Thursday, May 19, 2022

#AuthorInterview with JF Collen, author of Pioneer Passage

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with JF Collen, author of Pioneer Passage (Journey of Cornelia Rose, Book 3).
FQ: I commend you for yet another fantastic read. It is clear you are an ardent lover of history. I’m curious if history is/was your catalyst to becoming a writer.
COLLEN: Yes! I love stories. Focusing on the stories of people in law school helped me remember the legal precedents. History is not dates and events to me so much as a compilation of thousands of people’s stories. So many stories recorded in diaries or wrapped around an event or embedded in a place need retelling. My favorite hobby is to go to a place and learn its history – listen to its stories. Some are so compelling they cry out for a new platform. And almost all of them bear repeating.
Many stories just demand that my characters relive them. So I weave them into my narrative.
FQ: In line with my previous question, is (or was) there ever a time in the Cornelia Rose Series when you wanted to ‘break away’ and write something completely off-topic?
COLLEN: Yes – Stories of all types, of all places and cultures captivate me. Many causes compel me to champion them. Many of these ‘off topic’ stories have already found their way into my blogs. But some ideas are hastily typed and saved on my laptop with the hopes that when the time is ripe I will find them and weave them into a new work.
FQ: Often when I read a terrific body of work, I find myself wondering if there is a lot of the blood of the writer that runs through the main character. In this case, how close is J.F. Collen’s personality and demeanor to that of Cornelia Entwhistle?
COLLEN: I certainly draw on my own likes and dislikes when shaping Cornelia Rose, but more than being an alter ego for me, Nellie pushes the envelope in ways I would not. I have bestowed a few traits on her that I wish I had myself.
FQ: I always enjoy your attention to the Lord and faith in your books. The nuances come from heart (vs. ‘the fear of God’). Without turning this into a political rant, do you find there is somewhat of a taboo of how far you can take your pen with writing with a reverence and belief in today’s climate? How do you temper your pen to strike such a great balance toward faith in all your work?
COLLEN: I do feel a taboo, almost a self-consciousness when writing some of the faithful utterances of the characters. I think people living in the 1850s would have seen and vocalized their love for God even more than I allow them to in my story. Many people then were more openly pious. ‘Old fashioned’ values like love and praise of God are seen by some today as fanatical or uninformed. However, history has also shown us the atrocities committed under the guise of religion. I believe recognition of our Source and gratitude for all that is good and for our many blessings should be expressed freely, regardless of religious institution affiliation. And I hope by writing of a time when people fervently believed their faith would see them through hard times readers will be feel inspired to pursue their own spirituality.
FQ: I must admit times have certainly changed from a woman having to ‘know her place’ from then to now. While neither of us were alive in the 1800’s, what part of that era in the relationship between man and woman would you like to see in today’s society if any?
COLLEN: The romantic in me always wants the heroine to be swept off her feet by a courtly yet macho man! For every movie I watch and book I read I wish a romantic, happy ending for the characters. The glamour of society permeates the action in my first book. While my books are all filled with the curious customs of 1850s courtship, unlike in a romance novel I try to view these relationships with this century’s eye, and not aggrandized or overly idealize them.
FQ: What is the most modern convenience you couldn’t possibly live without and why?
COLLEN: Flush toilets! Although hardly modern – almost all of the ancient civilizations, starting with the Mesopotamians and the Minoans, separately invented them well before the current era – they certainly were not prevalent in the 1850s. I don’t envy Nellie having to dig latrine trenches at every camp, and help her children find a spot along the trail!
The real modern convenience that I feel may be undervalued is – modern fabrics. The blends of fibers invented in the last few decades have quietly revolutionized clothing. Nellie wore fabrics that bunched and pilled. Clothes that bagged and sagged. Hey, I remember when jeans were only blue, and a new pair were so stiff and tight they were too uncomfortable to wear without a few washings. Now any pants can feel as forgiving as a pair of sweats.
FQ: You write with such intent in describing the beauty and varied landscapes across this great country of ours. If you had to choose your ‘favorite,’ where would that be and why?
COLLEN: While I love a majestic view from a mountaintop and the thrill of a river racing by, I have to confess my favorite place is the beach. Even my love of the vastness of the prairie is dwarfed by my fascination with the moods of the sea. I love the beach the most in the summer, sun warming the sand, water caressing and cooling feet, clouds scuttling by. But year round the beauty and majesty of the ocean hitting the sand holds me mesmerized.
FQ: One of my ‘go to’ questions I often ask fellow authors is: When you feel the flow of your pen dwindling, how do you get back on your inspirational train?
Author JF Collen

