Category Archives: Author Interview

Q&A with Kourtney Heintz, Author of The Six Train to Wisconsin

post by Rich Weatherly

Friends and fellow bloggers, I’m honored to introduce you to Kourtney Heintz, debut author of The Six Train to Wisconsin. Kourtney has agreed to an interview about her past and about her writing life. Before I start the Q&A, I think this is a good time to introduce your book Kourtney.

Synopsis of Novel: SixTraintoWisconsin1600

When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Sometimes saving the person you love can cost you everything. There is one person that ties Oliver Richter to this world: his wife Kai. For Kai, Oliver is the keeper of her secrets.

When her telepathy spirals out of control and inundates her mind with the thoughts and emotions of everyone within a half-mile radius, the life they built together in Manhattan is threatened.

To save her, Oliver brings her to the hometown he abandoned—Butternut, Wisconsin—where the secrets of his past remain buried. But the past has a way of refusing to stay dead. Can Kai save Oliver before his secrets claim their future?

An emotionally powerful debut, The Six Train to Wisconsin pushes the bounds of love as it explores devotion, forgiveness and acceptance.

 The Q&A

Welcome to my blog Kourtney! Before I get into specific questions, are there any general comments you’d like to share as we kick off this interview?

Rich, I’d like to thank you for sharing your blog space with me and for taking the time to interview me. Really appreciate the support you’ve given me and my novel!

RW– When I purchased your book, I couldn’t help but notice the following: The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist. Do you have any thoughts on the reason for your book’s early success?

Aw, thank you. I fretted over the book being ready. I sent out my first manuscript too soon and I didn’t want that to happen again. So I took my time with this one. I won several charity auctions to have my first 50-100 pages critiqued by agents, editors, and published authors. I had a few beta readers. I work shopped it. I brought it to writing critique groups. And I listened to the feedback and incorporated it over time. I tried to put my ego aside and make the best book I could make.

I also didn’t try to write to trend. I wrote the story that was inside me. The story I was most passionate about. My characters had lots of quirks and flaws. They were people I could spend years with.

I tried to focus on universal emotions– jealousy, regret, guilt, uncertainty… to tap into things that everyone could relate to. Even the arguments between the husband and wife. I tried to capture what I’d experienced in arguments–where you are having two separate conversations simultaneously and don’t even realize it at the time.

 RW- You mentioned to me that you used genre blending and alternating point of view. Please elaborate.

I don’t write straight genre fiction because I don’t seem to be able to stay within the lines. I know what the expectations of the genre are, but my stories inevitably pass through several genres.

 This one started out with the telepathy being the central story point for the couple, which is why it’s speculative fiction. Later, we learn the husband has a secret about his father whom he’s run from since high school. This introduces a mystery element. The relationship between the husband and the wife skirts along women’s fiction and literary fiction with the in-depth emotions and the beautiful turns of phrase. As the book progresses, a thriller element weaves through the last 100 pages. I didn’t plan any of this. The story just went where it went, and I realize this would be a humdinger to categorize.

 The alternating point of view (POV) was something an agent suggested to me during a revise and resubmit. Originally, I told half the novel from the husband’s POV, a quarter from the wife’s POV, and then alternated chapter by chapter to the end. The agent strongly advised me to alternate POV from the get go, allowing the characters to live and breathe side by side. She thought it would enrich the story. After several months of painful revisions, I completely agree with her.

 Alternating POV is more common in love stories. And at its heart that is what this novel is to me. It’s not all hearts and rainbows. There are misunderstandings and hurt feelings; there are betrayals and heartbreak. Even so, I think all of that is part of the journey of love.

RW- I think it’s fair now for me to refer to you as a successful debut author. What are your writing plans for the future?

Thank, Rich. I’ll take that. 🙂

Right now, I’m in promotional mode. I have book tours, blog tours, and lots of social media work to do. But this summer, I plan to start revisions on my YA novel, Reckonings. I have another YA novel that a beta reader is going over for me. That’s on my to do list too. And this fall/winter, I really want to start on the follow up to Six Train.

