Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Totally off topic, but wow!  Here in Massachusetts, we got slammed with snow over the weekend.  First, on Thursday, we got about 3 inches of the white stuff.  And it DIDN'T melt!!!   Then Saturday afternoon, it began to snow, snow, snow.  We were at the last horse show of the season and it was the first time I've ever heard the organist play "Let It Snow" during a show.  Eee-gads - it came down heavy!  Our usual 50 minute ride home from the show took 2 hours.  There were cars off the road everywhere.  The power went out a few hours later and as of now (Monday afternoon), it's still not on.  Fortunately, we have two big generators for our property so we're all set.  Others around us are not so lucky.  Lines at gas stations (those that are actually open) are loooooong.  Power lines are down everywhere.  The grocery store was on generator power, with about 50% of their lights off, food going bad fast.  What an odd situation here in New England.  Here's hoping you're in a warmer, less snow-infested place.

It's in the 40s today so hopefully the snow will melt soon.  Just in time for winter to start in earnest.
This is after Thursday's light snow.  Add 2 feet on top of this!

Monday Morning Introductions

Check out the great selection of books that came in for review this week!  Reviews will be posted to our site, Feathered Quill, shortly.

A Slave in the White House Paul Jennings was born into slavery on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison in Virginia, later becoming part of the Madison household staff at the White House. Once finally emancipated by Senator Daniel Webster later in life, he would give an aged and impoverished Dolley Madison, his former owner, money from his own pocket, write the first White House memoir, and see his sons fight with the Union Army in the Civil War. He died a free man in northwest Washington at 75. Based on correspondence, legal documents, and journal entries rarely seen before, this amazing portrait of the times reveals the mores and attitudes toward slavery of the nineteenth century, and sheds new light on famous characters such as James Madison, who believed the white and black populations could not coexist as equals; French General Lafayette who was appalled by this idea; Dolley Madison, who ruthlessly sold Paul after her husband's death; and many other since forgotten slaves, abolitionists, and civil right activists.

The Door to Far-Myst: The Adventures of Rupert Starbright Rupert Dullz isn't very happy. His grandmother's coffus is getting worse, school is boring and there's nothing to do on his days off but rake up endless piles of leaves. Everything in Graysland is, well, gray, and every day is just like the one before it, and the one before that. That is, until a strangely dressed man named Pie O'Sky swoops out of nowhere in his multicolored bagoon and offers a special reward to whoever can open his mysterious door. When Rupert succeeds, he's thrilled when Pie O'Sky carries him beyond it to the brilliantly colored land of Far-Myst. Adventure calls, and Rupert discovers a wonderful world full of something he's never heard of before--imagination. But Far-Myst is in danger, and it may be that only Rupert has the power to save it. Is he the one whose imagination is powerful enough to stop the evil that is destroying the beautiful world beyond the door?

The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story One enchanting romance. Two lovers keeping secrets. And a uniquely crafted book that binds their stories forever. When Evelyn Morgan walked into the village bookstore, she didn’t know she would meet the love of her life. When Brendan Thorne handed her a medieval romance, he didn’t know it would change the course of his future. It was almost as if they were the cursed lovers in the old book itself...

Friday, October 28, 2011

More Thoughts on Amazon & Reviews

Here's a site that has interesting information on Amazon and their review policies.

The Big River

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Amazon Customer Service

This has been circling around the web...

It is nice to put a face to a voice.

We've all talked to this guy...At Last....A Picture of Him.

Mujibar was trying to get a job in India with Amazon’s tech center, which is co-located with Microsoft’s tech center. 

The Personnel Manager said, 'Mujibar, you have passed all the tests, except one. Unless you pass it
 , you cannot qualify for this job.'

Mujibar said, 'I am ready.'

The manager said, 'Make a sentence using the
words Yellow, Pink, and Green .'

Mujibar thought for a few minutes and said, 'Mister manager, I am ready.'

The manager said, 'Go ahead.'

Mujibar said, 'The telephone goes 
green, green,
and I 
pink it up, and say, Yellow, this is Mujibar.'

Mujibar now works at
the Amazon call center.

No doubt you have spoken to him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amazon Removes Reviews, Then Breaks Their Own Rules

Earlier this year, Amazon, for reasons only known to them, revamped their review guidelines.  Once they did that, they began removing reviews at a rapid rate, closing accounts of many very good, legitimate review sites.  We at Feathered Quill watched as those around us were removed from Amazon and then one day, we too, received the form letter, signed by a first name, last initial no-name at Amazon saying we'd violated their review guidelines and our reviews were removed.  I have been silent about this for several months but have come to realize that with Amazon's blatant disregard for their own rules, I can be silent no longer.

Here's the no-name form letter we received:


We found your reviews to be in violation of our guidelines and have removed them. For more information, see our Conditions of Use:

Because of these violations, we’ve removed your reviewing privileges from your account.

Thanks for your understanding in this matter.

Best regards,

Betsy J.
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.

When I replied to the email, I got this annoying response:

>>We didn't receive the e-mail message below because it was directed to an e-mail address that can't accept incoming messages.

Wow, what are they hiding from?  First, no real names are used, then no ability to reply to their emails?  But don't forget -
"Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company." 

