Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: The Proxy Assassin by John Knoerle

The American Spy Trilogy comes to an explosive end in The Proxy Assassin by John Knoerle.

Two years have passed since Former OSS Agent Hal Schroeder was sent on his last suicide mission. Maybe it's time for him to start settling down. Hal is invited to Washington D.C. by Frank Wisner, head of the CIA’s new covert ops division. He is then whisked off to Wisner’s Maryland shore retreat and introduced to Romanian royals, including the beautiful Princess Stela Varadja, a direct descendant of Vlad Tepes Draculea.

Wisner asks Hal if he would consider parachuting into a remote mountain camp to meet with the leader of a group of Romanian anti-Communist guerillas? That's when things get scary.

After being totally captivated by the second book of this series, A Despicable Profession, I eagerly anticipated the release of the final book. Hal is faced with a new puzzle to solve in the fight against Communism. Knoerle blends characters from the past book with new fictional and historical characters to create a story where the still infant Central Intelligence Agency is working against another threat to freedom. So much of what I like about Hal is part of this book: his cocky, sarcastic attitude, his ability to creatively get out of messes, and his vulnerability to the opposite sex. Hal is wise beyond his years, and he isn't afraid to tell it like it is.

I have to admit the first half of this the book lagged a bit for me. After reading a thrilling, fast-paced story in A Despicable Profession, I found The Proxy Assassin unfolded much more slowly, at least until around Chapter Nineteen, where the pace and action picked up. Knoerle did a superb job of connecting the past and the present. He managed to add a hint of romance or potential romance to Hal's life without distracting from the unfolding storyline. In addition, the back story was woven in well.  I only wish the tension and suspense had stayed steady.

Post-WWII fiction lovers, those who enjoy espionage novels, and those interested in historical novels set around the early years of the Cold War should consider this one.

Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Blue Steel Press (September 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0982090390
ISBN-13: 978-0982090398
SRP:  $15.00
Kindle version only 99 cents

I received a free copy of this book from the author. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.

This book is the 57th book I've read for the following challenge:

It is the 34th book I've read for the following challenge:

It is the 13th book I've read for the following challenge:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Interview with Deena Metzger, Author of La Negra y Blanca

Deena Metzger is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, storyteller, healer and medicine woman. Story is her Medicine. She has written, taught and counseled for over fifty years, in the process of which she has developed therapies (Healing Stories) which creatively address life threatening diseases, spiritual and emotional crises, as well as community, political and environmental disintegration.

She has spent a lifetime investigating Story as a form of knowing and healing. As a writer, she asks: Who do we have to become to find the forms and sacred language with which to meet these times?

Her latest novels are Feral and La Negra y Blanca, both published by Hand to Hand, 2011. La Negra y Blanca has won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature 2012.

The novels The Other Hand and Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, and also Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems are published by Red Hen Press.

Other books:

Skin: Shadows/Silence A Love Letter in the Form of a Novel, and What Dinah Thought (Viking)
The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them and the cancer journal Tree, in the volume Tree: Essays and Pieces, (North Atlantic Books) that features the celebrated Warrior Poster on its cover. Tree testifies to a woman’s triumph over breast cancer. It is an example of her many formal and spiritual explorations imagining a literature responsive to the complexities and necessities of our time, especially the value of actively respecting the numerous voices that constitute an ecology of mind attuned to a sacred universe.

Writing For Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds is a classic text on writing and creativity that articulates these possibilities for fellow writers and as do her plays Not As Sleepwalkers and Dreams Against the State.

She co-edited the groundbreaking anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, one of the first testimonies to the reality and nature of animal intelligence.

Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and From Grief into Vision: A Council examine the tragic failure of contemporary culture and provide guidance for personal, political, environmental and spiritual healing.

A radical thinker on behalf of the natural world and planetary survival, a teacher of writing and healing practices, a writer and activist profoundly concerned with peacemaking, restoration and sanctuary for a beleaguered world, she is basing her work now on the ideas outlined in the posting, “19 Ways to the 5th World.” She also teaches a program, “A Training for the 5th World.”

She, and writer, Michael Ortiz Hill, introduced Daré to North America in 1999. Daré is a unique form of individual and community healing based on indigenous medicine traditions and contemporary wisdom. The Topanga Daré relies on Council, alliance with Spirit and the natural world, ancestor work, indigenous and wisdom traditions and teachings, music healing, dream telling, divination, kinship, and story telling to achieve personal transformation, peace making, community healing and social change. There are other Darés in the U.S. and Canada. Daré occurs on the first Sunday after the new moon at her home in Topanga, Ca. It is open to the public.

Deena convenes ReVisioning Medicine, a unique collaboration in diagnosis and treatment between medical people and medicine people, physicians and healers. She is also Senior Advisor to the NGO, everyday gandhis that supports grassroots and indigenous peacebuilding activities in Liberia and West Africa.
As a spiritual practitioner, Deena is devoted to the Pathless Path and the No Enemy Way. She has taught and lectured widely, nationally and internationally. (Ruin and Beauty Blog)

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Sea Gate, a neighborhood at the tip end of Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. It is surrounded by water on three sides. As soon as I was old enough, I walked around the community, day and night, stopping at the ocean and the bay. I had the idea that a writer knows how to walk and so I thought if I really learned to walk, as a writer does, Neruda, for example, I could become a writer.

