Sunday, September 15, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Harvey B. Chess @harveybchess

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Harvey B. Chess, the author of Functional and Funded: Securing Your Nonprofit's Assets From The Inside Out
FQ: Mr. Chess, I have to say I learned a great deal from your book. Could you speak a bit about how this revised edition evolved from the first? 
CHESS: I’ll level with you by admitting that learning about how to get my book published has involved being so eager to get something available that I have, in effect, self-published previous versions - only to realize that they were not truly what I had in mind. So, the book you so kindly reviewed is at long last what I wanted readers to see and this includes providing an index so readers can poke around selectively.
FQ: Along those same lines, is the digital/online world transforming the industry in ways that make it more or less difficult for a charity to raise money?
CHESS: Who’s to say? What I know is that the community-based organizations to which my book is dedicated operate best when taking a multi-faceted approach to securing assets to stay the course. This inescapably involves entering the electronic realm, but not as a be all and end all.
FQ: I read that you gave highly regarded funding proposal development workshops across the globe. Could you tell us about them? Could you speak about any differences that stand out to you when it comes to proposal/grant writing between America and other countries; how the systems differ, or the ease and difficulty levels based on location? 
Author Harvey B. Chess
Author Harvey B. Chess
CHESS: I did make mention of workshops from tiny Westport, CA – my former hometown - to Uppsala, Sweden, the latter location being the sole instance of my globetrotting as a workshop trainer.
As for any differences in the matter of writing grant proposals, this was not a point of concern for me as a trainer. My message for people doing such work was steadfast throughout. At its core, the message is that one can make much more out of building a funding proposal by using the process to look inward to strengthen the organization as well. At their simplest the take-aways are: Strong Proposal Outside: Strong Organization Inside.
As for the trainings themselves, a former participant put it well; “I have witnessed you in action. Your legacy is in hundreds of grassroots organizations' volunteers and staffers who learned and turned around and taught others. I saw them grow in skill, confidence and capacity. Because of a few hours with you, your frankness and compassion and commitment.”
FQ: Do you receive a lot of email questions from readers or industry people who wish to learn even more about the proposal writing process? Do you respond personally, or is there a FAQ page on your website where people can learn even more?
CHESS: When I was active as a trainer among nonprofits such email back and forths took place often.. As for now, your question serves well to focus my attention on what my website, soon to be upgraded, will allow. I am always happy to respond personally when people reach out. Hadn’t thought of FAQs, thanks for that.
FQ: Because your wealth of experience is immense, would you share with us a story of one of the most difficult moments you faced with an organization since you “stumbled into the nonprofit sector in 1965”?
CHESS: I stumbled in because a recruiter for the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), The Flagship of LBJ’s Great Society Program, told me the organization was going to eliminate poverty in our midst. The idealist in me at the time resonated with such an assertion.
My next job, after I opted out of the opportunity to remain with that Federal Agency, was with an urban YMCA. The new director was committed to changing the organization’s longstanding history as a recreational gathering place for a comfortable middle class to a credible community resource for a neighborhood the economic make-up of which had changed significantly downward.
My job, as part of this effort, was to reach into that neighborhood and try to get a local community center up and running. I was amenable to such a notion on the heels of having been instrumental in getting similar organizations up and running when working at OEO where we used federal grants to lubricate the process.
Different story here. No start-up funding as such, just a measure of good will and undoubtedly a quixotic sense of righteousness. In the absence of experience. inherent credibility and living in that very community, my efforts at organizing largely failed. My take-away was a visceral learning of what my book includes as the iron rule from the Industrial Areas Foundation: “never do for others what they can do for themselves.”
FQ: You keep things very real, so to speak, in this book. Have you always enjoyed being a part of helping a nonprofit stand out from the crowd, and helping them confront and overcome the challenges they face in such a highly competitive world?
CHESS: Yes indeed. I internalized respect for the value of what people can accomplish in service to others through nonprofit organizations years ago, so working in the sector has been a natural for me, so to say. My work, and now my writing, concentrate on helping nonprofits overcome resource development and sustainability challenges, mindful of the prospect of distinguishing themselves as substantial, enterprising and resilient. The difficult times we confront in many communities along with the competition for resources call for nothing less.
FQ: What is your core hope when it comes to teaching this knowledge? Do you feel that there will be longer sustainability for nonprofits if they learn and utilize the data in this book?
CHESS: Since I don’t easily embrace the notion of hope, let me suggest that my core conviction is that people in nonprofits will be able to use my book to always contemplate and reaffirm why they are doing what they do to pursue organizational mission, to secure the assets needed to do this more effectively, and to sustain their efforts until the mission is accomplished.
FQ: Before we go, would you share with us what you are currently working on, whether it be a book, traveling, etc.? And, could I also inquire as to whether you wish to write a work of fiction in the future? That would also be something we’d love to keep an eye out for.
CHESS: At my age, I’m working on staying well, one day at a time, and sharing my life with my long-time partner in our neck of the Northern California woods – and enjoying both thoroughly. As for your query about fiction, maybe the worm will turn. This’ll call for getting the words and thoughts out of my head, no small matter when reflecting on the humbling learning process as a self-published writer so far. I’ll need to get back to the creative writing class I bailed on so I could finish getting Functional and Funded out and about, and in your hands for the review for which I thank you.

