Thursday, July 30, 2009
New York Times Bestseller and 2009 Pulitzer Prizewinner for Biography, AMERICAN LION by Jon Meacham is a deeply insightful and eminently readable narrative biography of Andrew Jackson (often called "America's second founding father") and his pivotal years in the White House that shaped the modern presidency.
Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson’s presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson’s private world through years of storm and victory.
One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will–or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House–from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman–have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.
Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.
Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency–and America itself.
Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek and author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and the New York Times bestsellers Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. He lives in New York City with his wife and children. You can visit his website at www.jonmeacham.com.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Today's guest blogger is T. Katz, author of Miss L'eau.
Two young boys in a coastal town discover a secret about their mysterious elementary school teacher, Miss L'eau. James and David had always known there was something unusual about her, but they could never quite put their finger on it. David discovered their first clue had been there all along, in her eyes.
The boys lived their whole lives near the ocean, but had never thought about how important it was or how vulnerable it might be. Through Miss L'eau, and her unexpected relationship to the sea, they develop a deeper love and understanding of the ocean and become involved with the nearby aquarium to organize an annual seaside clean-up.
Miss L'eau Inspires Little Hands To Do Big Things
by T. Katz, author of Miss L’eau
Having been born in Santa Cruz, CA only blocks from the beach, I always said that I had saltwater in my veins and have never liked being too far from the sea. Years ago, I moved to the high desert area of California and would run away to the shore whenever I could. As years passed, I noticed more and more trash on the beaches and knew how it was affecting the world at large. Water covers nearly 75% of earth's surface and is critical to the balance of the planet, so I wrote Miss L'eau to help kids understand that everyone can pitch in to take care of it, no matter how small their hands are.
Miss L'eau tells the tale of two kids in a coastal town who discover a secret about their elementary school teacher, which changes their lives forever. The boys had always known there was something unusual about Miss L'eau, but they could never quite put their finger on it. Even though David and James have always lived near the ocean, they never thought about its importance, power and certainly never its vulnerability. Thanks to their teacher and her unexpected relationship to the sea, the boys develop a love and understanding for the great body of water covering most of the earth's surface.
While it seems that most kids embrace the idea of taking care of the planet, it has been my experience that they also find the task of cleaning their own room overwhelming. In my children's chapter book, Miss L'eau I wanted kids to relate to the boys in the story and how they, too felt that organizing a community clean-up might be too much for them. James and David initially ask for help, but come to realize they are more capable than they originally thought they were.
It is my hope that Miss L'eau inspires kids to want to protect and preserve our oceans and research more about how to do just that. In the book, James tells his teacher his ideas for an annual seaside clean-up and begins to write out a plan to do so (work with a local aquarium, speak to city officials, etc.). The main goal of Miss L'eau is to motivate readers to start thinking about how they might follow the example of the kids in the story and after, they can visit the Miss L'eau webpage for step-by-step instructions on organizing their own clean-up in their community. Parents and educators can utilize an on-line study guide (located at www.tkatz.com) to further encourage conversation and help children research more about ocean conservation and preservation.
Miss L'eau is a fictional story with a factual heart and if one page makes a young reader want to investigate more about protecting and preserving the water surrounding us, then I think a good deed was done.
T. Katz is the author of the children’s chapter book, Miss L’eau. You can visit her website at www.TKatz.com or her blog at www.TKatz.typepad.com.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Interview with Etta K. Brown, Author of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges
Today we welcome Etta Brown, author of the helpful parenting guide, Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges. We hosted Etta at the beginning of the month and have asked her back to discuss one of the important topics from her book: nutrition and learning disabilities.
Welcome back to Book Tours and More, Etta. It’s a pleasure to have this chance to hear about your book.
As a reminder to our readers, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your book Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges?
The book is in response to the Federal law entitled No Child Left Behind which delegates to parents the responsibility for appropriate education of learning disabled and other exceptional children. This law empowers parents with rights that supersede those of the school.
The problem is that parents are not prepared with the knowledge or experience needed to be successful at monitoring the special education process and designing an Individual Educational Plan for their child.
Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges is a retired School Psychologist’s effort to meet the need for empowered parents prepared for the business of answering the question, “Is special education necessary, even if the child is eligible?” The law states that education should occur in the least restrictive environment. The least restrictive environment is the general education classroom with needed assistance.
There are many dynamics that occur in the education environment that necessitates on occasion that this does not always occur.
This manual empowers parents with an insider’s view of special education, and prepares them for meetings with a list of what to do, when to do it, what to say and when to say it, and what to do if they don’t get the right answer.
In addition to all this, the book explains environmental factors that cause interference with the development of the central nervous system in the developing child, and how to identify and remove these factors from their child’s environment so that he experiences normal neurological development.
Lastly, the book provides modifications and strategies for helping the child at home and school. The objective is to prepare parents to become a co-participant in the educational process by supporting at home what the teacher is asked to do in the classroom.
Having read this book, I can tell you I wish it was available a couple of years ago when I began navigating the waters of getting my daughter assessed and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) put in place. What made you decide to write it?
After assessing hundreds of children, and participating in the development of their IEP, I retired with the memory of so many unfortunate children and their frustrated parents whose needs were not being met by public education as it is currently organized. As a classroom teacher turned School Psychologist, I had an insight into the needs of children which one gains by being a classroom teacher. Reading about the learning problems of children is not the same as one-on-one contact with children in the classroom.
Friends after listening to me rank about children and learning often commented, “You should write a book.” After retirement, I got out of bed one morning and said, I think I’ll write that book today.
I began writing about something that I knew something about. When I finished the book and began editing for grammatical errors, I realized that I had been doing therapeutic writing, venting all the frustration about the things parents needed to know about their children, but would be a disadvantage to the schools, so the schools didn’t tell them.
I edited and reedited the book until all the anger was gone, then began to research and share all the things that I could now share with parents without being disloyal to my employers. By the end of the third year, I had compiled a manual of helpful information that would empower parents to take an active role in the special education process.
Let’s move into the meat of our interview because I want to focus on some of the information you bring up in Chapter 6 about nutrition and learning disabilities.
On Page 36 it says, “It may be accurate to say that the diet of most American children today is a diet that automatically results in a very low level of intelligence.” Why might that be true?
The US Department of Agriculture states that only 2% of children in the US actually meet the recommendations of the Food Guide Pyramid, resulting in a lack of sufficient nutrients to build a healthy brain and nervous system in 98% of our children.
Making matters worse, most children simply do not eat enough of the critical elements needed to build and maintain the brain from infancy. As the brain develops it needs first gamma linolenic acid an essential fatty acid found in abundance in human breast milk, but entirely missing from cow’s milk or soy substitutes. Clinical studies have shown that babies weaned on cow’s milk score lower on intelligence tests than those weaned on human breast milk. This presents a very potent case in favor of breastfeeding.
The brain is composed of billions of neurons, or nerve cells. The more brain cells the child has, the more intelligent he is because he has a greater capacity to think and problem solve. With malnutrition restricting the availability of the nutrients needed to build neurons, fewer neurons are built. Severe cases of malnutrition result in severe mental deficiencies. A diet that provides moderate nutrients for brain development will result in moderate intelligence. There are very often other factors involved, however, and in the book 7 other conditions effecting the development of the brain and central nervous system are discussed, and they are all equally important to the development of the learning mechanisms of the brain.
Isn’t this surprising news in a world where Americans are living longer and exercise and good nutrition are pushed harder than ever before?
In the US government, there are two very important but mutually exclusive groups known as the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The DOA researches and publishes the Food Pyramid telling people all the good foods they should be eating, and the FDA grants permission to put the very additives into our food that the DEA tells us is not good for us. Over the years the Department of Agriculture has increased its efforts to get the people to engage in a healthier diet and life style, while the Food and Drug Administration approves more dangerous drugs and chemical food additives that are killing adults and causing brain deformities in our children.