When did you begin writing?

I wrote my first poem – or spoke my first poem when I was three. Though I wrote from time to time, poems, stories, the true writing began when I was 24 years old. I had told myself that I would have to write a novel by the time I was 25. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be a writer. So at 24, despite being a wife and mother and being in graduate school, and a political activist, I began the novel and finished it in time to assure my future.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

I write when I can. I like to begin in the morning before I see anyone or speak to anyone. But I can also write at night. What is essential is quiet and privacy. Sometimes I have to go away for weeks in order to find the writer. Sometimes I have to be in silence for days.

What is this book about?

La Negra y Blanca tells many stories that interweave with each other. It explores relationships between people, historical and imaginary, in the bloody tragedy of the on-going Conquest and its effect on the real and spiritual lives of indigenous people, particularly the Maya. The wisdom ways of the indigenous and the horrific historic circumstances and current politics in Guatemala and Latin America are illuminated through the inter-connected personal stories of five individuals who meet on Christmas at Lake Atitlan at the home of a Tz’utujil woman Doña Vida, the mother of Morena Monteforte, whose father, Mario Monteforte Toledo, a Ladino, was a former Vice- President and prominent Guatemalan novelist. The five, Blanca the writer, her lover, Emiliano, Morena, Reynard, her husband, and Victor Perera, a writer and journalist and human rights activist. The book asserts and imagines indigenous vision, wisdom, language, beauty restoring itself as those who still carry those ways, like La Negra, the mysterious protagonist, enter living history through the text.

What inspired you to write it?

A question entered my mind and I couldn’t ignore it: Did I ever meet La Negra? The book addresses the question.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

When writing a novel, it often takes me about ten years from conception to publication. Publication itself is a joy, as I work with a beloved editor, Stephan Hewitt. He is also the publisher of Hand to Hand, “a community based endeavor that supports independently published works and public events – books, plays, music, performances, films etc. – free of the restrictions that arise from commercial and political concerns. It is a forum for artists who are in dynamic and reciprocal relationship with their communities for the sake of healing, peacemaking, and restoring culture and the planet.”

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

The book can be purchased through Amazon, in paper and on kindle. It can also be purchased from Book Clearing House 1-800-431-1579 or ask your local, favorite bookstore to order it.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Write and write and write. Don’t be distracted or disheartened by commercial interests and publishing fashions. Serve the heart and soul of the work, the complexity and revelation of Story and devote yourself to finding the exact words and forms to express these.

What is up next for you?

I am working on a novel, A Rain of Night Birds. It came to me in the same mysterious way that I have received all the other novels I have written. In this case, a character’s name and her profession were delivered to me and I have to discover who she is and who she is becoming. I am also beginning to consider a third and final volume in a series that began with Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and then From Grief Into Vision: A Council. The third book, whose working title is Sipapu, explores the current call for all of us to live according to the peaceful and beauty ways of the 5th world. A world in which ‘all our relations’ thrive and we truly live on behalf of all beings.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I have taught writing or rather, I have guided writers for fifty years. Some of what I learned from writing and teaching is in my book, Writing For Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds. (Harper One) It has become a classic writing text and is still in print after 20 years. When writing that book, I understood that every life is a story. The exploration of one’s own story, knowing the meaning that it offers to each life, is, for me, a way toward meaning and healing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Guest Blogger: Kathy Leonard Czepiel, Author of A Violet Season


The violet industry is booming in 1898, and a Hudson Valley farm owned by the Fletcher family is turning a generous profit for its two oldest brothers. But Ida Fletcher, married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her daughter, Alice, has left school to work. As they risk losing their share of the farm, the two women make increasingly great sacrifices for their family’s survival, sacrifices that will set them against each other in a lifelong struggle for honesty and forgiveness. A Violet Season is the story of an unforgettable mother-daughter journey in a time when women were just waking to their own power and independence.

A Writer’s Surprises by Kathy Leonard Czepiel

One of the great pleasures of writing is the element of surprise. Writers often talk about this: the surprise of the story taking them someplace unexpected and greater than what they had imagined. But there is an additional layer of potential surprises in the writing of a historical novel. Not only do we find ourselves sometimes surprised by what our characters do or say, but we experience the surprises of research, the overturning of the history with which we began.

I experienced that kind of surprise while working on my novel, A Violet Season. The story is set on a violet farm at the turn of the twentieth century in New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley. Several small towns there supplied all of the violets for the eastern half of the United States at a time when violets were the most popular flower, much like roses today. It was interesting to learn directly from the last remaining violet farmer (who is really an anemone farmer with one bed of violets left for “old time’s sake”) how to grow and pick and ship violets, and what life on a violet farm might have been like at that time. But there were no particular surprises here, and no complications or dead ends in my research.

