Wednesday, January 22, 2020

#BookReview - My Dear Hamilton

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

By: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: April 2018
ISBN: 978-0062466167
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: January 19, 2020
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, authors of the highly successful American's First Daughter, tackle another great topic as they take on the life of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton.
The story opens in 1825 when James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, comes to Harlem, NY to visit Eliza. By this time, Alexander Hamilton has been dead for over twenty years. Why has Monroe come to visit? To understand that, and all the "history" between them, it's necessary to go back in time...
It is now 1777 and the reader is taken back to when Eliza, or Betsy as she was called in her early years, is a young woman living with her parents, General Philip Schuyler and wife Catherine. The family is wealthy and Betsy's biggest worry at the time is that her sister Angelica has run off and eloped. But we soon learn that General Schuyler has been accused of dereliction of duty. As a devoted daughter, Betsy will do whatever she can to help her father, who is later acquitted of the charges.
In 1780, while staying with her aunt in New Jersey, Betsy meets Alexander Hamilton, one of George Washington's aides-de-camp. They'd actually met before, at the Schuyler's house where Hamilton dined with the family - but the courtship begins in earnest in New Jersey. While intrigued by Hamilton's good looks and charm, Eliza is sure that the military man will have no interest in her as she's known around her family as the practical sister and typically ignored by the men who visit. But Hamilton is intrigued by Eliza's knowledge and confidence and they are soon married. The novel follows the couple through the ups and downs of family life, while also delving deeply into Hamilton's contributions to building a new country. 
My Dear Hamilton follows the life of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, not just through the more famous episodes such as the writing of The Federalist Papers and the death of her husband, but also through lesser known events such as the death of her eldest son. At just over 600 pages, this is a book that requires a bit of time and dedication by the reader. But that time and dedication will be well-rewarded with the understanding that comes from reading this book. While there is not a lot known about Eliza, and the authors had to use a bit of fiction here and there, overall the story comes across as a very believable version of what happened during the founding of our country. Kudos to the authors for their exhaustive research and for bringing to life the story of a very fascinating woman.
Quill says: For fans of historical fiction, particularly of Revolutionary War history, My Dear Hamilton is a fantastic read.

#BookReview - You Are Mine, Porcupine

You Are Mine, Porcupine

By: Helen L. Wilbur
Illustrated by: Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Publication Date: February 2020
ISBN: 978-1534110038
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: January 19, 2020
A sweet baby porcupine learns about the world around him in the new book You Are Mine, Porcupine.
The story opens with a little porcupup (the term for baby porcupines) exploring the woods. His mother keeps a close eye on him as they chew on tree stumps and eat clover, leaves, and dandelions. His mother warns him that there are many dangers in the woods, particularly for porcupines who move very slowly. But, she tells him, porcupines have quills that help protect them. 
The woods are deep and dark. Beware!
They're full of hungry wolves and bear.
So don't forget those long, sharp spines
Protect all wandering porcupines.
There is so much to see in the woods and the little porcupup has wandered a bit too far from his mother. It isn't long before a wolf spots the baby and begins to follow him through the woods...
You Are Mine, Porcupine is a wonderful story about porcupines, a rodent who seems to get little coverage in children's books. While the wolf stalking the baby may frighten more sensitive readers, the mother's advice is taken to heart by her child so the story has a happy ending (the wolf gets a quick lesson on porcupine quills). Children will learn several facts about the small rodents simply by reading along and seeing what these cute creatures do during the day, as well as their nocturnal activities. As a bonus, there is a two-page spread at the back of the book with facts about porcupines. 
Quill says: A cute little porcupine will enchant young readers as they learn about the small rodents and see that a mother's love knows no bounds.

