|Author JF Collen|
Thursday, May 19, 2022
FQ: I commend you for yet another fantastic read. It is clear you are an ardent lover of history. I’m curious if history is/was your catalyst to becoming a writer.
COLLEN: Yes! I love stories. Focusing on the stories of people in law school helped me remember the legal precedents. History is not dates and events to me so much as a compilation of thousands of people’s stories. So many stories recorded in diaries or wrapped around an event or embedded in a place need retelling. My favorite hobby is to go to a place and learn its history – listen to its stories. Some are so compelling they cry out for a new platform. And almost all of them bear repeating.
Many stories just demand that my characters relive them. So I weave them into my narrative.
FQ: In line with my previous question, is (or was) there ever a time in the Cornelia Rose Series when you wanted to ‘break away’ and write something completely off-topic?
COLLEN: Yes – Stories of all types, of all places and cultures captivate me. Many causes compel me to champion them. Many of these ‘off topic’ stories have already found their way into my blogs. But some ideas are hastily typed and saved on my laptop with the hopes that when the time is ripe I will find them and weave them into a new work.
FQ: Often when I read a terrific body of work, I find myself wondering if there is a lot of the blood of the writer that runs through the main character. In this case, how close is J.F. Collen’s personality and demeanor to that of Cornelia Entwhistle?
COLLEN: I certainly draw on my own likes and dislikes when shaping Cornelia Rose, but more than being an alter ego for me, Nellie pushes the envelope in ways I would not. I have bestowed a few traits on her that I wish I had myself.
FQ: I always enjoy your attention to the Lord and faith in your books. The nuances come from heart (vs. ‘the fear of God’). Without turning this into a political rant, do you find there is somewhat of a taboo of how far you can take your pen with writing with a reverence and belief in today’s climate? How do you temper your pen to strike such a great balance toward faith in all your work?
COLLEN: I do feel a taboo, almost a self-consciousness when writing some of the faithful utterances of the characters. I think people living in the 1850s would have seen and vocalized their love for God even more than I allow them to in my story. Many people then were more openly pious. ‘Old fashioned’ values like love and praise of God are seen by some today as fanatical or uninformed. However, history has also shown us the atrocities committed under the guise of religion. I believe recognition of our Source and gratitude for all that is good and for our many blessings should be expressed freely, regardless of religious institution affiliation. And I hope by writing of a time when people fervently believed their faith would see them through hard times readers will be feel inspired to pursue their own spirituality.
FQ: I must admit times have certainly changed from a woman having to ‘know her place’ from then to now. While neither of us were alive in the 1800’s, what part of that era in the relationship between man and woman would you like to see in today’s society if any?
COLLEN: The romantic in me always wants the heroine to be swept off her feet by a courtly yet macho man! For every movie I watch and book I read I wish a romantic, happy ending for the characters. The glamour of society permeates the action in my first book. While my books are all filled with the curious customs of 1850s courtship, unlike in a romance novel I try to view these relationships with this century’s eye, and not aggrandized or overly idealize them.
FQ: What is the most modern convenience you couldn’t possibly live without and why?
COLLEN: Flush toilets! Although hardly modern – almost all of the ancient civilizations, starting with the Mesopotamians and the Minoans, separately invented them well before the current era – they certainly were not prevalent in the 1850s. I don’t envy Nellie having to dig latrine trenches at every camp, and help her children find a spot along the trail!
The real modern convenience that I feel may be undervalued is – modern fabrics. The blends of fibers invented in the last few decades have quietly revolutionized clothing. Nellie wore fabrics that bunched and pilled. Clothes that bagged and sagged. Hey, I remember when jeans were only blue, and a new pair were so stiff and tight they were too uncomfortable to wear without a few washings. Now any pants can feel as forgiving as a pair of sweats.
FQ: You write with such intent in describing the beauty and varied landscapes across this great country of ours. If you had to choose your ‘favorite,’ where would that be and why?
COLLEN: While I love a majestic view from a mountaintop and the thrill of a river racing by, I have to confess my favorite place is the beach. Even my love of the vastness of the prairie is dwarfed by my fascination with the moods of the sea. I love the beach the most in the summer, sun warming the sand, water caressing and cooling feet, clouds scuttling by. But year round the beauty and majesty of the ocean hitting the sand holds me mesmerized.