Not so for the other setting of the novel, a brothel on New York City’s Lower East Side. I imagined when I embarked on this project that there would be plenty of books out there on the topic of nineteenth-century prostitution, which surely had interested readers before me. Instead, I found myself pacing the edges of what I needed to know. Yes, there were public health statistics and maps. There was an excellent academic source, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918 by Ruth Rosen, which gave me some of the specific details I needed, but not a real inside look at life in the brothels. Another book, Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, did get inside a particular brothel run by two sisters in Chicago at roughly the right time, but that brothel was too upscale for my story, and the city was wrong. No one source quite matched my needs. Instead, in order to tell my story convincingly and truthfully, I had to piece together these and many other sources. There were letters written by a woman named Maimie Pinzer, who worked sporadically as a prostitute on her own. These touched upon some of the emotional content I needed. I visited the excellent New York Tenement Museum twice for a firsthand look inside a building like the one about which I was writing. I consulted a digitized medical textbook from 1900 on the treatment of venereal diseases. I read Dorothy Richardson’s The Long Day: The Story of a New York Working Girl, a semi-autobiographical account of young women working in early twentieth-century New York factories. I even read an archaeological study on the excavation of a brothel privy. Like the archeologists’ potsherds, my sources were incomplete little pieces, which I arranged into a mosaic that I hoped would feel complete and bring my readers inside Mrs. Hargrave’s house on Eldridge Street.

That lack of sources was my first surprise, though it shouldn’t have been. Of course the women who worked as prostitutes didn’t leave a public record of their lives. The men who visited them didn’t, either. It’s no wonder I had to build that part of my novel from fragments. But there was a second surprise as well, which goes back to the title of Ruth Rosen’s book. I expected to read about unwanted pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, disease, and violence. What I did not expect was to learn that while prostitutes struggled with all those issues, there was also a “sisterhood” of sorts among them. They lived in close-knit groups and took care of one another. Some of them had even chosen that way of life over others—factory work, the laundries, abusive marriages. This tells us how limited their choices were. But I had not imagined choices. What I discovered in the course of my research was a much more complicated history than I had expected; those complications changed the story I told.

I am working now on my next novel, set between 1929 and 1946 with a woman photographer as my protagonist. I’m learning about developing photographs the old-fashioned way, in a darkroom; the lives of the women who took photographs for the WPA during the Great Depression; how to build a house and a reservoir; and the minutiae of daily life. I don’t know yet what the surprises will be this time around. But I can’t wait to find out.

Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the author of A Violet Season, a historical novel set on a Hudson Valley violet farm on the eve of the twentieth century. She is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, CALYX, Confrontation, and The Pinch. Czepiel teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and their two daughters. Learn more about Czepiel and her work at her website,

New York Tenement Museum:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Interview with Rebecca Reid, Author of The Coop

Rebecca Reid was withdrawn from school due to illness at fourteen. Being limited in the things she was able to do, she wrote all the time − poetry, stories, feelings, thoughts. At 16 she had her own page in the local weekly newspaper, the Bangor Spectator, in which she covered anything and everything: fashion, beauty, film, teen issues etc. At 17 she became a model, doing catwalk, photographic work, and TV. In 2008 she graduated in English from Queens University, Belfast, and she was awarded an Arts Council writing grant in 2009. Married in 2007, she lives in N. Ireland with her husband and their three daughters. The Coop is her first novel, and part of the Thickets Wood Trilogy.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter:

Visit Rebecca Reid on Facebook:

Pick up your copy of The Coop at Amazon!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am just shy of thirty, happily married with three children and embarking on the scariest, most exciting venture of my life.

Where did you grow up?

By the sea in Northern Ireland.

What is your fondest childhood memory?

I was lucky enough to have teachers for parents, lucky in the sense that they had prolonged holidays, so as a family we spent our summers traveling around Europe. We would set off for months, staying with my grandfather who lived in the south of France for a few weeks before moving on. I adored my summers. They were magical.

When did you begin writing?

I fell ill at just fourteen years old, forcing me to be withdrawn from school. At such a young age, I needed a vent for all the thoughts in my head. Writing was it. I created a life for myself on paper and never looked back. It showed me that something good could come from the hardship in your life.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

As I have three children I have to be very strict about my writing time. With Granny day care and school, I work three mornings a week, 9am-1pm. At that rate it takes me around six months to complete a manuscript.

What is this book about?

The Coop is a darkly compelling piece of psychological fiction in which I manipulate the unsuspecting reader through both the conscious and subconscious mind. The convoluted intricacies of this story build from its gentle beginnings to enthrall the reader through menacing happenings and strange, disturbing characters. The Coop is not what it seems − things are never that simple.

It follows two very different storylines; that of a girl, apparently imprisoned in a room, which is the thread of mystery running parallel to the tale of Thatchbury village. There, Howard and Lilly take you on a journey through Thatchbury where Mathew, the child from the coop, shoots Jodie Tiding, and so unravels the history of his loveless raising, her innocence and the dramatic events leading them to disaster.

What inspired you to write it?

I had a fleeting thought about how life would feel if it was hopeless. It was nothing more than a flicker. As time grew that notion began to nag in the back of my mind. It irritated me. I knew nothing more than that one thought but this constant drone told me I had to write, that there was something more. That eventually became The Coop.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

It is available to download on Amazon worldwide.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

If a thought comes to you, capture it before it is gone forever.