COLLEN: Traveling inspires me. Watching and listening to people tickles my imagination too. I love happening upon interesting places and observing people going about their lives. A walk down any Main Street can unstick my pen. Certainly a trip to New York City works wonders.
Reading new or undiscovered old stories pulls me into a different time and place and catapultes me into seeing how my characters would react in different situations.
FQ: In line with my question above - do you simply sit down and begin writing and the story writes itself? Do you outline? Do you write every day? What is your most inspired time in the day to write?
COLLEN: My writing habits seem to change with every book. Sometimes the story does write itself. But only after a lot of research. Most time times I find little tidbits I want to include when reading histories, observing people, or viewing landscapes. In writing this particular series, sometimes finding something old sparks a storyline, or a plot twist, like seeing the beautiful laundry tubs in a mansion in St. Paul Minnesota, or a pie cabinet in Museum Village in Monroe, NY.
I try to write every day. Which means I probably write about 5 days a week. I never outlined, until just the other day I took the table of contents for the next book in the Journey of Cornelia Rose Series and started jotting notes about things I wanted to include in each chapter that was already drafted and placing new chapters & material in the chapter lineup. Weird! But it seemed like the right thing to do. Usually I make notes, either on my laptop, or if that is not handy, little scraps of paper – and then after I have a draft I find all the scraps and make sure I didn’t forget to include any of the material. The scraps have all kinds of things – words I found that a particular character should use, historical events I want to include, clothing I want someone to wear, plot twists, names I love and habits for characters.
FQ: When you meet someone for the first time and there is an instant connection, do you find yourself beginning to write this person in your head as a future character in one of your books? If so, how often has this occurred (and who made the cut and into one of your books)?
COLLEN: Yes. Sometimes it is just something someone says, that I know one of my characters will want to say. Sometimes it is a personality I’ll want to include, or a story someone told. Or a way that someone speaks, or a mannerism. My favorite thing to find is a name. I met a man named Nigel Goodnuf. Come on! His name has to be made into a character.
I try to not steal the whole persona of anyone I know! I fashion many of my characters with a sprinkling of traits from several people.
FQ: Once again, I commend you for another wonderful read. Thank you for your time. I always look forward to reading your books and wonder if you have embarked on your next writing journey. If so, are you able to share a little nugget?
COLLEN: I have two more books coming in this series. I have the fourth book well on its way. I am almost ready for the editing process. Which often time lasts almost as long as it takes me to write the book in the first place and then takes on a life of its own! And the fifth book is mapped out.
In my travels I have amassed a lot of primary sources for a WWII book. That might be next. Or, I can turn to the pilot script I wrote for an office sitcom, or the new children’s book I drafted on the back of an ad for a surfboard!

#BookReview - Toby, Toby, Worry Free by Lucinda Grapenthin

Toby, Toby, Worry Free

By: Lucinda Grapenthin
Illustrated by: Kevin Gasselin
Publisher: Dr. Cindy Publishing
Publication Date: August 2021
ISBN: 978-1736781807
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: August 18, 2022
Toby is a cute little octopus who wants to go ride his bike and play with his friends. But he has a problem – he worries about so many things. Will his mother, father, and friends be able to help him conquer his fears and finally have fun on his bike?
Toby was hanging around the front porch of his house when his friends Zeke and Logan came zooming by on their bikes. They happily asked Toby to join in the fun but Toby was afraid and tightly clung to the porch as his mind started to panic. “What if I can’t ride my bike?” “What if I fall?” What if they laugh at me?” There were so many things that could go wrong and Toby couldn't get all those “What ifs” out of his mind.
Sad and feeling defeated, Toby headed into the house, plopped down on the sofa and played video games. He wanted his mom and called out to her, but she was busy putting away clothes. The little octopus was so full of worry that when he tried to get up to go find her, he stumbled over his tightly wound tentacles. What could he do?
When Toby’s mom sees her son, she immediately knows that something is wrong. She asks her son and he admits that, “I’m afraid to ride my bike with my friends...all I think about is falling and my friends laughing.” His mother carefully explains that he needs to use his “can do thoughts” and reminds Toby of the time he was afraid to climb up a slide. By using his can do thoughts he was able to conquer his fear and climb up and go down the slide. Would Toby be able to use his “can do thoughts” to learn to have fun with his friends and ride his bike without worry?
Toby, Toby, Worry Free is a fun and educational book that tackles issues common to so many children, such as the fear of failure, the fear of being mocked by friends, and the fear of getting hurt. Young readers will easily identify with Toby, a sweet character who finds himself in situations that they too, are likely to encounter. The author has also included things that parents will identify with such as when Toby is starting to feel better and then his big sisters remind him of the possibility of failure. It’s the sort of thing many older siblings would say and I suspect parents will see their family dynamics in Toby’s family. At the back of the book is a reference page with a thorough explanation of “The PAUSE Approach,” a method to help parents and caregivers deal with challenging behaviors. The author of Toby, Toby, Worry Free is a licensed psychologist and educator with over twenty years of working with children and families. Her extensive experience shines through in this, her debut novel. Toby, Toby, Worry Free does a great job of gently guiding children and their caregivers through some of the turbulent behaviors youngsters encounter.
Quill says: Toby, Toby, Worry Free is an excellent resource for parents to share with their children to help them overcome their own daily fears.

#BookReview - Holding Superman's Hand by Amy Katherine

Holding Superman's Hand

By: Amy Katherine
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: May 20, 2022
ISBN: ‎ 978-1639883431
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: May 18, 2022

Right off the bat, I must say, this author declares herself to be both an artist and a writer...which is exactly what she is. To clarify: the scenes, the locations, the characters – every aspect of the book feels as if it’s being painted right before the reader’s eyes. I was mesmerized. This amazes me, because to get to the “mesmerized” level takes quite a bit for me, considering how many books I read each week.

The main character I felt at home with; her name is Amy Emerson, and she’s at that point in life we all look back on and (hopefully) remember fondly. It’s the time of our first slice of freedom. Amy’s world is going well. Not only has she received a scholarship and had the collegiate doors open for her so she can start diving in and learning in this, her first semester, but she has also won out over many in the Lone Star State. You see, there is a much-wanted job opening in Austin, Texas – being a bartender at a highly awesome local – and Amy has landed it and is now wearing that highly-desired hat. Now, all of this sounds like a niche that everyone would die for, especially at her age; however, there’s another aspect to Amy’s life that brings darkness along with all this newfound success.

