Author Interview Series-McKensie Stewart (Author of Shattered: An Emily Graham Novel)

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McKensie Stewart is a native of Columbia, South Carolina where she attended Columbia College. Currently, she is an educator, fictional novelist and entrepreneur living in Charlotte, North Carolina. McKensie enjoys long walks on the beach with her Yorkshire Terrier, Jewel, when she isn’t terrifying and romancing her readers. Presently, she is working on her next novel.

Marina Raydun: How old were you when you wrote your very first work of fiction?

McKensie Stewart: Actually, I wrote my first book 2 years ago so well into my 40’s which proves you are never too old to try something new.

MR: If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?

MS: I didn’t know I had a gift to write so I would say if you want to write, try it and see where your imagination takes you.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

MS: Selling books.  I measure success on selling books and to tell my story in the number of books I write.

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

MS: All the characters in my books are totally made up so they aren’t based on anyone.  I am blessed to have an imagination to create the characters to be believable and people are drawn to them.

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

MS: I don’t see writing a character of an opposite sex as a challenge I write about what the person is doing, and the sex doesn’t matter.

MR: What did you edit out of your book?

MS: I only edit the words/sentences that turn the reader away from understanding or following the story.  I don’t want to do more telling that will bore the reader.

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

MS: I continue to try to receive reviews, so I have a balance of feedback.  So, the answer is I haven’t received a negative book review.

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

MS: Because of how evil Meryl Streep character played in Big Little Lies, Mary Louise Wright, hands down she would play Kyndall.  I love Meryl Streep in this role.

MR: What is your favorite genre to read?

MS: It is easier to tell you what I don’t like to read—it is Sci-Fi.

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

MS: I can ready anything James Patterson.

To learn more about McKensie Stewart, please visit: www.McKensieStewart.com

For McKensie Stewart’s books, visit: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=shattered+an+emily+graham+novel

 

From McKensie Stewart:
Please join me Friday’s at 5:00 pm EST on the FBRN.US, The Writer’s Edge Radio with McKensie Stewart www.fbrn.us

I host The After Show with McKensie Stewart and Amy Shannon on Blog Talk Radio

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wetheaftershow/podcast

Author Interview Series-Bruce Olav Solheim

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Bruce Olav Solheim was born in Seattle, Washington, to Norwegian immigrant parents. Bruce was the first person in his family to go to college. He served for six years in the US Army as a jail guard and later as a warrant officer helicopter pilot, and is a disabled veteran. Bruce earned his Ph.D. in history from Bowling Green State University in 1993. Bruce is a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, California. He was a Fulbright Professor in 2003 at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway. Bruce has published eight books and has written ten plays, two of which have been produced. He is married to Ginger and has four children and a grandson. Bruce has just published his second paranormal book, Timeless Deja Vu: A Paranormal Personal History. Bruce’s mother was psychic and introduced him to the magical realm. His first paranormal experience took place in northern Norway in 1962 when he was four years old. Bruce took a parapsychology class while he was stationed in West Germany in 1979 and has wanted to write about his experiences ever since. He has continued to have paranormal experiences throughout his life and has developed advanced mediumship capabilities. It was only three years ago that Bruce had a spiritual awakening after a vision and communication with his departed close friend Gene that Bruce decided to publish his paranormal stories and overcome his fear of being rejected and ridiculed by his peers and the college administration. Bruce studies quantum theory and has developed a model that may help explain our quantum reality, ghosts, reincarnation, alien contact, and more. He is interested in all esoterica and oddities. Bruce teaches a Paranormal Personal History course at Citrus College and has his own radio program. He is also an associate member of the Parapsychological Association.

Marina Raydun: Your bibliography (and biography!) is most impressive. And you teach a course called Paranormal Personal History. Talk to us a little bit about writing about paranormal activity?

Bruce Olav Solheim: I always feel compelled to write something. This drive is usually based on some issue or problem in the world. I think that we are all paranormal beings. The paranormal is actually normal and the supernatural is actually natural. I want to help people realize their own power and not fear death. Fearing death causes us not to truly live. I have been fascinated by the paranormal since age four which was when I had my first experience.

MR: Are teaching and writing related for you? Does one inspire the other?

BOS: Yes. They are both forums for learning. Teachers learn as much as students. As artist Paul Klee once said, it is the teacher that should pay the tuition not the student. I love teaching and I love writing. I share my writing with my students and welcome their feedback.

MR: You also write plays. What compels you to write in this medium?

BOS: My first play was called the Bronze Star. It was based on a true story of my friend Carl who committed suicide in 2002. Every day, 22 American veterans commit suicide. That was the problem that need to be addressed and I did so through my friend Carl’s story. There was no other way to tell his story. I had a vision one day of Carl in Vietnam and that ended up being the opening of the play.

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

BOS: I would never say never because you never know.

MR: How did growing up in an immigrant household affect your writing and your work ethic?

BOS: It is who I am. I am of divided heart. I love Norway and I love the United States. I appreciate the struggles that immigrants face because I know what my parents faced. They were hard workers. They came to America from Norway after WWII where they lived under Nazi occupation. They inspire and motivate me everyday even though they have both passed on from this world.

MR: You are a veteran and do a lot for fellow veterans. In fact, you co-founded Boots to Books program at Citrus College in California—a program for recently returned veterans. How central is writing and reading to this program?

BOS: Every day we should get up and do something to help alleviate suffering in the world. Veterans are suffering. Helping them transition was the right thing to do. I got veterans to be involved with my plays and they helped the other actors understand the issues of war and peace and what that really means. I encourage veterans to express themselves in any way that they can: writing, art, spoken word, community service. We all need a mission, and veterans especially so.

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

BOS: I have been lucky, no bad reviews. I have had people tell me that they can’t read my paranormal books because they are too scary. Some nice reviews have encouraged me to keep sharing my personal stories because they can relate to the issues that I have faced. To know that I have helped in some small way is a tremendous reward.

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

BOS: Although I don’t drink, Mark Twain. He is fascinating to me.

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

BOS: Everything, that is why I must be careful. I often miss my exit on the freeway or drive

somewhere by autopilot. My mind is rarely quiet or without imagery.

MR: What are you currently reading?

BOS: I usually read five or six books at a time:

Chosen by Yvonne Smith, The PK Man by Jeffrey Mishlove, Identified Flying

Objects by Michael Masters, The Will of a Wildflower by Pegi Robinson, Short

Stories by Red Elk.

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.