Author Spotlight, Makes You Think

Author Spotlight – Willie Lightfoot

Willie Lightfoot is a Rochester City Councilmember and a former Monroe County Legislator who represented the 27th Legislative District in Monroe County, NY. Lightfoot was appointed to the Monroe County Legislature in 2006 and termed out after three consecutive terms, doing a total of 10 years of service. It is Lightfoot’s belief that the purpose of government is to serve the needs and address the concerns of the community, and not to put up barriers between the bureaucracy and the governed. That is why in his first 100 days in office, Lightfoot held community town hall meetings. These meetings served to cultivate an environment in which our community members were encouraged to share their vision for change in their neighborhoods, build a greater understanding of issues directly affecting their families and homes, and start a dialogue in which all voices are heard. Being a representative of for his community is more than sitting in an office and attending closed door meetings. It is about transparency, shared goals, and building a better Rochester for our families now, and for generations to come.

Lightfoot recently published his first book, The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose. He agreed to answer questions about the book and how he came to write it.

What led you to write The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose?

I was led to write this book out of a sermon that I preached at my church Tent revival that I have every year outside. The response from the people was so receptive to this topic that I turned it into a 5 part series that I taught for 5 weeks during Sunday services.  As a result of the series, I was inspired to write the book.

One of the first things you write about is the importance of being a good listener. What advice do you have to help people become better listeners?

I believe God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen more and talk less.  The Bible says to be swift to hear and slow to speak. (James 1:19)  My advice is to be intentional about listening.  So you have to work at it and make it a habit. 

You make a distinction between physical and emotional pain. Now, this is a big question – what can the people of Rochester do to help one another through emotional pain?

I believe we all have to be willing to first be present with ourselves.  We have to deal with our own physical and emotional pain first.  Like an airplane in an emergency, we have to put our masks on first before we are able to assist others.  We have to be more present with each other as well and recognize that we are a hurting community that is deeply wounded and be willing to take ownership of that truth.  Then have conversations on what role can we play in healing ourselves and our community.

Throughout the book, you pose questions for readers to reflect on. I’ll ask you one, given your position as a Councilperson and a Pastor: You and your colleagues are often the targets of misinformation and anger. How do you show up every day?

I show up every day with new mercies as a Pastor because if you allow the negative narrative to take over it can consume you and turn you into a very callous person.  We as elected officials and leaders are human as well and we are all deeply impacted by the decisions we and others make in these positions.  We also are deeply impacted by how we are perceived by the community at large as well. The key is to stay focused on the goals of bettering the quality of life for all and making sure we fight bad (misinformation) with good (accurate information).

You also write about words having power. My work has focused on literacy, especially early literacy and I know you have done some interesting things in your shop. Can you talk a little about the impact of having books in your barber shop and any other work you’re doing to support early and family literacy?

Books in the shop was a program started under the former administration (Mayor Warren). It was an amazing program that got national attention.  Allowing families to have access to free culturally appropriate books while waiting on a cut was transformative. I have seen many parents or guardians reading to their children while awaiting a haircut and it makes a difference in a child’s development.  The whole experience can be life-changing. 

Your book shows the progression people take from pain to purpose, and you write on page 66 “our scars are our testimony and help solidify our purpose.” Can you talk about that?

The Bible says people overcome by the words of their testimony (Revelations 12:11).  We all have a story and we all have a testimony of what we have been through and made it out of.  Many don’t write a book or have a chance to tell their story on a large scale as others.  However, is extremely important that we find safe places to express ourselves and the journeys we have taken.  These experiences become a blueprint for whom we become or not become as a result of how we have healed or not healed by the scars of challenges we have faced. 

You write about overcoming addiction. What is your typical advice to someone who is struggling with addiction?

My advice for someone who had been there myself is to acknowledge and seek help.  You can’t do it alone.  You are not alone and others have been there and can help.

The strength of your faith in God shines through the pages of your book. Can you share how your faith drives you to do the work you do?

I would be nothing without my faith.  It means everything to me.  It keeps me grounded, focused as well as strengthened. 

Is there another book in your future?

Yes, I would like to turn this book into a workbook.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Bevere and TD Jakes.

What book are you recommending to people right now?

Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy

Where can people buy your book?

Online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and my website (

On a personal note, Mr. Lightfoot’s book came to me at a difficult time in my own life. My family has experienced significant losses in the last two years. We lost four family members in 2021, and most recently lost a beloved brother. Mr. Lightfoot’s words have brought me great comfort.