Just for fun, listen to all the side effects added as a disclaimer on drug commercials. The side effects far out weigh any benefits gained from some drugs. While they tell us all the things that comprise the food products offered for sale, it would be more beneficial to the public if they just didn’t permit companies to put those harmful chemicals into the food supply. If the FDA were to state suddenly, we will only permit pure nature ingredients into our food, the incidence of learning disabilities would significantly decrease.
The book also discusses hypoglycemia. How much impact does sugar and carbonated beverages have on brain function?
The body needs fuel to work. One of its major fuel sources is sugars, which the body gets from what is consumed as either simple sugar or complex carbohydrates. Of all the organs in the body, the brain depends on sugar (glucose) almost exclusively. The brain cannot make its own glucose and is 100% dependent on the rest of the body for its supply. If for some reason, the glucose level in the blood falls (or if the brain's requirements increase and demands are not met) there can be effects on the function of the brain.
Complex carbohydrates, found in vegetables and whole grains, help to avoid hypoglycemia by replenishing glucose at regular intervals. These foods take longer to digest, releasing nutrients into the blood stream gradually. This keeps the body’s energy constant.
Refined carbohydrates absorb very rapidly into the bloodstream because little digestion is required. This causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, followed by an increase in the production of insulin, which removes sugar from the blood and results in a low level of blood sugar.
A low blood sugar reaction can cause recurrent fatigue, irritability, tension, hyperactivity and aggression. These behavioral changes occur because the brain does not have the necessary nutrients to produce normal behavior.
A child with low blood sugar feels miserable, and has difficulty learning. This can be avoided by providing a diet of complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains and be sure that the child eats them for breakfast, the most important meal of the school day.
What can you tell us about the large-scale study of 200 hyperactive children that is mentioned on Page 38?
Here is a summarized report of a similar study taken from one of my favorites www.drgreene.com:
“A change in eating that is as strong as attention deficit drugs?! “
Researchers at the University of Southampton studied over 1800 three-year-old children, some with and some without ADHD, some with and some without allergies. After initial behavioral testing, all of the children got one week of a diet without any artificial food colorings and without any chemical preservatives. The children's behavior measurably improved during this week. But was this from the extra attention, from eating more fruits and vegetables, or from the absence of the preservatives and artificial colors?
To answer this question, the researchers continued the diet, but gave the children disguised drinks containing either a mixture of artificial colorings and the preservative benzoate, or nothing - each for a week. The results were published in the June 2004 Archives of Diseases in Childhood. The weeks that children got the hidden colors and preservatives, their behavior was substantially worse. This held true whether or not they had been diagnosed with hyperactivity, and whether or not they had tested positive for allergies - good news for parents of 3 year olds everywhere!
Removing artificial colors and preservatives from the diet was dramatically effective at reducing hyperactivity - somewhere between the effectiveness of clonidine and Ritalin, two common ADHD drugs. How much better to support children's mood and behavior with healthy food, than to just turn to drugs! Some children may still need medicine, but with a healthy diet, we may be able to use lower doses. And it seems to me that this diet may be better for all children, whether or not they have behavior problems.”
Can food allergies play a role in behavior and brain function?
Some of what is known about allergies is that they have a significant impact upon a child’s performance. Some forms of hyperactivity, short attention span and mood swings are caused by allergies and intolerances for certain foods and other environmental factors. Allergies can also play havoc with a child’s ability to benefit from classroom instruction.
For these reasons, when a child is diagnosed with learning problems and poor behavior, consideration should be given to the role that chemicals, stress, food allergies and other factors in the environment may be having upon the child’s performance.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the issues surrounding nutrition, let’s talk about solutions. It’s easy to say, cut out this, substitute that and make sure your child is eating X, Y and Z. It’s not always easy putting it into practice. With families who are busy with work, school, and multiple extracurricular activities, how do we improve children’s diets without sacrificing a significant amount of time?
Like all other things in life, one has to set priorities. I don’t think any busy mother has stopped to ask herself the question: “What is more important for my child, a well developed social life filled with extracurricular activities, or a healthy mind in a healthy body?” I have not encountered any research that concludes that a lack of extracurricular activities interfered with learning.
Parents sometimes have to make these decisions for children based upon long term goals for the child’s future. In real life, a healthy brain in a healthy mind bodes more likely success than all the other activities combined.
One approach might be a family meeting in which the effects of poor diet and nutrition are discussed. Agree upon and make a list of the foods the family should have then have each person assume responsibility for helping achieve the objectives. This would be a good time to learn to set priorities, to compare present benefits with future consequences.
Some meals can be cooked the night before, use a slow cooker, prepare meals ahead of time and pop them in the microwave. And then slow down, way down the wisest people are calm and collected. Would you give up the social life if it had a direct, negative connection to your child’s hyperactivity?
The book also mentions the negative impact of fast foods. Are there some fast food options that might be better than others?
Not going to let you off the hook on that one. The healthiest fast foods I know are organically grown vegetables prepared the night or weekend before and popped in the microwave. Again it is a matter of priorities. A trip to the beach on a Saturday morning, or a few hours in the kitchen preparing next week’s fast foods.
Some school systems have a wellness policy in place for their cafeterias. Should this be required in all school systems?
For some children, the school cafeteria is their only source of health food. So yes, of course school cafeterias should have a wellness policy in place. In some schools the cafeteria produces health edible food. In other systems where food is mass produced and shipped to the schools, you have to read the menu to determine what you are about to eat. Often it is a disguised group of chemical additives that teachers and adults won’t eat. Yet, it is deemed ok for our children.
How much of a difference can one good meal make to a child’s brain function?
If you are going to give a child one good meal, make it a breakfast of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods digest slowly giving the brain a steady supply of nutrients throughout the morning it will prevent hypoglycemia and all the associated symptomatic behaviors.
On test day, this one meal can mean the difference between a diagnosis of learning disability, or average performance. That is why the school psychologist asks whether the child ate breakfast. If he did not, the test scores are invalid because you don’t have a measure of normal brain function.
Any final advice for parents seeking to improve their child’s diet?
Children can’t eat what you don’t buy. Substitute fresh fruit and popcorn for fatty snacks; filtered water for soda and other soft drinks containing caffeine sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and don’t feed your kids foods that have things you can’t pronounce listed under ingredients. If it is not a natural food that you can visualize when you read it, don’t feed it to your kids.
Children are precious commodities. Pretend that they are valuable antiques worth thousands of dollars. You will be more motivated to protect them by preventing the decline of brain function, allergies, and other damage done by the environment.
Where should readers go if they want to know more about Learning Disabilities: Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges?
The book can be reviewed and purchased at www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com. The site also contains a lot of helpful information that is not included in the book.
How can readers pick up a copy of the book?
It will be in all major bookstores soon.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for a second guest post on your blog.
Thank you for spending so much time with us today. I’m thankful that someone took the time to write such a helpful book for parents.
Today's guest bloggers are Dave Esler and Myra Kruger. They are the authors of The Pursuit of Something Better, which tells the story of the amazing transformation of U.S. Celluar and of its unconventional CEO, Jack Rooney, who had the vision to see the limitations of the traditional business model a decade before it imploded, and the courage to replace it with something much, much better.
Dave Esler and Myra Kruger combined their 30 years of corporate communications, human resources, and consulting experience as Esler Kruger Associates in 1987. Their consulting firm focuses on culture change, organizational surveys, and executive counsel on effective leadership. They are based in Highland Park, Illinois and can be reached at http://www.eslerkruger.com/.
Three Steps to Transformation
Our book, The Pursuit of Something Better, tells a story of genuine transformation: how an underdog company rebuilt its culture on a foundation of old-fashioned values in order to thrive in an industry of heavyweights. The company is U.S. Cellular, the last midsized wireless carrier left standing, after years of industry consolidation, to compete with the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. The leader responsible for the company’s transformation into a competitive terror in its regional strongholds is Jack Rooney, its CEO for the past decade.