#BookReview - The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2020

The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2020
Publisher: World Almanac
Publication Date: November 2019
ISBN: 978-1600572302
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: January 19, 2020
You may think that in today's digital world, there's no need for a print version of The World Almanac, and if you do believe that, you'd be wrong. There's something about having a complete, and I mean complete, resource instantly available, sitting on your desk, ready to use. 
A new edition of The World Almanac comes out every year and while some of the material is the same from year to year, such as landmark decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, there are also numerous new sections. New features this year include a 2020 election preview, the 2010 to 2019 decade in review, as well as new statistics on topics such as top-grossing movies and religious populations. A fun new section is the "Never Say Die: Memorable Comebacks by Athletes" that includes great comebacks from athletes such as Tommy John and Peyton Manning, all selected by the editors of the Almanac.
The statistics included in The World Almanac are truly mind-boggling. From the 100 tallest buildings in the world to presidential elections results by state, it's in here. And if you can't find it in this volume, it doesn't exist. Curious about U.S. Health Expenditures? It's in here - from 1960 through 2017. Wondering how your state income tax rates compare to the rates in other states? It's in here. Want to go hiking and need to find information about the national trails system? Pick up this book and you'll find your answers.
There are lots of reference guides on the market today, but none compare to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2020. Each year the publishers of this volume put together the ultimate guide and while you may not need to purchase one every single year, it's a definite must-have that should be updated every few years. Whether you're a student about to embark on a research paper on the Constitution, or an avid political fan who wants to back up all arguments with facts, this is the perfect book to help you along the way.
Quill says: It may be the age of the Internet, but the print version of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2020 is an invaluable resource.

Friday, January 10, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Amy Rivers @WritingRivers

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Amy Rivers, author of All the Broken People.
FQ: I see that you’re a seasoned writer, but All the Broken People is your first endeavor into the psychological suspense genre. Why did you choose to write this type of story? 
RIVERS: I've always loved suspenseful novels, whatever genre they fall into, and I studied psychology because I love thinking about why people do the things that they do. Writing a psychological suspense novel was the perfect marriage of those two loves. But when I started writing full-time, I had a particular woman's story in mind, and while it involves psychology and is often suspenseful, it didn't fall squarely into the suspense/thriller genre. That first book turned into two books. After I finished the second book, I realized that if I wanted to dig deep into the topics close to my heart, I needed to go darker. Luckily, around that time, I became completely obsessed with kudzu and secrets and All The Broken People is the product of that obsession.
FQ: Will there be a sequel? I’m curious to find out if Larry Lee can truly break away from Jasper and move forward in his life despite all the tragedy he’s caused and had to endure.
RIVERS: Larry Lee is one of my very favorite people. At the moment, I don't have sequel planned. Larry Lee's story is sad, and I'd love to give him a happy ending. In fact, I hope he did find happiness, or at least peace, but I don't have anything more to say about him at this time.
 FQ: Why did you choose the small southern town of Jasper, Georgia, as the primary setting in your novel?
RIVERS: My husband's family lives in Jasper, Georgia. Until I met him, I'd never spent any time in the South. I grew up in the New Mexico desert. Georgia was absolutely fascinating to me. Everything from the landscape to the culture. It's very different from what I grew up with. Jasper is a beautiful small town north of Atlanta--and I adore it. But I grew up in a small town. I'm very familiar with the way that small town politics and society can be both good and very bad. When you live in a place where you know everyone and everyone knows you, it's hard to escape your past. The same forces that make it difficult to transcend your reputation or past actions also tends to be fiercely protective of its own, leading to corruption, cover-ups, and a willingness to overlook even the most horrendous crimes. Silence hides violence, and small towns can be very silent. Jasper seemed like the perfect place to stir things up. And, of course, there is kudzu.
FQ: When you write, do you base any of the characters on people in your life, or do they spring into life completely out of your imagination? 
