Misty Briscoe is ready to gracefully bow out of her successful career and bow in to an uncertain future. But her choices may result in a turning, twisting leap of faith.
Strength is one thing, courage another. Just ask Misty Briscoe. Her dignity has taken a beating the last couple of month’s She’d found herself at a crossroads of staying put in her career or returning home where her family needs her.
If only the choice wasn’t so complex.
Her workplace predicament with her married boss and her successful job in Chicago are anything but stress free. Yet, back home in southwestern Michigan, her beloved grandmother has recently passed, and now her grandfather has disappeared. Add to that, Misty’s best friend needs her support in the most unlikely of circumstances.
In the end, will she remain in the big city where she’s worked hard to attain a career or give it up and begin again at home where she has a sense of belonging?
From the spectrum of executive boardrooms to shadowy blue collar bars, secluded beaches, and dense woods, follow Misty on her challenging journey to find peace of mind, contentment, and a place among loved ones.
The saga takes a hard look at life from the classified agendas of friends, lovers, families, and enemies to the ultimatums behind closed doors. Come along for the ride through the avenues of indiscretion, loneliness, hope, secrets, courage, love, deceit, and integrity into LEATHER HORIZONS.
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Sunken Spanish Treasure Quest by Richard Joseph Johnson is an adventure story about four friends who go in search of an 18th century Spanish galleon, the San de Cristo, that sunk off the coast of Florida during a hurricane in 1733. Brad, a commodities trader, finds a journal at an estate sale in Chicago. The journal is written in Spanish, and Brad gives it to his friend, Maximo to read. Max, the owner of a men’s clothing store, has a degree in world history and discovers a reference in the journal (written in hidden code) to the location of the San de Cristo and the lost Spanish treasure–gold and silver coins and ingots–that had been aboard when it sank. Brad and Max enlist two other friends–George, an electronic engineer, and Lou, a former boiler technician on an aircraft carrier and current restaurant owner–to help in the search. Although the four men have no experience or knowledge of maritime salvage, they set off to find this sunken treasure. Will they locate the lost vessel and discover riches beyond their imagining? Will their friendship survive this quest for lost Spanish treasure?
I liked the historical aspects of the story. The history imbued in this story is something that any history buff will surely enjoy. References to the 1700’s were very intriguing and lends an air of mystery to this story that doesn’t dissipate and was one of my favorite parts of the book.
The story started out slow, with a lot of lead up and back story before Brad, Max, George, and Lou actually begin their quest. I felt that there were a lot of unnecessary details (such as what the men ate during their meals together). Eliminating some of the details describing their day to day lives would have improved the pace of the story. The first quarter of the book is filled with the planning and preparing for the trip, including almost two chapters about the drive from Chicago to Florida.
The story picks up once Brad, Max, George, and Lou arrive in Florida and begin their search, and the adventure truly begins when we are introduced to a group of pirates that the four men must battle. Their adventure continues when they return to their lives in Chicago, and trouble follows them home. I liked that although many things changed for them in their lives after their quest for treasure, some things remained the same.
This was an enjoyable read that gets better and more interesting as the story progresses. The bond between the characters is something that I enjoyed watching develop as they pieced together their trip and battled pirates.
Pages: 434 | ASIN: B079437WVB
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The Cape: Overdrive sees The Capes coming together to protect the world from a destructive asteroid. What was the inspiration for the setup to this installment in your Dark Spore series?
The Cape Overdrive was written on a whim of sorts. The Dark Spores Series is a compilation of 6 books (currently) from three different authors and is part of the Cosby Media Productions Dedicated Superhero Universe. It was envisioned to be along the same lines as as say a Marvel or DC universe in which all the superheroes have separate tales which have some overlap in story lines and then all the heroes come together for a similar cause, obstacle or enemy. I had already completed The Cape (book 1) and was looking for a new story arc that moved the overall scope of the Dark Spores forward, while providing fans and readers with a new wrinkle to keep them interested.
To that end, I was having a conversation with another author and thought, man, it would be cool to have The Capes fight encounter something other than a villain in this book. My wife had read an article about the value of a “Quintillion” which is the number one with 16 zeros after it. I thought, hmm, what if an asteroid was made up of precious stones and carried a value of a Quintillion dollars was hurtling towards Earth. What would happen if all the super power countries of the world wanted to obtain it? How would that play out in my Cape Universe? The outline began right there.
