Meet Children’s Author, Wanda Luthman!

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Wanda and I met in an interesting, serendipitous way. First we connected on LinkedIn, which really isn’t that unusual. After that, however, we discovered we were both going to the Space Coast Book Lovers Conference in Cocoa Beach, Florida. We were looking forward to meeting in person and then, better yet, our tables were next to one another! What are the odds? I call that something along the lines of “meant to be.”

I enjoyed visiting with her tremendously and was so impressed by her and her adorable books I wanted to pass that along. Her background in mental health and guidance counseling show through in these uplifting stories. If any of you have young children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, are teachers, or whatever, take note! These colorful books will charm your socks off!


MF:  I grew up on Little Golden Books and fell in love with stories when I was a

preschooler. What was your favorite book as a young child and did it influence your writing?

WL:  My all-time favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. My third grade teacher read it to us at school over several days while we were waiting for the bus. I definitely believe this book inspires my writing today. While I had already started writing books by third grade, this book is one that I look to aspire to. I want children to feel something when they read my books, just like I did with Charlotte’s Web.

MF: What influenced you the most to decide to write and publish children’s stories?

WL: My daughter has been a source of inspiration for me to write. I saw the world through her eyes growing up and it got me back in touch with my inner child which is where I believe my creativity lives. But, what inspired me to actually publish was that my Pastor had written a book and something about knowing an actual person who published a book made me want to go for it. Plus, being 40 and finally over the fear of people saying ‘no.’

MF: How do you get your ideas? Are they based on experience or just come to you?

WL: My ideas bubble up from somewhere inside that I can’t really explain. However, when I look back on a story after I’ve written it, I can usually see that it came from a thought I had while riding my bike or enjoying the beauty of nature or sometimes from a song I hear.

MF: Which comes first? Visualizing the illustrations, creating the character, or the poetic rendition of the story?

WL: When I write a picture book, the words and rhyme come first. Sometimes when I’m

particularly stuck on a spot in the story/poem, that’s when a visualization will help. If I can see it, I can describe it. By seeing it, though, I mean in my mind’s eye.

MF: Do you ever do readings? If so, do you have any special experiences to share?

WL: Yes, I love to do readings. I have read at schools and libraries and once at a Barnes & Noble. What I love is looking at the children’s faces just listening intently. Afterwards, I usually take questions and I love the questions children come up with. Often they are the children that like to write themselves. I truly hope I inspire them to follow their dream of writing.

MF: Of your various characters, do you have one who’s your favorite? Why?

WL: I think my favorite character is Franky the finicky flamingo. He’s very colorful and wants to stay that way but doesn’t like any other birds’ food. He’s fun and unique. He also has a second book coming out where he’s trying to find his favorite drink. But, it’s not about what you think. This one has an earth-consciousness message.

MF: What’s your favorite part of writing? You least favorite?

WL: My favorite part of writing is the actual writing. When I have something inside that is pushing me to write it down and I sit down and it just flows out of me. It’s like I’m in a zone. It’s wonderful! My least favorite part is figuring out how to connect my books with readers. I love book fairs, craft shows, and school/library events but they are not always easy to find.

MF: If you could have dinner with any children’s author, living or not, who would it be?

WL: It would definitely be with Dr. Seuss. I love his writings. He is playful, yet has a message. I also love his rhyme and meter. He is my writing hero!

MF: What genre do you like to read for you? Do you have a favorite author?

WL: I read a lot of children’s books. I started reading them to keep my finger on the pulse of what was happening in the industry and then realized I liked them a lot. I guess it’s how my mind words so I connect with them. However, I read a lot of spiritual books. Ever since my Pastor’s book landed in my hands and it turns out it was a 28-day meditation book, I have become very interested in contemplative meditation which has an eastern feel to it. So, I read everything I can get my hands on about that. I find it so encouraging to meditate and soak in love and then I turn around and can give that away to help make the world a better place.

MF: Each of your books have a theme and a cleverly disguised lesson. Do you know what your next story will be about?

WL: I never know what my next story is going to be about. I have to wait for the idea to percolate inside me and then bubble up to the point I’m aware of it and have to write it down. I have already written three more picture books (one for Halloween, one for Christmas, and one for Easter). I have a full book written as the sequel to The Lilac Princess. I have an idea written as a sequel to Gloria and the Unicorn and an idea that’s been turning over in my mind for a sequel to A Turtle’s Magical Adventure. But, right now, I’m finishing up the sequel to Franky the Finicky Flamingo, the one that’s about Franky finding his favorite drink. I can’t decide between the title Franky Finds his Favorite Drink or Franky the Thirsty Flamingo. I love the alliteration of the first one but the second one sounds more like the first title. If any of your readers has input, I’d love to hear it!


Wanda’s books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The Lilac Princess

A modern fairy tale of a young Princess with too much responsibility and not enough freedom. She is an only child to an elderly King and Queen of a Kingdom in turmoil. Upon her rests the responsibility to rescue her Kingdom one day, but for now, she is held within the castle walls for her safety. She longs to go outside just for a moment, to smell the sweet lilacs growing in the meadow. Come along on her adventure when she dares to escape the castle walls and meets a cursed dragon. Little does she know that while the dragon has an evil plan, her sweet spirit may just unravel it.

Franky the Finicky Flamingo

Franky is a finicky eater or so it seems. He tries food that the other birds like to eat but nothing appeals to him. Finally, a friend helps him discover the food that is right for him. The message is about accepting our “finickiness” while also understanding our need for the “right” (aka healthy) foods.

Little Birdie Grows Up

A precious story about a bird’s hatching to leaving the nest. Be warned, adults, have a tissue handy!

A Turtle’s Magical Adventure

A Turtle’s Magical Adventure is a charming, heart-warming story of a turtle who doesn’t like his shell because it makes him too slow. Tad asks other slow animals if they also mind being slow. Each one gives an answer that helps Tad feel better, but, still he wants to be fast. He happens upon a snake who tells him there is a wizard that can make him fast. He goes on an adventure into The Magical Timberwood Forest to meet the wizard and hopefully get his wish fulfilled. He encounters delightful, magical creatures along the way but also meets with danger and choices. Will Tad get his wish or will the wizard turn him into turtle soup?

Gloria and the Unicorn

Gloria struggles with her facial disfigurement and wanting to fit in. Gloria’s mother died at birth and her father gave her to Miss Libby, the owner of a children’s home. Miss Libby loves the little girl and feels protective of her. But, it’s not until Sir Louie, the unicorn, shows up that Gloria starts to believe in herself. She has a conflict at school and never wants to go back and then she finds herself in an even worse situation; she encounters the evil Wizards of Malcadore who want to kill her. She must decide if she will face her fear of certain death to save her friend, Sir Louie, or lose him forever. Come along on Gloria’s marvelous journey with Sir Louie.

Connect with Wanda

Amazon Author Page

Website/blog

Facebook Fan Page

Twitter

YouTube

Instagram

LinkedIn

Google+

Goodreads

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“What’s Breaking Your Budget” — The Title Says it All!

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The title of this book says it all. Who doesn’t have financial challenges these days? If you’re looking for some practical help, you’ll find some here. In fact, an objective third party certainly agrees since “What’s Breaking Your Budget: A Foolproof Household Plan” just won an award. This called for a quick interview with the author, Dawn Greenfield Ireland, to help spread the good news.


MF: Your book, “What’s Breaking Your Budget,” just won a gold medal from The Jenkins Group. That’s a huge testimonial to its quality and content! What inspired you to write it?