RIVERS: Many of my characters are inspired by people I know or have met. I'm much more comfortable writing in the real world, so I can't help but think about how real people would react in extreme situations. But once I'm immersed in the story, the characters become their own people. I can still see resemblances to real people, but it doesn't take long to lose track of the inspiration and see the characters as unique individuals.
FQ: All the Broken People has won a few awards including the 2019 Distinguished Favorites by the Independent Press Award. What is your secret to writing award-winning novels?
RIVERS: Oh how I wish there was a secret! I try to write the best novel I can, creating characters who are relatable and will stick with my readers after they finish reading. With each story I write, I get better. I learn new things. Hone my craft. I think those are the things that have led to the critical successes that I've had with All The Broken People. I'm incredibly proud of this work, and I look forward to continuing to grow as a writer.
FQ: One of the themes of this novel relates to forgiveness and redemption. Do you believe that all people, regardless of how terrible their past behavior might have been, have the capacity for redeeming themselves, and ultimately being forgiven? 
RIVERS: I think that they both redemption and forgiveness require a certain amount of empathy and compassion. I do believe that people who do terrible things can seek redemption and be forgiven. In fact, I think that forgiveness is a necessary part of healing for victims of crime, or even just careless behavior. That being said, I know that there are people who are psychological incapable of empathy and so seeking redemption is most likely something that they would never think to do. Or, if they seek forgiveness outwardly, they may have ulterior. For instance, psychopathic serial killers might not be capable of seeking redemption. And it may seem impossible to forgive someone who commits such heinous crimes, but the ability to forgive is still invaluable in coming to terms with and moving on from said crimes.
FQ: What type of process do you go through when you’re writing, and does it differ between each story you write?
RIVERS: Every story I write starts with a character or a set of characters. Currently, I'm writing a story that revolves around two sisters and their family dynamic. Once I can picture my characters, I move on to a problem. One that would challenge those characters given their personalities, careers, or backgrounds. In All The Broken People, I started with Alice. I imagined her background. She is the child of an alcoholic and she has struggled with addiction herself. She's convinced herself that she's recovered, and it's true that she's not drinking anymore. But, as if often the case, Alice is co-dependent, obsessive, and self-destructive. Those qualities lead her down a road where she finally has to face who she is and how she's come to be in the situation she now finds herself. Combine that with a series of suspenseful and often frightening occurrences and you've got yourself a story. This is the way my mind works, so every story starts in a similar fashion, but with different characters and circumstances.
 FQ: While Alice is caring for Mae, she busies herself doing research for an article about the tragic life of Juanita Jones. Can you tell readers a little more about Juanita, and why you chose to include her in this story? 
RIVERS: As I was researching the history of Jasper, Georgia and of Pickens County, I ran across the story of Juanita K. Jones, a 15-year old young woman who was killed by her husband. I'd been thinking about all the ways that domestic violence may present itself in a marriage - with my character, Alice, in mind. The story of Juantia's short life and brutal death struck a chord with me. The patterns of abuse present in her relationship with her husband were testbook, but the nature of her death was not. The year was 1940 and domestic abuse inside a marriage was something that people usually swept under the rug. Juanita was neither the first nor the last woman to die by her husband's hands, but her youth, her status in her hometown, and the fact that she was pregnant at the time of her death, gave the crime notoriety. Juanita's husband was convicted of murder at a time when even being charged with domestic abuse was practically unheard of. I wondered how Alice, with her own troubled past, would respond to Juanita's story - how it would make her feel about her own life and life choices.
I met with Juanita's family, and as I learned more about her, I couldn't shake the need to give this woman a voice. And, with her family's permission, I incorporated her story into my book as a lens through which Alice beings to understand her own situation. After publication, I met with the director of the North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network to establish the Juanita K. Jones Memorial Fund, which will benefit domestic violence victims in North Georgia. Sharing Juanita's story firmed my resolve to instill in everything I write, fiction or otherwise, a sense of responsibility to those who have come before us, and for future generations.

