Author Interview Series-Marijo Russell O’Grady

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Marijo Russell O’Grady hails from Western New York, Chautauqua County. She received her Bachelor of Science (1983) and Master of Science (1985) from Buffalo State College in Art Education with a Concentration in Art Therapy. She worked in residential life during her undergraduate and graduate tenure at Buffalo State College. Marijo worked at North Adams State College, now known as Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as a Residence Director, then moved to Rivier College in Nashua, N.H.as the Director of Student Activities/Assistant Director of Residents. She moved to NYC in 1989 and began a Ph.D. program in Higher Education Administration at New York University, while working full time in Housing and Residential Life, as the Coordinator of Residential Student Development. Her dissertation was centered around racial identity theory and first year African American students at a predominantly White institutions and completed her doctorate in 1999.

Marijo has served as the Associate Vice President/Dean for Students at the New York City campus of Pace University, in New York City since June 1998. She oversees the areas of Student Development and Campus Activities, Housing and Residential Life, Counseling Services including accessibility and wellness, Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQA & Social Justice, Sexual Assault Education and Prevention, Judicial and Compliance, Summer Conferences, and OASIS, a college support program for students on the autism spectrum. In addition, she serves on their Scientific Review board for external researchers related to health and wellness the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR) for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She also serves on the NASPA Region II Advisory Board and is the NYC Metropolitan representative and former chair of the Graduate and New Professionals committee and Careers in Student Affairs. She assists with the Downtown Little League’s Challenger team, assisting children with special needs, playing ball. In the past, she served on the Board of Directors and Secretary for the Downtown Little League and had served on the School Leadership Teams for PS 234 and PS 126 in lower Manhattan. Additionally, she is a member of the Liberty Community Gardens. Lastly, she is the principal owner of www.innovativecollegesolutions.com.

In 2012, she was recipient of the “Top 100 Irish Educators” award by the Irish Voice. She was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2016 (the Noble prize for community service). She is married to an Art Professor and has a 19 year old son. They reside in lower Manhattan.

Marina Raydun: Having started in 1998, you were already the Associate Vice President and Dean for Students at Pace University (located in downtown Manhattan) during 9/11. It was a terrifying time for everyone. How did that experience move you to co-author Crisis, Compassion, and Resiliency in Student Affairs: Using Triage Practices to Foster Well-Being?

Marijo Russel O’Grady: I began my role in 1998 as the Dean for Students at Pace University’s NYC campus (and later was promoted). 9/11 was a terrifying experience in general, coupling that as a resident of downtown with a 2 year old, and as a leader at the closest university to WTC. This experience has had a long lasting impact on me and my family and my university. The idea for the book was something I had long considered, given, I often felt my life was triage. Katie Treadwell, my co-author was in her doctoral program and asked to interview me about my 9/11 experience. She was writing her dissertation about leaders in higher education and their crisis response and experiences. I told her the first day I met her that we should write this book. It was something we both felt we needed to do and were committed to assisting leaders on this topic.

MR: What did the process of co-writing this book look like? Did you collaborate, read each other’s chapters?

MRO: Katie and I mapped out the chapters and what we thought was the best direction and content for the book. We knew the chapters we each wanted to write and the message we wanted to convey. We then reached out to colleagues in the field to write other chapters. We collaborated on our chapters and edited one another’s writing. We did the same with the other chapters, continuing to edit to the final manuscript. We had originally thought we would look for publishers, and then felt we should first propose the book to our professional organization, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and we were accepted. NASPA staff also did the final editing, collaborating with Kate and I.

MR: How did publishing this book change your writing process?

MRO: In terms of my writing process, I really started with writing from my heart to tell my story and to provide best practices on crisis management (I have handled many crises throughout my career, but 9/11 was the most daunting). I then continued to refine my writing and gained valuable experience in terms of editing other’s work. I am not always the best writer, since I am used to writing memos (LOL), but am very proud of this book.

MR: You work with teenagers and young adults. Do you ever get book recommendations from them? What is your favorite genre to read?

MRO: I love working with young adults and sometimes do get book recommendations from my students. Most often, I am advising them on some great reads. I love to read, period. Summer is my reading time, but I read throughout the year. I have no favorite genre---love cooking, love psychology, love fiction, culture, race and ethnicity, mysteries, leadership and change management, etc.

MR: Is there a book that changed your life?

MRO: I loved Care of the Soul by Thomas More; Song Yet Sung by James McBride; The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haid; The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax, Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, to name a few.

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?

MRO: Anything written by James McBride, and actually, searching and reading aboutmy genealogy. On my dad’s side, we were Russell, Stetson, Buss and Babcock—prominent historical family names.

MR: Are there any books you have read over and over again?

MRO: My own!! HAHA. Song Yet Sung over and over and over! Reframing Organizations by Bolman and Deal!!! Also Lost Horizon and Moveable Feast

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

MRO: Growing up in a very small rural western NY town with three sisters, a very protestant father and very Catholic mother, we did not read anything racy. Also, being from a small town, where your great aunt was the librarian and all the neighbors in the town knew every move you make….there was not any opportunity! LOL

MR: You have probably seen it all over the course of your career in the field of student development and student affairs. Have you ever considered writing a novel inspired by some of the many characters you may have come across (yours truly, perhaps…)?

MRO: I have often thought about it, but want to protect the privacy of my students. However, I have some great, unbelievable stories to tell! In addition, I do remember you, Marina, as a student here at Pace!

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be?

MRO: Probably, JFK, since he was such an inspiring and courageous leader, joining at the table I would love Barack Obama to join us (they in my mind, help to unite our country). I also would love to sit again with my grandmother (Elgie Babcock Russell) and hear more about her childhood……. She always believed she was a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) and was frustrated she could not prove it… I did. She was an amazing, generous, warm and caring person with a great deal of spunk!

Learn more about Dr. Marijo Russel O’Grady’s book here:

https://www.naspa.org/publications/books/crisis-compassion-and-resiliency

Buy the book here:

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Six Months in Books (2019)

At least reading-wise these past six months have been productive. Here is my humble little list and mini-reviews. If you read anything on here, please share your impressions!

Second Person Singular

A solid 4-star, eye-opening read. This was the first novel written by an Israeli-Palestinian for me. I couldn’t tear away from it.

American Like Me

I’m partial to stories about immigrant experiences. I could not resist this collection of essays. I do have a bit of beef with the editing choices here (more in my review linked above), but on the whole, it’s fascinating read. We’re much more alike than we’re not!

An Anonymous Girl

I’m a huge fan on this writing duo but this wasn’t a favorite. It fell a bit flat and predictable for me, although maybe some of that may have to do with my own high expectations given the authors’ first book.

All the Rivers

Okay, truth time: I cannot stop thinking about this one. So far this year, this has been my absolute favorite. It gripped me tight and won’t let me go. Highly, highly recommend.

A Girl at the Border

Complex and intriguing plot line. At times, it felt a little cluttered to me but, on the other hand, the language was stunning. Recommend.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

An easy read with a hyper relatable protagonist with zero patience for society’s bullshit. Highly recommend.

The Broken Girls

This one sat on my to-read shelf for a while so I’m glad I finally read it. It’s an easy read with just enough of a hint of the paranormal. A very engaging novel.

The Buried: An Archeology of the Egyptian Revolution

I don’t read enough non-fiction. I came across this book by complete accident but wound up being completely engrossed by it. Peter Hessler is a magnificent storyteller. I learned so much! Highly recommend this book if you are at all interested in Egypt and/or politics.

If you happen to read any of these titles, please let me know. I would love to compare notes!

Summer Reading List

Summer! Let’s play free-association: I say, summer, you say—________.

Summers are busy for me. I’m not sure how much reading I will be able to accomplish over the upcoming three months, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Below is a list I compiled of the promised hottest summer reads. Let’s see how many of these I get to…and how many of these I’ll like as much as the various editors think I should.

I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

Summary: “Twenty years ago, Amanda Holmes was found bludgeoned in a rowboat at the MacAllister family’s Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with the crime. Now, after their parents’ sudden deaths, the MacAllister siblings return to camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate the camp occupies. However, the will stipulates that until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t settle the estate. Any one of them could have done it, and each one is holding a piece of the puzzle. Will they work together to finally discover the truth, or will their secrets finally tear the family apart?”

Sounds like a perfect summer read to me!

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Summary: “Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes. Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love. But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.”

Suspense, immigrant narrative—this books has all the right elements for me!

Magic for Liars by Sarah Bailey

Summary: “When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister—without losing herself.”

This sounds like a fun, light enough of a read.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Summary: “No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.”

This sounds hella intriguing! Can’t wait to read this one!

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Summary: “Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it—teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.

When they’re alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn’t give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she’s going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.

To protect herself and her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can’t beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.”

This one had me at the mention of book club shenanigans.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Summary: “Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.

As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.”

This sounds like a fun piece of family satire. What’s not to like about that.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Summary: “In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.”

I love Ms. Lippman’s work so I’m excited for this one.