FQ: One of my ‘go to’ questions I often ask fellow authors is: When you feel the flow of your pen dwindling, how do you get back on your inspirational train?
COLLEN: Traveling inspires me. Watching and listening to people tickles my imagination too. I love happening upon interesting places and observing people going about their lives. A walk down any Main Street can unstick my pen. Certainly a trip to New York City works wonders.
Reading new or undiscovered old stories pulls me into a different time and place and catapultes me into seeing how my characters would react in different situations.
FQ: In line with my question above - do you simply sit down and begin writing and the story writes itself? Do you outline? Do you write every day? What is your most inspired time in the day to write?
COLLEN: My writing habits seem to change with every book. Sometimes the story does write itself. But only after a lot of research. Most time times I find little tidbits I want to include when reading histories, observing people, or viewing landscapes. In writing this particular series, sometimes finding something old sparks a storyline, or a plot twist, like seeing the beautiful laundry tubs in a mansion in St. Paul Minnesota, or a pie cabinet in Museum Village in Monroe, NY.
I try to write every day. Which means I probably write about 5 days a week. I never outlined, until just the other day I took the table of contents for the next book in the Journey of Cornelia Rose Series and started jotting notes about things I wanted to include in each chapter that was already drafted and placing new chapters & material in the chapter lineup. Weird! But it seemed like the right thing to do. Usually I make notes, either on my laptop, or if that is not handy, little scraps of paper – and then after I have a draft I find all the scraps and make sure I didn’t forget to include any of the material. The scraps have all kinds of things – words I found that a particular character should use, historical events I want to include, clothing I want someone to wear, plot twists, names I love and habits for characters.
FQ: When you meet someone for the first time and there is an instant connection, do you find yourself beginning to write this person in your head as a future character in one of your books? If so, how often has this occurred (and who made the cut and into one of your books)?
COLLEN: Yes. Sometimes it is just something someone says, that I know one of my characters will want to say. Sometimes it is a personality I’ll want to include, or a story someone told. Or a way that someone speaks, or a mannerism. My favorite thing to find is a name. I met a man named Nigel Goodnuf. Come on! His name has to be made into a character.
I try to not steal the whole persona of anyone I know! I fashion many of my characters with a sprinkling of traits from several people.
FQ: Once again, I commend you for another wonderful read. Thank you for your time. I always look forward to reading your books and wonder if you have embarked on your next writing journey. If so, are you able to share a little nugget?
COLLEN: I have two more books coming in this series. I have the fourth book well on its way. I am almost ready for the editing process. Which often time lasts almost as long as it takes me to write the book in the first place and then takes on a life of its own! And the fifth book is mapped out.
In my travels I have amassed a lot of primary sources for a WWII book. That might be next. Or, I can turn to the pilot script I wrote for an office sitcom, or the new children’s book I drafted on the back of an ad for a surfboard!
By: Lucinda Grapenthin
Illustrated by: Kevin Gasselin
Publisher: Dr. Cindy Publishing
Publication Date: August 2021
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: August 18, 2022
Toby is a cute little octopus who wants to go ride his bike and play with his friends. But he has a problem – he worries about so many things. Will his mother, father, and friends be able to help him conquer his fears and finally have fun on his bike?
Toby was hanging around the front porch of his house when his friends Zeke and Logan came zooming by on their bikes. They happily asked Toby to join in the fun but Toby was afraid and tightly clung to the porch as his mind started to panic. “What if I can’t ride my bike?” “What if I fall?” What if they laugh at me?” There were so many things that could go wrong and Toby couldn't get all those “What ifs” out of his mind.
Sad and feeling defeated, Toby headed into the house, plopped down on the sofa and played video games. He wanted his mom and called out to her, but she was busy putting away clothes. The little octopus was so full of worry that when he tried to get up to go find her, he stumbled over his tightly wound tentacles. What could he do?
When Toby’s mom sees her son, she immediately knows that something is wrong. She asks her son and he admits that, “I’m afraid to ride my bike with my friends...all I think about is falling and my friends laughing.” His mother carefully explains that he needs to use his “can do thoughts” and reminds Toby of the time he was afraid to climb up a slide. By using his can do thoughts he was able to conquer his fear and climb up and go down the slide. Would Toby be able to use his “can do thoughts” to learn to have fun with his friends and ride his bike without worry?