#AuthorInterview with Behcet Kaya @bhctkaya123

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Behcet Kaya, author of Body in the Woods: A Jack Ludefance Novel
FQ: The invention and use of stealth technology in aircraft is a critical component of your novel, and possibly the reason why one of the characters meets his untimely death. Can you briefly educate readers about what you discovered with regards to this type of technology?
KAYA: Actually invisible technology is not a new concept. In fact the joint strike force F-35 has that technology. But even the F-35 JSF is not a hundred percent invisible; the Germans have radar that can detect a F-35 war plane. What I did was make it a little more hi-tech, so to speak, and far beyond what is currently on the market.
Author Behcet Kaya
Author Behcet Kaya
FQ: Body in the Woods has all the suspenseful elements and a strong, likable character, Jack Ludefance, to become a great Hollywood movie, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. Who would you like to see play the part of Mr. Ludefance, if your novels were ever made into movies? 
KAYA: I think Matthew McConaughey would be ideal to play Jack Ludefance. He’s Southern, rugged, and a versatile actor.
FQ: I saw that you'll be releasing a new Jack Ludefance novel next year. Will any other characters from this book be making an appearance in the new story? 
KAYA: Yes! The title of the novel is Appellate Judge. Rudy will be hired by Jack to do some hacking, as well as Jack’s sister Margaux, his love interest Lee, and Jack’s navy buddy, Hiker, who is now Sheriff of Santa Rosaria.
FQ: Aside from another great installment in the Jack Ludefance series, are you currently working on any other projects? 
KAYA: Yes, but I don’t know that I should reveal too much as it is just in its conceptual infancy stage. I am thinking about writing a fictionalized story based on a true story of a Turkish man’s life during the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds period. A Robin Hood kind of bandit who steals from the rich and helps the poor. The local people always hid him and actually feared him. Because of these actions the authorities could never capture him. The evidence of his story is in the Turkish archives and has created quite a myth around his life. However, his descendants are asking too much money for the rights to his story at this point in time.
FQ: You have successfully written several novels, including Road to Siran and Murder on the Naval Base. What advice would you give to new authors who are just starting out in their writing career?
KAYA: Read ferociously and learn to listen. A writer’s ears should be like a sponge. He must pay attention to everything and everyone around him; the conversations at next table in a restaurant, riding on a bus, or train, or plane. My late mother-in law, who was also a great writer and a columnist, always listened. We would go to a restaurant and have dinner and carry on a conversation, but she could tell me everything that was going on at the next table. There was a post on Facebook not too long ago that read: “I am a writer. Anything you say or do will be written.” There is also the big hurdle of learning how to market your books; something that I am still working on.
FQ: What motivates and draws you towards writing thrillers? Do you ever get mentally exhausted when you’re writing a particularly fast-paced scene?
KAYA: I guess my writing crime stories comes naturally. I grew up reading crime thrillers. No, I never get mentally exhausted. Every writer is different. There may be times when I don’t write for days at a time. And other times I stay up until early morning until all the ideas are down on paper. My wife is my right arm; not only does she do the first draft editing, but she is also my sounding board. I often ask her what is the right thing to do in such and such circumstances and she will give some ideas which I let percolate in my mind. Sometimes I let go for a while and later the full thoughts will come to me. In other words, I don’t write continuously, but when I am in the writing mode I can’t be stopped.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors, and do they inspire you when you’re writing? 
KAYA: Currently I am enjoying the character of Colonel Drummer in Brian Haig’s novels. But my favorites are the classics - Leo Tolstoy, Turkish author Yasar Kemal, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, D.H.Lawrence, Alexander Dumas, to mention a few.
FQ: Over the years you've been interviewed by several readers and reviewers about your books. Is there anything you’re anxious to let readers know more about you, or your writings, that hasn’t been asked about in the past? 
KAYA: In writing I need inspiration as most writers do. In the spring of last year I took up the violin and am studying with an excellent teacher, who by the way, may be featured in my next novel.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

#BookReview - Dvorah: Prophetess, Judge, Warrior @ShrinkingBuddha

Dvorah: Prophetess, Judge, Warrior: The Simple Girl Who Grew Up to Lead Israel (Fierce Bible Women Book 1)

By: M.J. Lalli
Publisher: Adler & Holmes, LLC
Publication Date: August 2018
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Date: January 8, 2020
In her exploration of the dynamic accomplishments of Dvorah based on biblical text, novelist M. J. Lalli has created a vibrant tale of love, war and wisdom.
Dvorah (often seen as “Deborah”) is the daughter and only child of a strong, assertive mother, Ajalon, and a stalwart, visionary father, Eleazar. They reside in the Promised Land of Israel, in early times when Israelites and Canaanites were at odds. Both a precious and precocious child, Dvorah is trained in household arts as diverse as working with wool and making bricks. In her early teens her parents gift her with a mare, Zenja. As time goes by, Dvorah and Zenja will become mutually trusting companions. 
When she is about 18 years of age, Dvorah hears the voice of God telling her that she is to act as a judge among the people, and though she is ready and willing, she must rely on God to show her what to do next. She is intuitively guided to station herself on a hill under a palm tree and use palm fronds as instruments in her work. She soon begins hearing cases, gaining respect and renown. A few years later, God tells Dvorah to contact her cousin Barak and inform him that he is to lead an army against the Canaanites; he agrees, while insisting that she accompany him. That struggle concludes with an Israeli victory at Mount Tabor, and Dvorah, hailed as both prophetess and warrior, returns home with the assumption that she will continue her life as a judge. But she will face yet another conflict as two determined men vie for her hand in marriage.
Lalli, who is a scientist by profession, has clearly done extensive research to underpin her well-organized vision of the life of Dvorah. The scenes ranging from home life to warfare have a ring of authenticity. Young Dvorah is sent to the fields to analyze the growth of flax needed for brick making, and measures time by the size of shadows passing over the house. A description of young Barak killing a lion with a slingshot makes us believe in that weapon’s power, and we will see it employed later as Barak strikes down a giant attacker to save a comrade. Lalli’s characters speak in simple, flowing dialog, neither archaic nor stilted. She reveals her knowledge of biblical lore in the many stories recounted, using some Hebrew words and phrases as needed. Most chapters conclude with footnotes containing biblical references, and within the narrative, Dvorah and others compose or quote from songs recounting great deeds and praising Israel’s God.
Quill says: Lalli’s strongly plotted saga of the deeds of a formidable female from Old Testament times will appeal to fans of historical fiction, as well as to those who enjoy romantic, heroic tales from any era.

