Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Interview With Barbara Casey - Author of The Cadence of Gypsies and The Wish Rider

I have had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Casey before after the release of her true life book on Kathryn Kelly. To read that interview click HERE!

The Cadence of Gypsies and The Wish Rider are the first 2 books in your new F.I.G. (Females of Intellectual Genius) series. Can you share some background on how the idea for this series came about and what readers can expect as you continue to develop new story lines for this series? 

In doing some research for another book, I came across information about the “most mysterious manuscript in the world”—the Voynich Manuscript. For some reason, it reminded me of an orphanage I used to drive by each day on my way to class when I was attending the university in Raleigh, NC. From that, I just let my imagination run amok. In The Cadence of Gypsies, I introduce Dara, Mackenzie, and Jennifer (the three FIGs), all of them orphans, all of them with IQs in the genius range, and all three with special talents. It is through Carolina Lovel, their teacher at the orphanage where they live and go to school, that I bring in the connection to the Voynich Manuscript. In order to help Carolina discover the truth about her own background, they must travel to a little village in Italy where the Voynich was first discovered. That is also where Carolina learns that her own mother is a gypsy.

In The Wish Rider, Book 2 of The F.I.G. Mysteries, I bring back all of the primary characters that were involved in Book 1, but the focus is on Dara, the FIG who is taller than all of the other girls her age and the most outgoing, and her search for her mother who abandoned her in a candy store when she was only three years old. Her search takes the FIGs and Carolina to New York City where they encounter the horrors of a little-known sub-culture hidden beneath Grand Central Terminal.

I am already working on Book 3, and it will focus on Mackenzie, shy with a slight stutter when she becomes nervous or anxious, and fiercely loyal to Dara, Jennifer, and Carolina. Mackenzie, unlike Dara, never knew her biological parents because she was placed in the orphanage when she was born. So her story has complications that will be heartbreaking at times, but will leave the readers filled with joy. I also have plans for Book 4, which will be a total surprise for the readers keeping up with the FIGs.

Book one, The Cadence of Gypsies, offers history, locations in Italy and more than anything, intimate details on the lives of gypsies. What kind of research was required to bring authenticity to each of these areas? 

Review - HERE!

I had traveled to Italy many years ago and actually visited Frascati and the old villa there where the Voynich Manuscript was first discovered. So it was easy for me to create that setting. I also have a copy of the Voynich. For the other things I bring into the story, I did a tremendous amount of reading and was fortunate enough to find some very old out-of-print books on gypsy spells and gypsy culture. I also interviewed a professor who teaches Romany history. In all of the books I write, even fiction, I want to make sure my facts are accurate. I think that authenticates the story and makes it more believable—and enjoyable—for the reader.

Book two, The Wish Rider, holds 2 story lines that alternate - that of Carolina and her three F.I.G's (Mackenzie, Jennifer and Dara) as they search for Dara's mother in New York as well as a parallel story line following Lyuba (a gypsy) in Italy. How do you keep this flowing smoothly for readers so they don't get lost?

Lyuba has a strong connection to the FIGs since she is Carolina’s mother—something they learned when they traveled to Italy in The Cadence of Gypsies. Because Lyuba is a choovihni—a wisewoman—for the gypsy tribe, she sees and feels things that no one else can—even from a long distance. She knows if her daughter, Carolina, is in danger or unhappy. And because Carolina loves “her girls” Dara, Mackenzie, and Jennifer, Lyuba knows when they are in danger or are unhappy as well. Even though Lyuba is in Italy, she knows their fear and senses the danger around them when they search for Dara’s mother. She is a strong link to their survival and will continue to be a factor in their lives.

Do you ever find yourself getting drawn into the storyline and characters as you're writing?

I truly enjoy the journey; sitting down each morning and seeing how the story is going to develop. I get involved with my characters to the point that they live with me – their problems and joys become my problems and joys. As I work on Book 3 in The F.I.G. Mysteries, there are new dangers and new challenges for the FIGs. I find that I am so emotionally involved with them that I literally cry knowing what they have already been through and what they must face. These three orphaned girls who happen to be geniuses are simply trying to make sense of their lives, knowing they can never be like everyone else.

I would love to have you share with aspiring writers a little insight into the hard work and man hours required to produce a quality book. While I know it varies from book to book, approximately how long does it take for you to produce a book - from first concept, through research, to first draft, to finalized manuscript? Once it's ready for the printers, how long does it take before the book is available for purchase? 

Review coming Sept. 6th
Every writer is different, of course, but for me, I spend a great deal of time just thinking about the story and finding suitable characters. I like to know how the story will begin and end, and I like benchmarks in between to aim for once I actually start to write. That is when I also do my research and make tons of notes. By the time I do sit down and start writing, it doesn’t take me long to complete the first draft—maybe six weeks or less. Then I go back and let the characters reveal more of themselves and polish.

When I feel the story is complete, I put it away for a couple of weeks and force myself not to look at it. It is amazing what will pop out when you let a manuscript “rest” for a while. Once I do a final edit on it, I send it to my publisher. From there, it is out of my hands except for proofing the galley and approving the cover. The time it takes to get printed and actually released depends on the publisher’s schedule. Normally, it takes about a year from the time I submit the final manuscript to the publisher and when the book is actually available to purchase.

In addition to writing, you are also a manuscript consultant, represent authors through the Barbara Casey Agency and are a partner in Strategic Media Books. What do you look for when considering new authors? What important tips can you offer on preparing a submission?

