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Author Update: Dennis Kastendiek

Author Dennis Kastendiek is a master at creating memorable characters whose life circumstances place them squarely in the underdog category. Reviewers call his debut novel, A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per (2020), “a hilarious romp through the world of theater and life undercover” and “brilliantly written, with compelling characters” and the “unique combination of fun and craziness of Some Like it Hot wonking with the television cast of Fame.” For more information about Dennis and his writing, go to his 2018 interview.


What is your elevator pitch for A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per?
Johnny is just an ordinary Kansas high school graduate being raised along with his sister by a single working mother. But he finds himself in a fix when pranking with his sister results in her broken leg just before a community playhouse review that their mother is overseeing. Catering contracts have been signed, the costumes and set designed and created, rental on the playhouse paid in advance. Johnny learned all his sister’s lines watching rehearsals. Their mother doesn’t need to draw a picture for the guilty Johnny — he must fill in for his sister. The story was written online with a pen pal, swapping scenes and chapters over many months. The characters are original, a lot of the story arc built around classics like Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot and Gelbart and Mcguire’s Tootsie. The pathetic hero and his/her surrounding performers just happen to be much younger.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
A major challenge was to keep this oft-told tale fresh. We tried to do that by focusing on the characters and their motivations. Johnny’s mother loses her job at Walmart because of having to drive her daughter to and from doctor appointments and rehabilitation sessions. A talent scout lazily passing through another hayseed town stops to watch the local play and is astounded by the talents of the lead actress. One of his major clients is looking for a star to act in what is hoped will be a blockbuster aimed largely at a teenage audience. Hence a seven-month contract at four thousand per is the carrot dangled in front of Johnny/Johnnie (the lead “actress”). The snowball starts rolling from there.

Tell us how the book came together.
A lot of the foundation was in exchanging ideas and scenarios with my coauthor. He has traveled more widely than I have, so I relied on him for the “road story” expertise. We included another Kansas cast member, Johnny’s good friend (and secret crush) Laura, noted by the talent scout and invited to join the traveling troupe. Johnny would now have at least one friend “in” on his crazy conspiracy. The writing itself took months. We rejected ideas, modified others, those kinds of things.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
Johnny and his friend Laura, the town minister’s daughter, are put on a Greyhound to California by their respective parents. Johnny gets put through a wringer but is determined to keep a roof over the heads of his mother and sister. He doesn’t see any other way to earn twenty-eight thousand dollars to do so. Family is his main motive. Laura has had a long dream of attaining stardom and is swept off her feet by another cast member after they arrive in California. Johnny’s hopes of rooming with Laura are thus dashed. A woman named Patricia overhears Johnny’s dilemma and offers to room with “her.” Johnny now has a new deception to portray. When Patricia senses something rotten in Denmark, Johnny invents a false story to share with her, that he is transsexual. Patricia accepts the tale. Good motives and strange mischief.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
That’s a particularly good question. I’m in a critique group with well-known western writer Melody Groves. As I read my chapters, she kept saying, “I can just see these kids, the bus they travel in, the cities they travel to. This would make a great one of those ‘Afterschool Movies.’” So, long story short, I wouldn’t mind the whole thing as a movie.

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while doing research for this book?
One interesting fact I discovered came from my coauthor. There’s a scene in the book where Johnny and Laura are rolling their luggage from a bus toward a taxi stand. My coauthor had several careers, one of them working on the Apollo Project. My character makes the comment, “I can’t believe we landed a man on the moon before luggage makers decided to put wheels on luggage.” Again, I took his word on that.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Favorite is a tough word to pin down. My favorite genre is just plain good writing. The swapping of paragraphs and scenes and chapters between my coauthor in Kansas and me in Albuquerque was fun. But for a long time I really didn’t think the resulting book was publishable. It needed work. Melody Groves (mentioned above) invited me into her critique group. Advice poured like welcome rain. After all the revision I put into it, my coauthor offered me author credit. I share that gracious gesture of his in the acknowledgments. So I guess my favorite role was being part of a shared effort. This book, like the Apollo Project my coauthor worked on, was a team effort. A goldanged dude landed on the moon. I just hope readers get a similar kick from reading about this straight kid in a dire bind as I got from writing the thing.

Before writing A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per, you were predominately a short story writer. What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
The swirling and often moving trip of the short story draws me to that genre. I often reread Salinger’s magnificent “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” I find the quiet space that I need, and I enter that other world, that other dimension as another great named Serling put it, and the story washes over me. The war, the girl with the oversized watch and the semi-obnoxious little brother, the rain, the wisecracks with Clay about pussycats and stamp collections. They all wash over me, and I find myself crying my heart out. Singers like Hank Williams, Neil Young, a retired mailman named John Prine, a Canadian named Leonard Cohen can do the same. They distill the essence of life. They age it in them old oaken barrels. Then they pour it all gently into a glass and silently ask, “Have you ever tasted anything like this before?”

When you start a new writing project, do you have a theme or message in mind or is that something that develops as the story unfolds?
I think every one of my stories started differently. If you read my collection, I partially hope you think, “THIS is the same guy who wrote THAT?” I try not to write the same story twice. In my reflective old age, I wish I had been more prolific. But I’m somewhat happy about the curs I unleashed on this world.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like my readers to know that I’m just like them. I don’t want to be a carnival barker or a rich encyclopedia salesman whose product is going to go out of date in about a year. I’d like to be remembered as someone who told a few stories, maybe left behind a few tears, a few smiles, a few laughs. Maybe a thought: this place can be better.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Esther Jantzen

Esther Jantzen is a former high school teacher turned author. A long-time family literacy advocate, she published Way to Go! Family Learning Journal in 2006 (now out of print) and Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids (2009). She turned to writing fiction after a 500-mile pilgrimage sparked the idea for her first novel for pre-teens. WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago (July 2020) follows the missteps, adventures, and heroism of an 11-year-old boy on a pilgrimage across Spain with his home-schooling family. You’ll find Esther on her Amazon author page.