 RW- Who are your favorite authors?

Charlaine Harris and Laurell K Hamilton are two authors I really love because they do cross genre so well.  

I’m a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd and Alice Sebold–they have such beautiful writing.  

I also love YA fiction–Jay Asher and John Green move me to tears with their books.

RW- Do you have any recommendations or thoughts to share with aspiring writers?

You may have to hear hundreds of rejections before you get that one yes. That’s okay. It’s all part of the process to make you a better writer. Listen, absorb, and learn. It truly is a craft not a calling. So practice is essential. Keep writing and keep putting your work out there. It’s the only way you’ll ever get that elusive yes.

 And if you are getting lots of personalized rejections on full manuscript requests where they compliment your writing, but telling you they don’t know how to sell it, then it may be the time to consider indie publishing. Because maybe your story is ready, but it’s just not a big enough moneymaker for traditional publishing.



Kourtney Heintz – Author

 Kourtney resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

 RW– Please include any links you have to share.

Website: includes purchase links.


Facebook Page:



Taylor Swift Ticket Giveaway:



Filed under Author Interview, Book Review, Books, Introduction, Literary Fiction, Mixed Genre, prose, Thriller

Review – American Dream

by J.J. Brown

It has been more than a year since I subscribed to author J.J. Brown’s blogs during the summer of 2011. At the time I knew of her work as a scientist.  Many of us hold to stereotypes and think of scientists as Stoics; people involved in objective analysis of data and who are somewhat detached from the lives of ordinary people.

I learned from the start those assumptions were unfair, at least with Ms. Brown. She writes with sensitivity and insight about the world around her. It was her poetry that first garnered my attention but I soon noticed the same qualities in her prose.

American Dream gives readers an in depth, well crafted look at life in New York City and landscapes along the Hudson River in New York State. We read of the last days and final moments of a mother dying from stage-four bone cancer. These are touching scenes delivered with warmth and sensitivity. It is in this context we get our first look at the impact on her loving son, Daniel.

While reading American Dream, I came to understand and admire Daniel, the protagonist; a gifted artist who struggles with emotional illness. In Pierre, his psychiatrist, readers see a professional who genuinely cares about his patient. In stark contrast, we discover Daniel’s  cunning, conspiring sister who will do anything to suppress what is best for her brother. Readers will get to know Daniel’s circle of friends. I felt drawn into these characters lives.  At the same time, the antagonist evolves into a pathetic and despised creature. With it’s strong characters and dialog I think it could easily be made into a theatrical play.

Ms. Brown shows us landscapes and architecture in exacting, panoramic detail with writing that appeals to all of our senses.

American Dream excels as a quality work of literary fiction, worthy of comparison with the classics. If you enjoy well crafted characters and a good story, American Dream is a book for you.


Rising from the rock cliffs like a vague image in a dream, ruins of a castle stand at the edge of the Hudson River north of New York City. The blackened stone walls are relics of a prosperous past in a present plagued by loss, debt, foreclosure, and homelessness. People crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge see it and wonder, who owned that abandoned castle on the river? Who lived there?

Brown, J.J. (2012-07-13). American Dream (Kindle Locations 48-51). J.J.Brown Author. Kindle Edition.

Please take a moment to learn more about the author and the book below:

I have included a short bio of Author J.J. Brown below and, included the American Dream book description.

Book Description

In American Dream, a young artist with depression faces eviction from his one-room, city apartment. He unexpectedly finds himself in line to inherit a family castle. The reclusive artist works to escape the long shadow of his dying mother, with the help of his psychotherapist. While illustrating his first animation film and overcoming depression, the artist tries to provide a home for his estranged son. The artist’s older sister schemes to exclude him from the inheritance because of his mental state, and control him as his guardian. His creative spirit defies ownership and redefines success. In this moving portrait of an atypical New York family, author J.J.Brown explores ties between emotional illness and creativity.

More about the author

J.J.Brown, author of “Vector, a Modern Love Story” lives in Brooklyn. Born in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, the author has lived in New York City for two decades. J.J.Brown is also a scientist with a PhD in genetics, and is published in leading science journals.