There are so many fascinating characters in this book with their own unique powers. What was your favorite character to write for?
I love The Blurr. She is actually my most powerful character and she is actually modeled after my wife. But more than that, The Cape represents superheroes that were once regular people; complete with flaws and all. They just happened to gain powers in book 1 after being caught in a storm. The city of Chicago then became an experimental pitri dish for producing special people separating Normals from Super-Normals.
Blurr’s character arc from a call girl to the evil Super-Normal Cheetah-Girl in book 1, who lacks confidence and self esteem, and then eventually converts to The Blurr at the end, joining Paladin and his team, was both challenging and rewarding to write. I think she reflects the best attributes of the human spirit and is and can inspire all of us to fight through those low moments of our lives and ultimately walk in a bright future.
If you read closely you’ll also see a larger character arc looming in the future that will play a major part in the CMPDSU going forward when all the Phase 1 heroes get together in INFINITY 7 (the collaborative effort of all three authors: Chayil Champion, Keshawn Dodds and myself). Phase 2 has other authors and heroes coming as well that can be read about on our website.
Thief and Blurr are a dynamic duo. What were some obstacles you felt were important in developing their characters?
Their past relationship for one. Sebastian (Paladin) knew Karla (Blurr) a long time ago and always had a crush on her but was too afraid to express it; fearful that it would kill their friendship if it didn’t work out. When Paladin seeks to solve the mystery of the murder in book 1, he discovers who Cheetah-Girl really is and desires to convert her over to the good side, without letting her know his true identity.
The other obstacle is Karla’s past catching up with her. She has a dark history that has held her down for years and kept her in a place where she feels undeserving of a good man like Sebastian and now she must face and overcome those demons in order to walk in the light and receive what he has to offer – love without judgment. This allows their relationship to blossom and they become a modern day Cyclops and Jean Grey. Paladin sort of becomes her redeemer and that character trait creates this “Perfect Guy” persona for her which I think makes him very likable as a character. Amongst the triad of Paladin, Blurr and Thief, he is definitely the shining star and symbol of honestly and is the glue that keeps the squad grounded.
Lastly, the larger looming obstacles with be the baddies: Dark Phase in book 1 and the new villains, along with the entire world vying for a piece of the asteroid.
The challenge, I think, with superhero novels is making the danger feel real, which I think you accomplished. How did you balance the danger and their powers to make things feel legitimately life threatening?
The answer was simple: man versus the unknown. In that sense, I used war as the catalyst. As I said earlier, all the powerful nations of the world would be converging on the crash site to secure the asteroid and only The Capes would be able to stop them. Imagine if you gave a quintillion dollars to say Russia, Germany or North Korea. What would they do with such resources? It would definitely tip the scales of power to some degree and it’s unimaginable what the impact would be. Would we be looking at World War 3 or the end of the world itself?
Then there’s the basic theme of good versus evil. Not to give the story away any further, but I added some powerful, new Super-Normal villains in the sequel that really challenge The Capes; along with a nice twist to keep it fresh. Seat of your pants action never hurts a story and I think I have a lot of that mixed in.
Super Heroes Wage War Once Again When the world is thrown into a panic from the imminent threat of a gigantic asteroid worth a Quintilian dollars, The Capes are asked to protect the planet from certain doom. But it’s not just the destructive force of the impact that everyone fears; it’s greed. Multiple nations gather to collect on the bounty for the precious meteorite while evil Super-Normals threaten to salvage the precious stone for their own deeds. Even the position of military power hangs in the balance as the most poorest of countries will catapult to the top of the totem pole with just an ounce of the spoil. Once again Paladin, Thief and Blurr must stand together and utilize every bit of their super powers – shifting into Overdrive – as the fate of the entire galaxy will ultimately hinge on the emergence of a new enemy from deep space.
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The bodies of high school and middle school kids are found dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors and the Milwaukee Metro area is controlled by MS-13, a violent gang originating from El Salvador. Ricardo Fuentes is sent from Chicago to Waukesha to find out who is cutting in on their business, shut it down and teach them a lesson. But he has an ulterior motive: find and kill a fifteen-year-old boy, George Tokay, who had killed his cousin the previous summer.
Detectives Jamie Graff, Pat O’Connor and Paul Eiselmann race to find the source of the drugs, shut down the ring, and find Fuentes before he kills anyone else, especially George or members of his family. The three detectives discover the ring has its roots in a high school among the students and staff.
