Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Interview With Christopher Stratakis, Author of Appointment with Yesterday

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

Since I was a teenager, I loved writing; I wanted to communicate my emotions with the outside world in print. This inner urging was expressed in various forms, i.e. by writing short stories, essays, articles and an occasional poem.

What led you to create a story line that was partially inspired by your life?

Again, writing this novel was the culmination of those inner urgings to share with the outside world, fictionalized life experiences of lonliness, abandonment, terror, dashed dreams and eventual redemption.

What percentage of this story is taken directly from your experiences growing up on a Greek Island?How many of the characters were created from memories of friends and relatives you grew up around?

I would say half of the story portrays my early and teen years, growing up in a remote Aegean island. Most of the characters appearing in the book during those adventurous and painful years, were inextricably intertwined with my childhood and teenage memories.

This is your first full novel? How did your previous writing experience help as you worked on a longer manuscript for the first time?

Indeed, this is my first novel. My writings over the years, however, honed my skills for storytelling and also served as a prelude to my ultimate goal to pen a full length novel. It was the natural evolution to a life-long series of writings.

How did you approach writing this book – scheduled writing time, writing when the inspiration hit or? Research? Marketing?

Review - HERE
I never approached writing on a time schedule basis. My urge to write appears unannounced. I knew I had a story to tell. I wrote my first manuscript, on and off, over a period of several years – perhaps as many as 10. It was based strictly on my memories and imagination. Then I redrafted, edited, refined and structured into groups and chapters the entire story, with the assistance of professional writers.

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

I enjoy the experience of reviewing and providing meaning and structure to an original manuscript; i.e. the evolving process of editing, redrafting and re-editing, until I come up with a final version that satisfies my self-imposed standards. Writing the original manuscript may, sometimes, feel like a chore.

What would you most like readers to know about you?

That I am just another face in the crowd, with no pretentions. One who tries to give, rather than take; in essence, doing my best to pay the rent for the room of life given to me from Above.

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

Giving advice is trite and cheap, particularly when unsolicited. If a young boy or girl asked me, however, I’d just tell them to be themselves and to trust their feelings.

What comes next? Do you have any new book ideas in development?

I have no specific plans for the immediate future. I’d just leave my instincts and inner urgings drive my future actions. Nevertheless, considering my restless emotions and exploring mind, I might find myself writing another story again.

Appointment with Yesterday by Christopher Stratakis

A poignant and compelling first novel. 

Synposis - 

Appointment with Yesterday tells the story of Yanni, a cheeky and delightful Greek boy growing up in a small town on an island in the eastern Aegean. Left in the care of his loving grandparents, Yanni endures the deprivation and terror of the German occupation during World War II and finally leaves his beloved homeland and family to rejoin the parents who had left him behind to make a better life for themselves in America.

Filled with heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of love, devotion, disenchantment, and dashed dreams, Appointment with Yesterday is, ultimately, the story of hardships overcome and a determined boy’s journey toward finding his destiny.

Review - 

Appointment with Yesterday is a wonderful example of an author taking past memories and using them as a foundation for a beautiful story line. Creating from personal memories brings an emotional depth to the book as well as offering places and people so real you can see them in your mind's eye.

In this, the author's first full length novel, we begin with the musing of an old man as he thinks back over his life. While most of the story dwells in previous times, we occasionally surface to today and reconnect with the story's narrator.

The book's main character is Yanni, a young Greek lad, living on a small island full of relatives and friends. His parents are far away in North America making a new life. Although he is curious about them, he is happy as he is surrounded by love. Then war brings Nazis to his beautiful island and everything changes. We see the fear, deprivation and loss through his eyes. We feel the hardship through his experiences.

Finally in his late teens Yanna heads off to reunite with his parents. Here the story takes us through what is it truly like to arrive in a country where you don't know the language, understand the culture or know how to fit in. Jobs are limited. It is a tough road with many twists and turns.

I love hearing people's life stories. Although only part of this book is based on the author's life, Stratakis did a wonderful job of crafting a story that rings true from first page to last. I hope to see more from this truly talented writer.

Meet the Author -

Fab author interview HERE!

Christopher Stratakis was born and raised in Greece. After moving to America, he graduated from Drexel University in 1951 and New York University School of Law in 1955. Shortly after joining the law firm of Poles, Tublin & Patestides in 1960, he became a partner, specializing in admiralty and corporate law.

He has written and published several articles, lectured on professional and historical subjects, served as Legal Advisor to several non-profits (pro bono), and was an arbitrator in maritime disputes. He is the author of Mnimes “Memories” (2010), a book of essays, short stories, and poems that he wrote as a teenager. In 2015, he co-edited Chains on Parallel Roads, a book published by Panchiaki “Korais” Society of New York. In recognition of his extensive community involvement, he has been the recipient of several awards from religious, governmental, and educational institutions.

Mr. Stratakis lives with his wife in New York City. He is the proud father of three and grandfather of three. This is his first novel.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thai Chicken Flatbread Pizza

Image by Life Made Sweeter
I decided to sign up for Yummly notices a few years ago. Honestly, it's often overwhelming getting their emails several times a week, each filled with links to recipes they are highlighting for various reasons. BUT, I keep seeing new, mouth watering ideas. Just wish I had more time to try them out.

The credits on this recipe requires a little more explaining. The image and the recipe as it stands are from a blog call Life Made Sweeter. In checking out the site, I saw a ton of great recipes, so I would give it a look.