“Transformation” is not a word we use lightly. The changes at U.S. Cellular represent what is perhaps the most successful example of broad-scale, deep-down, root-and-branch, no-compromise corporate culture change in this country in the past 30 years. Many, many, many companies have undertaken similar changes; many of these attempts have been total failures, and most of the rest have achieved only token success. It’s worth paying close attention to one organization – and one leader – that got it right.
Of Rooney’s myriad contributions to this process, three stand out for their uniqueness.
First, he provided the company with not only a vision (corporate “visions” being a dime a dozen), but a detailed picture of what the new world he was asking his company to create would look like. Rooney’s “Dynamic Organization” is extraordinarily specific; beyond the six core values and ten desired behaviors that provide the underpinning of his vision, he posits several “key components” that describe the target culture in remarkably concrete terms.
For example: in the D.O., “associates operate close to their customers and are free from the distractions of running the business;” “leaders lead through inspiration, not by regulation;” “the customer’s experience with the company is more important than the product provided;” “associates – especially leaders – have a customer’s perspective and the ability to visualize the ideal customer experience.” (A full description of all the D.O.’s principal parts is provided in The Pursuit of Something Better.)
For Rooney, these statements are more than the usual wishful thinking; they are depictions of a workplace reality that was missing only one detail: they had not, in 2000, actually happened yet. But, he reminded the somewhat bewildered audiences at his new company, they surely would. In the years since, his description of what the new world would look like has become a set of standards that drive every endeavor at U.S. Cellular – and the company gradually came to look more and more like the Dynamic Organization Rooney had imagined.
Rooney’s second unique contribution was to provide one of the most complete and detailed systems for tracking and measuring cultural progress yet devised. Culture change can be frustratingly nebulous; that’s one of the reasons why so many executive eyes glaze over at its mention. That’s not the case at U.S. Cellular, where an extensive survey of the culture has been conducted annually since Rooney introduced the D.O. in 2000.
The survey was specifically designed to assess the company’s progress in putting the values and behaviors of the D.O. into practice. A statistical basis for measurement is provided by an extensive online questionnaire that examines every aspect of the culture and that is offered annually to every employee. Participation rates are phenomenal, ranging over the survey’s ten-year history from a high of 97 percent to a low of 92; associates are eager to contribute to the survey because they know from experience that the company acts on the results. One segment of the survey asks associates to assess how well their supervisors and skip-level leaders are modeling the culture; these results are used to drive leadership development and become a major component of leaders’ performance appraisals.
The questionnaire is supplemented by a series of individual group interviews in which between 25 and 30 percent of the company participate each year; these interviews are designed to provide explanations for that year’s numerical variations. Survey results are reported, to U.S. Cellular’s entire leadership team – some 1,500 people in 2009 – at the annual, two-day Leadership Forum, one of the major events on the company’s calendar. By the time it concludes, no participant has any doubt about where the company – and each individual leader – stands in relation to the D.O., and what they need to do to get even closer.
Rooney’s third main contribution to his company’s transformation was – and is – the absolute, unwavering conviction that the vision would happen. Many executives who embark on culture change get discouraged and waver; it is just too hard, too daunting, too disruptive. Rooney is different; he has had for many years in the center of his desk a plaque that captures his credo perfectly: “It shall be done.” This is not a statement of power or ego, but of simple fact: failure to implement is not an option. Success will not likely be easy, or cheap, and it may take longer than anyone expects. But it shall be done.
And it has been done. U.S. Cellular in 2009 bears no resemblance to the company Rooney joined nine years ago. Today, it is a proven winner among all its constituencies by every measurable standard: customer appreciation (five J.D. Powers awards in a row, and counting), associate satisfaction, share price, bottom line. The company that set out nine years ago in pursuit of something better has found it.
Monday, July 27, 2009
You'll find a funny and delightful story of offbeat neighbors making a big splash when they move into a quiet community in Too Many Visitors for One Little House by Susan Chodakiewitz.
The neighbors of El Camino Street don't seem to like anything: pets, kids, or big families. They hate babies, huggy-kissy families and music. So when the new neighbors move in, they are not happy at all. They pull up in a huge camper and out comes teens with tons of stuff, grown-ups, a toddler, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. They zip on skateboards, play music and clatter around the kitchen.
The people of El Camino Street must do something...but none of them expects what comes next.
Too Many Visitors for One Little House is a charming and funny story of being included, making new friends and accepting our differences. Author Susan Chodakiewitz does an excellent job of creating quirky characters who come together at a new house for a family reunion, much to the dismay of the older residents of the street.
Children may relate one of these cranky neighbors to someone they know; and they will certainly find at least one character who reminds them of a family member. Based upon the back cover blurb, it's possible that Chodakiewitz used her own big family as inspiration for this story.
Illustrator Veronica Walsh makes her debut with Too Many Visitors for One Little House. From cover to cover her digital color illustrations perfectly compliment the story and her attention to detail brings these fictional characters to life for young readers.
Perhaps the best part of Too Many Visitors for One Little House is that children will be learning while enjoying a humorous and engaging story.
You and your child will love to read this story over and again.
Title: Too Many Visitors for One Little House
Author: Susan Chodakiewitz
SRP: $13.99 (U.S)
Friday, July 24, 2009
Kim Smith is today's guest blogger. She is the author of the romance novel, A Will to Love.
Benton Jessup wants his bed and breakfast to be successful. He will go to no lengths to insure that it does. But when Kitty Beebe, a famous romance author, arrives at The Inn, his desire for success becomes a struggle of wills with love.
In the Pursuit of an Idea by Kim Smith
Recently, I was out of town on a business trip. No great thing but for the fact that I had horrible trouble with the airlines that was supposed to move me from point A to point B. The long wait times (two different days!) gave me plenty of opportunities to think about situations and writing and what worked and what didn’t.
For most beginning writers, the pursuit of an idea wide enough to carry an entire book is a big deal because many agents and publishers say “make the story universal, make it something that is timeless”. Most beginners (some who are not as well) take this advice seriously. They want to do everything right straight out of the gate.
I know many established, multi-published authors who take the idea that flashes through their mind and keep building on it “off the paper” for extended periods of time. Some have even developed their characters, their settings, or their plot for years in their pre-planning. But, for some of us, this simply won’t work. I happen to be one of these other writers, the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sorts. This post is not for the writer who can create for extended periods before writing their first word, but rather the ones who cannot.
As I sat in the airport contemplating writing something (anything!) because my heart felt that I had put it off too long trying to make it into something useful not wasted, I remembered William Faulkner.
He is quoted as saying, "Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him"
So I am here to tout the news that it is okay to write out the idea on paper, not carry it around in our heads, go forward, dive right into the story by writing a few thousand words. It is okay to turn those few thousand into a few thousand more in an attempt to see if it will go anywhere, only to discover that you do not have a story. Yes, I am an advocate of broken beginnings, saggy middles, and books with no hope.
Why, you ask, would I do such a thing? Why would I encourage writers to write anything less than their best, and most well-thought out work? Waste paper, muddle a mind?
Because writers write. That’s what we do, that’s who we are!
Beginning writers (especially) need to keep poking the muse to see what she has to offer up. When we censor our writing mind, and toss out ideas before they have a chance to be developed (because someone says “that won’t work” or “that’s been done before”), we get into a mind-set that hobbles our creativity.
Let that weak idea flow! You may have a short story, not a novel. You may have a character sketch, or a mood piece, not necessarily a short story, but that is perfectly fine. You still have something to write. Something that moves your writing life forward a little bit more than yesterday. Along the way, you will know when it is right, when it is something that can be stretched, or developed, when it will go into a bigger piece of the puzzle, and who better to know such as that? It is your story to tell, your character to develop, your plot to pursue.
After returning from my business trip, I walked the grounds of Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi. I smiled when I felt the urge to write hit me. I didn’t tarry either. Maybe ole Will was standing somewhere under one of those huge, old trees in the avenue, waving at me—(laughing, probably) telling me to go, go, go at my fierce determination to wrestle something out in the name of writing. Telling me to be free in my methods, my failures. I had a small amount of success, churning out one small story. Thanks, Will.