#BookReview - Functional and Funded @harveybchess

Functional and Funded: Securing Your Nonprofit's Assets From The Inside Out

By: Harvey B. Chess
Publication Date: July 2019
ISBN: 978-0996314749
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 12, 2019
There are many sectors where quality mentors are needed to teach the intricacies of an industry; a person who owns the knowledge it takes to help others find success. The realm of nonprofit and charitable organizations is one that can claim a highly respected mentor by the name of Harvey B. Chess. This author has been kind enough to put his knowledge on paper so that he can teach the reader how to create a funding proposal, and how a nonprofit/charity can achieve success by bringing in money and building a mission statement that works.
This book is a combination of great insight and practical applications. However, don't think this is just about how to fundraise. This book is focused on issues a nonprofit must take on in order to better approach a funding source as a potential partner, not simply as a person or organization that hands over money.
The benefits to be learned begin from the very first page, when the author shows how nonprofits have a tendency to confuse mission statements. Think about that. The mission statement is the very core of why a nonprofit is put together in the first place. What Mr. Chess does is show how a mission statement should not only be an announcement of what a charity will do, but also how it will be done. Example: Whether your mission is to help, to build, to achieve, etc., it must also show how these things will be accomplished. In other words, a mission is “to help” or “to support” by “providing,” “delivering,” etc. If written that way, potential contributors know what the mission is, but also learn how their donations would be spent.
The book then heads further into the specifics of how to put together an effective funding proposal. Not only are there steps on what to cover while writing a proposal, but readers are also shown every nook and cranny there is out there for funding. You learn that 90% of the money available in this world for charitable purposes (in the non-government sector), comes from living individuals: through their investments and wishes while alive, and through their wills so that the giving can continue after their deaths. Under this umbrella are facts on how to deal with face-to-face transactions, as well as how to make personal relationships that last.
The author also covers the facts regarding the other 10% of money coming from the business/corporation sectors. He shows how writing your proposal should be only one aspect of your funding/marketing plan and not the entirety of how you gain success. The word is “diversify,” and this book shows how to build several paths over time to enable your nonprofit/charity to live on.
We are not talking about theories, here. We are talking about how to be proactive as a nonprofit, as well as when not to overthink—how to carefully craft your proposal and hit “send” on that computer of yours with conviction. Helpful charts and figures are included that cover everything from ‘a proposal framework’ showing the phases of development and finalization of your grant proposal; to one that easily explains each component of your nonprofit’s engine. There’s also a ‘tool kit’ section that covers proposal writing dos and don’ts, a simple guide to project planning, and more. The author writes: “Creating proposals has the potential to sharpen the focus of your organization.” I must add, learning from this mentor will also sharpen your focus.
Skillfully written and highly needed, I suspect this book will have dog-eared pages because of the amount of time you’ll read the information while putting it to great use.
Quill says: Clear a place on your desk for this treasure.
For more information on Functional and Funded: Securing Your Nonprofit's Assets From The Inside Out, please visit the book's website at: www.functionalandfunded.com.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

#AuthorInterview with J.R. Klein

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with J.R. Klein, the author of A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future
FQ: How much of Blake is really you?
KLEIN: Quite a bit, probably. I haven’t experienced the tremendous success as an author that he did; however, in other ways we are a lot alike. I tend to be quiet, somewhat reserved, preferring to watch from off stage rather than as a lead actor. I think, in general, my intuitions are good, as his were, and I am a pretty good listener.
FQ: Have you ever experienced the kind or degree of “block” that Blake goes through?
KLEIN: Occasionally on a small scale, though not to the point of full-out writer’s block. Frequently, I will get to a point in a book where I am not exactly sure how to proceed, and like most writers, I have those tormenting days when nothing seems to be working. Yet, all in all, I have managed to get through it...so far.
FQ: In writing his book, Lenny seems to be operating intuitively based on happenings around him – is that the way any of your own books developed?
KLEIN: Essentially all of them. Years ago when I started out, I thought I should write from an outline. It was an utter disaster; I have never been able to work from an outline. It might be a tried-and-true approach for some writers of fiction, but once I learned to let the story take me where it wanted to go, everything worked out fine. Which is not to say the words always flow easily and effortlessly. It is quite common for me to encounter many mental hurdles along the way while attempting to put the words on the page, sometimes even to the point of having to wait days until the story begins to flow again.
FQ: You seem quite knowledgeable about surfing, also – is that part of your own past or present?
KLEIN: Some, but not a great deal, other than that I lived for a while in Del Mar, California, very close to where the book is set. I did, however, spend a lot of time watching and studying surfers and surfing. I remember talking to them and having them explain the peace and tranquility one experiences out on the water early in the morning. They often likened it to a kind of meditation.
FQ: A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future is essentially a hopeful story that shows how friends can help friends in times of need, directly and indirectly. Is that a theme that runs through your earlier books?
KLEIN: It is certainly a component of one of my earlier books, Frankie Jones, a book that, curiously, also takes place in Del Mar and in other parts of Southern California. I think it’s a theme I am likely to stick with in future books...it resonates with me. 
FQ: Do you, like Blake, have plans for the next creative endeavor?
KLEIN: I have two completed manuscripts. One is in the suspense/thriller genre, more along the lines of my book, The Ostermann House. The other would probably fall into the category of literary fiction. I seem to move back and forth between literary and suspense. Each has its own form of satisfaction and challenge from a writing perspective.
FQ: Lenny wants to write but doesn't know how, has never done so. He gets ideas for a plot from the people he's meeting and the conversations they have. Has this ever happened to you as a writer?
KLEIN: Yes, many, many times. It’s always hard for me to construct a character out of whole cloth. Most are an amalgam of several people, and a multitude of situations and circumstances. If a memorable person or experience fits comfortably into a book, I am happy to incorporate parts. Yet, I never try to pull in too much from real life. It can become distracting because I start to feel as though I am writing non-fiction. The balance in this is important, I think. 
FQ: Blake, by contrast knows how to write, and once he decides to start, he seems to know exactly what will come forth. Again, have you had that experience?
KLEIN: Yes, to the degree that I know where I want the book to go based on what has been written so far. Nonetheless, it is perhaps interesting that I never know how a book will end until I arrive at the end, literally. In all three of my books, I had no idea what would be in the last chapter until I wrote it. As a book begins to take shape during the early stages, however, I generally develop a pretty good sense of where it is heading...all but for the final denouement, that is.
FQ: Have you spent time in Mexican towns, in gringo bars like the one you vividly depict in your book?
KLEIN: Quite a lot. Pretty much from top to bottom and side to side. Years ago when I was in graduate school, and very broke, I took off and traveled for many months through Mexico and Central America, spending less than five dollars a day for food, travel, and housing. It was a rare and unique experience, and it left me with a deep sense of what life is like there. I wrote a memoir of that time that I am hoping will be out in 2020.
FQ: If there were a sequel, would Blake and Emelia get together?
KLEIN: I haven’t given the idea of a sequel too much thought, though it would certainly be feasible. As for Thomas and Emelia hooking up. I considered it in the present book, and a former agent of mine who read the manuscript thought it would be a good idea. For some reason, I felt more comfortable holding to the theme of friendship. Life, however, is an evolving process, and almost anything can happen, as we all know.