DGI: What’s Breaking Your Budget is the son of Mastering Your Money, a tiny book that won the eBook category of the New England Book Competition. I’d like to get MYM in every school across the land because people have no clue how to keep manage their checking accounts.

The Budget book would be excellent for anyone who is starting over after a divorce or any life crisis, people drowning in debt, people who have lost it all, and just because they should learn how to manage their money.litaward

MF: That’s so true. So many are clueless, plus things change, which often calls for re-evaluating your financial resources. You mentioned having an audio course that goes with the book. Will it contain different material than the book or complement it in some way?

DGI: The online course and the paperback will be available Summer of 2018.

The online course may have more in the audio, but typically, I offer it because many people like to listen to books instead of reading. With the online course they will see the graphics in the book and hear me narrate the content.

MF: It sounds like a great thing to listen to, making the advice seem more personal. What better way to use your time driving to or from work than to learn how to use the money you earn more effectively! Why do you think people have so much trouble managing their money? Do they not make enough or is it a discipline problem?

DGI: For the most part, people don’t understand their money patterns. And they suffer from the “gimme gimme I want I want” syndrome. Learning to live within your means is a challenge. This is something that What’s Breaking Your Budget tackles.

MF: So true. There are far too many temptations out there. So many can’t tell the difference between a “want” and a “need.” What are some of the things readers will learn from your book?

DGI: The subtitle of What’s Breaking Your Budget says it all: A Foolproof Household Plan. People will understand their income and their obligations. That may sound simple, but one of the reasons people get into financial trouble is because their minds are too scattered. The book/course includes an assignment – a serious homework assignment for the entire household to undertake.

When I taught the course in Houston, the people who attended were shocked at their discoveries. This tiny book is a powerhouse of insight and information. Owning up to your contribution to your plight may be tough, but I like to say it’s time to pull up your big girl panties / big boy BVDs and tackle the problem once and for all.

MF: Absolutely. People get into their financial trouble in most cases on their own and need to get out on their own. Of course there are exceptions, like unexpected expenses, but in general, we all need to learn how to live within our means. Where is your book available?

DGI: What’s Breaking Your Budget is available on my website dawngreenfieldireland.com, Amazon, iBook Store and Kobo. If you’re on Goodreads, you can find it there as well.

MF: Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will benefit from some sound financial advice.

 

About the Author

ME - 3-2017Dawn Greenfield Ireland is the author of several award-winning books and screenplays. To date she has written seven novels (three contemporary mystery and four science fiction), three nonfiction books, 15 screenplays (comedies, dramas, one horror, action adventure and science fiction), and three short scripts. Her former day job as an award-winning technical writer (34 years) played a major role in her fiction writing – she is detail-oriented, stays within budget and never misses a deadline. She writes full time in addition to editing books for authors, and coaching people through the writing process.

Connect with Dawn

Email: dawn@dawngreenfieldireland.com

Website: http://www.dawngreenfieldireland.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/dawn.ireland.18

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/dawnireland

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/DawnGreenfieldIreland

Meet Actor T.W. Ashworth, Narrator Extraordinaire of “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” Audiobook.

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Getting my first audio book produced was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, thanks to the talents of my narrator, Hollywood actor, T.W. Ashworth. You can learn more about him and his credentials on  IMDB. Meanwhile, he was willing to participate in a short interview so I could show you the face behind the many voices you get to enjoy in the audio version of “The Terra Debacle: Prisoner’s at Area 51.”

MF: How long have you been acting? How did you get your start?

TW: I’ve been performing since 1970 in a pretty varied career. Ballet dancer, Classical regional Theatre as an actor and director, national tours in musicals, movie musicals, commercials, music videos, and television. I got my start when a friend in high school dared me to audition for Eugene Ionesco’s RHINOCEROS…I got cast and fell in love with the stage.

MF: What’s your favorite part about narrating a book?

TW: Like Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I get to play all the roles. I enjoy finding different voices in my story telling.

MF: What was your favorite role so far as an actor?

TW: Let me give you an answer as varied as my career: Classical Stage – Face in Ben Jonson’s THE ALCHEMIST, Musical Theatre – Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN, Stage – Pastor Brian in Christine Ashworth’s two person play CASSANDRA CRIES, TV – Mr. Fisher in HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, sketch comedy – Pat Bristow’s HOW TO SURVIVE A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

MF: What are you working on now (either acting role or narrating, or both)?

In narration I’m working on A Fairy Night’s Dream: or The Horn of the Oberon by Katharine Elise Chapman, Samantha V. Hutton and Symbols: Book Two of The Allegoricon Parables by Jason P Doherty. It’s the off season for TV and a slow time for film, so I’m primarily working on narration.

MF: Who was your favorite character in “The Terra Debacle”?

TW: Gabe, a gentle telepathic  intellectual botanist, who is more than a bit bothered by his psychic  gift.

MF: Did any part of “The Terra Debacle” surprise you?

TW: The bittersweet ending.

MF: Who do you think would enjoy this story the most?

TW: A person with an intelligent heart.

So now you know what the man behind the voices you’ll hear in “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51” looks like and a little bit about him. You can get your copy of the audiobook on Amazon (where you can listen to an excerpt), Audible, and iTunes. If you’re not already a member, you can get it for free if you sign up for a 30-day trial. If you’re already a member and would be willing to give the story a review, contact me at marcha@kallioperisingpress.com and I’ll make arrangements for you to get a complimentary copy.

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Robert Eggleton: The Man Behind a Landmark Story to Combat Child Abuse

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Child abuse is not only tragic, but complicated. It sullies all economic classes and cultures with no easy answers. Author Robert Eggleton, a child advocate of many years, has been in the trenches fighting this social ill for decades. His debut novel, a science fiction comedy entitled Rarity from the Hollow, evolved from his experiences, and he donates half of the sales proceeds to the West Virginia Children’s Home Society. I’ve read it and it’s not only outstanding but well-worth reading. You can find the review I wrote a while back here.

I’m honored that Robert agreed to an interview that will not only educate readers to the depth of the problem, but show this cultural warrior’s dedication to do whatever he can to combat this serious societal problem.

* * * * *

MF: Your career as a children’s advocate and counselor gave you first hand knowledge of the problems depicted in “Rarity from the Hollow.” At what point did you get the idea to incorporate your decades of experience into a story?

 RE: The characters in Rarity from the Hollow are more real than not. They are based on people that I’ve met during over forty years in my role as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state. The concept of sensitizing people to the huge social problem of child maltreatment through a comical and satiric adventure demanded that I use realistic characters. During my career, most of my jobs required the production of written materials – service models, policy, research…. In 2002, I went to work as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center. It was my first job that my longstanding need to write was not, in part, met by performing within my scope of employment. – nonfiction published by public and private agencies in the field of child welfare, much of which is now archived by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

Part of my job at the mental health center was to facilitate group therapy sessions. In 2006, I met the real-life Lacy Dawn, the protagonist of my stories during one of those group psychotherapy sessions. She was an eleven year old empowered survivor of extreme child abuse and spoke about her hopes and dreams for a bright future. Although I’m not sure that it was a conscious decision at the time, I incorporated my experiences as a children’s advocate in her story because that is what I know best about life – hopes and dreams for the future despite any adversity.

* * * * *

MF: Those of us who are horrified by child abuse usually don’t want to read about it. While it’s a necessary component of the story, it nonetheless may be preventing some from reading it. Is there anything you’d like to say to these folks?