What is up next for you?

Books 2 and 3 of the ‘Thickets Wood Trilogy’ are already written, awaiting their final edit. Once I have done that I intend to begin on what will then be my fourth novel. As yet I have no idea what it will become but the nag is there, it has been for a while now.

Is there anything you would like to add?

If you are reading The Coop, I hope you like it.


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Friday, November 23, 2012

First Chapter Review: Persephone Cole and the Christmas Killings Conundrum by Heather Haven

The first chapter of Persephone Cole and the Christmas Killings Conundrum was sent to me by author Heather Haven. This is a Books We Love holiday mystery.

BLURB: In late December, 1942, Persephone (Percy) Cole, one of Manhattan's first female PIs, has been hired to find out who killed a Santa Land elf and left the body in the storefront window of a swank 5th Avenue jewelry store. Was it the spoiled heiress whose big buck handbag was found on the scene? Or was it the rat who broke out of the big house to settle a score? Shortly after, the corpse of the Christmas Angel is discovered stuffed in Mrs. Santa's workshop. Will Santa Claus be next? With a penchant for Marlene Dietrich suits, pistachio nuts and fedora hats, this working mother finds diamonds to the left of her, diamonds to the right, and skullduggery aplenty. Armed with her noodle and a WW I German Mauser, Percy is determined to solve these crimes or it just might be the 'kiss off' for Christmas.

COVER: I absolutely love when a cover is designed that captures the essence of a book. So many of the details from the first chapter make their way onto this cover that I already feel like I know Percy and where she lives.

FIRST CHAPTER: Percy receives a phone call from the owner of Waller and Sons Jewelry. An elf has been found dead in his storefront window and he wants to know why. Though the police are already on the scene, Waller wants to talk to Percy face-to-face about hiring her, which would be great since Pop is laid up with a broken leg and Percy is the sole support of her family right now.

KEEP READING: You betcha. In this first chapter, Haven manages to create a cast of characters you immediately connect with and care about: from Percy a street-smart, sarcastic dame with a penchant for Marlene Dietrich-style pant suits and pistachios to her boy-crazy younger sister Serendipity to her daffy mother and more. I don't always like so many characters introduced right away, but Haven did a fine job of giving them just enough interaction that the reader isn't confused.

The other thing I felt the author did well was add in the right amount of detail so that the setting and time period were clear without having to read the book blurb first. I had to chuckle at the plethora of ashtrays around the house to hold pistachio shells. Why it struck me funny I don't know, but it did.

I am eager to see how this mystery plays out. I hope to make time to read this entire book soon. Haven's style of humorous private eye stories continues with this latest endeavor. And I love it!

File Size: 372 KB
Print Length: 185 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Books We Love Ltd. (October 10, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
SRP:  $3.99

I received the first chapter of this book from the author. This First Chapter Review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.

Book Review: Beside Two Rivers by Rita Gerlach

Darcy Morgan's past and present are destined to collide. With both parents gone, she now lives with her aunt and uncle in a house along the Potomac. As past secrets rise to the surface, Darcy meets Ethan Brennan, an aspiring English horse breeder who is captivated by her independent spirit and marvels at the simplicity of her faith.

When Darcy is beckoned to England by her grandmother, she decides to leave her beloved home and journey with friends of the family across the ocean. Soon all the memories she has of her family begin to unravel, and a long-hidden secret may destroy any happiness she might have with Ethan.

I truly love books that show how much the past and present are connected. That's exactly what I discovered in Beside Two Rivers by Rita Gerlach. While Darcy and Ethan's romance is partially the focus of this moving novel, the story is more about how past secrets can impact future happiness directly or indirectly.

In Darcy, the author has created a sympathetic character with an adventurous spirit. Darcy still remembers the last words her father spoke of her mother Eliza. Soon afterwards, she was abandoned by her father and left to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins. While she loves them all dearly, she can't seem to let go of the mother she lost and the father who abandoned her.

Gerlach did a wonderful job of sculpting a truly fascinating story that kept me turning page after page. Would Darcy and Ethan's love flourish? Would Darcy ever see her father again? How would what Darcy doesn't know about the past impact her life if it was discovered? I absolutely loved how the author developed the tension in this novel. I couldn't put the book down.

While this is the second book in a series, it stands alone perfectly. I never once felt lost. My only disappointment was that the ending seemed rushed. The tension built and built. The puzzle pieces fell into place. For 34 chapters I was totally engrossed. Then came the last chapter and suddenly every loose end had to be tied up. This happened, then this, and then this. Time flew by. I would have preferred either a few unanswered questions or a solid last chapter followed by an epilogue that allowed the reader to see a bit into the future.

I still enjoyed Beside Two Rivers and have requested to review the next book in the series, Beyond the Valley, which will be out in February. If you like a bit of mystery and suspense in your historical fiction, you should give Beside Two Rivers a try.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press (October 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1426714157
ISBN-13: 978-1426714153
SRP: $14.99

I received a free paperback copy of this book from the publisher through Pump Up Your Book. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I was not compensated in any way.

This is the 56th book I've read for the following challenge:

It is the 33rd book I've read for the following challenge:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Unexpected Christmas Hero by Kathi Macias

Prepare to be moved by this heartfelt story of the season.