However, the author notes that the basis for this recipe was adapted and reprinted with permission from a new cookbook by Trish from Mom On Timeout called 100 Creative Ways to Use Rotisserie Chicken in Everyday Meals, so I wanted to fully credit both.

The fillings really pile high on the naan bread, making each of the four pizzas super filling. My big eating men only had one each with a side of cut fresh veggies and a few bing cherries and were full. That in itself is incredible.

While I loved this recipe and would make it again, I found it didn't have as strong of a Thai peanut flavour as I expected. I'm going to try using the creamy peanut butter option next time to see if that ups the flavour. I also used a shy 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes as my husband doesn't like things spicy, but I could have easily used more as it didn't add more than a touch of heat.

Super easy to make, lots of fresh ingredients, only 10 minutes in the oven and super filling. Just what I needed to end a sunny, hot June day.  Kudos to both Life Made Sweeter and Mom on Timeout on their creativity.  And I'm going to have to check out that cookbook!

= = = =

1/2 C          Creamy or crunchy peanut butter (I used crunchy. Loved the extra texture,
                                but a little hard to spread)
1/3 C           Teriyaki sauce
1/2 - 1 tsp    Crushed red pepper chili flakes, optional
2 to 4           Pieces of flatbread or naan (I used 4 round Naan and is was perfect)
1-1/2 C        Diced rotisserie or leftover chicken
8 oz             Shredded mozzarella cheese
1                  Pre-shredded carrots (or 1 carrot cut into slivers)
1/2               Red bell pepper, cut into slivers or diced
3                  Green onions, sliced
1/2 C           Fresh pineapples, diced
1 C              Baby spinach (I chopped it a bit smaller)

Optional Toppings
Chopped peanuts
Fresh cilantro

Serves 4.
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Combine peanut butter, teriyaki sauce, and red pepper chili flakes in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 20-30 seconds and stir until completely combined. Spread half of the peanut butter mixture onto the flatbreads. Then, set aside.

Add the chicken to the bowl with the remaining peanut butter mixture and stir evenly to coat.
Top the flatbreads with about 5 ounces of the cheese. Divide the chicken, carrot, bell pepper, green onions, pineapple, and spinach evenly among the pizzas. Top with the remaining cheese and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if using.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with additional peanuts and fresh cilantro, if you'd like.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Appointment with ISIL: An Anthony Provati Thriller by Joe Giordano

Synopsis - 
This time, Anthony's libido threatens his life. He flirts with Russian mob boss, Gorgon Malakhov's mistress. The Russian deals in death. ISIL, the Islamic State in the Levant, wants the product. Russian Intelligence supplies the means, and an art theft funds the scheme. ISIL's targets are chilling. The chase across the Mediterranean is on. Can Anthony thwart ISIL? Will he survive?

Reviews - 

Appointment with ISIL has an unusual story line. While ISIL is featured at the very beginning and returns towards the end, Most of the story is set in North America and focuses on Anthony and his problems with the mob. It all began when he flirted with a mob boss' mistress and his troubles grew to epic proportions when she decided he was the one that would help her get away from this vile monster.

Anthony falls in the anti-hero category for me, but just over the line. He's not a bad guy, just a flawed one who makes a lot of not so great choices.  But his heart is in the right place and he steps it up when it becomes clear the mob is going to supply ISIL with a devastating resource.  His key to getting information he can pass on to the government is the very same mistress, putting her life in serious jeopardy.

As we follow the quickly moving story line, we are offered art theft, international travel, life-threatening moments and an unexpected twist towards the end that will definitely surprise you. I can't say more as I don't want to spoil it. 

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble  Add to Goodreads
Meet the Author -
Fab Author Interview HERE!
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas.

Joe's stories have appeared in more than ninety magazines including The Monarch Review, The Saturday Evening Post, decomP, The Summerset Review, and Shenandoah. His novel, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was published by Harvard Square Editions October 2015. His second novel, Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller will be published by HSE in June 2017.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Pinterest

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Interview With Joe Giordano, Author of Appointment with ISIL: An Anthony Provati Thriller

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

 One of the positions I held before I became a writer, was to run a business in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa out of Athens. I developed a deep sense of history and the desire to write an historical fiction about the Ancient Greek-Persian Wars. Thirteen years ago, I tackled the task. My prose was terrible, I needed to learn how to write. I attended classes at the University of Texas and began writing short stories. 

Years later, after a landfill's worth of rejections, my work started to be accepted by small, online magazines. Eventually, I developed enough confidence to write another novel, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, published by Harvard Square Editions in October 2015. My experience doing readings and with book clubs was so enjoyable that I felt encouraged to write a second novel, Appointment with ISIL, An Anthony Provati Thriller, which Harvard Square Editions released June 15, 2017. I continue to write short stories and have been published in such magazines as The Monarch Review, The Saturday Evening Post, decomP, The Summerset Review, and Shenandoah.

What skills did you develop writing short stories that prepared you to write your first book?

As I mentioned above, my first historical novel about the Greek-Persian Wars was terrible. Nonetheless, the task took quite some time to complete. To develop a literary style and to shorten the cycle time for failure and feedback, I tackled short stories. To improve my craft, I analytically read great writers. I took classes, but concluded that creative writing is misplaced in the English Department. Certainly, language is the medium, but you don't learn artistic painting from a Sherman Williams store. I picked up tools, but instructors can't teach you to write well. Whatever success I've had is a triumph of hard work over modest talent. To paraphrase Edison, my writing improved 1% by inspiration and 99% by perspiration.

