises of adventurous dreaming. As baby bunny dreams of a falling star, he sets out to find it and encounters a fork in the road, where he is reminded of his mother’s precious love, encouraging him forward.
Making this book extra special is Aversa’s accompanying lullaby – free for download on the site www.YourLightBook.com. She originally wrote the lullaby for her daughter, and to make it more interactive, she turned the lyrics into this charming storybook. The unadorned text has simple rhymes on its own pages or set apart from the pictures by appearing to float in white boxes of light. The night skies are full of stars, set in enchanting purple hues. As for Aversa’s voice, it is soft, harmonious and perfectly in sync with the wonderfully illustrated book.
Quill says: Your Light will delight and comfort your little one. It’s a winner of a bedtime story that can be enjoyed with or without the accompanying music. Try singing it yourself!

Monday, February 25, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Lin Wilder @linwilder

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Lin Wilder, the author of I, Claudia: A Novel of the Ancient World.

FQ: I’ve spoken with a few authors on this subject, and when asked, they said that the world of “Christianity” is something they’d stay away from because of the turmoil it could cause. You have more than a few books that bring up this subject. Was this a focus of your writing from the beginning?

WILDER: Interesting question. And one I expected to be asked six books ago. The short answer is yes, it was a focus of my writing from the very beginning. I have been surprised-and pleased-that this fact has been so well tolerated by readers with a variety of different beliefs. As well as those with none at all. Maybe this is because the stories tend to be told from the perspective of coming to the faith as adults. And because I write less about ‘it’-religion- and more about the Person...the historical man who was born and crucified. And who claimed to be the son of God.

I smile at the notion of ‘staying away from Christianity because of the turmoil it would cause’ because so many of us seem to live in constant turmoil; even to invite it.

FQ: Along those same lines, what was it about this genre that made you want to dive in? Is there another genre you have not yet worked on that you would like to one day?

WILDER: Forgive the ‘woo woo’ nature of this reply but this book was not my idea. I planned to write the fifth in the Lindsey McCall mystery series and had no intention of switching genres. Until a March morning last year, this new story appeared in my head. Not just an idea but as a fully formed concept with the title, perspective, and first person style-brand new to me. At the same time, I recalled my long-held ‘friendship’ with Pontius Pilate. I was excited - and scared...

FQ: Writing about the wife of such a famous historical figure as Pontius Pilate is a brave, and to some a controversial, idea. What was it about Claudia that drew you to her and made you want to tell her story?

WILDER: I am not sure it’s brave, at all. Just that from the very beginning of my conversion to Christian Catholicism...especially during the recitation of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, I long felt myself to be a kindred spirit with this man Pontius Pilate placed in a wholly impossible position. One that I could identify with. Especially while reading his reply to Jesus’s statement: ”For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth...”

Pilate’s reply to Christ, “What is truth?” is almost universally dismissed as sophistry. It never felt so to me.

While researching the surprisingly unidimensional and superficial view of ‘ the scholars’ view about him, my sympathy grew as did my suspicion that we don’t know...cannot know who he was. Nor even guess at his motives. The field was open for a very different view. Perhaps even a more valid one.

The perspective of writing about Pilate in an ‘objective’ sense through Claudia appealed to me. I had never given much thought to her...to this wife until then. That single comment of hers, recorded in the Gospel of Mark was most evocative and as I pondered her words, they connoted far more than the somewhat flat character I encountered in the novels written about her. She was a mystic, she had to be.

FQ: What reminded me in many ways of the present world (the battles when it comes to Democrats and Republicans) were the differences/battles between Claudia's and Sabina's beliefs. Did you find that any specific part of writing Claudia’s upbringing was helped by what we're seeing in the world today?

WILDER: No. Because I think very little is new. Whether we’re talking dissension, mobs, ingenious methods of cruelty and torture, all have been around since the beginning. And yet every age believes itself to face unique problems, challenges that are greater than any faced by women and men before us. Our own seems to insist that ours is the most (fill in the blank.)

Sabina, in many ways, reminds me of many Christians and Catholics I know or have known. Her prayers to Athena were recitations which she wrapped around herself for solace; that she was so indignant at the challenges from her young niece revealed more about herself than about Claudia.