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen

“In the seemingly idyllic town of Rundle Junction, Bennie and Walter are preparing to host the wedding of their eldest daughter Clem. A marriage ceremony at their beloved, rambling home should be the happiest of occasions, but Walter and Bennie have a secret. A new community has moved to Rundle Junction, threatening the social order and forcing Bennie and Walter to confront uncomfortable truths about the lengths they would go to to maintain harmony.

Meanwhile, Aunt Glad, the oldest member of the family, arrives for the wedding plagued by long-buried memories of a scarring event that occurred when she was a girl in Rundle Junction. As she uncovers details about her role in this event, the family begins to realize that Clem's wedding may not be exactly what it seemed. Clever, passionate, artistic Clem has her own agenda. What she doesn't know is that by the end, everyone will have roles to play in this richly imagined ceremony of familial connection-a brood of quirky relatives, effervescent college friends, ghosts emerging from the past, a determined little mouse, and even the very group of new neighbors whose presence has shaken Rundle Junction to its core.”

What a promising family saga!

Bunny by Mona Awad

“Samantha Heather Mackey couldn't be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England's Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort--a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other "Bunny," and seem to move and speak as one.

But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies' fabled "Smut Salon," and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door--ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies' sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus "Workshop" where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.”

Whoa, satirical work set in Britain? When can I start?!

How Could She by Lauren Mechling

Summary: “After a devastating break-up with her fiancé, Geraldine is struggling to get her life back on track in Toronto. Her two old friends, Sunny and Rachel, left ages ago for New York, where they've landed good jobs, handsome husbands, and unfairly glamorous lives (or at least so it appears to Geraldine). Sick of watching from the sidelines, Geraldine decides to force the universe to give her the big break she knows she deserves, and moves to New York City. 

As she zigzags her way through the downtown art scene and rooftop party circuit, she discovers how hard it is to find her footing in a world of influencers and media darlings. Meanwhile, Sunny's life as an It Girl watercolorist is not nearly as charmed as it seemed to Geraldine from Toronto. And Rachel is trying to keep it together as a new mom, writer, and wife--how is it that she was more confident and successful at twenty-five than in her mid-thirties? Perhaps worst of all, why are Sunny and Rachel--who've always been suspicious of each other--suddenly hanging out without Geraldine?”

A story about female friendship in a high powered, high pressure media world? Sign me up.

Any of these on your list this summer? Share your picks!

How American Sign Language is Making Me a Better Writer

I began my ASL journey for a very personal reason—I wanted to learn this language for someone dear to me. It wasn’t meant to be something I was doing for myself but… Perhaps it’s a symptom of selfishness or some kind of egotism but somewhere along the way that’s exactly what this little exercise slowly morphed into. Two years worth of college classes have become a refuge of sorts of me. I’m a writer so there’s no surprise there, I guess: any chance I get to escape into another world, I’ll take it. This was not different: a college class with so many characters to study, a culture and a language so nuanced, it makes you reexamine all your word choices. What better exercise for an author?! And what a fabulous reminder of just how much I love learning, in general.

I’m no stranger to translation work but translating a verbal language to a visual one was not an easy transition for me. I spoke about this in my post a year ago, when I’d completed two semesters of ASL. The word “glossing” was thrown around a lot back then, going for the meaning and all that jazz, but it was a hard concept for me. It wasn’t until ASL 3 that I had my proverbial “lightbulb moment.” The way my professor put it, we aren’t looking for a verbatim translation because some concepts may not exist in ASL (or in any other language you’re interpreting). What you do is try to figure out what the meaning of the phrase is and then ask yourself how can you rephrase it in a way that you can actually communicate (as in sign). BOOM. This is what my rigid brain needed to hear.

Here are some examples from my ASL 3 and 4 finals to illustrate:

For my ASL 3 final, we got to interpret a dialogue from a film. Because I was surrounded with college-aged kids twice a week and the very fact had me reminiscing about my own college years, I picked a movie I associate so deeply with those late teens/early 20s—Bridget Jones’ Diary. Here is an excerpt from my “gloss”:

(Bridget) WAIT…MUST SAY SORRY...PAST D-A-N-I-E-L (point) SAY YOU SEDUCE HIS FIANCÉE…BROKENHEARTED  

(Mark) NO (nod-) OPPOSITE…PAST MY WIFE…MY HEART (soul)

(Bridget) SORRY (nod+)…NOW UNDERSTAND (nod+) HE (CL: 1) COME NEAR YOU ACT WEIRD++ BEAT HIM HARD… GOOD JOB (nod+)

Here is the original text for reference:

Bridget: Listen, uh…I owe you an apology about Daniel. He said that you ran off with his fiancee…and left him broken hearted, he said.

Marc: Ah. No, it was the other way around. It was my wife…my heart.

Bridget: Sorry. That's why you always acted so strangely around him...and beat him to a pulp, quite rightly. Well done.

As you can tell, everything is different: word order, the use of tenses, the little symbols meant to help another interpreter sign exactly the way you’d scripted it etc. I couldn’t literally sign “the other way around” because those words stringed together like that would make no sense in ASL. So I asked myself—what does that phrase mean in English and how can I sign that. Marc obviously wasn’t trying to point to “another way around” direction-wise. Voila—”OPPOSITE.” It sounds simple but let me tell you, it was not easy arriving at this “lightbulb moment.” It was no an easy step to go from “but it says ‘ran off with his fiancee’, why can’t I just say that?!” to "‘SEDUCE HIS FIANCEE is literally what that means and makes way more sense than literally signing "‘run.’”

Here is another example; this one from my ASL 4 final, where we had to interpret a song. I wanted to interpret a song by Noa and Mira Awad called, “There Must Be Another Way.” It’s a song with a wonderful and simple message of peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The song is in three language and I only know one of them so that was one additional layer of difficulty for me. What can I say, I love a challenge. My friend Mira (whom I interviewed last May) was kind enough to translate the Arabic and the Hebrew for me, and I interpreted from English to ASL. Here is an excerpt:

English:

And when I cry, I cry for both of us

My pain has no name

And when I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say

There must be another way

There must be another way

ASL:

CRY   HEARTBREAK   UNITED

HEARTBREAK LABEL WHAT   NOTHING

CRY (role shift) REQUEST UNIVERSE

DO BETTER MUST

ACTIONS CHANGE MUST

Signing “there must be another way” literally would imply that a new geographical direction was sought. That’s not what the song is about. We’re talking about changing actions, doing better as people, so that’s what it is when translated to ASL. As for crying for “both of us,” what’s meant is that the two people are bound together by this conflict and that the tribulations the two suffer are heartbreaking no matter who is suffering physical pain at any one particular moment. ”HEARTBREAK LABEL WHAT NOTHING”—the pain has no name. This is me, delivering my final project for a grade (I got an A!): Marina’s ASL4 Final

These projects were so rewarding and educational for me. They pushed me beyond my comfort zone, made me think instead of blindingly delivering literal words, context be damned. Now that I am done with my coursework at my local college (only four levels are available here), I am glossing songs and monologues on my own for practice as I look for a place where I would be able to continue my studies. Let’s not kid ourselves—I am nowhere near fluent, especially receptively, but expressively I’ve grown so much by doing this. And the skill translates back into English, miraculously enough, making me a more thoughtful writer and speaker (or so I hope). Word choices are that much more careful now: I ask myself, always, what it is I am trying to say and what is the best way to actually say it. I am so excited to continue on this journey. I love learning new things (frankly, I love school!), and to feel tangible results is exhilarating. I don’t want to stop so expect more videos:)

Author Interview Series-Marc Watson

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Marc Watson is a Calgary author of fiction. He is the author of the Catching Hell epic science fantasy duology, as well as the urban fantasy comedy Death Dresses Poorly. He is a loving father of two active boys, as well as husband to a very supportive wife. When not writing he can be found working at his full time job, participating in all sports imaginable (except soccer…), hiking and camping, or playing any one of his twenty two video game systems.

Marina Raydun: Death Dresses Poorly is such an intriguing title. I have the hardest time compositing titles for my own books. How easy are titles for you?

Marc Watson:  Thank you! I was particularly proud of that one, and it always seems to get the most positive feedback. As for ease, I’m very lucky in that naming things, be it characters, places, magic systems, or even the books themselves, is very easy. I may find a common theme, but for the most part I just pull them out of thin air.

MR: What is it about the genre of Fantasy that makes you want to write?

MW: It’s likely the lack of rules. In fantasy you can let your imagination run wild, and the parameters are only limited to your skills as a writer. I can destroy the planet, or rebuild millions of new ones. I really am a creator and destroyer of worlds, depending on the day.

 MR: As a reader, do you gravitate to this genre as well?

 MW: For the most part, yes. It is certainly what I read the most of. However, my favorite book of all time is The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, which is a modern story about broken lives in rural Newfoundland, so I’m certainly not married to the fantasy or science fiction worlds in the slightest.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated Fantasy novel?

MW: Great question! I really think Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King doesn’t get the praise it deserves. It was buried in his prolific 80s phase, and pales in scope and scale to his grandiose Dark Tower series. He wrote it just to have something in his works that his kids could read when they were young, and it comes across so smooth. It’s simple and well detailed, but not overly so like so much of his other work. A little magic. A little adventure. Very well structured.

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MR: How strict is your writing process? Do you have a daily fenced-off writing time? How detailed are your outlines?