Josie Meyers appears to be living the American dream when she falls in love with and marries Sam. Her world comes crashing down when she becomes a widow and must cope with the fallout of her husband's decisions. When she loses her home to foreclosure, Josie and her two small children are forced onto the streets and into homeless shelters.

Forced to lean on the experiences and lives of other homeless people she meets, Josie remains unconvinced that the God she once knew cares for her family. What she doesn't know is that the course of her life will be changed by the influence of a homeless Vietnam veteran, who will lead her home to the One who waits for her.

One thing you must know about the work of Kathi Macias: it will touch your heart in a multitude of ways. Unexpected Christmas Hero puts a name and a face to the many around us who are homeless. From Josie and her children to Rick, the homeless Vietnam veteran who has given his life to God, to Karen and Mr. Foley who work at the homeless shelters Josie's family stays at when they can, to members of Karen's church, and more, this book is filled with characters that will come to mean almost as much to you as your own friends and neighbors.

As I've watched the author's work evolve over the years, each new book is a call to service, a call to help others as Christ asks us to do. Each new book breaks through our prejudices, tears apart what we think we know about others, and opens our hearts to the possibilities of what this world would be like if we all lived as Jesus did.

With masterful storytelling, rich descriptions, and a way of touching your heart and mind in a way that can only come from God, Macias inspires her readers. I highly recommend this touching Christmas story. May it bless you as much as it has blessed me.

Please visit the author's blog to learn about the homeless man featured on the front cover and the ongoing mission to reunite him with his family:

The Kindle version of this book is currently on sale for only 99 cents! Prices can change at any time.

The author paid me to help promote this book through Pump Up Your Book Virtual Book Tours. This fee did not include a review. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I have not been compensated in any way.

This is the 55th book I've read for the following challenge:

It is the 32nd book I've read for the following challenge:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guest Blogger: Cathy Bryant, Author of The Way of Grace

In pursuit of justice, in need of grace . . . A justice-seeking perfectionist pursues her dream of a perfect life in her hometown of Miller's Creek, Texas. Sidetracked by her desire to be a prosecuting attorney, Grace Soldano launches into uncharted waters, making herself over to please her boss and mentor. Then a disheveled free spirit turns her perfectly ordered world upside down, challenging the concept of personal goodness. A fall from perfection leaves her teetering between vengeance and grace, caught in a deadly crossfire that leaves her dreams in a heap of ashes. Can she learn to joyfully accept the life God has given her--far from perfect--but one completely immersed in His grace?

By Cathy Bryant, ©2012

I start with such good intentions. I really do. I know that life is only improved when I choose to be grateful. But somehow during the course of each day, it becomes increasingly easy to focus on what I lack—funds, creativity, time, patience—the list could go on and on.

But I don’t want to spend my life that way. I really want to focus on what I have, to be mindful of the gift of life. I want that positive attitude of gratitude. So I’ve come up with a plan. Each day I take one minute as my day begins to write down at least one thing for which I’m thankful. So far the plan is working well, and I’ve discovered that when I try to think of only one thing, a host of other things crowd my mind, all elbowing and shoving to garner my attention, so many things that I don’t have time or space to write them all down.

Some of them seem so mundane and common—indoor plumbing, fresh water, a tooth brush. But where would I be without these things I so often take for granted?

Other items of gratitude center around the people in my life—the comfort of my husband’s presence, the way he makes me feel so treasured in the way he cares for me, my mom’s laugh, my siblings’ ability to make me smile when no one else can, seeing the world afresh through the eyes of my three-year-old grandson.

Most of my “grateful for” lists drive me to a place of thankfulness to the One who created me and sustains me and unfolds His plans for my life in miraculous ways.

The truth is that in spite of living in a world of change and troubles and turmoil, we are all incredibly blessed. We all have the gift of this moment, a moment where our hearts are beating. Each day brings touches of beauty capable of making us catch our breath in awe and wonder if we will but still ourselves to notice. Even the poorest among us have something for which to express thanks.

This process has led to discovery. When I choose to focus a grateful heart on the abundance in my life, what I think I lack seems to lessen in significance and pale in comparison. Gratitude builds on itself, until life becomes one prayer of thanksgiving after another. “Thank You for the brilliant colors of fall. And the blue sky. And the wind that rustles the leaves and scatters them to the ground. And the gift of sight and hearing…”

As I draw this post to a conclusion, I am reminded of a post I recently saw circling around on Facebook. I think it bears repeating because it creates a gratitude barometer which forces us to be mindful of all that we have to be grateful for.

“What if what we were given tomorrow depended on us being grateful for it today?”