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Executive Hoodlum follows the true life story of John Costello where he uses his harsh upbringing to move up the corporate world. What inspired you to put your story into a book?
Ultimately there were three reasons I wrote the book:
1. I wanted to pass on the story to my kids so they have an appreciation of their legacy. Why they enjoy certain privileges, and to make certain they remain humble knowing the sacrifices that sometimes need to be made to succeed in life and for the next generation.
2. As a volunteer boxing trainer for under-privileges kids I was able to give something back to my community. It was personally rewarding to me so I wanted to give something back in a bigger way. That is to reach a larger audience of would be under dogs to demonstrate they have the opportunity to succeed no matter what the circumstances.
3. I wanted to relieve the burden of my own guilt pertaining to the last words I spoke to my mother before she died. Those words haunted me for decades. I never reconciled my differences with my father prior to his death either. We were at terrible odds as usual but he was alive long enough to make an attempt at reconciliation but chose not to, not with me anyway. Consequently I do not carry the same guilt as with my mother. I did write most of the book and long overseas plane trips and found myself crying writing a couple chapters. Now that the truth is out there, I somehow feel better.
A little background will put the situation into better perspective:
Best Selling author Larry Elder is the one who put the book idea in my head as he is a friend for about ten years. In fact, he was originally going to be my ghost writer. However, it was decided the book had to be in my words due to my slang and other vernacular to be authentic. With my busy work schedule, I was going to drop the whole thing. Problem being, I hate to start something and not finish. Technically Larry inspired me to write as he brought up the original deal as described in my acknowledgements. Prior to beginning the effort in earnest, I contemplated the above three reasons.
Note – I never intended on writing a book because I would have to relive things in my life I was successful in suppressing. However, age and maturity helped me become more open with my early family life.
Additionally, there are individuals in Chicago, New York and New Jersey that I did not want to have to deal with when it comes to some of the content. These are friends I have maintained and kept in contact over many years. I personally spoke to each person, mob boss, made guy, associate and the outlaw biker leaders individually to let them know my intention. To my surprise, to a person they noted they respected my street savvy enough to give the thumbs up.
The characters in this book were well developed and interesting. How close did you stay true to real events and what did you take liberties with?
Thankfully, I did not have to manufacture any drama. The one upside to being born a Costello!
I took no liberties because my street and business credibility are important to me. I played down certain events due to statute of limitation consideration. Most of what is in my book can be authenticated via documents I kept (murder investigations, police reports, death certificates, pictures,letters. newsreels and other documents I collected when fact checking. Additionally, there are third parties I contacted that were with me during certain events I consulted to make certain my recollections were as accurate as possible)
I’m not a big fan of fiction. Truth and authenticity are of utmost importance. This stems from certain things I know that have been portrayed in both books and movies about people I personally know or knew, that were embellished.
John finds himself surrounded by constant turmoil with gangs, members of the underworld, murder, suicide, and drug addiction. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?
The ugly truth of my own family, especially the circumstances of deaths of my mother, brother and cousin.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
There are many entertaining stories I was reminded of by friends I did not include in this book. Consequently, there may be a part two.
Meet John Costello, Vice President of Business Development and Government Relations for Microsemi Corporation, a $6 billion leader in the advanced-semiconductor market. Well known and respected in the industry, John Costello graduated from college in 1983 with a degree in Business Administration. John’s social circle includes high-level corporate executives, politicians, military leaders and movie stars. As a young boy he played Little League baseball and Pop Warner football, and went on to become an outstanding track and cross-country runner in high school, captain of his college rowing team, and an accomplished boxer in the Golden Gloves and other tournaments. With this wholesome All-American resumé, most would think that John Costello emerged from a solid middle-class family with all the usual privileges pertaining – though nothing could be further from the truth. Costello was born into a working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s north side and grew up under quite difficult conditions. His father was a talented Italian tenor with mob connections and a proclivity for violence; his mother, the daughter of an Irish street cop, was a straight-laced Catholic girl till she took to the bottle after falling victim to that violence. Surrounded by constant turmoil and hardship involving gangs, members of the underworld, murder, suicide, drug addiction as well as physical and emotional abuse, John eventually transcended his circumstances to obtain a higher education and pursue a profitable career that entailed all the perks of an executive lifestyle inclusive of the Hollywood party circuit.