We segue to, readers meet Mr. Matt Abernathy; some will like him, while others will dislike his self-appreciation and somewhat self-importance that exudes from his words and actions. He has the perfect job — as a bouncer, Mat can use his gift of intimidation quite often. As the author “paints” his portrait, we are met with this Texas Hill Country graduate student’s stunning good looks that, quite literally, makes him Superman’s stand-in: he’s that pretty. Oddly, he laughs like the very jovial Santa, yet he also seems to despise greatly anything, anyone, or any moment in time that he feels is simply wrong and goes against his own morals and honorable standards that he holds upon a pedestal.

Readers will be drawn to this coming-of-age story simply because there are twists and turns in this one that come out of nowhere. Amy, at the age of 17, is staring at a future paved in gold, yet her emotions for Matt are strong and readers will watch and wonder whether or not Amy can somehow find a way to disengage from what looks to be a relationship headed for total disaster.

Yet another upside comes from the fact that this is said to be a new series, which means I’m hooking my wagon to this train ASAP. The author had me at the beginning, and watching Amy’s courage grow and Matt’s story unfold made for a powerful tale. Every word spoken by these characters leads me to believe this author has a whole lot more to say, and has shown already that she has the creativity and talented voice to build a huge audience—sooner rather than later.

Quill says: Holding Superman's Hand is a fantastic read that is mysterious, romantic, dramatic, and memorable; this title completely earns the “5-stars” rating.

For more information on Holding Superman's Hand, please visit the author's website at:

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Enter This Month's Book Giveaway!

Have you entered this month's Book Giveaway contest? It only takes a minute and you may be the lucky winner of a brand new, FREE book. This month's book is "Hello, Baby!" by Eve Bunting. Go to our main page, scroll to the bottom and you'll see the simple, quick entry form.

#AuthorInterview with Nancie Wiseman Attwater, author of A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Nancie Wiseman Attwater, author of A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide.

FQ: How did you organize your time and energy to write this memoir/guide, given what must be a very busy life as described in it? 

ATTWATER: I am an early riser. The dog wakes me up around 6am to be fed and I then manage to get a lot of things done before Bill wakes up. When I am writing a book, I reserve a few hours every morning for writing, proofreading and organizing. It has worked well for me for several books, so I just kept up the routine. I enjoy writing, and don’t consider it work so it feels good to sit down in the same place every day at my desk and continue my stories.

FQ: Does positing and writing about these facts give you, overall, a sense of hope?

ATTWATER: I wouldn’t say it gives me “hope.” What it gives me is a chance to get all my feelings out of my head and down on paper where I don’t seem to worry about them as much. I am very organized and can get a lot done when necessary. Writing is a type of stress reduction for me. Bill’s illness is terminal. I watch him decline a little more every day. We now have a hospice nurse that comes to see him twice a week and a nurse to help bathe him. It is an ongoing battle, so to speak, but we keep moving and trying to get the most out of the time we have left. I haven’t been writing much lately, I’m thinking I need to get back to it.

FQ: Do you see positive changes emerging in medical care/facilities that could make a difference in the future for those like yourself as a home-based caregiver and for those like Bill needing almost constant oversight?

Author Nancie Wiseman Attwater

ATTWATER: I can see that there are more caregiver provider companies now, but the problem is they don’t seem to give a lot of thought to who they hire. Because they cannot do “medical” things, just about anyone can have the job. Right now, we have a young gal who is only 18, but does a wonderful job taking care of Bill. Cooks for him, does laundry, etc. I have a list of duties for the caregivers, and I will say that many days it gets ignored when the TV is on, and their cell phone is in their hands.

It is thought to be best for a person to stay in their own home, if possible, instead of going to a facility. The care is supposed to be better in one’s home, but what they don’t seem to mention is the toll that takes on the caregiver. I’m a trained nurse and can handle emergencies and come up with ideas to take better care of Bill. But I get so tired, and my temper gets a little short that some days I feel I’m not doing him any favors by keeping him home. His dementia is becoming more of a problem, and he needs me to fill in the gaps for him. A medical assistant in a facility wouldn’t be able to do that. He will always say “Get Nancie, she’ll take care of it.” He knows I will do this no matter the toll on me.

FQ: Apart from caregiving, is writing now your primary avocation or will you continue to explore other avenues of creativity?

ATTWATER: I am a quilter, knitter and needleworker and I get to explore a lot of creative outlets with those three hobbies. Time is an issue as they all require attention to detail and some spare hours. Some days, I tell myself to sit down and sew, or knit for the day, like I used to be able to. It never happens. But it’s nice to think I will someday again. I have always enjoyed watching TV and doing needlework while Bill rested. Lately I’ve been in bed fast asleep by 7pm. I know I will get back to all these avocations eventually, but then again that means I will be living alone to do it.

FQ: Could you envision a documentary illustrating your own life experience and development of your methods of dealing with sickness and impending sorrow?

ATTWATER: Well, I could see that of course. My best friend in Utah will always ask me “Who is going to play you in the movie?” when I send her a new book to read. It seems like a playful statement, but I believe the information would be valuable to anyone who is faced with the illness of a loved one. It’s doesn’t need to be a spouse. It could be a parent, sibling, close relative or even a child.

Dealing with impending sorrow is another issue I deal with every day. I try not to cry about this, but I was reading my book to Bill because he can’t read it now and I can’t get through a chapter without the tears falling.

FQ: What is your best memory of life together with Bill since he has become an invalid?

ATTWATER: Our life remains full of love despite the obstacles. Our early days of travel are fond memories, and we speak of them often and look at the photo albums of those happy days as a reminder. Bill remains very pleasant even on his worst days and he doesn’t remember the good times as much as I do. It’s easy to remind him and try to keep his spirits up with the memories of when he was up and about, doing the cooking that he loved and taking care of everything in the house.

