Lost in the Reflecting Pool is a candid retelling of your life and the many trials you faced throughout. Why was this an important book for you to write?
It was an important book for me to write Lost in the Reflecting Pool for several reasons. On a personal level, writing was a way for me to process some very difficult, and traumatic times in my life. The act of writing itself, allowed me to gain enough distance and perspective to gain understanding that I don’t think I would have otherwise gained.
Equally important, my book covers many issues that are of particular relevance to women and men in terms of toxic relationships, narcissism, trusting the red flags that one sees early on in relationships and I think that it is important that these are important issues for the general population to be aware of as they enter into relationships.
You wrote about a relationship with a man that you struggled to break free of; what is one piece of advice you wish you had at the beginning?
Trust what I saw – and to not ignore what I saw.
The book is a memoir about many difficult things in your life, but the story is ultimately uplifting. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope that people will take away from my story that it is possible to change to course of one’s life even when things feel as if there is no way out – things can get better. Developing a support system is essential. When in a toxic relationship make sure that one does not allow oneself to become isolated from all other supports (friends and family).
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I am currently working on a psychological thriller, Call Me Angel which should be available late 2020 and I am working on two children’s books.
When Diane, a psychologist, falls in love with Charles, a charming and brilliant psychiatrist, there is laughter and flowers—and also darkness. After moving through infertility treatments and the trials of the adoption process as a united front, the couple is ultimately successful in creating a family. As time goes on, however, Charles becomes increasingly critical and controlling, and Diane begins to feel barraged and battered. When she is diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, Charles is initially there for her, but his attentiveness quickly vanishes and is replaced by withdrawal, anger, and unfathomable sadism. What Diane previously thought were just Charles’ controlling ways are replaced by clear pathologic narcissism and emotional abuse that turns venomous at the very hour of her greatest need.
A memoir and a psychological love story that is at times tender and at times horrifying, Lost in the Reflecting Pool is a chronicle of one woman’s struggle to survive within—and ultimately break free of—a relationship with a man incapable of caring about anyone beyond himself.
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The End of Days follows the tragic story of Avrum as he spends his young life making his way to America to build a life for himself and hoping to reunite with his brother. What was the inspiration for the setup to this emotional novel?
TO THE END OF DAYS can best be understood when the characters and episodes are visualized as allegories of biblical narratives. The saga begins with the covenant between God and Abraham (through his mother). That covenant is in effect a prophesy that foretells of the forced separation between the brothers (the separation between the tribe of Judah and the “lost”, or dispersed tribes of Israel – and their eventual reunification.
Avrum and his brother share a tight bond with one another that I truly appreciated. What were some themes that guided you when creating their relationship?
Ianuk, the giant lumberman at the start of the story is the Pharoah of biblical Egypt who held Avraham (the Hebrews) for those years in slavery. The Hebrews then cross the Red Sea to the land of Can’nan (here the water crossed is the Atlantic – and America is the “promised” land). Bella reflects the infamous Golden Calf, Fanny represents the extremely fanatic biblical clerics obsessed with purity (the Essens) – those responsible for the destruction of the temple and the loss of Jerusalem. “The Doctor” (among the woodsman) and “Strulevitch” in Montreal represent Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel’s prophets are represented in Kapitolnik. Avram’s battle with the street gang that so violated Fanny reflects the wars of Israel against those who had so violated the Holy Land and Jerusalem and successfully redeemed it – bonding with an evolved Fanny. The reunion at that time between Avrum and his brother reflects the reunion between all the tribes of Israel in the rebirth of the land (the ingathering of the exiles)
I felt myself immersed in the sights and sounds of early 1900’s America. What kind of research did you do to ensure you maintained accuracy?
I am 80 years old born in Montreal to parents who reached Montreal in the 20″s. No research was necessary.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
There are 2 other books I would like to share with you: Dead-End Sex – 42 accounts from the 42 years of my clinical work as a psychologist. These introduce serious problems with intimacy and failures in relationships, and explaining their core failures. Neurotic Children as Adults: a book as much for people who suffer their lives going nowhere as for truly caring mothers of young infants.
To the End of Days is a pulsing theater rich with allegories of Old Testament narratives. This is the story of a heritage delivered by a mother to her very young sons in the last hours of her life. It is a heritage which man could not modify, time could not temper, and the expanse of oceans could not distance from their lives. This is a book of secrets. The steamy alchemy of will, fate, and destiny deliver a kaleidoscope of everything human and inhuman in man. It is an epic saga charged with life and the thick rich of blood. where lawlessness and anarchy are the vehicles of timeless and inexorable laws of this universe. But all that was promised becomes delivered.
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East of Mecca is beautifully written and addresses a subject that is rarely discussed. Why did you want to write about Middle Eastern culture?