Review HERE!
Where did you find the inspiration for your storyline in Appointment With ISIL? For the main characters you created in this book?

Ben Fountain, author of the best-selling Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and a writing mentor of mine, told me that the literary thriller was the "holy grail." I took on his challenge. The genesis of the novel was my experience in the Middle East, an Islamic History course I'd taken from the University of Texas in Austin, and a short story, "The Unkindest Cut," published, by decomP Magazine.

I believe Norman Mailer said that every character he created included at least five percent of himself. As Mailer wrote about both Jesus and the Devil, that's quite a range. Fiction, unlike real life, must be believable. To create a sense of verisimilitude, I draw from my experiences and observations, including people I've met, but all the characters in Appointment with ISIL are fictional.
One note of interest for me was the title. While ISIL is a part of the book's plot, in truth, a much larger part of the story takes place in the US and deals with the mob.  Because of that, I'm curious why you chose Appointment with ISIL as the title?

I suppose that a less catchy but accurate title would've been, The Adventures of Anthony. In the novel, an Egyptian character tells Anthony that, "He has an appointment with ISIL." Much of what comes before Anthony's confrontation with Al-Nasir leads to the terrorist group's plots of mayhem.

How do you organize your time when working on a new book? Research? Writing/editing? Pre-marketing? Was this process any easier the second time around?

Once you've had a novel published, you know what's required, how long it takes, and the sequence of events you'll follow. My time is spent roughly 10% on research, 60% writing/editing, and 30% on marketing. I invest a large chunk of research time at the onset of a project, then specific details and events are investigated along the way. I want to "know" my ending before I begin. Although many advise not to edit as you go, I reread my work to spot missed opportunities for expanding characterization. I create two files: a "scratch" file where research and drafted chapters reside before I'm satisfied to move them to the "book" file.

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

The creative process is most enjoyable. Self-expression is fun. A writer can't help but reveal himself in his work. Analogously, readers take a sort of Rorschach Test; their interpretations are idiosyncratic and often surprising.

My concept of chore is rising at an uncomfortable hour, needing to make a forecast, being constantly jet-lagged by steady overseas travel, and putting up with a nitwit boss. Writing doesn't require any of these things, so it's never a chore.

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

Read a lot. Write a lot. Criticism comes in droves. Don't be deterred. Use rejection to incentivize improvement. Remember that most writers take an unintended vow of poverty, you'll spend a lot of time isolated reading and writing, and you'll pray that your work is appreciated and accepted. These descriptors can also be found under the definitions of cloistered nun and monk. Be careful what you become good at, because that's what you'll do.

What comes next? Do you have any new story ideas in development?

My next novel will be another Anthony Provati thriller with the working title, Drone Strike, and will include some of the characters introduced in Appointment with ISIL, but each novel can be read independently. Drone Strike includes a victim whose family was "collateral damage." Where can he turn for justice? Without a higher authority to arbitrate, is the desire for revenge understandable?

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Pinterest

Friday, June 9, 2017

More Than A Soldier: One Army Ranger's Daring Escape From the Nazis by D.M. Annechino

"More Than a Soldier is Angelo DiMarco’s powerful 
story of survival, resilience and courage."

Synopsis - 

Feeling a patriotic duty to defend his country after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, seventeen year old, Angelo J. DiMarco, enlists in the U.S. Army. Severely short of frontline fighters, the Army rushes Angelo through Ranger training and sends him to Italy as part of the 1st Ranger Battalion. Their objective: stop the German invasion.

Fighting on the front lines in Italy, the German’s teach Angelo a sobering lesson on life when they capture him during the bloody battle of Cisterna. Against insurmountable odds, Angelo miraculously escapes in a way that stretches the imagination. He survives behind enemy lines for over five months, hiding from the Germans and trying to outmaneuver them. He begs for food, sleeps in barns and suffers from many ailments, including dehydration, malnutrition, malaria and exposure to the elements.

Review - 

I don't even know where to begin this review other than to say bravo to author D. M Annechino.  He is someone I've had the pleasure of reviewing several times, but for books in quite a different genre.  
They Never Die Quietly, Resuscitation & A Piece of You are mystery/thriller/suspense works of fiction with an edge - they feature disturbing serial killers.

I believe More Than A Soldier is his first true life story - a military biography/memoir.  It is his uncle's memoir of his time as a soldier. I cannot find where I read this, but I believe his uncle refused to talk about these experiences until his final days. It was only then he chose to share his memories of his time as a soldier with his son.  His son then asked his cousin (D.M. Annechino) to turn the many notes he took into a book. It was a wise choice as Annechino nailed it. In fact I think this is hands down this author's best work yet.

Angelo J. DeMarco's story begins when the young patriot answered his country's call to service. He first joined the army, but wanted more. The story moves on to explore his time training as a Ranger and through numerous difficult wartimes memories where many of his fellow soldiers died in combat. From there we live through the dreadful time of his troop's capture, his daring escape behind enemy lines with three fellow Rangers and his ordeal surviving many months behind enemy line until Allied troops arrived.  