FQ: Have you considered speaking about/organizing workshops based on these important topics?

ATTWATER: I am doing a lecture to a group here where I live in June. I would love to do more. I think that organizing this information into a workshop with a discussion of other people’s needs when it comes to caregiving would be wonderful.

FQ: What would be your strongest recommendation to the typical reader of this work – someone facing similar dilemmas, with or without a medical background?

ATTWATER: Read everything you can find. Look up diagnoses on the internet. Be sure you understand everything. Learn about all the medications you are giving to your loved one. When going to the doctor take notes; do not rely on your memory. If you have access to your doctor via their website read all the after-visit notes and be sure you understand them. Be a loud voice, be annoying if you must because your understanding of the medical issues is imperative to the care of your loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even more than one time if necessary.

There are times that even with my medical background I forget what the doctor said or recommended. I was always in the mode of getting Bill in and out of the doctor, making sure he had oxygen and was comfortable in the wheelchair. This sometimes got in the way of the doctor visit. I had too much going on to remember it all. Get help if you can, involve family if they are willing and be careful of your own needs as well.

Buy on Amazon

Monday, May 16, 2022

#BookReview of Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert

Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert

Written and photographed by: Carol J. Walker
Publisher: Living Images by Carol Walker, LLC
Publication Date: March 30, 2022
ISBN: 978-0578350943
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: May 13, 2022

Carol Walker, animal lover and advocate for America’s wild horses, offers her latest work, Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert, that will educate readers about the plight of these majestic animals, as well as bring tears to one's eyes.

Blue Zeus is the fascinating story of a wild stallion that stole Carol’s heart the day she first laid eyes on him. A beautiful blue roan, with numerous battle scars that told the story of fights he’d had with other stallions, the horse stoically guarded his small band as Carol photographed him, as well as his mares and foals.

Carol set to work photographing this mesmerizing band of horses and the pages of Blue Zeus are loaded with great photographs of them. Images of the mares peacefully grazing, Blue Zeus standing guard, and even a young filly “clacking” in submission to the herd sire, engage the reader and brings them into the world of wild horses. The author has done a fantastic job of capturing the life of a herd of wild horses.

About half the book is devoted to the daily life of Blue Zeus’s herd but then the narrative switches to recounting the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) roundups and removal of wild horses. Carol describes the heartbreaking sight of the roundup of wild horses by helicopter, as well as sharing photographs of the event. Terrified horses, mares and foals, confused and panicked, being herded into trap sites from which there is no escape. “It is the harsh reality of seeing wild horses that you know and love,” recounts Carol, “running for their lives from helicopters...It is a horrible feeling of helplessness…as I see a horse go down or rider roping a foal and dragging it in.” (pg. 79)

I first became acquainted with the artistry of Carol Walker when I discovered her book Horse Photography: The Dynamic Guide for Horse Lovers. She then wrote two books dedicated to wild horses, Wild Hoofbeats: America’s Vanishing Wild Horses and Galloping to Freedom: Saving the Adobe Town Appaloosas. All three are excellent, “not to be missed” books that feature Carol’s beautiful photographs to help tell the stories, particularly about America’s wild horses. The author has made it her mission to help save our nation’s vanishing wild horses and her books, including Blue Zeus will undoubtedly help bring attention to the cause. She does an excellent job of telling the herd’s story and gets the reader to care about their plight. Her recounting of the incredible frustration of dealing with government officials as she tries to save Blue Zeus and his herd from a very bad situation is enough to anger all readers. Let’s hope that this book will help bring much needed attention, and indeed change, to help these majestic animals live out their lives in the wild as they were meant to. Kudos to author Carol J. Walker for helping to bring the fight to the attention of so many through her beautiful book Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert.

Quill says: Stunning photographs and a compelling and fascinating story combine to make Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert a book that every horse lover, and indeed, every animal lover needs to read.