#BookReview - All the Broken People @WritingRivers

All the Broken People

By: Amy Rivers
Publisher: Compathy Press, LLC
Publication Date: March 2019
ISBN: 978-0578425313
Reviewed by: Lynette Latzko
Review Date: January 7, 2020
Alice Bennett, journalist and wife to a man who appears to be wonderfully perfect, was finally able to crawl her way out of a horrifically abusive childhood, and into a well-crafted new life full of promise. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always seem to play out as planned, and Alice’s past, coupled with controlling behavior by her husband, slowly erodes their marriage. Meanwhile her mother-in-law, Mae, suffers a tragic fall that lands her in the hospital, unable to walk unassisted and care for herself. Alice decides to take some advantage of the situation by moving down to Georgia, where Mae lives, to not only help her at home while she recovers, but impress her husband enough that he’ll be more willing to work on repairing their relationship. 
During Alice’s time caring for her mother-in-law, she attempts to do research for an article about a woman who was gruesomely murdered by her husband in 1940, but she quickly discovers that living in a small, very close-knit southern town makes it nearly impossible for her to get any answers when the townspeople are not only closemouthed, but suspicious of the outsider’s inquiries. Alice is also confronted with the reality that her in-laws have a decades-old feud with another family, the Simms, and her husband was somehow involved with the Simms’ daughter, Beth, and her brother, Larry Lee, who are both notorious for their addictions and criminal activity. She is both shocked and saddened by the fact that her husband may not be the man she originally thought he was when they first married.
While Mae Bennett is busy recovering, she suddenly has a flash of memory that someone pushed her, causing her to fall. The town law enforcement is quick to respond to this latest development, but slow in thoroughly investigating and, like the rest of the town, believes that Larry Lee is somehow involved. Matters only worsen when Beth Simms blows back into town, unleashing havoc in her wake; and at the same time, unusual and potentially criminal events are happening to a few townspeople. Alice and the folks of Jasper don't know whether or not anything is related to Mae's fall, or the Simms, and they're getting worried that their once peaceful town will soon be too dangerous to live in. But will they find answers quickly enough to put a stop to further destruction, or is it too late?
Seasoned author Amy Rivers’ first venture into the suspense genre proves to be a well-written, enjoyable read. The numerous characters are fully developed and likable; even with some of the “bad” characters readers will find it hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for their unfortunate lots in life. If you’re seeking a fast-paced thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, this is not the story for you. However, if you’re in search of a read that is heavy, richly atmospheric and a suspenseful slow burn, this is definitely the novel for you. Like the kudzu that the author writes about in her story, All the Broken People will quickly grow on you and won’t release its hold until the dramatic ending. 
Quill says: Looking for a well-crafted suspense novel filled with strong, likable characters? Look no further!
For more information on All the Broken People, please visit the author's website:

#BookReview - The God Child

The God Child
By: Stuart Rawlings
Publisher: Sierra Dreams Press
Publication Date: November 2019
ISBN: 978-0977140510
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: December 8, 2020
The third in a funny, fast moving series, Stuart Rawlings’ The God Child shines light on some of our most famous historical figures, as they take a stance against some of our most scurrilous moderns.
The story opens with a gathering led by a little girl in a wheelchair. Through her mysterious powers she has brought back to life the following cast: Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Jefferson, Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hitler, Joan of Arc, Einstein, Michelangelo, Beethoven, H. G. Wells, Margaret Mead and Freud. She will give each participant money and gear for a one-month mission to “explore this modern world, interact with others and do whatever you want to do…” and report back to her. Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt visit their American homesteads, then cast their attention on President Trump; Hitler and Joan of Arc will visit Hitler’s old home in Bavaria; Wells and Einstein aim for Geneva; Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Beethoven set their sights on an arts tour of Europe; Mead inveigles Freud to accompany her to the South Pacific. The four religious icons have separate agendas: Moses will go back to the Holy Land; Mohammed will visit places where Islam’s teachings have gone astray; Jesus wants to confront evangelical American sects; Buddha will go to Myanmar. 
So the adventures begin, with Hitler and Joan anonymously settling down on a little farm until his identity is discovered and the pair is arrested. Freud and Mead, now lovers, seek to aid the despised Rohingya people with help from Buddha. Mohammed takes on oppressive leaders in Syria and Saudi Arabia, and he, Moses and Jesus will meet up in Damascus. With Wells as his publicist, Einstein sacrifices his newfound life to illustrate the truth of global warming. Much of the book’s plot centers on advances by Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt to reform Donald Trump, shown initially as “an ignorant, narcissistic, amoral bully.” Among the scattered illustrations, his face appears many times. Trump learns from his resurrected counselors that he can gain more support by following a less self-centered agenda.
Rawlings is a highly educated author who teaches others. He has authored twenty-three previous books along with other media productions. His writing has bite as well as humor. The scenes involving Trump are hilarious, but with an aura of authenticity. The reader will wish this volume, or perhaps the whole series, could be made into a cinematic production, with enjoyably conflicting input about what actors/actresses would play which roles. Rawlings offers a somber ending, while leaving a crack in the door for a future sequel. 
Quill says: There is enough good-natured fantasy to keep the reader rolling along with Rawlings’ fertile imagination, and enough factual, historical material to raise some philosophical questions. 
For more information on The God Child, please visit the publisher's website at:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