BIO: Cathy’s desire is to write heart-stirring stories about God’s life-changing grace. Her first novel, Texas Roads, was a 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis finalist. Her second novel, A Path Less Traveled, was published in 2010. The Way of Grace, the third book in the Miller’s Creek novels was released in 2012. She is currently at work on book four in the series, Pilgrimage of Promise. A native Texan, Cathy currently resides in the beautiful Ozark mountains of northwest Arkansas with her husband of thirty years, and near the world’s cutest grandson. You can find out more about Cathy and her books at



Interview with R. M. Smith, Author of Union Hypocrisy

R. M. Smith started with the Teamsters in the Convention Industry. In 2000, she went into the Southern Nevada Teamsters’ Training Trust as a trainer and then advanced to Executive Director. While an Executive Director, she sat on negotiating committees, arbitrated cases for apprentices. Smith developed, implemented, and directed a registered apprenticeship program as well as wrote the training manuals. Those manuals were approved by the Department of Labor and Nevada State Industrial Education Department. They were also copyrighted by the Teamsters Training Trust.

Smith had several articles written in trade magazines and the newspaper regarding this apprenticeship program as well as an Innovation award for designing a new trade training program. She was elected by representatives of 26 union trade organizations as secretary treasurer of the Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association (WACA).

In 2006, she was asked to represent 26 trade unions in negotiating a contract with the Nevada State Secondary Education System. During her time with the Teamsters she was a speaker at several conferences and was the first and only union representative asked to sit on the Crystal Ball Panel for the hospitality industry. Smith has served as the union WACA representative on the selection committee for the new Business School President for Southern Nevada College.

In 2007, Smith started consulting in Labor Relations.

Her blog site and she can be reached at

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Avon Lake, Ohio

When did you begin writing?

I have been writing things all my life including poetry. I have started many books, I just never completed them because I wasn’t happy with what I had done. This was the first one that made it to the finish line!

What is this book about?

Union Hypocrisy is divided into multiple sections, each providing a look inside the current union movement. Information includes how unions react when their own employees want union representation, unions that sell out their own employees, and the history of the ties between unions and the Democratic Party.

A major focus of Union Hypocrisy is how unions have transformed from a movement that fought for workers’ rights into an association that now puts other objectives in front of union workers. It also examines the relationship between organized labor and political parties.

"Nobody has written a book like this before. 'Union Hypocrisy' includes actual documents, along with an untold history that insiders usually do not talk about. It is in the nature of political authors Laura Ingraham and Michelle Malkin, Smith mixes political and business tones to give readers involved in labor unions, or interested in the labor movement, a creative outlook that is unique for a book of this subject matter."

What inspired you to write it?

My experience with the union, and I think the trigger point was when I had heard about some union organizers that were trying to organize their own union while working for one.

How is it similar to other books in its genre? How is it different?

I am not sure that this is similar to any book of its type. It concentrates mostly on how unions interact with their own staff and the political world. It also blends humorous sarcasm with fact, making it entertaining as wells as informative.

What is the most important thing readers can learn from your book?

I think the biggest take away from this book is that unions are corporations.  They are entities that are more concerned with their survival as a business and protecting their “executive board” than the membership they represent. It also takes a detour to what unions originally started as and how they ended up.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

Currently readers can purchase the book on In about 8 weeks it will be available through bookstores by order.

What is up next for you?

I am exploring two book ideas. One is the the relationship between George Meaney of the AFL-CIO and the CIA post WWII or the events that took place in Las Vegas at Local 631 when the Chicago Teamsters tried to move in. That one involved the Internal Review Board which is the arm of the Department of Justice that has oversight in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Both are very intriguing stories and I have already been doing the research.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I hope that people will give this book a read. It is not the dull dry reading that most readers attach to this type of genre. It is a good read and for those who are not familiar with unions or labor this is a great way to get acquainted!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Interview with Brandt Dodson, Author of The Sons of Jude (Kindle Fire HD Giveaway)

Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, which he would later choose as the setting for his Colton Parker Mystery series. Although he discovered in grade school that he wanted to be a writer, it would be another twenty-one years before he would put pen to paper.“I knew in fifth grade that I wanted to be a writer. Our teacher had given each of us a photograph which we were to use as inspiration for a short story. The particular photo I was given was of several young men playing handball in New York City. I don’t remember all of the particulars of the story now, but I do remember the thrill that writing it gave me.”

Later, while in college, one of Brandt’s professors would echo that teacher’s comment.

“But life intervened and I found myself working at a variety of jobs. I worked in the toy department of a local department store and fried chicken for a local fast food outlet. Over the course of the next several years I finished my college degree and worked for the Indianapolis office of the FBI, and served for eight years as a Naval Officer in the United States Naval Reserve. I also obtained my doctorate in Podiatric Medicine, and after completion of my surgical residency, opened my own practice. But I never forgot my first love. I wanted to write.”

During his early years in practice, Brandt began reading the work of Dean Koontz.

“I discovered Dean’s book, The Bad Place, and was completely blown away by his craftsmanship. I read something like 13 or 14 of his back list over the following two weeks. It wasn’t long after that I began to write and submit in earnest.”

Still, it would be another twelve years before Brandt was able to secure the publishing contract he so desperately desired.

“I began by writing the type of fiction that I enjoyed; I wrote edgy crime thrillers that were laced with liberal amounts of suspense. Over the years, I’ve begun to write increasingly more complex work by using broader canvases and themes.

Since securing his first contract, Brandt has continued to pen the type of stories that inspired him to write when he was a boy, and that have entertained his legions of readers.

“I love to write, and as long as others love to read, I plan on being around for a long time to come.”

