Tag Archives: interview

Interview with Yaakov Katz, co-author of “The Weapon Wizards”

Philip K. Jason: In The Weapon Wizards, you observe that Israel’s enemies have not ceased building arsenals of rockets and missiles, even though Israel’s Iron Dome and Arrow systems have rendered such stockpiles ineffective. Is any hope that more elaborate defensive (or offensive) weapons will change the operations of Hezbollah and Hammas?

Yaakov Katz: Originally, when Israel developed its missile defense systems, it hoped that their success would make Israel’s enemies—particularly Hamas and Hezbollah—reconsider their investment in missile systems. The theory was that they would see that their missiles are ineffective and would understand that it is not worth investing in. That has not happened.

This does not mean that the missile defense systems are not effective. They are and they save Israeli lives. They have also given the government what we call “Diplomatic Maneuverability”, the ability to think before responding to rocket attacks, rather than being drawn into a conflict immediately. The systems have taken a weapon that could be of strategic consequences and turned them into a tactical issue that does not necessarily need to evolve into war.

PKJ: If there is no military solution to Israel’s quest for an end to war, can resources be allocated to programs more likely to be successful?

YK: Military means are not an end to conflict but a means to be used to reach a diplomatic resolution. Although this has not yet happened for Israel when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, it has worked though with the two countries Israel made peace with, Egypt and Jordan. Both countries understood, after defeat on the battlefield, that war will not overcome Israel. Israel continues to invest in additional defense and offensive programs, which will help keep Israelis safe and ensure that wars are fought quicker. But they will not defeat an enemy’s desire to destroy Israel.

PKJ: What are the benefits to Israel of its astounding success in weapon development, manufacture, and sales?

YK: The first clear benegit is that by developing top-tier weaponry, Israeli ensures its qualitative military edge in a very volatile region and as more potential conflicts loom on the horizon. The second benefit is economic: Israel today is one of the world’s top arms exporters and brings in about $6.5 billion annually to the Israeli economy in arms sales.

PKJ: How did you and your coauthor, Amir Bohbot, “share the load” of creating this book?

Amir and I are both veteran military correspondents who have worked closely together covering Israel’s different wars and operations since the early part of the 2000s. We split up the writing based on chapters: I wrote one chapter and he wrote another. The process was a bit more complicated. First, we would meet before starting to work on a new chapter. We would brainstorm for a while and the draft a chapter outline together—what stories will be there, who needs to be interviewed, etc. After spending one or two months researching and writing, when the chapter was done we’d share it with one another. Each of us would then add what was needed, make other comments, and then meet again to complete it. It was a genuine partnership.

PKJ: In the process of writing this book, did you discover any surprises? Did your research lead you to modify your views on anything, or anyone, connected with this topic? . . .

For the full interview, click here: Interview with Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post

For the book review, click here: The Weapon Wizards: JBC.


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P.J. Boox – not your ordinary bookstore

Phil Jason interviews Patricia Jefferson  

Phil (on left) with Michael and Young Richards

Phil (on right) with Michael and Young Richards

On June 25, I had the pleasure of meeting the proprietor of this unique bookstore, which is located on Reflections Parkway just off Cypress Lakes Drive. I knew right away that it was a special place. On that day, thriller author M. A. Richards was also at the bookstore with his wife Young for a book signing. After strolling around and enjoying the distinctive layout of the store, I just had to share Patti Jefferson’s vision with my readers.

  1. How — and why — is P. J. Boox different from other bookstores?

In many ways we are just like every other bookstore you have ever been in. We offer great mysteries, romance, poetry, children’s books and a bunch of other genres. In spite of that, almost everyone who walks through our doors knows that we are definitely NOT like any other bookstore that they have ever seen. I suppose it starts with the fact that our books are all displayed face out. You can see the cover of every book that we offer. Turns out that the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is really about making assumptions about people and not books at all!