Annechino captures these events with a personal eye, letting each unfold as if his uncle is setting across the table from the reader with a cup of coffee in hand, sharing his vivid memories. I honestly couldn't put the book down.  And the way Annechino crafted this story had my mind creating pictures of the events as I read along. Months later I can still "see" many of these moments in the book in my mind's eye.

Again, bravo to the author. I hope to see him offer new titles in this genre in the future.  The storytelling talents so evident in his works of fiction are perfect for helping a true-life story come to life. 

Buy the Book:  ​Amazon  -  Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author -

Daniel M. Annechino, a former book editor, wrote his first book, How to Buy the Most Car for the Least Money, while working as a General Manager in the automobile business. But his passion had always been fiction, particularly thrillers. He spent two years researching serial killers before finally penning his gripping and memorable debut novel They Never Die Quietly. He has written and published five novels—all thrillers. But his latest work, More Than a Soldier, is a Historical Biography set in Italy during WWII.

A native of New York, Annechino now lives in San Diego with his wife, Jennifer. He loves to cook, enjoys a glass of vintage wine, and spends lots of leisure time on the warm beaches of Southern California.

Connect with the Author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Seeing Double: An Elisabeth Reinhardt Novel (Book #1 Olive Branch Series) by Nancy J Alexander

"A chill ran up her spine, triggering an alarm that spread through her system...."

Synopsis - 

A chill ran up her spine, triggering an alarm that spread through her system. Her eyes studied him as his eyes studied her. In the recesses of her mind, a fragment of a memory tingled...a tiny blip from long ago. An image spiraled, then vanished. There was something about this young man, this Ari Ben Aviv. There was something about him she couldn't pinpoint."

On the heels of her last mystery, Elisabeth's new patient is more than meets the eye, and unraveling his secrets will throw her team into a desert storm of double agents and religious extremists. All that stands between love and war are two families, two brothers, and two conflicting versions of the truth.

Review - 

Seeing Double is a complex story of international intrigue featuring a religious extremist who has embraced the concept of a devastating world cleanse that would bring about the end of mankind. He is attracting an ever growing group of zealots who believe in this vision.  Several different agencies are working separately to untangle all the threads. They need to uncover everyone involved and more importantly, figure out where the financing is coming from. Time is running out.

Adding depth to the book is a side story of family and friends living in different worlds, yet struggling to keep a youthful promise to work together for peace between their cultures.  Loyalties are stretched to the limit and promises of total honesty cannot be kept.  Will their deep connection survive the challenges that arise.

Author Nancy J Alexander's job was a difficult one with this book - how to introduce readers to a large number of diverse characters and plot threads early in the book while building excitement. She succeeds beautifully. From there she slowly wove all those separate elements into an ending I guarantee will surprise you.

Buy the Book:  Amazon​  Add to Goodreads

Meet The Author - 

Check out a great author interview - HERE!

​Love of the mystery/thriller genre combines with psychotherapy training and experience to produce an emotionally supercharged dramatic novel. Nancy Alexander has devoted much of her professional life to helping survivors of childhood trauma; their distress has been ingrained and works to create characters who give voice to their plight. To analyze the evil minds that prey on others and the intricacies of law enforcers who pursue them seemed a natural interlacing of professional, literary and creative interests.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Interview with Nancy J Alexander, Author of Seeing Double: An Elisabeth Reinhardt Novel (Book #1 Olive Branch Series)

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

My journey began not as a journey, but rather as a few short walks in the woods. I wanted to write some ‘real life’ short stories, fun, easy stuff. Poetry and personal auto-biographical musings followed as a means of self-expression. I never made the decision to ‘become a writer,’ I just became one.

Bits of a story had been rumbling around in my mind and one day I sat down and wrote the first chapter of Relentless, then the next, then the next. That was it. The experience was exciting, free flowing, wholly creative and I wanted to keep going, Seeing Double came next.

What has your former career as a psychotherapist helping adult survivors of childhood trauma brought to your writing?

As a psychotherapist, my patients and their life experiences are always with me. Through my work, my insight, empathy and sensitivities deepened along with a strong need to advocate for the underdog.

My love of intrigue combines with my commitment to social justice, as my characters reveal their experiences, inner dialogues and instinct for survival. Patients ‘pop up’ here and there throughout my books, showing up as character’s conflicts, fears, confusion, body language and vulnerabilities unfold.

Where did the inspiration for the story line in Seeing Double come from? And the book's many characters?

Seeing Double is a product of my imagination, evolving incrementally! My interest in sociology, religion, culture, geopolitical conflicts and terrorism all led to the creation of Seeing Double. From the first page when Ari enters Dr. Reinhardt’s office, a novel focusing on the Middle East was born and a new spy series The Olive Branch, was launched.

Review HERE!
Personally, I have a connection with the state of Israel and a deep concern for all the people in that long suffering region. Palestinians, Syrians, and Iraqis, to name a few, suffer daily because of the so far unresolvable conflicts in their part of the world.

Giving voice to entrenched over-arching issues preventing peaceful resolution was a personal goal, as characters were created to voice their daily struggles, dilemmas, conflicting nationalistic and religious forces.

What kind of research/travel did you need to do to bring authenticity to the diverse locations and cultures included?

Years ago I traveled abroad, so I have a narrow experiential sense of some of the lands, cultures and people. I think though that most of the richness that brings authenticity to Seeing Double comes from extensive research I did using books, google, news articles and interviews with people who had knowledge of the subject matter I addressed.