MW: Not at all. In fact it’s the complete opposite. To go one step further, I doubt you’ll ever meet anyone as opposed to those kinds of things as I am. I’m a major believer in letting stories form as and when they happen. I’ve never had success making a strict writing time for myself, and I find in conversations with other authors that they only do it because another author guided them that way.

Now I’m not saying it doesn’t work for some people, but I know for a fact it doesn’t work for me, and I can’t possibly be alone in that. I just think people need to find their own writing rhythm, and that may not involve set writing times, word goals, or the worst of all, things like NaNoWriMo (*shudder*) 

This applies to outlines as well. I have a start. I know the ending. Then I let my fingers guide the way and we see where we go. Maybe it’s a novella. Maybe it’s an epic monstrosity. Man, I love finding out.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process? 

MW: Probably finding the time. I know I just went off on a rant about forced writing times and why they’re evil, but it’s by design. I write when I’m ready to write, but I’m a busy guy with two young kids and a loving wife, as well as a full time job that I love and look forward to continuing, so some days (weeks…or months…) I don’t get the time to write. But it’s because I’m living life, not because I’m lazy or unmotivated.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

MW: Not in the slightest. It was a fantastic feather in my cap that I’m monumentally proud of, but nothing has changed for me. Getting published and out there was always the goal, so when it happened, everything was simply working out the way I designed it to. I’m just happy I was successful at it.

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MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

MW:  I run in various author circles, but no one has really guided my journey as much as they have come along with me. I met Edmonton Author Konn Lavery early in my writing adventures and I’ve really got respect for his hard work and creativity. I just spent a weekend with YA author Suzy Vadori at a Comic and Entertainment Expo and damn that girl can hustle. She has the pitch and presentation down to a fine science, while also being a talented writer. I’m also a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) here in town which is a collection of similar authors that critique and present new ideas. They are all very creative and great people to talk shop with. All this said, my journey is my own, so anything I get from them is more osmosis than anything else.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? 

MW: The lyrics to whatever song it is I’m belting out at the time. That 20 minutes a day is my only “Me” time between 6am and 10pm, so the music plays loud.

MR: Who is your literary hero? 

MW: My hero has always been Southern Ontario YA author Gordon Korman. I started reading his stuff at a young age, and then learned that he started writing and was published at age 12. It blew my mind, and although I don’t read his stuff anymore, my kids sure do. I love watching his career evolve because this is a guy who was just like me, but broke out early and never looked back.

To learn more about Marc Watson, please visit:

https://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/eAuthor.php?Name=Marc%20Watson

https://flukyfiction.wixsite.com/publishing/ddp

A Girl at the Border (Book Review)

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A friend of mine recommended this novel to me. She felt that the prose reminded her of my writing. She said it seemed like something I would write, and she meant it as a compliment! She loved the book! Naturally, I was intrigued and simply had to read it ASAP. Luckily, my little virtual book club, MR BOOK CLUB, selected it as it's March/April Official Selection so I got right on it.

I give A Girl at the Border 4 stars. The writing is gorgeous. All the settings, the dialogue—it was all written so expertly and effortlessly. The pictures painted themselves. Psst, if that’s what my friend meant—I’m over the moon by the comparison! The only thing that made me “deduct” a point was that at times the novel seemed a little cluttered, touching on a few too many subjects—parental absenteeism, 9/11, the war on terror. On the flip side, the author did keep me guessing and I did not see the biggest twist coming. Okay, so maybe half a star deduction there, to be fair. The other half? The many time jumps got a little confusing here and there. All in all, however, I loved this book and look forward to more fiction from Leslie Archer.

Moral of the story? Listen to your friends when they give you book recommendations, people:)

Author Interview-Suzy Vadori

Suzy Vadori

Suzy Vadori

Suzy is the Calgary Bestselling Author of The Fountain, and The West Woods, Books 1 and 2 of The Fountain Series, published by Evil Alter Ego Press. This fantastical Young Adult Series has received two Aurora Nominations for Best Young Adult Novel, as well as Five Stars from both Readers’ Favorite and San Francisco Review of Books.

Suzy lives in Calgary, Canada with her husband and three children and is an involved member in the writing community. Currently, she is the Program Manager, Young Adult/Children’s Programming for When Words Collide (WWC), a literary festival held in Calgary each August. Suzy is also the founder of WriteIt! creative writing programs in schools, building young writers. 

Marina Raydun: What is it about YA as a genre that appeals to you as a writer?

Suzy Vadori: The books we read as tweens and teens often shape our impressions of literature for the rest of our lives. I’m thrilled for my books to be a part of this journey for so many young readers.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

SV: I’m fortunate to be doing all things writing full time now, including teaching and public speaking as well as writing, which to me is the success I’ve been working toward.

MR: What do you wish teen and YA authors of your childhood had been able to communicate to you when you were growing up?

SV: I’m going to date myself here, but there really wasn’t much available for YA when I was young. There were middle grade books, but once these became too easy, we skipped to reading books for adults. YA in the past decade has evolved to include books written at a higher reading level, but have content relevant to teens. I would have loved to read these books when I was young.

MR: What is your favorite underappreciated YA novel?

SV: Just before I made the leap to reading books written for adults when I was eleven, I was inspired by Canadian authors Lois Lowry (her Anastasia books), and Gordon Korman (McDonald Hall Series). Their combination of wit and life being really hard for their characters was awesome. Both authors still write today, but I find the titles I loved back then hard to find for my own kids.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

SV: All of my stories to date I’ve written from a female perspective, though I edit manuscripts with male perspectives. When writing from any perspective that isn’t your own, you do the best you can to imagine what your character would think of their journey, based on your research. But it’s important to involve beta readers who can let you know if you got it right, whether you’re asking them to comment on the male perspective, or a sensitivity reader from a marginalized group you are writing about. Because I write from a teen’s perspective, including teens in my beta read groups is key to make sure my characters feel authentic.   

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

SV: Once my books started to make their way out into the world, my time that had been dedicated to writing had to be shared with marketing and speaking. It was an amazing experience to be talking to readers about my books, but it cut down significantly on my writing time and ability to put out new work.

This past year I’ve experimented with new drafting techniques to make my writing time more efficient, so I can continue to get new material to print.

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play your characters?

SV: I’d love to see my teen characters played by fresh, unknown actors. Then they could really make Ava, Courtney, Ethan and Cole their own.

MR: What YA literary character is most like you?

SV: I’m a little Hermione, a little Anne of Green Gables. Nose always in a book, with a little spunk. that’s me.  

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

SV: I recently found a box of picture books I wrote when I was seven. My spelling was atrocious, so my kids were delighted, because I give them a hard time.  

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

SV: I edit and beta read for many genres, but my pleasure reading is almost all YA fantasy. It’s my favorite, and the reason I write it.

 

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All the Rivers (Book Review)

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I came across All the Rivers by way of social media. In one of the many interviews the brilliant Rami Malek gave while promoting Bohemian Rhapsody, he mentioned reading a book that was about a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man and what a beautiful story that would be tell as an actor. I didn’t hear him mention the title but a few months later, almost by chance, I saw someone reference this title in relation to Mr. Malek. Hurray for power of Instagram! I looked up the description and downloaded the book in seconds. I’m not exaggerating when I say that from the get-go, it took my breath away. I can only dream of ever being able to write in a way that flies off the page like this even when translated to a different language.

I have always clicked with literature translated from the Hebrew language. I’m not sure if this has to do with my relation to and interest in the Middle East and if it’s just self-fulfilling that way, but it’s true! Ever since reading short stories by Savyon Liebrecht in college, something about the thematics in Hebrew literature drew me in. Much like foreign TV shows and films, these feel different in an intriguing way. This novel, however, left me completely and utterly destroyed (and I say that with highest praise). It’s an autobiographical novel, with many elements of the story being lifted straight from the author’s life. For example, Dorit Rabinyan really did have a Palestinian boyfriend who was an artist and…oops, I almost revealed a spoiler! So perhaps it was this aspect that gripped me so. Or maybe it’s because this book served as a reminder that no matter how much we have in common, no matter how much we love each other as people/friends/neighbors/lovers, our political interests are so at arms with each other that they take precedence over personal interests, and frankly, that just hurts. It could also be because the action takes place in New York, in 2002-2003—a time when I myself was 20 and in college and tried to love desperately and hopelessly, just like you’re supposed to at that age. Whatever the reason, this book stands alone when it comes to a work of fiction taking ahold of me so tight and making me feel an ache so physical, it was beautifully terrifying. I can’t say I’m not a crier, but I rarely cry at movies, and I literally have never cried at written work of fiction. This says a lot, or at least it should.

Read this book. It was will hurt, but it will also teach you some valuable lessons not just about the impossible conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also about yourself. Please let me know if you do.