When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I’ve heard from some readers that they cried (“good crying”) at the end of WALK. That pleases me. I assume they were touched by Jamie’s spunk in facing a rash of disappointments, choices, and problems — and that they felt relief and pride in his kid-like humility as he meets the moment, encounters unexpected, happy results, and earns a touch of fame. I’m guessing that the readers’ tears were tears of joy because the family is unified at the end, proud of their youngest member, and understands that the whole Camino experience had cracked him (and each of them) open to a new generous way of being.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge for me was making what was essentially a travelogue — characters going from place to place and seeing interesting things — into a compelling narrative with suspense, tension, betrayal, wins and losses, and plenty of growth in the characters. Those are the elements that make a good story.

Who is your main character, and what will readers like most about him?
The main character in WALK is eleven-year-old Jamie Bacon — a clumsy pre-teen whose natural curiosity snaps him out of grumbling resistance and awakens his integrity, awe, leadership, and willingness to help others. He’s up against a quarrelsome older sister, a bossy mother, and a mostly absent father as he discovers that friendships and attachments are fleeting because of the nature of a pilgrimage. Readers will like Jamie’s honesty, enthusiasm, imagination, and willingness to both stand up and back down. His troubles and adventures make him learn and change and ultimately lead to him keeping his word.

How does the story’s setting impact the characters?
The setting for WALK is mighty unusual: an ancient 500-mile route of rough trails, cow paths, woodland walks, scary highways, mountain passes, and urban streets that starts in France, goes over the Pyrenees, and winds through Northern Spain to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. This location has been known for about 1200 years as El Camino de Santiago. The setting serves almost as a character — challenging, wooing, deceiving, confusing, wowing, and educating pilgrims.

What topics explored in WALK make the book a perfect fit for the classroom?
By design, I think many elements in the book make it a valuable teaching: 1) the hero’s journey narrative structure; 2) the geography, history, references to art, architecture, European literary classics; 3) its values orientation — toward compassion, personal responsibility, honesty, forgiveness, flexibility, initiative, and service; 4) as an introduction to another culture and some of its language; 5) the depiction of a certain parenting style, showing how sibling issues might resolve and the value of allowing children to have their own experiences; and 6) how students can document an experience, work collaboratively, study independently, and more. I was a long-time classroom teacher. I wanted this book to have multiple layers so teachers can emphasize what they think is most needed. And incidentally, I think WALK can be useful for parents, perhaps as a means to inspire them to risk a bit and do more expansive things with their children. Plus, home-schooling families may enjoy many aspects of the story.

Tell us how the book came about.
The idea to write a children’s book about the Camino came to me on my first walk in 2008: I wanted to convey to my family and friends, (and especially grandkids) a sense of the fun, beauty, physical challenge, freedom, and expansion I experienced. How hard could that be, I naively (arrogantly) wondered. Well, it took twelve years before WALK appeared in print. I had to learn how to write fiction (dialog, plot, setting, theme…); learn the conventions and scope of the middle-grade novel as a genre; and become informed about the history and legends of the Camino (which I did through both reading/research and returning twice more to walk the Camino). Further, I had to grasp what real editing and cutting of 30,000 words felt like. Then I experienced the challenge of seeking and not landing a traditional publisher. Eventually I had to face all the decisions, frustrations, and costs of independent publishing. Was it worth it? Absolutely, yes! I love the result that came from my collaboration with my cover illustrator, my graphic designer, mapmaker, and others.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Three things, not one, from this project were incredibly rewarding: 1) the travel and research that I did to make the book as accurate as possible; 2) what I did to bolster my knowledge of children’s lit — reading several hundred Newbery Award and Honor books; and 3) the lifestyle change that I chose (selling my home and becoming a nomadic house sitter), because I so enjoyed the freedom of the Camino. This book feels like my legacy. I have other story/novel ideas, but who knows what will become of them.

What did you learn from working with the cover illustrator for WALK?
The trick to working with a cover illustrator, I found, is to walk a line between being very clear about what you want (and that clarity is not easy to come by), and trusting or allowing the illustrator’s artistic gifts and sensibility to shape something that may be far better than what you thought you wanted.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had started earlier. I’m retired now, yet I have a dynamite idea I’d like to shape into a book. But it’s a complicated concept and would require years of research. Also, there are different priorities in the world now. I feel a strong responsibility to do work toward climate solutions. Writing another novel seems like an indulgence, almost misdirected energy. So I’m on the fence about what’s next for me, although marketing WALK will be a priority for a while.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2021 Call for Submissions: SWW Annual Writing Contest


The SouthWest Writers 2021 Annual Writing Contest is open for submissions. The competition encourages first-time writers as well as seasoned professionals. You do not have to be a member of SouthWest Writers to enter.

First-, second-, and third-place winners will be awarded in twelve categories for fiction/nonfiction prose and eight categories for poetry.

Deadline: Midnight May 31, 2021 (Mountain Time).
Fee: $10 for each entry.
Submission: Online only.
Awards: First place, $50. Second place, $25. Third place, $10. Winners in each category have the option to be published in the next SWW contest anthology.

CONTEST RULES

  • Each entry must be an original work, in English, not published electronically or in print anywhere.
  • No limit on number of entries per person. The same piece can be entered in more than one category but will cost $10 for each entry/category.
  • All entries must be submitted electronically via the SWW website, using .doc or docx file format. NO mailed entries accepted.
  • Prose: Limited to 3,500 words.
  • Poetry: Limited to 250 lines.

Go to the SouthWest Writers contest page for more details and to enter the contest. Good luck!




Author Update: Jasmine Tritten

Jasmine Tritten is an artist, poet, memoirist, and short story writer whose work can be found in over a dozen publications. In her second memoir, On the Nile with a Dancing Dane (August 2020), she explores the land of the pharaohs while following her love for dance and the Egyptian culture. Visit Jasmine on Facebook and her Amazon author page. Read her 2016 SWW interview to learn about her debut memoir, The Journey of an Adventuresome Dane. And in a 2019 interview, she and husband Jim discuss their first children’s book collaboration.