Kim Smith is the hostess for the popular radio show, Introducing WRITERS! radio show on Blog Talk Radio. She is also the author of the zany, Shannon Wallace mystery series available now from Red Rose Publishing and also the new romance novel, A Will to Love. You can visit Kim’s website at www.mkimsmith.com.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Our special guest today is Tom Weston, author of First Night.
Alexandra O'Rourke, aged 16, is not a happy camper. It's New Year's Eve. She should be partying in San Diego with her friends, but instead she is stuck in Boston, with just her younger sister, Jackie, for company. As if that wasn't bad enough, she is being haunted by Sarah, the ghost of a seventeenth century Puritan. Oh, and there is the small matter of the charge of witchcraft to be sorted out.
Armed only with big shiny buttons and a helping of Boston Cream Pie, the sisters set out to restore the Natural Order. Can Alex solve the mystery of the Devil's Book? Can Jackie help Sarah beat the sorcery rap? And can they do it before the fireworks display at midnight? Because this is First Night - and this is an Alex and Jackie Adventure.
Having lived all my life in Massachusetts and having been to Boston multiple times for field trips and sporting events, I asked Tom to discuss some of the landmarks and familiar areas readers will find in First Night.
First Night, being a Walking Tour with Alex and Jackie
by Tom Weston
While First Night is a fantasy, I wanted to set the story in as real a world as possible. Cue Boston - although it would be more accurate to describe Boston on New Year's Eve as surreal.
Part of my aim was to feature Boston as a character in the book. So I dropped a great deal of ink on the history of the city. There are more than 70 landmarks referenced, many of them in detail.
I have to admit, I did worry if all this history throughout the novel would detract from its pace, but I have been gratified by the reactions of the readers: from Bostonians (of both the ‘I-never-knew-that-existed’ and the ‘been- there-done-that’ variety) to out-of-towners, who have been kind enough to write me that the book has made them want to visit the city and follow in Alex and Jackie’s footsteps.
And the good news is: many of the landmarks featured in the book (except, of course, for the ghostly Court of Spirits) are within walking distance of each other. Indeed several of them form part of Boston’s famous Freedom Trail. In the story, Alex and Jackie manage to visit all of these sites in just one day. While this is technically possible (I know, I did it), to do so comes at the expense of a great deal of enjoyment and discovery. So if you visit Boston, I would suggest that you employ a more leisurely pace than that used by the girls.
I have been accused of favoritism in my selections. Indeed I left out so many worthy attractions that I could fill several Alex and Jackie sequels. But I hope that the reader will agree that I chose based on history and connection to the story, not because of personal preference. That said, if I had to highlight any particular landmarks of those featured in First Night, I would choose the following:
The first is the Granary Burying Ground: where the real child, Sarah Pemberton, was laid to rest in 1688. I won’t say where exactly - go and discover. It may seem macabre to list a graveyard as your number one tourist attraction, but the history of Boston (and America) stems from the people buried here, and it contains many names that will already be familiar to you. And this is where the story of First Night had its genesis, during a visit one earlier New Year's Eve. Before I put pen to paper, I knew that this would be where the story began and ended.
The second is the Old South Meeting House: another Boston gem that I discovered one New Year's Eve (thank God for those buttons). Small, sparse and unassuming – a cathedral it isn’t. But with its little museum dedicated to revolution, democracy and civil rights, it is both humbling and inspirational at the same time. That this also turned out to be Sarah’s church was a happy coincidence.
So if you find yourself in Boston, grab a map from the Visitor Center and follow the Freedom Trail, and don’t forget to say hello to Sarah.
Originally from England, Tom now hangs his hat in Boston, Massachusetts; with occasional spells in such faraway places as London and Luxembourg. Tom has a degree in Computer Science, and he claims to speak three languages: English, American, and Visual Basic. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a systems consulting company, conference speaker, and writer of industry articles and business books.
As well as the novel, First Night, Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lise Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb. While Fission has yet to find a home in Hollywood, it garnered enough critical acclaim, including being named as a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival, that Tom was encouraged to keep on writing, resulting in his latest work which is, of course, First Night.
You find Tom online at www.tom-weston.com.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Today's guest blogger is Pat MacDermott, author of the alternate history adventure novel A Band of Roses.
A Band of Roses is an alternate history adventure set in modern day Ireland. The "what if" premise of the story supposes that Irish High King Brian Boru survived the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 A.D. and founded a dynasty that rules Ireland to this day.
Crown Princess Talty Boru, the daughter of the current King Brian, is the heir to the throne, though she wishes she weren’t. She’d prefer to pursue a military career, but she’s resigned to her royal fate until England’s Prince Geoffrey seizes a tiny Irish island in the North Atlantic and the oil-rich ocean bed around it. Geoffrey plans to return the island to Ireland in exchange for oil wells in the Irish sea. He proposes a conciliatory treaty that would marry Talty to the unbalanced young English King. Talty agrees, as the terms demand that she relinquish her title as heir to the throne. She believes she’s free of her duties as crown princess, but a murder attempt on her wedding night turns her life upside down.
Multiple attempts on Talty’s life force King Brian to send her away to protect her, though he unwittingly sends her into further danger. From Japan to California, Talty must hide her true identity until her elders can set things straight. She can’t disguise her ingrained training as one of Ireland’s ancient Fian warriors, however.
Her recruitment into International Security Forces’ top secret Peregrine Project allows her to visit strange worlds, one an eleventh century Ireland preparing for the Battle of Clontarf. She finds romance and adventureand brings back a discovery worth more than any oil well, yet all she wants is to return to her family and her lifelong friend and protector Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin she secretly loves and can’t have—or so she thinks. Talty’s warrior cousin has a secret of his own, one that emerges as the Boru clan works with England's MI6 to thwart an invasion of Ireland and bring Talty home.
What If? by Pat MacDermott
From time to time, most of us wonder how life might have turned out if we’d had richer parents, attended another school, married a different person. Historians have asked similar questions concerning the outcome of world events. What if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen? What if the American Revolution had failed? What if Germany had won World War II?
Hold those thoughts for a moment, please. As a second generation Irish American, I’ll never know what it is to be truly Irish. I only have the stories my grandparents told, the songs they sang, the letters from siblings and cousins they never expected to see again. My childhood vision of Ireland was one of magical legends and ancient kings, banshees and leprechauns, rebellions and heroes. When at last I saw the real Emerald Isle, the palm trees astonished me. My grandparents never mentioned palm trees!
I longed for the Ireland I knew through song and story. My aunts had assured me our family had descended from Irish royalty, kings and queens long gone but hardly forgotten. How could such great men and women simply vanish?
What if they were still around?
In 1002 A.D., the chieftain of an obscure Irish clan rose to claim the High Kingship of Ireland. Brian Boru united Ireland’s warring tribes under one leader for the first and only time in Irish history. A scholar as well as a warrior, King Brian rebuilt churches, encouraged education, repaired roads and bridges, and roused the country to rise against the Norse invaders who had ravaged Ireland for centuries.
On Good Friday in 1014 A.D., Brian’s army challenged a host of Vikings and their allies on the plains of Clontarf. Though his troops were victorious, Brian’s son and grandson perished in the battle. Brian himself died as he prayed in his tent, murdered by fleeing Vikings who stumbled upon his camp.
Many historians have speculated that Ireland would be a different place today if Brian Boru and his heirs had survived the Battle of Clontarf. A Band of Roses presents one possible scenario.
So begins the preface of A Band of Roses, a book whose concept offered the refuge I sought. In my Ireland, King Brian survived the Battle of Clontarf. His descendants still rule modern Ireland, and the current crown princess, Talty Boru, longs to be anyone but the heir to her father’s throne. She quickly learns to be careful what she wishes for. Her adventures take her from Japan to California to an ancient Ireland whose facts don’t fit the history she knows. Time travel? Not quite. The parallel world she visits is ours.
