The Change Guidebook: How to Align Your Heart, Truths, and Energy to Find Success in All Areas of Your Life
Thursday, April 28, 2022
#BookReview - The Change Guidebook by Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
The Change Guidebook: How to Align Your Heart, Truths, and Energy to Find Success in All Areas of Your Life
Meet Author Mark Herschberg
|Author Mark Herschberg|
Meet Author Mark Herschberg in his new author bio page at Feathered Quill Book Reviews. Learn about his book, The Career Toolkit, winner of a Gold award in the 2022 Feathered Quill Book Awards program.
#AuthorInterview with Stephen Baker, author of Donkey Show
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Dianne Woodman is talking with Stephen Baker, author of Donkey Show.
FQ: How did you come up with the premise for Donkey Show? Was there any specific motivation behind the writing of this story?
BAKER: When I was working as a reporter at a newspaper in El Paso, a photographer was beaten while on assignment across the border. He brought back a death threat for our lead drug reporter. The paper launched a successful crusade pushing the Mexican government to jail the drug lord.
For my book, I decided to build fiction around this event, changing crucial elements. What would happen, I thought, if it hadn’t been the drug lord who issued the threat, but instead underlings who wanted to topple him? The whole crusade would then be built upon lies and misunderstandings. The resulting story would focus on the hunt for what really happened (and who was behind it).
FQ: You created a perfect cast of characters with distinctive characteristics and competing agendas. Are any of them inspired by real people? If not, how did you decide on the characters and their personalities?
BAKER: I launched a few of the characters with the shapes and voices of people I know. But they diverged quickly, all of them going their own ways.
FQ: Why did you choose to write the story using multiple points of view?
BAKER: The whole story revolves around people who only know a piece of the story. So it was fun, I thought, to see how they were putting things together, and how their personal agendas colored their views and perceptions.
FQ: Was there any special significance in having events take place in Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas?
BAKER: The border is a wonderful place for misunderstandings and conflict. People often don’t understand their neighbors, and fill in knowledge gaps with speculation and prejudice. It was a great place to be a reporter, because you can be a foreign correspondent while covering local news. I’ve loved El Paso/Juarez from day one. It was also the scene for my previous novel, The Boost.
FQ: You did an excellent job of writing vivid and realistic setting descriptions. Have you lived or traveled to Juarez and El Paso? If not, what type of research did you conduct?
BAKER: I used to live and work there, and have returned many times since.
FQ: Was the corruption of law enforcement officers who faced no repercussions for their actions based on real-life examples?
BAKER: I don’t want to feed into anti-Mexico prejudice by harping on corruption. But as in many places, law enforcement in Mexico is often driven by politics and economics.
FQ: Do you think that newspaper stories play a prominent role in political views, government actions, and individual behaviors as depicted in the story?
BAKER: I placed Donkey Show in the past, in the 1990s, at a time when local newspapers carried much more weight than they do today. One thing we tend to forget is that back then, in those pre-Internet days, if you wanted to publish something, you had to get your foot into the door of a newspaper. You could not blog or post on Facebook. Newspapers, with their hierarchies of editors, had to open their doors to you. (Getting published is an obsession for one of the characters, Ruben.) The lies in a modern-day Donkey Show would bypass newspapers altogether. They’d revolve entirely around social media and text messages.
FQ: Could you explain more about the differences between the PRI and PAN political parties of Mexico that were referred to in the story?
BAKER: The PRI, or the (oxymoronic) Institutional Revolutionary Party, had run Mexico as a one-party state for about 75 years. The PAN, or National Action Party, wanted Mexico to turn into a multi-party democracy with freer markets and more entrepreneurship. Influenced heavily by the United States, the PAN was strong in the north. It was a historic change in 2000 when a PAN candidate, Vicente Fox, was elected president of Mexico. Since then, Mexico has developed a multi-party democracy. Sadly, though, criminal cartels now control important swaths of the country.
FQ: The North American Free Trade Agreement played a vital role in the storyline. What made you decide to focus on the trade agreement?
BAKER: NAFTA came about following the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was a time when many believed that free markets were going to remake the world, bringing people together and transcending borders. Plenty of cynics wrapped their own agendas into all of the hype and optimism. NAFTA was useful for Donkey Show’s story, because it promised to make at least a couple of the characters fabulously rich. This raised the stakes for them, and gave other characters leverage.
