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Interview with Dr. Jackie C. Cogswell, Author of Super Luke Faces His Bully

Dr. Jackie Chirco Cogswell is a family physician, wife, mother, former school teacher, and now author of a series of Christian children’s novels, the GIGGLEHEART ADVENTURE SERIES. Writing Christian books and reading the Bible has become her passion.

In recent years, Dr. Jackie has been led to teach children of all ages how to prevent and stop bullying. As a Christian mother, the issue of bullying became very personal to her when her child was bullied in elementary school. Through the many struggles her son had with bullies, Dr. Jackie learned from firsthand experience how to tackle bullying from a Christian perspective. SUPER LUKE FACES HIS BULLY was inspired by her son’s personal struggle and the good Lord, “Who equips us for every battle and gives us strength.”

Visit Dr. Jackie only at www.giggleheart.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Dr. Jackie. Can you tell us what your latest book, Super Luke Faces His Bully, is all about?

Thank you for this interview opportunity!

Super Luke Faces His Bully  takes the reader on a journey through the eyes of a fun-loving boy, Luke Giggleheart.  Luke had always dreamed of becoming a big, brave super hero.  Even though he was equipped with a fun super hero cape and “innocent citizens” to protect, his dreams came crashing down when he found himself shoved into a locker by the notorious school bully, Bulldog Jones!

During this adventure, Luke discovers how to be brave enough to tell caring adults about his bully so that they could help stop the abuse.

One of the best parts of the story is when Luke discovers how to get his heart bully-proofed when he exchanged his fears for courage by trusting in Jesus Christ!  Bulldog Jones also experiences a change in attitude when his heart was touched by the love and kindness of a real Savior!

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Luke Giggleheart is an eight year old, tender hearted boy.  Luke was sweet, timid and shaky in his sneakers when it came to dealing with aggressive kids. This made Luke the perfect target for the school bully, Bulldog Jones!

Bulldog Jones was ten years old.  He was mean!  Bulldog would sniff out fearful kids and then would go after them as a means to take out his aggressions.  As the story unfolds, the reader discovers why Bulldog was so mean and nasty.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

 Most of my characters are inspired by my children and as they struggle with common issues like fear, anger, pride, lying, and bad attitudes. This often annoys my thirteen year old.  I can just hear her now, “Whatever, Mom!”

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I know the story line before I sit down to write a book.  Usually the plot has been percolating in my heart for months before I actually start writing. However, many of the fun little details that knit the plot together usually just come to me as I write.

Q: Your book is set in a typical Midwestern suburban Christian school.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

The core setting for this book is in a Christian school and an average suburban neighborhood. No particular city was mentioned because it was not significant to the story line.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

The only real significance of the setting is that schools, buses and neighborhoods are all fertile grounds for bullying.  For a young reader, these settings would seem relatable and help the kids connect with the characters in the story. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

This is a really fun question J.

On page 69, Harry “Bulldog” Jones,the notorious school bully is being examined by a physician for injuries he received from a fist fight.  The physician, Dr. Giggleheart (Luke’s mom), tells Harry’s mother that his black eye and bloody nose would heal.  However, Dr. Giggleheart warns Mrs. Jones that Harry’s behavior problems could be fueled by the aggressive music he listens to.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

 (Excerpt from page 13)

That day, my bully left me with a humongous problem.  Ever since I was two years old I wanted to be a superhero.  In fact, I used to stand in front of the mirror in my diaper, squeezing my muscles hoping they would someday be strong enough to turn me into a real super dude.  Now that I have strong muscles and a cool cape, I love playing Super Luke and saving my friends and family from big bad bullies.  But after getting stuffed into my locker, I know that it takes a lot more than a good looking cape, a superhero name and big muscles to make me strong and brave!  Learning how to be a real superhero is a major growing pain.

 

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Dr. Jackie C. Cogswell. We wish you much success!

Thank you very much for taking the time and interest to learn more about Giggleheart Adventure #2, Super Luke Faces His Bully!

Dr. Jackie C. Cogswell

www.giggleheart.com

www.drjackiec.com

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Guest Blogger: What the World Needs Now – Authentic leadership by Andreas Dudas

Andreas Dudàs has more than 20 years leadership experience gained in top executive positions in over 25 countries. Visionary entrepreneur, mentor, motivational speaker & expert on authentic (life) leadership, he is the author of Do You Dare To Be Yourself? Learn more at www.andreasdudas.com.

What the World Needs Now – Authentic leadership by Andreas Dudas

On the one hand, never throughout the entire history were human beings offered such a bewildering array of opportunities to foster personal growth, accumulate wealth or build great nations. Each time I leave the new airport in New Delhi, for example, I am overwhelmed with the rapid change of the environment driven by a mind-boggling growth rate of the economy. On the other hand, never has humanity faced so much misery: A rising number of armed and violent conflicts, water and air pollution, congested highways, a rapid shift in weather conditions and the exploitation of natural resources without considering even the most basic environmental regulations.

Many scholars claim that the dramatic challenges we witness are mainly driven by two key factors: a sudden and startling surge in human population and a fast acceleration of the scientific and technological revolution, which has provided us with a sheer unimaginable power to affect the world around us. Some scholars tend to assert that new technologies, genetic engineering or other innovative products will be the keys for coping with our pressing problems. I completely disagree! Only a new leadership paradigm will remedy the current havoc.

For nearly 2000 years, the worldview has been driven by a leadership paradigm based on autonomy, separateness and control. These have also been the root metaphors influencing religion, business and science mainly in the Western world. This traditional archetype supports not only autonomy and freedom, but also control and manipulation. Nothing was wrong with such an approach, up to a point, for it was the basis for an enormous technical advancement on earth. But at the same time, this old paradigm has led us into a disaster and is now in big trouble not just that it relates to the environment, but across many fields such as politics, education and business. Already in the early 1990s, many renowned personalities emphasized that the shortcomings of command-and-control management were becoming apparent. The hierarchy of bosses organized in ranks with each superior exercising authority over subordinates who do exactly what their boss wants, has long been dominant. Many companies underwent a drastic paradigm shift in their leadership style over the last two decades. However, daily news on “poor management” suggests that not a lot of things have really changed.