Author Interview Series-Natasha Deen

Natasha Deen

Natasha Deen

Award-winning author Natasha Deen writes for kids, teens, and adults. She believes the world is changed one story at a time, and as a Guyanese-Canadian whose family immigrated to Canada, she’s seen first-hand how stories have the power to shape the world. When she’s not writing, Natasha enjoys visiting schools, libraries and other organizations to help people find and tell the stories that live inside of them. She also spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. Natasha is the author of the Lark Ba series (CCBC Best Pick for Kids & Teens, Starred Selection) and the Guardian series (Moonbeam Award, Sunburst Award nominee, Alberta Readers’ Choice nominee). Her latest novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani, is a Junior Library Guild selection and a Barnes and Noble Top 25 Most Anticipated Own Voices novel.

Marina Raydun: Growing up in an immigrant family is something I sure can relate to. Between the bullying and not looking like everyone else, it sounds like we have a lot in common. Even though my English wasn’t good enough for any kind of reading comprehension above a very basic fairytale, I still tried reading Sweet Valley High just for the pretty covers. Eventually words started making sense so I will forever identify those twins with my seventh grade experience. What was your go to book in middle school? 

Natasha Deen: It sounds like we definitely have a lot in common. I’m so sorry to hear about the bullying. I don’t know I’ll ever understand the mindset of choosing to be mean instead of kind.   

I love that you mentioned picking up books because of the pretty covers and that sweet moment (no pun intended on the Sweet Valley High series) when those odd symbols suddenly became letters, and those letters grouped into words and stories.

Whenever I think about books and stories, I think of how readers come with different interests, filters, and backgrounds, and how wonderful it is that somewhere out there, is a book that will connect to their hearts, minds, and reading abilities.  

To answer your question about my go-to book, if I had to choose, then I think my go to was probably Robin McKinley’s Beauty. It was the first time I had seen a re-telling of a fairy tale, and I loved how McKinley reinvented the story and the events that lead to Beauty’s entrance into the beast’s life (side note: I also love how she imagined Beauty getting her name). I haven’t read the story in a long time, but I remember snow-filled days, cups of hot chocolate, and me under the blankets re-reading that story for the umpteenth time! I loved how the beast was this self-aware guy who understood the mistakes he’d made. Mostly, I loved how both Beauty & the Beast were different, didn’t fit anywhere, yet somehow, got their happy ending. 

MR: Did you keep a diary growing up? I tried to in high school, thinking it was just so “American.” Unfortunately, it was all terribly contrived and unnatural. I was not a good journal keeper. I think it’s because I always wanted to write fiction. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? 

ND: Oh, geez, those diaries!! I tried journaling, too, because it seemed so “regular teenager,” and my mom had done it, and...I hated. every. moment. (I even tried again when I was in my twenties, and hated it even more). 

Like you, I found it difficult to be natural, and more than that, I found it hard to be interesting. When I would read my old entries, all I could think of was, “Oh, man, get a life! You keep writing the same thing over and over, again!”  

If I could tell my younger writing self anything, it would be the same thing I tell emerging writers and my current self. You have a voice. You have a story. Both are beautiful and unique. Own your story, claim your voice, and let the universe unfold as it wants. 

MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power? 

ND: I feel like I grew up understanding that language had power. My parents were strict with us about words and vocabulary. “Hate” was a huge no-no word in our house. It had depth and meaning, and wasn’t meant to be bandied about for trivial things (“Oh, I hate pistachio ice-cream.”) and definitely never to be used on anyone or anything (“Oh, I hate him.”) .

If you’re asking about when I learned language & story held power, then it was when I was five. An older group of boys would follow my sister and I on the school grounds, throwing snowballs filled with pebbles and yelling racial slurs. Against my sister’s wishes, I told my mom…and my mom hunted down the ring leader. 

Then she invited the kid & his grandfather to our house for tea. 

And she made them cake.  

 Her choices allowed for us to have a conversation and trade stories.

Through the sharing and trading, he went from being my tormentor to being my protector. I still remember his hug and the sound of his heart against my ear, and how much we both cried over what had been done.

I understand the place for harsh truth, and I understand why—especially with reality shows—there seems to be a cheering on of the “blunt straight-shooter,” but whenever I’m in a confrontational situation, I always think of my mom, making cake and tea, and choosing kindness, stories, and humanity over anger. She taught me that kindness matters, stories matter, and between the two, they change the world.

MR: You write for both children and teenagers. That can’t be easy. Which group is more relatable for you? 

ND: Writing is never easy for me, no matter the age group, but I LOVE stories and I love writing for all of the age groups. (I relate to all of them). 

There are so many ways to exist in the world, and I love that through writing, I have an opportunity to remember what it was like to be seven-years-old, ten-years-old, or a teenager.

MR: What book do you wish you had written? 

ND: All of them! No matter what story I read, I can always find something in it that makes me say, “Ah, wow, I wish I’d thought of that!” 

MR: What YA character is most like you? 

That’s a great question. I really don't know. When it comes to YA characters I read, I can see bits and pieces of myself in all of the stories.  

When it comes to the characters I write…I suppose as writers, a bit of our personalities goes into every character, whether they’re the main character or a supporting one, somehow they’re influenced by our personalities or the people we know/encountered in our lives. So, I guess in a way, they’re all like me, but also not at all like me, either. 

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? 

ND: I’ve never done a pilgrimage, but in my everyday life, I try to "pilgrimage” with other authors. That is, whenever I have a chance to talk to a writer about their journey or process, I take the opportunity.   

Writing is such a subjective endeavor and it’s encouraging and enlightening to hear the different ways people claim their creative space.

MR: Meeting readers is always such an exhilarating experience. Any funny experiences at book signings or readings? 

ND: I love meeting readers! Writing can be such a solitary experience. When writers have a chance to meet a reader, it’s such a lovely moment to remind us that we’re not alone—and look!—someone else loved our story! 

I think I have too many funny/wonderful meeting-reader-experiences to choose just one moment or experience, but I absolutely love and appreciate it when readers come and talk to me about their experience with their stories. I love hearing how they interpreted the story, who they liked/rooted for. It’s a great reminder that even when we read the same book, none of us reads the same story. 

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love? 

ND: Ha! I doubt it—I'm a pretty eclectic reader, so I think folks have gotten used to recommendations that don’t fit into a genre/theme. I think the most surprised anyone was when they found out one of my favorite books was Stephen Crane’s “War is Kind and Other Poems,” because they didn’t know I read poetry. 

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up? 

ND: Not really, my folks were big on reading and reading all kinds of books. They allowed us to read anything we wanted, within reason...we did a lot of book trading--”Natasha, you can read this book if you also read that book,”...I was allowed to read Freud during my grade 4 summer vacation but I had to read the entire works of Shakespeare in return (thanks, Mom).  

When it came to reading “up,” or “illicit,” my parents would check-in, “where are you at?” “what do you think?” “can you see this point of view?” I have to give them credit, not just for making me an omnivorous reader, but a diverse thinker, too. Giving me the freedom to read books outside of my age group, checking in with me, but allowing me to have my own opinions about them, gave me a chance to see the world through many lenses. 

Visit Natasha at www.natashadeen.com.

An Anonymous Girl (book review)

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Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo of sorts. I mean, I hear they write together in real time! Having read The Wife Between Us last summer, I could not wait to get my hands on their next collaboration. Expectations were high given that I devoured Wife at the time (see my review here). So how did it fare?

Well, here is the thing about expectations—they are a double edged sword. On one hand, you write an awesome book, you get a new fan! Hundreds, thousands of new fans. Hurray for you! But then all those fans expect to be wowed each and every time you put pen to paper. And it’s difficult to wow each and every time. It’s legitimately difficult.

This was the problem here—my expectations were way too high after The Wife Between Us. All the twists and surprises there were truly unexpected, the pace exciting. An Anonymous Girl , on the other hand, was perfectly satisfactory. Good, even! But it was no Wife. Herein was its problem. None of the twists were unexpected and the novel fell a little flat for me. The characters didn’t ring true and the dialogue didn’t flow as naturally as I expected from these brilliant authors. Some of this may have had a little bit to do with the fact that I listened to the book on Audible; narration, after all, makes a big difference. Perhaps the voices given to the main characters did my perception of the novel a disservice. If you read this one, please let me know what you think. I give it 3.5-4 stars.

Author Interview-Bob Brill

Bob Brill is an award winning journalist whose career has brought him to

spend time covering first hand some of the most important people of the 20th

and 21st centuries. In the 1980’s working for the UPI Radio Network as a National Correspondent

and later as LA based Bureau Chief, Bob covered the Reason White House in the

West for long stretches of time. Later he traveled with Pope John Paul II, Nelson

Mandela, Bill Clinton and many others. As an entertainment reporter, he

covered nine Academy Awards, five Grammys and several Emmys.

No stranger to covering disasters such as earthquakes, floods and small plane

crashes, his first major assignment at UPI was to cover the Aero Mexico plane

crash on approach to Los Angeles International Airport. The mid-air collision sent

the fuselage on top of a number of homes in a crowded neighborhood making it

one of the worst disasters in modern aviation history to that time.

His coverage of the mass shooting at a McDonalds Restaurant outside San Diego

brought him to national attention and getting beaten during the LA Riots at the

main intersection of the outbreak left him with some physical issues he still

suffers from today. Currently a newscaster and reporter at a major Los Angeles news station, Bob

has written nearly two dozen screen plays and pilots, airs his own podcast,

writes two blogs, has produced four Short Films and still finds time to author

books. His latest “Lancer; Hero of the West – The New Orleans Affair,” will be out

in April, 2019. Bob currently lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Paula. His daughter,

Julia, a graphic artist by trade, designs the covers for most of Bob’s books.