Monday, September 9, 2019

#BookReview - Fake

Fake (A Lark Chadwick Mystery)

By: John DeDakis
Publisher: Strategic Media Books
Publication Date: August 2019
ISBN: 978-1939521767
Reviewed by: Gina Montanha
Review Date: September 7, 2019
The newest in the "Lark Chadwick" mystery series, Fake, takes off at lightning speed as First Lady Rose Gannon collapses right at the onset of this page-turning mystery. 
When the startling event that set off this book takes place, White House Correspondent Lark Chadwick is thrown right into the story. She was in the midst of writing the First Lady’s biography, while also covering official Presidential news, and she is thrust into the realm of “fake news” with the startling passing of the First Lady.
Lark’s tumultuous and tragic past challenge her every move, as she desperately tries to uncover truths among the tangled web of deceptive headlines that follow Rose’s heartbreaking death. Even her own words become twisted headlines, causing Lark to question her personal thoughts, intentions and relationships. From being assaulted by one of her biggest journalistic idols, to losing her Associated Press position, to developing her relationship with President Will Gannon, Lark embarks on a serious journey of faith, truth and justice.
Fake is a timely story of media deception and propaganda, raising questions and eyebrows about politics, journalism and integrity. In a world where news travels nearly at the speed of light, every word and action must be taken very seriously, especially when you are in the public spotlight. Lark’s media connections and quick thinking help her sort things out and deliver the real truth in the end.
Quill says:  Fake is engaging and stimulating, an excellent recommendation for mystery lovers.

#BookReview - A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future

A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future

By: J.R. Klein
Publisher: Del Gato
Publication Date: May 2019
ISBN: 978-1733906920
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: September 7, 2019
In this new book by award-winning author J.R. Klein, a writer finds himself blocked—by tragedy, doubts, and fear—yet strange messages begin to appear, calling him to seek new adventure. 
Klein’s protagonist, Thomas Blake, is mad at himself for not simply writing another in the series of mystery novels that have won him, or more precisely, his pen-named alter ego Philip Keenly, wide acclaim. As Keenly, Blake created a hard-hitting popular hero, Evan Noir; but after the death of his beloved wife Kathryn, Blake abandoned Keenly and Noir, trying instead to live a quiet, almost anonymous life in southern California. But lately, things have begun to shift. Blake starts having early morning coffee in a café where youthful surfers hang out. A surfer himself in his youth, he enjoys observing two café regulars—the lovely Emelia and her charming boyfriend Gaucho. Then one day, Emelia approaches him and suggests he go surfing, igniting some spark within Blake’s nearly extinguished spirit. Soon the couple and he and a friend named Lenny are camping out on a Baja beach, and Blake is back on a board. After Lenny narrowly escapes from drowning, saved by Blake’s gutsy efforts, new changes start to snowball that will turn Blake into the person he’s been longing to become. 
Novelist, playwright and world traveler Klein is here obeying the paramount rule for all fiction: write about what you know. In Blake there must surely be some of Klein’s inner workings. The author vividly examines the several ways that a book can come into being—all at once, complete from the beginning, or painstakingly, through increments of experience, reaction and reflection. He builds his story skillfully, from a central focus on Blake and his fading dreams to a gradual outreach to other characters, one by one. Why does Emelia have a repeated dream? Can Gaucho break free from his well-worn routine and start his own business? How will Lenny recover from his near-death trauma? Will Blake write another Noir bestseller—or never write again? And what does surfing, seen by some as a feckless waste of time, illustrate about other aspects of life? Klein excels in his descriptions of Blake’s encounters with waves, from the first time he gets on a board after so many years away: having a small success with one wave, “He wants a bigger one...soon, a good one will crest up…that’s always how it is…..” Turning a sad, reclusive writer into a joyous wave rider with a new, unexpected destiny is the author’s challenge, and he succeeds admirably. 
Quill says: A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future is a satisfying mix of introspection and zestful action that has the power to tickle the intellect with a look inside a writer’s mind, while inciting the urge to pick up a board and hit the waves.
For more information on A Distant Past, An Uncertain Future, please visit the author's website at: www.johnrklein.com