FQ: You have written a compelling thriller in which the ending leaves it open for the possibility of a sequel. Do you plan on writing one?
BAKER: I’d very much like to write a sequel. I’m hoping that the feedback I get from Donkey Show will provide valuable guidance.
#AuthorInterview with Kathryn Lund, author of The Things We Left Sleeping
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Kathryn Lund, author of The Things We Left Sleeping
FQ: What inspired you to write The Things We Left Sleeping, and specifically to write it in two alternating narratives?
LUND: I began writing The Things We Left Sleeping as part of my MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes. We were looking at how you can use and create different voices within your writing and how these voices can link to ideas of identity and aesthetics.
When I was twenty-four I lost my mum within six weeks of a cancer diagnosis. Not long after that I began to experience strange neurological symptoms. I would have no memory of watching or reading things I knew well; I would find time slipping or running in different speeds inside and outside of my head. The headaches I started developing at university became more frequent and my tendency to get stuck saying words began to worsen. Then I had a series of seizures and began a long struggle with my neurological health. These two things – a sudden and painful death and the loss of control over my own mind – had a profound impact on my ideas of who I was. My identity changed. I was no longer a ferociously independent, academically driven achiever. I was an incapacitated dependant who struggled to remember faces, to know when she was awake or dreaming, to relate to time structures such as days or hours, to carry a cup across a room. It changed how I understood myself. Several years into this struggle I was having an utterly awful day, and, with nothing else to do, I sat down and wrote a short story. I entered it into a small competition and won. I realised that although I had lost all else about myself I had not lost my ability or my compulsion to write. When I was then faced with the task of exploring identity through a unique voice it seemed obvious to me that I should use my own experiences. To take it as an opportunity to try and translate onto the page how language, words and writing had come back to me and helped me build a way out of difficult places.
This idea developed into the ‘Evie’ side of the narrative, a place where a mind comes back from blankness, from a literal empty page, to a sense an understanding of itself. The second narrative, the Stevie side, then provides the world outside of the mind, showing how trauma splinters out into the wider world, beyond the moments of that trauma. It also provides the necessary action in what would otherwise be a wholly reflective piece. So where Evie is in her mind, Stevie is all about her body; where Evie is reflective, Stevie is pro-active. It shows how healing is something that is done between people as well as on your own.
FQ: Are the characters Evie and Stevie based on anyone?
LUND: Evie and Stevie are both part of me. Evie is made out of my experiences with a neurological disorder and mental health battles. She shares a lot of my medical history: she is my way of explaining what it is like inside my head. Stevie is my confidence: she is the girl that, though she got knocked down, does eventually come back.
Beyond that, though, they are completely original people in their own right. Evie has some of my memories and Stevie looks like someone I once knew but they are also uniquely themselves and parts of them are quite independent from me. So though Evie’s family has lost a mother it is not my family; it has no sister like I do, no nieces and nephew. Stevie’s background is dangerous, mine is safe. It is perhaps easiest to say that they began as parts of me and then grew into separate people.
FQ: What one thing would you like readers to gain from reading this book?
LUND: I wanted to write a book that asked the reader to struggle because I struggle. If it takes you a while to orientate yourself in the text, to know what you are supposed to do, how you are meant to respond, then imagine that is what you must do each day of your life. I want the reader to gain that sense of struggle by experience in the hope that it stays with them far more than me repeatedly saying that I struggle.
FQ: Experiencing trauma can be extremely detrimental to mental health. Writing or journaling is often suggested by mental health professionals to work through the event and assist in the healing process. How has writing this story helped you in your life, and with your own trauma?
LUND: One of the hardest things about developing a neurological condition is that you have to explain what is wrong with your brain by using your brain. I found it far easier to explain it to a blank page than to a person. A blank page lets you go out in any direction; your understanding of what is happening to you doesn’t have to be linear. It can be a word, a picture, a sentence. Oddly, the emptiness of the page gave me a structure, something which my brain now sometimes struggles with.