Marina Raydun: With your background in journalism and voiceover work, how natural was the

transition into fiction writing for you?

Bob Brill: Story telling was easy, organizing the story and staying focused on the story were

the more difficult parts. As a reporter I’ve covered just about every kind of story

imaginable from politics to entertainment from Presidents to Oscars, even

traveled with Nelson Mandela and the Pope on their US trips. So the stories were

there, fiction based in fact.

MR: How do your skills as a journalist influence your creative process now?

BB: That is a tough one. As a journalist you spend so much time making sure what

you write is not only correct and factual but vetted enough so you don’t

accidently slant the story. Going in you need to be even handed and unbiased

and when I’ve written non-fiction it’s taken me longer because of that. In writing

fiction, how shall I put it, another colleague of mine said “you can just make sh-t

up” which is true. However, in writing fiction based on fact (as with my Lancer;

Hero of the West series), you really do need to spend more time fact checking

about the period and what went on at THAT time. For instance, you don’t want a

character in 1881 riding on a certain river boat when that particular river boat

didn’t come into existence until 1884.

MR: Why do you write?

BB: In addition to my western novel series, “Lancer; Hero of the West” of which

there are now five novels with a total of 10 planned, I have written a terrorist

novel set 25 years past OBL, my childhood memoir, a book based on how the

Internet affected the business world, and a coffee table biography about a highly

paid burlesque queen who was married to a major league ball player. My

memoir “Tales of My Baseball Youth-a child of the 60’s” is probably one of my

best and closest to the hear books for obvious reasons. It is a relationship book

which just happens to involve growing up playing baseball.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

BB: Only that it is easier it seems to get a main stream publisher interested in non-

fiction than it is in fiction. My former agent, who passed away, constantly tried

to get me to find a real life story to tell. We were planning to meet on one of

those when he died suddenly. I tried to pursue it on my own with no luck and

haven’t been able to find an agent since.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

BB: The worst was someone who read Lancer and decided my story was based on

one TV show character in the 1950’s and it was rather accusatory. My Lancer

series, I state up front, is a compilation of several western TV characters from

the era as well as my own contributions. The best are always those who write

how much they liked the book (and cite it) and then add they can’t wait for the

next one to come out. I have gotten a few of those.

MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a

better writer as an adult, what would you do?

BB: Take some college courses in creative writing and literature. I did not go to

college although I took some extension classes later mainly in film writing. I went

to work in my radio career right away and while I don’t regret that at all, I

probably should have gone to school for a number of reasons.

MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

BB: I have been a frequent visitor to museums around the world and probably the

closest thing to a literary pilgrimage would be a couple presidential libraries (my

favorite books are books about US presidents). Traveling through Italy many

times I’ve always sought out the great museums and cathedrals (San Croce in

Florence is my fav), and the Lyndon Johnson Library is probably one of the best

for research. Otherwise I can’t really say I’ve been one to search out the great

authors – although somewhere in my past it seems I did, but there has been

quite a bit of past to remember. LOL. My daughter and I are planning a

pilgrimage to Lubbock, TX to go to the Buddy Holly Museum – now that’s a

pilgrimage I AM working on.

MR: Who is your literary hero?

BB: You are going to laugh at this but believe it or not the closest person I have as a

literary hero is Nicoclo Machiavelli. His writings in The Prince and the Selected

Discourses fascinate me ONLY because of the logic of the man. Make no mistake

about it he was a cruel, calculating politician who was a terrible person.

However, as a lover of logic, his strict logic in dealing with any situation is

amazing. In the modern era, I’d have to say Bob Woodward. The access he gets

and the stories he blows up should be a lesson of life for any investigative

journalist to follow.

MR: Are there any books you’ve read over and over again?

BB: My own because of editing (LOL), but seriously, aside from the Bible, I can’t say

there are really any. Not having enough time to read is always a problem as

when I do have time, I’m creating. I love creating whether it’s film or the written

word, which go hand in hand by the way.

MR: What are you currently reading?

BB: I’m for the first time in my life reading three books. Woodward’s “Fear,”

“Jefferson’s Chance,” by my good friend and colleague Jim Christina and “Barking

in Nutwood,” which is written by another friend of mine; Dave Sturgis.

To keep in touch with Bob, please visit:

www.bobbrill.com

www.bobbrillbooks.com

www.interestingpeoplewithbobbrill.com

www.baseballinthe1960s.com

www.lancerheroofthewest.com

www.pattiwaggin.com

Amazon author page; https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Brill/e/B00411A3MY%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Twitter: @bobbrillla

Instagram: thebobbrill

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bobbrillsr

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lancerheroofthewest/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bob-Brill-Baseball-Camp-998361060230585/

American Like Me (Book Review)

I was so excited to read American Like Me when MR. BOOK CLUB selected it as our January/February official selection. As an immigrant child, memories of my early days in America still fill me with the most confusing mix of emotions: there was fear, there was excitement, there was naiveté, there was misinformation. Ah, there is even an aroma of our very first American apartment that I can still tap to if I focus enough. All and all, it was a nerve-wracking time that was also kind of delicious (literally! We ate like pigs!) and full of hope. So, of course, if I see a compilation of essays written about various immigrant experiences, you damn right I’m going to read it! Plus it’s an America Ferrera project! Who doesn’t like America Ferrera?!

For the most part, I loved the book. The essays, one after the other, left me feeling giddy. Besides the occasional existential insight into what the term “American Dream” truly means, these were mostly reflections on childhood experiences. Turns out that all of us immigrants (or first generation kiddos) who were tweens in the early 90s, no matter our backgrounds, have very similar experiences. We all watched Family Matters and dreamed big 90210 dreams. We all had those tall mean girls we were afraid of and all our parents wanted us to become doctors or lawyers. This fact was of such comfort to me. How relatable! How universal! We truly are one. Reading this book, I even became inspired to revisit a long ago shelved idea of mine. See, I really want to write and publish a memoir focusing on my first year experience in America. I know, I know, here I am waxing poetic about how all of our experiences are similar and yet I want to write and sell my own story. Yes, yes, I hear a bit of a contradiction there. Well, allow me to ask you to take my word for it right now, but I’m telling ya, my story has a bit of a unique flavor to it. Will it ever be written? Yes. When? I don’t know. Suffice it to say that not everyone in my family will be lining up for a copy so that’s a bit of a deterrent. Sometimes, anyway.

Anywho, long story short: Did I like this book? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. How many stars would I give it? 3.5. And here is why: the stories lacked diversity. Predominantly, the essays were written by various celebrities of Hispanic descent, in addition to an occasional Asian perspective. Missing entirely are Jewish voices. Not a one. Russian-Jewish immigration came in a massive wave in early and mid ‘90s; surely, our voices deserve some representation, too. We too had obstacles to overcome, a language to learn, parents’ hopes and dreams to crush. Was Mila Kunis not available? Or Natalie Portman (an Israeli immigrant)? Also missing are Arab voices (were Tony Shalhoub and/or Rami Malek not available either?), with the only one present being that of Linda Sansour—a woman known for generally doing a poor job of hiding her anti-Semitic tendencies. The combination makes one wonder if this was an editorial oversight or an intentional statement. I don’t know. But I do know that I expected better from America Ferrera.

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Author Interview-Laura Lovett

Laura Lovett

Laura Lovett

Laura (Hambley) Lovett was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, and received her PhD in Psychology from the University of Calgary in 2005. Her love of writing began at an early age when she would create and draw characters, telling stories to herself as she drew.

An accomplished author in the academic and business world, Laura pursued her love of creative writing to pen her first novel, Losing Cadence, a psychological thriller. Losing Cadence was written over many years as Laura juggled school, work and family, but she made time to pursue her passion for writing. 

Laura is a psychologist and entrepreneur, currently running practices in the areas of career and leadership development and distributed workplaces in Calgary and Toronto. She won a Woman of Inspiration Award in 2018 as a Global Influencer, and selected as a Distinctive Woman of Canada in 2013. Laura also enjoys teaching at the University of Calgary and has been an Adjunct Professor of Psychology since 2010.

Laura lives in Calgary with her husband, three children and dog, Ghost. She loves playing squash, traveling, and reading, as well as her view of the Rocky Mountains as the snow is falling on her hot tub.

Marina Raydun: You are quite accomplished in your career as a psychologist. How does your profession inspire your writing? 

Laura Lovett: I love my career as a psychologist as it allows me to help people and to better understand human behavior.  I was inspired to write psychological thrillers that went beyond the types of challenges I see, to a much more extreme case.  All I have learned about psychology and mental health has helped me explain my antagonist’s (Richard White’s) thoughts and actions. I’m inspired to bring more awareness to mental health and to entertain people through my novels. 

MR: The cover art for Losing Cadence (and Finding Sophie!) is striking. Can you talk a little about the concept behind these designs?