Author J.J. Brown

You can learn more about J.J. Brown through her blogs and websites:


J.J. Brown Official Website

Author J.J. Brown’s Blog

J.J. Brown Science page

The article that inspired my novella, “Toxic Situations.”

American Dream on

Amazon Author page


Filed under Author Interview, Book Review, Books

Get Your Facts Straight: An Interview On Research For Writers With Rich Weatherly

Guest post by T. James  from his blog,
The WordOnThe.Net

Today I would like to introduce a longtime online friend of mine, Rich Weatherly, a writer who specialises in poetry and short stories with a modern-day or near-historical setting. He may single-handedly be pioneering the literary thriller as a genre. As well as being an all-round “good egg” as we British like to say—because all non-British know we learn English from Mary Poppins-like matriarchs—Rich is also methodical and thorough. So when it comes to meticulous research, Rich can definitely “bring it”—who says I don’t cater for a broad cultural audience? Anyhow, he seemed like the ideal person to answer a few questions on research and its importance in the writing process, so without further ado…

The full blog post by T.James


Filed under Author Interview, Guest Host, Writing

Review & Interview of a chapbook by Poet Jan Spence

Review of Navigating the Old Road by Jan Spence

When Jan Spence announced her new chapbook of poems, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Jan writes beautiful poetry. We are both members of the Denton Poets’ Assembly so I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, reading and enjoying her poems.

She sets the tone for the book in the dedication.

These poems are dedicated to all the strong souls who are faced with very challenging circumstances in their autumn years yet who continue to see, as Rumi says, blessings falling like blossoms all around them.”

This is a retrospective look across life’s journey by a Baby Boomer. It addresses issues that all will face if they are privileged live long enough. You will experience a full range of emotions while reading these well crafted poems about life; from the simple joy of new freedoms, and play with grandchildren to reunions with old friends.

Jan takes a humorous look at certain un-pleasantries that come with age as well. Yet, I did say a full range of emotions. These poems address sadness at the loss of loved ones and they take a somber look at the eventual destiny of all; end of life concerns.

Between joy and somber we find pleasant recollections of events and memories that have become Jan’s legacy. That said, Jan’s book honors her generation and is well worth reading by those who have shared the journey and by those who wish to learn from her journey. I highly recommend it.

Navigating the Old Road is available directly from the publisher:
To order from Finishing Line Press –  click here.
and to order from Amazon.comclick here.

Jan Spence Interview Questions

My guest for this post is Jan Spence. Jan is a member of the Denton Poets’ Assembly, an affiliate of the Poetry Society of Texas.

Welcome to My Place, Jan.

After reading your new chapbook, Navigating the Old Road, I can’t wait to discuss it with you.

I understand you have an interesting story about how this book came to be. Would you like to share it with my readers?

Well, I entered a contest through Finishing Line Press for “New Women’s Voices.”  I figured I was new enough on the scene of the writing, so I sent in my collection of poems.  I didn’t win the contest – or even place – but they contacted me and said they would like to publish my poems.  So I surmise that perhaps I misinterpreted the meaning of the word “New” in the phrasing of the contest title.

Would you like to share any background on a poem or group of poems in the book?

First, I feel like I need to issue a little disclaimer.  All of the poems easily can be read like a memoir, but they aren’t exactly that specific.  I don’t want to be accused of misrepresenting the truth.  Like most poets, my poems are based on my own experiences, but several similar “happenstances” may be combined into one poem that is representative of the overall feeling.  A little “poetic license,” if you will, rather than representing actual facts.  Others in the collection are exactly like I experienced them, such as the one where I felt the presence of my mother shortly after her death.  Overall, I didn’t set out to write a collection of poems about aging.  I just realized one day that I had quite a few poems on the subject, and at that point, my focus became more intentional.

Would you like to share with us how you started writing poetry?

I can remember loving to write poetry WAY back in middle school and high school, and I still have some of those poems.  However, I didn’t write poetry regularly after high school until I was nearing retirement.  I think the idea of retirement made me begin to wax poetic!  It still does!