I can’t stress enough the importance of submitting quality work. Too often, writers get impatient and submit work before it is ready. It really must be polished. This is true whether the writer is submitting it to an agent or directly to a publisher. Agents, like publishers, usually specialize in certain areas, so it is important that writers do some research and check out agency/publisher websites to make sure they work with the type of manuscript being submitted.

Marilyn, I would like to share one other thing. You were nice enough to interview me recently about my nonfiction biographical/true crime book: Kathryn Kelly – The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly. It has just been optioned for a television mini-series and major film. I am thrilled, but even more so because this was the first nonfiction book I had written for publication. I am sure your excellent interview played a part in Kathryn getting noticed.

Thank you so much for your time and for letting me talk about the F.I.G. Mysteries. I have truly enjoyed visiting with you again, and wish you and your bloggers all the best. - Barbara

​Connect with the author:   Website

The Cadence of Gypsies (Book 1 of The F.I.G. Mysteries)by Barbara Casey

On her 18th birthday Carolina Lovel learned that she was adopted and was given a letter written by her birth mother in an unknown language. 

Synopsis - 

After years of research she travels to Italy on a mission to find the truth about her past. Carolina is accompanied by three extremely gifted but mischievous students the FIGs from Wood Rose Orphanage and Academy for Young Women. In an effort to help their favorite teacher, the FIGs will have to use their special abilities to decipher the Voynich Manuscript, the most mysterious document in the world, and the one thing that is strangely similar to what Carolina was given. Their search will take them into the mystical world of gypsy tradition and magic, more exciting and dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Review - 

In this first book in author Barbara Casey's new F.I.G. (Females of Intellectual Genius) series, we first meet the book's characters and then follow them on an intriguing international journey that involves a search for birth parents, an academic mystery, gypsy traditions and personal peril.

Carolina Lovel, a teacher at Wood Rose, was adopted as a young child. A box she received from her birth parents at the age of 18 held a few cherished clues as well as a written page in a style of the Voynich Manuscipt - a curious document that has puzzled the academic world for years. She has held these secrets close as she privately searched for answers to her heritage.

The three F.I.G.'s - Dara, Mackenzie and Jennifer  - are her personal charges at Wood Rose. Each is very gifted in their own unique way - language, numbers and music. Keeping them in line has proves a daily challenge. Then the idea arises to focus their talents by taking them to Italy for the last few weeks of school year. Here they will study and hopefully find the key to the Voynich Manuscript. Carolina is also hoping while there, the F.I.G.'s will be able to put their considerable talents towards helping solve the mystery of her parentage.

As the story unfolds, we are also drawn into the fascinating history and culture of gypsies, adding an extra element intrigue and eventually personal peril to the story. Add in a dash of romance and the picture is complete.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Meet the Author:

Interview with the author - HERE!

Originally from Carrollton, Illinois, author/agent/publisher Barbara Casey attended the University of North Carolina, N.C. State University, and N.C. Wesleyan College where she received a BA degree, summa cum laude, with a double major in English and history. In 1978 she left her position as Director of Public Relations and Vice President of Development at North Carolina Wesleyan College to write full time and develop her own manuscript evaluation and editorial service. In 1995 she established the Barbara Casey Agency and since that time has represented authors from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2014, she became a partner with Strategic Media Books where she is involved in acquisitions and day-to-day operations and oversees book production.

Ms. Casey's two middle-grade/young adult novels, Leilani Zan and Grandma Jock and Christabelle (James C. Winston Publishing Co., Trade Division) were both nominated for awards of excellence by the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the National Association of University Women Literary Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Literary Award. Shyla's Initiative (Crossquarter Publishing Group), a contemporary adult novel (occult romance/mystery), received a 2003 Independent Publisher Book Award and also an award of special literary recognition by the Palm Beach County Cultural Council. The Coach's Wife (ArcheBooks Publishing), also a novel for adults (contemporary/mystery), was semi-finalist for the 2005 Dana Award for Outstanding Novel and listed on the Publisher’s Best Seller List. The House of Kane (ArcheBooks Publishing), released in 2007, was considered for a Pulitzer nomination. Another contemporary novel for adults, Just Like Family, was released at Christmas 2009 when it received “Special Recognition from the 7-Eleven Corporation.” The Cadence of Gypsies, a novel written for new adults, was released in 2011 and was reviewed by the Smithsonian Institute for its List of Most Notable Books. Her novel for adults, The Gospel According to Prissy, received a 2013 Independent Publishers Book Award for Best Book in Regional Fiction. In 2016, Ms. Casey’s biography/true crime Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly was released as well as The Wish Rider, the sequel to her young adult book The Cadence of Gypsies.

Her award-winning articles, short stories, and poetry for adults have appeared in both national and international publications including the North Carolina Christian Advocate Magazine, The New East Magazine, the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer, the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Sunday Telegram, Dog Fancy, ByLine, The Christian Record, Skirt! Magazine, and True Story. A thirty-minute television special which Ms. Casey wrote and coordinated was broadcast on WRAL, Channel 5, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She also received special recognition for her editorial work on the English translations of Albanian children’s stories.

Ms. Casey's award-winning science fiction short stories for adults are featured in The Cosmic Unicorn and CrossTime science fiction anthologies. Ms. Casey's essays and other works appear in The Chrysalis Reader, the international literary journal of the Swedenborg Foundation, 221 One-Minute Monologues from Literature (Smith and Kraus Publishers), and A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation).