Readers who might enjoy this book are those interested in true-crime stories, mob activity, murder and mayhem, as well as anyone seeking a no-holds-barred story that describes the resilience of the human spirit. Spiced with wit and humor and distinguished by the inimitable voice of tough-talking John Costello, his story touches our hearts while keeping us on the edge of our seats.
Other comparable books include The Truthbook: A Memoir by Joy Castro, which describes a similar childhood fraught with abuse and dysfunction. The theme of destructive behavior and personal downward spiral in the fight game and mobster milieu is also taken up in Raging Bull by Jake La Motta. Then there is the true-crime and gangster activity to be found in Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob by Jeff Coen, as well as in The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights by Matthew Luzi. All these works taken together give some idea of the scope of John Costello’s life as recounted in his own book.
And that is what makes our book “unique” – John Costello’s life is unique. It has been a strange blend of two distinct worlds, but with one foot firmly emplaced in each. The fact that he is comfortable meeting with Senator John McCain in the morning to discuss government business, and can then enjoy the company of old friends from the streets of Chicago in the evening, is indicative of his parallel lives and will certainly be something readers find highly intriguing. We have an extensive collection of family photos, newspaper clippings, death certificates, court papers, and other supporting documentation for all claims made, as well as music recordings and video that would introduce the amazing voice of Johnny’s father to a whole new generation.
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Executive Hoodlum: Negotiating on the Corner of Main and Mean by John Costello is a story about the Vice President of Business Development and Government Relations for Microsemi Corporation. He has a number of titles that he has earned throughout his life, from being friends with movie stars and other high profile individuals to being a Golden Glove boxer. You would think with his long list of accomplishments that he came from a fancy upbringing with rich parents and unlimited resources. Actually, the opposite is true. He was raised in a blue collar neighborhood in Chicago. His father was a somewhat violent man with mob connections and his mother struggled with addiction. John overcame quite a bit of turmoil in order to become the man he is today.
This was a very interesting story from the very first page. Knowing that this was a true story made it even more of a page turner for me. I am often intrigued by true stories of people overcoming their personal struggles and hardships to become the people they are. While we all have our own issues we deal with, I find it great to be able to step into another’s shoes and try their life on for a while.
So many people that have a tough childhood and upbringing use it as an excuse to not reach their real potential. Not John Costello. He adapted to the hand he was dealt and overcame it all. It would be tough to find someone that has had it worse in this country. His story is inspiring and makes you put your own issues into perspective and makes you look at how you can overcome them as well! He used the lessons he learned in a very negative world and has twisted them in a way that is useful in the corporate industry he has climbed into.
I found myself chuckling in some places and holding back tears in others. The storytelling was on point and very relatable. In some ways I could see this being an inspiring box office movie. The situations where was struggling to get out of, yet finding himself falling back into those situations. You find yourself pulling for him to break away from those situations, and the delivery of those small moments are so incredible. I started this book a little while before bed and ended up staying up later than I had intended. The story was just that good. I literally struggled to find a point in which I could put the book down. The next morning I was up and trying to squeeze in the time to finish the book between my other priorities.
Executive Hoodlum by John Costello is a great story for anyone that loves to read about people that overcome adversity in order to become a bigger and better person. I think anyone that has a tendency to think they can’t do something because of where they are from should pick up this book and realize that nothing can hold them back if they put their mind to it.
Pages: 261 | ASIN: B075H1HXK3
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Fractured details your revelations and strides toward bettering yourself both mentally and physically. What was the inspiration that made you want to capture your experiences in a book?
I originally started writing the book as a form of therapy, a way to help get the trauma, events and details of the accident out of my body and mind. Then around my 30th birthday, I had a breakdown. I felt like a failure, I thought I should have been at a different place in my life, I thought I should have accomplished more. After many therapy sessions and allowing myself to cry, be mad, and feel all the feelings – I realized I had so much more to share than just the details of the accident. I took a step back and saw how hard I had fought to be healthy and have a successful life. I knew at that point that my book was supposed to be about that. I wanted to share my struggles and adversity in hopes of helping others going through something similar.
I greatly appreciated your candor in detailing the obstacles you faced and I could truly feel the tragedies as well as the victories. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?
