Pheasant describes in an immediate way the experience of being in a coma and out of her body. She learns how everything in life is her choice, whether to live or to die, when she chooses to live, and that everything in her life has to be relearned and rebuilt. Join her and her mother, Susan, an accomplished artist, in the story of how she had to begin again. Read about the challenges and triumphs of recovering from, and living after, a traumatic brain injury.
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The Contest and Other Stories is a collection of inspiring stories that got me to think and reflect. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
JD: I originally wanted to create a coffee table art book with all paintings connected to a framing story.
KR: Around 2007 or 2008, Joe started bringing these quirky short stories inspired by paintings to the critique group in Prescott, Arizona that we both belonged to.
In February 2011, he shared his draft and invited me to assist with the project as a co-author. We continued to work on polishing the stories and the connecting novella together. In our bios, we say that he has the vivid imagination and I have the word-whacking polish, but the truth is, we both contributed to the imaginative creation and to the nuts and bolts polishing and editing. We multiplied our mind-power by working together!
What were some themes you find yourself exploring in your short stories?
JD: The relationships artists have with drinking, higher consciousness, and insanity.
KR: As Joe says, some of the stories explore the artists’ lives directly in the genres of magical realism, dark fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and alternate history, or as a fabulous motif. The other stories were developed using a painting as a prompt, but have no relation to the artist or their work. Those stories explore life challenges and transitions such as birth, death, falling in love, relationships, family life, and work, also through the medium of various fantasy genres. The connecting novella explores the archetypal overbearing father who insists that his only son follow in his footsteps, while the son rebels to make his unique contribution to arts and literature.
What is the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Long distance.
KR: By the time Joe and I started working together on this project, he lived in Arizona and I had landed in California. So we shared thoughts and drafts for The Contest and Other Stories via email.
Will you be putting together another collection of short stories?
JD: We’ve been working on solo projects lately. I completed a connected short story collection in 2016 titled Story Time Karaoke @ The Chicagoua Cafe.
KR: I’ve been working on stories inspired by dreams and a novella created entirely from a series of dreams, with a working title of Loop: Life is But a Dream.
As for other joint projects, Joe and I just published a humorous dystopian sci-fi novelette, Space Race: Robot Rebellion in the Future Wild West (Tootie-Do Press, 2018). We also have a YA story, Thirteen, published in an anthology called 31 Nights of Halloween (Rainstorm Press, 2011). Neither of these stories fit the theme of The Contest, so we searched for other alternatives for publication.
Inspired by the works of international artists, this collection contains nineteen spellbinding Young Adult – New Adult magical realist, paranormal, slipstream, alternate history, and fabulist tales linked by a novella: Peter John Rizzo, a 1960 graduate of Yale University’s journalism program, inherits a floundering art magazine from his uncle, John Rizzo, with the provision that he must increase the circulation or forfeit all assets to creditors. Peter Rizzo, Pete’s father, is a banker who scorns careers in the Arts and Humanities, and is jealous of his late brother’s influence upon his wife and son. Classic Art Expose’s devoted but unorthodox editorial assistant, Jason, and two university interns, sisters Shirley and Evie, help Pete start a monthly short story contest with artwork prompts, hoping to expand and save the business. As the four friends publish the winning (and sometimes disturbing) stories over the following eighteen months, Pete battles his father’s attempts to ruin his business and his reputation, and in the process, discovers a sordid family secret. What else could possibly go astray?
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With a collection of singular point of view narratives the author, Mayne Leitzer, offers his first complete book of poetry; 103 Simple Poems From One Simple Person. The book is sectioned into chapters outlining the types of poems that follow, what those writings mean to the author, and how they came to be. The title is indicative of the style of writing, not the writer, as the poetry is fairly simple; using straight forward thoughts and uncomplicated prose to reflect on life’s complications. The story arc is more of a summation of personal perspective and reflection than a journey forward or illustration of action.
In penning “103 Simple Poems” Mayne Leitzer offers up self reflection, self deprecation, a heavy dollop of fundamentalist religious dogma, and more than a little bit of sadness and remorse, with a glimmer of joy and hope.