What would you like readers to know about On the Nile with a Dancing Dane?
The book is an adventurous travel memoir filled with mystery and surprises, from galloping a horse in the Sahara Desert to belly dancing on the Nile River. It’s a safe and inexpensive way to travel with me to Egypt, exploring the land of the pharaohs before iPhones and computers.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
About 37 years ago, when I went on a trip to Egypt, I wrote by hand a detailed journal. I used the journal to write this memoir. Photos were taken at the time using a plastic Brownie camera with one white button. I had to scan all the small photos into my computer and enhance them.

When did you know you wanted to write a second memoir?
While joining a critique group in Albuquerque, I shared one of my short stories from Egypt. Afterwards the leader of the group said to me, “I don’t want you to tell me about your adventures. I want you to take me with you on a trip to Egypt.” That triggered something in me to write the memoir and show (rather than tell) the reader about my experiences.

Tell us how the book came together.
In the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic, I started writing the book and then worked on it every day, since I had all the time in the world. After the summer, I used several beta readers to go through every page. Finally, I took it through two editing programs on the computer (AutoCrit and Grammarly). The book cover, the eight ink drawings, and the six scratchboard images I created myself. In August 2020, I self-published the memoir with the help of my husband.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Rewriting and editing. Deciding which photos and artwork to use.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
When somebody in one of the reviews of On the Nile with a Dancing Dane said, “I was entertained with exciting experiences at every turn of the road – or river. I felt as if the author had slipped me into her backpack, and I was with her every step of the way.”

How did you become interested in memoir specifically, as opposed to fiction?
Because I have lived an exciting life and written detailed journals since I was a young girl, I have so much material to use that I don’t need to make up any stories.

What advice do you have for discouraged writers?
Write down what comes to your mind right away without worrying about whether it is good or bad. Later, you can work on the writing and make it into a good story.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My next project will be writing a memoir about a trip to Greece I made long before iPhones and computers were invented. The Universe is pushing me in that direction.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee is a world wanderer from Southern Ontario, Canada, who now makes his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Following the release of his award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo (2019), he published a second travel memoir in 2020, Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower. You’ll find Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as his website NeillMckeeAuthor.com. Read his 2019 SWW interview to learn about his first memoir.


What would you like readers to know about your newest book?
My travel memoir starts in 2017 in Ontario, Canada, as I uncover the stories of my rather religious McKee Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada (Chapters 1 to 3). In Chapter 4, I follow the trail of my maternal grandfather, John Addison Neill (my given name is my mother’s maiden name), who enters the USA in 1899, becomes a Methodist minister, and marries a woman in Wisconsin by the name of Effie Jane Haskins. Chapters 5 to 7 are about my grandparents’ adventures as they move west to Nebraska and Wyoming, still very much a part of the Wild West during 1895-1907. The remainder of the book (Chapters 8 to 17) takes the reader deeper into North American history as I discover the stories of my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, in the Civil War. Other ancestors fought in the American Revolution, The French and Indian War, and King Philip’s War, which involved a bloody struggle between some of my Puritan ancestors in New England and the Native Americans they displaced, enslaved, indentured, or killed. Throughout the book, I compare American and Canadian early settlement, the role of religion, wars, the rule of law, and gun control.

What sets this book apart from other travel memoirs?
Many people search for their roots on Ancestry.com or other websites, and in libraries. Often, they end up with pages of family trees, which may be of interest to a few cousins but make most others’ eyes glaze over. I took a different approach and traveled to the places my ancestors lived, farmed, struggled, fought, and prayed, so that I could meet distant cousins, uncover new stories, take photos, and gain insights on the memoir’s theme: the conflict between guns and gods in my genes. I also had a personal challenge to answer that adds some tension: Should I, a peaceful Canadian writer in his 70s living in New Mexico, also become a citizen of gun-happy USA? Throughout the book I use vivid descriptions, historical analysis with some of my own interpretations, dialog, accounts of on-the-spot detective work, lyrical prose, uncovered ancient poems (and one of my own on a “Rowdy Man” ancestor in Connecticut), and 116 photos and illustrations. The pages are unencumbered by tables and chapter notes, which are placed at the back.

When did you know you wanted to write this second memoir?
During my 45-year career in international development, I lacked the time to properly write the stories of my adventures in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and more recently Russia. After I retired in 2012, I began writing Finding Myself in Borneo, the story of my first job after university. (It has won three awards and gained over 25 five-star reviews.) Simultaneously, during 2013-15, I visited my aging mother in Ontario, traveling from my home in Maryland a few times a year. My dad, who died in 2007, was always interested in old family history but never had the time nor the skills to do much research or writing. I discovered the beginnings of interesting stories in his old files, and I reached out to cousins, one living uncle, and three remaining aunts. I found many leads on both sides of the family and interviewed family members in person, picking up more stories, photos, and records. That’s when I knew I had another book to write. Also, by getting my DNA tested on Ancestry.com, I matched with distant cousins who had additional stories, records, and photos.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to verify some genealogical links, which, with my own skills in genealogy research, proved challenging. So, I hired researchers at the New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Boston, to do the refined work. I tracked down all the birth, marriage, and death certificates I could find, but NEHGS found some missing links and submitted my application to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Plymouth, Massachusetts, and it was accepted. I also visited the Mayflower Society in Plymouth for help in verifying other New England ancestors of interest — many through female lineage.