This was quite a complex story with many, many threads and characters to introduce at the start of the book. How did you map it all out so that it flowed easily?

You are quite right! Seeing Double is complex and multi-layered and I appreciate your observation about its flow. My writing process is spontaneous and character driven; I write without notes or overall map, relying on memory and an internal sense of the book’s direction. Rather than knowing where the book is going I sense it and allow it to evolve on its own.

I write for long periods of time which contributes to the flow and intensity. After a break perhaps of several days, I skim through recent chapters, keying into the themes and issues. My deliberately designed chapter headings serve as content guideposts and often dictate the movement in each chapter. In addition, I’ll print and post index cards with pictures and text to serve as reminders.

Once the novel is written, I re-read/rewrite and depend on my editor’s feedback to round things out.

How do your organize your time when working on a new book? Research? Working on Manuscript? Pre-marketing?
Writing is one of several projects demanding my time, so I don’t write every day. When I work on a book, I write intensively, for an extended period of time, often writing non-stop for 8 + hours. By the end of a weekend, a large portion of the book is completed.

I do research online while I’m writing, often I’ll use my desktop and laptop side by side, one for research or supportive documents and the other for the novel itself. I usually have several documents open at once, moving material back and forth between them.

Reading and ongoing topic research occurs intermittently.

I would describe my process as free-flowing, intuitive and loosely structured. While writing my third novel, Twisted Realms, I started to use a software program called Scrivener which provides an excellent database, but I don’t write directly in the application because its word processing component is not as good as Word. Nevertheless, it’s a very useful writing tool, once the data is loaded. I may keep Scrivener open on my laptop to look things up while writing on the desktop.

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

I love the initial process of creating a new story, inventing and describing my characters, their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships. I love getting ‘into their heads’ and letting the plots build naturally and incrementally. I love words. I love discovering just the right word for each situation and I love visualizing, watching scenes flourish and come to life.

When a complex plot with all its strands and nuances comes together its pure joy. Sometimes it happens without my awareness, suddenly disparate plot points have merged almost magically. At other times, its work, going back and re-working sections to make things line up and make sense. That’s where the ‘chore’ comes in. Making the chronology of events line up, that’s work. That happens with re-writes and editing and that’s not nearly as much fun as uninhibited writing.

What advice can you give authors just starting out who would like to write books in this type of genre?

Spy novels are a lot of work, especially for those of us who aren’t spies! Not only are you writing a complex, intertwining probably multi-national plot but you’re writing about organizations that are by definition, cloaked in secrecy. Because of that, make peace with the fact that you are writing pure fiction and don’t worry too much about getting the spy thing right.

Another aspect to consider is that you will be writing, in all likelihood about many different countries, cities, cultures, governments and organizations so there’s a lot to learn. I’d say to make sure there is something about the plot, setting or characters that you do already know or have a strong interest in studying.

Do some reading in the genre to get a sense of how those novels are constructed; acquaint yourself with the locations you are going to be including. Get maps and globes and surround yourself with material so you can refer to things you need at a moment’s notice. You don’t want to break your flow by having to stop what you’re doing and read a book.

Organizing your computer files is essential, so make sure your categories are clear and you know where you filed your documents!

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

Sunday, April 30, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 7 - Bowne & Co Stationers, Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, The Brooklyn Promenade & Goodbye

I had a plan for the last day.  It was the sunniest, hottest, most fabulous weather which was great, but I had been saving one indoor attraction for this day - The American Museum of Natural History. I missed visiting this museum last time, so it was high on my list. They had a live butterfly exhibit I particularly wanted to see, but I held off as they opened a new jelly fish exhibit on Monday. I figured I'd show up around 10-10:30 a.m. today, spend a few hours there and then head out into the sunshine for the rest of the day.  Wrong!

Repeat after me again - I will not book a trip to NYC during Easter, Passover and Spring Break!  I walked into the lobby and found myself in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of parents and kids. The noise level was deafening.  The day was too beautiful and I'm just not a crowd person, so I turned around and headed outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. My visit to this wonderful attraction will have to wait until my next visit.

Brooklyn called me today.  I wasn't up for another tour, so decided to visit the Brooklyn Promenade for it's fabulous view of the Manhattan skyline (see my panorama above). There were three options open to getting there. #1 - take the subway to the closest Brooklyn station. #2 - take the subway to the station closest to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and walk over it and then down to the promenade. #3 - take the East River Ferry across from Wall Street or 34th.  As the day was so beautiful, I decided to take option #2 and walk over the Bridge even though I'd done it before. What an experience.

First I really didn't figure out the subway route very well.  I ended up a fair distance and a little confused. No worries - it's all an adventure.  I stumbled across the South Street Seaport District. The museum was closed that day, so just explored a bit and continued on my way. The one shop I did go into was charming - Bowne & Co Stationers.  They actually print some of the posters and more that that sell in their shop right on site.  I may come back and explore this area more fully on my next visit.

After twisting back and forth through the side streets, referring often to my map and asking a few strangers, I finally arrived at the entry point for the Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway goes down a raised centre above the car lanes, so it is really noisy. It is a divided path with bikes supposedly going on one side and walkers on the other. BUT, it was high tourist time and the walking half was too small to accommodate all the walkers going both directions and stopping to shoot views and selfies. The bike riders were frustrated, but that didn't slow them down. I was surprised there were no collisions.