#AuthorInterview with Pat Finegan @pat_finegan

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Patrick Finegan, author of Cooperative Lives.
FQ: After a thirty-year career in law, corporate finance, management consulting, and risk management, why publish a novel?
FINEGAN: Unfinished business. My parents were disillusioned former artists – disillusioned because they abandoned years of creative endeavor to raise children and forage for sustenance. For much of my childhood, we lived hand to mouth. Everything was about managing expectations, bracing my brothers and me for the same crushing disappointments they experienced and were convinced we would share. Life vacillated between bitterness, depression and occasional joy, with daily reminders that secondary education was a luxury, that anything beyond trade school or community college was unthinkable. When I secured a full-ride debate scholarship to Northwestern, I fled home and resolved never to return.
My flight lasted thirty years. But the ghosts of childhood endure. Had my father lived to retirement, he might have finished the novel he outlined when he was thirty. My mother might have returned to painting. Or music. But they died. Unfulfilled promise was their bequest, stowed among their meager earthly belongings. The rationale was subconscious, of course, but publishing a novel was my way of attending unfinished business.
FQ: What inspired you to write this story?
FINEGAN: The financial crisis. Like so many management-level employees in finance, I found myself unemployed and previously too well-remunerated to persuade recruiters I’d accept an entry-level position in another industry. I had time on my hands. To keep myself sane, I spent hours each day writing. Professional screeds, computer programs, fiction, it didn’t matter, so long as I was busy. Many of the fictional pieces were stories about imagined neighbors. Months passed and I began to concoct connections, eventually constructing a novel. But the root inspiration was the financial crisis. Like 9/11, it was over in a flash, but it etched deep scars in my generation and framed how succeeding ones view nearly everything.
FQ: What would you say was the inspiration for your characters?
FINEGAN: My neighbors. I had so many of them – some famous, some not, each bludgeoned in some way by 9/11, the Madoff scandal and the financial crisis. I knew only a handful socially, those down the hall plus some resident activists, but I secretly observed others as they shuffled through the lobby or stared down in the elevator, and I speculated about their lives.
When Tom Wolfe published The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1987, it was the defining satire of New York’s young professional elite. What happened to those masters of the universe? They aged, bore children and became my neighbors. And when the financial markets crumpled, they were seized by the same fears, insecurities, and feelings of helplessness that gripped working class families for years. But because they were previously cocooned, the fears struck harder – a great basis, I thought, for a story.
FQ: Why did you choose a 2012-2013 setting?
FINEGAN: My goal was to publish something contemporary; the dates weren’t supposed to matter. Alas, I work slowly. Six years elapsed between the first draft (May 2013) and the book’s eventual publication (March 2019). ISIS, Wikileaks, the 2016 US presidential election, Brexit, white supremacy and immigration paranoia weren’t on my radar. Their development made my plot obsolete. To solve this, I backdated the story to the completion date of my first manuscript. It was easier than keeping pace with politics and technology.
FQ: You mention in your preface that the world of 2013 New York no longer exists. How has it changed?
FINEGAN: For a brief interlude, because of 9/11 and the financial crisis, New York’s elite acknowledged the fragility and happenstance of economic privilege. There was a glimmer of humility, upon which I built my novel. But a younger generation of power brokers swept in, many exhibiting the same pre-bubble imperiousness we did. A roaring stock market and raft of upper income tax cuts will do that.
One consequence is Billionaire’s Row, a collection of ultra-luxurious, ultra-tall dwelling complexes casting long shadows across Central Park and the Hi-Line. The residential complex in my novel is probably déclassé by today’s standards. Yet the new high-rises stand half-empty and don’t front the park. Go figure.
Shopping has changed. Retail is dying, even in New York City. So are taxis. Uber and Amazon have carpet bombed Medallion holders and New York’s flagship department stores into insolvency, just as they have everywhere.
New York’s traffic has become more orderly. Dedicated bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, well-marked crosswalks, the ticketing of cyclists, the push for congestion pricing – the city has prioritized reducing Midtown traffic and eliminating pedestrian deaths. It has more to do, but today’s street chaos is a distant echo of what’s described in my book.
The most visible changes are, of course, political. Eavesdropping has become ubiquitous and unfathomably advanced. Wikileaks spilled the great NSA secret – that it sees and hears anything it wants. Nearly all our movements and conversations are recorded somewhere – by security cameras or our interaction with Internet and phone-connected devices. My book’s federal agents and their adversaries were equipped with eavesdropping and hacking tools that were, in light of Wikileaks’ revelations, too primitive.
The foreign adversary in my novel was Iran. By late 2013, however, President Ahmadinejad was gone, replaced by a reform party cleric who forged a denuclearization pact and de facto peace treaty with the world. For two sweet years, New Yorkers no longer feared Iranian terrorism. And believed Al Qaida was in retreat. But the Arab Spring became winter, ISIS emerged in Iraq and Syria, President Assad waged war against his citizens, Saudi Arabia waged war against starving Yemenis, and a newly elected US president renounced the country’s most sacred oaths and commitments. And befriended tyrants.
This made us more polarized, even New Yorkers. Nuance, so crucial to fair journalism (and plausible character development), no longer seemed viable. New Yorkers, who inclined for decades toward progressivism and consensus-building, became riven by internecine feuds over being liberal purists versus pragmatists in the battle to regain Congress and the presidency. Fairness no longer seems an option – in broadcasting, politics, or judicial reasoning. Were my novel truly contemporary, its characters would be strident in their respective convictions, and quick to attack others ad hominem.