RE: Yes. While I believe that readers of my novel will become increasingly sensitized to child maltreatment, it is a fun read with tragedy amplifying the comedy and satire, as stated by some of the book’s reviews:rarityfrom the hollowcvr

“…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only instead of the earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Lacy Dawn must…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” http://awesomeindies.net/ai-approved-review-of-rarity-from-the-holly-by-robert-eggleton/

“…I usually do not read or review books that discuss child abuse or domestic violence; however, I was intrigued by the excerpt and decided to give it a shot. I am glad that I took a risk; otherwise, I would have missed out on a fantastic story with a bright, resourceful, and strong protagonist that grabbed my heart and did not let go…if it does not make you think, you are not really reading it….”  http://www.onmykindle.net/2015/11/rarity-from-hollow.html

“…Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity From the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…” https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rarity-from-the-hollow

* * * * *

MF: Your career must have been tremendously painful at times. How did you cope with it?

RE: I can’t remember a day since I entered the field in 1973 that I didn’t take work home with me, emotionally. For example, many tears were shed on one investigative report that I will never forget writing – “Daniel’s Death, West Virginia’s First Child Maltreatment Fatality Report.” I had to write that report at home because I didn’t want to become a mess at work – the West Virginia Supreme Court where everybody was dressed up as emotionally detached professionals. Despite the conviction of the parents, the term “murder” was edited out of my report, and I now agree that it became a more effective product because of the great editing. My state established a child fatality process, in part, as a result of this report.

A very short time after entering the field of child welfare, I focused on effectiveness of my work. This coping skill served me well as it increased over the years. All of the tears in the world will do little to help needful children, and my internalization of this fact kept me strong. That’s why I didn’t want Rarity from the Hollow to be a depressing or an emotionally draining story. I could have written another novel like Push by Sapphire, which I watched in 2009 as a movie backed by Oprah: Precious. But, I didn’t feel that this masterpiece was effective as a social change agent, so I wanted to produce a novel that people would enjoy reading, not just one that was merely meaningful.

* * * * *

MF: What do you think is the underlying cause of child abuse? Is there one thing that could greatly improve the situation?

RE: Rather than causation, let’s look at some of the correlates of child abuse:

  • undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues experienced by parents, such as Bipolar Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or PTSD;
  • addiction or substance abuse by parents;
  • lack of economic opportunity within geographical areas, including when children are sold or traded by their parents as a source of income;
  • lack of support services for struggling families, especially including when children have mental or physical disabilities, such as ADHD, mental retardation, or demanding physical handicaps;
  • cultural or subcultural values, including sexism, within, as examples, religious cults or organizations that demean the value of women and children or which protect those who use extreme corporeal punishment or hide offensive behaviors of its members, such as sexual abuse;
  • insensitivity to the issue of child abuse, or failure to enforce existing laws, such as mandatory reporting by professionals involved with children;
  • failure to perform ethical duties by professionals, including intentional disregard by law enforcement, doctors, teachers, or religious leaders because they don’t want to get involved in potential child abuse cases;
  • parents who were abused as children and as a generational effect due to lack of treatment for the parent as victims;
  • parental stress related to bills and inadequate income – the parent simply losing self-control and later regretting and hiding the child abuse for fear of losing custody;
  • the natural mistrust felt by children when considering telling on adults who maltreat them, especially relatives or those adults in positions of authority.

This list is not exhaustive and I’m sure that you, Marcha, can come up with additional correlates. Several of these issues were addressed in Rarity from the Hollow. However, I do want to emphasize that there is nothing that blames or that is preachy in my story. Child abuse is not a simplistic good vs. evil issue, although the last item that I want to add to the list is PURE EVIL! During my career, I have met child abusers who have no identifiable redeeming quality and to qualify their abusive behaviors with a mental health diagnosis diminishes the significance of their evil.

The one thing that I think would help decrease child abuse is the belief that it is preventable. Being a parent is a tough job and “it takes a village” to raise a child. While some people might object to funding community-based supports for needful children and their parents, it costs a lot more in the long run if we close our eyes and ears to ignore this huge social problem.

* * * * *

MF: Dot Com’s artificial intelligence evolution was hilarious. Did you have an underlying message in mind with regard to where AI could possibly go?

RE: While I’ve appreciated compliments by book reviewers who have spoken about my wild imagination, I want to confess that the fantastical means employed by the alien in my story to treat the parents were based on today’s medical reality. Dwayne, the abusive father was a war damaged Vet experiencing anger outbursts and night terrors. The mother was a downtrodden victim of domestic violence who had lost hope of ever getting her G.E.D. or driver’s license, or of protecting her daughter. Diagnosis and treatment of these concerns affecting the parents, as representative of many similarly situated, was based on emerging technologies presented at the 2015 World Medical Innovation Forum: https://worldmedicalinnovation.org/ . Yes, in real life, like in my story, patients have been hooked up to computer technology for medial diagnosis and treatment.

Additional exciting research was presented at that Forum and may one day may revolutionize psychiatric treatment. Most relevant to my story were: (1) smart brain prosthetics, wireless devises being tested for potential to relieve depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder…neural engineering to manipulate brain signals; (2) sophisticated imaging systems that are minimally invasive to brain circuitry for diagnosis (3) and, healing the brain with neuromodulation and electroceuticals to treat depression and schizophrenia. http://hitconsultant.net/2015/04/30/tech-revolutionize-neurological-psychiatric-care/ I expect that medical science will continue to evolve and hope that it prioritizes treatment of those who most inflict injury on others.

* * * * *

MF: What drew you to writing? Is writing fiction something you’ve always aspired to or did it develop later?

RE: Writing is a compulsion for me. It doesn’t have to be fiction, but I couldn’t stop no matter how hard that I tried.

* * * * *

MF: Do you have any plans for a sequel to “Rarity from the Hollow”?

RE: The next Lacy Dawn Adventure is titled “Ivy.” It’s about an alien invasion of Earth, exploitation for mineral content, and the primary weapon used by the invaders is the addiction to a drug that causes narcissism or extreme ego centrism.

* * * * *

MF: You have a definite knack for dry humor. Any thoughts toward writing a book that lacks the darker elements?

RE: As a debut novelist, I’m still working on finding the compromise between aspiring to achieve literary excellence as avant garde and mainstream consumer expectations. Perhaps because this project is also an effort to raises funds to help abused children, yes, I have recurring thoughts about writing a book that lacks darker elements. I very much appreciate your finding that: “I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” But, some of these children will not live to see the future if more is not done to help them now, and I want to contribute.

* * * * *

MF: I suspect that most intelligent people at one time or another have thought that some people shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. What are your thoughts on the matter?

RE: I try to stop myself from getting emotionally involved in should or should not type of issues. I’m sure that you noticed that the political parody in Rarity from the Hollow, unlike Animal Farm that you compared it to, was not preachy. I don’t know the answers to the most important questions that humans ask, and whether or not to reproduce given the totality of circumstances is one of life’s most important questions. If you remember, Lacy’s cousin in Rarity experienced a preteen pregnancy, an occurrence that may be correlated with human misery, but the baby became the pride and joy of the entire extended family.

I respect an individual’s right to self-determination, including about reproductive rights. For example, abortion is part of the animal kingdom and not unique to humanity. From rabbits living in overcrowded warrens, to orcas off the coast of the state of Washington aborting sixty percent of pregnancies, or Canadian caribou…while grief is impossible to measure, only humans seem to face such moral dilemmas about reproduction as you presented to me as a question.

As a notation about my personal values, although the National Organization for Women was established in 1966, I live in West Virginia and it wasn’t until 1969 or so that I participated in its first march in my state, one of the very few males to attend. I believe that this affiliation sums up my thoughts about reproduction and most humans.