FQ: Do you believe that Lucias had the power laid at his feet too soon? Do you feel like if he’d not been crowned the Tribune at just the age of 28 that he would have even embarked on this path?

WILDER: No. A man who had been training since 16 for warfare, was most certainly capable of handling power. After all, he was the leader of thousands of men, many older than he, like Quintillus, his lead Centurion.

I wonder if anyone is ever ready to take on duplicity, pretense, and subterfuge unless of course, this is where they are most comfortable. Like Sejanus, Caiaphas, and maybe Seneca.

FQ: On that same subject, do you believe Lucias would have been happy as a lawyer or doctor like others in his family; or, do you personally believe there is a fate already set in stone for everyone?

WILDER: No. I think he knew that life was impossible for him. He was a born warrior. It was there, in the heat of battle that he belonged. But...he got promoted.

Do I believe there is a fate ‘set in stone’ for each of us? No.

But here’s the rub to that...if we are true to our nature...that unique, unrepeatable person each of is...then maybe I do believe in a type of fate...

FQ: On your website, you announce that “I, Claudiais done. Kill the Monster!” Can you explain a bit as to why that appears there?

WILDER: Thank you for asking this question! Although I suspect I may have disliked being in his company, I love Winston Churchill ‘s quips about writing. One of my absolute favorites is this one. It more correctly describes the process of writing a novel than any I have ever read:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

FQ: Your Dr. Lindsey McCall series is an exciting set of books. Are you currently working on the next in the series? If so, could readers have a “sneak peek” if possible? In addition, I see from your website that the title My Name is Saul is coming in the fall of 2019. Is there something you could tell us about that book?

WILDER: I was stunned when My Name is Saul showed up instead of the fifth in the Lindsey McCall mystery series. I had every intention of writing that 5th book, knew precisely which characters I’d bring back only to learn, after many days of trying to conceive the story, that if I did write it, the story would be forced, contrived.

It seems that this new, “ancient world series” has replaced Lindsey. At least for the time being. Thank you for asking this question...her series is indeed an exciting one!

Here are the first couple of paragraphs from My Name is Saul is the story of St. Paul, his early life, before he becomes the ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of the first chapter:

“The guards tell me I will die tomorrow. In the morning...around sunrise. I would like that...to see the sun. I cannot recall the last time I saw the sun. A year and many months at least, I am confident.
About the dying itself? Am I afraid? Unfortunately, I must confess that I fear the sight of the blade coming at my neck, for even Nero will not crucify a Roman citizen.”

FQ: What is the one thing you absolutely love about being a writer? Is there one thing about the industry that, if you could change it, you would?

WILDER: I published my first article when I was twenty-two and have been writing non-fiction ever since. The process of writing and publishing tells me what I think, believe to be true. Many have claimed that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I think not. The very best way to learn about a thing, person or event is to write about it.

But this unplanned adventure into fiction opens up even more than learning about something worth knowing about. Writing compelling characters, people the reader can sit next to, have a conversation with, compels me to cede control of the story to him or her. Once those characters take on heft, we must let them go. It is the thing I most love about writing...the sheer not knowing.

While writing the 4th of the Lindsey McCall series, I said to my husband on more than one occasion that I had no idea what would happen to Joe Cairns, the assassin turned hero in Malthus Revisited. Astonished, John asked how on earth that could be?

But it was.

You asked if there is one thing I would change about the publishing industry?

The word industry implies I think, a systematic approach to an enterprise. There seems to me to be no system in our current day...rather a ‘let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks...’ In such a chaotic environment, I cannot select out one thing to change because I think it’s in constant motion.

FQ: I see also (and read in your series) that you are a lover of dogs. Can you tell us about Shadow and what role he plays in the Wilder writing system?

WILDER: Shadow. Thank you for another smile. Shadow is a miracle, at least fifteen years old, his quiet, unassuming, dignified presence is something the rest of our pack- Seymour, my husband John and I value, each day.

FQ: And thank you so much for your time, and a fantastic book. I’m a lover of everything historical and this was a great gift to the genre, I must say. Have a wonderful 2019, and I look forward to My Name is Saul.