Ms. Casey is a former director of BookFest of the Palm Beaches, Florida, where she served as guest author and panelist. She has served as judge for the Pathfinder Literary Awards in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida, and was the Florida Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators from 1991 through 2003. She is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and writers’ conferences around the country including the SCBWI Regional Conference, the Harriett Austin Writers Conference in Athens, SIBA (Southeastern Independent Book Sellers Association), Florida Writers Association, and the University of Auburn, Montgomery. She makes her home on the top of a mountain in northwest Georgia with her husband and three dogs.

​Connect with the author: Website

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Shine! 2016 Spotlight – Salon Origins

Shine 2016 – an extravaganza of fashion, music and dance  – will be hitting the stage at the Commodore Ballroom on September 10th . This wonderful evening is made possible by hundreds of individuals who are rallying together for mental health. Communities helping communities!

Every single person and every single business involved is volunteering their time and services. Because of their generosity, Shine! will be able to donate 100% of every dollar raised through ticket sales and donations directly to the evenings recipients - Canadian Mental Health Association and The Lions Gate Hospital HOpe Centre.

As a thank-you, we will be highlighting some of the wonderful people and businesses who are working hard to make this evening the best it can be. Today's interview is with Salon Origins, one of 14 salons participating in SHINE!

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Please share a bit about Salon Origins - when was it opened, what is the salon's approach/philosophy?

Salon Origins opened 6years ago. Our philosophy is to help our clients move away from cookie-cutter hairstyles and express their original beauty on the outside."Inner beauty on the Outside"

Please share about your journey to open this salon. If you have an interesting or funny story about the process we'd love to hear it.

After being in the hair industry for so long (30yrs), I heard a lot of new clients tell me that they left their previous hairstylist because they didn't feel they were being heard (on their hair needs) or felt well cared for. Along with seeing how staff were being treated by owners, I saw a need in true professionalism. After being an educator in our industry for other hairstylists and owners, I really wanted to "walk my talk". So I fell into a vacant salon location and discovered that opening my business was the scariest thing I had ever done in my life, yet now, the very best thing I ever did.

In the beginning, I was ready to jump off a bridge because of all of the things that happen in the first year of opening a business – constantly staring at my bank account watching to see if I will cover rent and payroll as well as booting out my business partner after just 4 months. Then I had to learn the operations of running a business! Now, after 6 years of business and several attempts at finding the right culture, I have a thriving little salon and am extremely proud of what I have created. I lock the door each night looking in and say to myself, "I did it! And look at who I have become". The strong successful person I was always striving to be, for me!

How many artists work here and what is the range of services you offer clients?

There are 2 of us. We offer:
1.      A welcome tray (sample of our organic tea, hot aromatherapy towel and sample of hand lotion)
2.      The perfect consultation
3.      Hair services ranging from blowouts, technical cuts, hair smoothing treatments and we specialize in hair colouring. Denise is award winning!
4.      At home hair care product for all hair needs. All are high end quality and eco-friendly.
5.      We are also a Green Circle Salon member. We recycle 95% of all of our waste, from the hair swept up off the floor to the excess hair colour in our colour bowls!
6.      An experience that will leave you wanting to let all of your friends know about this little oasis in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

What would you most like future clients to know about your salon?

Salon Origins offers new clients a special promotion: Book for a colour and receive the haircut for FREE!

For interested new clients - how should they book a consultation? Connect with the right artist?

Call us at (604) 642-5700 to chat about your hair needs and we will connect you with the perfect fit. Consultations are free. New clients can follow us on FB at Salon Origins

Please share how you heard about Shine 2016 and why you feel it's important for your salon to participate in this fundraiser in this fundraiser for mental health and addiction which address the stigma of mental health.

I heard about Shine from Dean Thullner. I am completely drawn to his passion in making a difference and making a stand on no stigma! We participated last year and I loved seeing all of our hard work on stage and more importantly, how the participation brought my team closer together. I also have family members that are bipolar and have watched them first hand struggle with depression. Then of course there have also been the countless number of people in my life that I have seen battle addiction.
I feel it's important to participate because people with mental illness and addiction are just like everyone else.

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For more information on Salon Origins, please visit their website at http://www.salonorigins.com/

Shine 2016 is going to be a do-not-miss amazing showcase of fashion, music and dance, all in support of The Canadian Mental Health Association and The Lions Gate Hospital HOpe Centre. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

She Never Got To Say Goodbye by Ica Iova

Synopsis - 

When Olivia trades her promising career for a more domestic lifestyle as a wife and mother, she expects many things but never to see ghosts much less be one.

Her life with her handsome husband, Brandon, a successful criminal lawyer, starts as a happy one, but following a tragedy, guilt, alcohol and drugs crush their blissful world in a hurry. One minute Olivia is planning to leave the marriage and the next she's floating at the foot of her son's bed. Dead. Murdered. And all evidence points to Brandon as the prime suspect.

She is angry and determined to make him pay, but soon, she learns that if she wants justice, she must follow the clues that reach back into Brandon's past.

Suspenseful, romantic and awash in the afterlife thrill, She Never Got To Say Goodbye captures the power of love and friendship.

Review - 

She Never Got to Say Goodbye offers us an interesting story line.  The main character - Oliva - dies a short time into the story, but her character continues to play a part as a ghost. Her driving force after death becomes making her husband Brandon pay for the loss of her life. She believes it his fault. It's a great plot and the author's writing style is great.

I do feel the story needed more time to develop.  In only a short space, we are introduced to Olivia who is at school studying, she takes a break and goes out where she meets Brandon, she graduates, they are married, a child is born, he becomes an addict and she dies. WHEW! All that happened in a very short span.