Visit Brandt Dodson’s website at

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm a Hoosier, born and bred, and grew up on the southwest side of Indianapolis, a blue collar, working-class section of the city. A good portion of my family was in law enforcement with police officers on both sides of my family going as far back as the 1930s. Today, when I watch television shows like Blue Bloods, I'm reminded of the dinner table conversations we had and the way in which my extended family interacted with each other. I was six years old when I met my first murderer, a sixteen year old who tortured a young girl to death. Law enforcement is in our DNA.  

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Christmas was always special in our house. We didn't get a lot during the year, but mom and dad always showered us at Christmas. Now that I'm a father myself, I understand the excitement I saw on their faces when my brother and I would slide under the tree and start the day.

It's still a big deal to me as well as the idea it represents. I'm the biggest kid in the house.

When did you begin writing?

I've always had a creative bent, going as far back as grade school.

I was in the first grade, and we were in art class. Our teacher had us paint on one side of a piece of construction paper and then fold it to make a symmetrical version of what we had just painted. I was really into it and having a great time when she suddenly paused at my desk and snatched my painting. She told all the other kids to put their brushes down. She held up my work and asked them if it was any good. They answered with a reverberating "no," and she set my painting down and walked away.

I can remember tossing my brush onto my desk with the realization I was never going to be an artist.
Fast forward to the fifth grade. Our teacher gave all of us a photograph with instructions to write a short story that matched the photo. I had a black-and-white picture of two kids playing handball in an inner city alley. I wrote a story about the ball containing a bomb that would go off and level the city if the kids quit playing. I'm not sure how I got them out their predicament, but the teacher read my story as an example of the type of creative thinking she wanted. I received my first affirmation as a writer.

What is this book about?

The Sons of Jude is about standing firm in the face of certain consequences. It tells the story of two detectives, Frank Campello and Andy Polanski, who are polar opposites and who despise each other, yet who must put aside their differences while battling ingrained corruption when investigating the murder of a young girl. Throw in a steely local reporter, Christy Lee, who has her own grudge battle with the police, and there's enough conflict to fuel a dozen stories. It was a lot of fun to write.

What inspired you to write it?

I was living in the Chicago area in the fall of 1986 and took the train into the city daily. After missing my train home one evening, I had to hang out at Union Station. I stumbled onto the set of Brian DePalma's The Untouchables when they were filming the climactic shout-out scene with Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia. It was fascinating, and I promised myself I'd see the movie when it was released. In the film, Sean Connery's character, Malone, refers to St. Jude as the patron saint of lost causes and policemen. When I was approached by a publisher about writing a police procedural, I remembered that line. A bit of research revealed that St. Jude is also the patron saint of the Chicago Police department. The concept fit well with the story I wanted to tell - that police officers fight a lost cause - and hence the book was born.                                   

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

Both. I began writing earnestly after reading The Bad Place by Dean Koontz. I was impressed by the way he got into the head of Thomas, the character with Down's syndrome. Shortly after, I began writing and submitting, but after a few rejections, I knew I didn't have what it takes. So I took time to learn to write before re-submitting. It was a twelve-year learning curve for me, but I did more learning than submitting. When I did finally break through, it came from a novel that I had written in a week. The book poured out of me, longhand. I submitted the novel the next week and it lead to a three-book contract. So the road was arduous, but when I was published, it happened very quickly.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I began my career by writing and submitting short stories because I thought it would be easier to break in and there would be less of a learning period. How wrong I was.

Short stories and novels are two different forms. Novel writing is fun. Short stories are far more difficult - for me, at least - and I would begin today by writing what I want to publish. I would begin by writing the type of novel I'd like to read but can't find.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

The Sons of Jude is available in bookstores everywhere and on all internet outlets including Amazon. It is also available in Kindle format.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

I do. My website is: I also blog on the site, often writing commentary on high-profile crimes. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you have a video trailer to promote your book?  If yes, where can readers find it?

The trailer for The Son of Jude is the best one I've had to date. My publisher put it together and went to considerable lengths to capture the noirish tone of the book. You can view it at my website: 

What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?

The best investment I've made - and the one I recommend to any author, aspiring or otherwise - is to take the time to write a good book. No amount of marketing will sell a book that no one wants.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Read. Read widely and deeply. If you want to write mysteries, for example, then read Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. They are both mysteries, but very, very different. And read romance. And suspense. All good novels have elements of romance and suspense.

All of the novelists who broke through early in their careers did so by writing something that no one had ever seen. Stephen King's Carrie was a hit because he had done something no horror writer had done. He brought horror into our daily lives in the form of an average-appearing young girl.

Mario Puzo revealed the mafia as it really is. Dickens illustrated the truth behind child labor. Tom Clancy showed us the hardware on which our military depends, and in a way we could understand and appreciate. Patricia Cornwell exposed us to forensics in a way that was unique and entertaining, and still is.

The only way any aspiring writer can write something that's not been done is to read what has been done.
And then you have to write. Writing is like exercising a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger you get.

What is up next for you?

I'm working on the next book in The Sons of Jude series. Chicago Knights will take place in the CPD's 28th district, but will feature a different cast of characters although some from The Sons of Jude will make minor appearances.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you for the interview and for the opportunity to meet your readers. I hope they enjoy The Sons of Jude.