Left - I photographed this building many times over the week, but this pic is my favourite.
Centre - stepped out of the subway on a crowded street and loved this angle of the Empire State Building
Right - you can seen the Brooklyn Promenade awaiting as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge

At each end of the bridge the first 20 to 30 feet have people selling prints, water and more. Most offer pretty much the same selection of stuff.  I just ignore them, although I did buy a bottle of water.  Then about 2/3 of the way across the bridge I saw an older man with some artwork out. He did not speak any English which made it a challenge but we persevered.

He had his original drawings hanging and then a box full of matted, signed prints that were selling for the same price as all the other tourist ones.  Oh my! As I was looking through the prints, he would point to his name and then to the area of the city where he drew that image.  I selected three and tried to pay him a little extra. He was flattered. Grinning broadly, he gave me a fourth to take with me. I love these moments in NYC, but they only happen if you keep your eyes open and again, SLOW DOWN!

Note - have of this walkway was for bicycles. As you can see, when crowded the walkers ignore this.

Once I left the bridge, I winded my way through the side streets. I knew roughly where I was going and while I didn't take the most direct route, I arrived. The Brooklyn Promenade is another very touristy area as it has truly the best view of the Manhattan skyline.  It's big enough though to not feel too crowded. There were benches all along to rest on and tables/chairs set out for anyone wanting to rest while enjoying a bite.

The one negative was because of the large number of people there, every restaurant, ice cream parlor, etc., was full with a long line to get in. I would have enjoyed relaxing there and enjoying a bit and perhaps a beer, or snagging an ice cream to enjoy while I lounged on a bench.  However, I'm glad I went, especially on that day.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the view was impressive.

The food places were swamped but the Promenade was fairly empty

With the help of a local, I quickly located the Brooklyn subway station closest to the Promenade. Thanks to this wonderful businessman for pointing me in the right direction as I had discovered only that morning that the wonderful fold-up subway/street map I used every day only covered Manhattan. There was no Brooklyn section. I need to correct for future visits.

My journey back to my Airbnb was winding. I jumped off DT and revisited a few places I had seen before.  I walked the streets enjoying the sunshine and just soaking up the unique flavour that is NYC. It was a time to say goodbye again and I already knew that another trip was in store.  This is an amazing city with so much to offer.  Each time I discover something new.

Back home, I connected with Gabriella and found out that dinner just wouldn't work. Fortunately I had some Hummus leftover and a couple beers.  Packing, uploading the last of the pictures and organizing my shared shuttle to JFK for the next morning filled my evening. I headed to bed early ready to start the long journey home in the morning.


Friday, April 28, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 6 - Gabriella Contestable, Central Park, Cooper Hewitt & Chelsea Market

Two days left to go and they were going to be glorious. The wind was gone, the weather outside was sunny and warm.  And I had the privilege of finally meeting a social media friend in person after two years.

When I launched my first book - Life Outside the Box: The Extraordinary Journeys of 10 Unique Individuals - in February 2015, I decided to book a virtual book tour through iRead Book Tours.  Gabriella Contestable was one of the wonderful reviewers who gave my book a thumbs up and then reached out to connect. She is also a published author with one fiction book to her credit and a new non-fiction book coming out this year. She also is the president of Su Misura which organizes “tailor-made” sensory travel journeys for women celebrating Italian fashion and artisanship in Florence.

Magic happened this trip as the Airbnb I booked was only 2-1/2 blocks from her home and on the exact same street.  She popped by and picked me up this morning and we headed off first for a leisurely walk through Central Park.  I had never actually seen the small lake there and the trees lining some of our path were in blossom.  Beautiful. Although the pic I snapped makes the park look empty, there were walkers, joggers, tourists and artists all scattered around us. One handsome jogger agreed to snap our picture with the lake and skyline in the background.

There was a destination - the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.  First stop on arrival was the Tarallucci E Vino Cafe operated by Italian restaurant and caterer Tarallucci e Vino.  Gabriella had an espresso and a pastry.  I decided on a mushroom quiche with salad and a large latte. Other than when I met Amber, I've been living on instant coffee in the mornings. Having a well-made, quality latte was a real treat. There were a few places to sit indoors but it was just too beautiful outside. We snagged a table out in the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden.

The stroll through Central Park and conversation over food gave us all the time we needed to catch up. It was time to head in and start exploring the exhibits.  It was then that another moment of magic happened.  A handsome and extremely friendly young man behind the entrance desk - Eric R. DySart - looked up and broke out in a huge smile. He loved my new hairstyle - asymmetrical with a black rectangle feature on the long side.  He asked if I ran a museum or...........

At my age, moments like this come rarely and I was truly touched. I dragged him out from behind the desk to get a picture together. Alas it is out of focus, but I have included it anyway as it is a fond memory. I have been approaching, talking to and interviewing people for over a decade. A moment like this stands out as rare. To the Cooper Hewitt, this positive and generous spirit is a true asset to your organization. Use him wisely.

One very cool thing at the Cooper Hewitt is guests are offered a special flat-end Pen at the admissions desk. This is used to keep track of any item that catches your eye. You just press it to an X next to the description and it stores the item in a passworded file specifically for you.  You can view pictures and descriptions of everything you scanned on your mobile device or at home on your computer just by going to the website and putting in your password.  Brilliant!

The first exhibit we explored was one called The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920's. This is a multi-media experience of more than 400 examples of interior design, industrial design, decorative art, jewelry, fashion, and architecture, as well as related music and film. Giving full expression to the decade’s diversity and dynamism, The Jazz Age defines the American spirit of the period.