Author Spotlight, Detective, Mystery

Author Spotlight – Charles Salzberg

Author bio: After a successful career as a magazine journalist, book reviewer, nonfiction book writer, Charles Salzberg made a move to fulfilling that dream of becoming a novelist when his first novel, Swann’s Last Song, was published and wound up being nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. After four more novels in the Henry Swann series, he wrote three successful stand-alone novels, Devil in the Hole (named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine) and Second Story Man (nominated for another Shamus and a David Award), and Canary in the Coal Mine. Second Story Man was named winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award. He’s also published three novellas, to be found in the collections Triple Shot,Three Strikes and Third Degree. He still teaches writing in New York City, is a Founding Member of New York Writers Workshop, and is on the boards of PrisonWrites and Mystery Writers of America-NY. His latest novel Man on the Run will be released this April.

You have described “Man on the Run” as being a continuation of your previous work, “Second Story Man,” why did you decide to revisit Francis Hoyt’s story?

When I completed “Second Story Man,” I had no intention of revisiting any of the characters. But after finishing “Canary in the Coal Mine,” and casting around to see what I’d tackle next, I started thinking about Francis Hoyt. Without giving away spoilers, I began to wonder what happens to a character like him after his book ends. I sat with that question for several months before deciding I’d see for myself. At the same time, during the pandemic one of the things I did to pass time was listen to true crime podcasts–a lot of them, especially how they jump into cold cases or cases in the news. I thought it would make perfect sense to create a podcaster–many of them are women–who inadvertently passes through Hoyt’s life. At that point, the seed of a story was planted. But I also became much more crime “literate,” and so a secondary plot line in the novel is based on an actual event.

“Man on the Run” features cutthroat characters who are ambitious, almost to a fault. How do themes of obsession with success comment on a larger societal trend you see in American culture?

I try not to get too political publicly because no matter where you stand you’re going to piss someone off. But that doesn’t mean politics doesn’t affect my fiction. For quite a long time I’ve noticed that Americans are obsessed with winning, about beating and sometimes humiliating opponents. We even had a president who promised so much winning that we’d get tired of it–I doubt that could ever happen. But I think there’s a downside to all that competitiveness, especially the win-at-any-cost attitude. And so that’s how Francis Hoyt came to be. He’s obsessed with being the best and he’ll do anything to win. And so, in both “Second Story Man” and “Man on the Run,” I explore the ramifications of this obsession–and to some extent I think we all have it. But sometimes, I think, it can backfire and cause serious problems for everyone. An exploration of that is a big part of “Man on the Run.”

You’re a board member of Prison Writes, an organization that uses trauma-informed practices to support literacy for incarcerated people. How does your affiliation with this organization inform your writing as a crime author?

I certainly didn’t join PrisonWrites with that in mind, but as it happens working with those who are incarcerated (or recently out of the prison system) does teach me a little about crime, especially motivation. But it’s also incredibly inspirational. Before the pandemic, I was part of a three-person team that went up to the federal facility, Otisville, in upstate New York, to work with incarcerated men. When we got there, I was shocked to see at least forty men sitting in a large gymnasium-like area, all there to learn something about writing–and it was not mandatory. In fact, when we asked, I think almost every one of the men was already doing some kind of writing, especially journaling. I never ask what they’ve done in the past, because I don’t want to pre-judge them in any way, but it is fascinating to hear their stories–it really gives a sense of humanity to each of them and by extension us. It’s the idea that many of us, put in the right circumstances, might be capable of some pretty nasty things.

Tell me more about your experience with PrisonWrites. Have you developed any relationships with the people you’ve met and do you know if they continue to write after leaving prison? Do you have any thoughts on how writing instruction and writing as therapy for students might affect the “school to prison pipeline” in some communities? If readers are interested in PrisonWrites, how do they get involved?