Patti in her Boox store

Patti in her Boox store

Of course the biggest difference is the fact that the books we sell are all by independently or small press published authors from around the world. What does that mean for the average reader? Not much actually. I have never yet met a reader who cared who the publisher of a book was — they just want a good story with characters they can love or hate. Working with these authors directly gives us different advantages than a big box store does. For instance, most of our books are signed by the author and we can Skype or Facetime with them for a book club. Readers can connect and follow the authors on social media because they are accessible to their fans. It’s just a different way to connect authors and readers.

  1. How does your selection process work?  

    A woman and her Boox

    A woman and her Boox

For a long time, independent or small press publishing had a bit of a stigma as being an inferior product to traditionally published books. In the recent years, however, independent authors have fought to correct that ill-conceived notion so it vital for us to be able to present the best books available to our readers. We get submissions on our website directly from authors and we also solicit select authors on-line. We judge the books by their cover designs, whether the manuscript was professionally edited, and we look at reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads. We check out the authors other marketing platforms, and we are especially interested in books that have won national or international book awards.

  1. Clearly, you must have a different business model from the “usual” bookstore. Will you describe it? . . .

To find the answer and the rest of the interview, as they appear in the August 24,2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 25 Naples, Bonita Springs,   and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – P.J. Boox

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“Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times,” by Anne C. Heller

At once concise and thorough, Anne C. Heller’s achievement in this carefully focused biography and appraisal makes the case for the good short book. The skillful compression of facts, contexts, and impact allows for a great feeling of kinetic energy. It is a book that, like its subject, feels ready to explode.  A_Life_in_Dark_Times

Heller’s point of attack is the publication and immediate aftermath of Arendt’s most notorious book, Eichmann in Jerusalem—a wise and dramatically effective choice. Demystifying the arch-villain into an unimaginative functionary, Arendt formulated the term “the banality of evil” to suggest that the monster within people like Eichmann is marked by an astounding ordinariness. The publication outraged Arendt’s admirers, including a large swath of the intellectual Jewish community, and sent this major woman thinker—who always felt herself an outcast—into a degree of social and occupational exile that was painful and perplexing.

This outsider perspective was in part the product of Arendt’s Jewish identity, a facet of her being that underwent several transformations, each treated by Heller with good sense and sensitivity. . . .

To read the full review, click hereHannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C. Heller | Jewish Book Council

See also my interview with biographer Anne C. Heller: Interview with Anne C. Heller, Author of ‘Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times’

Also see: Remaking the image of Adolph Eichmann’s Jerusalem trial | Phil Jason Reviews B

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The ghost at the keyboard: Mary Jane Robinson in her own voice

Naples resident Mary Jane Robinson is a busy writer who makes her living by remaining invisible. She rarely receives any mention in the books she writes for others.  In turning people’s stories into effective narratives, her job is not only to be true to the storyteller’s voice, but also to bring the prose to a professional level. For more than twenty years, Ms. Robinson has been doing this exceptionally well, having ghostwritten over 100 memoirs. IMG_3185

Without mentioning names, her website alludes to many prominent clients, including “a cabinet member in the Reagan administration; numerous Fortune 500 CEOs; an Emmy Award-winning actor; the ringleader of the “Dinnertime Burglar Gang”; and several founders and founding families of both public and privately-held prominent U.S. corporations.” Her primary focus lies in the preservation of personal, family, and corporate histories.

PJ: What is/are the most difficult part/parts of your work as a ghostwriter?

MJR: Because a ghostwritten memoir can only be as good as the interview (and the backstory I add to enrich the text and context), the interview is the most challenging aspect of my work. In using oral testimony as the foundation for the life stories I write, I have learned a valuable lesson: It works best to know little or nothing about the subject of the interview. When I know little or nothing about my client, eliciting their story is like turning the pages of a book—for both of us. I am not reaching for what I already know is ahead.