Authors who contacted Amazon directly about their missing reviews (posted by FQ) were told that they (Amazon) didn't know why the reviews were removed and that FQ must have removed them.  Really? Either one department at Amazon doesn't know what another department is doing, or they're out and out lying.  Which is it, Amazon?
When Amazon first changed their review guidelines (I'm not sure how many times they changed them, I know of at least two times this year), they added a stipulation that reviews that were paid for were not to be posted.  Amazon apparently believes that if reviews are paid for, they are somehow suspect.  Afterall, how can one give an honest review if they are receiving money in exchange for a review?  I would argue that many sites do just that and this helps small publishers, self-publishers, and others who would otherwise be overlooked, a chance to get noticed.

So, apparently this is the rule that we've violated.  My first question to Amazon is - why didn't you grandfather in reviews that were posted BEFORE your rule change???  At the very least, you could have maintained some sense of credibility by doing this (and angered a lot less authors!).

Okay, so it's Amazon's site, they can make the rules.  I can accept that.  But if they're enforcing these rules, then they need to enforce them universally, to ALL their reviewers.  Spend a little time at their site and it's easy to find loads of reviewers who don't play by the rules.  Here's a Forbes article about a top reviewer (I believe he's now in the top ten) who openly admits to taking money for his reviews. When this was pointed out to Amazon, they said they'd have the reviewer remove mention of taking money for reviews from his profile.  What happened to the "you've violated our rules/your reviews are gone" action they've taken on others?  Guess Amazon plays favorites.

Getting back to the subject of paid reviews, I maintain that it is possible to get an honest paid review.  And, it seems that Amazon agrees, but only if it benefits them.  Yes, Amazon is PROMOTING PAID REVIEWS! And yes, I was shouting.  Check out the links below - understand that CreateSpace is an Amazon owned company:

I'm guessing that Amazon has reached some sort of agreement (read $$$) with Kirkus & Clarion, otherwise they wouldn't be promoting these paid review packages on their site. And check out the price of a review!  Oh, but if you go through Amazon to purchase the review you'll get a discount.  Hmmmm.... seems to me Amazon thinks it's okay to pay for a review.  While it's not clear if they get posted to Amazon, they are still promoting paid reviews. Oh, and did I mention that "KirkusIndieReview" is not the same as Kirkus?  It seems that they separate the self-pub/paid reviews from the free/main-stream reviews.  They'll take your money but don't believe your book deserves the same attention as those published by the big boys.

Want more?   Check out this NYTimes Article, that in part, tells about a freelance writer who was paid $10/review by Amazon:

There's also a long list of Amazon controversies on Wikipedia which include this gem:

>>By June 2011, Amazon itself had moved into the publishing business and begun to solicit positive reviews from established authors in exchange for increased promotion of their own books and upcoming projects.[44]

Finally, there's also a little thing called the FTC which Amazon seems to ignore, particularly FTC Guideline 16 CFR Part 255 (effective December 1, 2009).  This little rule (but come on, Amazon doesn't play by the rules, they ignore them) basically says any product (and this includes books) received in exchange for a review,  is considered payment for the review.  Therefore, an author/publisher/publicist can't get a "free" review unless the reviewer purchased the book or received it as a gift.  So all those reviewers who are sent free products/books by publishers to review on Amazon are violating this FTC rule AND being paid, in the eyes of the Government.  Shouldn't you ban them too, Amazon?

We made sure our site was in compliance with this FTC rule, and added an FTC statement to the bottom of every page on our site.  Amazon has a large group of "special" reviewers known as "Vine Reviewers" (FQ was once a Vine reviewer).  These reviewers get products free in exchange for reviews on a regular basis (typically two newsletters are sent each month, for a total of four free products - books, food, electronics, pretty much anything available on Amazon.)  The company producing/promoting the product pays a fee to Amazon for the privelage of having their product reviewed.  Where are the FTC notations on these reviews????

This doesn't even touch on the issue of authors posting reviews of their own books, friends posting reviews (and it's frequently obvious that they haven't even read the book), those who post reviews for sites under their own accounts/names to avoid using the site's name, the public relations companies that hire (pay for) reviewers to post (check out that Wikipedia article), and the list goes on.  The only way I see Amazon dealing with this is to only allow reviews by people who purchased THAT product directly FROM Amazon. But then what would they do with Harriet Klausner???  By the way,  if you need a laugh, here's a great blog dedicated to her:

The Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society

Can you tell that I'm angry?  Yes, I am!  This hurts us, it hurts Amazon, and most importantly, it hurts the authors who are simply trying to promote their books.  If you're angry too, here are the addresses at Amazon to email: (Jeff Bezos)
He is the CEO of Amazon - you obviously won't get Bezos but I've been told by a former employee of Amazon that these letters do get noticed.
This is the main customer service email address - maybe if we flood them with emails they'll get the idea.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Morning Introductions

Here's what came in for review this week.  Check out the great selection and then stop by Feathered Quill in a few weeks to read the reviews.

Red, White, and Boom Special Agent Jeb Foster and the Rapid Intervention Team he leads are recruited to help the Russians retrieve 500 tons of stolen weapons-grade nuclear material. Although the United States and other countries were assisting the Russians to secure these stockpiles, many were known to be vulnerable. When Jeb learns that not one, but multiple thefts have taken place from supposedly secure locations, he and the team go to secret cities where few outsiders have ever set foot. Sabotage leaves him stranded in the Arctic wilderness, and as time is running short, Jeb fears the thieves will escape Russia with the stolen nuclear material. The body count of those who could have provided valuable information steadily mounts, making his task all the more difficult. He knows that if the stolen material passes into the hands of the terrorists, who likely contracted for its theft, it will be for the sole purpose of delivering a devastating blow to several major American cities.

Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime

Ari the Engineer and the Hanukkah Mishap

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles

Monday, October 17, 2011

Author Interview with Helena P. Schrader

Today we're talking with Helena P. Schrader, author of Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer

FQ: The research for this series must have taken forever. Do you find Ancient History intriguing?

I do indeed. I think what fascinates me most is how relevant it still is. I remember, for example, reading an ancient writer complain about how youth "nowadays" are not well educated and are all rude. Or, more important: the treatment and status of Athenian women was appallingly similar to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia today. When we see that certain aspects of human behavior have not changed in 2,500 years, I believe, we can assess what is happening in our own age more effectively. We can separate the impact of fashion and technology from fundamental human characteristics and focus on the essence of human nature.

FQ: You seem to have a great liking for Greek/Spartan history. What sparked your interest in this subject?

Good question! It was learning about the comparatively high status of Spartan women compared to women in the rest of the Greece. Athenian women lived in a viciously misogynous society, while Spartan women did not. But popular literature about Sparta focused on Sparta as a militaristic society in which youth were subjected to institutionalized pederasty. Now, psychologists can tell you that the victims of pederasty grow up to be misogynous men, which would have fit perfectly for Athens, but singularly and emphatically did not describe Sparta. So there was an obvious and serious disconnect between the historical record and the popular image of Sparta on this one point. This made me want to learn more about Sparta. The more I researched, the more I realized that the entire popular image of Sparta was seriously distorted. I was particularly lucky to run across works by the Dutch archeologist Conrad M. Stibbe very early in my research. His brilliant book Das Andere Sparta focused on the archaic period and meticuloulsy documented the high level of Spartan artistic achievement, its sculpture, bronze-works, architecture and music. Ancient societies weren't static, you know. Sparta existed as an independent city-state for roughly 700 years. I soon realized that modern perceptions of Sparta were largely formed by images and information that originated with Sparta's enemies and dated from the period of Sparta's decline, even from the Roman period, when Sparta was decadent and corrupted. On top of that there were all these myths and cartoon-like exaggerations of Spartan society. I'm a bit of a radical, or maybe I simply have a quixotic nature; I like fighting against misrepresentations and inaccuracies, so I started writing books that would depict Sparta as it was in its age of glory, the 6th century BC. I based my depictions of Sparta on serious academic literature, the archeological record, and -- this is most important -- on Herodotus, Xenophon, and Pausanias.

FQ: Have you traveled to the areas that you write about?

Absolutely! I find it very difficult to write about places I have not been. As soon as I started to research ancient Sparta, I travelled to the Peloponnese. What a mind-bending experience! It was as much the trip to the region that was once ancient Lacedaemon as the research that made me completely revise my own pre-conceived ideas about Sparta. Lacedaemon is not at all harsh, bleak or infertile. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. (And don't forget I'm a Foreign Service Officer; I have lived in Japan, Brazil, England, Germany, Norway, and Nigeria. I've travelled to South Africa, Egypt, across Latin America and througout Europe.) I have walked across fields in Lacedaemon and counted 33 different types of blooming wild-flowers within 500 paces. You can look through the palm trees up to snow-capped peaks. Drinking water gushes out of the mountain springs and cascades over the limestone beds of creeks. In short, Lacedaemon is and was beautiful and fertile -- as ancient historians well knew. The Spartans were surrounded by beauty and had everything necessary for wealth in an ancient society. I'm convinced this had an impact on their mentality and life-style. Anyone interested in what Sparta would have looked like in the age of Leonidas can check my blog on which I've posted several entries about the natural wealth and beauty of Lacedaemon. I've also published an article on what Sparta would have looked like in the academic journal Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History.

FQ: Do you have other hobbies that brought you to writing historical/fiction?

I trace my interest in history and historical fiction to a visit to the Colossium in Rome at the age of four. My mother and sisters were taking the proper tour, but assuming a four-year-old would get bored, my father took me around himself. He said, "This is where they fed the Christians to the lions." My four-year-old imagination was instantly piqued. I looked around at everything with wide-eyed fascination, trying to image just where the Christians had hid and where the lions had lurked. Ever since, whenever I visit a historical site I try to picture the people living/working/fighting there. I was fortunate to live in England while still a teenager, and that, of course, gave me many, many opportunities to visit different kinds of fascinating and significant historical venues. English Heritage does an absolutely splendid job of providing excellent, accurate information and yet making historical sites come to life with tournaments, costumed narrators, opportunities to wear armor or handle medieval swords etc. etc. Visiting historical sites made me imagine life in other periods -- and that led automatically to making up stories set in these places and then writing those stories down. Meanwhile, I studied history, earning my PhD with a biographical dissertation on General Friedrich Olbricht, the originator of the Valkyrie plot against Hitler. As a historian, historical accuracy is as important to me as a good, compelling story.

FQ: I always ask this question. Do you have any pets? Do they keep you company while you write?

I dearly wish I had pets. However, as a Foreign Service Officer, moving every two to three years, my husband and I felt it would be unfair to the pets -- and on some assignments dangerous for them as well. The very hardest part of joining the Foreign Service was selling my 10 year old Chestnut gelding, Wapiti. I hope to have at least a cat and a dog when I retire (to Lacedaemon, by the way.)

FQ: I am an eager reader of WWII history. I find that you have written numerous books in that genre. What made you interested enough to write these novels?