For more information on Blue Zeus: Legend of the Red Desert, please visit

#AuthorInterview with Paul Lomax, author of Amygdala Blue

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with Paul Lomax, author of Amygdala Blue.
FQ: You have an anthology that many authors don't venture in, by melding two genres in one text which you have done pretty impressively, I must say. How long did it take you to write the book?
LOMAX: Early in 2005, I wanted to author a hybrid book comprised of ‘arresting’ creative nonfiction and poetry, focusing on three powerful psychosocial themes: Religion, Racism, and Relationships. Amygdala Blue has been a personal and literary journey in the making for approximately seventeen (17) years. The indelible motivation and inspiration for the book culminated from my auspicious graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Master of Liberal Arts Program, where I focused on African American Literature and Psychology.
FQ: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
LOMAX: One of the challenges in writing Amygdala Blue rested with the assignment of specific creative nonfiction and poems to their respective category of Religion, Racism, or Relationships. For example, based on the underlying of the language, “The Unborn Salt” may have been selected for listing under the category of Racism. Another rather striking challenge for me as a writer, especially during my early years, was feeling uncomfortable about ‘opening the social spicket’ with the use of the N-word and shocking gun violence. But I soon came to understand the significance of the pairing of arresting psychosocial truth with the right literary environment (storyline)...
FQ: I noticed that some of the short story entries such as “My Imaginary Friend” and “My Mother's Song” are written in the first-person narrative and seem so real. Are they stories that you relate to?
LOMAX: First and foremost, all of the narrative stories in Amygdala Blue are creatively adapted from actual events. With the exception of the creative inclusion of The Holy Ghost, “My Imaginary Friend” is an authentic autobiographical snapshot capturing my religious upbringing in a strict Pentecostal home located in Washington DC. Providing a vivid environment from the innocent perspective of a seven-year-old boy in a single parent household to the readers, remained my literary intention. His young voice, and curiously observant spirit was necessary in the development of the Religion section of the book. In 1964, “My Mother’s Song” was the spiritual mission statement of her daily prayer and song, I wholeheartedly remember as powerful and quite real...
FQ: Is there a poem or short story that stands out as one you enjoyed most in Amygdala Blue? What are the reasons for this?
LOMAX: Yes, “Durn my Hide” is a personal expression of antebellum, post-reconstructionist musings, channeled from an authentic voice and time. Unquestionably experimental, undeniably raw, but true to cultural place and time. Because this poem evokes so much emotion, and unique qualities – including prominent rhythms, imagery, and compactness – the prose poem form and structure works best in showcasing its characterized intensity. In this poem, there exists an underlying complexity that challenged me for years to countless number of revisions. Through it all, though, I never thought about moving away from the stylized language. In fact, it was Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s seminal craft which inspired me to excavate deeper, dispel the urge to conform to postmodern vernacular; remembering to stay in touch with the odor, sight, and sound of the minute, hour, day poetically ‘captured’...Moreover, of an interesting note, I hail from several generations of African American farmers from Saluda, Virginia. A land enriched with the blood and sweat, and sacrifice of an African American history written far from history books presented to our postmodern culture. However, I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet any of my mother’s siblings or parents, but I was provided enough information from my mother about their incredible hardships and social struggles. Interestingly though, as I grew into manhood, attained higher education degrees, I could never shake my earthen archetypal memories; I continued to be haunted by the Southern African American voice fettered to land tilled from dawn to dusk, every day of every year. In its purest form, “Durn my Hide” is a revolutionary poem! As AndrĂ© Breton (1896-1966), co-founder of the Surrealist movement said, “The advantage of revolution was not that it gives mankind happiness...[but] it should purify and illuminate man’s tragic condition.”
FQ: Your main subjects in the text are relationships, racism, and religion. Is there a particular reason for this?
LOMAX: Absolutely! Throughout much of my academic and clinical research journeys, I’ve struggled with understanding – ‘overstanding’ – the Nature & Nurture of what we believe are our individual realities. Ultimately, I settled with the notion the basis for these categories rests with our language. Religion, Racism, and Relationships are universal constructs of personal realities easily identified by every reader within our postmodern social media world. At some point in our individual stage of human development, as we live and breathe, we will encounter curious aspects of religion, racism, and certainly joys and vagaries with relationships...As humans, we must understand and communicate our thoughts and experiences. In The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steven Pinker wrote:
...our language has a model of sex in it, and conceptions of intimacy and power and fairness. Divinity, degradation, and danger are also ingrained in our mother tongue, together with a conception of well-being and philosophy of free-will...They add up to a distinctively human model of reality, which differs in major ways from the objective understanding of reality eked out by our best science and logic. A close look at our speech - our conversations, our jokes, our curses, our legal disputes, the names we give our babies - can therefore give us insight into who we are. (p. vii)
FQ: The last story, “Serenity," is symbolic in its entirety. What was the inspiration behind it?
LOMAX: The symbolism in “Serenity” is wholeheartedly personal, and I sincerely hope with each and every reader, the same holds true for them, that is, individually appreciated, holistically determined… Individual experience and sincere introspection remain the key to self-knowledge and/or Maslow’s Self-Actualization...
FQ: How did you manage to balance both genres to fit in the plot development and the themes discussed in the book?
LOMAX: ‘Balance’ is such a wondrously, goal-oriented word, and is applied more fully to the previous question regarding “serenity”, as the author of Amygdala Blue, than to this query. In truth, during the entire creative writing process, I never consciously thought about attaining a balance between creative nonfiction and poetry in this book. The absolute goal for me was to make certain: 1) I stayed connected to my creative muse and that my spirit was sound when I write; and 2) that the sound, rhythm, and creative ‘taste’ of the individual piece matched or aligned with the literal definition of its respective categories – Religion, Racism, and Relationships.
FQ: What do you hope will resonate with readers upon reading this book?
LOMAX: In the midst of a crisis moment, I hope readers come away from reading Amygdala Blue with a resounding notion regarding the grounding and healing power of nature. For in nature, can we make sense of the world enveloping everyone, and thus understand who we are. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”
FQ: Do you intend to continue writing books having these two genres like you daringly composed in Amygdala Blue or would you perhaps want to pursue a different field?
LOMAX: Vive la diffĂ©rence! If I had my druthers, certainly I wouldn’t hesitate to board such a wondrous ship canvassed around the postmodern notion embodying the African American ‘Presence of Absence’ phenomenon, readying my mast to explore once again another unusual ‘hybrid’ literary voyage...Ultimately, though, this decision rests not just with my overall creative motivation and book reviews, but, of greater import, what my readers have to say about Amygdala Blue, as a whole...
FQ: What elements in your personality and talents led you to write this book?
LOMAX: Without exception, I chose to live a humble and simple lifestyle. For me, simplicity is the greatest panacea for that which ails the self. Not surprisingly, my writings tend to mirror the many journeys I’ve experienced over the years, the various people I’ve encountered – professionally as a clinical research scientist enthralling personal relationships. Having a well-structured Limbic system – the hippocampus and amygdala and anterior thalamic nuclei and a limbic cortex that support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior and long-term memory – is a blessing to any nonfiction writer! A solid memory and objectivity are delicious ingredients for the creative nonfiction and poetry process. They have provided a wonderful foundation upon which my bold writings imbibe, relish...