Increasingly, medical sciences have presented findings that help us understand ourselves, including those of us who have mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, and other, sometimes genetic, problems that could be passed on to offspring. Other fields have also presented information about cultural, religious, and sociological practices and beliefs that could be regarded as harmful to humanity if passed on to offspring. For example, Rarity presented the issues of immigration, extreme capitalism, and consumerism and its impact on the exploitation of one geographical area by members of a more aggressive geographic area –  beliefs, values, and practices that could be passed on to offspring, as well.

I believe that for me to express that a person with Downs Syndrome, for example, should be prevented from getting pregnant would be the same as saying that a very wealthy, greedy, dishonest, and exploitive member of the “High Class” should be prevented from getting pregnant because both scenarios present risk to humanity. Plus, there are no absolutes in life. The baby born with Downs Syndrome might experience a wonderful life that fills others with meaning and happiness. The baby “destined” to become a spoiled rich kid might, instead, turn out to become a great philanthropist.

All that said, in answer to this highly philosophical question, I respect the opinion of anyone who takes the time to educate oneself about the issues and who doesn’t propagandize or lie to promote one side or another.

* * * * *

MF: If you were king of the world for a day, what message would you deliver to the people of the planet?

RE: As King of the World for a day, my message would be:

Life is short, the blink of a cosmic eye from one generation to the next. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel so that it ends at your correct destination.

Thanks, Marcha, for providing me an opportunity to tell your readers a little about myself and my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow.

MF: You’re certainly very welcome, Robert. I’m touched and impressed by your knowledge and dedication as you continue to do what you can to combat this horrific practice.

* * * * *

Here’s a short book trailer video:

Rarity from the Hollow is available at most sales channels, including K-Mart and Books-A-Million, and is also available electronically. Half of all proceeds are donated to the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

What do Wacky Sci-Fi, the LSAT, and MCAT have in Common?

I certainly never would have thought avant garde science fiction and entrance test preparation manuals for law or medical school would have anything in common–until I came across author, Jay Cutts. Our “meeting” was in a somewhat notorious manner, in that he gave one of my books a rather scathing review, replete with a grammar lesson about the use of periods. However, after my initial tantrum, I had to admit he was correct, so subsequently edited the book accordingly, sent him the revised copy, and he generously improved the book’s rating. It was during this correspondence that I discovered that, in addition to being a grammar Nazi, he was a fellow author as well as a professional editor.  After sampling his brand of humor in his novels on his website, I wanted to know more about him, so asked him for an interview. Indeed, he is as diverse and unconventional as I suspected. To wit:

MF: I find it fascinating that your writing spans such diverse writing skills, i.e., editing study guides for the LSAT and MCAT versus the wacky humor of Death by Haggis and Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom. Conveying facts and editing are left brain activities while fiction falls more on the right. Which talent were you aware of first? Does one come more easily than the other?

JC: Yes, it’s true that I’ve edited and/or written thousands of pages of science and logic! Actually, it feels to me that real creativity requires both some “organizing” skills and some “wild fantasy” skills. The trick is to keep my imagination from going crazy when I’m writing non-fiction stuff. My publisher has to make sure I haven’t included bizarre aliens in my test prep materials. In the LSAT book I did include a logic dialogue between my dog (Baxter) and the neighbor’s dog (Beardsley). I finally confessed to my editor but she said not to worry. All authors do that. Of course, the dialogue was pure fiction because Baxter NEVER talks to Beardsley, stuck-up little mutt that he is.

MF: I can see that. And cats are even worse. Tell us about your educational background. Where did you go to school, what did you major in when you were in college, etc. If you were to go back to school now, what would you study?

JC: I went to the University of Michigan, where I tried to major in (in chronological order) chemistry and/or cooking, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics. I eventually managed to complete the linguistics degree. Many  years later I got a masters in special education.

If I were to go back to school now, I would be anxious for summer vacation to come! I have always loved summer vacation more than anything.

If I had to take classes, they would be in dance and jazz piano.

MF: I can relate. Summer was always my favorite, too. Who are your favorite authors? Whose work do you enjoy most and why? Did any one in particular influence you more than the others?

JC: Terry Pratchett is my favorite. He has a wonderful sense of humor, a great imagination and really captures the human condition. I’ve never read anyone else with his combination of qualities. I also like Kage Baker, Jasper Fforde, Connie Willis, and Douglas Adams. I once read a Terry Pratchett novel in Slovak. It’s amazing how well he writes in Slovak!!

MF: I’m impressed that you can read Slovak! What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it? Has it affected your writing in any way?

JC: I once cleaned houses. It affected my writing in that my hands were too sore to write!

MF: Harsh detergents can do that. Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea for them? Do they have a hidden message?

JC: Death by Haggis had a very interesting genesis (as explained in its intro.) I have an old friend, Terry Boothman, who is a great writer with a wonderful sense of humor. We often email back and forth a dozen or more times  a day with riddles and jokes.

At one point I suggested to him that he send me the first line for a novel and that I would write back. Continuing in that way I figured we could complete the book in a couple weeks. He did send me a wacky first line and I responded.

I found that every time I tried to develop a plot, he instinctively destroyed whatever I had started. That made for an amazing challenge. Eventually he dropped out of the project and let me finish it myself. The basic plot and characters of the story, however, were set in those early exchanges that were random and chaotic.

I wrote Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom because one of my Barron’s (test prep publisher) contacts said they were now publishing YA fiction. I asked him if he had a particular request for a type of story that he thought could sell. He said I could just write whatever I wanted.

A year later I sent him the result, which he said was very nice but they don’t really publish sci fi. Oops.

In any case the character of Annie was inspired in part by my granddaughter and I hope some day she will read it!

MF: For what it’s worth, I gave a copy of it to my granddaughter for Christmas and I hope she’ll read it, too! Maybe even give you a review, since she’s an aspiring author herself so should appreciate the concept of reviews! What is your life like outside of writing?  Is there anything you would like us to know about yourself and your books?

JC: When I’m not writing, I sometimes take a three minute break for a sponge bath and to open a random can of, hopefully, food from the kitchen.

Just kidding.

I like to dance (especially with my sweetie), play the accordion and piano, garden, travel, study strange languages, go to meditation retreats and roller skate with my granddaughter.

MF: My paternal grandfather was a linguist, but he had the ill-grace to die before I was born. Supposedly, he spoke nine languages. You’re a brave soul to roller skate, which I gave up in 9th grade after breaking my tailbone. Who (living or dead) would you like to invite for dinner? What would you like to know about him or her?

JC: I would invite the living. It’s hard to know what to cook for the dead. They are so picky. And I hate it when the food dribbles out of their mouths like that. Yuck.

MF: There’s that logic side of yours coming out again. Switching to the creative, is there any particular song you’d pick to go with your books?

JC: House of the Rising Sun. Three drunk guys once paid me $20 to play it on the accordion on the streets of Tempe, Arizona. I have a feeling that the next day, they wondered what happened to all their money.

deathbyhaggisNo but seriously folks, I did produce a trailer for Death by Haggis and it has some cool detective-y music. It’s on youtube here. If the book is ever made into a movie, it could have some eery Scottish music in it. And of course some Greek music when the hero arrives in the Aegean.

I’ve never thought about music for Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom. It’s about teens so I suppose it would have to have some godawful rap music in it. Just sayin’.

MF: Will there be a sequel to Annie Gomez and the Giant Foot of Doom or Death by Haggis? If so, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about it or a target day for its release?

JC: I don’t have plans for sequels for either. I’m waiting for all you fans to beg me desperately to write more.  In the meantime I’ve been very much enjoying writing short stories. I’ve poured my heart and funny bone (assuming one can pour a funny bone) out into them.