Finally, race and gender issues have risen in importance. Eric Garner’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement changed New York’s conversation about race. I’m not sure my principal characters would have been plausible in a post-MeToo and Black Lives Matter environment. The same goes for the book’s discussion of immigration policy.
FQ: As I mentioned in my review, you’ve captured the feeling of New York, and New Yorkers perfectly. Was it hard to get that perfect setting or did it come naturally as you wrote?
FINEGAN: I concentrated on the world and people I knew. I wanted my first work of fiction to be judged by the merits of its writing, not the quality of its research. I stayed within my comfort zone, employing characters who were montages of people and personalities I knew, describing real places, real art exhibits, and real historical events. I focused on professions and medical procedures I witnessed firsthand. Strip out the plotline, and I could have reformulated much of the manuscript as a memoir. The writing flowed slowly but naturally.
FQ: Having lived in New York for 30 years - how well do you know your neighbors?
FINEGAN: Poorly. Our neighbor across the hall was the lone exception. She was my daughter’s surrogate grandmother, the reason my wife and I never hired a babysitter, not once! She was the retired personal assistant to the chairman of Schubert Theaters, widowed since her thirties, who raised three children on her own, and whose flair for living knew no bounds.
At the end of the hall lived the head of Planned Parenthood and her husband. They renovated their three-bedroom apartment beautifully and used it for soirees and fundraisers. A Who’s Who of showbiz and political figures passed our door, but we only exchanged pleasantries at the elevator or sipped champagne together in the all-doors-open hall parties on New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving. I inherited a seven-foot saguaro cactus when they moved into a high-rise around the corner and remain in professional contact.
Next door to the Planned Parenthood couple was the pied-à-terre of the president of Reader’s Digest. He was good for a boisterous “How are you, my old friend? How are you doing?” in the hallway before rushing to his next social or work engagement. He served briefly on the co-op’s board, but the tribulations of the publishing industry were great, and Reader’s Digest eventually folded. My “old friend” sold his pied-à-terre.
Our neighbor next-door was an aging pension fund manager who spent six months renovating a studio apartment before moving in. He treated us to a tour when it was completed. He resembled Keith Richards, had two attractive adult children, and played keyboard silently while wearing headphones. For a while, he dated a concert pianist who complained about my comparative awfulness (I played a baby grand), but their relationship soured. My dying neighbor downstairs, by contrast, sent requests via elevator attendant to play more Haydn, which I did. Once yearly, my neighbor, the pension fund manager, would schlep gifts from our closet to our tree when we were out, consume some milk and cookies, and make boot prints on our balcony.
In sum, we relied on our neighbors for all sorts of assistance, but, in truth, we scarcely knew them.
FQ: Since New York is such a strong “character” in your story, and those who know the city will “get” certain things, how do you think people who have never been to the Big Apple will respond?
FINEGAN: The response has been mixed. Some readers are repulsed by my characters or their language and quit by chapter three. Others toil on and are rewarded. The novel’s themes are universal. And most readers find its characters relatable. What separates fans from critics are age and politics. The book is a difficult read for those who became adults after 9/11 and even more difficult for those who consider NYC an irredeemable blight on their MAGA-nation.
FQ: Do you have any new writing projects brewing? Have you thought about trying a different genre, different setting (a place where you haven’t lived, perhaps?)?
FINEGAN: I think Cooperative Lives exhausted most of the genres. It is part mystery, thriller, romance, detective story, historical novel, political satire – you name it. As for science fiction or fantasy, the real world is dystopian enough. There’s no shortage of material.
My next project, a contemporary novel, is set in metropolitan New York but will probably become historical because I write so slowly. The characters are younger and more geographically dispersed than those in Cooperative Lives, but the city still draws their lives together. I devote a lot of ink to water.
FQ: Self-publishing is becoming quite popular these days. What advice would you give to first-time authors looking to follow in this same vein?
FINEGAN: I made every mistake imaginable. Most were costly.
First, do not rush publication. I was adamant about publishing before my sixtieth birthday. Had I waited six months, I could have circulated advance reader copies (ARCs) to newspapers, libraries and bloggers and built some pre-launch buzz. What I learned is that newspapers and bloggers do not cover “old news.”
Second, apply for a Library of Congress number before publication. You won’t get one afterward...ever.
Third, hire a cover illustrator. Personally, I love my cover, but I lost count of the negative comments received because of it. I capitulated somewhat last month and revised the font. The experience was exasperating. A book isn’t its cover, I fumed. But apparently it is. Save yourself the exasperation. Hire a professional.
Fourth, hire an editor. I have professional editing experience and thought, after seven years of re-reading and rewriting, that the manuscript would be error-free. Close, but those first few copies (the ones I sent to friends and reviewers) were cringeworthy. I was too familiar with the material; I didn’t see all the typos. On a different level, a good editor will make your manuscript tighter.
Last, keep your day job. There’s very little money in publishing. Write because you love to, not because you’ll pay the rent. You probably won’t. At least not after just one novel. It’s a long, uphill climb but personally rewarding.