#BookReview - I, Claudia @linwilder

I, Claudia: A Novel of the Ancient World

By: Lin Wilder
Publisher: Wilder Books
Publication Date: December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-9480-1843-2
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: February 22, 2019
For anyone looking for one of those easy, cozy reads, this is not it. For someone who is looking for a fantastic plot of the ancient world filled with suspense, romance, and history, this is definitely the book you want. Not only is this a well-researched book that allows the reader to actually feel as if they are walking the streets in Judea and living within this realm, it’s also a book that does not avoid controversy. It simply is a plot so well-crafted that the controversy comes second to the characters you will never forget.
Claudia is the wife of one of the most controversial, and some would say horrific, men to have lived in the ancient world. She is a woman who appears briefly in the Bible, in a single verse of the Gospel of Matthew, where she attempts to persuade her husband not to condemn Jesus to death. But this writer, the award-winning author of the Lindsey McCall Medical Mystery series, takes that person and quite literally turns her into someone readers of today can relate to. 
Claudia is the daughter of the last Oracle at Delphi. She has a past that is more than amazing, but her need—at seventy-nine-years of age—to make sure her story is left behind for others who come after causes one to become enthralled. All Claudia wants is for people to better understand who she was and what her life entailed; and what Claudia “speaks” takes us back to a time that a great many will say changed history forever.
We hear about her birth and her intricate education. We also hear about the marriage to Pontius Pilate, where Claudia does her absolute best to show facets of this man in a good light. Unlike the difficulty you may have with Pontius Pilate and his ultimate wrongdoing, you will actually love the character of Claudia at the onset of the book. The life created for this woman is a mind-blowing walk through history, and your empathy for her will grow as you understand the battle that went on between her head and her heart when it came to her husband. The focus of this tale is Jesus—from his arrest to his eventual persecution, prosecution, and hanging from the cross as told through the eyes of Claudia as she witnesses the end of what many call the true prophet of the people. 
The historical research that went into this book is stunning. And for those like me who love history, it made it a book to remember and recommend for a long time to come. But what may be the most incredible thing is the fact that the author walks that thin line all writers know about without ever falling off. To explain, this is not a book that preaches. This is not a book that tells you what is right and what is wrong; what is sinful and what is not. The reader never feels as if they are stuck in a classroom, nor do they ever feel judged. What they do feel, however, is a kinship to Claudia. They also come away with a feeling of satisfaction, as if they’ve seen life and understand it just a bit better than they did before. There is a very truthful love story presented in these pages, and being able to “meet up” with icons such as Socrates, is an added benefit. 
Quill says: This is a compelling mixture of research and imagination, and deserves a place in every reader’s library.
For more information on I, Claudia, please visit the author's website at: www.linwilder.com

Friday, February 22, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Steven Wilson