It also gave me somewhere to preserve something of my mum. The character of Linda in the book is not my mum but she was a place to share something of her and the experience of losing her. So the way in which Evie’s parents Linda and Dave met is actually my parents’ love story. The scene where Evie’s family is standing around the piano is built on my memories of my mum playing as I went to sleep or how my sister and I would play with her on various instruments and sing. It gave me somewhere to keep her safe and that helped.
FQ: What was the most difficult part about writing this story?
LUND: The most difficult part was striking the correct balance. I wanted the book to challenge the reader and ask them to work hard but at the same time it had to make them want to meet the challenge and keep reading. It also needed to have a good balance between the fantastical, internal parts and the practical, external ones. Fortunately I had lots of great feedback in the early drafting and development stages, from my agent at the time Chris Wellbelove, from my writing mentor Steven Hall (The Raw Shark Texts) and from the brilliant staff at the Oxford Brookes Creative Writing MA. The stories then had to balance across the physical book but this was actually a helpful challenge as it ensured that the narratives moved together and that the premise that the two characters were journeying together, towards each other, was reflected on the actual pages.
FQ: On your website, you briefly mention neurodivergence, and being neurologically different. How has this both positively and negatively affected your writing?
LUND: It is far easier for me to think of the negatives than the positives because the negatives can seem huge and overwhelming. I struggle with screens, with lights and environments and this has a huge impact on how and when I can write. When you are in pain or recovering from it, and when energy is limited, it can be difficult to justify giving it to writing rather than, say, staying clean or making sure you eat. Sharing your work at poetry and open mic nights is difficult when the wrong light bulb can give you migraines. Mental illness struggles such as anxiety can be overwhelming, making tiny tasks seem huge. But there are positives, mainly that a different neurology leads to a different way of thinking. When you are turned sideways to the world you get a different perspective.
FQ: I love how you describe your other work, The Things We Keep in the Cupboard, as “...a collection of four short stories which reflect on lives not quite lived.” Would you tell our readers a bit about the book and the background to how it came to be?
LUND: I think a lot of people find the idea of how their life could have gone under different circumstances slightly fascinating. If my mum hadn’t died, if I hadn’t developed neurological problems, I would have completed my PGCE and be working in museum education. If I had revised better, or at all, for my A levels I would have gone to a completely different university for a completely different course. If I hadn’t… If I’d only… It’s a concept I struggled a lot with when learning to manage my illness, especially from a mental health point of view. I felt like what had happened had pushed me off the life I was meant to have and away from the person I had happily become. The four short stories in The Things We Keep in the Cupboard are all about lives that could have gone in a different direction. At the same time they explore other aspects of my mental health struggles, such as OCD, suicide and depression. That said, I hope they are actually quite positive stories, positive in that they come from facing up to and exploring these issues.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors and have they had any influence on your writing?
LUND: If I could only save the work of one author without a doubt it would be Terry Pratchett. He showed me that you can believe you are reading one thing, such as a comedy fantasy, and actually find that you are reading something else, like the most heart-breaking insight into people and society. He was a satirist and social commentator; he gave us Sam Vimes and Esme Weatherwax and he told us to “open our eyes and open them again.”
He was also the first author I had ever read who didn’t bother with chapters, he let you decide where the right place was for you to pick up and put down the story. You take the break in Terry Pratchett where you need to take it and I loved that, still do. I think reading him from when I was a teenager helped me to start to question structure and voice. His footnotes for example are brilliant, like having a second narrator who occasionally pops up to either agree with how silly something is or to make it more absurd.
I also avidly read Dorothy L. Sayers, the Ed MacBain 87th Precinct novels, Ysra Sigurdardόttir. Every book I read influences my writing because the more voices we hear the more we realise what parts of the conversation we want to take part in and what parts are missing and what we want to say.
FQ: Do you have any future writing plans?
LUND: I have a YA novel that I would love to find a home for. I also have lots of poems from my MA and I would like to get back into the habit of writing them. Poetry is like working out, you get better and feel better the more you do it but it can be quite hard to re-start. For the moment though I’d really like to concentrate on getting The Things We Left Sleeping out there. Writing is talking into an empty room, it’s only when the book is finally out there that you get to hear the other half of the conversation. It’s rather daunting but I’d like to hear it.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
#BookReview - Don't Poke the Bear by Robin D'Amato
Monday, April 25, 2022
#BookReview - Pioneer Passage (Journey of Cornelia Rose, Book 3)
Pioneer Passage (Journey of Cornelia Rose, Book 3)
By: JF Collen
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Publication Date: December 2021
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: April 24, 2022
J.F. Collen serves up yet another fascinating and delightful body of work in her third book, Pioneer Passage,of her Journey of Cornelia Rose Series.