Sunday, May 15, 2022

#AuthorInterview with Lorenzo DeStefano, author of House Boy

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with Lorenzo DeStefano, author of House Boy.

FQ: How would you describe your creative process?

DESTEFANO: House Boy has been unlike any other writing adventure I have been on. I first encountered the true incident on which the book is based in 1995 while in London for a reading of a play of mine at the Greenwich Theatre.

The small newspaper article I read one day, about a young man’s trial for murder of his female “employer,” tapped into my existing interest in and revulsion for the phenomenon of modern slavery. What I found initially compelling was that this victim of domestic and sex slavery was a young man while the perpetrator was a middle-aged woman. This contrasted with the usual dynamic of female sex trafficking that I and many others had gotten used to.

After inquiries were made, it was arranged by the accused’s solicitor that I visit the convicted young man in Brixton prison in South London to discuss his case and interview him for a potential magazine article. In the novel, I transferred many aspects of this experience with that of Detective Jayawan Gopal, in that the day before my scheduled visit the inmate was deported to India. This was, I learned, one of the terms of his conviction for “manslaughter with provocation,” a lesser charge than “capital murder” because of the extenuating circumstance of torture and enslavement that came out at trial.

Disappointed but glad for his second chance at freedom, I tried for several months to locate this young man in Tamil Nadu State through private investigators, to no avail. This was not a person with any social profile, no footprints to trace. No amount of web surfing turned up anything.

I gave up on the piece, at least how I originally envisioned it. But this was that kind of story that gets a hold of a writer and will not let go. Unlike many of my other fact-based film & theater projects, there was very little documentary evidence to follow. There were no first person witnesses available. As a result, I decided after several years away from the piece to embark on a major creative journey and write the story as a novel.

I worked on it for many years, in between film and theater and other writing projects. On subsequent trips to the UK, I visited the location of the actual incident on Finchley Lane in the borough of Hendon, North London. I photographed every house on each side of the street, knowing that in one of these dwellings these horrific events had taken place. I observed a number trials at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, to familiarize myself with the UK’s completely different trial system. After inquiring of the Court if a transcript of the trial could be obtained, I was told that as a murder case these records had been sealed. I did manage, through the kind intervention of a clerk, to receive a copy of the 28 page Police Summary of the case, which proved invaluable and was the single greatest piece of research I obtained.

With this in hand, I embarked on voluminous research into a culture not my own. This was an incredibly challenging process. A better word would be daunting. I did my best to infuse Vijay’s desperate search for salvation during his ordeal in the Tagorstani’s house with the kind of Hindu and Tamil prayers I felt he, as a man of faith, would cling to for inner strength. I found out quickly that Indian culture is fiendishly complex, especially for outsiders. I was determined, as a western writer, to get the facts and the history and the language right. This took a very long time and much trial and error.

FQ: You are not South Asian, but you have lots of South Asian characters, aside from the protagonist, in the book. What motivated you to write this one? Do you have first-hand experience in witnessing a human trafficking incident?

Author Lorenzo DeStefano

DESTEFANO: While I believe that writers should be able to explore any subject under the sun, no matter their ethnicity, there is a special responsibility when the story is outside one’s life and cultural experience. From the beginning I knew that a major part of completing the manuscript would be to consult with a South Asian author or academic to help me eliminate anything inauthentic or just plain wrong. Through Atmosphere Press I met Falguni Jain, a young writer and book reviewer from Maharashtra, India. Falguni was extremely helpful in making certain that the many references to South Asian cultural & religious content were correct and that the rigorous rules of the caste system, down to names and customs and social attitudes, was authentic and indisputable.

The trust and support of many people have gone into this book’s completion, including everyone at Atmosphere Press for seeing the promise in the book and guiding me expertly towards publication. Most importantly, I need to send thanks and respect to “EMG”, the man I never met, who actually lived this story.

Other than my efforts to meet “EMG” I do not have any first-hand experience with human trafficking. I guess I should consider myself fortunate in this, though I do feel that by immersing myself in this story for all these years I have attempted to come as close as I can to what it would be like to be in a situation like Vijay’s, though nothing in a book, however well executed or intentioned, can compare to what goes on in real life.

FQ: Detective Inspector Gopal, like Vijay, is a South Asian character. Was this intentional? Do you think Vijay’s case would have been handled differently if the D.I. was not of the same race as the accused?

DESTEFANO: The character of Jayawan Gopal was always intended to be South Asian. I felt that his experience as an upper caste Brahmin, rising in the ranks of the Metropolitan Police, provided the ideal contrast to Vijay’s tragic experience in the new world. I do feel that the dynamic between these two would have been vastly different and much less interesting if the Detective Inspector were a white man or woman. Empathetic as he/she may have been, they could never have gotten close to understanding who they were dealing with. D.I. Gopal has a hard enough time despite he and Vijay both being from India. Their life experiences are worlds apart, universes apart in fact.

I also found that Gopal’s process in getting to know and understand Vijay mirrored my own attempts as a writer to meet the real character on which Vijay is based. I found it easier to find an overlap between my own frustrated experience trying to meet this young man in Brixton Prison in 1995 with Gopal’s attempts over the course of his investigation and the subsequent trial and conviction to get close to someone he had very little in common with, despite their shared nationality.

FQ: Why focus on Indian culture and its people? I’m sure there are other races who fall victim into and perpetrate human trafficking. When you did your research, was there a huge turn out of Indians among others?