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Steven E. Wilson, the author of The Making, Breaking and Renewal of a Surgeon-Scientist.
FQ: Your fiction has drawn a great deal of fans and awards. What motivated you to write this book in regards to your own experiences?
WILSON: The episodes at the University of Washington School of Medicine detailed in this book changed the course of my career, even though I was not one of the physicians charged by federal prosecutors. I felt I had to write about what happened there so physicians and non-physicians alike would know what really occurred during that terrible time. I actually wrote 95% of this book in 2006, three years after I left the University of Washington, but decided to not publish it at that time because the experiences were still too fresh. Waiting that decade to finish the book gave it much more perspective with regards to my career and the physicians directly affected by the Medicare scandal.
FQ: What is the one thing you hope will come about from people reading this book and learning about real-life travesties of justice that very real people are/were faced with?
WILSON: It is my hope that other physicians will read this as a cautionary tale about what can happen to well-meaning practitioners while practicing medicine in the new more complex environment we find ourselves immersed in. I hope non-physicians will gain a better understanding of what it takes to become a physician and to excel in ones subspecialty in medicine. It really is a hard, hard road.
FQ: Are you interested in writing non-fiction in the future?
WILSON: Perhaps, but I hope not about my own life! I’m hopeful the remainder of my days in medicine are not filled with the turmoil and angst that is a significant part of this book.
FQ: Can you offer a slice of advice to those new writers out there when it comes to the differences you experienced between creating fiction as opposed to non-fiction?
WILSON: They are both so very different. Both take a lot of research, but the fiction requires much more imagination and attention to character and plot development. I enjoyed both but there is a special place in my heart for fiction.
FQ: Your resume is a long one. Out of all the places you have been and worked – from Whittier, CA to the LSU Eye Center and beyond, is there one place that you always look back on as being a perfect or, at least, a close-to-perfect place to work? Where the system and the people were just a joy to be around?
WILSON: I very much enjoy where I work now—at the Cole Eye Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, but I will always look back at the three years I spent in residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota as a magical time. There were a lot of very special people there who taught me to be an eye surgeon and what it meant to be an ophthalmologist. That’s why that chapter is titled “A Bright, Shining Star.” But LSU Eye Center in New Orleans, where I did my fellowship in cornea, external disease and refractive surgery was also very special. I met many of my best friends in ophthalmology and vision research there and loved the two years I lived in New Orleans.
FQ: Is teaching the up-and-comers in the medical industry a true personal gift when it comes to helping those intelligent minds move forward in their career? Do you like being a mentor?
WILSON: Yes, it has been one of the highlights of my career. Many of my trainees are like sons and daughters to me. Several have also become leaders in refractive surgery, especially in Brazil, where about fifteen MDs who have worked in my laboratory and clinics have come from to spend two to three years in training. Seeing them succeed has brought me great joy.
FQ: What is the focus and hopeful solutions that your laboratory works on every day to bring about?
WILSON: The studies in my lab have focused on growth factor and cytokine control of wound healing over the past 29 years. Recently, the majority of our work has been on scarring in the cornea that causes loss of vision after injuries, infections and some surgeries. We have found that injuries to the epithelial basement membrane and Descemet’s basement membrane in the cornea are major factors in the development of scar-producing cells called myofibroblasts in the cornea and that repair or regeneration of these basement membranes facilitates disappearance of the scars. These findings are important to scarring in the corneas of hundreds of thousands of patients throughout the world and will hopefully lead to new and better treatments to prevent and treat corneal scarring.
FQ: Could you tell us if there are more fiction titles coming out in the future? Or, what you are working on now as an author?
WILSON: I’m thinking about writing another fiction centered on my protagonist Stone Waverly’s early career in the CIA in an adventure in Afghanistan involving Commander Ahmed Massoud, The Lion of Panjsher, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I’ve always been fascinated by his life and at present I am reading everything I can get my hands on that relates to him.
Thank you so much for opening your world and life for others to better understand the problems out there. All the best to you, in your future books and endeavors.

#BookReview - The Making, Breaking and Renewal of a Surgeon-Scientist

The Making, Breaking and Renewal of a Surgeon-Scientist: A Personal Perspective of the Physician Crisis in America

By: Steven E. Wilson, M.D.
Publisher: H-G Books
Publication Date: January 2019
ISBN: 978-1732915145
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: February 19, 2019
We hear all about the “best of the best,” the ones behind-the-scenes who work themselves silly to make sure the rest of us are okay. We see ads about them on TV; the ones who run into emergency situations every day. If we don’t know them personally—if we never need a first responder or doctor/surgeon for an emergency—then we are not only lucky, but we also will never know their dedication, the work they did to get where they are, and the endurance and determination they have within them to make things better for those in need.
In this autobiography written by one of those very determined people, readers are provided with a narrative that brings to light his own struggles that he had to go through in order to become the physician that he’d always dreamed of being. As a young man he had a plan, and even though hard work and hard roads stretched out before him, he achieved his goal and became one who could claim the mantle of being an “incredible” eye physician/scientist of his generation.
The hard road experienced as a kid, however, was not the last one he’d have to traverse. This narrative takes the reader on a journey that goes into “The Big Easy,” the Cleveland Clinic, Seattle, and more, even offering a door into Dr. Wilson’s job as chair of ophthalmology at the University of Washington. The latter was the scene of three physicians who were held out to dry during what the author calls the “whistleblower-initiated federal Medicare/Medicaid fraud investigation” that went on there.
Hard roads do not only describe health and wellness emergencies; in fact, the good doctor brings to light some of the fiercest issues that were born when bureaucrats, people with the title of “Administrator,” and federal prosecutors took the low road and tossed a veil of evil over the decent world of medicine. The American medical system gets hits each and every day. Journalists, newspaper accounts, blogs – all tell stories that address the healthcare concerns in this nation, the plight of the medical men and women who are just trying to do their jobs, etc. And although TV commercials honoring those heroes are fine, backing that up with respect for their careers and the work they have done is also necessary.
This book does well because it offers a view and perspective that allows you, the reader, to form your own views and make sure that the medical world does not go the way of the dinosaur, as politicians and others continue to taint it in various ways. Although this book is a “must read” for the wonderful people out there who wish to take on medicine as a career, it’s also one for people who wish to see a fulfilling career first-hand, and witness how good intentions can at times be twisted to receive negative consequences.
This author has written award-winning fiction (i.e., The Stone Waverly Trilogy), and this particular release allows his fans and other readers to see inside the mind of a truly intelligent man who wishes to create a good road for others to travel.
Quill says: This personal journey offers up humor, success, drama, trauma, and a learning experience that all should have.
For more information on The Making, Breaking and Renewal of a Surgeon-Scientist,please visit the publisher's website at: h-g-books.com