The hardest thing, hands down, to write about was the rape when I was a freshman in college. It was something only my therapist really knew about. I hadn’t even told my parents at the time I was writing it in the book. It brought back all sorts of memories, feelings, and shame. As I was writing it I had to take many breaks, remember that I was not the same person nor in the same place, and keep telling myself I was enough. THEN came the hard part of having to tell my parents about the event. I had hid it from them for 12 years but I knew I needed to tell them before the book came out. Again, all the fears, shame, embarrassment, and emotions came rushing in. But I knew it was something I had to do before I let them read the book – that was probably the only thing they didn’t know about that was in the book. I also knew it was something that I absolutely needed to include in the book since the book is all about finding my voice and sharing my truth. This was a huge part of losing both of those things. I am so thankful to have such supportive, encouraging and loving parents. It was extremely hard for them to hear, but I know it ultimately brought us closer and deepened our relationship.
In Fractured you reveal a past with issues like body dysmorphia and a struggle to find your own voice. What is the message you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope readers can take away the lesson I learned after my 14+ year struggle with diet pills, anorexia, and body dysmorphia… YOU ARE ENOUGH. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. The image society portrays that you have to be skin and bones to be beautiful is so distorted. I hope readers, especially young girls can read this and have an “aha moment” before they enter into a self-destructive path. It also my hope that men and women learn that it is ok to be vulnerable, to speak, share, and use your authentic voice, live in their authentic skin, and follow their own rules. Don’t shrink yourself to make others like you. It is not worth it. It is so much more fun to live life celebrating your bigness.
You are the founding director of the nonprofit company Step Up Chicago Playwrights. How did that start and where do you see it going in the future?
I founded what was then Step Up Productions in 2009 with the mission to share truth onstage and inspire the audience to embrace their own personal truths (haha see a pattern?) We had 3 successful seasons of shows in which we chose a social service organization – whose mission matched the theme of the show we were producing- in Chicago to partner with and donate a portion of our proceeds to. In 2015, funding was low and we were struggling to be able to fund our next production. I took a step back and cancelled the remainder of our season. I talked with a mentor, friend, and phenomenal artist in Chicago, Brad Akin, and together we came up with Step Up Chicago Playwrights as it is now. A company that pairs Chicago Communities with local playwrights who will write a play based off that community. Our hope is to make theater sound and look more like Chicago, All of Chicago! I have since taken on an advisory role since I moved to California with my fiancé who was relocated for work and Brad has taken on the Executive Director role. I know the model we have sets us up for success. We are in the process of choosing our first playwright and community to kick off the inaugural year with Step Up Chicago Playwrights.
Fractured is about your journey of self discovery, but it’s also about your family. Was there anything about your family that you only learned through this journey?
In talking with my therapist about different patterns I was trying to break and learn the history of where they started (me always being good, my need to please, not using my voice) I learned a lot about my family. I brought different topics up to my mom and asked her a lot of questions about my young childhood that helped me figure out why I embedded certain thoughts, behaviors and patterns into my system. I have to say, even though it was not always pleasant to learn and a lot of hard work, it was a lot of fun putting all the pieces together and learning why I did and thought certain things.
From the outside looking in, Elizabeth had the perfect life. She had a family who loved her, numerous friends, and a successful career. No one knew the hurt, pain, and angst she hid inside, struggling to keep herself small so that those around her would still like her.
It all came to a head on October 23, 2007, when her parents received a call that she was lying lifeless in the ICU in a hospital in Utah — “You better get out here, your daughter is not going to make it.” Fractured: My Journey Back From Death and the Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way is the memoir of Elizabeth’s recovery, spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is about her deliberate decision to begin the hard work finding and using her voice and the struggle to break out of the box that society tried to keep her in.
This is the story of what happens when one woman stared death in the face and decided to make a conscious choice not to go back to sleep, but to wake up and live the life she knew she was meant to live.
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Pink Slips is a riveting tale of one woman’s desperate plight to keep her loved ones safe, even in the sights of a mysterious stalker. What served as the inspiration that made you want to write this suspenseful novel?
Fourteen years ago I was home alone with my newborn baby when I received a violent anonymous phone call. Flash forward to this year… I was working on a writing prompt asking to recount “receiving an anonymous phone call or note”. I instantly was transported to that frightful night. The story evolved as I fueled the idea with the “remembered fear” I experienced that night. I imagine that many women have had a similar scary situation, which made me think it would be a relatable story.
I found Betsy to be a very well written and in depth character. What was your inspiration for her and her emotional turmoil in the story?