LL:  A talented graphic designer and friend, Corey Brennan of Elevate Graphic Design, created these covers in collaboration with me. At first, we thought of using a photo of the stalker in the trees and Cadence playing her flute; but, when I saw the more artistic design, I found it striking.  I wanted books that would “pop” on the shelf.  The stalker is in the background of each, and is subtle yet foreboding.  The bride in Losing Cadence has a dress the same shape as the wake in Finding Sophie.  The books sit side by side in a complementary way, and I sincerely hope that people find them unique.

MR: What was the hardest scene to write?

LL:  The ending of Finding Sophie was the most difficult to write.  I could go in a couple of different directions and I had to decide.  I was under a timeline and I ended up seeing where the writing would take me.  The ending was emotional for me and I think the emotions it elicits in the readers are in line with the emotional contradictions of a psychological thriller.

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters? 

LL: People ask if Richard White is based on a partner I’ve had.  No way!  He came from my imagination and I owe my imagination and creativity to my father as he was a creative soul.  He passed away in 1997, but I can still feel his creativity in my being.  As for Cadence, she is not based on anyone either, but I attribute my flute playing and being a flute teacher in my teens and early twenties to my understanding of Cadence.  And, of course, having my own children, now ages 13, 10 and 8, helped me write about Sophie and Cale, and how children those ages might react to the situations facing them. 

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

LL:  I don’t find it difficult writing about the opposite sex.  I enjoy writing from different perspectives, and in Finding Sophie, it was interesting to go into Richard’s mind and share with the reader scenes from his past that might help explain, even a little, why he turned out to act in such ways.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

LL:  The best review was from a staff member at Indigo/Chapters, Lana Shupe, whose passion for my books and way of describing my writing was humbling.  She chose me as staff pick at her large store for both of my books. 

The worst review was from a Reader’s Digest independently authored book contest.  It was clear the reader had not fully read nor understood Losing Cadence.  She described Cadence as having Stockholm Syndrome, which is not true.  Funny enough, I was in Stockholm speaking at a conference when I received the review.  It saddened me as she said my cover looked like “chick lit”, which I’ve never heard since, thankfully.   My editor helped me realize it happens to all writers, and to not let it get me down.  My publicist later said that bad reviews are a good thing and every writer needs some otherwise it looks like you fixed the reviews to only have great ones.

MR: If you could cast your characters in a Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play your characters?

LL:  Chris Pine for Richard, Isla Fisher for Cadence, Kit Harington for Christian. 

And I do have a film producer shopping my books, so a film or series may be in the future (fingers tightly crossed!)

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author?

LL:  I would never write about something that I had no interest in or that required extensive research on topics that didn’t intrigue me.  That would feel like boring work rather than the fun I had writing my psychological thrillers!

MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?

 LL: Sometimes, when I think of a couple of the sex scenes in Losing Cadence, I feel embarrassed as to whom else in my network has read it.  That being said, these scenes needed to be described for the reader to understand Cadence’s abuse and they are not nearly as X-rated as some of the books out there these days!

MR: What are you currently reading? 

LL: The Sequel to Crazy Rich Asians: China Rich Girlfriend.  I enjoy these books, especially having experienced parts of China in September.  It’s such an alternate reality and the author does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into this wealthy and unique world.

To keep in touch with Dr. Lovett, please visit:

www.authorlauralovett.com

www.facebook.com/Author.Laura.Lovett

www.instagram.com/AuthorLauraLovett/

https://twitter.com/laura_lovett_ 

www.goodreads.com/AuthorLauraLovett

https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/1491788518/ref=x_gr_w_bb_sout?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_sout_ca-20&linkCode=as2&camp=15121&creative=330641

https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/losing-cadence-2

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/losing-cadence-laura-lovett/1123559738?ean=9781491788516

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/losing-cadence/9781491788516-item.html?ikwid=losing+cadence&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

https://www.amazon.ca/Finding-Sophie-Laura-Lovett/dp/1773740040/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510760463&sr=8-1&keywords=finding+sophie

https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/finding-sophie-2

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-sophie-laura-lovett/1127347057?ean=9781773740041

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/finding-sophie/9781773740041-item.html?ikwsec=Books&ikwidx=0

Author Interview Series-John E. Marriott

John E. Marriott

John E. Marriott

John E. Marriott is one of Canada’s premier professional wildlife and nature photographers, with images published worldwide by National GeographicBBC WildlifeCanadian Geographic, McLean's, and Reader’s Digest. He is an Associate Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a contributing editor for Outdoor Photography Canada magazine and the host of the popular web series EXPOSED with John E. Marriott.

John has produced six coffee table books and one guidebook, including three Canadian bestsellers: Banff & Lake Louise: Images of Banff National Park (2007), Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse at Life on the Wild Side (2008), and The Canadian Rockies: Banff, Jasper & Beyond (2009).  He most recently released The Pipestones: The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family in August 2016 and Tall Tales, Long Lenses: My Adventures in Photography in November 2017.

John is the owner/operator of Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours (www.canwildphototours.com), featuring wildlife photo adventures, workshops, and expeditions to out-of-the-way Canadian locales.  

John prides himself on being a conservation photographer known for photographing wilderness scenes and wild, free-roaming animals in their natural habitats. 

Marina Raydun: You’re a wildlife photographer and your passion for what you do is apparent in every one of your shots. Do you view what you do as a way of storytelling?

John E. Marriott: Absolutely, Marina. I love to be able to use visual elements to weave a story and to help pass along a message or to enhance a well-written tale. I think the best wildlife photographers are the ones that can tell stories with their imagery.

MR: What motivates you to get behind the camera?

JEM: At this point in my career (I’ve been doing this for over twenty years now), my primary motivation is conservation-oriented. I am extremely passionate about being an advocate for the animals I photograph and that motivates me to continue to get out in the field and tell my stories.

MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process? 

JEM: Staying up to date with editing images. I find it much easier to traipse about in the field than I do to sit at a computer staring at images and trying to decide which ones are worth sharing with the world.

MR: Your photography books are stunning. Editing down must be a real challenge! Can you tell us a little bit about the way you go about it?

JEM: It definitely is a challenge. When I do get motivated to sit down and edit and create a book project, I try to pick images that help the storyline, but also images that pair well together and enhance the overall look of the book.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your creative process? 

JEM: I don’t think publishing books has really changed my creative process, although I will admit that it my creative focus has shifted over time. Earlier in my career with my first few books, I had a definite commercial aim with the books, so I shot and included images that I probably wouldn’t take in my normal everyday photography life. For instance, there are a few photographs of the Town of Banff in my first coffee table book because that’s what appeals to tourists visiting Banff, but I’d never take pictures of the town for any other reason than because it was needed for the project. 

MR: How do you define a perfect shot? And how do you frame it? 

JEM: A perfect shot makes the viewer feel emotion and connect in some manner to the photograph. Sometimes it’s a ‘beautiful’ shot, sometimes it’s a shot that makes the viewer wonder how it was taken or what happened. They’re all perfect shots, but very different in makeup. The framing always matters, but it’s just one element of a perfect shot.

MR: What photographers influenced your thinking and photographing? 

JEM: I was most influenced by Michio Hoshino, who was a Japanese wildlife photographer that photographed extensively in Alaska in the early 1990s. I loved his style of including animals in vast landscapes and try to emulate that in some of my own photography.  

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why? 

JEM: That’s easy, I’d have my parents with me again for a gin and tonic and a few glasses of wine. They were instrumental in me becoming who I am and being as successful as I am. Remarkably, they never once asked me when I was going to “get a real job” on the long journey to become a professional photographer. 

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? 

JEM: Ha! Sadly, I either spend my time thinking about the Vancouver Canucks (my favourite NHL hockey team) or staring out the window scanning for wildlife. 

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?

JEM: I don’t know if it would be a huge surprise to people, but my favourite book of all-time is Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a book about rabbits, but of course it’s so much more. I also loved Louis L’Amour’s as a teenager and at one point owned every single one of his titles.

For more information on John’s photography, please visit his website at www.wildernessprints.com

John on Social Media:

Facebook:     John E. Marriott Wildlife and Nature Photography

                        https://www.facebook.com/JohnEMarriottPhotography

Instagram:    johnemarriott

                        https://www.instagram.com/johnemarriott/

Twitter:           @JohnEMarriott

                        https://twitter.com/JohnEMarriott

YouTube:       EXPOSED with John E. Marriott

https://www.youtube.com/exposedwithjohnemarriott

John’s Books:

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/John-E.-Marriott/e/B075716VJX/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1548310774&sr=8-1 

Indigo.ca: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/contributor/author/john-e.-marriott/

Author Interview-Kai Nicole

Kai Nicole

Kai Nicole

Kai Nicole holds degrees from Harvard University and Howard University School of Law.

She has worked in law, entertainment, technology (Silicon Valley), and has done business development consulting for multiple entrepreneurs.

A native Washingtonian, she has also lived in Boston and Atlanta. Kai is currently residing with her family in the suburbs of San Francisco.

Marina Raydun: Your background is in law. What made you want to write a dating guide?

Kai Nicole: I actually talk about this in my book, Date Like A Woman. But, it was a conversation on Twitter about dating that sparked the decision to write the book. My initiative, the accelerant, was the prolific number of male "dating gurus" online, and frankly everywhere, but so few women in the dating/relationship space, that I thought it was necessary to speak up in a bold way. A book seemed the best way to at least begin a factual discussion.