Many of his poems are jargon one could find on a motivational poster or greeting card, but that is not at all bad. Life can get messy and sometimes people need soft, plushy words to find comfort and solace. The reader will find many situations that they can relate to; lost love, death, pursuing success, loneliness, finding your destiny, conflict of conviction, etc.
However, there are many poems that can be divisive. Sex before marriage, gun control, abortion, prayer in school, Heaven and Hell, those types of things. The thoughts Leitzer lays out are organic in nature and not derived of a need to be quoted for inspirational prose or to start a deep conversation, but rather, just as he states; a need to express his soul at different stages in life.
Some poems showcase the more complex layers of his humanity that struggle to shine under the dominance of a narrow vision. The Promised Land poem is thoughtful and embraceable. Not a Bad Day and One Moonlit Night lets out his optimistic side which he admits is not in his nature. Leitzer is honest about his mistakes and his struggle with alcoholism. His love poems are truly good; especially Seasons, A Smile and Rock A-bye.
There are a few grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors, which are distracting as is his zealous religious fervor, but his writings let the reader feel his authenticity and the last few poems wrap up nicely to summarize his goal and wishes for success.
This book uses simple and fluid style to expand peoples emotional depths but seemed content to keep its voice generalized. The individual writings have value no matter your religious leanings. At the end the reader will come away with some reflections of their own and maybe, quote a few lines for their own stages of life.
Pages: 124 | ISBN: 1425979149
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Paper Heart by Jennifer LeBlanc is a book of poetry that includes ninety poems. Many of the poems are about finding love and have a very uplifting message. Other poems are about lost love (whether through death or the end of a relationship), or loving someone who only brings you pain. The title of the book (Paper Heart) is appropriate because many of the poems are about how fragile love is, both precious and painful. Some of the poems the author included were very personal, especially the ones about the author’s mother. Other poems could speak to almost everyone, with universal messages. Most of the poems are about the past, some about living in the past. There were not as many about living in and enjoying the present or looking toward the future. Many of the poems were about darker topics, like addiction and loss and death. Other poems featured themes of regrets for things wished undone and things that can’t be undone, whether to self or others.
I liked the range in the various poems, covering many different emotions (from sadness to great joy), and the dichotomy of themes of darkness and light. There are varying structures to a number of the poems, and I liked the different styles, that they weren’t all the same.
My favorite poems were the ones with inspirational messages, like Be Every Color of the Sun. I liked how the title of several poems were spelled out as the first letter of each line of the poem. But these titles weren’t just random words, they were appropriate to the poem, as well.
Some of the poems were very short (only a few lines long). A few of these poems almost felt unfinished, and they left me wanting more. They felt as though they ended too soon and could have been expanded upon. Some of the poems were very similar in theme to other poems, seeming like a continuation of earlier poems (though not the shorter ones).
One poem, Vicious Cycles, had dialogue in the middle of the verses, which was unique and unexpected in a book of poetry.
Many of the poems reminded me of my favorite songs or a line from the lyrics because they had the same feeling, and I enjoyed that aspect of the author’s writing.
Pages: 138 | ASIN: B07KDPCV4N
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Destiny Revisited by Eleanor Tremayne is the story of the life of Gabriella Girard. The book starts with Gabriella attending the funeral of Jake Chevalier who she had not spoken to for thirty-three years. After the memorial service, she receives a ‘death box’ from Jake’s wife. It is the same box Gabby gave to Jake on New Year’s Eve in 1967, the last time they had seen each other. Gabby’s mind goes back to the first day she met Jake, and the next section of the story takes place in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1960s, during the three years Gabby and Jake spent together as teenagers in love. They had promised to stay together forever and were planning their lives together after high school. But then Jake joins the marines and goes off to war, to fight in Vietnam. And everything changes for them, and Gabby’s life spirals off course.
I immediately became involved with the characters, which is why I didn’t like the way Jake treated Gabby after he made the decision, without even talking to her, that they could no longer be together. He claimed he still loved Gabby, but he didn’t contact her to tell her the relationship was over. Instead, he returned home engaged to another woman. Though I understood his motivations, I would have liked to see him handle the situation in another way, since his actions not only affected him, but Gabby, as well, for the rest of her life. Although Gabby had relationships with other men, she never again found the happiness and love she’d known with Jake.