Related to The Jazz Age was a second exhibit we explored called Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era. The Carnegie Mansion’s Teak Room was the setting for this showcase of more than 100 extraordinary examples of luxury cigarette and vanity cases, compacts, clocks, and other objects of the era are now on view in the . The collection included work from the premier jewelry houses of Europe and America—among them Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Lacloche Frères, Boucheron, and Bulgari—dating from 1910 to 1938.

The World of Radio exhibit came next. A Depression-era, monumental batik mural designed by Arthur Gordan Smith titled The World of Radio provided the inspiration for this exhibition of iconic radios, radio design drawings, and photographs from the early twentieth century through the present day. Designed by  Radios designed by pioneering industrial designers such as Donald Deskey, Dieter Rams, and Henry Dreyfuss are installed alongside drawings by hand of prototypes for radio consoles and cabinets designed to enhance a modern home

Our final stop was an exhibit called Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse which offered the work of three designers who put sustainability at the heart of the design process: Luisa Cevese, founder of Riedzioni in Milan; Christina Kim, founder of dosa, inc., in Los Angeles; and Reiko Sudo, managing director at NUNO in Tokyo. Through more than forty works, this exhibition explores key facets of sustainability, such as the efficient use of materials and resources, the preservation of local craft traditions and the integration of new technologies in the recycling process.

Our senses now overloaded, it was time for Gabriella and I to enjoy a leisurely stroll back home while we talked more about what we saw and life in general. In a moment of inspiration, I snagged a second large latte to enjoy as tomorrow it would be back to instant. Although we tentatively planned to have supper together the next night (my last in town), things just didn't come together for it to happen.

Back at the Airbnb, I changed to a cooler sundress as it really was getting hot outside and headed off to explore a destination suggested by a my friend Kean Tan - Chelsea Market. The market is a food hall, shopping mall, office building and television production facility. It is a block long and a block wide and just a short walk from the Hudson River in the area of Manhattan known as the Meatpacking District.

I am still yearning for this bolero.
The belt is interesting too, but I
don't have much of a waist. :)
In my walk through, food and food related items seemed to be the main focus of most outlets with more than thirty-five vendors purveying everything from soup to nuts, wine to coffee and cheese to cheesecake. It has been open for 15 years and attracts 6 million visitors annually.

I decided to stroll the full length of the market - a long hall with occasional side shoots - to see what kind of food I wanted in particular and what was for sale in terms of merchandise.  You couldn't help but get hungry just looking at all the unique choices.

At the very very far end, the hall ended in a large room of vendors called Artists and Fleas.  I did a general walk through and saw many items of interest, but one in particular caught my eye. A vendor right at the entrance had this zipper dominated bolero and unique belt on display. The bolero made my craving meter fly off the register - well at least until I asked the price. It cost $250 USD.  The craftsmanship of this amazing work of art meant the asking price was well justified, but regardless, it was sadly outside my budget or I would have snagged it in an instant.  I'm still dreaming about it though. You can get more information on Artists & Fleas HERE!

While there were a lot of really crazy, interesting food establishments, I decided I was hungry again for pizza, something I don't often indulge in at home.  Of those offered, Filaga seemed to have the most luscious looking selection. I ate my large slice perched on a bar stool at their counter, savouring every mouthful.  Filaga also offers Crocchette Di Patate , Zeppole, Cannoli Siciliani, Calzone Al Pollo and Arancine (tried it, but not as good as the pizza), 

As it was only late afternoon, I decided to pick up something to take with me for later. and settled on hummus from Dizengoff, Named for one of Tel Aviv’s most iconic streets, Dizengoff NYC is an authentic, Israeli-style hummus stall (hummusiya) like the ones found around every corner in Israel. They serve freshly-made hummus (heavy on the tehina) – topped with rotating seasonal garnishes like hot spiced lamb with pine nuts or avocado with harissa – accompanied by fresh, hearth-baked pita, chopped salad, and Israeli pickles. While I went with the classic, the menu was so intriguing, I've decided to include it (minus the beverages) here. 

It was definitely time to start heading home, but I decided to not take the closest subway. Instead I walked the streets for about another 8 long blocks enjoying the sun, the architecture and the buzz of the city that surrounded me. I only had one more day to go and wanted to enjoy the last of my time here as fully as possible.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

NYC On My Mind April 2017 Day 5 - Amber Nifong, East Village, Timbuktu, Kinky Boots & a Wine Sippy Cup!

As predicted, this Sunday was the first warm day, something that would continue for the few days. It wasn't really hot yet, but my jacket soon became unnecessary.  I had a real treat lined up today.  Amber Nifong, an amazingly talented fashion designer whose grad show totally blew me away, reached out to have a catch-up brunch. As I am no longer young, it took me by surprise. What an honour. (Check out my show review HERE!)

My first delight of the day was again being serenaded on the train, this time by the duet of Charles and John singing rousing gospel numbers. The picture is blurry because they never stopped moving.  My toes were tapping and a grin spread across my face.

Amber chose a restaurant in East Village, an area I wasn't all that familiar with which is always fun. I made a good choice and a bad choice in terms of getting there. The good choice was to leave fairly early so I would have time to figure out where I was going.