Then the story slows down as we follow a dual path. Brandon works to change his life, become a good father and opens himself up to new relationships.  Olivia haunts the house, torments him in dreams and throws roadblocks in the way of his finding happiness. All along the question is explored, "Did Brandon actually cause Olivia's death?" The answer will surprise you.

Iova offers a polished writing style that is easy to read, her characters are interesting and the story line intriguing. Over all, this is an enjoyable read once the pace slows and you settle into the plot. I think taking a little more time developing the story's beginning. More fully exploring the characters and their relationship early on would have taken this book to the next level. 

Buy The Book - Amazon

Meet The Author - 

Check a fab author interview  - HERE!

Ica Iova is the author of several books--two of which are award winners. She Never Got To Say Goodbye, won bronze at World's Best Story, 2015, and Boundaries, was a finalist at WBS, 2014. 

Ica writes what she enjoys reading. In her novels, she brings to life powerful, gripping relationships and fascinating characters to whom readers can relate.

A former Examiner at Examiner.com, Ica is also an avid reader and because of that, a Reader's Choice Official Reviewer. When she is not writing, editing, or marketing, she's a proud wife, mother, and grandmother, with a substantial sense of humor. She loves spending time with her family and pets, shopping for shoes, or just lazing around with a good book.

Connect With The Author: Website Facebook - Twitter

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Interview with Ica Iova, Author of She Never Got To Say Goodbye

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

I’d be glad to, Marilyn. My grandparents were great story-tellers, and from a young age, knowingly or unknowingly, they instilled in me the love of story-telling. For years I toyed with the idea of publishing a book, but ultimately I chose the other path and worked for a bi-monthly paycheck. It was not until 2010 that I seriously began considering publishing, but once the idea took root, I realized that it’s writing that sparks my fire. I now have several books under my belt; Boundaries and She Never Got To Say Goodbye are both award-winners, and Resilience has hit Amazon’s top 100 twice. I finally do what I love most, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

With over ten published books to your name, where do you find inspiration for fresh, new story lines? For the characters you create?

Everywhere. Listening to people and observing my surroundings have become two of my greatest journalistic tools. I’m also blessed with an amazing imagination. Growing up an only child, I often had to rely on my imagination to entertain myself, which in turn, exercised my creative mind. Sometimes, a phrase, an event, or even a single word is all it takes to trigger an entire story.

What was the specific inspiration for She Never Got To Say Goodbye and the main character? What is your personal view on the afterlife?

Let me start with your second question. I believe that death should be neither feared nor desired. Instead, we should enjoy our lives and treat each other with kindness, not for fear of punishment after death, but because kindness and tolerance would create a much better world.

That said, I believe in God. Therefore, I believe in life after death, and not only from a religious angle but from a scientific one as well (although science hasn’t really proved their case of when, and why, monkeys stopped becoming people.) But if you think about it, what are we? According to science, we are a form of energy, just like everything else around us. So, if the other things die but following the laws of energy they come back to life in one form or another, then logically, we can’t be the only “things” where death is the end. From a religious point—and as I mentioned, I prefer to believe in creation, not evolution—I strongly believe that when we die, six feet under is not the end of us. There are so many variations of life after death, and though no one can tell for sure, I believe that our souls continue to live somewhere in the universe. The ultimate judgment—the one that almost every religion talks about—may not even come from God, but from our self-tormented consciences. I think the afterlife is an extension of our lives here on Earth.
Read a review HERE!
To answer your first question, I woke up one morning with the phrase, She Never Got To Say Goodbye, taking tours around my mind. It could’ve been the remains of a dream, it could have been something I’ve heard somewhere, I’m not sure. As the day went by, the same words continued to nag my thoughts. My writer’s instincts kicked in, and soon, a plot began to take shape. I began writing the story, convinced I had a contemporary romantic thriller on my hands. But once I killed my protagonist, I found myself staring at half a story that seemed to go nowhere. I set it aside, as I usually do in these situations, intending to return to it later, when, unexpectedly, I received the terrible news that my father had fallen and had broken his hip. 

I had not planned on taking a trip to Europe that year, yet I found myself cramming clothes into a suitcase in a hurry. Packed and downed by a thousand worries, I boarded the first available flight that hauled me all the way to the other side of the continent just before my father passed away. I had so many unanswered questions, and I remember looking at my father’s coffin, wishing I could bring him back, wishing he could give me the tiniest sign that he was okay, wishing God would, at least, tell me why. 

Evidently, none of my wishes were fulfilled, but slowly, a twist for my story began to take shape in my mind. For a while, I believed it was a result of the age-old cliché where the characters take matters into their own hands and veer the story in a completely different direction. Maybe it was, but there are times when for half a second I still wonder if it was my own pain over the loss of my father that put the twist in my story. I could not bring my father back, but I had the power to bring Olivia—even if only in the form of a ghost—and help her say goodbye to her baby and find justice for her premature death.

How do your organize your time when working on a new book? Research? Working on Manuscript? Pre-marketing?

Being organized and consistent works best for me. I do things in the same order every day. Read and respond to my emails, chit-chat with my friends and followers on various platforms for an hour or so while having my coffee, market my books, and only then I start my writing/researching/editing. I don’t focus my energy on pre-marketing. When I start writing a new book, I mention it a few times here and there, and I offer random sneak-peeks, but I don’t hit everyone over the head with it.

How long does it usually take you to go from initial concept to final manuscript?