#BookReview - Maps of Bliss and Rage

Maps of Bliss and Rage
By: Mario Dhingsa
Publisher: Mario Dhingsa
Publication Date: May 15, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-473480-74-5
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: September 6, 2019
There are those who will state that in the world of literature at this time, the number of short story collections are far too few. Those readers are absolutely correct. And this becomes even more blatantly clear when you begin reading this particular collection filled with suspense, romance, the fantastical, the inspirational, and everything else in between. 
This author has, quite literally, brought the reader along on one of the best trips through history, offering up a variety of factual moments and tales that take part in some of the most stunning areas of the world. In fact, you will not only come away from this book with a sense of longing to read it again right away, but also a yearning to go on the internet and start booking a trip to some of these locales.
Although one review cannot cover each tale as they should be covered, we must begin with the very first “icy” story from Antarctica (“Between the Sword and the Wall”). We are introduced to two very different men: Crozier – an environmental chemist, and Rawdon – a penguin biologist. At Casey Station, these two are there to replace other staff members who’d gone a bit crazy by the unyielding winter and rebelled. These two opposites end up trying to escape a world that seems to unleash nothing but abominable temperatures. Along the way, they save a Professor who was lost in the freezing landscape, and stumble upon a station run by Russians.
In Wellington, New Zealand, a tale is told between a diplomatic underling and the lover of a married ‘higher-up’ in the world of politics. Thrown together, they end up becoming friends and pulling the rug out from underneath the so-called feet of power while savoring some truly palette pleasing treasures along the way. Written perfectly, this is one story (“I Won’t Stay Still”) where a variety of emotions abound.
Traveling to Jalandhar, India (“The End of the Storm in My Hand"), we meet a corrupt cop by the name of Kulvir working for a truly devious man who is wanted by the Delhi police force. This cop is a violent abuser of his wife and children. However his father, Amrik – a man who has lived in silence in order to shield himself from his own evil wife – wants nothing more than to stop his son from harming anyone else. By working with an innocent-looking tailor, a plan comes together involving a riot and good, old-fashioned alcohol to bring about a battle of cultures and religions in order to save innocent lives. 
In Malta, we meet up with a sour man named Charlo who has lost his wife (even though he seems more than happy that she’s gone by the wayside), and his son, Pawlu. This is an inspirational tale as the son tries desperately to get his father to accept his fiancée, who just so happens to be from Rome. The arguments about Christianity and how the Maltese people certainly led the way and did not follow behind the Romans, is part of the battles. But when both fiancée and bitter future father-in-law witness a miracle, tides turn quickly as St. Paul, a deceased woman, and a Christian holiday come together, leaving a surprise ending readers won’t expect.
One of the most beautiful stories is set in Rome, Italy; (“A Gentle Hand”). Various cultures meet in a non-denominational cemetery: spirits that sit here awaiting their next step forward which will take them through the gates and on to greener pastures. Unlikely friendships are made, humor is enjoyed, and the pain of past lives dissipates as the belief in the beauty of angels and what comes next takes center stage.
As stated previously, a book review can go on only so long. There are more tales: From President Nixon and his Secretary of State Kissinger dining out in NYC in January of 1973; to a young man who looks back on his life and meets up with a teacher from his past; to a fast-moving tale that involves the rumor of a missing Princess and the slew of people from a variety of countries who are waiting to either save her or silence her. This author has done an amazing job of waxing lyrical, historical, cultural and, quite frankly, beautiful.
Quill says: Covering “eight countries, eight strangers, and eight escapes,” this is a collection that deserves a prominent place on your ‘inspirational' bookshelf. 
For more information on Maps of Bliss and Rage, please visit the book's Goodreads page at: www.goodreads.com/book/maps-of-bliss-and-rage


Friday, September 6, 2019

#BookReview - Haiku, Schmaiku for Headin' Out to Sea @SkyboyPhotos

Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea: Poetry as Looking Glass, Poetry as Mirror

By: David Bayard
Publisher: Skyboy Press
Publication Date: April 2019
ISBN: 978-0996738088
Reviewed by: Anita Lock
Date: August 31, 2019
Poet David Bayard writes with boldness in his second book, Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea.
Wordsmithing appears to go hand-in-hand for poet David Bayard. If his debut book, Gathering the Self: Poems of the Heart, provided readers with a hint to his prowess with the written word, that is nothing compared to his latest work. While his first book looks inwardly, reflecting his life most regularly through nature, Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea expresses an affirmation outwardly to follow his gift of verse and rhyme, and to do it boldly.
A collection of seventeen haiku (“one for each syllable of a haiku”), twenty-four poems, and two ballads, Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea reawakens one’s youthful senses—all things nature, introspection, and self-exploration—that are often lulled to sleep when busyness accompanies adulthood.
Bayard’s reflective subheading of Poetry as Looking Glass/Poetry as Mirror gives readers a hint as to where Bayard plans to head on his journey-through-life-based theme of exploration. Writing on a range of topics—from rabbit holes, flying metal boxes, deceased loved ones, and churches to the Moon, squirrels, and even sex and underwear, Bayard punctuates his witty haiku with poems shaped in a combination of freeform and couplets. Two ballads turned to songs (musical notation included) titled “Sailor” and “Sea Shanty” open and close his beloved tome divided into three headings: “Looking Glass,” “Double Lens,” and “Mirror.”
The carefully-considered captions progress from—how this reviewer perceives it as—awakening and obscurity to maturity, respectively. His work, enhanced with his black-and-white drawings and photography, slowly but deftly builds up to sort of a musical crescendo, announcing a dual-encouragement to readers to write poetry and to be themselves. A great example of this is in “The Trees.” Here is an excerpt:
“The trees they are my champions.
They raise their arms to take me in.
They see my cloud of doing,
Cloud of worry, and they wisely speak out
David,
Shed our skin.
Come into being, world of grace, and raise your arms to
Heaven.
There is no other place to be than now and her.
You knew but have forgotten,
those times when you have anxiously been holding.”
Quill says: A quick, delightful read, Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea is exhilaratingly thought-provoking and encouraging.
For more information on Haiku, Schmaiku For Headin’ Out to Sea: Poetry as Looking Glass, Poetry as Mirror, please visit the website: skyboyphotos.com/collections/books

Sunday, August 25, 2019

#AuthorInterview with Michelle Muriel

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Michelle Muriel, the author of Water Lily Dance
FQ: The great impressionist Claude Monet and his famous paintings of waterlilies are featured in this historical fiction novel. What motivated you to write a story revolving around this particular artist?
Author Michelle Muriel
MURIEL: As in my debut novel, Essie’s Roses, and now in Water Lily Dance, I revisit my favorite subject: freedom and the courage to fight for its many forms. When young Claude Monet set out to paint his goal wasn’t to change the world. Monet desired to paint the truth of what he saw using his technique and not the classical ideal or how and what others demanded. That is powerful when you understand the mandates and expectations of Paris 1865 placed on artists. An artist faced government censorship and slammed doors at earning a living when they deviated from tradition and mandates. Yet, a group of painters (the Impressionists) dared to pave the way for free expression. That is what attracted me to Claude Monet’s beginning, his famous friends, and the young woman in the middle of it all: Camille.
FQ: One of the themes in Water Lily Dance is love and loss. Have you ever experienced anything similar?
MURIEL: Sophie’s Journey: After the death of my mom, a casualty to a national drug shortage for a chemotherapy drug to extend her life she could not get, I had to follow my heart and write this novel as a dedication to her. I decided to share my experience with loss, the secret side of grief between daughters as caretakers and mothers with end-of-life secrets and wishes. My mom was a 1960s wife who dreamed of becoming an artist, but she set that dream aside to raise her children. Though she never realized her dream, art resided in her soul, art, and creativity she gifted to her children. And so, for a few pages, my mom was a famous artist: Josephine de Lue. Sophie’s Journey is one from my heart to my readers and offers a massive dose of hope.
A line in Water Lily Dance from one of my favorite characters, Annabel, spoke healing to my own loss: “We do not move on from grief; we move through it.” That is the magic of writing when whispers appear on the page that soothe my soul.
FQ: Historical fiction is a good blend of imagination and truth wrapped up in one story. What were the steps in your research to make this novel's historic details accurate?
MURIEL: When I started writing Water Lily Dance, I had no idea the monumental task of research required regarding the birth of Impressionism, its many artists, their "new" Paris, and the lives of a trailblazing couple surrounded by famous friends and patrons. Because Monet spoke little about his upbringing and often exaggerated facts, the only way to truly know young Claude Monet was to study his famous friends and letters as Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Courbet, even a wealthy French code breaker in the military, and other celebrities of the day. I consulted several online catalogs, art museum archives, auction house records, numerous books, 19th-century French documents, and letters regarding the history of Monet and his friends.
And there was Camille, a mysterious and misunderstood figure in art history. We know little of her background because Claude Monet destroyed all letters, photographs, and diaries relating to her existence, with one exception: the eighty portraits he and his fellow Impressionists painted of Camille, many Monet kept and repurchased from previous buyers in his private possession until his death despite his remarrying. This fact alone began my quest to dig deeper in archives, hundreds of letters and 19th-century French records and publications to find more about Camille Doncieux and her family and I did. This thread enabled me to paint the layered life of this intriguing woman, an important figure in the Impressionist art movement I believe in more ways than we will ever know.
FQ: If you could go back in time and speak with Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet, what would you say to them?
MURIEL: Great question! I would ask Camille about her family, her grandfather in particular (you’ll have to read Water Lily Dance to find out why). Why did she gravitate toward art? Did she consider acting? Camille’s connections to the theater and actresses intrigued me. We know by a letter from Monet, Camille was friends with Marie Samary, niece to the most famous actresses in Paris at the time. Marie’s little sister Jeanne Samary (who was nine when Camille met Monet and Renoir) grew up to be one of Renoir’s famous models.
I would ask Monet many questions about his art and life. Did he ever dream his paintings? He prided himself in working directly from nature, painting as if seeing it for the first time, but the dreamlike quality of his later works, especially his water lilies, makes one ask, how did he see this? The art establishment singled out and censored Monet as they did his mentor years before, Gustave Courbet, especially when Monet started making progress, to teach him and the “new” artists a lesson and to squelch their movement. I would ask Monet, what kept you going? I image he would answer with his famous quote: “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
FQ: Throughout the story, it is mentioned that Monet feels he does his best painting outside in a forest. Is there any particular place you prefer to write that helps spark your creativity and allows you to write more freely?
MURIEL: My favorite writing place is the Missouri Botanical Garden. I wrote much of Essie’s Roses and Water Lily Dance sitting in a Victorian greenhouse originally built as an orangery. I love it in January, warm and fragrant with lemon and lime trees. I wrote several scenes for Water Lily Dance in their Japanese garden and rainforest inside a massive greenhouse called the Climatron. It is an amazing escape. I lose myself among roses and water lilies. The ornamental flowering cherries and massive old trees in the Garden invite imagining. The stories they could tell.
FQ: Water Lily Dance is your second published book (Essie’s Roses being your debut). Did you do anything differently when writing this novel, or have you learned anything from your first publishing success that you would like to share with aspiring authors?
MURIEL: Yes! I first wrote Essie’s Roses as a screenplay, which was a tremendous challenge to develop organically into a novel. Though my acting background plays a vital role in how I see, hear, feel, and write, this time, it was important to me for this novel to flow from the character’s experience. Writing two stories and a dual timeline challenged me. Water Lily Dance was a different novel because I wrote it as a dedication to my mom, our relationship, and her love for art. Many of Sophie’s experiences with loss and her mother in the book are mine.
To aspiring authors: know your voice. Second-guessing is the killer of art and originality. We all have self-doubts, especially starting out. Monet battled self-doubt toward his paintings until his death! You have to know what you uniquely bring to the table in any art form and believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in your story, how can readers?
Dare to be unique and don’t look back. I have always tended to gravitate to doing what well-meaning “experts” declare “I shouldn’t do.” I read a book on writing that warned first-time authors don’t write in first person and multiple viewpoints. I wrote Essie’s Roses from the viewpoint of four women! I read multiple timelines should rarely be tackled (for a good reason!). Water Lily Dance is a dual timeline novel. I hated running in grade school and signed up for the mile run on field day. I don’t know why I do that. I see the reasoning; it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Make it your own! I don’t believe in limits in art, but you have to know your craft, work at it, then throw it out the window. As Claude Monet says, “I utilize technique and abandon it all in the same.”
The best advice I received from a mentor I sadly lost this year, was to set the writing aside for however long you need so that you can be objective; and write everything. The more you write, the more you will discover who you are as a writer. Lastly, let your characters live within the book, not within the author.
FQ: Can you recommend any great books for readers to expand their knowledge of Impressionist art?
MURIEL: So many! A few of my favorites: Claude Monet The Water Lilies by Georges Clemenceau; Monet by Himself edited by Richard Kendall is a fascinating look at Monet’s paintings, drawings, pastels, and letters. Origins of Impressionism, Gary Tinterow, Henri Loyrette (The Museum of Metropolitan Art); Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism, Michel Hilair and Paul Perrin; Monet and His Muse, Mary Mathews Gedo.
FQ: Throughout the story (and in real life), artists are being discriminated against for their work. Whether it be the Salon that didn't accept their work, or families who didn't want their children to marry an artist. Has there ever been a time when you felt discriminated against for being a writer?
MURIEL: Yes. A disheartening, unfair, complex issue. But as the Impressionists found their outlet, today, writers and artists have opportunities to share their work with the public. We don’t have to wait years for open doors; we can open them ourselves. My readers are the kindest, giving people and relentless in their support when a story touches their heart. I’m grateful for and treasure their beautiful encouragement and support. It’s vital. It is 150% more work, but if you love it, you’ll keep going no matter who says no.
FQ: What can readers expect from you in the future? Will there be more stories involving Camille and Sophie, and the next chapters in their lives?
MURIEL: My readers have been asking for a sequel to Essie’s Roses. I’m happy to announce, I’m writing it now: Westland. I love the characters in Water Lily Dance. I’m exploring continuing Camille’s story and taking Sophie’s story in a different direction, perhaps in another book. Stay tuned! Readers can keep up with me on Goodreads and Facebook and get the inside scoop via my newsletter. Sign up at www.michellemuriel.com.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my heart and answer questions about my new novel!

#AuthorInterview with Dr. Manjeet Kaur

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Manjeet Kaur, the author of My Garden of Flowers: Miracles in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
FQ: It was an absolute honor to read your book. The layout, the artwork, and the cover speak volumes about the care you took in laying out this entire body of work. When you first decided to write the book, did you have a specific process for how you organized the stories? Was there ever a time when, while chronicling the multitude of stories, you became overwhelmed?
KAUR: For over a decade, I felt a need to put the stories of my tiny cherubs on paper, something tangible that would provide realistic support for distraught families as their babies rode the NICU roller coaster. I did begin with a specific organization process: Each story would start with a foreword, a photo, and a poem dedicated to the little one; then a card with birthweight, gestation, and diagnosis, followed by the parents’ heartwarming stories of their joys and trials. There would also be a collage of each baby: one photo while seriously ill in the NICU, and various photos depicting their growth over the years.
FQ: In line with question 1, if you did get overwhelmed, how would you “reset” and get back on track with your writing?
KAUR: It was overwhelming at times, especially considering the enormous amount of information and how to fit all of it into just a few pages, but for the most part “the moving pen wrote on.”
FQ: There is a lovely undertone of faith and spirituality throughout your book. Which of the many vignettes was particularly difficult to write, and which seemed to “write for you”?
KAUR: It’s always easier to write about the victories than about the losses; however, my emotions took over, and with God’s grace the narratives just flowed.
FQ: I was in awe of the many “flowers” you wrote of and the will and fight they each had. I was further impressed with the admirable achievements they accomplished later in life, i.e., Jacqueline Hynes playing at Carnegie Hall. Of the many babies you have blessed with your care, if you had to name the one who beat the most grievous odds, who would that be and why?
KAUR: It’s hard to name one—each one so dear, all with their own odds to beat. Do I name little Jonathan or Heidi, little Bud or Quinn and Dylan? Tiny Jonathan, however, who was born at 23 weeks and was almost the length of a pencil, was quite a challenge, as this was back in 1989. The mother of Tiny Quinn and Dylan ruptured her membranes at 20 weeks’ gestation, but she beat the odds with reaccumulation of fluid, and finally delivered at 25 weeks.
FQ: There were times throughout this read when I had to set the book down and take a deep breath. The beginnings of life for each of these babies was so heart-wrenching. Yet, even in the direst of premature births, you painted an aura of positivity. When you were in the moment of the actual births, how did you ever maintain faith and composure?
KAUR: I find each birth a tiny marvel. It’s my strong belief that we are merely puppets in the Lord’s hand. I always said, “We’ll try our best; the rest is up to Him.” That brings solace and acceptance. Believe me, we were not always calm. Many a time I’ve been in tears, holding hands with moms. Still, photos of our babies on the bulletin board in my office—a 23-week baby at age 4 doing ballet; 25-week babies at age 10 years playing lacrosse; and two-year-old preemies on hanging bars are wonderful evidence of their potential. “Our Amazing newborns,” as we call them, never fail to amaze us—and fortunately, mostly in positive ways. I always tell parents, “We need to remain realistic but positive.”
FQ: I read in your bio that your husband is a cardiologist. With two doctors in the house, were there times when you both would make a pact of “no shop talk tonight” and if so, what would trigger the sentiment?
KAUR: I can’t say I wouldn’t talk shop at home. My workplace was my extended home, and even while maintaining confidentiality I often brought my problems home. On vacations (though not always successfully) we tried not to talk about work Both of my boys are in the field of medicine, so they must have seen positivity in our extremely busy schedules.
FQ: I was taken by the account of Johnathan Sherts’ delivery. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to deliver a baby weighing only 1 pound, 7 ounces. The photo of him lying next to a pencil (and the pencil is nearly the same length as he) was shocking. What goes through your mind at that instant of delivering such a fragile being of life?
KAUR: After a while your work becomes routine, protocols to be carefully followed. “My lil’ baby,” as I still call my 6 foot tall 29-year-old young man was a challenge; however, we placed tubes and lines as per NICU routine. In those circumstances we don’t have time to think otherwise once the decision to resuscitate has been made.
FQ: Is there a particular birth that stands out still to this day that you give a sigh of relief that he/she defied the odds and thrived? Could you please share?
KAUR: Bud, a tiny baby, had his eyes fused at birth, a fact that would normally deter us from resuscitation; however, Bud continued to have a strong heartbeat, so we resuscitated him. Today, thirty years later, he is a wonderful young man, a lovely part of his family—and mine.
FQ: It’s abundantly clear the babies were a tremendous inspiration for you to write your book, but it sounds like you had amazing coworkers through the years. Who of your colleagues was your greatest cheerleader and supporter through this process, and why him or her?
KAUR: Our nursing staff, my coworkers, are awesome. I call it our NICU family. I think my greatest supporters are the NICU staff—it would be impossible to choose just one
FQ: You pay many lovely tributes to the amazing NICU nurses you worked with over the years. How often do you have reunions with these “heroes”?
KAUR: We have reunions every two to three years; in fact, we had one just this past May. It featured a book signing, and so many of our special heroes attended.
FQ: Thank you again for the pleasure of reading My Garden of Flowers. It’s a beautiful book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life and times of the many “beautiful flowers” you brought into the world. Are you working on your next project? If so, are you able to share?
KAUR: Writing My Garden of Flowers was a privilege, never a chore, though I do need some time off from writing, so I haven’t yet begun a new project. Lest I forget, I’m delighted to say that all the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to charity.

#BookReview - Experiment #256


Experiment #256

Written and Illustrated by: Marty Kelley
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: July 2019
ISBN: 978-1534110137
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: Ausgust 24, 2019
A clever boy and an adorable dog with comical expressions come together for a very funny book about jet packs and flying into space.
Ian is a bright young man who likes to build things. He also keeps a science journal to record his exploits. Today he is working on “Experiment #256” which is an experiment to “build a jet pack for my dog, Wilbur.” What could possibly go wrong?
The story is told through notes that Ian writes in his journal as his project comes to fruition. The first note has these bullet points: “Launch was successful, jet pack is very fast, leftover parts may have been the brakes.” No brakes? Oh, oh, that doesn't sound good...
Poor Wilbur flies through the air, the house, the backyard, and eventually, up into space. As he zooms about attached to the jet pack, he bonks into various people, each of whom is “not happy.” When he flies off to space, it looks like he might be lost forever. How will he get home?
Experiment #256 is a wacky, hysterically fun adventure about a boy and his very sweet dog. Told with minimal text – the brief notes on each page are the only text – the story is really told through the fantastic illustrations. Wilbur’s facial expressions are priceless, as are the reactions of those impacted by him buzzing by them. The story has a happy ending, with Wilbur getting the best deal out of a somewhat broken jet pack, and kids will no doubt love the adventure “his boy” Ian sends him on.
Quill says: Youngsters, whether budding scientists or not, will love Experiment #256and no doubt burst out in giggles as Wilbur the dog flies about with his jet pack.

#BookReview - Santa's Secret

Santa's Secret

By: Denise Brennan-Nelson
Illustrated by: Deborah Melmon
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: August 2019
ISBN: 978-1534110380
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: Ausgust 24, 2019
Christmas is coming and everybody is excited. When the family climbs into the car and heads downtown to celebrate, the young protagonist of the story notices that there’s more than one Santa. It will require a bit of investigative work to discover the truth...
Mom, Dad, Grandma and the young star of Santa’s Secret (we never learn her name) are in the city to enjoy all that the Christmas season has to offer. They watch a holiday parade and our protagonist is happy to see Santa riding in his sleigh. But when she is later walking along the sidewalk, she’s startled to see Santa again, this time raising money for a charity. But she instantly knows that this Santa is not the same – he’s wearing the same outfit, but the face isn’t the same. And then at “Santa’s Station,” where children get to tell Santa what they want, she sees the jolly man again and notices that this is yet another Santa. What is going on? It’s time to put on the detective hat and get to work.
His beard was as white as fresh-fallen snow.
And his belly jiggled with each “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
I had questions for Santa. I would see what he knew –
About reindeer and elves and the rest of the crew.
I got out my notebook. I would crack this case wide!
From a good detective, the truth cannot hide.
Santa’s Secret is an adorable book and one that helps answer the question that undoubtedly so many children have asked – which Santa is the real one? Told in an easily flowing rhyme that keeps the story moving, the tale is fun and will draw youngsters in as they want to solve the mystery too. The illustrations, by Deborah Melmon, and playful and bright and mesh perfectly with the story. And parents, no need to worry – the solution the author comes up with is one that will keep everybody happy.
Quill says: Don’t wait until Christmas to buy this book! Get it now and help your little ones solve Santa’s Secret!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#BookReview - Resurrection Lily @BRCAresponder

Resurrection Lily: The BRCA Gene, Hereditary Cancer & Lifesaving Whispers from the Grandmother I Never Knew: A Memoir

By: Amy Byer Shainman
Publisher: Archway Publishing
Publication Date: December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4808-6706-2
Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau
Review Date: August 18, 2019
Resurrection Lily is a memoir by Amy Byer Shainman that revolves around her having a BRCA gene mutation that greatly increases her risks of developing certain kinds of cancer. In this book, she shares the remarkable story of her life spent fighting it. She describes her inner struggle making the decisions to undergo preventative surgeries that will reduce her enhanced risks and paints a vivid portrait of her experience as a high-risk patient.
Shainman tells not just her own story, but weaves together an expansive history of cancer in her family and friends. It seems everywhere she turns she is confronted by the disease, and instead of standing by passively, she attacks first, both protecting herself and becoming a patient advocate for others facing similar situations. She frames her experiences with cancer like a battle, explaining, “My competitive nature and drive that had begun on the soccer field was lending itself to this medical situation. I wanted to be in control of things. I didn’t want any surprises.” (Shainman 53)
Resurrection Lily dives deep into the medical world, tackling complicated topics like genetics with straight-forward and easy to understand explanations. At the same time, she is also very blunt and doesn’t sugar-coat any of the ugliness that comes with fighting cancer. Shainman details the importance of both genetic testing and genetic counseling in families with medical histories of cancer, while simultaneously describing her own worries and concerns.
Even with the focus on medical explanations, Shainman’s memoir is still raw and emotional. As she is preparing for her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction, she is hit with the news that her friend Kristin, a woman in a strikingly similar situation as herself, is dying. “Her impending death hits me in a deep place. It makes me want to go cut my tits off right now.” (78) This hurts Shainman and it hurts the reader. Throughout her story, Kristin is presented as one of the strongest people Shainman has ever met. If someone like her can succumb to cancer, then anyone can. Shainman is admirably open about her experiences, sharing everything from intimate family medical history to moments like Kristin’s death.
Shainman also makes a point to discuss the media reaction to the BRCA gene mutation. It moves into the public light after Angelina Jolie opens up about her own diagnosis through two different op-eds. Shainman is especially vocal about the different news outlets consulted while covering the story. “...most of the interviews I read or saw on the news were with a physician who did not specialize in genetics. Since Jolie’s initial op-ed article was such a huge story, a global story, it seemed to me that many news outlets, television shows, and radio stations were just scrambling to get any medical expert on the air (no matter the person’s qualifications) as fast as they could.” (187) She goes on to explain the missed opportunity to spread awareness about the risks male carriers of the BRCA gene mutation face. Shainman is concise in her explanations of why both the media reaction and Jolie’s articles left some things to be desired.
Resurrection Lily is a powerful and intelligent memoir from a woman forced to make difficult personal health decisions. Amy Byer Shainman takes her readers through every step of the process. She goes out of her way to teach patients how to advocate for themselves and seek proper medical treatment, a sometimes daunting task. Readers will close her book with a sense of empowerment, thinking about their own family medical history and genetics in a way they might never have done before.
Quill says: Resurrection Lily is an applause worthy memoir that will affect its audience in deep and unexpected ways.
For more information on Resurrection Lily, please visit the website: brcaresponder.com

#BookReview - Water Lily Dance

Water Lily Dance

By: Michelle Muriel
Publisher: Little Cabin Books, LLC
Publication Date: August 2019
ISBN: 978-0990938347
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: August 19, 2019
Author Michelle Muriel delights readers once again with her sophomore novel, Water Lily Dance. This historical fiction drama guides readers through the lives of two resilient women living in two separate eras, one, 19th century Paris, and the second, modern-day Missouri. Intertwining their lives in the backdrop is the artist Claude Monet and his famous paintings of waterlilies.
In the 1800s, Camille Doncieux is a young lady living in Paris with a close relationship with her father and younger sister. She faithfully works in her father’s shop, but longs to break free of the rigid French traditions and make her own decisions, especially regarding whom she is to marry. Despite her father’s wishes, Camille befriends several local artists, who themselves are bucking the strict rules of traditional art forms in Paris, and agrees to pose for a few of their paintings. Camille is drawn toward one particular artist, Claude Monet, and together they fall in love, but she is torn between her expected life in Paris with her family, and the often times rocky, and not-as-respected life among artists with Claude.
Sophie Noel is a strong woman, who has had more than her fair share of loss in recent years. She had just started to cope with the death of her father, whom she has had a complicated past with, when her husband died tragically in an accident. This sends her into a major tailspin that she cannot seem to positively get through, despite the encouragement of her mother and close friends. One thing that she clings to besides her mother is art, particularly that of the painter Claude Monet, who whispers wisdom to her in her mind. Unfortunately, Sophie is left completely alone, swallowed up in her grief after her mother dies, and not knowing how to progress past the sadness. Together with a cast of dynamic and likable family and friends, Sophie is taken on a journey of her past and present that includes a few twists and surprises (including meeting a handsome Parisian!) that will hopefully allow her to work positively through her grief and move on to a happier, fulfilled life.
Water Lily Dance is more than a mere novel that happens to revolve around an Impressionist artist. It is a wonderfully written, sometimes a bit wordy, but nevertheless, moving portrayal of the strength and resilience of women, centuries apart. This reviewer was delighted that, shortly after reading this novel, I was able to visit an exhibit entitled, The Impressionist’s Eye, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Author Michelle Muriel’s writing is so vividly descriptive throughout the entire story, that I too felt as if I could hear Claude Monet and his contemporaries whispering in my ear. This novel is also a great reminder, specifically for women readers, that we can move through and overcome grief and other obstacles, if we just give it, and life, a chance.
Quill says: Water Lily Dance is a beautifully moving story about women, love, grief and overcoming adversity; a story that should not be missed.
For more information on Water Lily Dance, please visit the author's website at: www.michellemuriel.com