The bad choice? I totally screwed up my trip planning.  Wrong subway, wrong stop, misjudged how far it was on foot from one point to another. Fortunately I love walking new areas and my fold-up subway map includes a more detailed tiny street map.  I ended up arriving on time and despite the long walking route, enjoyed exploring what the area offered along the way. I also got in some great exercise.

Charles & John singing, unique architecture, what look like a metal pig BBQ outside a restaurant that didn't serve BBQ,
a huge cathedral that magically appeared as I crossed a street, and a Vespa parked on the sidewalk with custom paint job.

Amber and I met at the Copper Still at 151 2nd Ave. We were the first people in the doors at as they opened which meant great service and our food came quickly.  They have a lovely and varied weekend brunch menu.  Not a morning person, I went with the standard Eggs Anyway with home fries (a favourite of mine), brioche toast and salad. Amber chose the Eggs Norwegian, a combination of poached eggs, salmon & house made hollandaise that was also served with home fries & salad. We started with a mimosa each and ended with several cups of strong coffee.

It was fascinating to hear how her career was progressing and what it was like to work in the garment district. This is one seriously talented lady, but paid jobs were still hard to come by, unpaid internships the norm, rents high, salaries low and you often worked for companies that had very different aesthetics from your own.  If you think working in the fashion world is glamorous, just spend some time with a designer just starting out. You really do need passion, drive and focus to carry you.

A highlight of our time together was to get a look at the illustrations in her portfolio - I am a HUGE fan of illustration - and the new collection she is just beginning to move forward on. As was her last, it is unique, outside the box and very conception. I literally drooled over her concepts and cannot wait to see this collection come to life. Hoping I can be front row and centre at it's unveiling.

After we finally ran out of steam, Amber was nice enough to offer to walk me to the closest subway station so I could get on the right train this time.  We did a double take and paused on the way when we passed a unique shop called Timbuktu. The window display drew us in. Caftans, handbags, incredible jewellery and more filled this shop. The largest part was Moroccan, but there were other countries represented. I walked out with a caftan because I fell in love with it's construction. Next time I'm in town I'm coming here to snag some jewellery.

This day was good to start with but it only went uphill from here. Last time I visited NYC I didn't have the budget to see a Broadway play.  I missed Kinky Boots when it went through Vancouver, so decided I was going to make it happen this time. Fortunately where it has been running five years and offers matinees, I could snag a great seat about row seven dead centre for the 3 p.m. show that was within my budget.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street off Time Square was literally two blocks from my subway stop.  I picked up my ticket at will call and got into the very short line-up.  A lovely family helped me out with the daughter snapping my pic with their dad (see top photo), then the doors opened!  Inside and to my left was the bar with two smiling handsome bartenders awaiting my order. This is when the fun truly started.

I asked if I bought a glass of wine if could I take it into the theatre as I didn't want to have to stand in the lobby and slug it down. They both smiled wide and introduced me to the wine sippy cup. WHAT? I was instantly curious. This plastic glass looks like a kid's sippy cup, but has a twist top that closes off the drinking and air holes to prevent spills. You twist to top open to drink, but here's the kicker. They give you a straw that fits perfectly into the drinking hole to sip through.  I could not stop laughing. 

I snapped a picture of them, bought a wine in a sippy cup and headed into the theatre. True to form, I started talking to those around me and showed everyone my sippy cup while laughing. Soon a stream of patrons were headed out to get their very own sippy cup.  I carried mine home in my purse to make sure it didn't get broken and every time I look at it I smile. 

What a privilege to be at this performance. As it was my first Broadway play, I have nothing to compare it to, but it was spectacular. The first thing I noticed was that from the minute the play started, the audience began enthusiastically and audibly showing the actors their appreciation. The energy was palpable.

So many things have to come together for a play to be superb - casting not just great actors, but the right one for each part; a strong script; great music; wonderful set; fabulous costuming; great directing; great producing; spectacular lighting; an enthusiastic audience and last but not least, the actors need to bring their A game to their performance. This can't be easy day after day, show after show. 

Every single element came together this day and I am filled with gratitude to have been there to be immersed in it. When all of us in the audience as one leapt to our feets to give a standing ovation, the actors smiled broadly. When ten minutes later we were still clapping and cheering, a few actors looked at each other and shared a high five. Brilliant and wonderful. 

Every single person on that stage brought their A game so I hesitate to single out anyone, but have chosen three that I do want to mention. Killian Donnelly played the part of Charlie Price so well, we truly believed he was just a nerdy guy. Then he stepped in front of the set to belt out a solo and we all went crazy - amazing!  One seriously talented actor.  

Then there was Taylor Louderman who played the role of Lauren - a young shoe factory worker who developed a crush on Charlie.  Her singing was superb, but it was her comedic timing and use of her body while singing these numbers that was truly brilliant.  The poses she hit and way she used her voice brought out every possible nuance and she had us all belly laughing.

Lastly, I want to mention J. Harrison Ghee who performed the title role of Lola to perfection. He brought me to laughter, tears and everything in between. Fabulous voice and truly wonderful interpretation of this important role.  While there were several times his singing left me in awe, it was his performance of Not My Father's Son that touched my soul. I was not able to fulfill the role my parents had hoped for me.  I can still recall how affected I was at the time a month later. Well done!

Thanks to all the cast and crew, to absolutely everyone who brought this moment together for me to enjoy. It's one I will never forget.

Day 5 could not have been better. I loved it from start to finish.