Do you have more books of poetry planned or for that matter, are you writing or have you written books of prose?

I do have more poetry planned.  This publication is a chapbook, which is a short book of poems.  Finishing Line Press designated only 26 poems be included.  So I have other poems on aging – some a little less personal and more universal/metaphoric – that I would like to add to this collection and expand it to a full poetry collection.  I also have a couple of other areas that seem to keep emerging in my poetry, and maybe they will coalesce into collections. 

Although I’ve never written a book of prose, I have partially finished stories that I am resolved to complete.  I admit to feeling overwhelmed by the idea of a novel.  I think I need to start with short stories, which really don’t have to be extremely short. 

Is there anything else you would like to comment on that I haven’t addressed?

How about a good piece of advice I was given!  I was told in a workshop once to read really good poetry if I wanted to improve my writing, and that has worked for me.  If I read exquisite writing, it  always ignites the muse.  For me, writing regularly and reading good poetry like Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Hirschfield and others are key to my growth as a writer.  I would like to thank you, Rich, for this opportunity, and I would like to thank my poetry critique buddies who hold me accountable, inspire me, and keep me writing. 

Thank you, Jan for giving us a compelling backstory for the poems. I’m confident my readers will find it interesting.

Jan Spence and I are members of the Denton Poets’ Assembly. For more information about this organization, please visit:

Denton Poets’ Assembly Meets on the third Saturday each month for its monthly meeting. Everyone is invited. Time: 10 AM – Noon
Location: Emily Fowler Central Library
502 Oakland Street
Denton, TX 76201



Filed under Arts and Poetry, Author Interview, Book Review, Books, Poetry, Writing

Interview – Julia Robb, Author of Scalp Mountain

Hi Julia,

Welcome to My Place. I’m eager to hear what you have to say about your writing in general and about your novel, Scalp Mountain.

Would you like to share a synopsis of your novel?

It’s 1876 and Colum McNeal’s immigrant Irish father has sent gunmen to kill him. Colum finds a refuge in a hidden Texas valley and begins ranching, but struggles to stay there: José Ortero, a Jacarilla Apache, seeks revenge for the son Colum unwittingly killed.

At the same time, an old acquaintance, Mason Lohman, obsessively stalks Colum through the border country. Colum has inspired the unthinkable in Lohman. In a time and place where a man’s sexuality must stand unchallenged, Colum has ignited Lohman’s desire.

Other characters include Texas Ranger William Henry, who takes Colum’s part against his father while wrestling with his own demons. Comanches murdered Henry’s family and Henry regrets the revenge he took; and Clementine Weaver, who defies frontier prejudice by adopting an Indian baby. Clementine must also choose between Colum and her husband.

One thing I noticed about Scalp Mountain was the depth of your character development.  Tell us how you chose your main character and describe how you like to present your characters to the readers.

My novels all start the same way; I see images in my mind, but I don’t understand them. I saw Colum standing on a hill in the Davis Mountains, in Texas. When I asked myself what this man was doing, the answers came. Writers see characters through the prism of their own personalities. If my characters have depth, it’s because I want to understand them and I want readers to understand them. Nobody is simple. Personally, I want to understand everybody and spend large amounts of time trying to figure out other people and worrying about them (I know, it’s useless to worry).

When we writers (including you, dear Richard) write books, we are just reproducing our brains. Therefore, readers aren’t really reading printed words on a page, they’re reading other personalities. That’s one of the reasons reading is so thrilling and why it’s so important for writers to accurately reproduce their “voice.”

What is it that best represents your protagonist’s life? (Highlight the characteristics that illustrate your protagonist’s strengths.)

Colum’s mother was murdered and his father rejected him. That kind of trauma usually twists people; it creates drives and motives they don’t necessarily understand. Humans must attempt full consciousness to understand themselves (I know, that’s a tall order). Luckily for Colum, when events unfold, he’s willing to face his actions and try to redeem himself. You can attribute that to inner strength, but I think God is willing to give us grace to deal with life, if we’re willing to accept it.