Tell us more about how the book came together.
When I began the genealogical search on the Canadian side of my family in 2013, I only had a few records and stories from my father and cousins, but did extensive interviews with my only living uncle. On the US side, I had quite a few leads from a now-deceased cousin to whom I dedicated the book. These were anecdotes, website stories, etc. and a lot from Ancestry.com and other records. My cousin had done a great job, and between 2013 and 2015, I put these all together in two 200-page documents — one on my paternal side and one on my maternal side. They are more traditional genealogical accounts and, although I knew they would be interesting to my extended family, I wanted to write the story of our ancestors in a way that would be of interest to a much wider audience.

In 2015, after my wife and I settled in Albuquerque, I began writing stories for the book. That year, I also joined a graduate workshop in creative nonfiction led by Professor Diane Thiel at the Department of English, University of New Mexico. At the same time, I worked on Finding Myself in Borneo, and some of my submissions were on that subject. The feedback I received in these sessions was invaluable. I joined Professor Thiel’s 2016 workshop on writing poetry, as well, and also attended SWW workshops, which helped with both books.

For Guns and Gods in My Genes, I carried out the real travel research during the summers of 2017 to 2019, when I clocked 15,000 miles through Ontario and 22 US states. Besides going to the very places where my ancestors lived and died, I visited many historical museums and societies to dig up more facts and stories, and to uncover mistakes other amateur genealogists (like myself) had made and put on Ancestry.com. The receptions I received from local historians and museum curators were overwhelmingly positive.

Who are a few favorite “characters” you discovered from among your ancestors?
By following female lineage (Neill/Haskins or Hoskins, Robinson, Stevens, Gallop, Thacher, Conant, Fuller), I found real rascals and Indian fighters, as well as some fair and saintly people in my genes. For instance, Reverend Thomas Thacher, first pastor of the Old South Boston Meeting House, was a reformist and “Renaissance Man.” And Roger Conant, founder of Salem, Massachusetts, argued against the increasingly fanatical Puritans — people who brought us the infamous Salem Witch Trials. I also take readers into the foundations of, and myths about, the Puritan Pilgrims and their worldview through two visits to the recreation of “Plimoth” Plantation, Plymouth, MA. There I meet and humorously dialog with educator-actors playing the roles of real Pilgrims such as Samuel Fuller, the colony’s quack doctor and brother of my ninth great-grandfather, Edward Fuller, who came on the Mayflower with his unnamed wife in 1620. (They died in the first winter, but I descend from his son who came to New England in 1640.)

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
The discovery through travel was the most rewarding, especially meeting like-minded people with a similar interest in preserving and documenting history. For instance, when I met the people who own the great Haskins house in Windsor, Connecticut, built in 1750, they immediately welcomed me and showed me all around the property, telling me more stories about the place. My former training in communication research helped me uncover myths and mistakes people make by not checking and triangulating facts. In my memoir, I document how this happens and how to avoid it. I also loved listening to many books on US and Canadian history, usually while walking and making notes. I have a pretty full library and, besides the 21 pages of chapter notes, I include a suggested reading list at the end of the book.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments when doing research for this book?
There are many “wow! moments” in my book. Here are two:

  • On top of a hill in Virginia I walk along still-visible trenches used by Confederate soldiers in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864). I then take an eerie walk down the hill into the woods where my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, a 20-year-old foot soldier in the 7th Wisconsin Regiment (a part of the famous Iron Brigade) received a gunshot in the leg from the Confederate trenches above. (This was his last battle of his two years in the war. He had also endured more dangerous episodes of sickness in rudimentary, unsanitary hospitals.)
  • Through perseverance, I keep asking locals in a small town in western New York, if they know possible descendants of my Stevens ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. The clues I gather finally lead me to an 82-year-old flower farmer who, 25 years ago, had researched his whole ancestry through 25 generations and documented it all in a thick binder. He invited me in for a cup of coffee and a long chat, and this distant cousin and I still keep in touch.

Do you have a favorite quote from Guns and Gods in My Genes?
Here is a short lyrical prose piece from Chapter 6 (“Reverend Neill in the Aftermath of Wounded Knee”), when my maternal grandparents lived in Nebraska during 1904-05. It demonstrates how slim a chance any of us have of being born:

The Prince Albert Suit Coat, 1905: My grandpa Neill, a Methodist pastor, preached one Sunday morning in Rushville, Nebraska, then left for his other churches, 20 miles away. Warmed by a buffalo coat, he drove his sleigh pulled by Indian ponies through drifting snow, arriving in time for evensong. Realizing he’d forgotten his Prince Albert suit coat, with two more sermons to preach on Monday, back he and his ponies went in the cold calm moonlight. Opening the door, he found the house so still, his family breathing in deadly vapors. Grandma had dampened down the coal stove too soon. But Grandpa pulled her and their four children outside — all saved by love for that coat, his mysterious pride.

When writing memoir, is a writer’s responsibility to the truth of the facts or to his perception/feelings about what occurred?
I believe a memoir writer must pay attention to both truth and perceptions/feelings. It is even more important to follow the facts carefully in writing a historical memoir like this, where much has been written about the time and places in which the writer’s ancestors lived. I did extensive research and reading on North American history. But obviously my background, education, perceptions, political leaning, and temperament determined some interpretations in creative nonfiction. If these factors did not play a part in what I wrote, the book would have turned out as a dry piece of academic writing, possibly of interest to a few historians and genealogists only. I hired Pamela Yenser, SWW member, as my literary editor for this book (as well as my Borneo book). She helped a lot with methods of marrying facts and creativity. I tried to rise to the challenge of writing a book which would have wider appeal in both Canada and the US.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have simultaneously been writing a memoir about my own beginnings in Ontario, Canada, which incorporates some of the stories that are not used in Guns and Gods in My Genes. It also connects with my Borneo memoir. It is presently being sent out for reactions and pre-publication reviews. Here is a brief write-up:

Kid on the Go! Memoir of my life before Borneo is Neill McKee’s third work in creative nonfiction. It is a prequel to his first work in the genre, the award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah. In this short book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, early adolescence, and teenage years, while growing up in the small industrially polluted town of Elmira in Southern Ontario, Canada — now infamous as one of the centers for production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Each chapter is set to a different theme on how he learned to keep “on the go.” McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog and self-drawn illustrations provide much humor and poignant moments in his stories of growing up in a loving family. In a way, the book is a travel memoir through both mental and physical space — a study of a young boy’s learning to observe and avoid dangers; to cope with death in the family; to fish, hunt, play cowboys; to learn the value of work and how to build and repair “escape” vehicles. The memoir explores his experiences with exploding hormones, his first attraction to girls, dealing with bullying, how he rebelled against religion and authority and survived the conformist teenager rock-and-roll culture of the early 1960s, coming out the other side with the help of influential teachers and mentors. After finally leaving his hometown, McKee describes his rather directionless but intensely searching years at university. Except for an emotional afterword and revealing postscript, the story ends when he departs to become a volunteer teacher on the Island of Borneo — truly a “kid on the go!”