I lived in Saudi Arabia for a year when my husband accepted a job with Aramco Oil Company. We lived on a company compound called Ras Tanura, located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Within the compound were beautiful, white, sandy beaches, and flat, desert terrain filled with exotic, thorny scrubs. The sun rose every morning over the sea and set each evening over the desert. Both events were in stunning Technicolor!
Throughout my year in Saudi, I was exposed to camels, Bedouin markets, delicious food, beautiful art, jewelry, and architecture, and haunting Middle Eastern music. I even learned to belly dance!
Although we lived on the company compound, I quickly discovered the male-dominated, fundamentalist Islamic Kingdom’s rules for ex-patriot women were not so different than those for Saudi women…loose, modest clothing, driving or riding bicycles off the compound is forbidden, as is leaving the compound unless accompanied by your husband or in Aramco approved transportation.
My first day in Saudi, I was fingerprinted, photographed holding a placard with my husband’s ID number, and my passport was confiscated by Aramco. It would only be relinquished to my husband after he had applied for an exit-visa and it had been approved. I had my first panic attack when I realized I couldn’t just get a cab to the airport, board a plane, and go home.
In one day, I lost both my identity and my freedom.
As an American Clinical Psychologist not affiliated with Aramco, I had other women from the compound (American, European, Saudi and other Arab women) literally knocking on my door for counseling. I practiced secretly and illicitly (without a work-permit) the entire year I was in Saudi.
Off the compound, restrictions against women were much more apparent. Ruled by sharia law, Saudi women are required to be covered head-to-toe in black long-sleeved, ankle length cloaks called abayas, hijabs (headscarves), and face-masks called niqabs. All these were then covered with veils that render women completely invisible. Religious police called matawain patrol the streets of villages and cities arbitrarily deciding whether or not a woman (Saudi or Western) is properly dressed and properly behaved. Unless restaurants have screened off “family” sections, women are not allowed inside.
It was in Saudi, through my work with other women, where I learned firsthand about oppression and some of the other appalling conditions Saudi women face, including being under complete control of their husbands, fathers, or other males in their family, lack of personal autonomy, being forbidden to drive, honor violence, arranged marriage, child marriages…all in addition to the rigid clothing restrictions…being totally cloaked in black, even in sweltering weather.
The Middle East is a complex culture, rich in contrasts. And yet, little is written about the treatment of women in Saudi. Inspired by my own experiences and those of the women I worked with, writing East of Mecca became my passion project. I wanted to convey the exotic and the beautiful, while respectfully educating Western readers on the appalling conditions of women living under sharia law. I wanted to take readers beneath the veils that make Saudi women “invisible” and give them faces. I wanted to give a voice to those women forbidden to speak for themselves. My greatest hope is that education can lead to advocacy and action toward change.
Sarah is a fascinating character and a strong woman in her own right. What were the driving ideals behind the character’s development throughout the story?
Sarah is, first of all, devoted to her husband and children. And, with a social work background and aspirations to be a Clinical Psychologist, Sarah is a caregiver by profession and by nature. However, like most Americans, she is naïve to the experiences of others in totally different cultures. Initially, she views life in Saudi Arabia as a wise financial investment and a grand adventure. Throughout the story, with all she personally experiences and witnesses happening to other women in Saudi, especially through her relationship with Yasmeen, Sarah becomes an advocate for human rights on a much more personal level.
I truly enjoyed Yasmeen’s character and thought she brought depth and nuance to an intriguing culture. What was the inspiration for the relationship Sarah and Yasmeen have?
While it’s easy to have sympathy for people in other cultures, or those who are different from us, empathy is achieved by the ability to understand and share the feelings of another…from their perspective. To actually feel what they are feeling. My goal in creating Yasmeen’s character was to have my readers truly know her as a person, not just a face hidden behind a veil. I want them to experience her personality and empathetically relate to her joys and her struggles. The deep friendship Sarah and Yasmeen share, shows how they…and women everywhere…are the same, no matter how different their cultures might be.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on my second novel. Orchard Road is about a Clinical Psychologist, with a very dark past, who is triggered into violence by one of her patients. The time and setting is both current day Chicago, and Singapore in the 1970’s. Since I’m still in the midst of writing, I don’t know when it’ll be published, but I’m hoping it will be available within the next two years.
This moving and unforgettable novel, East of Mecca, tells a timely, harrowing, and heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, the transcendent power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Driven by financial desperation, Sarah and Max Hayes are seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia. Sarah surrenders her career when Max accepts a prestigious job with Ocmara Oil Company and they relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily-guarded Ocmara compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the male-dominated, fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom, which is governed by sharia law. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine, illicit friendship with Yasmeen, a Muslim Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the Saudi women’s quarters—until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions. Told with riveting authenticity and exquisite detail, East of Mecca explores gender apartheid through the abuse of absolute power with an elegant balance of cultural nuance and moral inquiry. Long after you have turned the last page, you will be haunted by the vivid characters and powerful scenes illuminating this tour de force.