Because I know nothing, I must listen intently and pose good questions as I guide people through their lives. If my task is to take them on a guided tour, the interviewee can relax and tell the tale, which is the true beauty of working with a ghostwriter. Listening to what is being spoken and thinking of what question will follow is difficult. When the interviewee has finished answering my question, he or she looks at me for the next one.

The way one asks a seeminglysimple question is crucial.If I say, “Tell me about the first time you saw your future husband,” the interviewee might feel overwhelmed. If I ask, “When you first met your future husband, what were you wearing?” the answer will lead to more questions. The first question is too general; the second question is specific.  Specific questions feel simpler to answer.

As a ghostwriter, I writein first-person narrative, assuming my client’s voice and form of expression. Effective ghostwriting is all about “voice,” and it cannot be mine. When it comes to the intimacy of the interviewing process, beyond listening closely to what is said, my ears are alert to the individual’s intonation, form of expression, humor, and heart. I hear that again in working through the word-for-word transcript. Beyond telling a great story, my goal is to submit first drafts that inspire my clientst to say, “How did I do this?”

The full interview, as it appears in the March 14, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly, can be found on the following three pages: Florida Weekly – Ghost Writer 1 , Florida Weekly – Ghost Writer 2, and Florida Weekly – Ghost Writer 3

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Jonathon King’s “Max Freeman” series continues to excel

Midnight Guardians, by Jonathon King. Open Road. E-book. $9.99.

This sixth and newest novel in Jonathon King’s “Max Freeman” series picks up in the wake of Max’s girlfriend’s crippling injury. Broward County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sherry Richards’ loss of a leg is something about which Max can’t help but feel responsible (see Acts of Nature in which the calamity occurs), and he is doing all he can to redeem himself and assist in the psychological healing that Sherry needs. Not that she admits to any needs. An independent and courageous woman, she is struggling to get on with her life, which means mainly her job. Stubbornly refusing assistance as much as she possibly can, Sherry makes it difficult for Max to know how to do and say the right things to nourish their relationship. 

She has taken on the assignment of counseling Marty Booker, a fellow officer who just lost both legs in what seemed to be a routine traffic stop. However, it turns out the Booker might have been set up – possibly for even more than the double-amputation.

Meanwhile, Max’s old Philadelphia friend and principal employer, well-healed attorney Billy Manchester, has something for Max to investigate. Billy’s client, Luz Carmen, is a young woman who works for a medical equipment supplier that she suspects is involved in Medicare and Medicaid fraud. She feels certain that her younger brother, Andres, has been drawn into the gang that is making the false medical claims. She wants to save Andres, who is essentially a delivery boy, while bringing the masterminds to justice. Though Luz had insisted on seeking a safe place to discuss this matter, she and Max barely escape being victims of a drive-by shooting. Was it just a prank? Or was someone following Luz?

Billy insists that Max keep an eye on her.

Jonathon King

Through the device of having several chapters explore the thoughts of Marty Booker, Mr. King offers another center of interest and also a series of steps to the realization that rogue policemen are in on dealing and abusing illegal drugs. A shadowy fellow nick-named the Brown Man, with whom Max has had past encounters, is found to be straddling the criminal world, moving from the drug trade to  the more white collar fraud enterprise. Marty had been trying to separate himself from the steroid-using police gang before his “accident.”

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 22-28, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the December 23-29 issue of the Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Jonathon King pdf

[only the Naples edition carries the additional material on e-book publication]

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Rodger Kamenetz: Review and Interview

*from Jewish Book World, Winter 2010-11


by Rodger Kamenetz. Nextbook/Schocken, 2010. 352pp. $25.00

ISBN: 978-0-8052-4257-7

Reviewed by Philip K. Jason

Stopping short of creating an imaginary conversation between two great Jewish writers, Rodger Kamenetz provides the groundwork for such an exchange in this highly original study – a meditation, really – on the inner circumstances that link them. Kamenetz reads the works of each man “as autobiography of the soul,” the soul of an ardent seeker. Each mastered and contributed to the art of the literary-spiritual parable. Their narratives involve quests, often frustrated ones, as do their lives. Each man wished many of his writings to be burned after his death. Kamenetz explores their individual motives, setting these against the Nazi conflagrations of Jewish books. 