What our planet needs now is a drastic shift towards a leadership paradigm embracing values such as interrelationship, cooperation, integration, balance, holism and especially love. These are exactly the values found in individuals living authentically. Such people have learned to act in accord with their core values, preferences, and needs as opposed to acting merely to please others or avoid punishments through playing a role. Such individuals have found the power of speaking up and lending a caring hand to our planet by reaching deep into their hearts. Only a huge investment of self-awareness and self-respect has nurtured their immense power to show respect for others and for the earth as a whole.

The sad news is that business, politics and education are not rewarding authenticity yet. We all are growing up in a command-and-control society, which nurtures our constant fear of not amounting to anything or loosing praise and recognition if we dare to live up to our innate principles and values. Furthermore, success in our society is still measured against the amount of money we accumulate or how fast we advance in our career, which spurs an ego-rooted rather than a heart-centered behavior. It often favors competition rather than cooperation. However, the greatest leaders of all times have set a stunning example of what one can achieve through leading from the heart. At the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s death, his personal possessions were valued at less than two dollars. His power and strength was derived from internal depths of his soul. Gandhi showed that the human heart is a source of tremendous power holding the capacity to change the course of history. We all have the birth right and even obligation to live up to our authentic self, which in turn feeds the power of living up to values so much in need, such as cooperation, appreciation and balance, and supporting a sustainable development of our planet. Since most of us stuck in the “comfort and fear zone” we need strong leaders empowering us to live authentically and promoting the strength to value respect for others. Reach deep in your heart, stand up for your true self and become one of the future leaders empowering others to reclaim their authentic presence!

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Interview with David S. Grant, Author of BLOOD: THE NEW RED

David S. Grant is the author of ten books including Corporate Porn, Bleach|Blackout, Hollywood Ending, and Rock Stars. His latest novel, Blood: The New Red, is now available. David lives and writes his weekly rock, travel, and NBA columns from New York City. For more information go to www.davidsgrant.com Twitter: @david_s_grant

Q: Thank you for this interview, David. Can you tell us what your latest book, BLOOD: The New Red, is all about?

Blood: The New Red begins at an after party where Mickey, an ex-adult movie star turned supermodel, is aligning himself with one of top Designers of Seventh Avenue.  While trying to land a job on the runway Mickey is thrown into the center of a scene where sex is often the motivation, the wine is served by year, and cocaine is back in full force.  Juanita, Mickey’s girlfriend is having difficulties staying sober, fully clothed, and off of her famous boyfriend.

Mickey goes to work for Fashion icon Paul Johnson, one of the two top Designers in NYC.  The other is Sandy Johnson, another Designer who will stop at nothing including murder to guarantee victory.  A runway exhibition has been scheduled for the two to compete in and find out who truly is the best Johnson.  Mickey will be Paul’s top model, and Sandy has found a homeless person nicknamed Kung Fu Master to show his line.

In addition to getting his new line in place, Paul Johnson is also buying chain saws, the louder the better, to put the special in this special event.

Did you know that you can’t be sentenced to prison if actively seeking help at a mental facility?  Paul Johnson knows this.

Somewhere between the girls, counting Vicodin pills, and show preparation Mickey has grown a conscience and no longer likes what he sees.  He believes (and his psychiatrist agrees) that he has the power to change what’s happening around him.

Days before the show Kung Fu Master turns up dead and there is an attempt on Mickey’s life.  After a brief period of unconsciousness Mickey is back, is told that Juanita and brother Cheeks are now also dead and that he must continue with the show.  After all, what would Steven Tyler do?

The night of the show is laced with celebrities and models on the runway as well as one particular popular day-time talk show host that may or may not be murdered on the runway.

In the end only one Johnson will walk away, although this is temporary as Mickey has the last word.

Right before he pops his last Vicodin.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Mickey is an ex-porn star returning to model in New York City.  He initially has to decide between the top two current designers: Paul Johnson and Sandy Johnson, simply known as The Johnsons.

Paul and Sandy on the outside appear very different, but once you see their day-to-day you realize they are very similar.  Their drive and motivation rule over all other personal attributes.  They want to WIN!

This is not Mickey’s first time in the game.  Despite his too cool for the room aura it is evident that Mickey has matured from his “acting” days and now understands who really runs the business.  Despite being caught knee-deep between The Johnsons, Mickey and his manager have a knack for viewing situations from the outside looking in.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I like to use real life situations as the motivation and then embellish as needed.  The actual characters are pure fiction; of course all characteristics are pulled from someone, right?  I’m definitely not saying there isn’t an ex-model-ex-porn star-model working the runways today, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t one named Mickey!

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I usually have an idea, an “out” I guess, but I rarely end up using it.  My process is pretty basic, starting with an idea that develops into a high level outline by chapter.  The outline helps me move the story along, though not necessarily defining where the story will end up.  This makes the process more organic, allowing the writing to tell the tale as it unfolds versus full plotting.

Q: Your book is set in New York City.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

New York IS the fashion industry and also a wonderful playground for fictional characters.  The saying “I can get anything I want in the city” also applies to characters set in NYC: they have access to everything.  BLOOD: The New Red looks at the fashion industry, but also brings in other aspects of the city including the media, obsession with psychiatrists, and of course the unique neighborhoods throughout Manhattan. Without writing fantasy, how many cities allow a character to go from a margarita bar to a design studio to a high end TriBeCa brothel and still have time to meet their dealer?  Only one I know of.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

It’s a major part.  New York City is the Mecca of fashion and Seventh Avenue breaks even the greatest designers and models at some point.   It’s a matter of timing and luck.  For my book, Fashion Week is the light at the end of the tunnel, each chapter escalating toward the moment (or moments) on the runway.  The city provides a backdrop for everything from diversity to the work environment to clubbing to murder. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

A:  Sandy Johnson is eating oysters with Ralph, a known hit man.  They are discussing a quandary Ralph recently encountered when he was asked to “take out” one of two men standing next to each other.  He “took out” the man on his right, but was later informed that this was the wrong person; instead the target was the man standing to THEIR right (facing toward Ralph.)  Ralph shows little emotion telling the story.  Sandy agrees with Ralph as he shoves another oyster into his mouth.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1 of BLOOD: The New Red.