I remember stumbling upon a reference to the German Resistance to Hitler while I was getting a Masters Degree in Diplomacy and International Commerce at the Patterson School, University of Kentucky. I had been raised on stories of the Danish Resistance (my grandfather was Danish) and I was flabbergasted to learn there had been a German Resistance. I asked my professor about it, and he pointed me to several good books on the topic. It fascinated me so much -- this idea of fighting not a foreign invader but your own government out of ethical and moral conviction -- that I read all I could in English. But that wasn't very much, so I went to Germany to learn German. There I met several survivors and relatives of the German Resistance who encouraged me to write about the German Resistance for the American audience. Meanwhile, however, I enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Hamburg, and earned my PhD with a ground-breaking dissertation on General Friedrich Olbricht. (Olbricht was an opponent of Hitler before he came to power, and involved in plots to remove him from 1938 onwards. He developed Valkyrie as a coup instrument in early 1942. He recruited Stauffenberg for the military resistance in 1943, and he was the first man to be executed on July 20, 1944. My dissertation was published in German by the renouned German academic publisher Bouvier Verlag in 1993, a second edition came out in 1994. I wrote an English biography of Olbricht, published by Haynes Publishing in the UK, 2009.)

FQ: I would love to read An Obsolete Honor. I don’t know how I missed it. Could you tell us a little about the research for this book?

Author Helena P. Schrader
The research for An Obsolete Honor and for my dissertation were closely intermingled. I was working on both at the same time. I conducted literally hundreds of interviews with survivors of Nazi Germany including Nina Countess Stauffenberg, the widow of Claus Stauffenberg (made famous by Tom Cruise's film, Valkyrie), Ludwig Baron von Hammerstein, Philipp Baron von Boeselager, Axel Baron von dem Bussche -- one of the would-be assassins -- and many more. The novel draws on all these real stories and roughly ten years of research which included reading personal memoirs and letters as well as the Gestaop transcripts of torture. It is fiction because I amalgamated and pruned and merged individual accounts to create a coherent story, but the book is authentic. No historical figure portrayed in the novel is every anyplace he could not have been, nor does he/she say anything at odds with the historical record. The manuscript was edited, by the way, by Baroness von Hammerstein, a survivor of the period and wife of one of the minor figures in the military resistance.

For all that, if you will allow me, I'd like to note that I personally believe my best work is my Battle of Britain novel. This was first published in 2008 under the title Chasing the Wind. By chance it fell into the hands one of the few surviving RAF aces of the Battle, Wing Commander Bob Doe. A few weeks later, I received a hand-written letter in which he said my novel was "the best book ever" on the Battle of Britain and that it "got it smack on the way it was for us fighter pilots." As a historian, no compliment could have been greater, and it is because of this endorsement that I strongly recommend Chasing the Wind -- or the newly released Kindle edition under the title Where Eagles Never Flew to any readers interested in World War Two.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these experiences and thoughts with your readers.

To learn more about Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Monday Morning Introductions

Here's a sample of the books that came in for review this week.  Check them out and then stop by our review site in a few weeks to read the reviews.

The Twelve Days of Christmas - in Texas, That Is Told with a Texas twang, this tale features a dozen icons of the Lone Star state. Clever rhymes count down the days of Christmas, revealing such surprise gifts as silver spurs, oil wells, and armadillos. Festive illustrations fill the pages of this western romp.

The Christmas Cats In a house trimmed with holly, two sisters make preparations for their Christmas party. But sadly their assortment of cats cannot attend. So when the guests arrive, upstairs they must go! The banished cats squirm as they smell the aroma of baked treats and hear the crackle of fire, and they don't want to miss another minute of this festive fete. When the restless felines break loose and crash the party below, chaotic hilarity ensues.

Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm This book brings together approximately two dozen of the most beloved of the classic Grimm fairy tales, including all the classics, such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel in an all-new translation specially commissioned for this publication. Containing a painstakingly-researched selection of artwork by some of the most famous illustrators from the 1850s to the 1950s—including Golden Age legend Kay Nielsen, beloved bestselling author Wanda Gág (of "Millions of Cats," 1928), British darlings Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham, and giants of nineteenth century German illustration Hermann Vogel, Otto Speckter, and Viktor Paul Mohn—this compilation also includes beautiful silhouettes culled from original publications from the 1920s that run throughout the entire layout. For adults and children alike, this collection brings to life the magic of fairy tales and their illustrations.

Cloudburst Since being taken in by wealthy Mrs. Jordan March and living in her exquisite home like a daughter, Sasha Porter’s traumatic past—destitute on the streets, and the shattering accident that killed her mother—seems like a fading nightmare. Beautiful and sophisticated, as bold and daring as her “sister,” Kiera March, Sasha still keeps her mother’s wise words close to her heart: never fully trust anyone. Inside her privileged new world, it’s advice that will prove more precious than gold.. . . CAN ANYTHING STOP THE DOWNPOUR?Against the wishes of Jordan’s husband, Donald, Sasha attracts the attention of Duane Banks, a shy, handsome athlete, and maneuvers her way into his heart. But Duane’s hidden torment soon explodes in a horrific tragedy that pulls Sasha into a flood of guilt and despair. And when someone she thought she could trust targets her vulnerability, Sasha recalls her mother’s warnings—and a violent storm of dark deceptions and shocking family secrets is unleashed. Will she sink or swim?

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Author Interview with Barbara Ardinger

Today we're talking with Barbara Ardinger, author of Secret Lives

FQ: The characters are so funny, at times, among the beauty of what they’re saying and doing. Are any of the characters specifically based on you and/or your friends?

Before anything else—many thanks for your lovely review. As an author yourself, you know how gratifying it is when a reader gets your work.