It is June 1857, and the location is Plum Creek, Nebraska. Cornelia Rose Entwhistle (‘Nellie’) and her family have arrived at the banks of the North Platte River in Nebraska Territory on the Overland Trail. Gone are the days of civilized suburban dwelling. The memories of Sing Sing, New York will always have a place in her heart and soul, but the prospect of new adventures and beginnings is what wills one foot in front of the other for Nellie each day. The scenery is like none other she could have ever imagined. “...this scenery not only captures my breath, but it squeezes my heart full of elation! She thought. Nature presents to my view hill, valley, and mountains in every direction, changing my expectations of splendid landscape entirely from the countryside I loved in the Hudson Valley of New York. Here, I witness a more beautiful sight than I ever have beheld..." Barely into their journey in Nebraska the trail ahead and blue skies abound, Nellie has the fleeting notion of how devastating a sudden outburst of storm could change her adoration of such majesty. Little did she realize; her thoughts would prove more than thoughts in the not-too-distant future.
Nellie, in many respects, was a woman far beyond her time. She would often challenge her beloved husband, Obadiah. However, he was often quick to remind her of her place. Nellie’s job was to obey, tend to their two beautiful daughters, Elizabeth and Emma and make sure her husband’s meals were ready in a timely fashion each morning before breaking camp and every night once setting camp. While the journey may have started with ample supplies and sturdy transportation, that would soon change. The prospect of crossing into the unknown of Indian country, the bite of a poisonous snake, days without water, and perilous mountains to traverse, were waiting for the travelers, but nothing would sway the Entwhistle family’s end goal. They were heading to their new life in the Great Salt Lake City, and nothing would assuage the prospect of this becoming their reality.
I have had the pleasure of reading the first two installments in this fabulous Journey of Cornelia Rose series: Flirtation on the Hudson and Walk Away West. I confess I am a bit biased when it comes to this genre given my inherent love of history, but this is only part of the allure. What makes Ms. Collen’s books such coveted reads are her innate ability to master the art of marrying fiction with fact and the sensational life she breathes into her fictional characters; making them a part of the history. The color Ms. Collen applies in assigning life to each character is exceptional. The dialogue is believable and pays homage to the historical period: “We must listen to the menfolk… Balderdash… Verily the vast multitudes of emigrants remain ignorant as to the navigability of the trail…” Precise focus in setting up a scene that transports her audience back to the landscape and allure of the vast and open land in the 1800’s is one of Ms. Collen’s superb gifts: “…The majesty of the beautiful timbered islands dotting the Platte sings the praise of the Lord’s handiwork. So do the orioles warbling in the cottonwood. I must allow this gift of the Lord to wash over me and refresh my soul…” It is also quite refreshing to read the words of a writer who is unafraid to consistently address the notion of faith in a time when people genuinely believed this is what would guide and protect them through any mishap they would encounter. I applaud this author for writing another ‘must read’ in this series.
Quill Says: Pioneer Passage pays wonderful homage to the early settlers of this beautiful Nation.
For more information on Pioneer Passage (Journey of Cornelia Rose, Book 3), please visit the author's website at: jfcollen.com
Thursday, April 21, 2022
#BookReview - The Things We Left Sleeping by Kathryn Lund
#Authorinterview with Koye Oyerinde, author of Who Should We Let Die?
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Koye Oyerinde, author of Who Should We Let Die?: How Health For All Failed, And How Not To Fail Again
FQ: How long did it take you to write this remarkably wide-ranging book?
OYERINDE: I started taking notes and jotting down ideas about two years ago but it took about eighteen months of dedication to get the book through to publishing and release.
FQ: Will you offer the book as a manual for workshops/gatherings concentrating on this important material?
OYERINDE: The book will be a good study material amongst other books for students of health policy and management, especially those with a strong global health focus
FQ: Does writing about a botched system and the ways it might be changed and reformed give you a sense of hope?
OYERINDE: It is only possible to write this book from a hopeful position. Central to the health for all campaign was a grassroots organization around health issues. It is only active citizens agitating for health for all that will make it possible. I draw my hopefulness from campaigns by young people around the world against police brutalities such as the George Floyd demonstrations in the US, and the ENDSARS campaign in Nigeria. After all health for all is a social justice issue.
FQ: Do you use a fair dose of humor, as you did in your book, for speaking engagements regarding this material?
OYERINDE: I think health policy is a boring subject for the general public. I tried to use humor in my writing to lighten the boredom of readers. In speaking engagements, I am not naturally humorous, but it depends on the conversation and the vibes among the participants.
FQ: Would you recommend the book to those who work outside the medical profession but who might face similar pitfalls in work serving the public?
OYERINDE: Yes, the book will be useful for all who provide public services such as education, housing, and public safety.
FQ: Are there any nations that, in your observation, come close to offering the healthcare ideals you propose for all?
OYERINDE: We need not look far. The US Indian Health Service provides healthcare as a right of citizenship. In terms of other countries, practically every other Western country provides health services as a right. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is a good example. Cuba, a much poorer country, under decades of US embargo, manages to provide health services to its citizens.
FQ: Could you envision a documentary film concentrating on these issues?
OYERINDE: There have certainly been documentaries on related subjects. Michael Moore’s 2007 film, Sicko, focuses on the US health system.
FQ: What are your future plans as an author, speaker, and universal healthcare advocate?
OYERINDE: I hope that the book will provide a platform for me to continue to advocate for universal healthcare. I plan to author a few short pieces in local newspapers and academic journals soon.
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
#AuthorInterview with Rhema Sayers, author of Wind Out of Time
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Dianne Woodman is talking with Rhema Sayers, author of Wind Out of Time.
FQ: What was the reasoning behind your decision to write a story with your own interpretation of the Legend of Camelot?
SAYERS: I have always been very irritated with the Arthurian legends. Everyone is so noble and does all the perfectly wrong things, guiding them all down a road to disaster. They see it coming, but no one will use common sense.
I’ve always wanted to get in there and straighten that mess out. So I introduced a very common sense person in the form of a female FBI agent who is also strong, determined, smart, and can take on banshees if she has to.
Andrea rearranges the world of King Ardur (not quite Arthur) and wins the king’s heart. Some of her rearrangements are unintentional, but they are just as effective, either for good or bad.
FQ: What do you feel makes your story stand out from other versions based on Arthurian legends?
SAYERS: It has a happy ending. Did you ever read a version where Arthur, Lancelot, and a lot more people don’t die in the end and you walk away feeling depressed? That’s where mine is different.
FQ: Some of the characters are named after Arthurian characters. Why did you use some names from King Arthur’s time and create fictional names of other characters in the story?
SAYERS: The names of minor characters are not necessarily handed down over 1500 years. And many of my characters are my own creations, such as Aart and Tate, the thugs who turn into good guys, and Sarah and Julia, the maids/kitchen helpers. Most of the knights are named after someone in the Round Table. A few are fictional. Baron Claudius and his two goons are entirely fictional.
FQ: How did you choose Andrea as your main character? Is she based on a real person you know personally or as a passing acquaintance? If she was created from your imagination, how did you decide on her personality?
SAYERS: I was trying for a strong woman who was also flexible. She could find herself in the 5th century, meet King Arthur, throw a couple of knights around, and take over the kitchen while watching for the terrorist and making plans to free the serfs. The idea of turning her into King Arthur’s cook just came out of the blue. I hate to cook. My husband was a great cook and rarely let me in the kitchen.
Andrea knows how to make anything, given a few ingredients. It’s a way of breaking the ice between the two major characters.
FQ: What was the reason for your decision to have Andrea go back in time to the period of King Arthur’s reign?
SAYERS: The Wind sort of appeared in the story as I wrote it. I could see the mind-bending waves of color and non-color, faces, and scenes, hear the horrible cries and screams, and feel the plucking of the wind. Or is it the plucking of fingers or talons?
Once the Wind was there, it was obvious that Andrea was going to end up somewhere and somewhen other than the modern world she knew.
I’ve always been a fan of Mark Twain. His play A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is delightful. And I could just see it – An FBI Special Agent in King Arthur’s Court. Why not? So I thought about the legends and about all the stories I’ve read. And I decided to change things around.
FQ: How did you come up with the idea for the method used in transporting Andrea and the killer to the world of Arthurian legend?
SAYERS: It’s a not-uncommon trope for a time portal. A wind, a gate, a door, a pool, a storm. Something that blocks your vision of the other side and pulls at you.
FQ: In the story, swords are given names. Did people give names to their swords in the medieval period?
SAYERS: Well, Arthur named his sword, Excalibur. The legends give us the names of other swords. Lancelot actually had 2 swords, Secace and Arondight. Galahad also had 2 swords – Red Hilt and Strange Hangings. Percival’s was Laevatein, and Gawain’s was Galatine (although this name may have been gifted to the sword by Sir Thomas Malory in his epic Le Morte d’Arthur). Other swords of the Knights of the Round Table were Grail Sword, Courechouse, Coreiseuse, and Clarent. Now don’t ask me the meanings of the names. Maybe I’ll get into that in the next book.
FQ: Were you familiar with the legend of King Arthur before you started writing Wind Out of Time? Did you conduct research for the story, and what methods did you utilize?
SAYERS: I’ve been reading about Arthur and Lancelot, Guinevere and Igraine, Uther and all the rest since I was a child. I loved the story, but every one of the stories I read were true to the legend and ended badly. Screw the legend. I wanted a happy ending. So in comes Andrea of ‘Merica.
I did a lot of research for this story and found out why many scholars don’t think that Arthur was real or was a composite of two or three warlords. Trying to pin Arthur down and find out what he did and where he lived is largely impossible. The stories vary and change even in the same tale.
I also looked up things like when was coffee introduced into England (Andrea really, really wanted a cup of coffee), when were stirrups introduced, and a plethora of other facts. I didn’t look up everything and got dinged in one review for not knowing that tomatoes and potatoes were not available in the 5th century. What can I say? It’s an alternate universe and I can put in tomatoes and potatoes if I so please.
I tended to get lost in the research, reading about the real people who populated our world in the 5th century.
FQ: You named the dogs adopted by Andrea after characters in Alice in Wonderland - does that story have special meaning to you?
SAYERS: I have read a lot of Lewis Carroll’s works, As Andrea is being led along the path by Baron Claudius and as she begins to suspect the impossible, all I could think of was one of Carroll’s poems. And I thought the naming of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, otherwise known as Dee and Dum, was a gentle stab at the males in the story. Even though they wouldn’t get the joke since the word dumb didn’t take on the definition of stupid until the early 20th century.
FQ: Are you planning on writing any more fictional books that involve legendary figures?
SAYERS: I am planning to make this book into a trilogy. Andrea, Ardur, Lancelot, and Guin have a lot more adventures to go through. Oh, yes. And Denim.
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
#BookReview of Innovation & Imitation for Nations
#BookReview - Mushroom Rain
#BookReview - Light the Sky, Firefly
Monday, April 18, 2022
#AuthorInterview with Mark M. Bello, Author of You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Mark M. Bello, author of You Have The Right to Remain Silent (A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 8).
FQ: Thank you for such a phenomenal read! Since this is book number eight in your series, what is your approach in picking the topic/subject matter?
BELLO: Thanks for the high compliment. My approach is usually to pick out and write about a hot social justice topic in the news. Betrayal of Faith was about the clergy abuse crisis, Betrayal of Justice about anti-Muslim bias, Betrayal in Blue about white supremacy and the thin blue line of policing, Betrayal in Black about a cop shooting an innocent black man at a routine traffic stop, Betrayal High about a school shooting, Supreme Betrayal about the Supreme Court and sexual assault, and Betrayal at the Border about the border crisis. This time, I was reading an article about an incapacitated person and I wondered: What would happen if a lawyer was called upon to represent someone who could not participate in her own defense? Legally, such a person could not be tried until she is able to participate, but, of course, I write FICTION! I took creative license and had Zachary decide to proceed anyway and the rest is history. Long answer to a short question, but my topics usually come from real events that catch my attention.
FQ: In line with my previous question, I was intrigued to learn you have a real, live person as one of your characters - Sheri Belitz. While I read her note in the acknowledgements, I’m curious to learn how the two of you connected. She’s just the right amount of spice and sass and the banter between her and character Zachary Blake was great.
BELLO: Again, thank you for the kind words. I met Shari on LinkedIn where she writes terrific posts about juries, psychology, and lawyers. We connected. I began reading and replying to her posts, enjoying our repartee. I invited her to be a guest on my podcast, Justice Counts. She introduced me to an attorney who also hosted a podcast and I was able to discuss my books on her show. As I was developing You Have The Right to Remain Silent, I thought of Shari, jury consulting, and, perhaps, including a mock trial in the novel. I asked her about it and she gave me helpful tips about her service and how to proceed. I thought to myself: "She's super-bright, talented, beautiful, an expert in her field—why create a fictional character when I can use the real deal?" I ask her whether I could do just that, and she was very receptive (to say the least). The real Shari represents the insurance defense side of things, civil litigation from the defense point of view. Zachary Blake is a plaintiffs' and criminal defense lawyer, the opposite of Shari. Again, though, this is FICTION, and I made her a character who could and would change sides and help out Zachary. With her approval, I wrote her sections or description and dialogue, received her enthusiastic permission to continue forward, and created a compelling character, more than a match for the great 'King of Justice,' Zachary Blake. I had a lot of fun collaborating with Shari—I hope she did too and that we have not heard the last of her in the series.
FQ: You reference in your bio that you are a social justice advocate. Are you able to share what your most rewarding experience has been for you in this realm? Did the end play out with how you envisioned it would play out?
BELLO: Betrayal of Faith is a fictional account, based on an actual clergy abuse case that my law partner and I handled back in the day. At the time, clergy abuse was a dirty little secret, often covered up by the church. Victims were paid for their silence, offending priests were transferred from place-to-place. Members of the hierarchy lied under oath. The book is a fictional embellishment of how these various behaviors felt to a young lawyer (me), participating in a David v. Goliath type struggle for truth and justice for my clients. In the end, we resolved the case publicly, very favorably to my client, did not agree to any of the church's confidentiality demands, and notified parishes the actual priest was transferred to until he was, finally, defrocked. Since our case, many lawyers across the country and the world have been able to pursue justice for their clients. I'd like to think that our trailblazing experience with the conspiracy and cover-up helped pave their way. Side note: The priest from our 1980's era case was recently sent to prison in 2021 (he is in his late 70s early 80s) for additional sexual abuse crimes that were not disclosed (as required) in our litigation. I have never understood the church's policies relating to these cases—cover up, conspiracy, transfers, and pay-offs, wherever these guys went—who cares about the innocent children? It is despicable.
FQ: Some of the nuances you played out in this story track fairly accurately with what is actually going on in our society today when it comes to the press and reporting. Specifically, there is an exchange between Shari Belitz and person ‘Number Four’ during her sessions of assessment and information gathering. She queries the group on the role the press plays in a highly reported account of a gruesome murder to which ‘Number Four’ responds: "There’s no question the press spins these stories...They want to make the story as juicy as possible. So, yes, I believe they spin these stories..." What is your opinion on how the ‘reporters’ report a lot of the ‘news’ these past few years?
BELLO: I'm not a fan. I read Grisham, Silva, Baldacci, Patterson, North Patterson, Turow, Flynn, or Child (or even this Bello guy), to name a few. While these talented authors may have been inspired by an actual event, they write FICTION and don't pretend that there is no political bias or particular/slanted point of view. When I watch reporters present a news story, I want it to be factual, not sugar-coated or biased, one way or the other. We no longer watch the news, especially at the national level. We watch propaganda presented as the news
FQ: How much input did Ms. Belitz have in her character and how she was to be portrayed in the story?
BELLO: She approved the character, obviously. She read the first few chapters or concepts where her character appeared and developed, and was pleased with the content. She also provided a large amount of jury consultant content and input that I had to condense to make a readable novel. After that, the novel began to flow and she needed less input, but still read and approved. She's a terrific character and a great sport. Readers will love her, as I do. Thank you, Shari!
FQ: In line with my previous question, was there a moment of ‘agree to disagree’ in any of the scenes and if so, how did you come to terms with how it would play out?
BELLO: I am pleased to say that none of that happened. In fact, the only time it did, we incorporated it into the book. Did Zack need a focus group or a mock jury? What's the difference? After our discussion, I incorporated the back-and-forth into the book. It made for great dialogue and elevated her character.
FQ: I loved how ’Number Seven’ in the group defined ‘Schadenfreude.’ "...There are many different versions and contexts for the term, but the main point is that people seem to derive pleasure or self-satisfaction from learning about the troubles, failures, or even the humiliation of others, especially the rich and famous..." In your opinion, why do you suppose this is?
BELLO: That question is better presented to Shari, but my sense is that it makes insecure people feel better about themselves and their lives. In Betrayal of Faith, where Zachary Blake was first introduced, he was victim of this—certain people took great pleasure in his fall from grace. He fought back and made himself a better man and a better lawyer, but "Schadenfreude" is real.
FQ: Without giving too much of a spoiler, I enjoyed how the Southfield police joined forces with Zachary Blake to flush out the killer. Have you ever used this tactic in your law practice and what was the outcome?
BELLO: I had primarily a civil practice and never "joined forces" with the police. Zachary Blake, as you well know, has had many prior battles and collaborations with the police. Sometimes, like in Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, and Betrayal in Black.He fights with and collaborates with the police at the same time in the same novel. This is nothing new for Zack Blake but it would be new for me if it ever happened. Lawyers do need to "join forces" with cops to verify fault in many different types of accidents, especially auto accidents, something I used to do all the time.
FQ: Is there a real ‘Micah Love’ investigator in your world? How often did you laugh out loud when you were writing the exchanges between him and Zachary Blake?
BELLO: While Micah is crafted from a variety of people I know, love, have met along the way, there is no real investigator version of him. A lot of his "schtick" comes from my warped mind and reflects my sense of humor. In 46 + years of marriage, my wife rolls her eyes at a lot of my attempts at humor, but I think I am a very funny guy! Micah reflects, without a doubt, my own sense of humor, warped though it may be. And, yes, when I come up with dialogue for Micah, I sometimes laugh out loud.
FQ: Clearly, you have the quintessential ability and an incredible formula in delivering these thrillers. How difficult is it to say goodbye to your characters from one book to the next?
BELLO: I am topic driven not character driven, so it has not been too difficult. Besides, I have never written a character (unless he or she is killed) that cannot someday return in a future novel. I never write anyone (living) off. Who would you like to see in a future novel?
FQ: It was such a pleasure to talk with you today and I thank you for your time. I can only hope there is a book number nine in this series in the works. If so, any chance we can get a sneak peek? If not, what’s next?
BELLO: I have no series novels projects in the works right now—I'm developing concepts and ideas as we speak. But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy...
I recently released a cookbook (The Blake-Lewin Family Cookbook of Traditional Jewish Recipes), written by Zachary Blake 'as told to' Mark M. Bello. What do you think of that? Fun, no? The cookbook is available as an ebook or paperback for purchase on Amazon and other online booksellers. It is a whimsical look at my own family history, with real family recipes (with pictures) from the old countries, some over a century old. The cookie-dough apple pie, trifle, banana cake, Hamantachen, and German chocolate cake recipes, to name a few, are to die for. In a previous question, you asked about Micah's sense of humor, and his type of humor is graphically on display here, with funny stories and family anecdotes, some of which are true or based on actual events. The book was a departure for me, a fun project 'written by a fictional character.'
I am about to release my first children's series social justice/safety picture book, Happy Jack-Sad Jack, A Bullying Story, a compelling look, from the eyes of a bi-racial child, at what it feels like to be bullied on your first day of school, and what kids, parents, teachers, and administrators can do about it. I have long felt that certain social justice and safety issues are reaching children too late in life. Nelson Mandela once said:
"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite...Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."
I intend this series to provide social justice and safety lessons to small children, effectively, sensibly, in a kid-friendly way. Hopefully, we can make things better, one reader at a time. Thanks for having me.