Usually several months. Once I frame the initial story, I take a break from it and do something completely different—something that has nothing to do with the story. While penning the first draft in an exhilarating state of mind, after a break, I’m able to look at it through a reader’s eye. I’m able to critique my own writing.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

My most favorite part is creating the story. Putting it all down. When my mind buzzes with ideas, I can’t seem to type fast enough, to write it all down. Yes, sometimes during rewrites my head may drop on the desk, and I may ask myself aloud, “What the heck was I thinking,” but when that new idea pops in, I feel like a child the night before his first trip to Disneyland. Editing, on the other hand, and I bet I’m not alone in this, feels like a chore. Believe me; there is a good reason why I’m a writer, not an editor.

What would you most like readers to know about you?

Hmm, of course, first and foremost I’d like my readers to know the professional side of me—how I started to write; why I started to write; how each one of my prior jobs has helped prepare me to take on this important role. But I also like my readers to know me beyond my writing. I want them to connect with me on a personal level as well. While I’d love to share everything about myself—my likes, dislikes, the places I’ve visited, the oceans I’ve crossed, there isn’t enough room for all of it here and now, but I like my readers to know that I appreciate the little things money can’t buy. I am also open-minded and approachable.

Connect with the author - Website  Twitter  Facebook

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Candidate For Murder by Lauren Carr

It’s election time in Spencer, Maryland, and the race for mayor is not a pretty one. 

Synopsis -

In recent years, the small resort town has become divided between the local year-round residents who have enjoyed their rural way of life and the city dwellers moving into their mansions, taking over the town council, and proceeding to turn Deep Creek Lake into a closed gate community—complete with a host of regulations for everything from speed limits to clothes lines.

When the political parties force-feed two unsavory mayoral nominees on the town residents, Police Chief David O’Callaghan decides to make a statement—by nominating Gnarly, Mac Faraday’s German shepherd, to run as mayor of Spencer!

What starts out as a joke turns into a disaster when overnight Gnarly becomes the front runner—at which point his political enemies take a page straight out of Politics 101. What do you do when you’re behind in a race? Dig up dirt on the front runner, of course.

Seemingly, someone is not content to rest with simply embarrassing the front runner by publicizing his dishonorable discharge from the United States Army, but to throw in a murder for good measure. With murder on the ballot, Mac Faraday and the gang—including old friends from past cases—dive in to clear Gnarly’s name, catch a killer, and save Spencer!

Review - 

Let's start with the fact I'm a big fan of Lauren Carr's books. After reviewing a few, I went back to the beginning and read most of her books by series and in order on a trip to Maui. So I was obviously excited to receive her latest Mac Faraday title to read and review.  All Carr's books are a great choice if you love to enjoy an relaxing, escapist read at the end of the day. They offer a bit of mystery, a bit of romance, a bit of danger and a good dash of humor.

In this newest installment, the town of Spencer is in the throws of a mayoral election and no one is excited by either of the two candidates.  In fact, Police Chief David O'Callaghan is so disgusted, he decides to create some serious waves by entering Mac Faraday's large, intelligent and often unpredictable German Shepherd named Gnarly in the race. What is meant to be just a protest becomes much more. Havoc ensues as a large number of frustrated voters decide to jump on the bandwagon and Gnarly becomes the front runner. Then one of the candidates is murdered and Gnarly becomes one of the suspects.

Romance, murder, intrigue, plot twists and lots of comedic moments - this book has it all.  I can assure you, it will whisk you away from the day's cares and you'll struggle to put it down until you reach the last page.  But the way, did you know that the character of Gnarly is inspired by the author's own beloved German Shepherd?

If you love the character of Gnarly, you should check out Carr's tongue and cheek article called - 10 Facts of Life Gnarly Taught Me.

Buy the book: Amazon 

Meet The Author - 

Previous interview with the author HERE!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries. The twelfth installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series, Candidate for Murder will be released June 2016.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with Lauren: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Shine! 2016 Spotlight – Lounge Hair Studio

Shine 2016 – an extravaganza of fashion, music and dance – will be hitting the stage at the Commodore Ballroom on September 10th . This wonderful evening is made possible by hundreds of individuals who are rallying together for mental health. Communities helping communities!

Every single person and every single business involved is volunteering their time and services. Because of their generosity, Shine! will be able to donate 100% of every dollar raised through ticket sales and donations directly to the evenings recipients - Canadian Mental Health Association and The Lions Gate Hospital HOpe Centre.

As a thank-you, we will be highlighting some of the wonderful people and businesses who are working hard to make this evening the best it can be. Today's interview is with Lance Blanchette of The Lounge Hair Studio, one of 14 salons participating in SHINE!

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Please share a bit about Lounge Hair Studio - when was it opened, what is the salon's approach/philosophy?

Born of two minds, The Lounge Hair Studio was designed with a single identity in mind:

That the collective mind of the artist in each member of the team would enhance the experience of whole. And that goes for all clients, media, photo shoots, videos and charitable works which makes up the collaborative daily lives of The Lounge Team.

To be a part of 'Oneness' within an atmosphere of artistic freedom makes The Lounge what it is!

Please share about your journey to open this salon. If you have an interesting or funny story about the process we'd love to hear it.

Well, Martin and I began The Lounge in 1997 after working together for two years at another salon in Vancouver. Most people thought we would never survive - being such strong and different characters; Martin is the ultimate creative individual and I, a background in business. For some a recipe for disaster (and counselling - lol), for us, almost 20 years later and having worked on most continents, a recipe that is The Lounge.

How many artists work here and what is the range of services you offer clients?

The Lounge has 8 stylists, one Salon Coordinator and two assistants. We offer hair services only. Colour, cut, ombre, extensions, Japanese straightening, etc

What would you most like future clients to know about The Lounge Hair Studio?