Always look like a rock star. This is the number one secret on how to be famous. I’m wearing chains, lots of chains. Eye shadow, lots of eye shadow. I’m standing on the second level of the Grand Hotel, overlooking the bar area. My manager tells me this is where I need to be standing. In five minutes I will move across the room and stand next to a long mirror where one of the Hiltons will walk by and notice my reflection. A photographer will be close by and be sure to get the picture. This mirror has been placed here for this sole purpose. My manager tells me not to stare at the mirror. If you asked me to list my weaknesses, this may be my number one fault.

DJ Shingles, the newest (which means hottest) DJ, is playing on a middle level between the first and second floors. There is barely enough room for him let alone the overflowing ashtray and oversized stocking cap. Rumor has it this is his last show, despite this being his first. There is talk that he is moving into production and will be working with a major player in the hip hop industry, depending on who is hot at the time. DJ Shingles is wearing an Armani black button-down shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Very last year, but this is more a statement than a miscalculation on his part. Last season is the new season.

My manager signals for me to make my way across toward the mirror. A reporter from GQ is following me and asking me questions about who I’m going to sign with and whether or not my past will affect my future. I get her number, tell her I’ll call her later, and then blow her off as I approach the mirror. Always leak your press, never tell. This is secret number three on how to be famous.

Four widescreen televisions are fastened to the wall behind the bar. All are showing TMZ. An orange haired girl wearing a Betsey Johnson dress sees me staring at the television sets. She walks over and whispers in my ear, “It’s the new CNN.”

A waiter carrying a tray of wine from 1980 is walking by. Every 15 minutes another waiter, another tray, another year will walk by. Welcome to the world of fashion parties. Ten percent content, ninety percent presentation.

A man who goes by the name Dontay hands me a coffee cup that is full of scotch. My manager tells me to sip it and not cheers anyone. Any buzz that insinuates I’ve been in rehab and have put my porn career in the past is good press and can only help my modeling career. As scheduled, I’m approached by someone with the last name Hilton.

The Hilton is wearing a blouse that is considered the color Ocean, the new blue, but since Aquamarine blue was in fact the new blue for last season and last season is in this season, no one should be caught dead in Ocean. Unless of course she is being ironic. If so, she will have to mention this to at least three people during the course of the evening.

“Mickey, you’re back! I mean, uh…” Hilton looks at the coffee cup. “Welcome back!” She tips her coffee cup to me.

I glance around at the guest list, wondering who has the most juice at the party, but am distracted by the waiter walking through with wines from 1990.

“Good year for cabernets,” Hilton says, then grabs her blouse. “Last season is the new season, huh?” She laughs and looks fidgety as lights pop around us. At one point Hilton puts her arm around me and kisses me on the cheek. FLASH. Mission accomplished.

“I miss you, Mickey. We should get together sometime, you know, have a cup of coffee, or something.”

Sure, I tell her and then she leaves because she has a rule about spending over forty hours a week on the Lower East Side and this season many Fashion Week parties have been in LES, the new SoHo.

According to my manager, I need to make my way to a reserved table next to the bar where Paul Johnson is sitting. My manager also says to ignore the temptation of champagne. I have a job to do tonight.

Act like you’ve lived this moment a hundred times over. This is the forty-third secret on how to be famous.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, David.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for having me, for more information on my writing and BLOOD: The New Red please check out http://www.silverthought.com/blood/ and http://www.davidsgrant.com. Follow me on Twitter: @david_s_grant.

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‘Defending Jacob’ by William Landay: “…there is not much to separate any of the Barbers from the family next door.”

William Landay is the author of The Strangler, a Los Angeles Times Favorite Crime Book of the Year, and Mission Flats, winner of the Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel and a Barry Award nominee. A former district attorney who holds degrees from Yale and Boston College Law School, Landay lives in Boston, where he is at work on his next novel of suspense. His latest release is Defending Jacob.

You can visit William Landay’s website at www.WilliamLanday.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook by visiting www.Facebook.com/WilliamLanday.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Bill. Can you tell us what your latest book, Defending Jacob, is all about?

Defending Jacob is the story of an ordinary suburban family — father Andy Barber, mother Laurie Barber, and 14-year-old son Jacob — who endure the unfathomable ordeal of seeing Jacob put on trial for the murder of a schoolmate. So it is first and foremost a taut, suspenseful story.

But it is “about” much more than that. The difficulty of raising kids. The impossibility of truly knowing another person, even a family member. In Defending Jacob the characters are constantly surprised by what they learn about one another. Long-held secrets bubble up to the surface — secrets that might never have been divulged, that might never have troubled their happy marriage.

The book also includes in its sweep a scientific question: could there be such a thing as a “murder gene”? It is a haunting idea, but it is based on very real science. Study after study suggests that a predisposition to violence may indeed be a genetically heritable trait. It is not quite a “murder gene” — human behavior is not triggered by a simple gene but by an unfathomably complex interaction of genes and environment. Still, it opens a new window on the ancient question of “nature vs. nurture.”

The book also delves deep into the criminal justice system. It is told by a consummate insider, the veteran prosecutor Andy Barber, whose views of the defendant’s position are informed by his many years on the other side.