There are tiny bits of me and nearly everyone I know in the characters of Secret Lives. I suspect that I am most like the Goddesses two “thoughty” devotees, Cairo and Brooke, but I think there must be some of me in Bertha, too. I’ve been a bit of a rebel all my life. Brooke grew up in St. Louis, so did I, she and some other characters went to college at Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, where I earned my B.S. and M.A. Though the university changed the name of the team and mascot some years ago, I renamed the school Sagamore State after the old mascot, “Chief Sagamore.” Brooke’s avoidance behavior in Chapter 19 echoes things I did in a similar circumstance. The story about the trip to the Ozarks in the VW bug is true—we stopped in a small town and they didn’t know where to put the gas in the car. Other characters contain hints of people I know, and some of the people mentioned (especially in the chapters about Jacoba’s breast cancer) are real people, some with their names changed. Frances J. Swift thinks and talks like every corporate memo I ever read (and I’ve read a lot of corporate-speak). I think it’s this verisimilitude that makes the characters seem so real.

FQ: There are many who see the hideous treatment that our beloved family members are receiving in retirement homes. Is this a subject you would really like people to ‘get’ when they read this novel?

It certainly is. I have known people—most of them elderly women like Sarah—who were sold out of their houses and parked in shabby places like the Towers. For a few months while I was writing Secret Lives, I was a companion to an 82-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s. She and I made a good team: she was talking to invisible people and I was watching and listening to invisible people. After my grandfather’s death, my grandmother lived with her two living daughters—a month here, a month there, a month back again. Sophie echoes my grandmother when she says she never knew where to call home. (Gramma finally found a place in a senior citizens’ village near St. Louis.) Hannah’s nightmares about the floors falling out of her mother’s house are taken directly from nightmares I had after my grandfather died. I have also seen physicians give very poor care to old women, though that is—thank Goddess!—changing today.

Twenty years ago, elderly women were still at the bottom of the social totem pole. The metaphysical Great Chain of Life, which was a popular paradigm during the 18th and 19th centuries went sort of like this—mud (earth), women, noble animals (the lion), men, angels, God. Well, we neopagans and witches are very grounded. Our religion is an earth-based religion. It’s said we worship the ground we walk on. I was also present several times when we constructed a labyrinth on the beach at Laguna Beach; Cairo’s story is a true one.

FQ: You speak about various areas of study such as, numerology, astrology, and even the Theosophical Society. Are you a researcher on these particular subjects? Or, studied them in college?

I read a lot. I’ve studied these topics and more. My numerology teacher at the time I started writing Secret Lives (1990) was a French woman born in Egypt whose accent made Maurice Chevalier sound like Walter Cronkite. (Does anyone recognize these two men’s names?) I spent several years as a member of Edgar Cayce’s association and even got a sweet kiss on the cheek from one of Cayce’s sons, who was an elderly man. I’ve tried to learn astrology, but I just don’t speak the language. Thankfully, I have a dozen friends who are experts and explain things to me. I have read much of the early New Thought literature (written around the turn of the 20th century and earlier) and much of the literature of the late 19th-century Occult Revival of Europe. Bits and pieces of all these things are given in the novel. Rev. Donnathea is an entirely admirable mainstream metaphysical teacher. I’m sure we’ve all met teachers like Rev. Debbee and students like Gwennie.

And I’ve known some very thoughtful Theosophists who would read my version of the transmigration of souls and laugh out loud. Theosophy posits the theory that life—a soul—arises in the mineral kingdom, moves to the vegetable, then to the animal, next to the human, then ascends to the angelic realm. I write in the FREE READER’S GUIDE on my website that Madame Blavatsky, the circle’s familiar, was born in the fluorite mine and moved to a mugwort bush. (These are both associated with mental power.) Next she was a Russian bear (the real-life occultist was born in Russia,) then she was the famous occultist and author. Next she became the cat in my novel. People might think she’s going backwards, but we need to remember that catus felis, the domestic cat, is the highest form of life on the planet. After her nine lives as a cat, Madame Blavatsky will start climbing up the nine levels of the angelic hierarchy. Yes—this is nonsense. But that’s the point of parody!

FQ: Being allowed to “make the choice you want to make for yourself” where death is concerned presents a scenes which are truly beautiful. Do you believe that this should be an option for all?

I believe that a person facing death should not be kept “heroically” alive with tubes and drugs and machines. If it’s time to go, then a person should be allowed to have a dignified death. I learned this as an AIDS volunteer and when some close friends died. This is why our women celebrate Sarah’s life and create sacred space for her to make her choice. They don’t do anything to encourage her or discourage her.

I also think I accept the fact of reincarnation, though I’m not totally sure. I’ve had spontaneous views of a couple of my earlier lives and believe them; at the same time, I do NOT believe that I was Cleopatra in an earlier life, which I was told because I wrote my doctoral dissertation about her. And two of my boyfriends were Caesar and Antony?? I think not! I’m very curious to know what happens when someone who dies “wakes up” in another realm, but even though I love the movie Ghost, nobody really trustworthy has come back to tell us.

FQ: The debates that arise from your novel such as God versus Goddess and The Church versus other religions are extremely strong. Can you offer readers a bit of information about these tough subjects, and how you feel about these debates that still go on?

As I—and many other neopagans—see it, the Goddess is the grandmother of God. The basic situation shown in the prologue is accurate and true. People were living in an egalitarian civilization in Old Europe when Indo-European horsemen arrived from the Caucasus Mountains and the Russian steppes bringing their sky, solar, storm gods with them. This is documented in the work of Marija Gimbutas and others. Lucia Birnbaum, another respected scholar, writes that the earliest people walked out of eastern Africa before 50,000 BCE taking their “black mothers” (black ancestral goddesses) with them. They turned left to populate Asia and went north and turned left to populate Europe.