We are group of highly professional stylists in a modern yet relaxed atmosphere.

For interested new clients - how should they book a consultation? Connect with the right artist?

They can contact the salon coordinator to help them make a decision on who to see. Or, for the one who likes to decide on their own, they can review the character descriptions on-line.http://www.loungehairstudio.com/our-team

Please share how you heard about Shine 2016 and why you feel it's important for your salon to participate in this fundraiser in this fundraiser for mental health and addiction which address the stigma of mental health.

Dean shared his personal story with Martin and I and let us know about his vision to help those struggling with addictions and mental health. We have have been participating with Dean ever since.

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For more information on The Lounge Hair Studio, please visit their website at www.loungehairstudio.com.
Shine 2016 is going to be a do-not-miss amazing showcase of fashion, music and dance, all in support of The Canadian Mental Health Association and The Lions Gate Hospital HOpe Centre.
Don't Miss Out! Pick up your tickets today at shinenostigma.eventbrite.ca

Monday, August 8, 2016


One dinner and a movie night, it was my husband's turn to choose the film.  He surprised us all by choosing Zootopia by the Walt Disney Animation Studios. While we are avid animation fans, his choices the last few times have been drama or more unique art offerings.  No worries, we all sat back to relax and enjoy.

What surprised us all was how good it was.  In fact, ratings on Rotten Tomatoes shows a 98% from Critics and a 93% from Audiences. Young kids would get involved in the chases and basic comedy, but underneath it all there was a great adult movie going on.  The animals all fulfilled roles that we see in regular adult life. The story line really showcases the different ways prejudice permeates our daily life.

The main characters are well chosen. There is a female rabbit named Judy Hopps (voice by Ginnifer Goodwin)who is determined when she grows up to be a cop - unheard of. Her parents want her to join the family business, a carrot farm.  Through persistence and hard work she makes with honours through the training and is assigned to a precinct in one of the areas of the Metropolis of Zootopia.

There are lots of kudos from the government representative on bringing the first rabbit in. but reality soon sets in. Judy ends up being flaunted as their token rabbit. On her first day, sitting in a room filled with LARGE, boisterous police animals, she discovers her dream isn't real. She is assigned to give out parking tickets. Her determination to change everyone' perception takes on many wild rides.

Through a strange plot twist, Judy ends up working with a fox called Nick Wilde (Voice by Jason Bateman) to find an otter who has mysteriously disappeared. If she fails she has to quite. Although this is a time of peace between animals, old prejudices still exist. Rabbits still are frightened by foxes and Nick's early experiences in how other perceive foxes have taken their toll. If that's what everyone thinks, might as well be one. He has spent his life working as a scam artist.

How Judy and Nick end up working together and their journey to solve the mystery of why predators are going rogue is a crazy journey.  The movie's pacing is great, the dialogue well written and the characters believable. Somewhere in the middle you forget this is animated animals.

This really is a movie I think most people will enjoy, especially if you're ready for something a little more light-hearted. I don't want to spoil anything - but my favourite scene is in the DMV.  I've included a trailer below, but DO NOT WATCH THIS unless you've seen the movie or don't intend to see it.  It perfectly describes my life as a child with ADD. I laughed until my ribs hurt.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Loreena's Gift by Colleen M. Story

A blind Girl's terrifying "Gift" allows her to regain her eyesight - but only as she ferries the recently deceased into the afterlife.

Synopsis -

Loreena Picket thinks she knows herself. A blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church, she's a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation.

But they're both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand.

While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts.

Torn between doing her uncle's bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.

An exciting debut that crosses fantasy and literary fiction, Loreena's Gift is a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.

Review - 

I really enjoyed the unusual, diverse story line in this book.  In our interview the author shared it was inspired by, "How we look at life and our beliefs about it greatly affect the kind of lives we live."

First we are introduced to Loreena, a young woman with a unique ability. By holding a person's hand, she personally escorts them to their after life. Her uncle, a minister, feels this gift is meant to be used to help those in his congregation that are suffering and near death. But there is a personal lure that makes this appealing to Loreena. She lost her sight when young and as she escorts those to their personal afterlife, the blindness drops away.

What a joy to see again, and the experiences are pleasant. The problem is, it gets harder each time to return to the present - to step back into her blindness. Deep down she also questions whether this is really a gift. She has to wear gloves at all times to protect those around her and she lives in fear of accidentally taking someone's life - something that happened when her gift first appeared.

The story line then moves into a tale of love, intrigue, fear and philosophy. Loreena comes to the attention of a local drug dealer who, against her will, uses her to eliminate unwelcome rivals. This opens the door to the idea that people who embrace evil lives face a very different after life from those she's seen before. Evil actions in life lead to a dark eternity. Can she find a way to escape and will she be able to leave the terrible memories of what she experienced behind?

I truly enjoyed the depth offered in Loreena's Gift.  The idea of an afterlife defined by our current life, the battle of good versus evil and love are all intertwined into a great read.

Buy the Book:  Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble  ~  Book Depository  ~  Chapters Indigo

Meet The Author - 

Check out a great behind the scenes interview HERE!

Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, "Loreena’s Gift," was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, "Rise of the Sidenah," is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) a motivational site for writers and other creatives.

Connect with the author: Website  ~ Twitter  

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Interview with Colleen M. Story, author of Loreena's Gift

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

I started out as a copywriter for a corporation. I did that for about 3 years, and then went out on my own. I’ve now supported myself as a full-time freelance writer for over 17 years, but I’ve always considered that my day job. Most mornings before starting on projects for my clients, I spend about an hour on fiction. My real dream has always been to publish my novels.