DESTEFANO: In the process of writing House Boy, I came to understand a very sad reality - that domestic and sex slavery knows no cultural or geographic boundaries. This kind of oppression seems to lie so deep in the human DNA as to be something eternal, insidious, fueled by greed and a streak of cruelty beyond what most people are capable of, not to mention comprehend.

The criminal elements at work here should not be discounted, which is why I made Binda and her gang at the Pandit Advisory Group such experts at “affinity fraud”, the nearly foolproof method of criminal enterprise based on people lowering their guard when dealing with those they feel are like them and would, therefore, never abuse their trust.

All this makes for an unholy alliance of factors that create the roles to be played in this sinister drama called modern slavery – the oppressed and the oppressors. It’s like an epic play that never ends. The curtain on these actions never rises or falls. The drama just goes on and on, year after year, decade after decade, millennia and millennia, like a marathon session in this madhouse called humanity.

FQ: As a follow-up question to the last one, could you run us through the research you did? Where did you go, who did you talk to, and what did you find out?

DESTEFANO: I consulted with people at Anti-Slavery International in the U.K., Free The Slaves in the U.S., Human Rights Watch, and Kalayaan, a London-based charity which works to provide practical advice and support for the rights of migrant workers.

I also read a number of books on the subject of modern slavery, the most important being Kevin Bales’ The Slave Next Doorand Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

I watched a number of video news stories from India and all over the world covering cases of modern slavery. I also watched many times the amazing film, Bandit Queen, about the notorious Dalit woman, Phoolan Devi, who formed a gang of mostly male soldiers and took violent revenge on the upper caste tormentors who had repeatedly raped her at any early age and beat and humiliated her and her family over many years. After receiving amnesty, Devi stood for election to Parliament as a candidate of the Samajwadi Party and was twice elected as a Member of Parliament. She served in this capacity between 1996 and 2001, until the year she was assassinated outside her home by relatives of those she and her supporters had killed years before for revenge.

Researching House Boy was a fascinating but often unpleasant experience that exposed me to a very bloody and tumultuous history, one lasting thousands of years and crossing borders like an unstoppable virus, a pernicious disease.

FQ: Aside from the soulless people who make human trafficking a business, could we actually attribute the blame to its victims? Is there some kind of brainwashing that happens or are people who fall into this really naive in nature? Because from what I’ve read, Vijay seems to be clever. He may be poor, but he’s not dumb. How could someone like him fall for this huge scam?

DESTEFANO: I don’t believe that it’s right in cases like this to blame the victims. Probably it’s never the right thing to do. It’s like saying that a woman who is raped brought it on herself. This kind of violence and human rights abuse is deeply rooted in the psyches of the perpetrators, who may themselves not know why they are doing these horrible things. Something sets in called “caste privilege,” a kind of belief system that Binda and her son and other Brahmin characters in the books are definitely afflicted with. There are many victims here, but the true victims of serf suffering are those who are enslaved, not their keepers.

Vijay, as with the real character he is based on, struck me as an innocent in search of something we all hope to get out of life, some just treatment and reward for the work we do. He was too trusting, was in way over his head. And due to the kind of “affinity fraud” perpetrated on him by Mr. Gupta and Mr. Gopalan of the Better Life Employment Agency in Chennai, he falls for their glowing promises of a better life in the U.K. where he can fulfill his dream of earning money for his sisters’ dowries and improve the lot of his parents back in Chettipattu.

FQ: Again, as a follow-up to the last question. Why did you make Vijay stay at the Tagorstani residence even after the “deed”? He knows one way or another, this is going to be connected to him. He must have been eager for freedom. He must have wanted to ask for help and escape to contact the authorities. But he stayed - why?

DESTEFANO: At some point in Vijay’s captivity, as we have seen in other extreme cases of enslavement, “Stockholm Syndrome” sets in, which explains in part why he stays in the house on Finchley Lane after he has dispatched Binda. He knows no other place to go in this place called England. In a way he is finally at peace, a peace he knows will not last long, with Ravi Tagorstani soon to return from his business trip to Blackpool and demand answers about his mother’s whereabouts. Vijay knows he has committed a sin, no matter how justified, and that he will have to pay a heavy price for this. Try as he does to conceal his guilt with the most outlandish lies to Ravi and to the authorities he, as an essentially honest man, no choice but await his punishment for what he has done against the laws of God and Man.

FQ: Aside from exposing this harsh reality, is there another purpose for writing House Boy? Is this some kind of protest to wake people up and encourage people to do more to finally end human trafficking?

DESTEFANO: During this entire process, I became fascinated by the way the caste system seemed to jump so effortlessly from the ancient world to the so-called “New World”. Over many years of writing and rewriting this piece, a major motivation was to try and nail down as much as possible why this happens in human society and how, with this book, there may be a way to illuminate this situation for the better.

Despite my long experience in documentary filmmaking and as a writer of non-fiction, I did not want to write a rigidly “factual: piece. I felt that that being constrained by documentary facts, of which I had very few anyway, would not be the best way to create the scenes and situations I felt were necessary to paint a dramatic picture of this year in the life of Vijay Pallan. I was more after something that would keep me, as a reader, engaged from start to finish.

The risk with a piece like this is that you can exhaust the goodwill of the reader by being too relentlessly dark about what is taking place. Exhaustion sets in. Readers have been exposed to so much horror, so much human indignity, that the mere mention of something like modern slavery or human trafficking send people running for something more palatable to read or experience. I had to find away, and I hope I have, to make Vijay’s story so compelling, so captivating and powerful, that most people would tolerate the darkness of the piece in search of the light that does exist within it, the light of hope that can never be allowed to be extinguished.