I’m thinking of publishing a collection of short stories woven together by an overall story, possibly based on a Time Lizard, who may just happen to have appeared – though not identified as such – as a character in Annie Gomez.

MF: Some of these characters who just appear are among the best. Anything else you’d like to tell your existing and potential readers and fans?

JC: Eat a nectarine. Half a peach, half a plum. It’s a hell of a fruit. And never run for a bus. Just stroll, jaunty jolly. (Shamelessly quoted from Mel Brooks’ 2000 year old man.)

Other than that, if you like humor in your sci fi/fantasy and admire writers like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, please do browse through my website at cuttsbooks.wordpress.com

I also send free short stories monthly to my Twitter followers. I’m at @jaycuttsbooks.

Thanks for allowing me to do an interview. I enjoy being in touch with readers and writers!

MF: Thank you, Jay, for sharing your wit! I hope my blog readers check out your books, which can be found on Amazon by following these links:

Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom

Death by Haggis

Interview with Ted Weimann, Author of “Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science”

webTedTed Weimann is obsessed with science and shares what he learns generously in his recent book, Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science from Quest Publications. If you want a crash course on the hottest topics in science today, I highly recommend this book, as you can tell from my recent review. Ted’s enthusiasm and love of learning comes through in his writing, thanks to his ability to synthesize the information and then explain it in a way a person of average intelligence can understand.

Ted was gracious enough to grant me an interview, which gives us further insights into his brilliant mind and his ongoing quest for knowledge, fueled by his “Question Everything” attitude.


MF: What motivated you to compile Paradox’s rich collection of modern research?

TW: The thrill of learning about these fascinating topics.  I so thoroughly enjoyed the dark energy / center of the universe enigma over the years, that I began noticing other paradoxes.  They’re interesting.  For instance, who would have thought that France will experience a higher sea level rise than Iceland when the Greenland Ice cap melts?  But with the reduced gravitational attraction upon the North Atlantic Ocean because all Greenland’s ice mass is gone, and with the resulting glacial rebound, France actually will.

Something else I didn’t include in that section because I didn’t think about it at the time, is when that part of the North American Plate glacially rebounds, Iceland’s continental rift will likely increase.  As you know, Iceland is practically split in half because it straddles two tectonic plates that are moving apart from each other.  Its western half will experience some glacial rebounding when Greenland does.  Since its eastern half is on the Eurasian plate, that part of Iceland likely won’t, or if it does, will to a far lesser degree.  An increase in Iceland earthquakes may be in their future, perhaps even their volcanic activity will increase. We could talk all night about this one topic and all its implications.  Scientists could research it for years.  I find that pretty cool.


MF: Which part of Paradox is your favorite section?

TW: It’s changed over time.  First it was the section on dark energy.  And then it was black holes.  When I calculated the compression of a neutron star down to a black hole, I made mistakes.  Catching those mistakes was fun, and humbling.  And then I realized that the neutron star would start rotating faster than the speed of light.  Since I knew that this could never happen, I started researching the ways in which this violation of physics was avoided.  One of those ways is the decoupling of the magnetic field-lines when they cross the light cylinder.  I had never heard of a light cylinder.  That was another cool concept I got to research.

Plate tectonics made a run for the number one spot, but I’d have to say the chapters on the evolution and devolution of the human brain are my favorites.  So many questions remain unanswered.  Like how will our intelligence change in the future?


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MF: Tell us about the research/facts presented in your book that surprised you the most.

TW: Probably the agricultural paradox.  I knew farmers produced more calories, yet had poorer nutrition than hunter gatherers, but I didn’t realize how much poorer their diets were.  I had always been led to believe that hunter gatherers lead such difficult lives compared to farmers.  And that’s not necessarily the case.

I also didn’t know that farmers used to live with their livestock.  Living in these cramped, filthy conditions is how their diseases evolved and became our diseases.  That was interesting.


MF: Do you have a particular source you trust more than others?

TW: The source I use the most, not necessarily for writing books, but for medical research, is pubmed.org.  I’ve been researching medical studies on their site since practically day 1.  But, as discussed in my chapter on the obesity paradox, the reliability of medical studies is far lower than it should be.  So, they’re not my answer to your question.

I’m sorry but, I don’t have any one source to hold up for you.  My thanks go to the majority of the experts that take the time to answer questions from me and I’m sure many other people.  Sometimes it was research for this book, but often I simply read about their research and had a question about it or its implications.  And most of these experts took the time to help me.  So, thank you to them.


MF: What do you think the next major technological breakthrough will be (that’s revealed to the public)?

TW: I might have to go with batteries.  I’ll be surprised if we don’t have vastly superior batteries 10 or 15 years from now.  And that simple advance will have profound changes upon the planet.  Think transportation, renewable energy, climate, and the lives of people around the world currently without power.  We’ll all benefit with that one, seemingly simple advance.


MF: If you were the one controlling the purse strings to a big chunk of grant money, which branch of science would you reward it to? Why?

TW: Renewable energy.  We’re making good progress and I believe we’ll get to where we need to be, but the sooner we get the cost of renewable energy lower than fossil fuels, the better off our climate, and everything tied to it, will be.

Where my passion lies however, is the likely extinction many large mammals will face, regardless of climate change.  Because of greed, religion and superstitions, the mega fauna that we all love are in serious danger.  I’d like to get Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Jeff Bezos and others together with the purpose of talking them into purchasing a huge track of land in the US and turning it into an African savanna.  I believe that’s the only chance elephants, giraffes, rhinos, cheetahs, and others, will have in the long term.  It might even turn a profit someday.


MF:  What percentage of critical medical knowledge do you think is being withheld from the public?

TW: Nearly 50% of all medical studies go unpublished.  To answer your question though, we’d have to define critical.  To me, all well conducted studies are critical, because they contain knowledge we need.


MF: Do you have any particular method for recognizing “fake science?”

TW: For me, I’d say it’s a combination of intuition and reason.  For example, I just had lunch with a friend who’s an avid hunter.  He was showing me photos and telling stories of his wild hog hunting trip, when he said the local experts he was hunting with told him that he should dodge a charging pig to the right, because they can’t turn to the left very well.  I told him I didn’t believe that.  Rationally, it didn’t make sense to me on an evolutionary basis.

If your gut feelings send you signals, or if the media headline seems a little too dramatic, question it.  Do your research.


MF:  What do you like to read in your spare time? Strictly nonfiction or do you ever take a break with fiction? If so, which genre?

TW: I was in my 30s when I read my 3rd fiction book, Jurassic Park.  The first two were The Little Engine that Could, and Bugs Bunny adventures, or something like that.  My 4th was Jurassic Park in Spanish, Parque Jurasico.  I started reading The Destroyer, a comedy/ adventure series during my recoveries from my spinal surgeries.  I’ve now read about 100 of them.  I also enjoy some comedies like The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and A Dirty Job.  In that book, the author has a hilarious comparison of an alpha male versus a beta male.  When I’m healthy though, it’s pretty much non-fiction for me.  I like to learn about the world around me.


MF: Do you have any other books planned or in-work at this time?

TW: I did have one I would love to write, but I knew I’d never pull it off.  I wrote all the living presidents, requesting interviews with them and their spouses, as well as access to the medical records of the presidents.  Of course, none granted me such access. My idea was to conduct a small sample study on the effects of the extreme stress of the presidency on health and aging.

Imagine how much I would have learned in the process.  That, would have been fun.