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #4

Joseph Badal, Sarah H. Baker, Neill McKee, Jodi Lea Stewart, and several authors in the Corrales Writing Group represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with new 2020 books published in a variety of genres. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of interviewed SWW authors for books published in 2020.


Joseph Badal’s 2020 release, Payback (Suspense Publishing), is his newest standalone novel. When Bruno Pedace learns that his investment banking partners are setting him up to take the fall for their own corrupt practices, he does what he has always done — run away. But the documents he takes with him put a target on his back. He changes his name and, for nine years, goes underground, until an assassin tracks him down in California and badly injures him. Befriended by Janet Jenkins, a courageous woman who works in a battered women’s shelter, Bruno, for the first time in his life, with Janet’s help, fights back. He constructs an ingenious financial scheme to get payback for the crimes perpetrated by his former partners.

Visit Joe’s website at JosephBadalBooks.com and his Amazon author page.


After publishing more than 20 novels, Sarah H. Baker has released the first in a speculative fiction series, Promise Me Tomorrow: Book 1: The Prisoner (August 2020). More than three generations after the collapse of civilization and decades of Utopian peace, New Village is suddenly attacked. Villagers are killed and precious supplies are stolen, but one of the injured bandits is left behind. Kole, Protector of New Village, can’t turn her out; she won’t survive. If he allows her to stay, will he be able to keep his children and the other villagers safe? All her life, Shylah has fought for everything: scratch, cover, her very life. But in this strange place, marks work together, and they even take care of their mutts. Won’t Bryce be pleased when he comes back to get her? Now she knows their secrets. They won’t survive a day.

Visit Sarah’s website at SarahHanberryBaker.com. Promise Me Tomorrow can be found on Amazon.


In Guns and Gods in My Genes (December 2020), Neill McKee takes the reader through 400 years and 15,000 miles of an on-the-road adventure, discovering stories of his Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada and a trail that heads south and west into the United States. Much to his surprise, McKee finds his American ancestors were involved in every major conflict on North American soil: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French and Indian War. In the last chapters, he reveals his Pilgrim ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth in 1620, and their Puritan descendants who fought in the early Indian Wars of New England. With the help of professional genealogical research, he tracks down and tells the stories of the heroes, villains, rascals, as well as, the godly and ordinary folk in his genes, discovering many facts and exposing myths.

Guns and Gods in My Genes can be ordered from Albuquerque bookstores (such as Organic Books and Bookworks), as well as from Neill’s website at NeillMckeeAuthor.com and Amazon.


Jodi Lea Stewart published her sixth book, TRIUMPH: a Novel of the Human Spirit, in September 2020. 1903: Deep in the Louisiana swamps, five-year-old Willy is kidnapped by a Vodou Priestess. One day, he will fight bloody battles in France and come face-to-face with the horrors of Vodou. In bustling New Orleans, bachelor Jack — a former Texas Ranger — has an encounter with a young beauty hiding in his hotel room. What she wants and needs will change his life forever. 1958: St. Louis, two girls of different races, Mercy and Annie, meet in the fifth grade. Together, they secretly explore St. Louis via bus and streetcar, encountering cultural prejudices at every turn — including from within one girl’s own family. The turbulent times and the Civil Rights Movement will test the girls’ loyalty and affect their choices on the way to adulthood. In a saga spanning from 1903 to 1968, compelling characters navigate the stormy paths of life in New Orleans, St. Louis, and Texas until they all collide in a startling and dramatic way.

Visit Jodi’s Amazon author page.


Kale is a Four Letter Word (Artemesia Publishing, September 2020) is the sixth anthology published by the Corrales Writing Group (members Chris Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, James John Tritten, and Patricia Walkow). Kale has invaded our culture as the go-to food for healthy living, appearing everywhere on restaurant menus, in grocery stores, and in beauty products like soaps and scrubs. For some, the vitamin load and beneficial fiber cannot outweigh the bitterness and texture of this member of the cabbage family. For those people, kale has ignited a passionate response, often reflected in internet memes and T-shirt slogans. This collection of short stories shows kale in a new light. A couple of tales are horror stories about kale’s effect on a life; another one describes a speculative history of kale; one is a murder mystery where kale plays an unusual role; and one is a fantasy about kale’s rivalry with cauliflower. This book also features delicious kale recipes.

Visit Corrales Writing Group’s Amazon author page.


SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
Wilmettie
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #3

Authors William Fisher, Cornelia Gamlem, Larry Kilham, BR Kingsolver, RJ Mirabal, and Lynne Sturtevant represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with 2020 releases in the genres of historical fiction, business, biography, and several speculative fiction sub-genres. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of interviewed SWW authors for books published in 2020.


William Fisher’s debut novel, Cruel Road (October 2020), is a mid-eighteenth-century historical drama. John Fraser, Scots-Irish gunsmith and militiaman, faces a difficult dilemma when his new and pregnant wife is taken captive by a local tribal chief. This is the story of real-life John and Jane Fraser, among the first settlers of western Pennsylvania. Their lives are challenged by Indian conflicts, French and English fighting over territory, and survival in the Pennsylvania wilderness. The book is a dramatization of true events. Most characters are actual historical characters. John and Jane Fraser are the author’s direct ancestors. Some characters are fictional, and certain actions and descriptions are conjecture.