A former student of mine, Jessica Hall, asked me to come down to the Lower East Side and work with at-risk youth. They’d all been in trouble with the law and in order to stay out of youth prison, they had to take part in an after-school program (and part of the deal was that they had to attend school and if they didn’t they’re “sentence” would be adjusted and they’d find themselves remanded to a place in NYC called Spofford, kind of like the training wheels for the more hard-core adult prisons. One day and I was hooked. Working with these teenagers was eye-opening and although they weren’t used to writing, especially the boys (interestingly enough, the girls, many of whom kept journals, were far easier to work with) most of them, once they were convinced that it wasn’t going to be just another class they’d fail, enjoyed it. And when we got the idea of publishing a small magazine with their work, they really got onboard. When we “published” the book, just for family and friends, we decided to have a publication party, and to see the looks on their faces—many of them invited their family—was well worth all the trouble. For many, this was the first time they succeeded in anything “educational,” probably because we set it up so that it was fun, and that there were no losers, just winners. I’d like to think it does work, not all the time, but enough to keep doing it. One of the highlights for me was going up to Otisville, a federal prison (Michael Cohen spent time there), and walking into the gym to find forty men sitting, waiting for us to begin the class. It seems that practically every one of them had taken to writing, whether it be journaling, writing a screenplay or a memoir. It was not only thrilling, but awe-inspiring. And some of those incarcerated men, now back in society, have kept in touch with us, even volunteering to help. There’s a PrisonWrites website, and if you’d like to get involved, just contact Jessica Hall.

Your novel features a true crime podcast host. Did you derive inspiration from real true crime podcasts you’re currently listening to? Any that you’d recommend to readers?

As I said earlier, I came to the true crime podcast pretty late in the game, and only because of Covid. But man, after the first one, I was hooked. I’ve got a lot of favorites, but some of them are “Crimetown,” about the city of Providence, “Someone Knows Something,” “Chameleon,” (all seasons), and anything by Dan Taberski (he doesn’t handle crime per se, but his podcasts are fascinating, especially the one that searches for Richard Simmons, and “The Shrink Next Door.” But there are so many important podcasts, especially one like “In the Dark,” which in one season examines the case of a man who’s been tried four times for the same crime and was sitting on Death Row for a crime he likely didn’t commit (no spoilers here).

What do you hope readers will gain from “Man on the Run”?

That’s a tough one because, to be honest, I don’t think much about what my audiences might get from my writing. In fact, I don’t even think of myself as having an “audience.” But now that I’m asked, I think the first thing I’d want is that people reading it enjoy what they’re reading. And beyond that, maybe get some insight into human behavior. Because for me, crime is all about human behavior and the relationships we have in life and how those relationships sometimes fracture with devastating results. But the one crime I don’t have any (or very little) interest in is serial killers. And for that matter, I don’t write murder mysteries and although there might be a murder in some of my books, it’s always there to tell us something about the characters. And so, most of my books are corpse-free. There are plenty of other crimes to write about. I’ll leave murders to my friends who handle it so well.

What’s next for your writing career?

I’m a little more than a third into my next novel. I’m at the stage where I don’t even have a title for it that I’m happy with–so, I’m just calling it “Searching for Allie,” (but I can pretty much promise you that’ll change.) One of my characters has ESP, he can see things that have happened in the past. But the catch is, only one person in the world, his best friend, knows he has this ability. He’s actually a little afraid of it–it’s an albatross around his neck. And so he constantly avoids any “images” that might come to him–and so when his best friend’s college-age daughter comes up missing and he’s asked to help, which means like it or not, he has to deal with this “thing” he has. I don’t write with an outline–I never know where the story is going–so I’m afraid I can’t give you a plot summary.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Do you draw inspiration from them in your own writing?

I’ve got so many favorite authors, all of whom provided inspiration. Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth among them. These are the writers who “taught” me how to write, how to appreciate good writing, how to structure a novel and write compelling characters and dialogue. And notice there aren’t any pure crime writers amongst them. But if you look a little closer, you’ll Nabokov’s Lolita, one of my favorites, is really a crime novel—older man fixates on 12-year-old girl, kidnaps her and takes her across state lines. And then there’s the Executioner’s Song, about the life of killer Gary Gilmore. Not that I don’t admire crime writers like Dashiell Hammett (my favorite), or Raymond Chandler, right up there, or Ross MacDonald. I read them all and they’re the ones who taught me how to write a crime novel.

Besides crime fiction, what other genres do you read?

I pretty much read anything and everything except for Sci-fi and romance. But even then, if someone recommends reading something in those genres, I’ll give it a try. When I’m in the middle of writing fiction, I try not to read other fiction—sticking to nonfiction. For good reason. I’m either afraid that if it’s really good, I’ll get discouraged, thinking how could I possibly rite anything better? Or, I’m afraid somehow I’ll be influenced by someone else’s style.