So Defending Jacob is about a lot of things. In fact, the sheer variety of “what it’s about” is one of the reasons the book has received such an overwhelming response. (The “Barnes & Noble Recommends” pick for February, Defending Jacob has been on the B&N bestseller list since the week before it was actually published.) It is just a rich, engrossing book. It generates great discussions because it touches on so many difficult decisions and interesting topics, which makes it a great book-club book. And it appeals to many different audiences: fans of legal thrillers, of family dramas, of scientific stories. That is why it has pulled endorsements from writers as wildly different as Lee Child and Nicholas Sparks — two writers who have rarely been mentioned in the same sentence till now.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

There are three main characters at the center of the story. Andy Barber is a 27-year veteran of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, near Boston. He is the First Assistant, which means he is the top deputy to the District Attorney herself. In Andy’s case, that means he is the number-one trial lawyer in the office — the top gun who handles all the biggest cases. But Andy is harboring a few secrets about his past, about his true identity, secrets that even his wife does not know until the murder charge against Jacob begins to strip them bare.

Laurie, Andy’s wife, is in some ways Andy’s opposite and his complement. Where Andy is tough, disciplined, devoted to law and order, Laurie is gentler, more expressive, more inclined to talk through a difficult problem. They are a lovely couple, perfectly suited to each other and still deeply in love after many years of marriage. Which is why it is so hard to watch them writhe under the strain of Jacob’s murder charge.

Then there is Jacob. A teenager with a moody, saturnine personality. But he is no monster. On the contrary, readers who know a few teenagers may find Jacob is uncomfortably familiar. He can be surly and withdrawn at times, but he can be funny and charming too. Physically he is poised between a gawky, awkward adolescent and the emerging young man he will soon become. He is smart and articulate — a fan of video games and computers and Facebook — but also prone to rash, foolish decisions. In short, he has all the maddening contradictions and emotional swings of any teenager.

For that matter, there is not much to separate any of the Barbers from the family next door. Or even your own family. Until the screw is tightened, then tightened some more. And all three of the Barbers try to resist the pressure as best they can.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I never explicitly base a character on a real person, especially someone I know. Using a real-life model makes it awfully hard to write. I always worry about offending someone or hurting their feelings if the character tends to misbehave — as my characters regularly do. It is inhibiting to me.

At the same time, every character comes out of my imagination, so I know full well that I am borrowing bits and pieces of different people in my life and bolting them onto my characters. It is just inescapable.

The question is especially relevant in this case, because Defending Jacob is set in a real town and in a real District Attorney’s office — the same town where I live and the same DA’s office where I worked as a prosecutor for most of the 1990’s. So I always point out that the characters in this book have absolutely no connection to anyone I know. They are 100% pure products of my imagination. I promise.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Both. I am always aware of the plot before I begin, and the story always develops and changes as I write. I am a ruthless planner and outliner. It is the only way to manage the sort of complex plots and narrative devices I like to use. So I try to nail things down as much as I can. But then, inevitably, you feel the thing wriggling under your hand, coming to life, and all my plans go out the window. I usually go through multiple outlines as I make my through the manuscript, stopping every 75-100 pages to get my bearings and figure out where the story ought to be headed.

Q: Your book is set in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

First, I chose it simply because I live there. There’s nothing especially dark or mysterious about Newton. Quite the opposite, it’s a lovely, wholesome place. Even a little dull, at least as the setting for a crime novel.

In fact, Newton’s ordinariness is another reason why I chose it. I had written a couple of novels with gritty urban settings, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to discuss crime — which has been my topic from the start — in the context of a familiar, ordinary suburb, a world more like the one I actually lived in, and more like the one many of my readers live in. I was looking for a typical suburb, an Everysuburb. Newton seemed as good as any.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Only in the sense that many readers will feel at home there. They will feel they’re on familiar ground. Again, this is a story that feels familiar at first: an ordinary town, an ordinary family. And then…

Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?

This is a difficult question to answer without giving away an important plot point, so I’ll have to be a little vague here.

It is May 11, 1950, in Lowell, Massachusetts. A salesman named Rusty Barber has come to call on Birke’s clothing store to show the new line of Mighty Mac winter parkas. After the sales call, Rusty stops for lunch at a hot dog place he liked called Elliot’s. Then this:

As he left Elliot’s, there was an accident. A car swiped the front of Rusty’s Buick Special as he crept out of the parking lot. There was an argument. A shove. The other man produced a knife. When it was over, the other man lay on the street, and Rusty walked away as if nothing had happened. The man stood up with his hands pressed to his belly. Blood seeped through his fingers. He opened his shirt but held his hands over his stomach a moment, as if he had a bellyache. When the man finally pulled his hands away, a slick coiled snake of intestines drooped out of him. A vertical incision split his stomach from the pelvis to the bottom of the chestbone. With his own hands, the man lifted his intestines back into his own body, held them there, and walked inside to call the police.

Again, I can’t say much more about that incident for fear of giving away too much. Defending Jacob is woven pretty tightly. It’s hard to pull out one page without unraveling a lot more of the plot.

But I will say that this scene grows out of my experience as an assistant D.A. My first assignment was in Lowell, a great community where Elliot’s and Birke’s were real places. (Elliot’s is still going strong and I highly recommend it. Great hot dogs. Tell them you want one “all around.” You won’t be sorry.) The stabbing described in this scene is based on an incident that occurred while I was working in Lowell — a man gashed across the belly, forced to hold his intestines inside by holding his hand over his belly, pressing it closed, while he was driven to the emergency room.