Toby, Toby, Worry Free is a fun and educational book that tackles issues common to so many children, such as the fear of failure, the fear of being mocked by friends, and the fear of getting hurt. Young readers will easily identify with Toby, a sweet character who finds himself in situations that they too, are likely to encounter. The author has also included things that parents will identify with such as when Toby is starting to feel better and then his big sisters remind him of the possibility of failure. It’s the sort of thing many older siblings would say and I suspect parents will see their family dynamics in Toby’s family. At the back of the book is a reference page with a thorough explanation of “The PAUSE Approach,” a method to help parents and caregivers deal with challenging behaviors. The author of Toby, Toby, Worry Free is a licensed psychologist and educator with over twenty years of working with children and families. Her extensive experience shines through in this, her debut novel. Toby, Toby, Worry Free does a great job of gently guiding children and their caregivers through some of the turbulent behaviors youngsters encounter.
Quill says: Toby, Toby, Worry Free is an excellent resource for parents to share with their children to help them overcome their own daily fears.
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
#AuthorInterview with Nancie Wiseman Attwater, author of A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Nancie Wiseman Attwater, author of A Caregiver's Love Story and Reference Guide.
Monday, May 16, 2022
FQ: You have an anthology that many authors don't venture in, by melding two genres in one text which you have done pretty impressively, I must say. How long did it take you to write the book?
LOMAX: Early in 2005, I wanted to author a hybrid book comprised of ‘arresting’ creative nonfiction and poetry, focusing on three powerful psychosocial themes: Religion, Racism, and Relationships. Amygdala Blue has been a personal and literary journey in the making for approximately seventeen (17) years. The indelible motivation and inspiration for the book culminated from my auspicious graduation from the University of Pennsylvania Master of Liberal Arts Program, where I focused on African American Literature and Psychology.
FQ: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
LOMAX: One of the challenges in writing Amygdala Blue rested with the assignment of specific creative nonfiction and poems to their respective category of Religion, Racism, or Relationships. For example, based on the underlying of the language, “The Unborn Salt” may have been selected for listing under the category of Racism. Another rather striking challenge for me as a writer, especially during my early years, was feeling uncomfortable about ‘opening the social spicket’ with the use of the N-word and shocking gun violence. But I soon came to understand the significance of the pairing of arresting psychosocial truth with the right literary environment (storyline)...
FQ: I noticed that some of the short story entries such as “My Imaginary Friend” and “My Mother's Song” are written in the first-person narrative and seem so real. Are they stories that you relate to?
LOMAX: First and foremost, all of the narrative stories in Amygdala Blue are creatively adapted from actual events. With the exception of the creative inclusion of The Holy Ghost, “My Imaginary Friend” is an authentic autobiographical snapshot capturing my religious upbringing in a strict Pentecostal home located in Washington DC. Providing a vivid environment from the innocent perspective of a seven-year-old boy in a single parent household to the readers, remained my literary intention. His young voice, and curiously observant spirit was necessary in the development of the Religion section of the book. In 1964, “My Mother’s Song” was the spiritual mission statement of her daily prayer and song, I wholeheartedly remember as powerful and quite real...
FQ: Is there a poem or short story that stands out as one you enjoyed most in Amygdala Blue? What are the reasons for this?
LOMAX: Yes, “Durn my Hide” is a personal expression of antebellum, post-reconstructionist musings, channeled from an authentic voice and time. Unquestionably experimental, undeniably raw, but true to cultural place and time. Because this poem evokes so much emotion, and unique qualities – including prominent rhythms, imagery, and compactness – the prose poem form and structure works best in showcasing its characterized intensity. In this poem, there exists an underlying complexity that challenged me for years to countless number of revisions. Through it all, though, I never thought about moving away from the stylized language. In fact, it was Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s seminal craft which inspired me to excavate deeper, dispel the urge to conform to postmodern vernacular; remembering to stay in touch with the odor, sight, and sound of the minute, hour, day poetically ‘captured’...Moreover, of an interesting note, I hail from several generations of African American farmers from Saluda, Virginia. A land enriched with the blood and sweat, and sacrifice of an African American history written far from history books presented to our postmodern culture. However, I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet any of my mother’s siblings or parents, but I was provided enough information from my mother about their incredible hardships and social struggles. Interestingly though, as I grew into manhood, attained higher education degrees, I could never shake my earthen archetypal memories; I continued to be haunted by the Southern African American voice fettered to land tilled from dawn to dusk, every day of every year. In its purest form, “Durn my Hide” is a revolutionary poem! As André Breton (1896-1966), co-founder of the Surrealist movement said, “The advantage of revolution was not that it gives mankind happiness...[but] it should purify and illuminate man’s tragic condition.”