Scalp Mountain is clearly historical fiction. While this is true, I found much in common with literary fiction. What do you think makes your novel stand out from other historical fiction?

I don’t know, I don’t even know if it does stand out. I just wrote the story in my mind and heart, and wrote my style, whatever that is. I’ve studied literary technique, but that technique is mandatory for all writers, not just historical novelists, or literary novelists.

How does your main character’s profession draw him into suspenseful situations, (murder, for instance?)

It doesn’t. The events in the book all stem from character. Character is destiny. Colum’s father is a vengeful man. Rather than fight it out, Colum runs from his own guilt, motives and feelings. Lohman can’t handle his unrequited desire for Colum and tries to eliminate the problem the only way he knows how; killing him.

Have you considered working on a sequel?

No sequels. I’m working on another historical novel now and that has my attention. Besides, Scalp Mountain doesn’t lend itself to sequels. It’s pretty intense and I could never reproduce the same kind of tension in a sequel.

Tell me something about your writing habits. Is there a special place where you live that you like to go to? Do you like to write at a certain time of day?

This is a problem all writers deal with (unless they have superior self discipline, which I don’t). Between working on publicity, which is an endless job, doing my chores, seeing and talking to friends and family, and making myself stay in the chair, it’s hard. Like all writers, some days I just sit and stare at the computer screen and want to bang my head against the wall. Luckily, the wall is handy, it’s right by my desk.

In an added note, I strongly suspect writers who brag they have unbreakable work habits are exaggerating.

Please provide links to your blog, your book and other places where readers can find your work.

Scalp M0untain on Amazon

Book Cover

Thank you, Julia for stopping by. Do you have anything else you would like to add related to your book or writing that I failed to mention?

No, thanks Rich.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interview, Creative Process, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Publishing, Texas, Texas Rangers

Author Interview: Black Loon Lake

by Sandy Coelho

I’m pleased to bring back Sandy Coelho to answer questions about why she wrote, Black Loon Lake. I’m including the book description to help set the context of our conversation.

by SL Coelho

Black Loon Lake, novella cover

 Black Loon Lake Book Description

The novelette Black Loon Lake is rooted in the back-country of British Columbia’s wilderness, where it sets the stage for a tension building, suspenseful read. Three tree planters take advantage of a short break between planting seasons, rest and rejuvenation are on the agenda. What actually happens, no one could have predicted. Engrossing, chilling, and creepy; this vivid, fast paced story is written to entertain.
Tranquil, timeless and treacherous. Those who venture there, are dying to see it!

Welcome back, Sandy. I found Black Loon Lake to be thrilling fiction. Your description of the landscape and the characters within the story gave me a sense of genuine authenticity. While the story is fiction, I’m convinced much of it is based in reality.

  • I believe you’ve mentioned that you and your, family have camped in the British Columbia wilderness which is the setting for the story. Would you like to share some of those experiences?

You’re correct. Before we had our two youngest children, my husband and I spent nearly every weekend from mid-May to mid-September camping at Forestry Reserve sites. Many of these sites are deep in the back country of British Columbia and have zero amenities, but have some of the most spectacular scenery and fishing you can imagine. You must be prepared for every contingency because you are over 2 hours from the nearest town, and there is no cell phone reception. The Conservation officers are strict on rules, what you pack in, you pack out – they take preservation seriously. If you ever have the opportunity to camp like this – it should be tried at least once. It is a serene, beautiful experience.

  • The central characters are tree planters. How did you happen to choose this as background of your characters?

Living in B.C. we’ve come to know a few tree planters. I also researched the profession. It is a difficult way to make money, but their stories have kept us entertained for hours. They are an important part of the green movement and reforestation. If it wasn’t for the hard work of a tree planter – future generations may not have wood to build homes, furniture or know the importance the eco-system plays in the health of our planet. We owe them much IMHO.

  • You feature a Conservation Officer in the story. What has your typical experience with these professionals and do you know what their usual roll is?