Betsy is modeled after me in some ways. I have some of the little habits that she has, including talking to her dog as if Barney understood her. I’m confident my two Tibetan Terriers understand every word I say! I fueled some of my fears and concerns for safety into her persona, however the violence she experiences is completely fictional. Like Betsy, I’ve had my share of pregnancy issues, giving me authentic experiences to draw upon. My marriage is very happy, whereas Betsy’s needs some work! The emotional turmoil within Betsy grew with her characterization. At first she was just a victim of a parking lot mugging, but as the story developed, she gets pummeled in every chapter. Once I read a article about writing, where it said, “…happy stories are boring… add conflict where you can.” I throw a lot at Betsy, but as the story progresses, so does her strength and belief in herself; so I guess the conflict was needed in my manuscript.
What were some themes that you felt were important to highlight in this book?
The key theme in the book was shining the light on women’s safety in an information-sharing world. Nowadays, you can learn so much about people through social media, everyday forms we fill out, and even in medical offices. I’ve always tried to teach my children the importance of security, but this book highlights how we are all vulnerable. Another theme in the story, focuses on humans special contact with their pets. They are a part of our family and they rely on us. It’s only natural that there’s a mutual love and respect between us. Another theme is being “open” to your own intuition. We all have it (especially pregnant women), yet are often too busy, moving, talking, and “doing” every day, that we don’t always take the time to “listen”. There’s a lot to learn in silence.
Are there any emotions or memories from your own life that you put into Betsy’s life?
One emotion Betsy shares with me is the intense pain and sadness from losing a pregnancy. No one can understand that feeling unless they experience it. A memory that I share with Betsy is time spent in the kitchen with “Grandma”. I grew up loving food, cooking, and learning from both of my Grandmas. I studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, so it felt natural to make Betsy an expert chef. She has much more working experience than I have, however I did publish a healthy living and eating book (Real Moms Love to Eat; Penguin/NAL, 2012), whereas Betsy hasn’t written her book yet, but I don’t put anything past her… I bet she will publish a cookbook soon 🙂
Betsy Ryan is pregnant with her third child, and receiving threatening notes from an anonymous person. During what should be a joyful time in her life, she’s forced to face a decade old memory, and relive one of the most devastating nights of her life.
To uncover the mystery behind the threats, she enlists the help of an unlikely, but oddly reliable source, her dog Barney. As the menacing notes continue to arrive, her husband is still out of town for work, and she struggles to keep her composure while shielding her two young sons from danger. She trusts no one except her parents, best friend Misty, and her extraordinary dog—who has proven to literally understand everything she says. Is this person out to harm her? And how do they have so much personal information about Betsy? She can’t help but think it’s the same person who attacked her at the train station almost a decade ago, and changed the course of her life forever. To save herself and her unborn child—Betsy must face her fears and find her strength, to reveal who is after her and most importantly…why.
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Einstein’s Fiddle begins with a man abandoning his child on a doorstep of a stranger’s home; the rest of the novel seeks to reveal and understand this man. What was the inspiration for the setup to this emotional novel?
Like my first novel (A History of the World), Einstein’s Fiddle began as a short story. The story form was abandoned quickly – perforce, as soon as Davy abandoned Mitchell. The inspiration for the setup was a simple disturbing question that presented itself: What if someone – no, not just someone – a dad – left his baby boy on a doorstep? The image that first came to mind was of the proverbial unwed mother from earlier decades in this country – desperate, ashamed, alone, afraid, and apparently out of options. The obvious second question followed hard upon the first: why would any person – at least any loving father – do such a thing? And these were questions that led quickly to others – questions of personality, motivation and experience – and my poor powers certainly could not answer them, or sufficiently illuminate the depths of such a father (Davy Calhoun), in a short story.
Davy Calhoun is a multilayered character that is deftly developed. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
The relationship between fathers and sons has been at the heart of my writing from the beginning. It was there in my early stories and my first novel, and it is at the center of Einstein’s Fiddle. The desire for his (or her) father’s love, approval, guidance and acceptance is deep in every child’s heart from the first breath. It is a ‘natural’ yearning and part of each one of us because God put it there. I wanted Davy Calhoun to be a character with whom we all (if we are honest about it) share common ground; and of course – like each of us – he has his own story, his own unique experience and narrative, which I hope makes the book singular and engaging. There are a number of fathers in the novel, all of them flawed and fallen in his own ways – and one particularly outstanding in his degree of fallenness; but my ‘ideal’ father in Davy’s story is the dad in Jesus’ story about The Prodigal Son, a parable which one of the characters in the book’s third section relates to Davy. Perhaps the one ‘driving ideal’ behind Davy’s development is best summed up by something a friend of mine has said more than once: “Love is the most powerful force in the universe – just largely untried.”