#BookReview - Copywrite God and Me

Copywrite God and Me: Lyrics from a Collection of Inspired Songs

By: Christina Nordstrom
Publisher:
Publication Date: 2018
ISBN: 978-1-38-831490-3
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Date: February 19, 2019
Christina Nordstrom is a singer/songwriter who often finds inspiration in mystical circumstances, described here in charming narrative.
Lyrics to ninety songs with accompanying narrative are presented in this fascinating look inside the thinking processes of a performer, much of whose musical endeavors have a charitable purpose. Most show an active faith in God and in the mysterious creative process, the lyrics seeming to the author to come from somewhere outside herself. She sees herself often as just the transcriber. Thus it’s fitting that the first song in the collection is called “Thank You for the Blessings”:
Thank you for the blessings of this life
And the promise that your peace will bring!
May I live a life that’s worthy of your song –
To your melody my voice will sing!
“Voices of the Mountains” shares the writer’s experiences on work-study trips to El Salvador and her realization that one’s tears are a sign that love is there amidst poverty and political strife. The lyrics are a paean to her companions: campesinos, common people who were crushed beneath a lie.
“Lessons from Shoes” recalls her father polishing the children’s shoes before Sunday school (Dad, thanks for the shoes and what it took to fill them). “A Special Kind of Love” was written for friends getting married, and, the author states, for “any two people who committed their lives to each other.” The song “Mending” underscores the need to learn to apologize and ask for forgiveness, while “Find Your Way Back Home” expresses Nordstrom’s frustration when, as a child, she was told by a music teacher that she must not use her natural voice, and how she overcame that negative message:
When I was a child I spoke as a woman,
The songs that I sang were just not my own...
...Claiming your purpose depends on your will.
A particularly moving offering is a song in the “protest” vein, referencing the ”Orphan Train” initiative of the late 19th-early 20th century that transported homeless children from cities to work for farm families on the Great Plains. Nordstrom characterizes the memories of one such child: As the train pulled out trembled to the cadence of the wheels below. “The Lord’s Prayer in Blue” is an unusual number, showing clearly that connection between the author and her creative promptings, in this case almost a direct message, from God. The song is a slightly reworded blues version of the famous prayer, as it came to her in the wee hours of the morning.
Nordstrom refers to her folk genre songs as “co-creations,” many of which are infused with the spirit of “giving back” that springs from her work in community health and her travels in some of the poor countries of the world. 
Quill says: Nordstrom’s book of songs and the stories behind them will be appreciated by and shared among other creative artists, especially those whose work is faith based. 
For more information on Copywrite God and Me: Lyrics from a Collection of Inspired Songs, please visit the author's website at: www.chrisnordstrom.com