Visit Bill’s Amazon author page.


They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace (September 2020) is Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell’s newest nonfiction release. People have been misbehaving at work since work began. If you’ve ever been curious about workplace misbehavior, this book just might hold some answers. A compilation of stories collected from HR and other business leaders have been woven into a narrative that showcases the challenges HR professionals face daily in dealing with employees. They Did What? is funny, sad, and most definitely unbelievable—except it is all based on actual situations.

Visit Cornelia’s Amazon author page.


In Destiny Strikes Twice: James L. Breese Aviator and Inventor (November 2020), Larry Kilham tells the true story of the flight engineer on the first transatlantic flight in 1919 who went on to develop 130 patents for home and military space heaters. Dismissing a high society Long Island life, Jim moved to New Mexico in 1929 to start fresh in the unencumbered West. There he built his oil burner business with sales in the millions of dollars. The twists and turns through his adventure-packed life reveal lessons for everyone including many insights for aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs.

Visit Larry’s Amazon author page.


BR Kingsolver published three novels in 2020 (read the interview for Knights Magica here). The two most recent releases are in the new Rift Chronicles series. In Magitek (book 1, August 2020), the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Danica James’ grandfather wanted to end war. Instead, he broke the world. Through the Rift came demons, vampires, and monsters. Danica is a cop with the Arcane Division. She’s also a magitek. Her job is to clean up her grandfather’s mess. She’s not making much progress.

In book two, War Song (December 2020), Danica James is still a cop with the Arcane Division who works to protect humanity from monsters — whether they be human or creatures from the Rift. It beats sitting in a factory cubical all day, which is where magiteks usually work. Most of humanity hates the magic users who rule the world, but for a hundred years, the Magi have kept the demons, vampires, and other monsters in check. But now one Magi Family has allied itself with the demons in a bid for world domination. It was ugly before, but now it’s getting worse.

Visit the author’s Amazon author page.


RJ Mirabal’s newest release is the young adult fantasy Dragon Train (December 2020). Jaiden, a 15-year-old farm boy, dreams of a more exciting life in a world where people have enslaved dragons as beasts of burden, guard animals, and soldiers. He has never been more than a few miles beyond his farm and the quiet village of Hilltop. Yet Jaiden desires escape from his grouchy and somewhat abusive father. And then the dragon train makes an unscheduled stop in Hilltop. Skye, the huge Blue Dragon pulling the train, may die of exhaustion unless someone can help. Thus, a boy and dragon embark on an epic adventure in the hopes of fulfilling their longing for freedom, excitement, and happiness.

Visit RJ’s website and his book page.


Fairy Trouble (September 2020), by Lynne Sturtevant, is a contemporary Celtic fairy tale. People used to know the truth about fairies and they were afraid of them. When visiting homemaker Ginger Stewart encounters a troop of fairies in the wild, green hills of West Virginia, she learns magic is real. She also learns our ancestors were right. There are reasons to be afraid. Ginger is astounded when a fairy attacks her while she’s calling on an elderly client, Violet. Violet has spent her life hiding the fairies and protecting them from the outside world. But something has changed. The fairies have become angry and aggressive and she has no idea how to pacify them. As the mayhem escalates, Ginger and Violet negotiate a maze of folklore, ancient symbols, and dark family secrets. Will they find a way to restore equilibrium to the fairies before it’s too late?

Visit Lynne’s Amazon author page.


SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
Wilmettie
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #2

Parris Afton Bonds, Loretta Hall, Esther Jantzen, Dennis Kastendiek, and Paula Paul are a few examples of the dedicated members of SouthWest Writers. Each of these authors represents a different genre, but all pushed through the craziness of 2020 to see their work published. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

A list of previously interviewed SWW authors with 2020 releases is included at the end of this post.


In The Barons (Lagan Press, July 2020), the second entry in the Texicans saga, New York Times bestselling author Parris Afton Bonds tells a tale of intrigue and loyalty stretched to the breaking point. Politics, plunder, passion, profit, and power collide in a new and bountiful land through the eyes of the Paladín family, a captivating, richly-painted cast of characters playing out their lives against the backdrop of history. Their loves, their desires, their perils and rewards — all rendered in service to create a new state in America’s southwest — take on an urgency and realism unlike any before.

With the third volume in her Texicans saga, The Bravados (Lagan Press, November 2020), Parris Afton Bonds weaves a spellbinding tale of love, hate, revenge, and reconciliation set against the milieu of the turn of the twentieth century. From the streets of Dallas to the oil fields of Louisiana and the blood-soaked jungles of Cuba, the Paladíns find themselves caught in the great struggle between the traditions of the past and the technologies that will shape the future. Can bonds of blood withstand such tides of change? What about the feuds of ages long past? With true-to-life characters, high drama, and painstaking authenticity, The Bravados is a masterpiece of epic romance.

Visit Parris at ParrisAftonBonds.com and on her Amazon author page.


Higher, Faster, Longer: My Life in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight (Traitmarker Books, 2020), by Wally Funk and award-winning nonfiction author Loretta Hall, tells the story of a unique American space pioneer. Since she was a girl in a Superman cape jumping off the family barn and stargazing from the slopes of Taos Mountain, Wally Funk has kept going higher, faster, and longer every time she saw an opportunity. She soared through the aviation program in college, landing herself a flight instructor position after graduation. From there, she set a record in astronaut testing. The scuttling of the Mercury 13 program didn’t stop Wally, who used her dreams to fuel an adventure-studded life. Traveling the world, shattering glass ceilings, and always keeping one eye on the stars, Wally relentlessly, joyfully reached higher, flew faster, and traveled longer on her way to space.

You’ll find all of Loretta’s books on her Amazon author page.