Yes, learning should be fun. I know it is for me, but far too many find it an unpleasant chore. Just think what the world would be like if we could find a panacea for this crippling attitude. Thanks to people like Ted, however, who shares these delicious brain candy tidbits so generously, hopefully others will find the intellectual stimulation as fun and interesting as the next computer game. -MF

You can pick up a copy of Paradox: Fascinating Anomalies of Science from Amazon or the publisher.

 

 

Interview with Kirsten Streicher, Kick-ass Heroine of “The Blight”

theblightMeet Kirsten Streicher, kick-ass heroine of The Blight, another nail-biter, suspense thriller by John Reinhard Dizon. First, a little about Kirsten and her story:

Kirsten Streicher is an Iraq War veteran assigned to the Supercop Unit in St. Louis. The elite unit has been successful in combating the Blight, a plague of poverty-driven crime that is overwhelming the city. Only a genocidal sociopath has declared his own war against the Blight and is conducting a campaign to eradicate the undesirable elements within the community. The death of one of her partners and the suspension of another portend the breakup of the team. Kirsten is forced to deal with a major change in her career path once the man called X is brought to justice. She is also involved in a romance with a UMKC professor, Kurt Franz. He takes her to a new reality amidst the protests of Brad, who is still hunting the killer despite his suspension. Brad reveals his love for her and places her in the middle of a love triangle. Making matters worse is evidence indicating that X is focusing on Kirsten, which makes her a potential target.

MF: Welcome, Kirsten. It’s a pleasure to have you here today.

KS: I’d just like to thank the interviewer for being so patient in allowing me to put my thoughts together. This has been a harrowing and traumatic time in my life. I’m finally able to articulate my feelings and my reflections, and I hope they might inspire young people out there trying to make the world a better place.

MF: I understand. The aftermath of such a time is often the most difficult, and you’ve had several such experiences in your life. Looking back to those that made you who you are, did any particular experience you had while serving in the Middle East have a life-defining effect?

KS: It had to be in Afghanistan when we took out that insurgent Taliban unit in preventing an ambush of American soldiers. We found out they were just high school kids who had been brainwashed into fighting for someone else’s cause. During the Blight, I saw the same thing in the teens who were recruited by drug gangs to advance the ulterior motives of others. Kids are so idealistic and easily influenced. Society has a tremendous obligation to raise our children in a moral and principled world.

30990375 - base of st. louis arch with silhouette of two people and lightning

MF: That is so true. Kids are always going to reflect their environment and how they’re raised. When parents fail, often law enforcement is forced to fill the gap. As such, what do you find the most satisfying part of being a cop?

KS: The chance to make a difference in society and defend the oppressed and underprivileged. It was the same thing we tried to do in the Middle East. We tried to do it here but we never dreamed we’d be dealing with the same kind of evil. At least we had the battle experience, and I hope that other veterans will be able to use their skills and knowledge to change things here at home.

MF: It’s so sad that our veterans come home to that, but it’s true they can definitely make a difference here as well. Nothing is simple these days. Do you see crime in terms of black and white or are there shades of grey?

KS: That is such a hard question. Good is good and evil is evil, that’s your black and white. Only the effect it has on others is where your shades of grey come in. It’s so hard to deal with victims of crime, especially in gang-controlled neighborhoods where they live. The Blight nearly immersed the city of St. Louis in the darkness. It was a miracle that we were able to help its citizens find their way back to the light.

MF: Yes, it truly was. And it certainly wasn’t easy. If you were “Queen of the World” for a day, what would you change?

KS: I would eradicate drug trafficking by any means necessary. It is what empowers drug gangs, poisons its victims and destroys communities. Cut off the supply, put dealers away for good and do everything possible to rehabilitate dependents. It is the singlemost terrible problem the people of the world are dealing with.

MF: I couldn’t agree more. What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?

KS: Waking up Christmas morning to find goodbye letters from the two most important people in my life. It created a void in my heart, in my existence, that I may never refill. I can’t even remember a happy time. I think readers of my story will fully understand why.

MF: I hope with time that some level of happiness and satisfaction will come your way as you recognize how many lives you have changed in a positive way. They say what doesn’t kill us outright only makes us stronger. In that context, what did you learn from your experience with “The Blight”?

KS: Well, let me take back that last statement. Seeing the people of St. Louis unite to keep the murderers from destroying Christmas was the most wonderful thing I ever saw. Black and white, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, it didn’t matter who they were. We all became neighbors, we shared and shared alike. The citizens of our city decided they had enough of the Blight and made it go away. Americans have that in common, we stand together in times of trouble. It makes me so proud to be an American and a Missourian. I hope my story helps other people feel that way.

MF: Thank you so much for being with us today, Kirsten. The world needs more people like you in this crazy world we’re living in. I wish you all the best and that you’ll be blessed for all the good you’ve done.

Be sure to pick up a copy of The Blight so you can put Kirsten’s comments and insights into context. You can grab your copy from Amazon here.

Stock Photo copyright 123RF
eric1513/123RF Stock Photo

Interview with Simon Jones, Author of “Fall of Empires”

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MF: As a self-declared history buff, do you recall what first drove your interests backward in time?

SJ: I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. As a very young boy I remember my father and grandfather spending hours with me playing with toy soldiers and telling me stories from history. My grandfather made a replica warship out of a tea trolley with sections of broomstick for cannons and a hidden cassette player inside which played ‘Hearts of Oak’. He also built a replica Saturn V and a mock up of the surface of the moon which covered the entire dining room table and taught me about the space race. My parents took me all over the place to castles and museums and my Mum, who also loves history, encouraged me to read historical books from an early age. I also had a wonderful history teacher, Mr Bastable, who could make even the dull bits of history interesting. With all those great influences I was always going to grow up loving history.

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MF: It certainly sounds as if you were primed by your upbringing to love history! Have you travelled to many of the locations relevant to your books? Which one(s) inspired you the most?

SJ: I have been fortunate to have travelled to lots of great historical sites around the world although there are still lots more on my list. Visiting Egypt and Rome whilst writing ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ were hugely inspirational and I incorporated my memories of those visits into the book. There is something very powerful about standing on the very spot where great events happened and you can feel the resonance of them somehow. Sadly most of Fall of Empires takes place in Syria and Iraq which are not very tourist friendly these days. I have been to Istanbul which also features heavily, though apart from the Hagia Sofia and the walls there is not much left of the old Byzantine Constantinople.

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MF: That is so true about historical sites. You can definitely feel their complexity. When you read about an historical period, do you typically picture yourself living during that time?

SJ: I think you have to. Not in a fantasizing sort of way but in terms of your outlook, your values and your expectations. I don’t think you can write objectively about history either as fiction or non-fiction unless you take a step back from your 21st century based values and judge people and events by the standards of the time in which they occurred. In ‘The Battles are the Best Bits’ I found myself justifying acts of slaughter which today would be judged as war-crimes as perfectly reasonable actions under the circumstances. The ancient world was a much more violent place than the modern world and human rights and the value of human life were seen very differently. This was a world in which the destruction of an entire city and the slaughter, rape and enslavement of its population was a legitimate act of war. To write about this period effectively you have to remove yourself somewhat from the here and now. Dealing with these events objectively I think gives them even greater impact in the mind of the modern reader.

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MF: The context is definitely a huge factor that takes some effort to understand. Even today cultural differences prevent many from understanding others’ actions.

Your book “Fall of Empires” earned over 280,000 reads on Wattpad, which is amazing! At what point did you decide to take the plunge and publish your work as a print book?