#AuthorInterview with Michael A. Greco @Mike12854850

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Michael A. Greco, the author of The Cuckoo Colloquium: Getting Lost to Find Yourself.
FQ: What is it like to travel to other regions of the world? Is it from your travels that your ideas for books come about?
GRECO: I’ve lived in Japan, off and on, for twenty-five years. Because of its location, the country has served as a convenient springboard off into other areas of Asia. The Cuckoo Colloquium comes from several visits to Indonesia and Malaysia.
My third book, Plum Rains on Happy House, is all about the Japan experience—the distinctive culture and the puzzling language (as seen by an adult trying to learn it).
A big part of my fourth book, Project Purple, comes from my experiences living in Russia (then the Soviet Union) as a student in the 80s.
Two other books are uniquely American, where I try to dig into the roots of American culture: Moon Dogg, my second book, is a story about a man’s murder in the Sonora Desert and his subsequent reincarnation, though the spirituality of Moon Dogg comes largely from the legends of the Tohono O’odham Nation who live there.
My latest project, Assunta, (books 5, 6, 7) takes place in south Texas, and is a three-part trilogy about a man who comes to believe in the divine. It’s a physical and spiritual journey from the gates of Hell to the highest portion of Heaven. The story is built on a framework of references to the great poem “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. There are three books: InfernoPurgatorio, and Paradiso. I’ve just finished Book 3, and will publish them in one-month intervals, starting in early March with the first Book, Assunta: Inferno (though a preliminary copy of Inferno is up now on Amazon)
So, yes, I am influenced by my environment to some degree, but the stories I want to tell about the human condition can take place anywhere. There’s no getting the American-ness out of me.
FQ: On the same note, is there one “most memorable” location that you literally can’t stop thinking about; one that perhaps inspires you each day?
GRECO: Tough question. I know I’m still drawn to the rain forest, and that’s probably the reason why I believe the Cuckoo Colloquium, as a story, still has plenty of gasoline; I will take the characters from books I and 2 back to the rainforest to explore what generates the cuckoo shrike as a force of magic, and how it all began.
I have lasting impressions of a time I spent in Tibet, and I’m hoping to use that as a background for a future story, as well as the rain forest of New Guinea. But I’m just as drawn to the Sonora and to the cultures of Native Americans; I believe they hold as much rich mystery as any place on Earth that I’ve traveled to.
FQ: You have an amazing background, both living in Asia, and teaching writing in a university there. Are your students an inspiration for your characters?
GRECO: I’d have to say that, yes, my students are an influence on how I create characters. Pinky Bell in The Cuckoo Colloquium is, no doubt, some amalgam of the thousands of Japanese students in my classrooms over the many years. The comedy Plum Rains on Happy House, about an American living in a rundown guesthouse who tries to turn the place into an English school, shines an absurdly exaggerated portrait of the teacher-student relationships in Japan.
FQ: Where and how did the The Cuckoo Colloquium come to be? 
GRECO: The Cuckoo Colloquium started in 2010 while I was trekking in Sarawak. I have travelled a bit in both Malaysia and Kalimantan and really wanted to write a book on the rain forest. I'm fascinated by the profound depth of the jungle. The first time I camped in Kalimantan was in the early 90’s (before e-mail, before pocket phones.) I’ve hiked and camped in Kalimantan several times since, as well as Sarawak and Sabah. Trekking in Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi also gave me a good feel for the rain forest.
I’ve been to the orangutan rehabilitation camps on Kalimantan and on Sumatra, as well as tarsius reserves on Sulawesi. In the story, we get close up and personal with the birdlife (the cuckoo shrike, of course) but also pythons, leeches, tarsius, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, sun bears, and a rather unique animal I call the donkel (donkey meets camel). There’s one reference to an orangutan, but he’s just passing by, frightened of the datuk
The datuk is the element of fantasy I bring to the story—in the form of the cuckoo shrike. The idea of bestowing the cuckoo shrike with magical properties came merely from the name cuckoo shrike. What better creature to create all the mayhem than a cuckoo! Its diminutive plainness was also a charm point—no flashy colors, no striking call, just an ordinary, mild-mannered blue-grey bird.
In the first chapter, Windy, the American teen, comes across an ominous leaflet that says: Cuckoo Camp personal Growthing Adventure to the End. This is apt foreshadowing—the end, as in death.
The forest colloquium hosts six teens who get lost in the rain forest of Sarawak. In order to survive, they need to draw on what the camp refers to as the ‘strategies for survival’: interdependence, unselfishness, fellowship. Or they die.
The teenagers are either selfish or spoiled, or both. I love them; they are rich with possibilities. It’s a tough love colloquium—they are abused, to some extent. But they learn something. They come away from the experience better people.
Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the six teens, or from their elderly chaperone, Pete. The theme is about being lost—and being lost physically would have its metaphorical counterpart, that of being lost on the inside. In order for the lost group to find themselves physically, they have to first find themselves in a metaphorical sense.
Is it a story for young adults? Well, with the exception of old Pete, it’s certainly about young adults. Is if for them? I’ll have to let readers decide.
The story has got a whole lot of jungle. From the first to last page—jungle. What is it about a jungle? — The danger, lots of it; the primordial mystery of the dark unknowing, the pressing in; it impairs our vision, which is a huge part of our ability to understand our surroundings. It leaves us vulnerable.
So many ways to never be seen again.
It’s also itchy, mucky, steamy, and as the old Tarzan movies showed us, there’s a good deal of quicksand, just waiting to suck us all down into the center of the earth. Most of us have some kind of fascination with the jungle. With the tunnel of foliage, with the impossible labyrinth that it is.
Did I succeed in capturing the essence, the life force of the rain forest? Not sure. A constant nag goes as follows: Damned, I need one more trek to get that last feel, the finishing touches!  But then I realize I’ve just finished a novel about a supposed forest in Africa, and the writer never once described that forest. In Brian Katling’s The Vorrh, he never once described the flora of the mystical place (I think there was perhaps one mention of the word oak). So the whole forest was more metaphorical than real.
If I was writing a story about a jungle, but with no reference to the actual plant or animal life in that jungle, I would have a very bad story. A cardboard-nothing story. The jungle is a character. It is the antagonist in the story. Of course, Mr. Katling omitted direct references to the forest intentionally because he was after something else entirely. But I can’t get away with that.
But just as quickly, a contradictory thought: Oh, my God, have I put in too much? Have I gone jungle mad? Is it malaria of the keyboard? Who's going to want to read 40 chapters of jungle? Readers will look away from the book and see green walls! I then began structuring bookends: to place the first act in the city, than move to the rain forest in a long second act, and then go back to the city for the conclusion. Yeah, that would be smart…
PHHHHT! I went all-jungle. 100% unadulterated rain forest. I want readers to itch, to feel the muck in their shoes, to sweat along with the clammy humidity, to sense the snake slithering under the bed.
FQ: Readers love to know what a writer’s day is all about. When you sit down to put your words on paper, what is your “Writing Day” like? Do you create in a specific place? Do you plan everything ahead of time, or do you fly by the seat of your pants, so to speak? Is music in the background, or perhaps your cat is sitting beside you? Give us a peek inside a Michael A. Greco writing day. 
GRECO: I started writing late in life, in my fifties. I wasn’t ready when younger, wandering half-baked for the longest time, unable to express myself through prose in any real way. I write now because I can’t not write. Just ask my family: If I’m not plugging away at something I’m not much fun to be around. When not teaching, I give myself the time to write, usually in the morning.
I write for myself, not for the market. I have no idea what will sell, but as long as I’m happy with a story, I will show it. I don’t know if I’m going to make any money doing this, but I don’t write to get rich. I do it for another, deeper satisfaction. I also write for the person I know best: myself.
I write alone, upstairs, with Internet jazz radio for company. The family cat, Howard, bounds in and out. I’ve never taken a writing class. I wouldn’t know a support group from an A.A. meeting. I don’t know what a writing retreat is (though it sounds restful).
I have friends who will read stuff for me (I often repay with tacos, or mezcal, or something similar). I have an editor who lends me his professional eyes when he can. I Fiverr for book covers and for formatting. No self-publishing workshops for me (even though the half-day sessions are only 79$—and what a great way to get yourself out there. What’s wrong with me?)
I just work alone because I like it, and I do what Gene Fowler once said: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit staring at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” 
As for the writing, well, my stories start out as ordinary beans (I like to think of them as such). I don’t know what I have, but I’m compelled to water these beans. Shoots then grow into stems and my beanstalk matures. Sometimes the stems die; the story loses life. Then I travel along my beanstalk and find new stems to explore. Eventually leaves grow and there is a flowering, as the organism that is my story comes to life, and the characters take shape, and I can see them and hear their voices. Then they grow up and go off and do things I haven’t planned.
The nerve!
That’s how I know I’m getting somewhere.