What happens to Vijay and everyone else in this novel is no fairy tale. Despite there being no truly happy endings, I wanted House Boy to have some redemptive qualities. Largely through Inspector Gopal’s encounters with Vijay Pallan, we learn much about the harsh realities of human trafficking, the boundless capacity for human pain, and the ultimate blessing of even one man’s survival.

FQ: Vijay eventually got his justice. I’m curious if the other people in Sami Appan’s van also got theirs? Was the Pandit Group investigated and dissolved?

DESTEFANO: That’s a very interesting question and one I have not thought about before. In a tragic way these people that Vijay meets briefly in the darkened interior of Sami Appan’s van are, like him, nameless, faceless people being transported for purposes beyond their initial comprehension. They are there to feed the labor needs of people who see them not as fellow human beings but as creatures of service. Like millions of other citizens of the world, they count for next to nothing to those who control their destinies. They are fodder for the machine that is human exploitation. It’s a very sad and troubling fact that the vast majority of victims of crimes like this, as in Vijay’s case, never achieve any semblance of justice. They and their suffering become invisible to us. Their predicament is so enormous it is beyond out ability to process or comprehend.

As for the Pandit Advisory Group set up by Binda, I indicate in the book that it has been thoroughly exposed because of Vijay’s trial and Sheela Atwal’s damning testimony. As a result, this particular affinity scam and the people who ran it, namely Al Mohindar, Ray Nabob, and Sheela Atwal, will be serving considerable prison time for their fraudulent activities, though I did not go into too much detail about their fates other than to indicate that they will indeed be paying some price for their actions.

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#BookReview - House Boy by Lorenzo DeStefano

House Boy

By: Lorenzo DeStefano
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
ISBN: 978-1639882434
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: May 10, 2022

Wanting a better life, not only for himself but also for his family, Vijay Pallan travels from Chettipattu to the capital Chennai. He and his family are Dalits, untouchables, people belonging to the lowest caste in India. One would think that in the modern world, this kind of discrimination would no longer exist, but such is not the case for the Pallans. His actual motivation to get out of his hometown is not even his own dream - it’s for his twin sisters’ dowries. His family is getting more anxious every day that Amala and Sakhti, despite their good looks and warm dispositions, would never find their respective husbands because they do not have money. So, with everything that he’s got, even though that’s not really much other than a whole lot of courage, and hesitant goodbyes from his family, he makes this hopeful move.

Without a relative or any contact person in Chennai, the moment Vijay steps out of the bus, he roams around and starts looking for a job. When he made this decision, he was sure that there would be something here for him. But looking at the job vacancies in a newspaper, the positions look odd to him - he has never even heard of these kinds of jobs before! Tired, as the day approaches its end, he takes refuge in one of the benches in a children’s park. Vijay falls asleep there, still with no concrete plans, just a huge aspiration that tomorrow would present something better for him.

In the middle of the night, something noisy and painful wakes him up. A civet cat has attacked Vijay and he is now heavily bleeding. A nice man named Santhana Gopalan helps him out, takes him home to mend his wounds, and gives him something to eat. He even lets Vijay stay in his house for a few days until he has fully recuperated. Vijay could not believe his luck - what are the odds that he would find an extremely kind man in the capital who’d eventually offer him a job.

Mr. Gopalan soon introduces Vijay to his boss, the owner of Better Life Employment Agency, Narahari Gupta. Together, these two men lure Vijay to an opportunity of a lifetime in London. The moment Vijay met Mr. Gupta, everything happened so fast - he was given a breakdown of his fees when he got there, he underwent a lot of tests to assure his health and capabilities, then he was asked to sign some documents despite the contents not being explained to him well. The only thing that’s clear is that he will be sent abroad to serve an Indian family there. Vijay is promised that he doesn’t need to do or pay the employment agency anything. In fact, he’s the one who will be receiving 40,000 rupees as an advance when he accepts the job. When his test results came in and everything looked fine, Vijay was given instructions on what to do the moment he steps out of Better Life Employment Agency until he arrives at Heathrow Airport. With heartfelt thanks to the men who gave him this wonderful opportunity, as well as to the gods he’s always prayed to, he arrives in London with nothing but naive hope in his eyes. What Vijay didn’t know was that his life is indeed about to take a huge turn - but not for the better.

Even though Vijay’s story is fictional, it’s widely known that human trafficking is something that still happens in our world today, despite global efforts to stop it. These traffickers are taking advantage of a lot of innocent people who want nothing but to truly make their lives better. This makes Lorenzo DeStefano’s House Boy a painfully realistic expository. He discusses a lot of existing social and environmental problems and never lets you forget them through his haunting storytelling. His characters are as human as they can be - complex and deeply motivated.

In terms of world-building, DeStefano is consistently amazing. From Chettipattu to Chennai to London, he takes the readers not only into the character’s journey but also into the setting where it happens. House Boy, despite the harsh realities that it tackles, gives a vivid imagery of the towns and cities involved in Vijay’s travels. The book has just the right amount of details. Unlike other books, the string of facts does not bore you, it actually makes the story even more interesting. There are several typos found that make the narrative a bit confusing sometimes, but after a few re-reads, the reader would surely get what was supposed to be written. In terms of plot, the story could still be improved. Some parts seem rushed, not having any build-up at all. There are also parts that leave the reader with questions, hoping to get (non-existent) answers in the end. But apart from that, House Boy, overall, is a great read that would ground you and make you check your privilege.

Quill says: House Boy is a page-turner that is both enthralling and horrifying.

For more information on House Boy, please visit the book's website at: