“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
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!
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.
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!