While some argue that “Alternative History” is more grammatically correct, “Alternate History” has emerged as the common name of this interesting genre of fiction. The “what if” asked by so many authors has produced a wealth of thought-provoking tales. My “what if” has created an Ireland that might have been, one where all are welcome. I invite you to stop by and lose your way for a while.
Born and educated in Boston, Massachusetts, Pat McDermott grew up in a family full of music and myths that have found their way into her stories. She is a member of The New Hampshire Writers' Project, Seacoast Writers' Association, Romance Writers of America, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A frequent visitor to Ireland, she lives in New Hampshire, where she is currently working on her next novel.
To find out more about the author and her work visit www.patmcdermott.net.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Wenda loves to laugh and dance and feel herself move. The grumpy and grey people in her town, however, did not like her to do any of those things. So, they figure if they stopped the music and the singing, Wenda will go away. Wenda and the townsfolk soon learn, however, the love and joy that comes from inside is something that can never be stopped, and sharing it changes people forever.
What a wonderful way to show children how to listen to their own voice! Wenda the Wacky Wiggler is a charming and beautifully illustrated picture book that both entertains and educates.
Published by Benjamin Brown Books, Christopher Aslan one of the company's founders, has found his voice in a planned series of books that both inspire, educate and entertain. Wenda the Wacky Wiggler is the second book in the publisher's Rainbow Collection. The first book, Lilly and Lucy's Shadow, encourages children to overcome their fears.
Kudos go out to illustrator Emily Mullock, whose colorful and stunning illustrations bring Wenda and her town to life. This is Mullock's first book project and I look forward to more from her.
Every child needs to know what they have to offer to this world; and Wenda the Wacky Wiggler is an excellent way to teach them this lesson while enjoying a fun book.
Title: Wenda the Wacky Wiggler
Author: Christopher Aslan
Publisher: Benjamin Brown Books
SRP: $ 19.95 (U.S.)
Today's guest blogger is Sylvia Weber, author of The Wolves' Keeper Legend.
".... From the beginning of time, it seemed that rivalry between man and wolf was at the root of man's dislike for the animal, discovered only too well by Sealgair. Was his fate forever to be condemned to isolation, to see terror and hate in the eyes of the once he once loved? All he could see in his mind was the last pictures of Awena's beloved face, which he carried in his heart for all his life.
Was the only way out to discover the special secret held by the papyrus-pearls in the stone pot - what secrets could this hold? And which stone pot could keep that precious secret when there were so many of them?
Seanns' quest to find the pearls and uncover the secret ended with tragic consequences, resulting in him not only discovering the truth of his birth and who his real mother and father were, but the realisation that his father lived among the wolves..."
I've asked Sylvia to give us a lit bit of Awena's story. Here's what she has to say:
Awena was a beautiful girl who arrived to Caladh. She and Sealgair fell in love and lived a happy time together, until one day, in the Fire Festival, Fiosaiche fell in love with her too. From there on, Sealgair and Fiosaiche had a hard time, each one of them trying to be the prince of her heart. She chose Sealgair, but Fiosaiche was never happy with her decision. So, he made a pact with the evil powers to get Awena's heart. But there is no such power that can defeat true love... Fiosaiche was downhearted and spiteful, and decided that, if he could't have her, no-one else could. So, he casted a spell over Sealgair and Awena that would keep them apart forever. So, how can this terrible destiny be changed? By then, Awena was already pregnant...
"This book was written when I was twelve years old (1980), which makes it, even for me, something rare. It’s usual to see books about teenagers, but they normally are written by adults. During my career as a teacher, I realised that few adults can see the world in the way a child does – I can name Jostein Gaarder, Jorge Amado and, of course, Saint-Exupery. Generations go by, and the teenagers love them. In the time I wrote it, there were no Golden Compass, no Narnia and no Harry Potter. Though the themes might seem similar to these works, my book is different and whoever reads it to the end understands it very clearly. It’s a unique and very pure vision, not even influenced by television and Internet. I translated it myself from Portuguese to English and gave it the final features, but the original manuscript is a hundred per cent in it, word by word.
My book is a dream, created by a dreamer’s mind, founded on Celtic tales. It talks about ideals that may seem so old-fashioned nowadays to many people, but that in my vision should be eternal targets to Humanity – Freedom, Love, Peace, Justice, Life. It’s a world of Children, but I think that one of the greatest abilities a grown-up can have is to see the world by the eyes of a child. The true hero is “Seanns”, a thirteen-year-old boy who seeks fulfilment and enlightenment in his life. This boy strives for truth and has a long way to go in a world inhabited by fairies, griffins and dragons. His companions are an old savant man and an older boy who guides him through the Mine of Dreams, where pearl-books are kept as the most precious treasures.
Though the wolf, traditionally, is seen as a terrible creature, associated to everything that is evil, my book tries to demystify this idea, presenting him as in “My friend, the wolf”, a traditional children’s poetry of my country whose author is unfortunately unknown.
Sylvia Weber was born in a small town in the heart of Portugal. She grew up on a farm, along the shores of the river Tejo, in an environment in which the traditions, and the respect for Nature exerted a very strong influence in what concerns the development of personality. At the age of twelve, she moved with her parents to Lisbon, in the suburban Amadora. The cultural confrontation with the cosmopolitan life was very deep, and it was definitively what made a writer out of Sylvia. the teenage years, Sylvia discovered the pleasure and the freedom of writing and she spent her every moment writing.
After a short marriage that gave birth to a son, she remarried in 2002 and added twin girls to her family. In September of 2007, she left to England with her husband, taking only a van loaded with essential goods (music, photos, books and clothing), a handbag of documents and a heart full of hope.
Visit her website at www.wolveskeeperlegend.com.
Explosive and edgy, Virtual Vice by Jason M. Kays takes the reader on a journey into the bowels of the murky and deadly dark side of Internet venture capitalism.
Attorney Ian McKenzie's life takes a decided turn when he is introduced to the charismatic, but dangerous, Scott White. Hired by White to represent his interests in Metropoleis Media, a cutting edge Internet startup, Ian is soon drawn into the personal trials and tribulations of White's life. Leaving a trail of violence and abuse wherever he has been, White's quick descent into paranoia and mental illness finds Ian searching for a way out and a way to collect the ever mounting outstanding attorney fees that White owes him. Caught in the middle of the Feds, La Cosa Nostra and the Cali Cartel, Ian is trapped in a fatal game of corporate winner-take-all. How will he ever extract himself? And at what cost?
If you like wild rides, Virtual Vice is for you. Beginning with Ian McKenzie discovering his client naked and teetering on the edge of the veranda outside his hotel room, you're certain from the get go that this is no ordinary story.
Soon after meeting Ian, Scott White and some of his abnormal associates, the reader journeys through part of White's past and how Ian met and came to be hired by White before the book moves through in a mostly chronological format.
The author's love of music and his experience as an intellectual property attorney in information technology and entertainment law are clear from the onset, and it is his well-developed, complex characters that readers will appreciate the most. White's total deterioration that garners him some unwanted attention from past associates, Clarice Westwater's greed and ability to manipulate and Pastor Petey's feigned piousness, come alive within the pages of this book.
Virtual Vice gives a glimpse not only into the world of Internet venture capitalism, but also the music industry and Ponzi schemes, as White's long history of bilking investors and running across state lines is outlined.
Based upon true events, Virtual Vice is considered creative non-fiction, and therefore, the narrative carries the bulk of the story. This made it a little hard to get into at first. I am so glad I stuck with it, though, because the storyline is not only timely, it is riveting once it gets going and you'll find yourself turning page after page up to the explosive and satisfying conclusion.
A timely, attention grabbing story is what you'll find in Virtual Vice by Jason M. Kays.
Title: Virtual Vice
Author: Jason M. Kays
SRP: $23.99 (U.S.)
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Here is the latest trailer I created. This is for the romantic supsense novel, Beyond the Code of Conduct, Book 2 in the Sullivan Boys series by K.M. Daughters, which we reviewed here.