What are you reading right now?

I’m almost always reading two, three, sometimes even four books at the same time and, on my mood at any particular time. Right now, I’ve got Peter Blauner’s latest novel, Picture in the Sand, Watergate, by Garrett M. Graff, Slow Horses, by Mick Herron, and Sleepless City, by my friend Reed Farrel Coleman.

What one book do you recommend over and over?

Gosh, there are so many, too many to choose, so I’ll just mention a few: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow, and Desperadoes, by Ron Hansen.

Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight – Lori Duffy Foster

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter who writes fiction and nonfiction from the hills of Northern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and four children. She was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, where a part of her heart remains. 

A Dead Man’s Eyes, the first in the Lisa Jamison mystery/suspense series, is her debut novel. Look for book two in the series, Never Broken, in April of 2022. Her first standalone thriller, Never Let Go, releases in December of 2022. She is also author of Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years which is available from Amazon.

Lori is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, The Historical Novel Society and Pennwriters. She is also vice president of the Knoxville (PA) Public Library board.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I don’t think I have ever had a typical writing day, though I wish I did. Between kids, work and book promotion, I am easily distracted. I write when I can. Sometimes, that’s a few hours a day for several days in a row. Sometimes, it means not writing at all for a month or more, and then going away for a weekend to write for two days straight. I am always writing in my head though. Plots are formulating, characters are developing and growing. When I finally sit down to write, I am usually very productive.

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

Oddly, most of my favorite authors do not write in the mystery genre. I have read most every book by John Irving, Anita Shreve, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison and Joshilyn Jackson. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson are two of my favorite books. I LOVED Defending Jacob by William Landay. That’s a mystery. I do enjoy mysteries and thrillers though. I usually alternate one mystery or thriller with one book from another genre.

What things influence your writing?

Human nature and my fascination with it. I always thought I would write literary novels because I am so intrigued by human behavior, by those factors that push us beyond our boundaries and tempt us to violate our own moral and social codes. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that crime is the perfect study of that. Most criminals do not start out as bad people. Some never become bad people, even after they kill. There are those who like to believe in a thick, solid line between good and bad, who feel safe because they place themselves on the good side, but that line doesn’t exist. We are all capable of serious crimes given the right conditions.

What do you want readers to experience when they read your work?

I want them to forget where they are and what they are doing while they are reading my books and I want them to take the characters with them when they close the books. A good book should be an immersive experience that sticks with you, that draws you back in days or weeks later. .

What kind of research do you conduct for your books?

All kinds! I never want to lose a reader because I was too lazy to look something up, make a phone call, or visit an area I am writing about. For Never Broken, I did a lot of research into sweatshops and human trafficking, including the trauma modern-day slaves endure as they try to reintegrate into society after being freed. There were lots of little things too, like how to melt aluminum, how Industrial Development Associations work, ways to smuggle goods in the United States from Canada. I am working on book three in series now, No Time to Breathe. For that book, I have recruited the owner of trucking company and a professional gambler as beta readers. My journalism background helps when it comes to research. I spent most of my career covering crime, but I also covered municipal government, education, the military, Native American affairs, the sport of running, all kinds of things. I know just enough to know what I don’t know and when I need help.

Describe a book that changed your life.

I can’t think of a book that actually changed my life, but E. Benjamin Skinner’s book, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, opened my eyes to all facets of human trafficking and was a big influence for my latest novel, Never Broken. Skinner is a journalist who infiltrated human trafficking networks in the U.S. and around the world, sometimes putting his own life at risk. At one point during his research, he was given the opportunity to buy a girl and keep her for $50. It is sickening and shocking. There is no turning away from the reality of modern-day slavery and the urgency to end it once you’ve read his book. 

If your books were to made into films, who do you see in the major roles?

I can’t do that. My characters are so real in my head that it is hard to imagine anyone playing their roles. If ever I should get so lucky as to sell the film rights and see my books produced as films, I would have to leave the casting entirely up to the director. Of course, if the director picks the wrong people, then I will have something to say.

What book do you think everyone should read?

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s the kind of book you keep thinking about years after you’ve finished it.

What book are you recommending right now?

Anything by Joshilyn Jackson. Her books defy genre, but they always have an element of crime. Her latest novel, Mother May I, is on my birthday wish list.