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Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale is a frank autobiography centered around the theme of the pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life. What was the inspiration that made you want to write a memoir?
I was inspired by two of my children and some of my patients. My oldest daughter, Keeley, once presented me with a book that asked questions about me. The idea of the book was to have it for the grandchildren in posterity. I liked the idea of leaving something for the grandkids but didn’t like the venue. I didn’t think that telling them my favorite color was particularly pertinent to letting them know who I was. Then my son Chandler, several years later, prospering greatly in both his business and personal life in his mid-thirties asked me, in somewhat of a despondent tone, “Is this it?” He was kind of like the hero in the Myth of Percival who after garnering great fame as a killer of Dragons asked a similar question. I translated my adult children’ questions into “Who am I?” and “What is it [life] about?” My patients also played a role in that I often use stories from my life to illustrate points I am trying to make and also to normalize rather than pathologize the struggles they are having. In turn, they have found these stories very helpful and even entertaining and often suggested “You should write a book of these stories.” These three factors percolated in my mind for several years until one day they bubbled up and I just started writing.
There is a lot of reflection on life events in this book. Is there anything that was hard for you to write about?
My relationship with my first wife, Jane, and my own struggles in relationship. My first wife came to fight mightily with mental illness and I was extremely concerned with writing anything that might upset her. However, when my editor received the manuscript she noted immediately the presence of the absence of much to do about that relationship. I explained the problem and she respected the restraint feeling that many people make the book the all of everything without concern for its impact on others. At the same time, she pointed out that the readership would have a difficult time in empathizing with either Jane or myself with such sparse information. I was thus pushed to confront this issue and did so after several sleepless nights by writing the chapter on Jane and then sending it to her with complete and total veto power. To my surprise she responded with praise for the chapter, thought it was beautifully written and wouldn’t change a word. That felt so healing.
Other chapters that were difficult to write were the ones several reviewers have picked up on including yourself. Those are the chapters on the kids. They were indeed somewhat of an afterthought in that they were written later after my kids asked me why there wasn’t much on them or the grandkids in the book. On thinking about this, I did think it was an oversight driven by the difficulty in deciding what to write and the impact this could have on them. At the same time, even though somewhat an appendage to the book, I decided to go forward with it in that I thought, particularly as a family therapist, that there were valuable lessons to be learned within them for both adult children and parents. So, though I agree the book may seem to lose focus in these three family related chapters, I still thought they added to the lessons I wanted to share with readers and pertained to my ongoing hatching and self-discovery, as well as sensitizing me to the shadow my history cast on the lives of my offspring. In addition, with these chapters I was able to discuss the challenges of the life cycle and I older readers, those from my generation, have expressed particular appreciation for them.
Finally, just writing about my romantic relationships and failures in them were difficult to write because I find them embarrassing and felt some shame about them, particularly in that I’m a marriage and couples’ therapist. Yet, I didn’t feel I could tell my story with integrity and walk the walk of my talk if I avoided them. As I note in the book, you can’t lead a self-examined life if you cheery pick what you look at.
In this book we get to witness many peoples lives, loves, and tragedies. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
First, that we are all human and imperfect and to be okay with this. In saying this I don’t mean to imply we should shrug them off as “typically human,” but recognize the losses, or mistakes and/or harm we have done and to learn about ourselves and grow from them. I believe it is incredibly important for people to keep learning and growing till death do us part and that if we stop doing so we are more likely to become despairing as we’re caught in the smothering quicksand of stagnation. Second, that we have to live our lives, there are no short-cuts and that the attempt to not deal with our lives through avoidance and denial only leads to bringing about that which we fear. Finally, I wanted to posit a belief I’ve come to as a therapist and as a human being in the last several years. It was a realization that struck me as as an epiphany. That is, “Each of us is as happy as we can stand.” Isn’t that a concept worth thinking about? Here I’m not talking about people with psychotic illness or intense mental illness of any kind, but more so what I call the normal/neurotics who have been primarily affected by issues of nurture rather than nature that comprise the majority of the human race. The ultimate limiter of our happiness is we ourselves. We are each encompassed in habituated mental/emotional states that resist change, even when or perhaps even especially when, those changes are for the good. I won’t rewrite the book here but the how and why of this alone, in my view, is worth the read.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I don’t know the answer to this although it is a question I have been asking myself. Writing is hard for me. I don’t do it for fun unless I feel inspired, then it is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life. So, I’ve been looking inward, trying to discern what is moving out of sight within the fathoms below. It has not yet come into view but I do feel its stirrings.