In September 2020, Esther Jantzen published WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago, her first fiction book for children and young adults. This is the story of Jamie Bacon who’s angry at his parents for making him walk 500 miles in Spain as part of their homeschooling plan. He’s especially disappointed that his dad can’t come along, which means he’ll be alone with his mom and sister. But when Jamie meets Father Diego and hears the backstory of the Camino de Santiago, he becomes intrigued. And when he naively agrees to the request by two pilgrims to secretly carry a heavily taped envelope, unopened, all the way to Santiago de Compostela, Jamie is stuck with keeping his word and finishing the very long walk.

Visit Esther on her Amazon author page.


Dennis Kastendiek’s first novel, A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per (September 2020), tells the hilarious story of Johnny, a small-town Kansas high school graduate who feels guilty after a prank results in his sister breaking a leg just before her community playhouse debut. Fortunately (or not), Johnny learned all her lines while watching her rehearsals. And when a talent scout passing through town sees a girl he thinks is the most gifted actress to be found on the plains in ages, shit really hits the fan for Johnny/Johnnie. Broadway, here he/she comes! Reviewers call the story “brilliantly written, with compelling characters” and “plenty of bumps and thumps to enlighten and delight.”


Murder is Contagious (February 2020) is Paula Paul’s sixth installment in her Alexandra Gladstone Mystery series. Several children have died in a measles outbreak in the village of Newton-Upon-Sea. Equally as frightening is what begins to look like an epidemic of murder that may be related in some way to the measles contagion. Dr. Alexandra Gladstone finds herself deeply involved in both threats. Not only is her own life endangered, but the lives of members of her own household are at risk. Her attempts to stop both epidemics are hampered by the reappearance of an old lover who threatens to reveal secrets from Dr. Gladstone’s past.

Visit Paula at PaulaPaul.net and on her Amazon author page.


SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
Wilmettie
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #1

François-Marie Patorni, Donna Pedace, Shirley Raye Redmond, and Jasmine Tritten represent a few of the nonfiction authors among the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW). The new releases in this post couldn’t fit into the 2020 interview schedule, but look for interviews/updates for these authors in 2021.

A list of previously interviewed SWW authors with 2020 releases is included at the end of this post.


François-Marie Patorni’s The French in New Mexico: Four Centuries of Exploration, Adventure, and Influence (April 2020) is the first history of the French in New Mexico. In the book, the author chronicles the lives of French-speaking people from France, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Africa, and the Caribbean Islands; of people with French ancestry who retained some of their French culture; and of people with strong connections to France. The book traces their presence in New Mexico from the 1500s to present times. It tells the stories of influential, unusual, or colorful characters, and those who are not as well-remembered — explorers, adventurers, fur trappers and traders, soldiers, merchants, priests, farmers and ranchers, business people, scientists, artists, actors, politicians, lawyers, criminals, women of note, intellectuals, and other influencers in society.

Visit François-Marie’s website FrenchInNewMexico.com.


Scandalous Women Of The Old West: Women Who Dared To Be Different (September 2020), by Donna Pedace, profiles ten amazing women who lived in the Old West. They dared to step outside the traditional roles of wife and mother, and left society’s conventions behind them. These women engaged in a wide range of interests and professions, and their stories will inspire and entertain. They overcame incredible odds to make a place for themselves in their chosen world, despite the sometimes strong objections of both men and women. Each blazed new trails for women who would come after them.

Visit Donna’s Amazon author page.


Award-winning author Shirley Raye Redmond’s newest nonfiction release is Brave Heroes and Bold Defenders: 50 True Stories of Daring Men of God (Harvest House Publishers, 2020). In the book, readers will meet men who have used their God-given talents to live out their faith to the fullest. The fifty featured defenders of the faith have made a profound impact on the world around them, and in many cases changed the course of history. These inspiring profiles will captivate kids’ imaginations and encourage them to discover their own gifts and how they can use them to glorify God.

You’ll find Shirley Raye at ShirleyRayeRedmond.com and on her Amazon author page.


In August 2020, Jasmine Tritten published her travel memoir On the Nile with a Dancing Dane, and it soon became a #1 New Release in Travel Egypt on Amazon.com. In this adventurous memoir, filled with mystery and surprises, she explores the land of the pharaohs and overcomes challenges and obstacles while following her love for dance and the Egyptian culture. Original artwork and photos are by the author. “Underneath the black and gold glittery outfit, danced a blonde, blue-eyed Danish Viking woman with a Middle-Eastern soul.”

Visit Jasmine on Facebook and her Amazon author page.


Seeing the World in 20/20: A SouthWest Writers Anthology of Award-Winning Stories

The year 2020 fits Confucius’ curse of “May you live in interesting times.” As the premier writers association in the southwestern part of the country, SouthWest Writers is all about writers helping writers succeed. The SWW annual writing contest is open to anyone and provides challenges for poets and authors. Seeing the World in 20/20 contains award-winning entries from each contest category: Biography/Memoir, Humor, Social Consciousness, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery, Animals, Philosophy, Historical Fiction, and more.

Visit the SWW Publications page for all the organization’s releases.


SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
Wilmettie
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Barbara Koltuska-Haskin

Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin is a clinical neuropsychologist in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With over thirty years of clinical experience, and a background in research, she is an expert in brain health who strives to provide comprehensive and compassionate care. Her first book, How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy (Golden Word Books, 2020), is “an everyday guide to harnessing our most powerful mental tools in shaping the healthful and successful lives we all seek.” You’ll find Dr. Barb on her website at DrKoltuska.com.


Why did you write How My Brain Works?
The purpose of my book, which comes from my more than thirty years of experience as a neuropsychologist, is to explain how neuropsychological evaluation can help people understand how their brain is working, in order for them to reach their full potential and/or to help them heal if they are recovering from brain trauma or other brain-related problems or diseases.