FBI Agency Brass and Sullivan family connections force Special Agent Bobbie Leighton into an undercover operation with inactive Homicide Detective Joe Sullivan.
Posing as a cattleman and his arm-candy wife the couple is assigned to infiltrate NY attorney Bradley Sterling’s illegal operation. Suspected of baby trafficking, Sterling maybe be connected with Joe’s brother, Jimmy Sullivan’s murder.
How do Bobbie and Joe adhere to their professional code of conduct living under the same roof? Can they forget their personal history, ignore their volatile feelings for each other and ensnare their target when they might be next on Sterling’s victims list?
You can visit the authors' website at www.kmdaughters.com and follow them at http://twitter.com/kmdaughters!
I would love to hear what you think.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Not every inspirational book you read is going to touch your heart or even make you think. But Is Your Ghost Holy? by Shay Bills does that and more. In this slender book full of powerful and moving words, the reader is given eight principles to help her evaluate her walk in the Spirit. The Principles of Truth, Life and Death, Faith, Love, Change, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and the Power of the Holy Ghost come together for an inspiring and empowering read.
The author's experience as a speaker, teacher and motivator truly shines in Is Your Ghost Holy?. Her conversational style and touching words will leave you thinking long after you close the cover on this book. But I recommend that you never really close this book, but leave it on your nightstand so that you can refer to it often, using it perhaps as a devotional on a regular basis.
Certain chapters may speak to you more than others. I found the seventh principle extremely helpful, especially considering some of the events I still hold onto from my past. In "The Principle of Blasphemy Against the Holy Ghost", Bills discusses how unforgiveness in the Christian walk keeps many stagnant in Christ. She explores the dangerous place that the state of unforgiveness is. With a firm grasp on Scripture, she discusses how easy it can be to notice unChristian behavior in others, but not in ourselves. And she fully explains what blasphemy against the Holy Ghost truly is.
Learn how to take the road less traveled and stand firm on the Word. Is Your Ghost Holy? by Shay Bills will show you how.
Title: Is Your Ghost Holy?
Author: Shay Bills
Publisher: Saint Paul Press
SRP: $11.99 (U.S.)
An autumn evening in 1937. A German engineer arrives at the Warsaw railway station. Tonight, he will be with his Polish mistress; tomorrow, at a workers’ bar in the city’s factory district, he will meet with the military attaché from the French embassy. Information will be exchanged for money. So begins The Spies of Warsaw, the brilliant new novel by Alan Furst, lauded by the New York Times as “America’s preeminent spy novelist.”
War is coming to Europe. French and German intelligence operatives are locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield. At the French embassy, the new military attaché, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated hero of the 1914 war, is drawn into a world of abduction, betrayal, and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of Warsaw. At the same time, the handsome aristocrat finds himself in a passionate love affair with a Parisian woman of Polish heritage, a lawyer for the League of Nations.
Colonel Mercier must work in the shadows, amid an extraordinary cast of venal and dangerous characters–Colonel Anton Vyborg of Polish military intelligence; the mysterious and sophisticated Dr. Lapp, senior German Abwehr officer in Warsaw; Malka and Viktor Rozen, at work for the Russian secret service; and Mercier’s brutal and vindictive opponent, Major August Voss of SS counterintelligence. And there are many more, some known to Mercier as spies, some never to be revealed.
Alan Furst is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. Now translated into seventeen languages, he is the bestselling author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, Blood of Victory, Dark Voyage, and The Foreign Correspondent. Born in New York, he now lives in Paris and on Long Island.
You can visit his website at http://alanfurst.net/index.htm.
In the dying light of an autumn day in 1937, a certain Herr Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, descended from a first-class railway carriage in the city of Warsaw. Above the city, the sky was at war; the last of the sun struck blood-red embers off massed black cloud, while the clear horizon to the west was the color of blue ice. Herr Uhl suppressed a shiver; the sharp air of the evening, he told himself. But this was Poland, the border of the Russian steppe, and what had reached him was well beyond the chill of an October twilight.
A taxi waited on Jerozolimskie street, in front of the station. The driver, an old man with a seamed face, sat patiently, knotted hands at rest on the steering wheel. "Hotel Europejski," Uhl told the driver. He wanted to add, and be quick about it, but the words would have been in German, and it was not so good to speak German in this city. Germany had absorbed the western part of Poland in 1795-Russia ruled the east, Austria-Hungary the southwest corner-for a hundred and twenty-three years, a period the Poles called "the Partition," a time of national conspiracy and defeated insurrection, leaving ample bad blood on all sides. With the rebirth of Poland in 1918, the new borders left a million Germans in Poland and two million Poles in Germany, which guaranteed that the bad blood would stay bad. So, for a German visiting Warsaw, a current of silent hostility, closed faces, small slights: we don't want you here.
Nonetheless, Edvard Uhl had looked forward to this trip for weeks. In his late forties, he combed what remained of his hair in strands across his scalp and cultivated a heavy dark mustache, meant to deflect attention from a prominent bulbous nose, the bulb divided at the tip. A feature one saw in Poland, often enough. So, an ordinary- looking man, who led a rather ordinary life, a more-than-decent life, in the small city of Breslau: a wife and three children, a good job- as a senior engineer at an ironworks and foundry, a subcontractor to the giant Rheinmetall firm in Düsseldorf-a few friends, memberships in a church and a singing society. Oh, maybe the political situation- that wretched Hitler and his wretched Nazis strutting about-could have been better, but one abided, lived quietly, kept one's opinions to oneself; it wasn't so difficult. And the paycheck came every week. What more could a man want?
Instinctively, his hand made sure of the leather satchel on the seat by his side. A tiny stab of regret touched his heart. Foolish, Edvard, truly it is. For the satchel, a gift from his first contact at the French embassy in Warsaw, had a false bottom, beneath which lay a sheaf of engineering diagrams. Well, he thought, one did what one had to do, so life went. No, one did what one had to do in order to do what one wanted to do-so life really went. He wasn't supposed to be in Warsaw; he was supposed, by his family and his employer, to be in Gleiwitz-just on the German side of the frontier dividing German Lower Silesia from Polish Upper Silesia-where his firm employed a large metal shop for the work that exceeded their capacity in Breslau. With the Reich rearming, they could not keep up with the orders that flowed from the Wehrmacht. The Gleiwitz works functioned well enough, but that wasn't what Uhl told his bosses. "A bunch of lazy idiots down there," he said, with a grim shake of the head, and found it necessary to take the train down to Gleiwitz once a month to straighten things out.
And he did go to Gleiwitz-that pest from Breslau, back again!-but he didn't stay there. When he was done bothering the local management he took the train up to Warsaw where, in a manner of speaking, one very particular thing got straightened out. For Uhl, a blissful night of lovemaking, followed by a brief meeting at dawn, a secret meeting, then back to Breslau, back to Frau Uhl and his more-than-decent life. Refreshed. Reborn. Too much, that word? No. Just right.
Uhl glanced at his watch. Drive faster, you peasant! This is an automobile, not a plow. The taxi crawled along Nowy Swiat, the grand avenue of Warsaw, deserted at this hour-the Poles went home for dinner at four. As the taxi passed a church, the driver slowed for a moment, then lifted his cap. It was not especially reverent, Uhl thought, simply something the man did every time he passed a church.
At last, the imposing Hotel Europejski, with its giant of a doorman in visored cap and uniform worthy of a Napoleonic marshal. Uhl handed the driver his fare-he kept a reserve of Polish zloty in his desk at the office-and added a small, proper gratuity, then said "Dankeschön." It didn't matter now, he was where he wanted to be. In the room, he hung up his suit, shirt, and tie, laid out fresh socks and underwear on the bed, and went into the bathroom to have a thorough wash. He had just enough time; the Countess Sczelenska would arrive in thirty minutes. Or, rather, that was the time set for the rendezvous; she would of course be late, would make him wait for her, let him think, let him anticipate, let him steam.