It’s hard to not get emotional when reading Einstein’s Fiddle. Did you pull anything from real life or personal experience to use in this novel?
I spent time in all the places where the narrative unfolds – Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco – and I used a lot of my experiences of those places (and the places within those places) in the book. As I imagine any author does, I created whole characters with pieces of people I know or have known. Whenever it worked well in the narrative, I used – call it stole, if you like – real-life stories that friends have shared with me over the years. In the last section, when Davy is in San Francisco, there is a scene near Pier 39, which completely replicates something that happened to a good friend of mine in New Jersey. It was a wonderful gift to me, and I gave it joyfully to everyone who reads Einstein’s Fiddle.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The working title is Thomas, but that could change in an instant. I expect it to be much shorter than Fiddle…but that could change too. I don’t want to say much about it right now, except that it is about a life-changing relationship between a white doctor in Charleston, South Carolina, and the black man he hires to build a stable for his horses. You can safely bet that there will be fathers and sons in this book too…. I hope it will be available in a year or so. I’ve begun to work on it in my head, but I have yet to write the first word.
What kind of man leaves the infant son he loves on a doorstep in a strange town and drives away? With its present set in the summer of 1985 and its past reaching from 1950 to 1974, Einstein’s Fiddle is a dramatic examination of Davy Calhoun’s journey from home to the far country and back. The language and landscape of the novel vary between the existential and familial, tragic and comic, as the non-linear narrative – by turns realistic, lyrical, magical – focuses fearlessly on Davy’s fall, dishonor and redemption.
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Death Leaders is an engaging dystopian novel about a shadow group keeping Earth’s population in check by secretly triggering acts that will lead to death for lots of people. Where did the idea for this novel come from and how did it develop over time?
Honestly? I was in a crowded space with a lot of people and I started to think: What if this was the world every single day? What if things got way too overcrowded? I usually build my worlds by trying to solve a well-known and common problem in an unconventional way. Death Leaders was my answer to overpopulation. When I brought the idea to my writing group (along with a first chapter), they loved the concept so much that they urged me to keep going with it; so, I did. I spent the next few months writing and rewriting my manuscript until I was satisfied with how it turned out…and then I rewrote it again 🙂
Chris is a complex and interesting teenager struggling to make sense of the world. What was the inspiration for this character’s traits and dialogue?
I didn’t want Chris to be shallow. I don’t like one-dimensional characters in children’s or YA fiction because I think it’s insulting to children and young adults. Children know and observe more than we think, so I wanted to give my readers something to think about with Chris. I wanted him to care about typical teenage things, but with a twist. I was determined to make his struggles more complex. For example, Chris is afraid to get close to girls, but for a much, much different reason than the average teenager. I loved creating that internal struggle.
The story is placed in futuristic Chicago where crime and violence run rampant. Why choose this city and time for the setting of the story?
I was born and raised in Chicago, so to me, the setting was almost a no-brainer. This was my first YA novel, so I wanted to stick to a setting that I knew and that would fit the story. I felt that if I was familiar with the setting, it’d be easier for me to alter it a little to make it futuristic. I chose the near future because I wanted some new-age elements in the setting, but nothing too crazy (I really wasn’t feeling the idea of flying cars or anything spacey like that).
You’ve written six fantastic novels so far. Will Death Leaders turn into a series or are you working on a different story?
Death Leaders actually started off as a sort of vignette into this near-future world. I didn’t write it with the intention of carrying on a series, but I’ve had so many people ask me about what Chris will do next, that I’m starting to toy with the idea of continuing Chris’s saga. I do have a few other projects in the works as well. I have a picture book coming out in October, and an educational series for middle graders coming out shortly after that.
The year is 2031, and now more than ever, population numbers are threatening to spiral out of control. The Death Leaders—a quasi-angelic group historically tasked with keeping the world’s population under control—work systematically to inflict death by using a single touch. Heroic Chicago Death Leader, Christopher Rush, is efficient and meticulous in his execution. After all, he’s learned from the best, his father, instigator of the Great Potato Famine. When Chris is assigned 19-year-old Tracy Wilbourne, he assumes that she’ll be a kill like every other. Business as usual. But Chris soon learns that everything isn’t always as it seems, and that no one is exactly who they appear to be.
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