As for the salesman, well, it was my own grandfather, Harry Wolf, who sold Mighty Mac parkas to old stores like Birke’s all over New England. As a writer you grab what you can from any source available, your own history or the lives of others, and you spin it into your story.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

Veteran prosecutor Andy Barber gives a weary but hopeful take on the court system, in which he has worked for 27 years:

Now, this was not exactly true. I do not believe in the court system, at least I do not think it is especially good at finding the truth. No lawyer does. We have all seen too many mistakes, too many bad results. A jury verdict is just a guess — a well-intentioned guess, generally, but you simply cannot tell fact from fiction by taking a vote. And yet, despite all that, I do believe in the power of the ritual. I believe in the religious symbolism, the black robes, the marble-columned courthouses like Greek temples. When we hold a trial, we are saying a mass. We are praying together to do what is right and to be protected from danger, and that is worth doing whether or not our prayers are actually heard.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Bill. We wish you much success!

Thank you for having me.

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‘Unbridled Grace’ by Dr. Michael Norman: “This book is about God’s victory…”

Dr. Michael J. Norman has owned a family health center offering chiropractic care and wellness programs since 1992. Since 2003, he has served as a staff doctor at a non-profit center offering health care and life services to the indigent and un-insured of his community. In addition to his practice, Dr. Norman enjoys writing, speaking, mission outreach and completing graduate studies in Theology. He lives with his family near Dallas, Texas.

Unbridled Grace is his first book. You can visit him online at www.unbridledgrace.com.

About Unbridled Grace

Answering a two-line classified ad in the newspaper had life-changing consequences for a trustingly naive doctor fresh out of school, just starting his career and life as a new father. In a nightmarish true story that could occur to any of us, he innocently takes a part-time chiropractic job from employers who were later found to be a Russian-organized crime ring involved in money laundering, insurance fraud and other crimes. Despite his cooperation in a federal government investigation, the author soon finds himself surrounded by deception on all sides. As his cooperation is turned cruelly against him, Michael endures a federal indictment and an early-morning raid upon his home where he was arrested at gunpoint by six FBI agents in front of his five-year-old daughter. He’s left with two choices: plead guilty to crimes he didn’t commit, receive probation and avoid prison time; or fight the injustice and risk going to prison for at least 10 years. The first means cooperating with the government and lying to put people in prison who may be innocent; the second means doing the impossible and taking on the government.

Unbridled Grace is the true story of how one man rises from the forces of evil through his renewed faith in Christ and takes the reader on a journey to redemption through the bold use of our power of choice for God. Along the way, Michael meets a dynamic Catholic parish priest who gives him the courage to forge a path through this crisis and a hard-working attorney who joins him in this monumental battle. Will their efforts be enough to free the author and his family from this nightmare? It is at this time that a series of seemingly miraculous occurrences begin and the reader is shown what courage, faith and the power of heartfelt prayer can bring to all of our lives when all else appears hopeless.

You have an incredible story. I am not quite sure where to begin. I mean, you graduated college, answered an employment ad in the newspaper and unknowingly went to work for the Russian Mafia. How does something like this happen?

They (Mafia) were very good at what they do. They knew exactly what they were looking for. They live in a world of total deception just like all evil does. Nothing about their world is real and my book portrays what evil looks like. If someone has never been exposed to this type of world, they are easy prey. That was me.

And then, a few months later, despite your cooperation with the government investigation, you become one of their prime targets, culminating in an early-morning armed raid upon your home and arrest, all in front of your five-year-old daughter. I guess the scary thing for me, after reading your book, is that this could happen to any of us if it happened to you.

Absolutely it could. The storm just kept getting darker and darker for our family. I was surrounded by deception on all sides and for a while, nothing in my life was real anymore. It started with the deception and greed of the Russian Mafia and ended with the deception and arrogance of the federal government.

You live in Texas. What was the Russian Mafia doing in Texas? It sounds rather bizarre.

I’ll say! My understanding became that there was a spread of organized criminal activity that developed out of Russia after the break-up of Communism. There really isn’t any part of the world that is immune from the reach of their tentacles. They go where the money is.

I have to ask the obvious question. Why didn’t you hire an attorney early on in your ordeal?

Two reasons: I had no money and I did nothing wrong. I thought if you were innocent, you didn’t need a lawyer. Also, I relied heavily on free legal advice at that time. As the book relates, we all know where this got me.

Do you fear any retaliation from the Russian Mafia or the government?

No.

Did you write this book as “payback” for what was done to you and your family?

Absolutely not. This book is about God’s victory and all the incredible blessings that have resulted from this experience. I wrote this book to share what God can do in all of our lives despite anything we are facing. We simply must trust Him and then courageously choose His will. It’s not easy but it is truly the greatest of all roads to travel.

Okay, let’s talk specifically about your book. The cover photo is beautiful. Where was it taken?

This is on top of a peak in the Dolomites mountain range in the Alto Adige region of Italy (the northern-most region of Italy in the European eastern Alps).

Where did your title, Unbridled Grace, come from?

I wanted to hopefully convey the reality of complete, unrestrained grace that God wants to share with all of us. As I said in the book, a highly contagious ripple-effect of God’s grace can be unleashed through our life choices that can rapidly spread through our lives, our families, our churches, our cities and our world. I have found that God works through us in this way but our cooperation is necessary.

How long did it take to write this book?

On again, off again for about 10 years. There were several times I boxed everything up and packed it away in a closet but I kept “rediscovering” it. For me, it was the story that wouldn’t go away, even though I tried.

The theme of your book is the power of choice. Explain the importance you place on this.

It’s everything. It’s God’s greatest gift to us and it can unleash the most powerful force on the planet, His grace. I wrote about the fact that all of God’s new doorways for our lives can be bigger than the previous ones, if we use our power of choice for Him. Our lives simply keep expanding if we allow them to. Now the opposite is also true. When we mis-use His gift, our power of choice can lead to a “shrinking” of our lives until we begin to choose differently.

And this “shrinking” of our lives is what you called a hell of our own creation?

Yes and I knew it well.

Have you always placed such importance on the power of choice?

Absolutely not, as the early part of the book describes. Although, looking back over the years, my favorite movies have always been the ones which show alternate versions of life possibilities for the character if they had chosen differently. My favorite is still “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We all have an infinite number of life possibilities available to us depending on the choices we make.