And was she a countess? A real Polish countess? Probably not, he thought. But so she called herself, and she was, to him, like a countess: imperious, haughty, and demanding. Oh how this provoked him, as the evening lengthened and they drank champagne, as her mood slid, subtly, from courteous disdain to sly submission, then on to breathless urgency. It was the same always, their private melodrama, with an ending that never changed. Uhl the stallion-despite the image in the mirrored armoire, a middle-aged gentleman with thin legs and potbelly and pale chest home to a few wisps of hair-demonstrably excited as he knelt on the hotel carpet, while the countess, looking down at him over her shoulder, eyebrows raised in mock surprise, deigned to let him roll her silk underpants down her great, saucy, fat bottom. Noblesse oblige. You may have your little pleasure, she seemed to say, if you are so inspired by what the noble Sczelenska bloodline has wrought. Uhl would embrace her middle and honor the noble heritage with tender kisses. In time very effective, such honor, and she would raise him up, eager for what came next.
He'd met her a year and a half earlier, in Breslau, at a Weinstube where the office employees of the foundry would stop for a little something after work. The Weinstube had a small terrace in back, three tables and a vine, and there she sat, alone at one of the tables on the deserted terrace: morose and preoccupied. He'd sat at the next table, found her attractive-not young, not old, on the buxom side, with brassy hair pinned up high and an appealing face-and said good evening. And why so glum, on such a pleasant night?
She'd come down from Warsaw, she explained, to see her sister, a family crisis, a catastrophe. The family had owned, for several generations, a small but profitable lumber mill in the forest along the eastern border. But they had suffered financial reverses, and then the storage sheds had been burned down by a Ukrainian nationalist gang, and they'd had to borrow money from a Jewish speculator. But the problems wouldn't stop, they could not repay the loans, and now that dreadful man had gone to court and taken the mill. Just like them, wasn't it.
After a few minutes, Uhl moved to her table. Well, that was life for you, he'd said. Fate turned evil, often for those who least deserved it. But, don't feel so bad, luck had gone wrong, but it could go right, it always did, given time. Ah but he was sympathique, she'd said, an aristocratic reflex to use the French word in the midst of her fluent German. They went on for a while, back and forth. Perhaps some day, she'd said, if he should find himself in Warsaw, he might telephone; there was the loveliest café near her apartment. Perhaps he would, yes, business took him to Warsaw now and again; he guessed he might be there soon. Now, would she permit him to order another glass of wine? Later, she took his hand beneath the table and he was, by the time they parted, on fire.
Ten days later, from a public telephone at the Breslau railway station, he'd called her. He planned to be in Warsaw next week, at the Europejski, would she care to join him for dinner? Why yes, yes she would. Her tone of voice, on the other end of the line, told him all he needed to know, and by the following Wednesday-those idiots in Gleiwitz had done it again!-he was on his way to Warsaw. At dinner, champagne and langoustines, he suggested that they go on to a nightclub after dessert, but first he wanted to visit the room, to change his tie.
And so, after the cream cake, up they went.
For two subsequent, monthly, visits, all was paradise, but, it turned out, she was the unluckiest of countesses. In his room at the hotel, brassy hair tumbled on the pillow, she told him of her latest misfortune. Now it was her landlord, a hulking beast who leered at her, made chk-chk noises with his mouth when she climbed the stairs, who'd told her that she had to leave, his latest girlfriend to be installed in her place. Unless . . . Her misty eyes told him the rest.
Never! Where Uhl had just been, this swine would not go! He stroked her shoulder, damp from recent exertions, and said, "Now, now, my dearest, calm yourself." She would just have to find another apartment. Well, in fact she'd already done that, found one even nicer than the one she had now, and very private, owned by a man in Cracow, so nobody would be watching her if, for example, her sweet Edvard wanted to come for a visit. But the rent was two hundred zloty more than she paid now. And she didn't have it.
A hundred reichsmark, he thought. "Perhaps I can help," he said. And he could, but not for long. Two months, maybe three-beyond that, there really weren't any corners he could cut. He tried to save a little, but almost all of his salary went to support his family. Still, he couldn't get the "hulking beast" out of his mind. Chk-chk.
The blow fell a month later, the man in Cracow had to raise the rent. What would she do? What was she to do? She would have to stay with relatives or be out in the street. Now Uhl had no answers. But the countess did. She had a cousin who was seeing a Frenchman, an army officer who worked at the French embassy, a cheerful, generous fellow who, she said, sometimes hired "industrial experts." Was her sweet Edvard not an engineer? Perhaps he ought to meet this man and see what he had to offer. Otherwise, the only hope for the poor countess was to go and stay with her aunt.
And where was the aunt?
Now Uhl wasn't stupid. Or, as he put it to himself, not that stupid. He had a strong suspicion about what was going on. But-and here he surprised himself-he didn't care. The fish saw the worm and wondered if maybe there might just be a hook in there, but, what a delicious worm! Look at it, the most succulent and tasty worm he'd ever seen; never would there be such a worm again, not in this ocean. So . . .
He first telephoned-to, apparently, a private apartment, because a maid answered in Polish, then switched to German. And, twenty minutes later, Uhl called again and a meeting was arranged. In an hour. At a bar in the Praga district, the workers' quarter across the Vistula from the elegant part of Warsaw. And the Frenchman was, as promised, as cheerful as could be. Likely Alsatian, from the way he spoke German, he was short and tubby, with a soft face that glowed with self-esteem and a certain tilt to the chin and tension in the upper lip that suggested an imminent sneer, while a dapper little mustache did nothing to soften the effect. He was, of course, not in uniform, but wore an expensive sweater and a blue blazer with brass buttons down the front.
"Henri," he called himself and, yes, he did sometimes employ "industrial experts." His job called for him to stay abreast of developments in particular areas of German industry, and he would pay well for drawings or schematics, any specifications relating to, say, armament or armour. How well? Oh, perhaps five hundred reichsmark a month, for the right papers. Or, if Uhl preferred, a thousand zloty, or two hundred American dollars-some of his experts liked having dollars. The money to be paid in cash or deposited in any bank account, in any name, that Uhl might suggest.
The word spy was never used, and Henri was very casual about the whole business. Very common, such transactions, his German counterparts did the same thing; everybody wanted to know what was what, on the other side of the border. And, he should add, nobody got caught, as long as they were discreet. What was done privately stayed private. These days, he said, in such chaotic times, smart people understood that their first loyalty was to themselves and their families. The world of governments and shifty diplomats could go to hell, if it wished, but Uhl was obviously a man who was shrewd enough to take care of his own future. And, if he ever found the arrangement uncomfortable, well, that was that. So, think it over, there's no hurry, get back in touch, or just forget you ever met me.
And the countess? Was she, perhaps, also an, umm, "expert"?
From Henri, a sophisticated laugh. "My dear fellow! Please! That sort of thing, well, maybe in the movies."
So, at least the worm wasn't in on it.
Back at the Europejski-a visit to the new apartment lay still in the future-the countess exceeded herself. Led him to a delight or two that Uhl knew about but had never experienced; her turn to kneel on the carpet. Rapture. Another glass of champagne and further novelty. In time he fell back on the pillow and gazed up at the ceiling, elated and sore. And brave as a lion. He was a shrewd fellow-a single exchange with Henri, and that thousand zloty would see the countess through her difficulties for the next few months. But life never went quite as planned, did it, because Henri, not nearly so cheerful as the first time they'd met, insisted, really did insist, that the arrangement continue.
And then, in August, instead of Henri, a tall Frenchman called André, quiet and reserved, and much less pleased with himself, and the work he did, than Henri. Wounded, Uhl guessed, in the Great War, he leaned on a fine ebony stick, with a silver wolf's head for a grip.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst Copyright © 2008 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Today's special guest is Carolyn Wada, author of For Cory's Sake.
The planet of Cory has been enslaved by Fear, by the threat of an end to their world. Roci's outward life typifies the plight of the Coryan people: he has no family; he has been forced into slavery; people are attempting to control him with both the threat and reality of physical violence. Roci is distinct, though, in that he has decided to live in a place he can control—in vivid imaginary lives and worlds which he has created within the untouchable space of his mind. He believes in families though he has never had one, and he believes in compassionate people willing to make sacrifices to save those who cannot save themselves.