Lori’s books are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can learn more about her at her website

Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight – G.A. Brandt

Gary G.A. Brandt grew up in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, where he played sports, attended various colleges, and received several degrees while raising a family in Rochester, New York and Sarasota, Florida. Brandt worked in the private sector, started and ran his own company, served in the public sector as an elected official and a manager, and worked as an instructor and administrator in higher education. He coached men’s and women’s ice hockey at the high school and college levels, winning a few championships over the years. He is a poet and a published writer in local media and has just published his first novel: As Beautiful As This.

You’ve recently published As Beautiful As This, a story about loyalty & duty to country, self, and family.  What led you to write this book? 

I wrote this story because it has lived in my head and heart for years and many of the parts of this book I lived, personally, and with and through relatives and friends. One cannot have grown up in the post WWII culture of the ’50s as a kid, the ’60s as a student and the ’70s as a young adult, and if you were paying attention, not be deeply impacted by the events in your family, in your relationships and in our institutions. But the most important and the most emotional meaningful event was that my best friend, a U.S. Marine, was killed in action in Vietnam. Both our fathers had been in WWII. He quit college to join the Marines and I stayed in school. I have had the sorrow of losing him inside me for decades. We had planned to be the best man in each others’ weddings. I needed to liberate all that pent-up emotion by writing this story.

How do you build your characters? Do you base them on real people, on bits and pieces of real people, or are they completely fictional? 

All the characters in my book are composite characters of people that I have known, loved and in a few cases, despised. I was careful to not be too specific of who they were from my past, but I know that I was as kind as I could be, but still making their best, and in a few cases, their worst points, evident for the reader.

What was your publishing process like?

The publishing process can be quite overwhelming. I am fortunate. My wife is a retired journalist and she had already written and published three non-fiction books, so for me it was “knock on the door to her office down the hall in our house with any questions.”

Describe a typical writing day for you.

Ha ha ha, we all know that there is no typical writing day. For me I use two rules to write: a.) “don’t go down the rabbit hole” which means don’t start doing just a “little thing” because it always turns out bigger and then eats up your writing time, and b.) I use the Stephen King “AIC” maxim, which is to get my “ass in chair” and start writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

I love Paul Theroux, Robert MacNeil (of PBS Newshour fame), Kenneth Roberts, Jill Ker Conway, Pat Conroy and David Halberstam. My five favorite books are “Dark Star Africa”(Theroux), “Northwest Passage”(Roberts), “The Road from Coorain”(Ker Conway), “The Right Place at the Right Time” (MacNeil) and “The Prince of Tides (Conroy).”

What things influence your writing?

Kindness, moral ambiguity, love and the teamwork best exhibited in athletics, compassionate business associates and the military.

Where do you stand on the oxford comma? My readers want to know! 

The same as I feel about a guy wearing a bow tie: “it you like it, wear it,” “your tie, your rules.”

What do you want readers to experience when they read your work? 

I hope a reader will do two things: a.) understand the issues in the story, and b.) relate to the humanness in the characters. This is where your editor comes in to play the key role in completing a book. It has been said that a writer builds a structure (book) and in building it the writer also puts up scaffolding around the structure to work on it. The editor’s job is to take down all the writer’s scaffolding and expose the finished building/structure for people to see, read, admire.

As Beautiful As This is centered on the Vietnam conflict. Do you have personal experience with that period of history?

Yes. It consumed my youth in questions of war, peace, family, friends, public policy and religious values. And in some ways, it still does. Wars have no end, just all the people who were part of it die away.

What kind of research do you conduct for your books? 

The research depends on the central issues that I write about. In this book, I did extensive research on the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Most of the other events or details in the book came from my life, e.g. I did go to Melvin Belli’s office in San Francisco, and I did stay in the Stinson Beach house that Janice Joplin once rented, and I have spent much time in Toronto and Cape Cod, and I have owned a sailboat.

If you are an author and would like to be featured here, please contact me at patricia.uttaro @ gmail(dot)com.

Author Spotlight, Children's, Uncategorized

Author Spotlight – Robin L. Flanigan

RobinRobin L. Flanigan grew up among the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and launched a writing career in the early ‘90s while living in a Baltimore graveyard.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in language and literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she studied for a semester at Oxford University’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Robin worked in newsrooms for eleven years, winning several national awards. Her essays have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies.

Her children’s book, M is for Mindful, uses inspiring verses to help children cultivate self-awareness, compassion, respect for diversity, and other practices—for an intentional, balanced, considerate life.