You include inspiring but challenging meditations at the end of each chapter for readers. Where did these come from?

I don’t know how else to answer that except, they were lessons that came out of the pain. I wish I could have just learned them from a book instead! The themes of the meditations mirror their respective chapters and the events that unfolded within them. They’re kind of like “classroom notes” over several years.

Are you worried they are a little too challenging for the average Christian?

They are absolutely challenging. I read them often to help push myself. I know they won’t be for everybody. I have painfully learned that Christ challenges all of us to become more than who we are today. For me, this was difficult then, just as it remains difficult today.

Don’t you worry about the “hypocritical, holier-than-thou” label?

I’m used to it as a father of a teenager!

No, seriously.

Yes, there is always that possibility but it is far riskier to not write this book. This is God’s victory that is told, not mine. He permits all of us to pass through trials and difficult life experiences for a reason and it remains up to us to give a testimony to His power. If we don’t, who will? Everybody loves a good story. Why not share true stories that tell of His victories? I would love to see the book market flooded with them.

In your book, you share an incredible Marian experience that you and Laura received. How did this impact the eventual outcome of your ordeal?

I don’t think there would be a story without this event. It changed Laura and I completely. I write about how we were given a momentary glimpse beyond the veil and I am so thankfully humble to have received this awesome blessing and gift. I mean, we were able to make the courageous and impossible choice of risking a loss of family, freedom, friends, career, finances, home, everything. It helped us stand up for God and accomplish His will.

What about those who do not believe in Marian experiences or do not believe you?

I am sure there will be plenty. But Christ also tells us ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’ This is what I prefer to use as my “barometer”. I hope they would as well.

Although you are currently studying for a degree in Theology, you have no other formal theological training or credentials. Do you think this hinders the chances for your book being successful?

First of all, I consider my book a success if only my children and grandchildren would be able to read about God’s victory and the choices I made. That’s why I wrote it.

Fair enough. What about your lack of theological training and credentials?

As a hindrance to success? I think a theology “textbook” is difficult for most people to understand and apply to real-life experience. This is a true story that could occur to any of us and illustrates how theology can become practical and lived out in real-life.

Since your ordeal, what has been your biggest surprise?

When I speak to groups and share this story, I have met so many people who have gone through similar experiences within our legal system.

What were some of the biggest challenges in the writing of Unbridled Grace?

One of the biggest was overcoming the conflicting advice from the publishing world. From the beginning, they told me to choose “mission or market” but not both because that is not possible. It was strongly suggested that I bring this story to market as a strictly secular account with all the “winning” elements: an incredible true story, individual accomplishment and triumph over adversity. I just couldn’t do it. Without Christ and what truly helped me, this story could no longer be considered true. In the end, I would have cheated both, the secular market as well as the Christian market.

Where do you go from here?

My prayer is that Unbridled Grace helps many people and it could open the door to allow me to continue writing.

So, there may be a future book?

Hopefully.

Unbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice
Dr. Michael J. Norman
Dog Ear Publishing
ISBN: 978-145750-096-1
Available at Ingram, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and fine bookstores everywhere
www.unbridledgrace.com

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Interview with K.S. Krueger, Author of Traegonia the Ember Rune

Kim Krueger is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. She is a writer, businesswoman, Reiki practitioner and spiritual person. She loves animals, nature and kids. Kim has lived in the Suburbs of Chicago all her life. She is creative and always tries to foster creativity in her own children as well as in others. Although her background has been in business, Kim has always loved to write. She has written poetry and several children’s stories originally for her eldest daughter. Kim enjoys the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of her imagination and finds herself submerged in the worlds she creates. Imagination has never been in short supply ever since she was a child.

You can visit Kim’s website at www.WorldOfTraegonia.com.

About Traegonia the Ember Rune

Welcome to The World of Traegonia where two young Traegons turn one boy’s ordinary world into something truly extraordinary. Where trees are homes, hawks are transportation, fairies exist and the creatures of the forests have their own stories to tell. Open yourself to possibility that just beyond the forest tree line a very different reality exists.

Traegonia the Ember Rune, the second book in the Traegonia series, continues the adventures of a young boy and a community of, mystical creatures of the forest known as, Traegons. These sixteen inch tall forest dwelling creatures, that resemble a cross between a troll and a wingless dragon, are wise and inquisitive. Although, they may appear scary at first they are actually quite kind and civilized. When Dino is faced with leaving, Karia and Juna, his two young Traegon friends behind when his parents decide to go on vacation, he decides to smuggle them on board a plane to California. His family vacation turns into an adventure of a lifetime when they meet two young girls and a bold and a bit wild young Traegon named Fletch. This Northern California Mountain holds danger, mystery and a path of learning for each of these new friends.  Faced with forces of nature, a rogue cougar and the evolution of their own journeys, the group of unlikely friends must believe in themselves and each other to uncover the meaning of the Ember Rune and get off the mountain safely. New friendships are made, old ones revealed and a new community of Traegons is introduced.  Join Dino, Karia and Juna on this second exciting adventure and decide for yourself…. Do they exist?

Do you Believe?

Q: Thank you for this interview, Kim. Can you tell us what your latest book, Traegonia the Ember Rune, is all about?