I have friends in this diverse profession, I asked questions and conducted research. In a nutshell, they conserve and protect our natural resources, enforce provincial compliance with environmental laws, and are involved in search and rescue. They have a special investigations unit which deals with criminal behavior which may have an environmental impact.

  • Have you had contact with dangerous creatures in the wilderness?

Yes. This province is primarily forest so wildlife encounters are unavoidable. We’ve encountered Bears (Black, Brown) and have seen Grizzlies from a distance; Moose (which can be extremely dangerous), and Cougar not far from our current home. In fact, this morning we had Conservation Officers knock at our door to warn us a large black bear was spotted in our neighbor’s yard earlier in the day. My husband has had a close encounter with a rattlesnake, he just missed stepping on it – he was warned by its rattle. You have to be aware of your surroundings and go out prepared – then you can enjoy the beauty without fear.

  • My purpose with this interview is to draw more readers to your compelling story. Are there other comments you would like to add?

Without giving anything away, I think Black Loon Lake is a relevant, fun read. It’s a novelette so not too big a time commitment. If you enjoy a thrill, pick it up, in fact…download it to your e-device and enjoy it while you’re camping!

Rich, thank you for taking the time to feature my story. You have said you enjoyed it and I hope others will also find it entertaining. I appreciate being here and your support. I’m deeply grateful.


Filed under Author Interview, Book Review, Books, Creative Process, Thriller

Guest Host – Shelli Johnson

Award Winning Author, Shelli JohnsonI approached Shelli Johnson when I prepared my review of SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED, and asked her to consider guest hosting. We discussed topics and it seemed only fitting that she share her reasons for writing her novel. I am confident you will touched by her story and opinions. If you haven’t purchased a copy of the book, maybe this will move you to do so.

Rich Weatherly

The rest is Shelli’s post!



I am somewhat obsessed with war.

My grandfather fought for the Germans on the Russian front during World War II. My grandmother, in the middle of 1940s Germany, held their little family together by herself for more than six years. My dad had the formative years of his childhood in a war-torn environment and was still a kid when the country fell, when the Russians overtook the region where he lived. I grew up in the United States and saw through them what Hitler and the war had done to generations, not only to the men who fought but also to their families: their wives and siblings and children, how it changed all the relationships there, fractured them, sometimes beyond repair.

In the novel, Frank, the father, joined the army as a means to an end; he’d wanted money to go to college and to finally move away from the small town of Stanhope, Ohio. When the war in Korea erupts, he’s sent off to fight in subzero temperatures, without adequate equipment, and not realizing an event will occur there that triggers devastating post-traumatic stress, which will follow him home. He confuses reality with soul-searing memories, believing he’s still a soldier fighting for his life in battle-torn Korea, and that confusion leads to his daughters fearing for their lives.


I also often wondered how war changed who they could’ve been, not only my grandparents but my father, too ~ how different his life could’ve been, what choices he might’ve made or not made, what things he might’ve said or done. How might he have behaved differently if he hadn’t grown up being taught about Nazism and the Master Race? Who might he have been if he hadn’t lived through the bombing of his city or the aftermath of the Russian takeover? Looking back, I’m sure that he would’ve been a different person. But then anyone would because you can never unsee what you’ve seen, you can’t ever undo what you’ve experienced, your dead loved ones can’t live again.

Adele, the mother who had sported Frank’s ring and given him her virginity before he shipped off, who’d also had dreams of her own, wasn’t prepared at all when he came home severely wounded, a faint shadow of the man she remembered. Hobbled by her own memories and wants, Adele scrambles to keep order while Frank’s threatening and unpredictable outbursts slowly tear the family apart.


Small as a Mustard Seed came out of my exploring how war affects generations. It’s told from the point of view of a child because kids pick up on a lot, they understand a lot, even if adults think they don’t. War changes who they are, too, and maybe they only experience it indirectly ~ they aren’t on the battlefield ~ but they still experience it, the tortured aftermath of wounded soldiers and overwhelmed mothers and blindsided family friends. They may not even understand everything, but they get enough for it to change who they might’ve become, too.