I always talk to my patients about a healthy lifestyle which includes healthy eating, exercising, mindfulness, gratitude, and getting enough sleep. Our brain doesn’t work in isolation. The healthier our body is, the better our brain will function. I truly believe that food is our medicine. Therefore, I share favorite healthy recipes. My lifelong hobby has been organic gardening and organic cooking, using produce mainly from my garden. I also share how to use commonly grown weeds, herbs, and edible flowers to enhance the flavor of meals so there is no need to use heavy sauces full of chemicals, calories, or artificial flavor enhancements. As a bonus, some readers may lose weight in the process.

I hope the book inspires others to take the first step on the road to a healthy, fulfilling, and successful life — this was the main reason I wrote this book.

What was the spark that got you started on the book?
This book probably would never have been written if not for the famous writer Elizabeth Gilbert. I was “writing” How My Brain Works for about three years in my mind before I decided to sit down and actually start writing it. I have a very busy practice, and caring for my patients has always been my priority. I felt that I never had enough time to start working on my book and had pushed it out of my to-do list. However, several years ago I saw Ms. Gilbert on TV talking about aspiring writers who complain they have no time to write. “Hmm, that’s me,” my inner voice said. Ms. Gilbert had brilliant advice for all those people. She said something like, “If you are really in love, no matter how busy you are, you will always find time to see your lover. So fall in love with your book and find time to write it. Assign time every week. It can be as little as fifteen minutes.” That did it for me. I decided to work on my book every Monday evening and try to write about one page. I kept this promise to myself and tried not to miss a Monday evening. It took over three years, but I did it. Therefore, I thank her in my book for this advice. I have never met her personally, but I hope I will in the future.

What was the hardest part of putting this project together, and what was the easiest?
The hardest part was keeping the promise to myself that I would work on my book every Monday. I was able to do it most of the time. The easiest was to take pictures of flowers and herbs from my garden for my book. It was fun!

Do you have a favorite quote from the book that you’d like to share?
The motto for my book is the famous saying of the mindfulness/meditation guru Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn: “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.” Also, I strongly believe and always tell my patients, “Knowing how your brain works is powerful, because what you don’t know could hurt you. If you know what works well in your brain and what does not — for example, which of your brain functions are strong and which are weaker — you can learn to use the good parts of your brain to compensate for those that aren’t that good. For example, a person’s good visual memory can be used to facilitate compromised verbal memory. You can also do specific mental exercises to work on improving that part of your brain that isn’t functioning well.”

How did the book come together?
The book writing and research took three years. The editing cycle and searching for the publisher took about two more years. I mailed the finished manuscript to my friends and professional colleagues and asked them to give me feedback. I wanted them to honestly tell me what was wrong with the book. All of them loved it and said it had a lot of important information and should be published. I did not believe them. I felt they were being nice to me because they were my friends, so I sent the manuscript to an independent and well-regarded editor. When he got back to me, he started his evaluation with the sentence, “I was very impressed with your manuscript.” At that point, I knew I had written a good book that needed to be published. After a long and frustrating search, I finally found a reputable publisher. An email from the publisher’s editor noted that “this is an excellent manuscript.” I looked at his email and my first thought was that he just tried to be nice to me. And then I started thinking, “He is an editor, he reads a lot of manuscripts because this is his job. My book was already accepted for publication, so he has no incentive to be nice to me. If he thinks this is an excellent manuscript, it must be.” I told myself, “Barbara, pat yourself on the shoulder,” and I did.

What interesting facts did you discover while doing research for the project?
I learned a lot of detailed and important information about the health benefits of herbs and common weeds. As a matter of fact, most herbs are just weeds, which is a source of their potency. They can survive in all kinds of soil and air temperatures. I knew most of them had a health benefit. I had grown them and used them in my kitchen for many years, but I did not know their detailed health benefits. I was amazed to find out how many vitamins and microelements they contain. Also, most of the research on Alzheimer’s emphasizes that the best Alzheimer prevention is daily aerobic exercise, like a brisk walk. Isn’t it amazing that such a simple and totally cost-free thing like walking is the most important prevention?

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing How My Brain Works?
The most rewarding aspects are all of the positive feedback from my readers and the great reviews on Amazon, Kirkus, and Online Book Club. My readers greatly appreciate the simple but comprehensive guide to brain functioning and healthy living that helps them overcome, or better manage, their brain problems. Also, they like the common language of the book and the easy and engaging reading.

Have you tried your hand at writing fiction?
Not yet, but I believe I have a creative mind and a lot of stories to tell, so I may try some novels in the future.

How has music helped you in your personal, professional, or writing journey?
I always loved music, especially classical music. I have many years of formal musical education in piano and voice, and I am a classically trained mezzo-soprano. I have a CD on the internet titled Old Masters Love Songs (I think people can listen to it on Spotify now). It is very beautiful and relaxing music from the 17th and 18th century, mostly Italian. I get a lot of praises for it.

I strongly believe that studying music for many years gives a person specific sensitivity training. You need to be able to recognize and feel the emotions that the composer “placed” in his masterpiece and be able to “run” them thorough your emotional channels and perform them in such a way that the audience can feel them as well. The music you perform needs to emotionally “speak” to them. This specific training makes me very sensitive to other people’s emotions, so I can quickly “sense” what may be going on with them. It also helps me to establish a good rapport with patients and makes them feel at ease in my office.

What are your hobbies or creative outlets?
I am an organic gardener, and I eat mostly out of my garden. I also share my garden goodies with friends, neighbors, and family and freeze the rest for winter, or I pickle the vegetables. As a matter of fact, all my closest neighbors started their gardens after getting my garden goodies for some time. I am very happy that I inspired them. Now we share seeds, starter plants, and leftovers from our gardens. We are a community and it is wonderful.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would like readers to know that if they have (or suspect they may have) brain problems, it is not the end of the world. Most problems can be treated and/or successfully managed, and people can still have a quality of life. We only have one life, why not make it as enjoyable as it can be?


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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