FQ: Your main subjects in the text are relationships, racism, and religion. Is there a particular reason for this?
LOMAX: Absolutely! Throughout much of my academic and clinical research journeys, I’ve struggled with understanding – ‘overstanding’ – the Nature & Nurture of what we believe are our individual realities. Ultimately, I settled with the notion the basis for these categories rests with our language. Religion, Racism, and Relationships are universal constructs of personal realities easily identified by every reader within our postmodern social media world. At some point in our individual stage of human development, as we live and breathe, we will encounter curious aspects of religion, racism, and certainly joys and vagaries with relationships...As humans, we must understand and communicate our thoughts and experiences. In The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Steven Pinker wrote:
...our language has a model of sex in it, and conceptions of intimacy and power and fairness. Divinity, degradation, and danger are also ingrained in our mother tongue, together with a conception of well-being and philosophy of free-will...They add up to a distinctively human model of reality, which differs in major ways from the objective understanding of reality eked out by our best science and logic. A close look at our speech - our conversations, our jokes, our curses, our legal disputes, the names we give our babies - can therefore give us insight into who we are. (p. vii)
FQ: The last story, “Serenity," is symbolic in its entirety. What was the inspiration behind it?
LOMAX: The symbolism in “Serenity” is wholeheartedly personal, and I sincerely hope with each and every reader, the same holds true for them, that is, individually appreciated, holistically determined… Individual experience and sincere introspection remain the key to self-knowledge and/or Maslow’s Self-Actualization...
FQ: How did you manage to balance both genres to fit in the plot development and the themes discussed in the book?
LOMAX: ‘Balance’ is such a wondrously, goal-oriented word, and is applied more fully to the previous question regarding “serenity”, as the author of Amygdala Blue, than to this query. In truth, during the entire creative writing process, I never consciously thought about attaining a balance between creative nonfiction and poetry in this book. The absolute goal for me was to make certain: 1) I stayed connected to my creative muse and that my spirit was sound when I write; and 2) that the sound, rhythm, and creative ‘taste’ of the individual piece matched or aligned with the literal definition of its respective categories – Religion, Racism, and Relationships.
FQ: What do you hope will resonate with readers upon reading this book?
LOMAX: In the midst of a crisis moment, I hope readers come away from reading Amygdala Blue with a resounding notion regarding the grounding and healing power of nature. For in nature, can we make sense of the world enveloping everyone, and thus understand who we are. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”
FQ: Do you intend to continue writing books having these two genres like you daringly composed in Amygdala Blue or would you perhaps want to pursue a different field?
LOMAX: Vive la différence! If I had my druthers, certainly I wouldn’t hesitate to board such a wondrous ship canvassed around the postmodern notion embodying the African American ‘Presence of Absence’ phenomenon, readying my mast to explore once again another unusual ‘hybrid’ literary voyage...Ultimately, though, this decision rests not just with my overall creative motivation and book reviews, but, of greater import, what my readers have to say about Amygdala Blue, as a whole...
FQ: What elements in your personality and talents led you to write this book?
LOMAX: Without exception, I chose to live a humble and simple lifestyle. For me, simplicity is the greatest panacea for that which ails the self. Not surprisingly, my writings tend to mirror the many journeys I’ve experienced over the years, the various people I’ve encountered – professionally as a clinical research scientist enthralling personal relationships. Having a well-structured Limbic system – the hippocampus and amygdala and anterior thalamic nuclei and a limbic cortex that support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior and long-term memory – is a blessing to any nonfiction writer! A solid memory and objectivity are delicious ingredients for the creative nonfiction and poetry process. They have provided a wonderful foundation upon which my bold writings imbibe, relish...