I really liked the part where Gabby traveled to Europe after she finally opened the ‘death box.’ This section of the story was so sweet, but also very sad. Especially the part about the proposal. It was a very emotional remembrance of lost love and regret for all the things they had planned to do, which never happened.
The story ends abruptly, without showing what exactly happens to Gabby which left me anxious to know what happened after that point. I wanted her to have a happy ending after everything she had gone through in her life.
I enjoyed the poems and quotes that were included at the start of each chapter. But there were some grammatical issues that distracted from the flow of the story. Although it became less noticeable as I continued reading and was pulled into the story of the young love Gabby shared with Jake.
This book is a fantastic emotional roller-coaster with twists I certainly didn’t see coming. This is a character driven story that delivers intrigue by getting you invested in some dynamic and well developed characters.
Pages: 390 | ASIN: B073QFZF98
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Dave Droge introduces us to a character who, despite having all the money in the world, wants to destroy himself. Eccentric, since one would think that having that much money would have made him happy. Narrated in the first person, I could already tell that this book would not only be thrilling to read, but also pleasant.
The narrator’s words were intriguing and I could feel the suspense hovering in the first few pages. This was exciting as I naturally got the urge to read more. I kept reading on and I got to understand why the narrator abhorred life and everything around. Waldemar had lost his family in an accident. His daughter Claire, and wife Antoinette had died from the accident. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of how people mourn their loved ones. The author introduces the theme of grief early in the book, and that disintegrated my heart as all I could empathize with the narrator.
One gets the sense that the Waldemar suffers from mild self-loathing, as all he does is despise life; his career, his personality, and his whole self. When talking about his wife, the narrator described her as nearly perfect. While talking about self though, the Waldemar talked as if he was a failure. His troubles had started during his time as a researcher; he received a letter of termination just after his last publication. Of course, this broke him, what had become of him? His family passed on days later, leaving him completely broken.
Miriam was among my favorite characters in the book. I loved how knowledgeable she was, and how she knew how to initiate a conversation. The suicide discussion between her and Waldemar was one of the conversations I enjoyed in the book. Miriam was concerned, and though her way of showing concern was not typical, Waldemar understood her and actually listened to what she had to say.
At times I felt like Waldemar was personally speaking to me, and I needed to listen to him pour his heart out. His life may have not been a bed of roses, but Waldemar is one character I really loved. I enjoyed every piece of his narration and wanted him to keep talking.
The story easily flows and the reader gets engrossed in the life of the characters. Inevitable Dreaming story, from the beginning, is so absorbing that I couldn’t stop once I started. The characters are creative and the story is spellbinding.
Pages: 140 | ASIN: B07HLKHXYB
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Love After Life follows Kathleen and James as their souls try to find each other after death. What was the inspiration for the setup to this emotional novel?
In 2015, Ryan Hammons, a young boy, his mother, Cindi, and Dr. Jim Tucker were interviewed on The TODAY Show about a situation that many Americans would summarily dismiss… Ryan claimed to have had a past life in 1930s Hollywood.
As an agnostic on the idea of reincarnation when I watched the interview, Ryan’s story intrigued me. The facts that Dr. Tucker confirmed during his study of Ryan’s claims led to only one conclusion – Ryan’s claims simply could not be dismissed. My intrigue caused me to purchase Dr. Tucker’s book, Return to Life, to learn more about Ryan, and other children. I also purchased Tom Shroder’s book, Old Souls, to learn more about these children.
A story started bouncing around in my head. I thought, what if there were two young lovers and they died much too soon. Could they find each other in their next lives and, even if they could, who would ever believe them, especially in a nation that does not embrace the concept of reincarnation?
Kathleen and James share a deep bond that I found to be rare and profound. What were the ideals you wanted to capture in their relationship?
For me, the deep, deep love felt by Kathleen and James made it easier to believe that the crash that ended their lives would be somehow remembered in the next life. One of the common claims found in cases where children claim a past life is that in the past life the person died a violent or unnatural death. While a car accident certainly would qualify as one of those, the deep bond shared by a pair of young lovers who should have had many years together would deepen the pain of a lost soul.