If I think I’ve got something special, I revise. Then I revise more. Then I revise even more. In my experience, the story always gets tighter. It always gets better. My professor at UC Irvine once told me that, in order for someone to be considered knowledgeable about any given subject, they need to have read at least fifteen books on that subject. He actually gave a number: fifteen.
I like it. I have been revising fifteen times, in his honor. In order to show a glimmer of  knowledge on a subject, I aim to read at lest fifteen different sources on it. That’s what it takes—fifteen. Because he said so.
If someone tells me they've finished their novel, I want to ask "How many drafts?" If you haven't rewritten the story at least half of my accustomed FIFTEEN, then, sorry, you're stuck with unripe beans.
As a draft develops, I steer clear of predictability. My stories have frayed edges. It’s like a tale you tell in the kitchen, one with slipups and repetition. It’s genuine. A story should feel like an off-the-cuff conversation with loved ones. Endings can be ambiguous, sometimes unsatisfying. Just like real life. Just like people. There is no black and white. We are both good and bad.
I often don't know what my theme is until after several drafts of the story. Then it emerges as if stepping out from its hiding place in the woods, and I think, "Oh, I've indeed written about that!"
I like to write horror, but I’m not a horror writer. Steven King said, “The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.” I am fascinated by this kind of inner beast that resides within so many of my favorite writers. Whatever resides within me is nothing more than a surly Chihuahua.
Comic fantasy is more my game, and if I’ve watered my beans in the right way, then maybe I’m able to spark some kind of emotional connection with readers.
Way to go, you gorgeously crazed beanstalk!
FQ: If there is one author you could sit down with (alive or dead, but they would be alive at the sit down) who you would love to talk to about their books, who would it be and what would you most want to know?
GRECO: I’d like to have breakfast with Mark Twain. But I might have more in common with Kurt Vonnegut, who I see as a postmodern Mark Twain. So, I think. Lunch with Vonnegut. His work has been labeled black humor, satire or science fiction. He exaggerates all the absurdities of our own world. He makes sense through humor.
I believe that memorable characters make memorable tales. So, for dinner, I’ll take Samuel Becket, who shows us lunatics in trashcans, or characters who set themselves on fire. He had great insights into what is true, and he makes it funny.
I think that’s my job, my goal—to write characters and stories that are absurd, violent, childish, but that resonate with truth.
FQ: What do you feel about the YA industry today? Do you believe it is rising in popularity, falling, or staying the course when it comes to new releases?
GRECO: This is a difficult question for me, as I’m not entirely sure The Cuckoo Colloquium meets satisfactory YA criteria. I actually had adults in mind, but as the story developed, I realized that teenagers would really bring out the absurdity of their horrific situation. So, I guess, I’m hoping your readers can tell me? Is this a book for teenagers, or is it merely a book about them?
I really don’t know the answer.
FQ: Is social media harming or helping the author nowadays? If there was one piece of advice that you could give an up-and-comer about what NOT to do to become an author, what would that be?
GRECO: As a Boomer, I’m not all that adept at social media. I do use Facebook and Twitter, but this is a learning process for me. Technology trips me up and I can spend a whole evening fumbling about, trying to link something to something else. I’m waiting on my ten year old to get a little older and savvier with the workings of the Macintosh.
If I had to impart advice to someone starting out, I would probably tell them not to do what I do. Don’t stay home—get out, get your face out there. Get on all the social media; don't be paranoid about people trying to rip off your material; they won't (no thieves are that interested—in my experiences). Get on Tablo or Wattpad, and meet people, read their stuff, give genuine feedback to them. That's how you get a following, and many of these people will follow you over to your website when you start that up. But you have to keep doing that, keep reading the works of others, giving constructive feedback, of course.
FQ: Lastly: Why comic fantasy? And…is there one genre that you have not dove into as of yet that you would like to try one day?
GRECO: The project I’m on now, book 3 of the Assunta trilogy, will go to editing soon. It wanders a bit from the genre of comic fantasy—its a lot more horror than comedy, but I feel it was important to get these dark streaks out of my system. I will publish Assunta in one-month intervals, starting in early March with the first Book, Assunta: Inferno.
After the trilogy, I’m returning to sequels of The Cuckoo Colloquium —about the six teens lost in the rain forest of Borneo—because the characters have so much depth and the story so much fuel remaining. I hope to have book #2 of what I’m calling the Cuckoo series out by autumn, 2019. I look forward to tearing back into comic fantasy. Humor with thoughtful undertones. Visionary. Metaphysical. Childish.  But I’m not for children.
My sub-genre might be: weird fiction. But Amazon has yet to make a category for that. In my writing, the characters take a beating; they earn their end goals. Comic fantasy—weird fiction. I think I’ve found my mission.