How did you get started as a writer?

I wrote my first story when I was seven, and have been writing ever since. As a newspaper reporter, I came up the old-school way—-writing for free to get bylines, then using those bylines to sell stories to various publications. That led to jobs at newspapers in Maryland, North Carolina and eventually, Rochester, New York. I have been freelancing now for 14 years, working mostly for newspapers and magazines around the country. When it comes to writing, I feel like I’m never off the clock. If I’m not on deadline, for example, I’m usually drafting a personal essay or jotting notes about future book ideas.

Who has influenced your writing career?

One of my friends from the Little Italy section of Baltimore is Rosalia Maria Scalia, and she raised three children on a freelancer’s salary. A former Baltimore Sun reporter named Rafael Alvarez, who taught me about persistence and the importance of place, introduced me to her. Good mentors are critical. For me, these two offered detailed instructions on how to turn my passion into a career. I’ve always wanted to make them proud. Other writers I admire and use as inspiration include Julia Cameron, Jo Ann Beard, and Sonja Livingston.

What prompted you to write M is for Mindful?

The idea for the book started because I wanted to be a better mother. When my daughter was three, I’d wake up early, do a yoga session by streetlight in the living room, and read a book passage or online article about mindfulness. I wanted her to grow up understanding what mindfulness is, instead of having to learn about it as an adult like I was doing, so I started creating poems to help her. This went on for years. At bath time, in the grocery store, we would play with countless versions of verses. I would discard a concept because it didn’t feel right to me; she would reject a rhyme because it didn’t sound right to her. The manuscript spent years in my desk drawer. My daughter just had a birthday—she’s 14. Now that M is for Mindful exists in the world, as the parent of a teenager I’m finding myself relying on many of the verses in the book—especially “A is for ATTITUDE.”

accept what comes
your way with grace
lessons come
from every place

There’s irony here somewhere…

What is your favorite story from your writing past?

Unfortunately, it is a tragic story, one in which a friendship ends in tragedy. I wrote a series of stories for the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper more than a decade ago about a boy who accidentally killed one of his best friends with a bow and arrow. It’s odd to use the word “favorite” here, but the reason I chose this story is because this boy, his family, and his friends let me spend months with them learning about what it’s like to go through something so horrific. Their honesty and bravery live with me and, from my perspective, spotlight how difficult it can be to be human—and how we all can help each other heal.

Praise for M is for Mindful:

“This is the kind of book I want on my shelf, and when I have grandchildren I will read it to them daily—for them and me too.” —Andie MacDowell, Golden Globe-winning actress

M is for Mindful will teach children values and attitudes that will give them a positive direction to live their lives.” —Temple Grandin, PhD, award-winning author of Thinking in Pictures, autism spokesperson, National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee

Robin Flanigan’s book, M is for Mindful, is available from online retailers.

Author Spotlight, Book Tour, Italy Book Tour

Author Spotlight: Crystal King

Crystal KingCrystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow and The Chef’s Secret.

What genre do you write and why?
I write historical fiction. It’s something I never thought I would write, until suddenly there I was writing a book about the historical past. But I don’t think I’ll always write historical fiction. I have several shelved fantasy novels that I hope I can get back to someday. I also have a couple ideas for some non-fiction books. I think that the publishing industry likes to have an author write in only one genre but I hope that I won’t be limited to that in my writing career.

What or who inspired you to first write? Which authors have influenced you?
I was a very early reader and that led me to begin writing when I was very young, at the age of five or so. I had great, encouraging teachers. I remember being chosen by my school to attend a young writers conference when I was ten. The author speaking was Madeleine L’Engle and I was so excited because I loved her books. My influences over the years have been eclectic, ranging from poets like Anne Carson and Czeslaw Milosz to authors such as Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anais Nin and MFK Fisher. I also love reading the classics such as Tacitus, Virgil, Herodotus, Dante and Shakespeare.

Do you ever cook any of the recipes described in your book?
Yes! That’s one of the most exciting things to me about exploring the lives of Italian culinary heroes. I think to really know my characters I have to cook the foods that they would have cooked or at least make a grand attempt to. The recipes aren’t always easy to decipher, and many of the ingredients are not as familiar today to a modern palate. Or they are things we just don’t eat any more. For example, peacock, crane, calves eyeballs, hedgehog, or porcupine. But there are many things in the 1570 cookbook that Bartolomeo Scappi wrote that we would find delicious, including apple crostata, braised beef, mushroom soup, fritters, and so much more. I include many of these recipes in The Chef’s Secret Companion cookbook, which can be found here. And if you are interested in ancient Roman food, check out my page all about the cuisine of that time, and you can also download the Feast of Sorrow companion cookbook too.