We neopagans are not out to do battle with other religions. We do not proselytize, we do not seek converts, we do not preach to the masses. There are, of course, a few fundamentalist pagans who will have nothing to do with the standard-brand religions, but I’ve never heard of any neopagan jihadists or evangelists. I keep hoping we’re working up to a critical mass and that we’ll bring more lovingkindness to the planet. That’s why I write about pagan festivals and gods and goddesses in my last nonfiction book, Pagan Every Day, where I also write about Christian saints, Jewish holidays, Muslim prophets and events, Mormon history, Black Islam, and holidays from the Eastern religions.

FQ: I was very proud to see that all characters are given their voice in this novel. From witches to horrific doctors to the subject of lesbianism - this really feels like a novel promoting choice in everything. Is this a correct statement?

Yes. Choice based on intelligent observation and clear thought is a good thing. We have free will and e can make life choices. But we always need to consider the unintended consequences of any choices we make.

FQ: When your shaman is resting on her staff, the picture of many women and men resting on their canes in their elder years pops into mind - reminding me that this is the generation with the power, intelligence, and history that we should be honoring and not tossing into homes. Are you an advocate for senior citizens?

A formal advocate? No. But I’ve met many elderly people and listened to their stories. I’ve spent time in “old folks’ homes” and modeled the Towers on several of them. I also believe Santayana when he says that if we don’t remember history we’ll be condemned to repeat it. I read the newspaper in the morning and watch the news on TV, and I keep thinking the U.S. is heading in the same direction as some earlier fallen empires. We need to listen to our wise elders. Of course, some of our elderly people are not wise, so it’s a matter of distinguishing between those who know history and those who don’t, those who are wise and those who are demented. It would be good if we could keep the latter out of government.

FQ: Do you hope that the next generation comes to realize that they are being handed down the power to fight the evil that seems to be becoming more and more rampant every day?

I don’t like to use a word like “evil.” There’s a lot that’s lousy in the world—all we have to do is watch Eyewitless News to see big and little wars and gangs and crime. There are gangs in Long Beach. The scene that opens Chapter 1 echoes threats that women get all the time. My hope for the younger generation is that they learn to kind to other people and learn to make choices that are useful and helpful to themselves and other people. But our kids have a lot of awful history to overcome.

FQ: Who do you believe are some of the strongest women from history? I know that you mention Hypatia - THE librarian (my favorite) - is she among the toughest? And, do you believe that strong women will continue to be ‘taken-down’ even after all this time?

The list given in Chapter 25 names a lot of my heras. (“Hera” is the feminine form of “hero.”) The women are identified in the FREE READER’S GUIDE on my website. Cleopatra of Egypt was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Zenobia was a Syrian queen who led a failed revolt against the Roman Empire. Hypatia really died as described. Pope Joan may have been real. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to and imprisoned by Henry II. Tamara was the “king” of Georgia in the Caucasus at the end of the 12th century. Everyone knows about Joan of Arc. Queen Jinga Mbandi was an Angolan queen who tried to drive the Portuguese out of her land. Harriet Tubman was an African American humanitarian who used the Underground Railroad to take slaves out of the South and worked for women’s rights after the end of the Civil War. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a Mexican nun and poet. Clara Schumann was the sister of Robert Schumann and is believed to have written much of the music he took credit for. Isadora Duncan is said to be the creator of modern dance. Hildegard of Bingen and Dame Julian of Norwich were medieval Christian nuns and mystics. St. Theresa was a Spanish nun, mystic, saint, and reformer of the Carmelite Order. Mother Theresa was an Albanian Catholic nun and founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. Simone Weil was a French philosopher and social activist who is said to have starved herself to death in sympathy with the inmates of the Nazi concentration camps. Susan Griffin is the author of Woman and Nature (1979), a beautiful and important early feminist work. My intention with this list was to name women who have been overlooked in most of the history books.

FQ: I have to know… I love Madame Blavatsky - who is the cat based on?

The cat is sui generis, one in herself. For purposes of the plot, I wanted a powerful, smart-alecky character, but why did this character have to be human? A talking cat, along with the magic, is part of the magical realism of the novel. I also thought about the familiars that witches have traditionally lived with. She looks like one of my earlier cats, but none of my cats have ever spoken English. She’s a realistic feline because I live with two Maine coon cats (Schroedinger and Heisenberg) and observed their behavior as I wrote. But my cats don’t dance the lambada or sing songs from Marx Brothers movies, either.

FQ: On a personal note: I read in your Author’s Note that acquisitions departments over time have said to you that no one will want to read about crones, goddesses, and magic - I truly believe that you will prove them all wrong in 2011. 

Many thanks. Twenty years ago, no one was the least bit interested in senior citizens, especially not in old women. As the boomers begin to retire, however, “old age” is increasingly important. Just look at the ads on TV—“cures” for menopause, Viagra ads, ads for retirement villages. We can also look at some recent history. Jessica Tandy won her Oscar at the age of 89. The Golden Girls was a popular TV show. Older actors like Chloris Leachman and others are still working. In the U.S. Congress, many of our female senators and representatives, like Nancy Pelosi, might be of retirement age, but they’re not nearly ready to retire. Two of our three female Supreme Court justices are nearly old enough to be crones (Sotomayor is 57, Kagan is 51, Ginsburg is 78), but they’re smart and active. The door of respect of older women is open a tiny crack now. I’m hoping to give it a shove and open it wider.