After years of pecking away every morning I had several novel manuscripts completed, but no publishing contract. Somewhere along the way I decided that I’d never be satisfied unless I did everything I could to publish my work. So I started investing in myself. I attended writer’s conferences, participated in workshops, and entered contests that provided critiques. Over time, I got better at the craft, but it wasn’t until I got a little ticked off at my lack of progress and went on a “submission spree” to editors that I finally reached my goal (a publishing contract).

Craft is extremely important, and something we continue to work on for the bulk of our writing careers, but I’d encourage other writers to be just as serious about getting their work out there. It’s the other side of the coin that we sometimes don’t realize needs nearly as much attention.

Where did the inspiration for the unique story line in Loreena's Gift come from? For the character of Loreena?

I read a book by Deepak Chopra—Life After Death: The Burden of Proof. Something in it triggered the idea that the afterlife might be much like the present life, in that it could be shaped by our points of view. How we look at life and our beliefs about it greatly affect the kind of lives we live. A person who typically sees the glass as half-full, for example, is going to have a different experience of life than the one who sees it as half-empty.

What if Heaven, or whatever term you prefer to call it, is not some fixed and defined place (and therefore people are either “right” or “wrong” about it), but instead, is just what we imagine it to be? If so, wouldn’t a person who sees the good in life and imagines a beautiful afterlife find just such a life waiting for her? And on the other hand, wouldn’t a person engaged in criminal dealings who believes down deep in his soul that his wrongdoing could land him in hell, find just such a place waiting for him as a result of his own vision? The “self-fulfilling prophecy” sort of idea. I found the idea so fascinating that I wanted to write about it. Loreena gave me a way to do that.

Review HERE!
As for Loreena—it’s somewhat difficult to answer where she came from, as I don’t know from where my characters originate. It’s an unconscious process that occurs as I write—the person appears as if in a movie in my mind, and then comes to life gradually as I record the images on the page.

But if I put the analytical side of my brain to it, I can imagine it had something to do with yin and yang—amazing power being present in an innocent and seemingly powerless person. I think we all have powers inside of us that we can choose to grow into if we are willing to take the required risks. In Loreena’s case, she’s simply forced to do so because of circumstances in her life—she is not allowed to hide anymore.

I am intrigued to know if your goal was writing a great story line or if there was also a universal truth you want readers to take away from this book?

My goal is always to write a great story first—that’s where the craft comes in, where during the edits you do your best to tighten and polish to provide the reader with a satisfying, interesting experience. I usually start writing a novel in the first place to explore a question, such as “what happens after we die?” I’m a curious person and writing gives me a fun way to look further into those things I often wonder about. I’ll leave it to readers to draw what they will from the book, though one of my goals is to create works that stick around in readers’ minds even after they’ve turn over the last page.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

I enjoy so much about the writing process. The first draft is like a journey through an unknown land. I never know what’s going to happen the next day on the page, and I feel like I’m living in a virtual reality with my characters. The second and often the third drafts are focused on the structure of the story, and on figuring out what it’s really about. This is a totally different challenge and requires a unique set of skills. I find it extremely challenging and sometimes frustrating, but I still enjoy it.

Subsequent drafts are about polishing and making sure the writing shines. I find this part of the process easier, and fun because I love playing with language and the rhythm of words. Probably the only part that feels like a chore is what happens after the book is published—trying to get the word out and help the book find readers. Like many writers, I’m not a natural sales person, so I have to force myself to do what I can to raise awareness of the book. But typically I’d much rather be working on the next one.

What would you most like readers to know about you?

I know that readers have little time these days to spend on leisure activities, like reading novels. I know that when they choose to buy my novel, they’re spending some of their hard-earned cash they could be spending elsewhere. So I’d want them to know that I gave my all to the story—that I did everything I could to make the book the best it could be before it reached their hands.

Any advice for young authors wanting to write books in this genre?

After years of writing, the best advice I can give is to keep writing. I drafted five novels before I got a publishing contract. It can seem like all that work is for nothing, but by finishing one project and moving on to the next, you gradually find your voice—your niche in the writing world.

The types of stories that I wrote when I was first starting out were quite different from Loreena’s Gift. It took a lot of words to gradually find the type of book I really wanted to write. Of course writers can always switch genres and do different things, but for now I feel at home here, and my next work will fall in a similar category.

So keep writing, and most importantly, finish what you’re working on. Whether you publish it or not, it will help you learn how to complete a work. It’s much easier to start something and then abandon it than to take it through to its conclusion. That’s the practice that you need, and doing it over and over will help you discover what’s unique about you and your voice and where you fit on the bookshelves.

What do you do to relax? If you like to read to relax, what type of books do you enjoy the most?

I love to read, and I’m usually reading about 10-12 books at a time. I read several each day before starting my own work, and then I usually read several before bed. I choose writing masters like Dennis Lehane, David Mitchell, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus III, Richard Russo, and more to read before sinking into my own writing routine. Before bed, I’m more likely to experiment with new authors I haven’t read before. In between, I’m reading non-fiction on my iPad over my lunch hour and any other time I have a few minutes.

To relax, I love taking walks with my German Shepherd, driving my old Chevy Monte Carlo with a new CD in the player, traveling, spending time with loved ones, and riding horseback. I also play the French horn and find it relaxing and energizing to perform in various community groups.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~ Twitter

Friday, July 22, 2016

Road Trip Days 21-23 - Long Days on the Road, a Respite in Missoula and Coming Home.