SJ: In some ways I regret the decision as there is no doubt that by sharing your work freely you reach far more readers than you do by charging money for it. I decided to ultimately publish the book as a result of the positive reaction to it from readers and from the site administrators who obviously see a lot of books. So I was confident it was of sufficient caliber to warrant publication. I already had one book in print so was under no illusions how hard it is to reach readers in such a saturated marketplace. I have a very limited appetite for self promotion however so I only have myself to blame.

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MF: I totally understand your attitude toward self-promotion since I feel much the same way. Writing is the fun part, marketing, not so much, though I do enjoy helping others promote their work.

As a history aficionado, do you have a favorite historical figure? If so, why?

SJ: You would probably expect me to name a military figure from the ancient world but I would say my favourite historical figure is Charles Darwin. His contribution to science goes without saying but his journals reveal an adventurous and daring spirit. During the voyage of the Beagle Darwin undertook numerous arduous journeys into the interior. He braved hostile natives, inhospitable terrain and even ventured into a warzone in pursuit of scientific enquiry. I think a lot of people picture him perhaps getting off the ship from time to time and strolling around with his magnifying glass but he was a real man of action. He was also a genuinely decent human being with little time for the superiority or snobbishness that characterized Victorian men of his class and would happily break bread with anyone he encountered on his travels no matter how humble their station. He abhorred the slavery which he witnessed in South America and vowed never to return to any slave state.

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MF: Darwin was truly one of history’s great figures. Few are familiar with, much less appreciate all he did or the man he was. And speaking of familiarity, most people are acquainted with the adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Which lesson do you think today’s leaders are failing to learn?

SJ: I think that the Middle East is the prime example of failure to learn from history. Time and again western governments have imposed clumsy solutions on the region which fail to take account of centuries of conflict and complex divisions understood by only a handful of experts. The poor handling of the Arab Spring and the rise of Isis are just the latest examples. Events of a thousand years ago or more still resonate in the region alongside more recent tensions and no doubt once the latest Iraqi crisis and Syrian civil war are finally brought to a close, another imperfect solution will be imposed by the west and Russia, adding another layer of complexity and more seething discontent.

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MF: The Middle East has definitely been a problem area for millennia. It seems to me that much of the problem is that they are still stuck in the 7th Century culturally whereas the rest of the world has progressed. It’s impossible for us to understand what most modern westerners consider a barbaric mindset.

I find it interesting that you have a degree in Genetics and worked for the Forensic Science Service. Have you ever had your DNA traced to see if you’re genetically connected with any of the areas that draw your interest?

SJ: I have not. To my knowledge my family has been traced back to Elizabethan times living as farm labourers and domestic servants in the south of England but that’s only one branch. It would be an interesting thing to do one day. I’d like to find out if I have a bit of Viking in me!

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MF: I’ve done some genealogy in the past and it’s definitely an advantage to be familiar with history when you’re trying to figure out where a family lived before they popped up somewhere, usually due to some migration due to events at the time, whether political or weather related.

While our cultural and genetic roots define our foundation, some historical figures such as General George S. Patton believed that he had been a warrior in a previous life. Have you ever had any experiences (e.g. deja-vu) that gave you the impression that you had actually lived during another specific time?

SJ: No. I don’t believe in previous lives but when I visit ancient places, where so much has gone before, I do get a sense of feeling the history of the place. Places like the Roman Forum, the Valley of the Kings, the Terracotta Army. There is something special in the air or in the stone that makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. That’s the closest I’ve got to something like that. I had a similar experience at Dachau too, for obviously different reasons.

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MF: Those who have never visited a place that had a significant role in history can’t understand that. It’s definitely almost tangible, the echoes of past events that cling to an area.

Have you started work on your next book? Tell us about it and what inspired you to write it.

SJ: I am not writing a present as I decided to give up my job and become a teacher and sadly no longer have time for writing. That same love of telling stories and passing on knowledge is what made me want to go into teaching however and so I get the same satisfaction from planning and delivering lessons. I’m teaching science but I try to get a bit of history into my lessons wherever I can.

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MF: That’s awesome! I’m sure you’ll make a fabulous teacher. So many students need some background to put what they’re learning into context, i.e., some additional information that has meaning and makes it relevant. When I was a child in school, the emphasis in history class comprised memorizing dates and places, which was mighty boring. I didn’t care about it at all until I got into genealogy.

Balancing a career of any sort with writing is always a challenge. Which part of the writing process is your favorite?

SJ: The research. The writing really is an outlet for the learning in my case. Whilst most probably see research as a means to end, for me the writing is the justification for the research. It gives it a purpose beyond learning for its own sake and a vehicle to share that learning. Whilst that vehicle was previously writing, now it is teaching.

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MF: I’m sure your passion for history and sharing it will make you a great and memorable teacher. No matter what subject you’re teaching, it has a history, especially science, which ultimately impacts society in important ways.

Do you have any future book ideas outside the historical fiction realm? In other words, do you have any real-life experiences in forensics that would lend ideas to mysteries or thrillers?

SJ: I think that market is well and truly saturated, so no, it doesn’t interest me. The biggest crime in my forensic experience was the closing down of the British Forensic Science Service and the biggest mystery is how it was allowed to be so badly run for so long. Someone should write a book about that, but it won’t be me.

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MF: Sounds like a wise decision. Do you have a favorite author or favorite book of all time, perhaps one that inspired you to become an author?

SJ: There are few books I have read more than once and I can only think of one I’ve read more than twice and that’s The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. It is truly uplifting and got me through some very lonely times in my life. The film didn’t do it justice.

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MF: Thanks for the interview, Simon! I’m sure your work will benefit many as will your foray into teaching and sharing your vast knowledge and love for this very important subject.

Simon’s book is available at the following places:

Publishers Book Link

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Create Space

More about Simon Jones

Biography

Goodreads

Blog

Greek Fire: Interview with Konstantinos Karatolios

konstantinos

One of my favorite sayings is “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, we see such consequences all around us. And it’s no wonder, considering the way they taught history when I was growing up, which was primarily to memorize dates and events without context. Bor-ing!

Quite frankly, I didn’t have much interest in the subject until I started researching my family’s genealogy several years ago. At that point it had meaning, as events at the various time periods affected my progenitors, specifically by precipitating migrations to say nothing of wars. Now that I’ve lived long enough to see a significant number of historical events transpire before my eyes, it’s even more interesting. At this point, I love it, but it’s taken me a lifetime to get there.

Thus, I find it tremendously encouraging to see a young man such as Konstantinos Karatolios embracing history. As you can tell from his name, he’s Greek, and thus hails from a culture with a long and rich history. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, “Troy”, about the Trojan War and I can easily imagine Konstantinos in the role of Achilles, formerly portrayed by none other than Brad Pitt. If Konstantinos goes into teaching after completing his PhD, I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s going to have a powerful affect on increasing interest in the subject, kind of like Indiana Jones did on archaeology. 😉

So without further ado, let’s learn some more about this good-looking guy who’s intelligent enough to realize what a treasure trove history is , long before he’s as old as dirt like myself, and discover his motivation to write “Greek Fire,” from which you can find an excerpt below the interview.

You can learn more about Konstantinos here as well as his website and connect via his Facebook page.


MF: Few civilizations have a history as rich as Greece. Which time period do you find most interesting?

KK: There is no doubt that there is a focus on the Classical Period and I truly understand the popularity of this era. However I think that if you scratch the surface you will find that other periods are very interesting as well. One of these is definitely the Mycenaean era. Despite all that I chose to write about the most ambiguous period of all. The medieval period, i.e. the Byzantine when we are talking about the East. It is definitely the least appreciated of all but it promises some of the biggest thrills to those who  bother study it.

MF: Who do you think is the most fascinating person in Greek history?