I would love to. Traegonia the Ember Rune, is the second book in the Traegonia series and continues the adventures of a young boy and a community of mystical creatures of the forest known as Traegons. These sixteen inch tall forest dwelling creatures that resemble a cross between a troll and a wingless dragon, are wise and inquisitive. Although, they may appear scary at first they are actually quite kind and civilized. When Dino is faced with leaving Karia and Juna, his two young Traegon friends, behind when his parents decide to go on vacation, he decides to smuggle them on board a plane to California. His family vacation turns into an adventure of a lifetime when they meet two young girls and a bold and a bit wild young Traegon named Fletch. This Northern California Mountain holds danger, mystery and a path of learning for each of these new friends. Faced with forces of nature, a rogue cougar and the evolution of their own journeys, the group of unlikely friends must believe in themselves and each other to uncover the meaning of the Ember Rune and get off the mountain safely. New friendships are made, old ones revealed and a new community of Traegons is introduced.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

There are three main characters in the Traegonia series. Dino, a young human boy who befriends two young Traegons, and of course the two young Traegons by the names of Karia and Juna. These three and their friendship is the basis of the series. They will always be at the center of the adventure and learning. The supporting characters are Dino’s mom and dad, his best friend Quinn, the community of Traegons who are where Karia and Juna are from, along with Jade and Autumn two young girls from California and a whole new community of Traegons. There are more characters like the team of smoke jumpers and a young couple who are smaller characters, but I believe that every character is really important to the whole of the book and the series.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

The characters are individual and unique, with their own incredible personalities. Most of the characters are not based off of any one person in particular, but a blend of bits of myself and others, some who I know intimately and others whose mannerisms may have inspired certain elements of different characters; possibly someone who may have simply walked into my booth at one of the shows where I sell my books or stood and talked with me at length about the sculptures, life or nature. There are a handful of characters that are truly based off of particular people and those are the people who have had Dino create sculptures that were made in their likeness or I like to say essence. It is of course not a perfect match; it is a Traegon who embodies a personality, passion, mannerism or maybe just a favorite color. I believe there are maybe four of them. There is also one human character in our first book, Traegonia the Sunbow Prophecy, which was named for someone who gave me permission to use a phrase that fit the story perfectly. He was from the Illinois Audubon Society and as we spoke, some of the things he mentioned oddly enough had already been worked into the story. Some of the characters have names that are based off of the names of mine and Dino’s children. Oh, and I suppose if you count the fact that the main human character is named Dino and the Sculptor and illustrator’s name is Dino, but you will have to figure out if they are one in the same. Because that just might make the book non-fiction. Hummm, is it real?

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I have a general idea of the premise of what the book is going to be about as well as where it is going to go. But for the most part it in itself is as much a journey of discovery and a constant progression that changes and evolves. It is such an exciting way to write. It is also really fun that it is a series that is evolving as the first books have already been released, because you never know who or what may inspire a scene or a character.

Q: Your book is set in the mountains of Northern California. Can you tell us why you chose this area in particular?

I knew the second book would deal with the element of fire and California has beautiful dense forest, and wonderful plant and wildlife that make an awesome addition and perfect place where Traegons would live. There are also several forest fires every year that allowed me to work in the fire aspect to the story line.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely! For the Traegonia books the setting is an integral part of who the characters are, how they live, who the other creatures and humans they will meet will be and what will happen throughout each story. The first two books take place in rural settings, which is where most Traegons are found, but book three is going to be a little different and lots of fun, because we are going to have the opportunity to see Traegons in a very urban setting, one of the largest cities in the United States. Ever misplace or accidentally lose something on the train. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We just might be able to solve that mystery.

Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?

This is such a fun question, and what is even more fun is that this happens to be one of my favorite parts in the book. Oh and just for the record this is page 69 from the paperback. The pages are slightly different from paperback to hardcover. Anyway, here is what is happening.

In the baggage pick up area of the airport the animals are being brought out to the area where they will be picked up. Karia and Juna never made it back into Dino’s suitcase but hitched a ride in a large dog crate with a young hound dog with huge floppy ears named Fanblade. Juna reaches through the front of the crate and unlatches the door. They are waiting for the perfect time to slip out when Fanblade pushed them out of the crate as he escapes himself, into the crowd of people. This becomes the perfect distraction for Karia and Juna to find their way back to their friend Dino.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

I don’t know if this is the best but it is where Karia meets Kamara, for the first time. Kamara is a favorite character in sculpture form; she is a very nontraditional fairy godmother type character. You can see the sculpture of Kamara at our website at http://www.worldoftraegonia.com/meet-the-characters/

Juna pulled the wagon off to the side of the path, and Karia jumped out. She headed back in the direction they had come from. She walked slowly through the market, scanning each cart for the thing that had caught her eye. She stopped at a rickety old crooked wagon, obscured on either side by two large bushes. She looked carefully over the vast array of items on display. Everything lying on the L-shaped stand that jutted out at the back of the open wagon, looked to be very old and somewhat dull. Karia visually examined each piece, hoping that whatever it was that had caught her attention would show itself. She looked over the stand a second time and then wondered if it might have been at a different wagon. As she turned to look at the other wagons, a gravelly voice called her back.

“Is this what you seek, youngling?”

Karia turned slowly back around. Standing before her, shrouded in the shadows, was a Traegon whom she had never seen before, a she-Traegon who looked to be as old as the land itself. When the she-Traegon stepped forward, Karia could see that she was short and bent. She walked with a bit of a limp and had one milky white eye that startled Karia when the old she-Traegon turned her head. On the top of her knurly walking cane was perched a crooked blackbird. He was scrawny, and his feathers were separated, with many missing, as if he were in a constant state of molting. He was unkempt, and his color was dingy, unlike the sleek, shiny black feathers of Oracle Balstar’s raven, Sable. His chirp was more of a raspy squawk. Karia’s eyes followed down the she-Traegons crooked and outstretched arm to an even more crooked hand with long, wiry, bent fingers that held a shiny, circular object. It was flat but thick, a round silver amulet with crude markings and three curved grooves that came from the edges and met in the center. It was a simple piece, not anything stunning.

Karia knew at once it was what she had spotted, even though she had no idea what it was. Little did she know the power it held.

“Yes, that is it! That is what I was searching for,” Karia replied in a puzzled tone. “Was that sitting on this cart moments ago?”