Do you write every day?
I don’t write every day although when I have made a practice of writing every day, I find that the book really sits with me and I can write quite fast. But since I have a day job and a lot of other activities it sometimes hard for me to write on top of all the other work I’ve done during that day. For the most part, I tend to write on the weekends. Usually I will clear all my Sundays and write several hours on that day.

Do you have a writing group?
I do. It’s a group of women that I’ve been meeting with for 12 or 13 years now. We meet every two weeks and usually go over a few chapters of whoever has chapters to share. They have helped me hack apart and reassemble all of my novels countless times. We call ourselves the Salt + Radish Writers because of our tradition of having salt, butter and radishes to nosh on during our yearly writing retreats in Maine, but also because salt is flavor, radishes are nourishment and those are things that we deliver to each other, and almost always, over a meal.

Name a quirky thing you like to do.
I don’t think this is actually terribly quirky but most people are surprised to know that I love video games. I tend to like games with rich story arcs, usually sci-fi or fantasy. My husband got me an Oculus Rift for Christmas and I have really had a lot of fun with that exploring virtual worlds. I’m super excited to see where that technology is going to take us in the next 5 to 10 years!

Author Spotlight, General, Historical, Mystery

Author Spotlight – Kate Morton

mortonDo you like secrets? Author Kate Morton is a master at telling tales that revolve around secrets. I found my way to Morton’s work with her second novel, The Forgotten Garden, which is one of those books that just transfixes you and everything else fades to gray while you read. After that, I went back and read her debut, The House at Riverton, and was just as enthralled; that experience has been repeated with each new book she’s published. Morton is set to publish her sixth book this year – September/October in Australia & New Zealand, and October in the U.S. I just got my hands on an advanced reading copy of that new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and thought I’d share my fondness for the author here.

On her website, Morton writes:

“I started writing because I wanted to recapture the joy of reading as a child. As soon as I learned that the black marks on white pages were doorways, and that it was within my power to go through them (and the back of a wardrobe) whenever I chose to, I was hooked. I read everything that I could get my hands on and could usually be found hiding in the bough of one of the avocado trees in our garden, book in hand. I’m still chasing that feeling of complete immersion, which makes the real world disappear.”

It seems Morton’s reading experiences as a child have informed her writing as an adult, given the addictive nature of her books. Storytelling is an art, and Kate Morton’s work is a masterful example of the art form at its best. Much of her work reminds me, in its basest form, of the Gothic novels I read when I was a child – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, for example – but Morton has taken the form to a new level. Her stories are typically told across time and in multiple voices, with meticulously researched history, and memorable character development. I encourage you to add one of Morton’s books to your summer reading list.

The House at Riverton – Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this debut novel set in England after the First World War. The “war to end all wars” signaled a major change in the lives of England’s aristocracy, and Morton chronicles the trials and tribulations of one family buffeted and bound by secrets, tragedy, and misunderstanding.


The Forgotten Garden – The first Morton book that hooked me on the author. A young woman comes into an unexpected and shocking inheritance from her beloved grandmother, and travels across the world to discover long-buried secrets that will change her life forever.


The Distant Hours – A compelling story featuring a decaying manor in the English countryside, the trio of odd sisters who live there, and (of course) secrets from the past better left buried. This includes a fascinating look into the era when children were sent to the country from London to keep them safe from bombings during World War II.


The Secret Keeper
– A young girl witness an unexplained act of violence involving her mother, which becomes a distant memory as she grows up. As an adult, that memory begins to haunt her as the family celebrates her mother’s 90th birthday.


The Lake House
– Heartbreak and tragedy destroy a family in the early 1930s, then 70 years later, a burned out police inspector on a forced holiday picks up on a cold case and re-opens old wounds.



The Clockmaker’s Daughter
– Scheduled for publication in the U.S. in October 2018. Murder, intrigue, art, tragedy – all these things coalesce during a heady summer in 1862, observed by the clockmaker’s daughter, whose voice carries over the decades to be heard once again by an archivist.