KK: That’s a really tough question. However it is my opinion that it’s not the charismatic leaders that make the important era but it is a significant era that calls for a charismatic leader. The same applies for artists and scientists too. What would Mozart have been if it wasn’t the historical period he was born at?

MF: How much truth to you think exists in Greek myths? Do you think they’re true stories embellished with time or purely symbolic?

KK: I think that myths are myths and we shouldn’t take them as facts. However no story is made without having a historical core. Difficult as it is our job is to find that core and see how it correlates with history.

MF: Was there something specific that drew your interest to Greek Fire?

KK: Greek Fire is covered in vagueness. It’s not only the fact that the way it was made was a state secret. Byzantines knew how important it was to possess a weapon that the opponents didn’t knew what it was and indeed we know that there were cases when armies surrendered just hearing that the Byzantines had it. So we have a weapon mentioned in a lot of sources but with a way that it doesn’t help us historians to draw definite conclusions. On the other hand the modern opinion of Greek Fire is oversimplified and totally unacceptable. The combination of these too made me interested in Greek Fire.

MF: Did you have any interesting experiences while researching your book?

KK: Researching is always an interesting experience by itself. All these little disappointments when you find out that things were not as you expected them to be on the one hand but also the huge satisfaction you get when you discover something new, is something difficult to describe.

MF: What’s the biggest challenge you found researching historical events?

KK: The biggest problem for a Byzantinologist is definitely the lack of sources. In many cases we must make the most with almost nothing.

MF: If you had access to a time machine, when and where would you want to go?

KK: It goes without saying that I would travel to the Byzantine Empire. I truly hope that they wouldn’t burn my time machine down using Greek Fire! It would be highly ironic!

MF: What is your favorite place to go when you’re seeking some inspiration?

KK: The ideal place for a writer is somewhere where he or she can be totally isolated from other people and not distracted at all. I have to admit that this is too good to be true. Usually I just lock myself up in my office but that’s never as isolated as it sounds!

MF: What are you currently working on?

KK: I’m working on my PhD. I try to find out everything there is for the education of the princes of the Macedonian Dynasty, at the Middle Byzantine Era. I am looking to return to Greek Fire as soon as I get the chance to do it.

EX 26/6 YGRON PYRR

Excerpt:

“The wonder of the thousand-year Byzantine Empire could not have been achieved without an army that allowed it to maintain its existence for so many centuries. This was despite facing constant challenges from external enemies that differed significantly in their nature. In this context, what had been inherited from the Romans and the adoption of new weapons and tactics in battle were of equal importance. “Greek fire”, if not the most important of these weapons, was surely that which achieved the greatest fame of all. It was used throughout the course of the Byzantine Empire and granted resounding victories to its navy. Its use verges on legend, and yet almost all we know about it and its use is clouded by the vagueness of the primary sources.”

You can learn more about “Greek Fire” at the publisher’s site and pick up your copy from Amazon here.

An Expert’s View of Brexit

Small Island Big History (1)

One of the hot topics this week has been Brexit, Great Britain’s decision (at least England’s) to leave the European Union (EU). I find it interesting and perhaps a bit ironic that it came so close to the USA’s Independence Day, July 4. However, whether or not the decision will stand or be reversed via the Bremain movement is yet to be seen as more and more ramifications of the decision evolve.

This was the perfect time to interview author and historian, Christopher Berg, author/compiler of a book of essays on the British Empire entitled “Small Island, Big History.” I love the cover, which was a real eye-opener regarding Britain’s conquests over the centuries. Truly, British influence is worldwide, something that’s easily forgotten today when Britain’s prominence has retreated since the last century.

Let’s see what an expert on the subject has to say.

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MF: As a historian, especially with regard to the UK, did you see “Brexit” coming when the EU began to stumble a few years ago?

CB: No, I did not, though in hindsight, the UK was reluctant to relinquish the British pound for euros as it would have diluted their purchasing power, but, aside from this, the only one who probably saw it was Niall Ferguson.

MF: Do you think it was skepticism toward the EU at its inception that motivated the UK to retain its own currency and not accept the euro?

CB: That might be part of the answer but such matters are rarely so simple or cut-and-dry.  In an international context, the sovereignty of a nation must be maintained and to devalue, dilute, or jettison a national currency in favor of a new and untested common currency linked to dozens of other nations of varying economic strength and solvency was problematic for the British.

MF: The British Empire influenced the entire world with its conquests, largely by planting substantial populations imbued with its culture throughout the globe. From South Africa to India, New Zealand and Australia, there is no doubt that the British have enjoyed a worldwide influence. While over the past several decades, independence has been granted to several commonwealths, some peacefully, others not so much, with its extensive history of imperialism, why do you think that the UK joined the EU in the first place?

CB: Self-interest.  That is the primary motivation for most first-world nations and, perhaps, many aspiring nations that want to join the ranks.  And, it was an evolving economic reality and to keep markets stable and encourage and maintain good trade relationships with her continental neighbors, the British pondered long and hard about their entry into such an economic community.

MF: Do you think there was a single coup de grace that drove England to withdraw from the EU?

CB: The issue with many European banks bordering on the brink of collapse, the considerable economic tensions escalating with such countries as Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as the issue of a “bail-in” in Cyprus was startling news to many, including Germany.  The specific issue or trigger is much more difficult to pinpoint, if there is one.  Again, I would defer to Niall Ferguson, the imminent Harvard economic historian.

MF: Britain’s conquests have been anything but friendly, which earned her a lot of opposition based on her reputation for an iron hand and brutal enforcement. Do you think being tromped during WWII took her entirely by surprise? What affect did that have on her subsequent policies toward her commonwealths and the world in general?

Chris_HeadshotCB: WWII caught Britain by surprise in some respects.  The fall of Singapore, for example, suggests that they really had little intelligence on the “strength” or “state” of their empire.  It was simply the leadership of Winston Churchill that gave the British people the moral resolve to withstand the Nazi threat in 1940-41 and the budding friendship of Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt known as the “special relationship.”  Churchill was willing to make many compromises in terms of relinquishing colonies, and, as a former Colonial Secretary, was more even-handed in his approach to the colonies.  However, the shock of losing the empire after 1945 and the rise of self-determination brought a tough decision on how to move forward.  The British had lost their preeminent position of the Victorian Age and, now with the rise of the United States as the world superpower, a new balance-of-power had been thrust upon Great Britain.  Churchill’s prescience and a concern for home and social matters helped to ease the transition of Britain from a recognized world power to that of a secondary role.

MF: The initial response of the financial markets toward England’s withdrawal from the EU was unfavorable for its currency. What do you think the long term effect will be, to strengthen or continue to weaken the pound?

CB: I think that the move to withdraw from the EU was Britain’s response to growing uncertainty, the rise of international unrest, and economic instability in many EU-member countries.  In the short term, I think this was a defensive move to maintain the pound’s position.  The long term position is much harder to discern as economics is a volatile area that is very difficult to manage, much less be proactive about.

MF: What lessons should remaining members of the EU take from England’s withdrawal? Do you think others will follow?

CB; I do think that others might follow suit and others have expressed interest, such as Germany.  The stronger economies will definitely begin to re-think their present position and the international effect is only beginning to be felt, even here in the United States.

MF: What effect will this break for freedom have upon England’s citizenry? Do you think it will restore their pride and increase nationalism in a dramatic way?

CB: So far, it has shown to have a galvanizing effect upon the British people, a sense of renewed solidarity, and, perhaps, even a return to protectionist policies.

***

You can pick up a copy of “Small Island, Big History” at the following links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Create Space

Additional Book Information

Quest Publications

Author Biography