To learn more about Secret Lives please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Facebook Tracking YOU?

There's been a lot of articles recently about how Facebook is using its data to track you/your interests/your, well, your "everything."  If you promote books or other things on Facebook, you should be aware of their data retrieval efforts.  There was an article in Time last week about how this data gathering is changing what FB is.  Here's another article on just what the folks at FB are doing.  Take a minute to read and if nothing else, be aware, next time you post to FB.  Facebook Can Track Web Browsing Without Cookies

Thursday, October 13, 2011

iSquare Update

Several weeks ago I posted a blurb about the iSquare, a new app that allows users to take credit cards via their phones, ipads, etc.  I had used it a few times and found it to be quite good.  Well, I recently had a multiple-day book signing and had LOTS of chances to use the iSquare.  Here is what I found:
  • Overall, it still rocks!
  • The app does take a bit of getting used to.  Perhaps partially due to nerves, the first few transactions were a little clunky.
  • If at all possible, use an ipad rather than an iphone.  Using the phone requires a bit more squinting of the eyes, and doesn't offer all of the features available for the ipad.  For example, with the ipad, you have the option of entering the total sale amount (which is what you do on the phone) or of entering each product, along with an image of said product, and then the price, which you entered when you set up your account, comes up automatically.  Also, the screen where the customer has to sign is MUCH larger.
  • Customers, for the most part, LOVED this app and thought it was very cool.  Some were genuinely excited.
  • Most decided not to have a receipt sent to their email/cell phone which I thought was odd.  Perhaps they thought I'd then track them, add them to my mailing list, etc.  I don't know.
  • While the app worked quite well, there were several times when it locked up.  I actually had a couple sales I couldn't get to go through.  It wasn't that the credit cards were bad, but rather, "can't get an internet connection."  Perhaps, since it was a large/busy venue, too many vendors were trying to use the wi-fi?
  • There was one time where the reader stopped working on my ipad.  It worked on my iphone, but not my ipad.  No idea what was wrong.  I thought the reader had gone bad but the next day it worked fine (and yes, it was pushed in all the way!).
  • Money was transferred into my account very quickly.  In addition, I received an email confirmation of each transaction, with a link for further information.  Clicking on the link sent me to a page with detailed info. included a google map pinpointing where the transaction too place.  Too cool.
  • Overall, the isquare still rocks!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Morning Introductions

Here's a sample of the books that came in for review
during the last several days:

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

Mosquito A pesky mosquito gets his due. Mosquito is a nuisance to all the animals as he buzzes about the forest. With fun word play, including rhyme, alliteration, and onomatopoeia, each critter expresses its annoyance with him. Finally, Mosquito bothers the wrong neighbor, who ends the insect's career as resident pest. A list of mosquito facts appears at the end of this humorous children's story.

Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate A long, long time ago, the Sun God spent his days enjoying a very special secret treat: rich, dark cacao. Unlike the Wind God, the Sun God did not want to share this heavenly food with the creatures of the Earth. One day, the Wind God transformed himself into the Rana Azul, or Blue Frog, and he taught the children of the Earth where to find the secret cacao beans through song. A recipe for hot chocolate and a sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases enhance this intricately illustrated foodie fable.

Curious Critters Photographer David FitzSimmons turns his camera on a variety of animals common throughout North America. CURIOUS CRITTERS presents stunning images of everyday animals, including a red flat bark beetle, an Eastern spiny softshell turtle, a spotted salamander, and many other intriguing creatures. Each Curious Critter is photographed against a white backdrop, showcasing the animal's colors, textures, and shapes with precision and clarity. Along with each photo is an entertaining and educational vignette, told from the critter's perspective: a bush katydid explains her bubblegum-pink color, a poetic opossum opines upon her often-shortened name, and a far-from-modest black swallowtail butterfly lets readers in on her secret for avoiding predators. Young boys and girls will delight in these colorful critters and their tales

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Amazon's Famous or Infamous Customer Service

Think you're having a bad day?  Try dealing with Amazon's customer service!  If you have ever tried to have a coherent phone conversation (or via email - with Amazon's frequent use of form letters, staff signing with first name/last initial only - do they really exist because you'll never email the same person twice), you know the true meaning of frustration.  Here's a blog post we found about a horrifying experience one woman had with Amazon's customer support.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Morning Introductions

Here's a look at the books that came in for review this week.  Check them out and then stop by our site in a few weeks to read the reviews.

The Importance of Being Ernie: From My Three Sons to Mad Men, a Hollywood Survivor Tells All 

Ghost Files In this hair-raising omnibus, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.), reveal the memorable and spine-tingling cases featured in their smash-hit collections, Ghost Hunting and Seeking Spirits. From their never-seen-on-television adventures as budding paranormal investigators to the behind-the-scenes accounts of heart-pounding supernatural encounters featured on their popular show, these fascinating and frightening real life tales will keep you up at night!

Curious Critters Photographer David FitzSimmons turns his camera on a variety of animals common throughout North America. CURIOUS CRITTERS presents stunning images of everyday animals, including a red flat bark beetle, an Eastern spiny softshell turtle, a spotted salamander, and many other intriguing creatures. Each Curious Critter is photographed against a white backdrop, showcasing the animal's colors, textures, and shapes with precision and clarity. Along with each photo is an entertaining and educational vignette, told from the critter's perspective: a bush katydid explains her bubblegum-pink color, a poetic opossum opines upon her often-shortened name, and a far-from-modest black swallowtail butterfly lets readers in on her secret for avoiding predators.