A third seeker, Kamenetz himself, weaves his meditation around his journey to Uman, the Ukrainian town of Rabbi Nachman’s later years and burial, to participate in the annual Rosh Hashanah service that brings Jews of many stripes together. Kamenetz had already made many visits to Kafka’s Prague to teach Kafka’s writings.

Kamenetz examines the lives and writing of Kafka and Nachman in such a way that each illuminates the other. Beginning with unexpected and intriguing similarities, Kamenetz moves from comparison to contrast and back again, in several cycles, finally putting into focus the unique qualities of each of his subjects, and something of his own unique qualities as well.  

“Burnt Books” is a fascinating and intellectually challenging journey of heart and mind.

Bibliography, notes. PKJ


by Philip K. Jason

[Note: the print version of this interview omits material presented in this online version.]

Born in 1950 in Baltimore, Rodger Kamenetz received a B.A. from Yale and M.A. degrees from both Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities. After twenty-eight years of teaching at Louisiana State University, where he was the founder and first director of two important programs – Creative Writing and Jewish Studies – Kamenetz recently retired from his position as Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies. Professor Emeritus Kamenetz works as a dream therapist and continues his adventurous writing.

His major publications are: The Missing Jew (Dryad Press, 1979); Nympholepsy (Dryad Press, 1985); Terra Infirma (U. of Arkansas Press, 1985. Reprinted by Shocken, 1999); The Missing Jew: New and Selected Poems (Time Being Books, 1991); The Jew in the Lotus (Harper San Francisco, 1994. Updated edition, HarperOne, 2007); Stuck: Poems Midlife (Time Being Books, 1997); Stalking Elijah (Harper San Francisco, 1997), winner of the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought; The Lowercase Jew (Northwestern, 2003); and The History of Last Night’s Dream (HarperOne, 2007).

PKJ: In Burnt Books, you explore Rabbi Nachman’s understanding “that this father-son conflict is an old Jewish business.” Below the surface of the conflict between Kafka and his father, the many conflicts of father figures (often kings) and son figures in the writing of Nachman and Kafka, the biblical tales of messy family dynamics, your journey to a kind of Kamenetz fatherland, and the few direct references to your own father, is a processing of that conflict. This is explicit in your dreamwork discussion on the YouTube video “Dreams of My Father.” On one level, Burnt Books is about fathers and sons.

RK: Yes very definitely.  The History of Last Night’s Dream goes into great depth about my father and me so the subject was already on my mind. My father died while we were homeless during Katrina. So Kafka’s trouble with his father were definitely a key point of identification. And Nachman’s loss of an infant son, since I also experienced that.  But these sorts of personal connections are not front and center in the book.

PKJ: The trip to the town of Kamenetz (on the way to Uman) seems to be a continuation of a  journey voiced in your poem  “Changing Names,” and the life path leading to that destination an outgrowth of the lines about changing the meaning of your name. You have made it “inhabited by force” and have transcended, while combining and recombining, “the seeds” in the name.

RK: True enough. Clearly for a very long time – from childhood really – I was searching for my name.

PKJ: When/how did you get the idea of holding Kafka and Nachman in near-dialogue with one another?

RK: I had been thinking about it for many years since I taught Kafka in Prague in a Charles University building overlooking the old Jewish cemetery. So there are lots of Jewish ghosts in Prague. I’ve always loved Nachman’s tale of “The Humble King.” Because we are ourselves searching for some image of God– again this is also what I do with dream work, help people see the images of God they already carry. And I’d noticed that “The Humble King” in condensed form had much the same plot as The Trial. Namely, a corrupt court system seemingly run without knowledge of the higher authorities. Both stories are midrash on the Book of Job. So it all was working together. They were already talking to each other through their stories and in my mind.