MR: Writing a book like Date Like a Woman is quite an undertaking. What kind of research did this project entail?

KN: Well, I went on a LOT of dates. I also did quite a bit of reading, e.g. newspaper articles, magazine articles, academic studies, and I did my own research, of course, by talking to a number of women about their dating experiences.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

KN: I no longer have the time required to focus on my writing the way I used to. Between blogging and my other business ventures, my time to focus on researching and writing my next book is very limited. I am learning to adjust though!

MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author? Why?

KN: There are probably several; I don’t like to write about things that I am not knowledgeable about or have not experienced.

MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

KN: I am not sure about my first experience, however, I will say that my first trip to France was the place where I understood how important being able to use a language was. At the time I spoke very limited French but being on my own for several months forced me to have to communicate in everyday ways, renting an apartment, going to the post office, the laundromat, cashing a check, everyday living. That experience made me really appreciate the power of language and communication.

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

KN: It used to be science fiction but now I find myself drawn to history and biography.

MR: What are you currently reading?

KN: I am currently reading Becoming Michelle Obama.

MR: Is there a book that changed your life?

KN: Yes, my own! The experience of writing and publishing my book has changed my life significantly. It’s an interesting experience when people read your own words and ask you about them.

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

KN: Michelle Obama. I admire her so much. I feel she is a person who, if you had the opportunity to sit down and talk to her, would give you all sorts of wonderful life advice.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

KN: Whether I should be making more videos for my Date Like A Woman fans! Seriously, I get a great response from my videos and for some reason when I am in the car is when I think about it the most.

To learn more about Kai Nicole, please visit http://www.datelikeawoman.com/

Second Person Singular

220px-Second_Person_Singular_by_Ayed_Kashua_book_cover.jpg

I met Sayed Kashua once. A friend of a friend, we were introduced after a screening of Write Down-I am an Arab, a documentary about a renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. I found him intimidating. Kashua, not Darwish. His mood that day can easily be explained by the timing of our meeting—we’d just come out of the discussion about the film and the life of Mahmoud Darwish, and inevitably, the conversation had turned to the life and status of Arab Israelis. My friend Mira Award (who’d adapted Darwish’s poetry to her original music for this project) and Sayed Kashua (who himself is an Israeli Arab journalist and novelist, writing primarily in Hebrew) were poised and polite in the face of some rather ignorant questions, but when it was over and we all headed over the a nearby bar somewhere around NYU, Sayed was visibly shaken and annoyed. By way of context, he had apparently recently moved to the United States with his family, vowing never to return to Israel. He spoke very fast, mostly in Arabic and Hebrew (neither one of which I speak), and I remember feeling very intimidated. He smoked a lot and left before anyone else did. I was relieved! Needless to say, I didn’t even think to mention that I am a writer—a title I still feel insecure about throwing around by way of a self-descriptor. Now, half a decade older, I realize what a wasted opportunity this meeting was! Not because I regret not making a “contact” in Mr. Kashua, but because, had I been braver and not allowed myself to become so easily flustered, I could’ve learned something from such an accomplished author! I’ve been kicking myself and wanting to read Sayed’s novels ever since.

I proposed reading Second Person Singular to my Facebook Book Club, MR. BOOK CLUB, but it lost to American Like Me. I, of course, knew that, win or lose, I was going to finally read this novel, and I have to say, I am glad that I did. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first work of fiction I’ve read that was written by an Israeli Arab. I’ve read literature by Jewish Israelis leaning to the left of the local political spectrum, of course, but obviously that is not the same thing.

I must say, I don’t remember the last time I felt like I truly learned something from a novel. For example, I had no idea about the friction between Israeli Arabs from the Galilee vs those from the “triangle,” the Christian and Muslim Arabs etc. The way I see it, underneath it all, this book is about insecurity. On all levels—personal, cultural, political. No wonder I can relate! The writing is crystal clear, despite the translation from Hebrew, and truly pulls you in. On the whole, this is a fascinating and rewarding read and I highly recommend it.


Nine Perfect Strangers

I’m just gonna say it—I love Liane Moriarty. Granted, I was a little late to the party, only giving her books a try two years ago; I, therefore, may be overcompensating a bit. I read Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot, and My Husband’s Secret. Ms. Moriarty’s voice is unlike anyone else’s and I cannot get enough. I’ll be honest, Nine Perfect Strangers is not my favorite novel by Ms. Moriarty, but it is a worthy, enjoyable read. It was my on-line book club’s official November/December selection. Join us here: MR. BOOK CLUB.

Currently, I am wrapping up a manuscript with multiple points of view so getting my hands on a book with that many POVs written by one of my favorite authors was godsent. Quality writing is indeed inspiring. On this front, Ms. Moriarty did not disappoint—nine characters were introduced effortlessly and naturally. Lots to learn from the master! The multiple voices were not overwhelming and it was helpful to hear inner dialogue and different perspectives on the previously introduced conflict. This, of course, was the highlight of the book for me.

Each character was distinct and different and developed to a different degree, but Masha stood out to me for a rather obvious reason. I’m naturally hypersensitive to representation of Russian-speaking characters in books and movies, and here is Masha—the gorgeous, know-it-all, arrogant health resort owner. Naturally, I was on guard from the second I read her name. I need not have been, as it turns out. Not because Masha was portrayed as a highly relatable, likable starlet, but because she was not. Highly educated and of enviable will power, Masha doesn’t hide her distaste for those around her. She feels superior to them not because she is naturally better than them but because she fought and worked hard for everything in her new life in Australia (despite immeasurable trauma, as it turns out). I’ve met women like Masha in my local immigrant community. She’s well-written. She’s believable. I didn’t like her but I understood where she was coming from.

The ending was the only thing that truly bugged me about the novel, to be honest. And even that’s only because it seemed to drag unnecessarily, with multiple updates on the characters in the future.

All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes an easy but quality read.

Author Interview-Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough

Amanda McDonough was born in 1990 and diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 4. As she grew older, her hearing steadily declined as she battled to hide her ongoing hearing loss from her family, friends, teachers, and the world. Despite facing unbelievable challenges, she succeeded in; getting straight A’s in school, having a successful child acting career, and leading a fairly “normal” life. But one day, during the most difficult part of her college career, she awoke to discover that her remaining hearing was completely gone. She had lost 100% of her hearing in both ears. All of a sudden, she was unable to communicate with the people around her. She did not know sign language, could no longer speak well, and could not lip read. She became isolated from the world and had to finally face her hearing loss, accept that she was deaf, and find a way to finish college without being able to hear. She found the strength to teach herself to talk well again, to lip-read, and to use sign language and set out on an emotional rollercoaster ride to discover who she was and who she wanted to become. As a late deafened adult Amanda pursued higher education at California Polytechnic University, Pomona where she received her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business Administration- International Business and Marketing Management, with an emphasis in Entertainment Marketing.
McDonough currently resides in Los Angeles, California and enjoys successful inspirational speaking and acting careers. Amanda’s recent television, theater and film credits include: ABC's "Speechless," NBC’s “Bad Judge,” ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” Chris Lilly’s Pilot series “Just Us Guys,” "Our Town" with Tony nominated Deaf West Theater and films such as “Listen” directed by Michaela Higgins and "Silent Star" directed by Steven Sanders. Her films "Passengers," "Loud and Clear, " and "Lady Electric" have gone on to show in various festivals (such as Cannes) and win awards.  Amanda's life story has even been the subject of documentaries such as USC's "Amanda" and radio broadcast stories such as KCRW's "Silence."" She has also been interviewed about her life and upcoming book by NBC News and Fox News, as well as for dozens of online articles and blogs.

Marina Raydun: You hid your hearing loss from those around you growing up. Looking back at it now, why do you think you chose to do that?

Amanda McDonough: I started losing my hearing when I was only 4 years old. At that time, there weren’t any openly hard of hearing role models in the mainstream media for me to look up to. I was young. I had no exposure to any Deaf people who could show me that life without hearing would be ok. So, out of fear, I chose to hide my hearing loss. I did the best I could to “fit in” with my hearing peers and hearing family. I tried to ignore my struggles and hope they would go away. It took me 18 years to realize that wasn’t the best course of action.  

MR: What would you say to a hard of hearing child who may be contemplating doing the same?

AM: Don’t. The biggest loss I suffered as a child wasn’t the loss of my hearing, it was the loss of the opportunity to figure out who I actually was. By hiding my hearing loss and constantly acting the way I thought society wanted me to act I delayed my opportunity to find my identity. I also missed out on opportunities to meet other people like me, to gain full access to education, to learn sign language, to benefit from Deaf culture, and even to receive college scholarships.

Be you. There is no better person to be.

MR: You’d been losing your hearing slowly over about two decades and often escaped into your imagination. Is that when you first started writing?

AM: I never saw myself as a writer prior to writing my first book. I even put off “Ready to be Heard” for nearly a full year after the publisher’s requested I write it. It wasn’t until I realized that other people could benefit from my personal struggles and my unique perspective that I started writing and learned that I actually loved it!