'Articles in this series - 
Day 1 - On The Road Vancouver to Yakima
Days 2-3 - Miles and Miles OF Miles and Miles (Yakima to Butte to Yellowstone)
Tips for visiting Yellowstone
Day 4 - Full Day in Yellowstone

Days 5- 6 - Mammoth Hot Spring to Aberdeen South Dakota
Days 7-10 - Food, Family, Farm & 4th of July Fireworks in Aberdeen, South Dakota
Day 11-12 - Five States In A Day, A Fake Palm Tree, An Exploding Tire, Traffic and Kingston Arrival!
Days 13-16 - Exploring Kingston and a Cottage Visit
Day 17 - Toronto - ROM's Chihuly and Tattoo Exhibits & Fab Dinner At El Catrin
Day 18-20 - Express Ferry, Crazy Water Tap, Weird Signs, Bugs and a Rattlesnake Warning Sign!
Days 21-23 - Long Days on the Road, a Respite in Missoula and Coming Home

Clark Fork River in Missoula Montana. See the tiny M on the hillside?
Every town in Montana it seems has the town initial on a local
hillside if there is a hillside available.
AHH - the final post.  23 days on the road is a long time and we are getting weary. In fact, after driving 4 days straight, we decided to stop for an extra night in Missoula, Montana, for a break. We really had no idea what we were doing when we booked our hotel, we just totally lucked out.

The Red Lion Inn turned out to have the best hotel wifi, a very comfortable room, beautifully decorated breakfast area and it was situated a very short walking distance from a series of walking trails along a river and through a park. There was also fly fishing nearby which called Glen.

Our full day here we went our separate ways.  I wrote a travel article in the morning, then hit up a nice coffee shop - City Brew - for an iced latte. That was followed by a couple hours walking the trails along the Clark Fork River and surrounding parkland, snapping pictures here and there. Along the south side, the was several great green spaces with trails, a skateboard park, a few interesting buildings and cool oases to be found under the bridges.

As I crossed to the North side of the river, I found a Missoula Saturday Farmer's Market in progress. It was packed with people shopping for local produce and food items.  Nearby was a great carousel, est. 1995, the long line-up filled with families waiting their turn. Attached to it was Dragon Hollow, a free play area built with over 1,000 volunteer hours.

The highlight of this walk was a lookout at a small river rapids which created a back wave that locals used to surf on a very short board and to practice kayaking. Then as I finished my stroll I enjoyed a wonderful array of beautiful flowers in bloom. I ended my alone time by writing a second travel article and followed by a leisurely hot bath while reading a great chic lit novel.

Super short video of a pretty good surfer riding the river wave.

Glen went out fly fishing in the morning, took a break at the hotel at lunchtime and then went out again late afternoon. There were fish to be seen, but none decided that they wanted to bite what he was offering. The fishermen that were successful around him were using a type of lure he was not set up for. Oh well, it was still a peaceful time out in nature. When he returned, he showered and we went out for a simple dinner and then walked to the nearby grocery store to pick up lunch for tomorrow's drive.

Kudos to the Red Lion Inn in Missoula for location, friendly staff, comfortable room, lots to do nearby and the best free breakfast we had on our 10,243 K trip.  For those who do not know, the free breakfast varies from hotel to hotel.  Usually there is a lot of continental style items but the hot offering ranges from a simple dish of scrambled eggs to others that include sausage, bacon or potatoes.

A river Kayaker working the same wave.

In addition to the hot breakfast items, other options can include a waffle maker, toast/bagels, breakfast cereals, yogurt, apples and/or bananas and even a few times - biscuits and gravy, but it's usually the same each day.  At the Red Lion the hot option varied each day - one time offering breakfast burritos and sausage and the next cheese omelets, hashbrowns and bacon. WOW! This is the only time I ever was offered a breakfast burritos and it was delicious.

The next 2 days were pretty much straight driving with stops for lunch, gas and bathrooms, so highlights were few and far between. We discovered a fog light had been demolished by a rock somewhere before this stop - the rock still sitting inside the casing.  One of the rest areas had literally a HERD of ground squirrels looking for handouts - the most I had ever seen in one place. Glen had to snag a bit to feed them of course.

2 young surfers learning the ropes.

Our last hotel stop was in EllensburgWashington. There was a glitch. When planning the number of hours to drive that day, we had forgotten we crossed one more time zone. We couldn't cancel, so called the hotel to see if they would let us check in at 2:30. Fortunately they said yes and then waved the early arrival fee. There really was nothing else to do in that town for just a few hours.

As it was so early, Glen snagged a fishing license and headed out to the local stream. An impressive thunderstorm rolled in which brought him back to the hotel quickly. It soon passed and he headed out again. He was happy to not just sit in a hotel, but the fish again ignored his vest efforts. I curled up with a great book and just relaxed. The only negative here was that the hotel's air handling wasn't set up right, so the strong smell of pool chlorine permeated the hallways. Fortunately it didn't come into the rooms.

The last day on the road dawned early for us.  Just a few days before we had been in Kingston, Ontario, a 3 hour time difference. The fact we were able to keep dozing until 6:30 a.m. was amazing. After breakfast we quickly packed up and hit the road. Nothing too exiting, just driving.

The only high moment was crossing the border. It was a good half hour as always, but we were back in Canada at last and I could finally turn my phone on. There were a whopping 4 missed voice mails on my cell. When I got home there were 7 messages on the answering machine. Obviously we were missed and despite all the texts and posts, many forgot we were not in town.

All is now up to date.  A few celebratory margaritas have been consumed and it's time for nap. Tomorrow it's back to work, but for the rest of the day, it's still vacation time.