But after Katrina, living through the complete destruction of a city, I understood how our big story – the Torah – is always re-circling. I saw a city return to the opening chapters of Genesis. I remember that first Rosh Hashanah seeing three heron flying overhead. Our city street was going back to nature, becoming a flyway. And so I began thinking about home and what home means, and what it’s like to lose your home. Part of me is like Kafka, always daydreaming about leaving home but never leaving. The other part of me is like Nachman, always leaving home, setting off on new adventures.

PKJ: What brought you to studying Rabbi Nachman’s life and writings?

RK: I am fascinated by the boundary between literature and kabbalah,between literature and religion. Rabbi Nachman stands at that boundary (as does Franz Kafka). Rabbi Nachman is a kabbalist writing fairy tales and Franz Kafka is writing fables that are our modern day kabbalah.

But a more important reason is what one of the people I met on the way to Ukraine told me: Rabbi Nachman is the rebbe for our time. He still lives – through his stories, his teachings. His teachings respond to the urgent questions of faith and hope, the questions Kafka asked more piercingly than anyone. You see I can’t talk about Rabbi Nachman without talking about Kafka and vice versa.

*Reprinted, with attribution, in the May 2011 issues of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County)

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An Interview with Jason R. Jones

Naples author Jason R. Jones recently published “The Exodus of Spiders and Falcons,” the first installment of a fantasy series called The Exodus Sagas. It is available from the publisher via authorhouse.com and also from major online booksellers. Mr. Jones certainly knows how to put ingredients together, as he is the food and beverage director for the Naples Harbour Yacht Club. 

PKJ: An 18-volume fantasy series is an enormous undertaking. How did you prepare for this marathon literary endeavor?

JRJ: Yes, it is huge. Preparation began over a decade ago with dozens of notebooks that filled “the green laundry basket” up in Wisconsin. Years of writing piled into spirals and pads since my teenage years had accumulated so much that the last few years were a huge organizational effort.  A story of epic size demands character and plot continuity. Preparing the maps, charts that outline character, story, subplot, progression, and all the details planned out with a timeline that keeps the story flowing and connected was a monumental task. I would like to tell you that it just flowed and “poof”! But no. The story and writing yes; however, the record keeping and organization took a lot of work over the last few years. I trained myself by reading out my story, seeing the end of chapters and particular books as I began, and unfolding the events of the series – sometimes almost writing backwards in time. Since the earliest notes go back to when I was 15, it’s been 20 years of fantasy indulgence.

PKJ: How did you determine that it would take 18 books to fulfill your intention?

JRJ: 18 is an odd number, but the story evolves over the first quartet as the heroes get their definitions and direction. The next two quartets develop the underlying storylines and plots that lead up to the last quartet that brings everything together into grand-epic-saga-world-gripping fashion. That would put us at 16, but I have a 1-2 punch at the end. In truth, the story could go on, and I hope my son and my future children will pick it up after book 18.

PKJ: How did you settle on the five characters whose fates interlink them in the first volume?

JRJ: The five that come together (James, Shinayne, Azenairk (Zen), Gwenneth, and Saberrak) are integral to  all 18 volumes. They provide the foundation upon which all is built. The first book’s central figure is James Andellis, and each successive book focuses on another of the five as the story progresses.  Shinayne T’Sarrin is the focal character of the 2nd book—of dragons and crowns—nearly finished. These five embody different aspects of failure, heroism, morals, struggle, and virtue—and as they follow their paths, it is obvious more and more why they have been fated into companionship with one another.

To read the entire interview, as it appears in the August 25-31, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 9-15 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Jason R. Jones pdf

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BOOK BEAT 43 – Carl Steinhouse (2)

Carl Steinhouse Revisited

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   May 16-22, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

When I first heard about Carl Steinhouse’s new book, Barred, I thought it focused on the St. Louis, a ship carrying some 900 Jewish refugees that was turned way from Miami and forced to return to Europe. Thus, my first question in the interview that follows was a bit off-center, yet Carl made good use of it anyway.