Visit Brandt Dodson’s website at

Visit Brandt Dodson at Twitter:

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Become a friend with Brandt Dodson at Goodreads:

Pick up your copy of The Sons of Jude at Amazon:

Book excerpt here.


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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Interview with Kerry Dwyer, Author of Ramblings in Ireland

Kerry Dwyer is a teacher of English as a foreign language, a mother, a wife a rambler and a writer, not necessarily in that order. After working for twenty five years in finance she decided to quit her native Britain and settle in the South West of France. She loves walking particularly around the sunflower fields and vineyards of her home but also in the mountains or Ireland, Italy and anywhere else she is able to go. She loves good food, good wine, and good friends preferably all together.

Where did you grow up?

I am not sure I have fully grown up yet, I certainly haven’t finished learning. My teenage daughter asked me when I knew that I had become an adult. I have never managed to answer her satisfactorily. I was born in North Yorkshire and educated in the home counties of England, Hertfordshire to be precise.

Why did you move to France?

I love the way of life here. After working in cities all my life I was longing for something calmer. My previous job involved a lot of traveling, mainly in Europe. I didn’t want to continue to do that once I had my daughter. I think she has a better life here than she would have had in England, certainly than in a city. My husband is French and he doesn’t speak English. Also my parents moved out here before me. They retired here and I followed them. I missed them when they were not so close.

So is it true that French women don’t get fat?

LOL. Of course it isn’t. Like all women if they eat too much they get fat. I don’t live in a city and so the people I see are mainly from the farming communities. On a market day in my local town I see a lot of well fed French women and men. You see fewer fat women in the cities particularly, French middle class women who tend to be very well dressed and take extra care of how they look. If French women didn’t get fat then they wouldn’t need Doctor Dukan. He has millions of French women following his regime. If you look at the world health statistics you can see that obesity in France is growing at an alarming rate. The industries that are growing in France are health products (including cellulite creams etc), the diet industry with Doctor Dukan in the lead, plus size clothes stores and fast food chains. It is a worrying correlation.

When did you begin writing?

I wrote from being very young. I wrote stories and poetry. I later wrote financial papers and more recently articles on grammar and language. These technical papers were for specific industry use. I write for my blog on a regular basis and for a walking blog less regularly. Ramblings In Ireland is my first novel and my first published work.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

Whenever I can. Unfortunately I have the most time in the evening and feel at my freshest in the morning. I am often tired after work, not physically as my job mainly involves talking to people. I like to walk after work to clear my head then try to sit down to do some writing. 

What is this book about?

The book title Ramblings in Ireland describes the story very well and in two ways. Firstly, I tell the story of a walking holiday in Ireland that I took with my French husband, Bertrand. There are descriptions of the countryside and the views and the people that we met on the way. Interspersed with that are my ramblings; conversations or musings that took place whilst we were in Ireland. The book is very tangential. I talk about the difference between French and British / Irish culture as well as the vagaries of life.

What inspired you to write it?

The holiday itself was an inspiration. I had been to Ireland before but my husband hadn’t. My pleasure was doubled because he took such joy in it. Walking is the best way to really see the wonders of a country like Ireland and one week was so very short. This story enabled me to capture that for me and for him and for anyone else that cares to read it. The Freudian ramblings are simply a reflection of my mind. I often go off at tangents and let my mind wander to other things.  

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would not have written this book differently, as it is the book I wanted to write. I think I would have written more books before publishing them. Marketing and promotion now take up a huge amount of my free time. I realize this has to be done, as I don’t have the power of a mainstream publisher behind me, but it is not what I want to spend my time doing. Luckily I have come across some wonderful people like you who are willing to help me spread the word by participating in my tour.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

It can be bought as an e book on all the main distribution sites and through Smashwords. The Kindle and paperback version can be bought on Amazon, the UK, USA and French sites all have it available for distribution.

Do you have a video trailer to promote your book?  If yes, where can readers find it?

There is a trailer for my book on my website this video is also on youtube.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Once you have written the best piece of work that you can do get some professional help. I am a language teacher and I can spot a fault in someone else’s writing in seconds.  I had read and re-read my manuscript before I sent it to Joel Canfield who helped me to publish. I had also listened to it via the ‘read’ function on the PDF file.  I was dismayed by the number of errors in it; some of them were so basic. I have downloaded numerous free e-books and you can tell within the first couple of pages who has gone to the trouble of having them proofread. It really is well worth the investment.

What is up next for you?

Ramblings is a non fiction book. I am trying my hand at fiction. It is actually a lot harder than I had anticipated. A lot of what I have been doing over the last year is studying the art. I have read websites, books, blogs and journals on how to write. I have practiced by writing short stories. The book I am writing has the working title of ‘The Book Exchange’. I have set it in France in the expat community as that is something that I know very well. The characters however are fictional and so I have to invent every aspect of their lives. Although the story board is all planed and I have written nearly a hundred thousand words I know that it is not as good as it could be. I am still learning. Every lesson learned leads to a revision; each revision makes me a little happier with the book.