Within their story, you see a deep attraction, loyalty, mutual respect and so many more characteristics present within their loving relationship. While it is a cliche, love conquers all. That is the story of James and Kathleen.
When you first started writing did you know this was going to be a story about reincarnation or did that happen organically?
I knew this was going to be a story about reincarnation. As I discuss above, the stories of children claiming a past life was the inspiration for this novel. It definitely started as a story about reincarnation.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next book is Justice After Life. It is not a continuation of the love and lives of James and Kathleen. It’s a new story and I intend to release it in 2019. Doctor Simms, the psychiatrist in Love After Life, is the only character who is also a character in this second novel.
Can it be true that soulmates can share a love so deep that it can transcend more than one lifetime? That is what James tell his loving wife Kathleen before they suddenly die in a tragic car accident that snuffs out their lives and perhaps their love. Will they be able to find each other in the next life to rekindle the love they share, and who will believe them if they do?
Joseph, only six years old, is haunted in his dreams by a woman and scenes he doesn’t initially recognize. Sweating heavily while twisting and turning in his bed, he sees flashes of the mountains, the beach and a beautiful young woman. He awakens suddenly, hearing himself scream, “Kathleen(!).” He is drenched and dazed, not realizing that his dream is a replay of the final scene of his past life as James with his wife, Kathleen. A few years later as his dreams continue, he recalls more clearly Kathleen’s soulful singing, bubbly personality and sweet smile as well as his deep love for both photography and her.
As a teenager, Joseph loves to watch singing competitions on TV shows, especially when teenage girls are singing. One day he sees and hears Kimberly singing on one of these shows and his heart skips a beat. He does not know why, but her singing consumes him. Kimberly grew up a sad little girl. She knows that something is missing in her life, but for the life of her, she cannot identify what it is. Only singing lifts her spirits, even if just for a little while. Joseph is drawn to her immediately. He has to meet her.
What happens when Joseph meets Kimberly? You can find out by reading Richard Sieg’s novel, Love After Life.
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Some loves cannot be contained within a single life. Such is the story of Kathleen and James. Two high school sweethearts, from North Carolina, that had that love at first sight moment, knew they were soul mates, and for them it is not just a cliché phrase. When an accident occurs and ends their lives too short everyone around them is left at a loss. Their best friend Nancy at their funeral however, quotes James saying they will be reborn again to find each other and love again. James is reincarnated as Joseph far away in Saint Louis. At the age of five he starts remembering dreams, but the dreams are old memories from James. With the help of Dr. Simms the family is able to piece together the past life Joseph relives each night in his sleep. But where is Kathleen? Will Joseph find her again? He believes he that he will; it will just take time.
Many cultures around the world believe in reincarnation. This is a topic I have never given a lot of thought to, but after reading Love After Life by Richard Sieg, I am willing to believe it could happen. It really touches on your emotions, the passion Kathleen and James felt for each other, it is what couples dream of having. One of the obstacles this novel tackles is the Christian view that reincarnation is not possible and to even consider it is blasphemy. Joseph’s family is able to overcome these beliefs due to the overwhelming evidence Dr. Simms compiles. The same however is not the case for Kimberly. Her Southern Baptist family refuses to accept she had a past life, and further despise Joseph. They are an example of the saying, ‘money can’t buy happiness’ and ‘looks are everything’. It breaks my heart reading how they treated Kimberly growing up, and especially after she meets Joseph. The interactions are filled with conflict, passion, and a deep sadness. All Kimberly wants from her family is love, but all they are concerned with is appearances. This is the complete opposite of Joseph’s family once Dr. Simms brought his dad around to things. Joseph gives Kimberly everything she is craving, love, the missing piece of herself as Kathleen, and a family that loves her the way she is.
The novel starts out with James and Kathleen and moves to Joseph’s story growing up. The mix or story and timelines is easy to follow and flows organically because James and Joseph are the same person inside. I enjoyed the conflict with Joseph’s father, his struggle to accept things while his mom is just there by his side, not understanding but accepting what was happening. When his father finally accepts that Joseph is the reincarnation of James, it is a touching moment and sets the tone for the remainder of the story. You see how this shapes his life over how Kathleen’s life is shaped. Their lives are interesting and realistic and you can’t help but keep reading to see where they end up.