PKJ: What first got you interested in telling the story of the St. Louis?

CS: Actually, this is not about the St Louis in the literal sense, because this story begins after the St. Louis incident, on 9/1/39, when the Germans invaded Poland. The St. Louis incident comes into play for its historical influence on later events, such as the Jews who arrived on the Quanza. Based on the St. Louis history, Eleanor Roosevelt, James MacDonald and some of their more liberal colleagues convinced FDR to let them handle this matter, knowing the State Department intended a repeat of the St. Louis affair (i.e., sending them back to their deaths in German-occupied Europe). These refugees, as a result, were admitted. 

PKJ: How does Barred fit into your “Living History” series?

CS: I became interested in telling the story of FDR and the State Department almost from the beginning of my Holocaust research because in preparing each of the previous books, I learned that the draconian immigration policies of the US greatly hindered the escape of European Jews from every country in Europe occupied or about to be occupied by the Germans. Each of my other books contains scenes of desperate Jews being denied visas.  So this most recent book was the result of a natural progression.

PKJ: How does Barred differ from the other titles in the series?

CS: This book explains the rationale (if you could call it that), motivations, and practices behind the denial of visas to Jews in mortal danger who could have been saved. My other books touch on the subject, but it deserved a full airing. To bring home the enormity of the US government’s immoral handling of immigration during the Holocaust (State Department memos specifically targeted Jews for denial of visas simply because they were Jews), I had to portray, graphically and dramatically, the efforts of many, including survivors, to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to the attention of the State Department and FDR. So, once again, I dramatized the horrors the Nazis inflicted on the Jews and others, building on the testimony of those who risked their lives to witness the horrors. These people revealed in horrifying detail what they actually saw or experienced—details that were brought to the State Department and promptly dismissed and buried, or to FDR, who chose to let the State Department handle such matters (and also take the heat).

PKJ: What were your main research sources for this book?

CS: Biographies and autobiographies of Jan Karski and of inmates who escaped, as well of personalities in the free world, in the US and Switzerland, who brought the details to the attention of the State Department and FDR. I also explored books on Eleanor Roosevelt (who was a giant in the effort to save the Jews); many, many books about the Holocaust; and Internet sources.

PKJ: Through whose eyes do you tell the story?

CS: Through many eyes, depending on the scene. Through the eyes of Karski, who snuck into concentration camps posing as a guard and into the Warsaw Ghetto during the siege by the German Army; through the eyes of concentration camp escapees; through the eyes of Jewish representatives in Switzerland who received these stories as well as secret information imparted by high-ranking German officials risking their lives to bring out the truth, and the frustrations of these Jewish representatives, stonewalled by the State Department. Last, but not least, through the eyes of Americans, such as Breckenridge Long and Cordell Hull in the State Department, Harold Ickes in the Interior Department, FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

PKJ: What are the most important aspects of this story that you want readers to remember?

CS: Of course the mantra of the Jewish people on the Holocaust: NEVER FORGET! Even in the free world countries, there are government officials with their own agendas, such as anti-Semitism, willing to further that agenda by supporting, however subtly, the actions of despots, dictators and monsters in genocide.

PKJ: What were the special challenges of putting this book together?

CS: The book was of far greater scope and complexity than my previous efforts. I was not only dealing once again with the horrors of the Holocaust, but also with the United States government and its policies during 1939-1945. And also with historical figures, some revered in the eyes of many. This complexity compelled me to footnote (actually, endnote) most of the facts, documents, and conversations. Being an expert in the Holocaust was not sufficient; I had to understand the workings of the US government during that period and the personalities that occupied it. Thus, this project took much longer than my previous efforts.

