Friday, March 24, 2023

#AuthorInterview with N.R. Alexander, author of Go To Hell


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with N.R. Alexander, author of Go To Hell.

FQ: As a writer, what was your aim in writing this book? Did you want your readers to consider a different interpretation of Heaven and Hell?

ALEXANDER: A friend once told me that the coolest thing about me is the way I get other people to think. I want people to challenge their own beliefs and really test their boundaries. When you do that, you naturally become more creative. Heaven and Hell were obvious targets for this exercise because those concepts are so ingrained in our culture, yet we can’t definitively say what they are actually like. My aim was also to push other boundaries. What is funny? What is offensive? What is both?

FQ: I love the title of your book, Go To Hell. It's definitely an attention-getter. Were you ever worried that some potential readers might be put off by the title or were you planning on the opposite, that readers would be drawn to the book because of the title?

ALEXANDER: Worried is an understatement. Go To Hell was a working title as I wrote the book and I soon realized that it was the perfect name. But when it was time to publish, I spent a good week or two agonizing over it. I loved the title but also wondered if Amazon would ban it or if potential readers would be offended. I decided the answer to both questions was probably. But Go To Hell is the book’s identity! It would be the equivalent of taping a tail on my cat before guests come over. Sure, he’d look like a normal, run-of-the-mill cat. But that’s not who he is. He’s a tailless cat with a droopy butt and he’s proud of that! Go To Hell likely appeals to a niche audience and I want that to be clear from the beginning.

FQ: Why make the devil a woman? It was an interesting twist on a figure that has been portrayed through time as a man.

ALEXANDER: Women are so powerful. All of the best leaders and mentors in my life are/were women. Men are often in positions of power, but oftentimes they shouldn’t be. If the devil were a man, Hell would probably go bankrupt. Lucy challenges Alex (and readers) to look at Hell with an open mind and to see it with a competent, multifaceted ruler.

FQ: If you were Alex, would you have taken the deal? Would you do anything differently?

N.R. Alexander

ALEXANDER: Oh hell no, I would not have made a deal with the devil. But that’s because I am boring. I’d have been like “What? The devil wants to make a deal with me? Sounds too complicated. I have to go home and walk my dog anyway.” I would have done everything possible to make sure nothing interesting happened. That’s why the book is about Alex, not me.

FQ: Speaking of Alex, did you pattern him after yourself? I read that you're also a marketing consultant, and your pen name, N.R. Alexander, is similar to the protagonist's name. How similar are you to Alex?

ALEXANDER: Was it that obvious? 🙂 We do have similar career experiences and have dealt with some similar relationship struggles. Alex is probably some variant of me in the multiverse who split off in like 2015. Since then, he and I have made totally different decisions. We have different motives and passions. But even though we have a similar origin and both share a love of sweet potatoes, his name actually is not related to my pen name. I had made a list of 25 names for my main character. None of the others felt right. He is 100% an Alex.

FQ: There is a lot of humor in your book, and it kept the mood upbeat (as much as a story about Hell could be upbeat!) and the story moving. How hard was it to get that humor in there, and do you think without it, the story would have gotten too dark?

ALEXANDER: I’m glad you thought it was funny. I need validation often because I worry people just think I’m some kind of deranged weirdo. The humor was actually pretty easy to fit in. Sometimes, a funny concept would pop into my mind and simply knew that I had to get it into the book so I’d write a chapter or change part of the plot to help get the story there. It sounds like putting the cart before the horse, but isn’t it all about the cart anyway? The dark parts actually came easily too. Maybe too easily (see the ‘deranged weirdo’ comment above). I’m so glad the book has both though because if there was no humor, this story would have been a gruesome downer. I’m currently working on another story that is more serious so I’ll probably tone down the gore to make sure it doesn’t get too dark. Humor, darkness, gore, etc. are all just dials that have to be carefully calibrated. If you crank them all up all the time, the result is just a lot of noise.

FQ: If you could make your own version of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, how would they look?

ALEXANDER: I’d painstakingly map them all out in spreadsheets and flowcharts but here is the summary version:

1. Hell would be that party your friend dragged you to when you were in your twenties. You don’t know anybody there so you get really drunk and then you want to leave but your friend keeps saying “in a bit.” You never leave.

2. Heaven would be a cocktail reception where all of your extended family talks about the shows they’ve been watching. Oh my god, you haven’t seen Yellowstone yet?

3. Purgatory would be a hot and stuffy subway platform in New York City at 2AM. You’re dead tired but you can’t go to sleep yet. You look at the sign and it says “Next C train in 20 mins.” Then you look at it ten minutes later and it says “Next C train in 30 mins.”

...As you might guess, I don’t want to go to any of these places. I like being alive on Earth.

FQ: Given the statement on the front page of your website, "Waste time with social media," I take it you're not a fan of social media. Would you advise other authors to skip the madness that is being pushed (Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, etc.) and instead focus on writing?

ALEXANDER: This is a tough one. If I could get in with a trending Book Tok or Bookstagrammer, then it’d be different. Or maybe if I could just get that one post that goes viral...It’s unlikely so I do very minimal social media. I even have a timer on all of my apps to make sure I don’t get sucked in. If it takes me more than five minutes to post, my app locks down and I can’t get back in until the next day. This helps me make sure I spend time writing and working instead of scrolling. If I had to give advice, I’d say “know exactly what you want to do before you open Instagram/TikTok. Then do that thing and only that thing. Then do something else that is important in your life.”

FQ: Might we ever see a children's book about your paleontologist cat? Perhaps more sophisticated than the crayon version you once penned, but it sounds like it could be a fun book.

ALEXANDER: Oh boy, I think that ship has sailed. Writing a children’s book would be really fun but I’ve actually heard that it’s much more difficult than writing a book for adults. Also, when I was a kid, I got carried away with the illustrations. Crayons were certainly be a part of it, but I also used to tape chicken bones to the pages to make it a multisensory picture book! I just don’t think parents would appreciate that though.

FQ: Is there going to be a sequel to Go To Hell? The ending was a good start to what could be a whole new plot.

ALEXANDER: Absolutely. Get ready for some thrillers where Alex and Nat pursue hellishly gifted villains and solve paranormal mysteries. You might even see some stories that exist in the same universe but with totally different characters and of totally different genres. Aaaand, Alex might actually publish his book someday under his name...You can get all those juicy details from my website.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

#BookReview of Go To Hell by N.R. Alexander


Go To Hell

By: N.R. Alexander
Publisher: Pixel & Moogley
Publication Date: February 25, 2023
ISBN: 979-8987868003
Reviewed by: Risah Salazar
Review Date: March 20, 2023

Alex Ometto’s dream is to be a successful writer. The problem is, he is not that great of a writer, but he is a fantastic marketing consultant - his day job. Though he is amazing at his day job, it does not really satisfy him, and leaves him feeling empty. As the days go by, he gets more and more frustrated. His girlfriend, Sara, would have been his best source of emotional support, as he does not have any close family members, but he cannot exactly remember when their conversations became strained and robotic. Plus, Sara is not particularly enticed by the stories Alex writes. It’s official - Alex’s life is completely falling apart.

One day, he receives a call from his best friend, Ernie, asking to meet. As if a blessing from the universe, Ernie eventually tells Alex that he has found the solution to everything, the key to life itself. But Ernie’s news is not philosophical or existential in nature. If it had been, Alex would have grabbed the opportunity as soon as Ernie dropped it on him. Ernie's news is completely unbelievable. As it turns out, Ernie has made a deal with the devil, and now he gets everything he wants - as simple as that. He even shows Alex some proof, but Alex is just too perplexed to accept it as truth.

Now, curiosity just won’t let Alex sleep. After some time, he traces his steps back to the tattoo parlor where Ernie confirmed the devil does her business. Wanting to “know” but not exactly “believe,” he finds himself a spot in purgatory in the afterlife. But this is not what Alex wanted; now he has to trade his soul for a spot in Hell. Actually, it’s more than a spot - he gets half ownership of Hell - if he can gather a million souls to sign up for Hell before Easter. This might be a good plot to write, but Alex does not need his writer's brain for this to work. He has to be the great marketing consultant one last time. With a special phone, a demon, another consultant, and a wrestler-turned-actor at his disposal, Alex has six months to complete this magic trick. But time slips through his fingers as he realizes this deal is not exactly what he thought it would be. Will Alex succeed and make it to Hell?

N.R. Alexander’s Go To Hell is a short but interesting read. It will take the reader to unexpected places, leaving them with confused emotions. It is fast-paced and alluring; it's too hard to put down. Though there are certain points in the plot that need justification, in general, it’s a good satirical comedy. And while the climax is questionable, the resolution is actually quite good and ties everything together.

Quill says: Go To Hell is funny and exhilarating, although the storyline could be improved for a more seamless reading experience.

For more information on Go To Hell, please visit the author's website at: www.nralexander.com/

#BookReview of The Merchant From Sepharad


The Merchant From Sepharad

By: James Hutson-Wiley
Published by: New Generation Publishing
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
ISBN: 978-1803696591
Reviewed By: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: March 20, 2023
Author and scholar James Hutson-Wiley presents the third segment of his saga set in Europe and the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, fleshing out cultural and religious ambience through the eyes of a young Jewish man, Joshua Ben Elazar in his newest book, The Merchant From Sepharad.
Joshua’s tale, told in first person, begins when, at age eighteen, he is sent from Sepharad (Iberia, or Spain) by his father, a successful merchant, to start a new business in Lishbunah (Lisbon, Portugal). He is given a stash of gold ornaments to present to his contact, Essua, to form the groundwork of the enterprise. Arriving in the port city, he gets an introduction to adversities to come: because he is a Jew, the customs official seizes his gold and informs him he must pay an entry fee to reclaim his goods. Essua and others assure him that this treatment is standard for those of their religion.
The attempt to recoup his loss is the beginning of a lengthy journey that will take Joshua ever farther from home, becoming involved in what seems a justifiable killing, raising the religious and philosophical quandary of vengeance. He will see firsthand the evils of slavery, again forcing him to question some beliefs common at the time. He observes the differences that run deep between his Israelite family and those of Muslim, or Ishmaelite, faith, and begins to comprehend the beliefs of Christians as well. Joshua seems doomed to fail at commerce, but he excels in scholarly pursuits. Advised by a rabbi to study religion, he must learn Hebrew script, making a deep study of both Torah and Talmud. His travels continue, resulting in meeting a beautiful young woman named Hannah, and further entanglement in international and inter-religious intrigue. With help from allies including a giant former slave named Blazh, Joshua heads towards Yerushalayim – the Holy Land.
Hutson-Wiley pursued a career in international trade and finance that led him to many of the locales and cultures with which this book, and its predecessors, are infused. His writing combines a rich, pictorial imagination as well as diligently researched historical detail. He has appended a helpful Glossary of the many foreign names needed for the story’s authentic feel. Into his narrative he weaves such notables as the Jewish sage Maimonides, a child at the time when Joshua meets him. Joshua is a fully rounded character, berating himself for his failures as a merchant while modestly realizing aspirations as a student and teacher. Through a wide range of perils and triumphs, Hutson-Wiley’s hero remains faithful to family and spiritual vision.
Quill says: Hutson-Wiley has received awards for previous works leading to this addition to the collection, for which he is certain to garner yet more positive attention and praise.

Monday, March 20, 2023

New Award Sponsor!




We're excited to announce a new sponsor for our annual award program. Goodkindles will be sponsoring an award for the best Mystery/Suspense book, starting with our 2024 program. Nominations for the 2024 program open August 1, 2023. Check them out today!
Goodkindles Award for Best Mystery/Suspense Book - This award includes a Professional Option that allows the winner to schedule a book promotion on Goodkindles and all their social media channels, and also a Main Banner graphic advertisement on Goodkindles in the selected month. The value of the award is $165 (Professional Option - $45, Main Banner - $120).

Thursday, March 16, 2023

#BookReview - Ourman: Book 1 by Gilgamesh Uth


Ourman: Book 1

By: Gilgamesh Uth
Publication Date: January 17, 2023
ISBN: 979-8201157418
Reviewed By: Kathy Stickles
Review Date: March 14, 2023
In any culture's history, there is always a hero who seems to appear to guide others in shaping the ideas of what is best for the world they live in. In Ourman: Book 1, by Gilgamesh Uth, we meet such a hero, named Steven, and follow along on his journey.
As the book opens, we meet a young lion who is speaking to his grandfather and asks him, “Is there not one human we respect?” His grandfather proceeds to take him to another part of the jungle to speak with the leader of the Okapis. He asks this leader to tell his grandson the legend of man so that the young one knows that such a human does truly exist. There begins the story of Ourman, in this case a man named Steven. The novel explores the journey of Steven, a man who has ended up on Earth with his wife, not having any idea of why he is there or where he came from. Now these two people must find a path forward in what is their new life and reality. Of course, as in any good story, a group of events will happen that will separate these two people and send our hero on a different path where his identity is full of mystery and there is the possibility of him being destroyed completely. What will happen to our hero as he goes forward and tries to make his way? Will he ever find his wife again? Will the ups and downs of his new path bring him back home or send him further away? The reader will discover the answers as the story progresses - and it's a story I recommend you read.
Ourman: Book 1 is philosophical in its telling and the author does a very good job engaging the reader. The characters in the story all have a reason to be there and are important, not only to the main character but to the background of the entire story. Mr. Uth uses each of these characters in the best way to tell a truly enthralling story, involving legends and beliefs from other cultures as they all, in their own way, become a part of Steven’s journey to figure out his past and succeed in his future. The way that Mr. Uth writes the main character as a hero, but also shows the depth of the man beneath, is really exceptional and makes for a captivating story. In addition, the author has a talent for writing in such descriptive language that the reader feels they are truly in these places and can experience what they are like right along with the characters in the story.
If there is one criticism about the book, it would be the formatting. On some pages there are indents at the beginning of the paragraphs and on some pages there are not. In some instances there is proper spacing between paragraphs and in some instances there is no spacing between them. A proper editing of the story so that everything is the same would go far in making the book a bit easier to read. All of the differences on the pages can, at times, be very distracting.
Overall, this is a fascinating and interesting novel that will lead the reader to ask themselves a lot of questions. The story of a hero is fixed in so many different cultures and this one is told very well. It is a must-read for anyone who enjoys an insightful book that will make you think. In addition, the story is left open at the end so the reader is hopeful for more adventures for Steven and the other characters as they continue forward on their path. It leaves us knowing that there is more to come and I, for one, cannot wait.
Quill says: As readers we always hear of legends such as Robin Hood or Mulan, or even Zorro - figures that come from fictional stories who exemplify what a hero should be. To the reader, they are hope for the future and I think that Ourman: Book 1 gives us just such a hero.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

#AuthorInterview with James Robinson, Jr.. author of I Injured My Foot Doing the Mashed Potato


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with James Robinson, Jr., author of I Injured My Foot Doing the Mashed Potato: Or...I Should Have Stuck With the Twist.
FQ: Your book recounts different encounters you have had in life. What inspired you to detail them in a humor book instead of a memoir?
ROBINSON: I prefer essays to a memoir because individual essays or anecdotes are much more flexible and lend themselves to different subjects and my style of writing. With an essay, I can tackle any subject and interject my own background and feelings into that subject if I wish. For instance, I talked about a poker game in hell, but that certainly wouldn’t be a part of a memoir.
Each essay tells its own story. I have three other books that are also in anecdotal style. A memoir wouldn’t me to put out that much material and would cramp my style.
FQ: You have literally allowed readers into your world by sharing both positive and negative events. What have kind of impact do you expect these episodes to have in their lives?
ROBINSON: My main goal is humor and I get a thrill when someone tells me that they laughed out loud at a particular chapter or phrase. So, if my words brighten up their day, I’m happy.
On the other hand, there are chapters that delve more deeply into my life than others. One chapter that I seem to have gotten more feedback on is “The Fragment” which goes all the way back to my grade-school days. This essay tells readers, in satirical fashion, the big deal that was made of a simple fragment I wrote in one of my grade-school papers, how my life was affected by the fragment, and how I have taken command of the world of punctuation. It’s ironic that one fragment has had that kind of effect on me.
Another chapter, “Reel to Real,” speaks of my journey into manhood from age 12 to age 13 by tying it into the world of movies and how much scrutiny I was under getting into a movie at age 12. I was “big for my age” trying to buy a child’s ticket but looking like a 15 year old.
My hope is that readers, as they chuckle, can relate my situations. While they may not have had the same experiences, hopefully they will relate on some level.
FQ: Your book is full of humor and readers most definitely find themselves bursting into laughter here and there. Do you have any experience in standup comedy or something similar?
ROBINSON: Thank you for the compliment. No, I don’t have any experience in the world of stand-up comedy although I have often thought of routines that I might use and what it might be like to get on stage. But I know how difficult it is getting on stage by yourself and trying to make people laugh. I have also come to realize that comics have a drive to be comedians and to get on stage any way they can early in life. Eddie Murphy called around to clubs and booked his own gigs at age 15. He was a regular on SNL at 18.
Famous comics such as Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, and David Letterman all flocked to the west coast at a young age simply because Johnny Carson was there. A spot on his show made their careers.
My sense of humor comes largely from Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby. I only hope Bill was behaving himself at the time I idolized him.
FQ: Were there any events that you were “on the fence” about including? If so, what was the final deciding factor to get you to write up that story?
ROBINSON: There was one chapter in the book that I fretted about putting in the book or not. The chapter, Things Change, deals with my mother agonizing over my son-in-law eating a plate of spaghetti on our couch. This is a woman whose favorite saying has always been, “There’s nothing Eternal About It.” Now suddenly at age 93, she’s bugging me about a 43-year-old man eating on the couch, a man who is very generous with his time, constantly doing little things for us around the house.
“It’s a new couch,” she keeps saying.
I kept telling her it’s not new and we got it at a discount furniture store. Let the guy eat where he wants.
“But, son, it’s spaghetti sauce,” she reiterates.
I was worried what she would think if she read it but, sadly, I realized that she doesn’t really read anymore due to senility so I left in.
FQ: Likewise, was there an event/life experience that, because of space, you had to leave out of the book? If so, would you briefly share it with our readers?
ROBINSON: I have written an essay that examines the phenomenon of people not wearing a coat in cold weather. I just don’t understand how I can be wearing a hoodie with a winter coat over it while someone else is wearing a short-sleeve shirt. It boggles my mind. Aren’t they cold? Don’t tell me you’re just going from the store parking lot to the store. It’s 30 degrees; it’s cold as hell going from the parking lot to the store.
This trend seems to be a new thing. Everyone wore a coat when I was growing up. I relate how, when I was younger, coat buying was a science. My mother bought my coats with the sleeves coming down to my fingertips so that I could “grow into it.” Unfortunately, this essay was just too long to put into this book.
FQ: I’ve heard it said many times that writing a humorous book is very difficult. Did you find this to be true, or did the words flow naturally to the paper, or more accurately, to the computer? If injecting humor did take some effort, what were some of the challenges you experienced?
ROBINSON: Actually, humor comes pretty easily to me, especially humor of the sarcastic, satiric ilk. I sketch out an idea with pencil and paper and the humorous ideas begin to come at his time. Then when I begin to flesh it out, I can sometimes hear the humor coming before I can it down. I’ll chuckle knowing what’s coming. However, writing isn’t like speaking; I can go back and punch up my lines and humorous touches as much as I want. Sometimes, if I haven’t seen a piece of work for a while, I’ll read it over, chuckle, and say, “that’s pretty funny.”
Then I’ll chastise myself. “You’re laughing at your own stuff.”
Then I’ll figure, “Well if I don’t laugh at it, who will?”
FQ: I feel that you are a very gifted humorist, and it would be great to read another similar work. Do you have any plans of doing another humor book or might you prefer to write another genre?
ROBINSON: Thank you. My wife probably wouldn’t agree. I am developing ideas for my next book; however, I have 3 books out now that are similar in nature to this one. Old Age Sucks was my last book. As the title indicates, it deals with the effects of old age and includes such chapters as: So Long Libido: It’s Been Good to Know Ya’, and Cortisone or Hell Yeah, I’ll Take a Shot. The book prior to that one was Jay Got Married which features 9 essays one of which a commentary on love and marriage in the 2020’s.
And my very first book, published in 2012, was Fighting the Effects of Gravity: A Bittersweet Journey Into Middle Life. All of these books are humorous and structured in much the same way as this one.
FQ: I am sorry for your foot condition. Did it affect you in any way while writing this book? If so, how?
ROBINSON: Thank you for your sympathies. No, my foot condition doesn’t affect me at all when I’m in a seated position, but boy when I walk down stairs or even just plain walk. I’d like to get a dog but I just couldn’t walk it.
And trying to find shoes for this right foot is crazy. My foot was a size 11 ½ in my prime of life, then it jumped to a 12 wide (which I documented in Fighting the Effects of Gravity), and now has spread out to a 14 4EEE which I pointed out in Old Age Sucks.
And I can’t try on shoes in a store. I have to order them online and play a game of send the shoes back and buy some more if they don’t fit.
FQ: What inspired you to look at your difficult moments positively?
ROBINSON: I think a lot of my positive thinking comes with age and maturity. If you’ve lived 70 years like I have and don’t have a sense of humor to be able laugh at the small stuff and the maturity to know that, as mother used to say: “There’s nothing eternal about it,” then you’re setting yourself up for an unhappy life. How are you going to handle the big issues that are inevitably going to come your way? When an every-day occurrence comes along that I’ve experienced before and that I know I worked out well in the past I simply say “this worked out well before, why get excited about it now?” Or as Abraham Lincoln was known to say: “This to shall pass.”
FQ: It is said that a positive perspective gives you an advantage in life. Your book offers a challenge to developing this crucial skill. What can you tell your readers that has not been suggested in your book about shifting their perception in order to stay satisfied and happy?
ROBINSON: Good question. I think I touched on this issue in part in question #9 but a lot of my so-called wisdom comes from the, been there, done that philosophy. I have often heard people say, “Now I’ve seen everything...or “If you live long enough you’ll see a lot of things you’ve never seen.” Well, I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot. And one thing that I tend to ask is, “What’s the worse that can happen?”
I won’t lie. While there are some serious events in life that can test your resolve, leave you physically and mentally broken, most things that happen are of the “s**t happens” variety. Why get all “bent out of shape” when you’re late for a doctor’s appointment when the worst that can happen is they turn you away. You make another appointment and when you look back on it you wonder why you got so worked up.
What’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes, it can be bad. But most times, what’s the worst that can happen?

#AuthorInterview with Cynthia J. Bogard, author of A History of Silence


Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Cynthia J. Bogard, author of A History of Silence (Book One of the Heartland Trilogy).
FQ: What a fantastic body of work you have written, and it is an honor to speak with you today. I’m going to jump right in because there are so many moving parts to this phenomenal read! There is believable life you have given to each of your characters. If you had to choose one who resonated most with you who would it be (and why)?
BOGARD: I wrote the first draft of this novel when I was 26. At that age, Jane reflected my emotions, my love of nature, and my aspirations (I hadn’t yet gone to graduate school, but like Jane, education was always a main interest of mine). When I returned to the manuscript at the end of my academic career 35 years later, it was Maddie that I related to most naturally, particularly her questions about how to be in the world and how to do the right thing. These two are united by their love of university life. When I wasn’t crying in frustration, I loved graduate school. When I wasn’t too busy to see straight, I loved being a professor.
FQ: With reference to your bio, I enjoyed your statement of "...reinventing yourself as a novelist after a successful career as a Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Hofstra University in New York..." What was your defining moment to choose this path?
BOGARD: The beginning of the pandemic lockdown. With the transition to Zoom classes, I suddenly didn’t have an hour and a half commute each way. I couldn’t travel abroad. I moved up my retirement by a year. So, I had the gift of time. I took out the manuscript I had written in the 1980s and began to revise it. In doing so, I remembered how much I liked writing fiction. I have many stories in me needing to get out. So, lots of pleasurable hours ahead!
FQ: In line with my previous question, there are deep layers to each of your characters. Without too much of a spoiler, how difficult was it to develop characters Jenny and Jane given the horrors of their respective and tragic childhood experiences?
BOGARD: Sadly, it wasn’t difficult at all. Both young women’s lives were based on friends I knew in college and their childhood experiences. For additional explication of their inner lives, I relied on detailed and lengthy interviews I conducted during my sociology career. I have interviewed many homeless women. The extent of trauma and grief that defined their lives was a notable finding of my studies. Their stories helped me immensely to get at the feelings of my characters. I owe a profound debt to both groups of women for trusting me with their stories. I hope this novel does honor to their struggles.
FQ: I was fascinated to learn about General Order Number Three and its tie-in to Juneteenth and how history ‘got it wrong’ as it were. I had never learned anything about General Order Number Three when I was in school. What is your view on public education and how accurately do you think the subject of history is being taught in today’s climate?
BOGARD: I love and hugely support public education. I was trained in educator John Dewey’s methodology of a “community education to serve democracy.” As an undergrad, I studied education as an institution at one of the best teaching colleges in the nation in the 1970s, the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My character Jenny goes to college at my first alma mater.
We have fallen so very far away from Dewey’s ideas for a well-educated citizenry. Twenty years ago, the “test prep” model of the second Bush administration debased education’s complexities. More recently, we’ve witnessed a growing effort to delete the hard topics, like our nation’s full history and gender studies. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Instead, it is a recipe for continuing to repeat our mistakes and for undermining our collective rights and freedoms.
I believe that students are stronger and more capable than some give them credit for. They can handle and grow from examining our nation’s longstanding involvement with enslavement or how gender shapes our lives. People trained in critical thinking and informed by a detailed and transparent education become citizens well equipped to take action to preserve democracy. Protecting the progress we’ve made and continuing to move toward a more just society requires grappling with our history. Some students do get that kind of education in our public schools. But a majority, especially impoverished kids, and students of color, do not. That is unconscionable in any society that aspires to remain a democracy.
FQ: In line with my previous question, I had never heard a reference toward ‘planter families’ and again, was surprised to learn its definition. While the Wharton family is your fictitious ‘planter family’ in this book, how deep did your research go and did you fashion this family after an actual ‘planter family’? If so, are you able to elaborate?
BOGARD: I’ve lived in Texas and visited former plantation mansions-turned-museums in several Southern states. Some of these museums of slavery times include the stories of the Black people that forcibly labored there. The euphemism “planter family” is probably more common in the old Confederacy states than it is elsewhere in the U.S. I heard it used somewhere along the way, possibly from a former landlady I had in Texas who may have been a descendant of a planter family. The term came up recently in the trial of Alex Murdaugh. He was described as coming from a planter family. He lived on and still owned much of the property that was once used to grow crops planted, tended, harvested, and processed by people his ancestors enslaved. Alex Murdaugh was convicted of murdering his wife and son and will spend the rest of his life in prison. I was amazed at how similar his background, if not his life’s trajectory was, to that of my fictitious Johnny Wharton.
FQ: You reference Miss Grace’s (Roz’s mother) admiration toward First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and "...how she was for us colored folks, how she saw, like few white people in them days, that we were all God’s children and should all be treated with dignity..." What a beautiful sentiment. With the utmost respect to you, what is your view on the blatant division that is rampant in our country today? What do you think the ‘end-game’ is and if you were given the opportunity to make a positive impact toward unity, what would you do and how successful do you think your plan would be?
BOGARD: Maybe surprisingly, I’m optimistic about the US overcoming its racial divisions, though it will take so much longer than is good for any of us. The reason is the reality of our growing diversity. Many young people in our nation grew up with much more racial/ethnic diversity than previous generations. I have seen a huge rise in racial/ethnic mixing in friendship groups and romantic partners over the 25 years I was a university professor. We old people and our ignorant and stupid grievances are stalling progress. Yes, there will always be fearful people hating what they don’t know or understand. But I have confidence that the reality of the emerging generations will bring all of us toward a more unified position on the inherent humanity in each of us.
Whatever educators, politicians, and interested others can do to make daycare centers, schools, and neighborhoods more diverse so kids are able to easily form cross-racial bonds with one another is the ticket to us healing from these longstanding divisions. That’s why I support public education and decry using public funds for private, segregated schools like the one Jenny attended. When we work, learn, and live with people who are not like us, we are more likely to get to know each other as individuals, not stereotypes. We also, as a group, have access to more ideas, more creativity, than if we only interact with people similar to ourselves. This is why universities don’t want to give up on racial/ethnic diversity efforts. Diversity leads to superior outcomes, for individuals, for institutions, for nations, and for the world.
FQ: In your profession as Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies, what is one of your most memorable teaching moments and why does this memory stand out?
BOGARD: There were so many memorable moments, as is true for every dedicated teacher. But one was very unusual as well as memorable.
An anthropology colleague of mine, Prof. Cheryl Mwaria, and I twice took Hofstra students to Togo, West Africa and twice had university students from Togo spend some time with us in New York. In New York, we visited New York City and a site, now a museum, near our university where people from West Africa were once enslaved. In Togo, we were hosted by Plan International, a non-profit development group that I have supported for several decades. We visited schools Plan had built, wells they provided to communities with no local source of fresh water, and even a radio station started by Plan, and run by kids that broadcast to the local community. We studied how microcredit programs use trust and community norms to pool funds so that impoverished rural villagers can start their own businesses. Our students learned about capacity building and the improvements it could make on village and individual lives.
The second year we also visited Ghana. Togo, a nation long run by corrupt authoritarians, had almost no paved roads and many people lived in abject poverty. When we crossed the border into democratically run Ghana, the development differences were starkly visible. Paved roads, streetlights, decent housing, and signs of relative prosperity were everywhere. Our students had a big epiphany, seeing firsthand what difference good governance could make. We ended our travels in Ghana with a visit to Cape Coast Castle, the place people were held before they embarked on the Middle Passage to become enslaved in the U.S. That was a poignant visit for all of us, Americans and Africans alike. Experiential learning is best when it can happen, because it has so many dimensions, so many senses are involved, that it sticks with you, sometimes for all your life. I thought we created that for our students on those two exchanges.
FQ: You state mid-20th century jazz is close to your heart. You are a woman after my own heart! I learned a lot about this era of music from my father and loved driving with him to one of his jobsites (he was a contractor) when I was growing up and listening to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, to name a few. If you had to pick one, who would be your number one and why?
BOGARD: I can’t answer with one – part of the reason I love jazz is the collaborative nature of it! It’s also a context where lots of productive interaction between Black and white musicians took place, and friendships were forged, even during bleak times in our country’s race relations. That’s why jazz plays a role in A History of Silence — I used jazz a as a space of productive interracial creativity and harmony. This is what the Black trumpeter Harry says to Chuck in the novel after Chuck asks if Harry would mind if the pianist he needs to hire was white. “If he can lay out some good riffs, he can be green if he wants. You know somebody?” Chuck (a white pianist) auditions and becomes a part of the group. Jazz is about inventive acumen and playing well with others. That’s it.
When I write, I mostly listen to jazz pianists (vocals are a distraction and sometimes too much complexity is, too). My favorite pianists include Red Garland, Bill Evans, and Erroll Garner. If I need cheering up, there’s no one better than Beegie Adair. But perhaps my favorite instrumentalist in all of jazz is Ben Webster, with his incredible style of tenor saxophone playing. He awes me every time I listen to him.
FQ: Thank you again for the pleasure of reading your book and your time today. When something is good, it’s great! You should be incredibly proud of your accomplishment of writing a most captivating read. I cannot wait for the next in this Heartland Trilogy and want to know if you’re working on it now. If so, are you able to give us a sneak peek of what we can expect to receive?
BOGARD: I’m actually not working on Beach of the Dead, the second book of the Heartland Trilogy. It’s already finished and back with Atmosphere Press for their wonderful cover and interior design services. I probably won’t publish it until early 2024, however, just to provide plenty of time for reviewers like Feathered Quill to weigh in sufficiently.
The second novel follows the person who murdered Johnny. Pretty much everyone in A History of Silence wanted him dead, so I’m not giving away too much by admitting that! Ironically, committing murder and becoming a fugitive is the reason why the main character ends up in paradise.
Beach of the Dead is about discovering love and self-forgiveness, about the ability of outsiders to see truths in us that we may not be able to see in ourselves. It explores the meanings of community. One of the new characters in Beach of the Dead (she’s barely mentioned in A History of Silence) becomes a central figure in Part 3, Longing for Winter. My characters have taken on such life for me that they seem to be demanding that the story go on.
These were such wonderful, thought-provoking questions. They honored me. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to reflect on my life and work.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Meet Author Madhu Bazaz Wangu



Meet author Madhu Bazaz Wangu and learn about her award-winning book The Other Shore in her new author biography: https://featheredquill.com/author-bios-madhu-bazaz-wangu/ 



Friday, March 10, 2023

#BookReview of Love, Lydie by Blair Harton


Love, Lydie

By: Blair Harton
Published by: Blair Harton Writes
Publication Date: October 4, 2022
ISBN: 979-8845977182
Reviewed By: Kathy Stickles
Review Date: March 9, 2023
Love, Lydie, the debut novel for author Blair Harton, is an absolutely wonderful read and a home run for this new author. Not all novels in the romance genre can be perfect in terms of plot, character development, realism, and roller-coaster emotion, but this one rings the bell in all of these things.
Love, Lydie appears to be two separate stories in the beginning, but as the reader progresses, they quickly find out that everything connects together. In the first part we meet Lydia Ashburton, a student living in New York City who meets the love of her life during an altercation on the street. Nathan Roth, this amazing man in Lydia’s eyes, is a famous rock star and the perfect hero for this young woman. The best part is that Nathan is as crazy for Lydia as she is for him, but it is not easy for a normal person to keep up with a rock star and the confusion begins quickly, along with the romance. The question is...can they succeed together given the huge differences in their lives?
All of a sudden, we shift to part two of the book where we meet Anna. She has just started a new job at a small hometown theatre in Shiloh, Georgia. It is there that Anna meets Emily, a fabulous 8-year-old who is sassy, funny, and does whatever she wants. Anna soon realizes that Emily is not going to leave her alone and that she tells the funniest stories. As an added benefit, there is Emily’s dad Nathan, who Anna wants to get to know much better and, of course, the adorable Emily has decided that this is a great idea.
And so the fun begins as Amy tries to deal with her job, figure out what makes Nathan tick, and handle Emily all at the same time. Life does always find a way to bring people together and for Lydia, Emily, and Nathan so do a series of letters that lead to amazing connections and deep emotions, along with a great adventure.
All of the characters that Harton has created are truly wonderful. Lydia is a sweet young woman who is very realistic and believable. Amy is a strong woman who is determined to make things work out no matter what. Nathan is a great man who is the perfect hero for both of these women in different ways. Even the supporting characters in the story are well-written and enjoyable, and they all bring a certain something to the story. Above all else, Emily is a wonderful character. This little girl is so much fun and reading from page to page you cannot help but want to see what she will get up to next. She is the perfect addition to the story.
The plot of the story is creative and excellent. Although it is hard to tell where it is going to go in the beginning, everything ends up being wrapped together perfectly and will leave the reader amazed at the twists and turns and, by the end, you have no doubt that fate is real and love is the thing that holds life together. I would highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys the romance genre or just a seriously great novel, wrapped around a love story, or stories as the case may be. It is the perfect combination of love, happiness, and heartbreak.
Quill says: There are so many romance novels out there that just do not hit the mark as they are not believable. Love, Lydie is so different from those and will be such an enjoyable read for all because of this. This new author has hit a home-run with this novel and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.
For more information on Love, Lydie, please visit the author's website at: https://blairharton.com/

#BookReview of Culver City by Brant Vickers


Culver City

By: Brant Vickers
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: September 27, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-639885473
Reviewed by: Katie Specht
Review Date: March 9, 2023
From seasoned author Brant Vickers comes his third novel entitled Culver City, a story of paranormal experiences and the unbreakable bond between young friends. At first glance, Culver City appears to be a ghost story, but anyone who reads the book can attest to the fact that the supernatural occurrences are just the beginning of a much more elaborate tale.
Looking for something to do, in the summer of 1969, best friends Cassady and Kyle sneak into one of MGM’s backlots, completely unsuspecting of what they will encounter there. While they explore the old Gone with the Wind set, the boys encounter actors from the movie that have been dead for many years, including Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard. At first, the boys are terrified and run home that night, not knowing what to think of what they have just experienced. After thinking it over and discussing it with each other, they decide to go back to see if they will experience the same paranormal activity again or if they simply imagined it. They do, indeed, witness the dead actors again and many more present themselves to Cassady and Kyle. Though the boys notice a feeling of abnormality around the “ghosts,” they somehow know with certainty that they will not hurt the boys. From this point on, Cassady and Kyle visit the backlots almost every night, spending hours there, getting to know the actors, both as who they played in the movies and who they were outside the movies.
Cassady finds himself growing more and more curious about the dead actors he is meeting on the backlots, so he begins visiting the library regularly to conduct research. This draws the attention of the librarian, Miss Rigby. Eventually, she begins to ask Cassady why he is researching topics such as the backlots, Gone with the Wind, and dead actors. Before he can try to make up an excuse, she proceeds to tell him that she has seen him and Kyle sneaking into the backlots at night because the fence they jump over is right behind her house. Miss Rigby further amazes Cassady by telling him that her father is none other than the famous actor Leslie Howard, who Cassady has encountered on the backlots in ghost form. This leads to a friendship developing between the librarian and the boys, while simultaneously, Cassady is entering into a relationship with a girl named Brie Ann. As situations become more complicated and more people become involved, the boys have an argument about continuing to enter the backlots. This will eventually test their friendship and lead to an astounding ending that no reader will see coming.
Vickers has written a truly unique tale with Culver City. At first glance, it seems like an ordinary ghost story, but it encompasses so much more than that. Readers who enjoy paranormal activity stories will appreciate the time that Vickers devotes to that in this book. Vickers also does a superb job of developing charismatic, relatable characters who readers will love. Not only are the characters well developed in this story, but the relationships among them are as well.
Quill says: Vickers has, undoubtedly, achieved success with his intriguing novel Culver City. It is a mystery, a ghost story, a love story, a story of friendship, and a story of loss all in one compelling book. There is truly something for every reader in this captivating tale.
To learn more about Culver City, please visit the author’s website at https://brantvickers.com/

#BookReview of When Grandpa Was the Moon


When Grandpa Was The Moon

By: Stuart French
Illustrated by: Francisco Fonseca
Publisher: Ethicool Books
Publication Date: November 10, 2022
ISBN: 978-0645435825
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: March 9, 2023
Grandparents are one of the most wonderful gifts bestowed on a child - their love and devotion to their beloved grandchildren knows no bounds. But with great love can come devastating loss when a grandparent passes away. When Grandpa Was The Moon addresses this issue in a gentle and caring way that children can understand.
When Grandpa Was The Moon is narrated by a young boy whom we meet about halfway through the story. He starts his tale by telling the reader that the moon is an artist "and he paints with the evening light..." On the two-page spread that accompanies this text is a gorgeous illustration of the moon, smiling and shining brightly while an elderly gentleman with a paintbrush carefully paints the sky. Turn the page, and we meet the same grandpa, dancing on the ocean's waves, while again, the moon is brightly lighting the night sky.
On the following page, the narrator asks,
"Did you know the moon is watching
and the clouds hold his thoughts so tight,
He gathers all your kindness
and turns it into light."
The story continues as the child tells the reader of all the wonderful things the moon does - the moon is a teacher, the moon is an artist - and then he admits that he is lonely. At this point, the story takes a sad, but heartwarming turn as the child tells us,
"I know the moon's a grandpa
and his stories keep me warm,
He felt that I was crying
and my little heart was torn."
Through the child, we learn that the moon is a grandpa, and the child's imagination sees the grandpa telling bedtime stories to him. But could it be? Is the moon his grandpa? And is his grandpa always by his side?
When I was assigned When Grandpa Was The Moon, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd never reviewed a child's book on dealing with the death of a loved one. Would it be depressing? Perhaps the book would make me, and by extension, a young reader, sad and teary-eyed? But I was thrilled to discover that this story dealt with the death of a grandparent in a sensitive and tender way. The story is beautifully written and brings a very positive message to the child reading the book. It encourages a child's imagination to envision that the missed grandparent is always nearby. The story, however, is not the only thing that makes When Grandpa Was The Moon a standout - the illustrations are absolutely stunning. The artist, Francisco Fonseca, has illustrated several children's books, and while he specializes in drawing European houses, he can add landscapes that feature an adorable moon to his resume. His drawings truly added a unique and gorgeous element to the book. Wrap up all the components of this story, and you have an excellent resource to share with a child who is dealing with the unthinkable loss of a grandparent.
Quill says: When Grandpa Was The Moon bravely takes on the death of a grandparent with a story that will both reassure and comfort a child who is experiencing the great loss of a deeply loved grandparent.
For more information on When Grandpa Was The Moon, please visit the publisher's website at: https://ethicoolbooks.com/products/when-grandpa-was-the-moon-kids-book