Froggy Boots Go With Everything Froggy Boots Go With Everything is a sturdy board book that celebrates a boy s inseparable love for his froggy boots. Simple phrases and colorful illustrations follow the boy through many activities in which his froggy boots become the prop that drives his imaginative play. The boy is accompanied throughout the book by a little frog friend who always finds his way into the scene. Adults will recognize activities from their own homes or get new ideas for playtime fun while reliving some favorite childhood memories with nostalgic appreciation. An easy Can you find... game at the end brings children back again and again while teaching important recognition skills.

The Space Between Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. Life for her is an endless expanse of time, until her brother Obie is kidnapped - and Daphne realizes she may be partially responsible. Determined to find him, Daphne travels from her home in Pandemonium to the vast streets of Earth, where everything is colder and more terrifying. With the help of the human boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne glimpses into his dreams, discovering clues to Obie's whereabouts. As she delves deeper into her demonic powers, she must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in her way. But she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.

Ghost Files In this hair-raising omnibus, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.), reveal the memorable and spine-tingling cases featured in their smash-hit collections, Ghost Hunting and Seeking Spirits. From their never-seen-on-television adventures as budding paranormal investigators to the behind-the-scenes accounts of heart-pounding supernatural encounters featured on their popular show, these fascinating and frightening real life tales will keep you up at night!

Ghost Trackers For fifteen years, Amber, Drew, and Trevor have barely been able to recall—let alone explain—what happened the terrifying night they decided to explore the old, abandoned Lowry House. According to local legend, the house was cursed by a dark past and inhabited by evil. It burst into flames on the night of their visit, leaving the friends traumatized and nearly dead with only vague memories of the frightening events they had witnessed inside. Now, on the eve of their high school reunion, they have gathered to reopen their investigation and figure out, once and for all, what took place that fateful night . . . before the supernatural entity they escaped threatens to overtake them again.

Eclipse of the Jacguar The MacGregor family heads to the warm waters of Mexico and Central America in this latest installment in the series. When two of the kids are kidnapped by a thief, the family must come to the rescue.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Author Interview with Nikolai Grozni

Today we're talking with Nikolai Grozni, author of Wunderkind

FQ: Konstantin is fantastic - a truly mesmerizing literary character. I would assume that Konstantin and his life is loosely based on your own experiences?

Yes, the character of Konstantin is based to a large extent on my own experience at the Sofia Music School. Perhaps I’m a writer without any imagination: I always end up writing about myself!

FQ: Is this, in a way an autobiography - a way to work through the feelings and experiences you had to go through?

I knew that one day I’d have to write this book even while I was still at the music school. For many years I kept putting this project off, convincing myself that I wasn’t ready, that it’s too much to talk about these things. When I finally got down to writing it, I told myself that this was going to be a healing process and that I needed to address all the anger that’s been brewing in me for years. Unfortunately, the process of writing this book turned out to be incredibly traumatic.

FQ: I know you were a musical prodigy. Can you tell readers a little about your background - performances you played, and how piano playing came about in your own life?

I started playing when I was still in daycare. My mother had played the piano for many years before becoming a doctor and she owned a beautiful old German piano. I remember leaving daycare early to go to ear-training classes. At seven, I was accepted to the Music School. At nine I auditioned to travel to Italy and play at an international piano competition. I ended up winning the competition and continued to perform and take part in competitions until I was kicked out of the Music School at age seventeen.

FQ: Now, you are a native of Sofia, Bulgaria - the country focused upon in the book. Can you tell our readers what that situation was like? How you lived behind the Iron Curtain?

Bulgaria had one of the harshest—if not the harshest—authoritarian regimes among all the Eastern bloc countries. Dissidents were sent regularly to concentration camps or imprisoned. It was like being in a virtual reality nightmare where most people thought everything was real, while those who knew the truth were too afraid to say it. I remember going to school one morning when I was ten and seeing a huge red paint graffiti on the school wall which said, "Todor Zhivkov is a murderer!" Todor Zhivkov was the country's dictator whose name and image was so ubiquitous you couldn’t open a door or a window without meeting his sick stare. When I read the graffiti I felt as if a large chunk of the virtual reality dome had disintegrated and there had appeared an opening large enough for all of us to go through and escape into the real world. But no one wanted to escape. Students and teachers refused to read or even look at the sign—which was promptly washed off before the end of first period. When, sometime later, I learned through friends the name of the boy who had painted the graffiti, I thought of him as god. I couldn’t believe that someone would have the guts to do something like that.

FQ: Can you also tell our readers how you left Bulgaria, and what life was like once you were not ruled over by communism?

When I arrived in the United States, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I had to grow up a second time so that I can function in a society where people had many choices and were free to think and be inspired. Just sitting in Boston Public Library on Boylston Street was enough for me: there were books on everything you could imagine. Nothing was off limits. Nothing was forbidden. In a sense Boston is my home town. It’s where I grew up emotionally and as a person.

FQ: I read in your bio that you lived in the Catacombs in Bulgaria. Can you explain what this location is?

The Catacombs were a vast network of underground tunnels and passageways where a lot of society’s outcasts lived year-round. I was first brought there by a friend and quickly found many kindred spirits.

FQ: And am I right in saying that you no longer play the piano? Is your focus now literary only?

I still play the piano, only now I play it for myself, to experience music.

To learn more about Wunderkind please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.