Neapolitan Carl Steinhouse was one of the first subjects of the “Book Beat” column back in July 2006. For biographical information and comments on his first three books, go to naplessuntimes.com and use the search tool. Also, visit his website: carlsteinhouse.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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BOOK BEAT 40 – Sandy Lender

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   April 18-24, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Sandy Lender, whose fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods has just been released, is a native of Homestead, Florida who grew up in the St. Louis area. In school, she always loved writing assignments and won many awards for her short stories and other student writing. After graduation from Truman State University in Missouri, Lender worked as a proofreader, editor, and writer for various trade publications ranging from Hereford World to North American Elk Breeders Association to Asphalt Contractor. Now she serves in the publishing and public relations fields during the day and writes fiction at night, since 2004 keeping house in Naples where her love of sea turtles and all things related to the ocean waters keeps her imagination growing.

PKJ: How did you get started on Choices Meant for Gods?

SL: The process began when the main female character, Amanda Chariss, appeared to me on her benefactor’s balcony. I didn’t know it then, but I was watching her from the vantage point of the bad guy that morning. I fell in love with her instantly, which is probably why the dragon in the story cares for her as deeply as he does. This was back in high school, believe it or not, when I was just getting a good listen to an album (yes, vinyl, but my copy was on cassette then) by a group called Arcadia. They had an instrumental on the album called Rose Arcana, and I thought, wow, wouldn’t Arcana make a great name for some family legacy, some ancient, powerful castle where people with magic are accepted and protected and can grow up in peace? But nobody gets to grow up in peace. Amanda Chariss proves that. I didn’t sit down and seriously write out her story until 2000-2001, completing the novel in the summer of 2002.

PKJ: Do you have any favorite authors in the fantasy field?

SL: I admire the way Terry Goodkind weaves a story, and his generosity of spirit when I met him in Kansas City a few years ago went a long way toward making me a loyal fan.  I’m also a big fan of Charlotte Bronte, and if anyone tells you she wasn’t a fantasy author, they weren’t listening to Mr. Rochester when they read Jane Eyre. I also have a deep appreciation for the fantasy authors at ArcheBooks Publishing. They’re people who can build clever plots and create realistic characters, and then can turn into marketing machines to let you know their stories are out there to be enjoyed.

PKJ: What was that novel doing since 2002 when you had essentially finished it?

SL: It was sitting in a computer file waiting on the publishing industry. When I completed the book, I started sending query letters to literary agents in the fantasy genre.  I think you’ve heard this story before: they don’t take chances on people they’ve never heard of. Even though I had a strong editing and writing background, that background was in the magazine/journalism industry, not full-length novels and fiction. All the literary agent looks at is a two- or three-paragraph letter stating who you are and what you’ve written. Then he or she has a secretary send back a form letter stating he or she is too busy to take on new clients. After a year of that nonsense, I was looking for other avenues into the industry.

Then I learned that I had the opportunity to pitch the book directly to ArcheBooks Publishing at the Naples Press Club Writers Conference in January 2006. I had done some playing with it from time to time during the querying process, but it was written the way I had formed it in my head after all those years of carrying the characters around, jotting down scene after scene after scene since high school. After I sent the book to the publisher and he suggested it was “long”, I sat down and revised again, this time editing it down by nearly 40,000 words, which tightened and strengthened areas to make the plot flow more easily for a reader. I also asked two strangers I met online to read it and give me criticism. One of them just sort of raved, so, while that was an ego-boost, that wasn’t really useful. The other made comments I was able to incorporate into the 40,000-word editing process.

PKJ: What’s next?

SL: The sequel to Choices Meant for Gods is almost complete and it will complete the series, but I have a prequel that tells of Amanda Chariss’s ancestry before the Second War in Onweald. I also have a non-fiction literary piece in production called The Concept of Home in the Bronte Works and a couple of other fantasy novels under construction.