William Bentler is a kind and quietly courageous father of seven. He cares deeply about the plight of the Coryan people, and has spent his adult lifetime trying to raise awareness of their plight among the civilian occupiers. He does this by publishing articles, essays and stories about the heart-wrenching realities of indigenous Coryan life. He also strove to teach compassion and sacrifice to his children throughout their lives.
When the oppressors appoint a new leader, the sacrificial toll on William's life rises to a new and very exacting level. Published dissent is now punished with physical, escalating penalties paralleling those given to the slaves. But William continues to write and publish, and then watches in distress (though with a little pride) as two of his children choose his lifestyle as well.
William's compassion and quiet courage eventually attract a valuable and unexpected ally. The family and their valuable friend struggle onwards—making choices and sacrifices, taking risks, accepting almost unbearable consequences. In the end, they learn how to gain freedom by conquering Fear . . . for Cory's Sake.
I've asked Carolyn to address the connection between her book and her concern for those children suffering from child abuse. Here's what she has to say:
I've been asked to write about how my concern for the problem of child abuse worked itself into the plot of For Cory's Sake. I've decided to hit on a few main themes from the development and background parts of For Cory's Sake (i.e. to avoid spoilers), and use illustrative examples from both my fantasy and the real world.
Theme #1—THE USE OF FEAR AS A MEANS OF CONTROL:
“I am sure,” said William, “that you are familiar with the force that is enslaving Cory?”
Kerry nodded and said, “The Bomb. The Ultimate Threat. The Bomb is Fear—Absolute Fear.”
The planet of Cory has been enslaved by a threat, by the threat of a Bomb that could quite literally end their world.
Now, a possible from the real world: “If you tell [about the abuse] 'they' will take you away, and you will never see your mommy again.” Said to a young child, this is a threat of an end to the world!
Theme #2—THE USE OF VIOLENCE AS A MEANS OF CONTROL:
“every infraction must be resolved with a punishment . . . combat every character flaw with escalating punishment until it's fixed. I think Captain Prackerd actually believes the planet will stop spinning if he allows people to speak against the government without retribution.”
In For Cory's Sake, the assumption of power by one violent man (Captain Prackerd) has a profound effect on the lives of those under him.
From the real world: Have you ever run into someone who believes it is his God-given duty to control his children with beatings? I have. Such a belief, in a person in power, has hard, far-reaching consequences for the little lives under him.
Theme #3—THE NEED FOR A “VOICE”:
[Cory's] voice is stopped by a heavy threat, which presses constantly down upon its mouth like a suffocating blanket. . . . We are Cory's mouthpiece, we are its transplanted voice.
These words were written by Weston Bentler, in his first published work as a “lightning rod.” The lightning rods are a very important group in For Cory's Sake. Most of the non-natives on Cory simply ignore the plight of the enslaved Coryans. The lightning rods are the only group speaking for the Coryans, who are in such a position that they CANNOT speak for themselves.
In the real world, many children are in need of adults to be their champions, to help them find or to be their voice. Children are at a disadvantage in experience, knowledge, options, access—really everything except innocence. Which brings us to . . .
Theme #4—THE INFORMATION GAP:
An information gap, the struggle to bridge it, and the consequences of both the gap and the bridging, make up the big, plot-driving theme of For Cory's Sake. I cannot give you the size of the information gap without giving away the climactic major plot twist of the story—but it is huge, and it is important. It is responsible for years of struggle and years of regret, and freedom comes only when it is bridged.
Abused children often suffer from an information gap. It appalls me how many years can be lost when a child does not know certain things. My body is my own. I can tell someone. I have rights, I have options, and I know what they are. Children need to know these things, and much heartbreak would be averted if all did.
I personally would like to better support the real-world people who work as champions for oppressed children: freeing them from violence and fear, giving them a voice, and helping them move from the chains of darkness into hopeful light. ALL author's royalties, from sales of For Cory's Sake, are and will be donated to organizations that provide services to abused, neglected or exploited children. This commitment was published with the book; it is printed on the back cover of For Cory's Sake.
The National Child Abuse Hotline, for the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, is 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
Carolyn Wada is the oldest of seven children raised by two wonderful, supportive parents. She has a deep interest in children's issues. In particular, she is interested in supporting organizations that help child survivors of abuse.
More information about this aspect can be found via www.outskirtspress.com/ForCorysSake.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Joining us today is F. W. vom Scheidt, author of Coming for Money.
How much money is too much? And how fast is too fast in life?
International investment firm director and author F. W. vom Scheidt, writes from his first hand-hand experience of the world of global money spinning with candor and authenticity in his remarkable literary novel Coming for Money.
As investment star Paris Smith steps onto the top rungs of the corporate ladder, he is caught between his need for fulfillment and his need for understanding; trapped between his drive for power and his inability to cope with his growing emptiness where there was once love. When his wife disappears from the core of his life, his loneliness and sense of disconnection threaten to overwhelm him. When he tries to compensate by losing himself in his work, he stumbles off the treadmill of his own success, and is entangled in the web of a fraudulent bond deal that threatens to derail his career and his life.
Forced to put his personal life on hold while he travels nonstop between Toronto, Singapore and Bangkok to salvage his career, he is deprived of the time and space necessary to regain his equilibrium.
In the heat and turmoil and fast money of Southeast Asia, half a world from home, and half a life from his last remembered smile, he finds duplicity, friendship and power --- and a special woman who might heal his heart.
A talented author, vom Scheidt has confidently crafted a fast-paced, highly readable and intelligent novel. His details are fascinating. His characters are real, and not easily forgotten. A deeply felt story about the isolation of today’s society, the prices great and small paid for success and the damages resulting from the ruthless exercise of financial power, Coming For Money is a taut literary page-turner about a man who refuses to capitulate to the darkness in his journey into the light.
I've asked the author to tell us a little of how he came to write this novel and about his main character, Paris Smith.
I sat down at the keyboard. Although I have always been a literary writer, I had no idea how I would capture my experiences in international finance in literary fiction. Without thinking, the first sentence came to me. I typed it. Then I looked at that sentence for a long time.
Instinct told me that the sentence had risen from something that was deeply absorbing me, and that it was something I had to tell. I knew I had to find some way to tell it truthfully. From that point, I knew there was no way out . . . except to construct the novel.
While Coming For Money is a story that advances from chapter to chapter along the corporate intrigue that beats at its heart, and continually mirrors the financial headlines of our daily newspapers, it is much more. It is an illustration of what happens to us as human beings when we lose emotional connectiveness, when we lose emotional logic.
And this was how Paris Smith came to me – because he is tragically, if admirably, flawed. He is not flawed in the classic Shakespearean sense of a noble man who is brought to ruin by his own avarice or rage. His weakness is not that he lusts after wealth or power or flesh. Rather, and far more important for us in these times, he is flawed in that he never learned the great lesson of his generation: don’t become emotionally involved. Paris Smith’s weakness is that he needs, and has always needed, emotional involvement in order to sustain his life. It is for him – as, ultimately, it is for us all – as necessary as breathing.
As Paris Smith refuses to relinquish his search for emotional connectiveness, he becomes a character we learn to appreciate and admire. In the sometimes stubborn, sometimes creative, battles he wages against other men in his corporation who are pitted against him, Paris Smith becomes ever more conscious of how he could stem his personal pain and loneliness by simply retreating emotionally and victimizing those around him. Or he might learn anew how to offer up his own emotional involvement. I’ll leave it for readers to see how this plays out in the end, and to decide what they may want to take away from his quest for human meaning in our contemporary world. But I hope readers will appreciate Paris Smith as much as I do.
F.W. vom Scheidt is the author of the literary fiction novel, Coming for Money. You can visit his website at http://www.bluebutterflybooks.ca/titles/money.html.