Jolene, the younger sister, is headstrong & stubborn but loyal to her sister to a fault. She wants their lives to be normal, to be like everyone else’s, just school and boyfriends and sleepovers. But her father, without warning, mistakes her for a Communist, for an enemy solider or a Korean villager, and leaves her clambering to protect not only herself but her older sister as well.


There’s also the idea of how you can both hate someone, hate their behavior and what they’re doing to you, and love them at the same time because they’re your blood. How do you cope with that because it’s such a conflicting emotional situation? Maybe some people would just leave, never look back, but no matter how far you run, the ties are still there, the mental scars of years and years of violent events don’t vanish with distance, no matter how much you might wish they would. And maybe some people would stay, would internalize and blame themselves, and that destroys a soul, too.

And finally, Ann Marie, through whose eyes the entire story is told, is just trying to navigate her way through her childhood and keep herself ~ both physically and mentally ~ intact. She loves her parents fiercely and, at the same time, is helpless as a child to do anything about what’s happening around her. She loves her sister with that same intensity and is helpless, too, to make their situation any better.


Finally, there’s the idea of family and no matter how dysfunctional it may be, it’s still the thing that shapes your life and who you are. It’s about love, too, even when that doesn’t look the same for everyone, even when people do things that are misguided and wrong but the intention behind their actions is love. And too, it’s about trying to fix a mistake long after the fact even when it feels like there’s no resolution to it. It’s about the trying because you’re a family and family matters, it’s about the effort to make it right whether or not it works out.

You can read an excerpt from Small as a Mustard Seed here:


Shelli Johnson worked as a sports journalist and an editor for many years before finally following her passion and pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. Publishers Weekly called her award-winning novel, Small as a Mustard Seed, “an intense & heartbreaking story of the fallout of war.” It’s available now as an ebook.



Filed under Author Interview, Guest Host, Literary Fiction

Guest Host – Autism Discussion Re-Visited

I am honored that Sandy Westendorf has agreed to continue her discussion on autism.

Author of The World According to August

She is the author of, The World According to August – One Good Friend.

Sandy’s book inspired me to write Poem for an Autistic child and has agreed to answer questions related to comments from the introduction of her book.

Interview questions

Your book, “The World According to August” touched me deeply. You give us a deeply personal, yet insightful picture of a child with autism; how he and they are similar in many ways and yet different, as well.

During our previous interview we discussed the reasons you authored The World According to August – One Good Friend.

In that interview you addressed challenges and rewards parents and children themselves faced and stressed the importance of recognizing uniqueness. We ended with you calling on others to learn more about those with disabilities.

Since then our conversations have touched on a couple of topics you feel strongly about. From this point forward, feel free to consider yourself the guest-host.

You and your family have been encouraged by a therapy that you now heartily endorse. Please don’t hesitate to step up on your soapbox. What do you have to say on this?

Correct, the therapy our son made the most significant gains on was the Lovaas Applied Behavioural Analysis therapy, commonly referred to as ABA.  This therapy was developed over forty years ago by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, a world renowned autism expert. Dr. Lovaas’s program was, at the time, the only peer reviewed, scientifically validated therapy. It uses Discreet Trial Training, where new skills are built upon in sequence and each mastered, much like constructing a brick building. The therapy includes Intensive Behavioural Intervention, which helps the child learn to manage their behaviors so they are able to focus and learn. There are many who still believe ABA is based on the use of negative reinforcements and/or the use of aversives, which is not the case. I know dozens of families who use ABA with great success, and not one has ever used aversives. They are not used in a correctly managed, modern program.

In conjunction with ABA we incorporated a play therapy called “Floortime”, which was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. We saw the most gains utilizing these two programs in concert with each other. We explored several options in an effort to find the right fit, trying other diets, supplements and therapies – with little or no results. The one program which worked best for our child was the one we stuck with. It is what works best for your individual child which is the best treatment for them! Every child is unique, therefore, their responses to a treatment will be unique as well.

