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 – 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: 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 – 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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 
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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.

 

 

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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.