If you’ve ever wanted to read someone’s diary, be a fly on the wall during a private exchange, or wondered what someone, possibly your therapist, really, really thinks, then Hatching Charlie will roundly satisfy that curiosity. It’s a fascinating read if you just leave it at that, but, in doing so you’d miss a rare invitation to be guided through elements of your own personal story on a parallel plane. An emotionally charged, inspirational, thoughtful and humorous book filled with wisdom, psychological insight and relationship truth Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale is both an autobiography and a quest story. In spellbinding fashion, it interweaves the incredibly interesting life journey of Charles McCormack with his becoming a counselor and psychotherapist. Born into an abusive home and spending early years in the racist Jim Crow South where he witnessed segregation first hand, Charlie at age eleven is then involuntarily exiled to a Catholic boarding school in France even though he doesn’t speak the language. There he is again abused. Cut off from family and friends, isolated from those around him and under the rule of sadistic authorities Charlie spirals downward in the grip of anxiety and depression. Disoriented and confused he feels a determination to make sense of his life, his world, his relationships, and his place in them, core questions that will shape the rest of his life. But the going is not easy. Charlie acts out, flounders, is a mediocre student, fails high school, is expelled from college, and goes on an odyssey to Mexico where he meets a psychologist turned auto-mechanic who plants an idea in his mind. After this encounter, Charlie pursues a career as a counselor and psychotherapist. He returns to school, finds he’s a natural, and eventually earns a master’s degree in psychology and then another in clinical social work. Subsequently, working on a long-term psychiatric locked door inpatient unit he suffers PTSD following the suicide of a patient, begins writing, becomes published, and encounters career success. He is invited to join the faculty of the Washington School of Psychiatry, promoted to Senior Social Worker of Long-Term Adult Inpatient Services at a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, is named the Clinical Social Worker of the Year in Maryland, and writes a book on how to treat “difficult to treat” couples entitled Treating Borderline States in Marriage: Dealing with Oppositionalism, Ruthless Aggression and Severe Resistance that is well received. Yet, as his career is evolving his personal life is disintegrating. He is forced to confront mental illness in his own family, divorces twice, suffers a return of anxiety and depression, and leads him to question the impact of his early relationships on his own capacity for love and loving, and of being a father and grandfather. Throughout his journey Charlie repeatedly travels to his own interior, his internal world, where he continues to grapple with those early questions, “What is life about? What’s the point? How can one be happy? How can one be secure in relationship? What is love? What is loving?” In so doing Charlie “truly covers the full gamut of human experience – warmth, love, friendship, loneliness, unhappiness, violence, despair: life and death.” (Literary Titan) His insights and answers will surprise you. “Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale” is an inherently fascinating, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read from beginning to end.” (Midwest Book Review)
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Charles Creath McCormack’s book Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale is quite a book: a frank autobiography centered around the theme of the pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life, from a man who has sat both on and beside the psychotherapy couch; or as the author himself describes it, “a story of the follies and wisdom’s of the human condition”. Mr. McCormack is fully aware of both the theories and the realities of mental health, although the book contains no technical language at all. It’s an accessible account covering every stage of his life, from his youngest years into his partial retirement. Not to give too much away, but as the imagery of the title implies, his tale starts in darkness, and concludes with a breakthrough, with all the usual human drama of a life lived fully.
I found the style of writing very interesting; it perhaps relates to his experience as a psychotherapist. He makes use of imagery, not frequently, but when he does it’s usually a long, in-depth passage. Thankfully they don’t feel convoluted, because they exemplify his points well.
The imagery adds well to the overall narrative, which is compelling. If I’d had more time, I’d probably have read it in one sitting. Although the author references forward and back to events distant by dozens of years and pages, I was never left feeling confused or lost, so it was neatly accomplished. There was a clear sense of reflection as to what the reader may be thinking, and at points it almost felt like I was part of a conversation. However, I thought that near the end the narrative became a little unfocused, with some unnecessary repetition and description of his family that doesn’t always feel directly related to his main subject – his state of mind.
I want to describe it as a generous story, because I was given extremely honest details about Mr. McCormack’s life that many would have found embarrassing to tell. But he hides no faults or uncomfortable thoughts, and constantly admits when he was wrong. In one chapter the author relates the unfortunate stories of some of his patients. In this way, the book truly covers the full gamut of human experience – warmth, love, friendship, loneliness, unhappiness, violence, despair: life and death.
Despite the author’s wishes that we might take responsibility for our happiness, his book is not a manual for how to obtain it. Observant readers might pluck helpful wisdom from its pages, but this isn’t written as advice – just as he says he does with his patients, he places no obligation on us to try it.
Overall, I would recommend this to any adult reader who is willing to confront life’s uncomfortable truths and those who enjoy a fly-on-the-wall tale of other’s joys and sorrows. I enjoyed trip.
Pages: 373 | ASIN: B06XFG5G3M
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