“No, my dear. It has been in a box inside my wagon since I first came to possess it. This, youngling, is not for just any Traegon.”
The old she-Traegon coughed a bit. “I believe everything has one to which it belongs, and I believe this belongs to you.” Her crooked arm reached further out of the shadow of the shaded cart and placed the item into Karia’s hand.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Kim. We wish you much success!

Thank you, for the opportunity to share about our book series and sculpture collection. We invite you to drop by our website at www.worldoftraegonia.com and our Facebook at World of Traegonia to view our sculptures on our meet the characters page and our video clips on our sightings page. Maybe you too will believe!

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Blog Tour + Interview: Whitney Stewart, author of ‘Give Me a Break: No Fuss Meditation’

* * * * *

Whitney Stewart began writing young adult biographies and meditating after she met and interviewed the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, the subject of two of her books, and lived with a Tibetan family in India. For her next biographies, she trekked with Sir Edmund Hillary in Nepal, interviewed Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in her Rangoon home, and climbed along China’s Great Wall to research the lives of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong. In 2004, Stewart published a picture book about the Buddha, which contains a foreword and a meditation suggestion from the 14th Dalai Lama. In addition to nonfiction books, Stewart has published three middle-grade novels. In August 2005, Stewart was trapped in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and evacuated by helicopter from a rooftop. She returned home and volunteered as a creative writing teacher in the public schools. She discovered that her students suffered from post-Katrina stress. Using meditation, improvisation, and word play, Stewart taught her students to write about their lives.

Her latest book is Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation.

You can find more about Whitney Stewart at her website at http://www.whitneystewart.com.  Follow her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/mindfulneworlns and www.twitter.com/whitneystewart2 and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/New.Orleans.Kids.Author.

About Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation

Whitney Stewart’s straightforward, non-denominational guide makes meditation simple. It covers the basics in a concise thirty-three pages: Why meditation is good for you, how to sit, how to let your mind rest, even what to do if you feel weird or uncomfortable during meditation. Most important, it provides sixteen accessible, useful meditations you can easily learn at home. Age ten to adult.

Stewart’s top reasons to meditate:

*To focus inwardly

*To slow down internally

*To develop awareness

*To understand your mind

*To increase tolerance

*To experience “BIG MIND”

* * * * *

Q: Thank you for this interview, Whitney. Can you tell us what your latest book, Give Me a Break: No-Fuss Meditation, is all about?

My ebook is a simple, nondenominational guide to meditation. I include a short introduction and sixteen meditation practices that will help focus the mind. I also include answers to common questions people have about meditation

I wrote this book to communicate the benefits of meditation to anyone who wants to reduce stress, improve health, develop inner wisdom, lead a happier life, and experience a natural state of mind.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I have been a meditator for over twenty-five years, and I see how it has changed my life. During Hurricane Katrina, my son and I were trapped in a building in downtown New Orleans. We had to wait five days for helicopters to rescue us. During that time, I used meditation as a means of staying calm, alleviating fear, and being mindful. When I returned to New Orleans, I volunteered as a creative writing teacher in a public school. I discovered that my students were often stressed, unhappy, and frightened every time the weather turned stormy. They could not concentrate on their work. I taught them to meditate before we did our creative writing exercises. Many of them told me how much they loved to meditate at the beginning of class. This gave me the idea of writing a nondenominational meditation guide that was easy enough for children and detailed enough for adults. My guide is meant for beginners.

Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

I first learned to meditate when I was in high school. And then in 1987, I joined a meditation center and studied with several Tibetan Buddhist teachers. That led me to taking multiple trips to Tibet, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Japan, and India where I practiced meditation with teachers. I also have a full personal library on Buddhism and meditation.

I have written two children’s books on the 14th Dalai Lama, which were based on interviews with him. In one interview, he suggested a meditation technique that was simple enough to teach children. I included this technique in my picture book Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha. Readers asked me for more techniques like that one, so I wrote this book, in part, because of their request.

Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

That meditation is a path to discovering your relaxed, open, natural state of mind.

Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?

Why Meditate?

Let’s face it. Life knocks you around. One minute

you’re happy. The next you want to scream. You don’t get

everything you want, and you don’t want everything you get.

You need a break. Meditation could be the answer.

Meditation calms you down. It helps you find your own

wisdom. It settles your nerves and fills your mind with

space.

 

Lots of people meditate——athletes, actors, dog

trainers, writers, and people like you. They do it wherever

they find a quiet spot——in the living room, in the back

yard, under a tree, in an empty classroom, in the library,

in a tent, on a mountaintop. You don’t have to join a

religious group to meditate. And you don’t have to change

anything about yourself. Meditation is about accepting

yourself with all the bumps and bruises.

 

So go ahead and see for yourself. This book gives you

different meditation exercises. You may not like them all.

That’s fine. Try them and see which ones work for you.

Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today?  How did you do it?

Yes, it is hard to get any book published by a reputable publisher. I started publishing twenty years ago. I researched what publishers wanted and submitted selectively. I also researched my books thoroughly. I started by writing biographies of Nobel laureates and adventurers. If they were still alive, I interviewed them and people who knew them. I tried to find both a narrative hook and a marketing hook; I wanted to give my readers something they had not read before.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake up, meditate, and exercise (yoga and cardio) in the early morning, and write for the rest of the day, every day. Sometimes I take short meditation or movement breaks while I am writing, but I don’t answer the phone or chat with friends until my day’s writing is done. I work at home and often have to wear headphones and listen to ambient music to block out the noise of construction and lawn mowers in the neighborhood.

Q: What’s next for you?

I just finished revising a middle-grade novel set in New Orleans and sent it to my agent. It’s the story of a 14-year-old boy who is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. I look forward to the sale and publication of that book. I also have a picture book coming out with Windy Hollow Books in Australia. It’s a companion book to my Becoming Buddha and will be illustrated by the same illustrator, Sally Rippin. Last Spring I started writing an edgy young adult novel, and I hope to return to that manuscript in January.

Thank you so much for this interview, Whitney.  We wish you much success!

 

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