Pages: 235 | ASIN: B079VVWHDQ
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Till it Stops Beating is an emotional but fun novel that follows young Maddie as she struggles with anxiety and following her heart. What was the inspiration that made you want to write this novel?
Maddie came to me when I was 15 and at a creative arts summer camp, recovering from an awful break up with my first real boyfriend. So, I created “Maddie” to help heal my broken heart. I went on to write my first novel, My Sister’s Wedding, which is a (highly) fictionalized version of that “bad romance”.
This book, TILL IT STOPS BEATING, was inspired by that same theme of heartbreak…but not only romantic heartbreak, but also the heartbreak of growing up and becoming aware that not everything lasts or is permanent and not everything can be fixed or solved.
My students, clients, and my own children and my position as a parent/teacher/therapist were major influences in shaping this novel. Specifically, my own struggle with anxiety and panic attacks were things that helped me to flesh out Maddie’s own mental health problems. It was therapeutic to write about her struggle to understand herself.
Maddie is a character that I felt I could relate to; we were all young once. What were some themes you wanted to capture while writing her character?
I wanted to capture and normalize the mental health issues that tend to come up during adolescence. When I had my own bout with anxiety and agoraphobia my senior year of high school, no one talked about this and it was lonely and isolating. I feel like this book is a conversation starter about anxiety.
This novel deals with the stress and anxiety young kids feel today. What do you feel is different about the challenges teens face today that is different from your generation?
I actually feel there is only one major difference—access to information and social media—and both of those things are double-edged, meaning there are positives and negatives to them. The stats around social media use and depression in teens pretty much says it all! However, access to information about mental health has also increased the awareness and possibly save lives. There is good and there is bad.
Teens have always and will always deal with the stress and struggle of growing up, no matter if you are a boomer, Gen-X-er, millennial, or a teen today, in 2018. As a Gen-Xer with a teenage daughter, I see so many similarities in terms of the angst and feelings; she and I are able to connect on that deep level because the feelings are epic, classic, and constant!
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
Though I thought TILL IT STOPS BEATING would be the last Maddie book (there are 4 in total), I have more stories to tell about Maddie’s life as she becomes an adult and navigates college and even beyond. I’ve outlined both books and am planning to pitch them to my publisher. Hopefully the first of these two will come out at the end of 2019 beginning of 2020.
Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).
Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.
Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.
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“If your heart has ever hurt from beating wildly, whether from anxiety or love, this book is the one to read.”
This quote at the end of the book summary perfectly describes the book. This is one of those stories that is relatable and heartwarming. When I first started reading this book, I found myself swept away with the story. It is about Maddie Hickman, a girl who suffers from extreme anxiety who has found herself on a downward spiral when life becomes too much. This takes the 17-year-old on a crazy adventure in the shape of a road trip.
I immediately related to Maddie in this story because I realized I was suffering from anxiety when I was her age. I loved seeing this kind of representation in a story, dealing with both the hardships and the hope. Maddie is a strong character that must balance her anxiety with being a normal teenage girl which for her means college applications, family drama, and boys. I loved reading Maddie’s voice as she s both charming and funny. Her attention to doughnuts, in the beginning, kept me cracking smiles and added to the characters unique voice.
Author Hannah Goodman did an incredible job of capturing the voice of a teenager, which is unsurprising when I found out she is referred to as “the teenage whisperer,” due to her 20 years long career working with teenagers as a teacher, tutor, and coach. I was impressed with how she was able to tackle a difficult issue like anxiety and make a story that was funny and sweet without making light of the issue. She also treats Maddie’s problems, whether big or small, as real, not belittling them as silly teenage issues. These things come together to make an amazing story that holds an important message for teenagers and adults.
On top of the masterful rendering of a teenager with anxiety, this story also delves into the sweet world of first love. Goodman has played with the complicated and often heart-wrenching experience of love that is oh so beautiful. I very much enjoyed getting to see Maddie deal with the ups and downs of love and found her story to be heartening and sweet.
I found this to be a great summertime read and would highly recommend it, definitely 5 stars from me.
Pages: 216 | ASIN: 1684330807
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