You can keep up with Sandy Lender, and also brush up on your grammar and other writing concerns, by visiting: todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com. Choices Meant for Gods is available from archebooks.com and from major online and bricks-and-mortar (stucco, in Florida) booksellers.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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BOOK BEAT 28 – Julie Palella

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times January 24-30, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Once San Jose native Julie Palella began reading, she never stopped!  After moving to several states during her childhood, she began to write short stories. Her first full length novel, MacGregor’s Curse, completed later in life, collected dust for quite a while before publication. Her second published novel, Whispers by the Sea, was picked up – like the first – by a small publisher. Being in sales most of her life, Julie knew that her writings would not make much of a impact unless she attended to the necessary business of marketing – and more marketing. 

Her marketing efforts paid off when a high profile agency became interested in another one of her manuscripts – a thriller set in Naples. Julie hopes that the agency will sell this thriller to a large trade house. The sequel is underway. Julie is fortunate to have three siblings, all obsessive readers, who offer lots of feedback on her work. Her husband, Michael, is extremely supportive of her writing career, and her daughter, Rosalynn, is also a writer. 

PKJ: How did you get interested in making Ireland and Scotland the settings for your first two novels?JP: I received a diary from an ancestor of mine that was passed down through the centuries from my mother’s side of the family. Her name was Lottie Hunter and she lived in the Highlands during the turbulent 13th century. A lot of it is hard to read, but I got the dialect from her in her writings and the sense of fear that the clans felt. A lot of the sentences are in Gaelic, but some are in English, with the dialect. This started MacGregor’s Curse. The things she wrote were so natural and just a part of her every day life, and, to me, it would be almost impossible to carry on and endure the hardships. I wondered if a modern day woman could actually do it. The character pretty much walked me through that one, and I started to find strength in human nature and the will to survive as my character, Elizabeth, took me along her journey. Although she suffers in the book (some fan mail that suggests she suffers a bit too much), I tried to make it as realistic as possible.

My grandfather is 100% Irish and comes from Brittas Bay, Ireland. I studied his family and the land and thought it fascinating. Although Whispers by the Sea is contemporary, there is so much tradition that the Irish still follow that I couldn’t resist throwing an American woman into a small town to see how she’d fit in. 

PKJ: What kind of research do you perform to give historical narratives authenticity?JP: The Internet is extremely helpful visually, and I print a lot of things out to get an idea of clothing, settings, etc. Research is actually my worse enemy. I spend so much time researching and find it so fascinating that I literally have to tell myself to stop and that enough is enough. I needed more of the dialect for MacGregor’s Curse, so I watched Braveheart a lot and Rob Roy and just kind of worked it in. Dialect is hard because you can’t use too much of it or the book is just too hard to read and you can’t really “hear” the characters because you are too distracted by the dialect. I only used that in MacGregor’s Curse, and although I have a few Irish words in Whispers by the Sea, it is just assumed that they have an Irish accent. The local library is my favorite hang-out. That is where I do most of my research before starting any novel.

PKJ: Who are some of your favorite writers?JP: Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Saul, Peter Straub.  Now, I know you are thinking: Why are you writing romance? There’s a reason for that. For women writers, it’s much easier to get into the romance genre than the thriller genre. Now that I have these two books out, I’m currently in the editing process of a thriller . . . and I have an agent for this one. My true love is mystery/thriller.
PKJ: Have you found networking and support groups valuable?

JP: Absolutely! In my opinion if you want to get anywhere in the writing world it is imperative to network.  Support groups are helpful with editing, critiquing and just how it sounds….support. The Southwest Florida Romance Writers (our local RWA chapter) has been extremely valuable to me. I’ve made some great friends and they are all supportive.  It’s too easy to give up without people urging you on, and when you need help, they are there, giving you advice and pushing you along. I couldn’t do it without them.

Julie Palella is the new president of the Southwest Florida Romance Writers group.  Anyone interested in joining SWFRW can reach her at Julie@lynxpm.com or visit the website swfrw.org. That site contains information about the group’s upcoming “Author & Agent Day,” February 10, at the Grandezza Country Club in Estero. Guest speakers will be mystery series writer Hallie Ephron and literary agent Christina Hogrebe.

 Julie’s books are available from online booksellers and via her website: juliepalella.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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