3dbook1.png

MR: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

AM: Language and words have always been powerful for me. Art using language has always been an outlet that I turned to during rough moments in my life. I loved books growing up, theater, poetry, music, and lyrics. Learning Sign Language, however, was a completely other worldly experience for me. It led me to my identity, provided me with support, culture, friends, accessibility, and hope. After all, is there anything more powerful than belonging and being able to share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly to a group of peers willing to “listen?”

MR: How did learning American Sign Language as an adult affect your appreciation for careful word choice? Did it affect your writing?

AM: Absolutely! Learning ASL has allowed me to see the world through new eyes! It definitely effected how I wrote my book. Learning the language and the culture, that comes with it, gave me the vocabulary to explaining how I identified at different points in my life and in my hearing loss journey. I started the journey as Hard of Hearing, became deaf, and then chose to identify as Deaf after learning ASL. So, you will see a lot of references to the importance of identity stressed through language and vocabulary (such as little d vs big D- deaf) in “Ready to be Heard.” 

MR: What sort of amplification do you currently use? (Do you use Cochlear implants or hearing aids)

AM: I have 100% natural hearing loss in both ears. I am profoundly deaf with one cochlear implant on the right side of my head.  

MR: What do miss hearing the most when you What is your favorite part about being able to turn it off before going to bed at night? do just that?

AM: My implant helps me navigate a hearing dominated world. However, I love being able to turn off my cochlear implant to enjoy the peace and silence, at will, during the day. Having the option to simply take my implant off makes so many of my life experiences better! For example, the silence benefits sleeping, writing in coffee shops, relaxing on long flights in crowded planes, watching dubbed foreign movies (with captions), walking by construction sites, and being able to nap literally anywhere I want! Being Deaf definitely has its perks!

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

AM: I get these amazing letters, emails, and messages from kids and adults, that I have never met, telling me that they related to something in my book, were empowered, or felt less alone after reading “Ready to be Heard.” That is success to me. I set out to help others. Naturally, I would like to reach as many people as possible with my story in the hopes that it can impact them. I definitely wouldn’t be against making the New York Times Best Sellers List, being on Oprah’s recommended reading list, explaining hearing loss to Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, or watching the film adaptation of my life. However, at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that my work leaves a positive mark on the lives of others.

MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve received?

AM: My “best” review is actually hilarious! It was one of the very first Amazon reviews I ever received. My mother sometimes uses my Amazon account to order things for herself and my dad. When “Ready to be Heard” came out, she wanted to leave me a review. So, my mom, logged onto MY Amazon Prime account, wrote a beautiful review of MY book with MY name as the reviewer! When someone brought the review to my attention, I laughed for a good 15 minutes, then decided to leave it up as private joke.

I recently received my “worst” book review. All my reviews before this one had been 5 stars; so, when I saw the 2 stars my heart sunk at first. Then I read the review and found myself grateful. I could have been upset that someone didn’t love my work. Yet, I chose to see this review as a gift. It reminded me that not everyone is going to like my book and that is ok. Life isn’t perfect. I am definitely not perfect. I still have a lot of learning and growing to do, so I take all the good reviews and the “bad” reviews and chose to learn from them.

 MR: You were an actress before you were a writer. How is your artistic process similar across the two media?

AM: As an actress I have always been a story teller. My job has always been to bring scripts to life and help people experience new characters, emotions, perspectives, and worlds. Writing is similar in that I am still the storyteller; the difference is that I use my words and personal experience as the tool to get the story across instead of my acting skills.

 MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

AM: I have learned so much from this experience! I have had some amazing mentors to help guide me, but there is nothing like learning by doing. I threw out the first two full 300-page drafts of “Ready to be Heard.” Those drafts helped me figured out what worked for me and what didn’t as a writer. I was then finally able to develop the writing process for myself that I used to write the published version and some day will use to write other book.

MR: Were your book to be adapted into a movie, who would play you?

AM: Is Betty White available? Just kidding. A film adaptation of “Ready to be Heard” is a future possibility; so, I’ll definitely need to start seriously contemplating this question. Any suggestions?

 To learn more about Amanda’s book, please visit:

www.ReadyToBeHeard.com

To keep in touch with Amanda, please visit:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBERhpWcbrcDEsM0A0D36rg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/officialamandamcdonough/

            http://www.facebook.com/readytobeheard

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ActingAmanda

            http://www.twitter.com/readytobeheard

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amanda_mcdonough/   https://www.instagram.com/readytobeheard

 

 

 

This Refugee's Christmas

Winter Show at a Day Care I hated with a passion, circa roughly 1987-1988

Winter Show at a Day Care I hated with a passion, circa roughly 1987-1988

My first holiday season in America, I thought “Merry Christmas” was synonymous with “Happy New Year.” And it wasn’t just because between all two of my friends and myself we could barely string together enough words to form a sentence in English; it was because, growing up in a country that no longer exists (namely-Soviet Union), New Year’s was all we knew. Sure, we’d heard of Christmas (though Russian-Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in January), but to have a whole week off from school for it was unheard of. If you’re going to be off, it has to be for New Year’s! DUH!

To this day, I seem confuse people both ethnically and religiously. And it’s a complex matter, I’ll give you that. Russian-Speaking Jews will rarely identify themselves as Russian, and that’s for a good reason: decades were spent convincing us that we’re not Russian! Sure, we were citizens of the good ol’ Soviet Union, just like the “real Russians,” but ethnically, everywhere it mattered, our Jewishness was pointed out. I’m talking birth certificates and teacher’s rosters. Ironically (or not), officially, there was no religion back in the old country so all things Judaism bypassed me completely growing up. Same was theoretically true of my Christian peers, though, unlike Jews, who rarely liked drawing attention to themselves, in the days of Perestroika, the “Russian” folk did start wearing crucifixes and occasionally attending church services in the open. But that one thing that united us all was New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s was this totally godless holiday that celebrated ousting the old year and hailing in the new, complete with a new year’s tree, presents, and Father Frost (think Santa Clause but in a different getup and accompanied by his granddaughter…I don’t know why, but somebody should look into it). Yes, that looks and sounds exactly like Christmas (well, minus that suspicious “granddaughter” situation). Apparently, the whole thing started back in the early years of the socialist regime, when all things religious were outlawed but the Party leaders recognized that the people still craved that winter holiday. New Year’s Eve was thus sanctioned. Or so the story goes. Whenever I’m asked to explain it (and that’s usually when I bust out my holiday lights and a decked out tree), I say, it’s like Christmas, only six days later and minus the whole Jesus thing. But literally everything else is the same. And boy, was it a big deal! It was special and wonderful, and we stayed up half the night watching the same movie year after year (Irony of Fate-it’s awesome, watch it!). You won’t meet an immigrant/refugee/ex-pat from whatever republic that used to belong to the Soviet Union who does not have warm and fuzzy feelings about New Year’s eve (and day). It was the holiday for every Soviet child and adult. Sure, we had birthdays and Victory Day and May Day and International Women’s Day, but it was for New Year’s Eve that the fancy china came out and salad Olivier was made in bulk. That shit is not easy to let go.

Two+ decades of an immigrant life experience, no matter the good, the bad, or the ugly, leaves you jaded whether you like it or not. It’s called growing up. Eventually, New Year’s, being of little interest to my American friends in any way that felt familiar, slowly lost its luster. I no longer await it with butterflies in my stomach, I no longer make wishes for the new year, it no longer feels like starting anew. Thus this holiday remains one of the very few things I miss about my country of birth; and much like it, it remains in my past. But you know what tries to fill that hole every year? Christmas! No, not in its religious sense. Mine is a commercial Christmas most people complain about. The chocolates, the gift-wrapping, the glorious tree. It’s the closest thing I’ve got to New Year’s that I can actually share with those around me and I’m sticking to it. That’s when my family gathers (yes, around a table full of Chinese food containers) and exchanges New Year’s presents…all the while listening to Christmas songs.

Sure, you can add a layer to this: I’m a refugee, an immigrant, forever desperate to blend, to adapt, to finally be American. No wonder I’m grasping at Christmas! And you know what? Maybe you wouldn’t be wrong on some level. It is here, in America, after all, that I finally felt that it was okay to look and be different from my peers because, by definition, everyone in America was always meant to look and be different from each other (right?!). My teachers no longer saw “Jewish” next to my name when going down the list of students and that alone felt like feat even back in 1994. And yet, every time somebody expresses skepticism over my affinity for Christmas and reminds me that Hanukkah begins at sundown, I wonder if it’s my semitic looks that prompt the conversation or the well-intentioned political correctness. And that triggers all sorts of trauma—I am again reminded of the fact that, if I am to forget that I’m Jewish, somebody will remind me. Even in America. But I digress…

So yes, forever the agnostic, and yes, one hopeful Jewish citizen of the world, I can’t see why I can’t have both—latkes for Hanukkah and a whole lot of outdoor Christmas lights. Hell, if I wouldn’t be so keenly aware that I am simultaneously judged by both Christians and Jews every Christmas (for being an impostor by Christians and a traitor by Jews, from what I am able to gather), I’d go even more out: stockings and caroling! Maybe next year.