Parents should investigate their options, research, ask questions, and use common sense. Now we have many therapies, and diets available to families, some better than others. Sometimes it is the combination of programs or diets which  reveals the best outcome.

We discussed a controversial issue related to evidence linking vaccinations to the onset of autism. It might help others if you share what you’ve learned on the subject. Back to you…

This is a hot button issue, with many parents, not just myself.  For years the Pharmaceutical companies have been saying there is no link between vaccines and autism. I beg to differ, as do thousands of other parents, judging by the overwhelming anecdotal evidence many doctors still choose to ignore. I have heard my son’s story repeated too many times to count, by other parents of children with autism. The scenario is all too familiar, healthy, neuro-typical toddler goes to doctor to receive vaccinations (usually it is the MMR), within minutes to hours, toddler appears unresponsive (doctor’s will refer to this as an ‘infant faint’) they cannot explain why the same toddler now no longer speaks, makes eye contact, cries incessantly or in our son’s case has stopped walking.  Beginning in the early 90s the number of recommended childhood vaccines doubled! Thimerosal the preservative used (still in flu vaccines) contains over 49% mercury by weight.  Because of the known side effects of mercury poisoning, which mimic the symptoms of autism, there is now at least one version of the Thimerosal-free vaccines available.  With the huge public outcry against the Pharmaceutical companies, there were studies conducted to determine whether or not vaccines contributed to autism. The findings concluded there was no evidence to support the claims linking autism to vaccines.  Out of the 23 studies conducted, 18 of them were funded by major Pharmaceutical companies.  This appears to be a gross conflict of interest. If the studies were to find a link between autism and vaccines – what do you think the size of the class-action law suit against Pharmaceutical companies would be?  There appears to be no accountability and our children are being hurt.

Do I believe it was the vaccine which introduced autism into the life of my beautiful boy – yes! Do I believe vaccines cause all cases of autism – I don’t know, I only know what happened to my child. I have spoken to a few parents who recognized something different in their child from the moment they were born, but the majority I have had contact with have stories like ours.  Having said this, would I vaccinate my child, knowing what I know? Yes.  I would insist on single dose, no multivaliant vaccines, which are Thimerosal-free, and I would request they be spaced farther apart.  Vaccines save lives – this cannot be disputed. We just have to ask ourselves – how much is too much?

Are there any closing words you want to share at this time?

There is a glut of information out there; it is hard to know what is right for your child. For a parent who has just received the diagnosis of autism, take heart. It is not the end of the world, or the end of your child’s life – it is the beginning of a journey down a different path towards an unknown destination.  It will be rocky, and at times overwhelming, it will also be joyous and beautiful, and you will find your rhythm. Seek out organizations like FEAT (Families for Early Autism Treatment), autism support sites, etc… Don’t be afraid to advocate, strongly if the need be, for your child. You are their voice, their safe haven, and their best shot at a bright future.


Additional comments?

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand on my soap-box and spread the message about people with disabilities. Many do not have a voice of their own. It is up to those of us, who love and care for them, to give them that voice. Parents should know it is okay to advocate for your child, special needs or mainstream. Encourage connections with people with different abilities – it will make all the difference – to you and to them. Eight months after I had finished writing the story and it was in the hands of my book designer, I came across the following link: I was delighted to see other like-minded people. The short clips on the link show two men with autism trying to dispel many of the misconceptions of developmental disabilities. Their message was exactly what mine is – inside we are all the same.

For more information about Sandra Westendorf, check her Purple Birch Publishing Website. For that you can click right here. 

Caveat: Always check with your personal physician or pediatrician for advice regarding vaccinations. Information provided is the opinion of the interviewee and should not be taken as medical advice.

Link to The World According to August – One Good Friend, Trailer.


Filed under Author Interview

Guest Interview – Author of The World According to August, on Autism

To my readers, I am honored to introduce you to Sandy Westendorf,

Author of The World According to August

author of The World According to August – One Good Friend.

Sandy’s book inspired me to write Poem for an autistic child and has agreed to answer questions related to comments from the introduction of her book.

Interview questions

Your book, “The World According to August” touched me deeply. You give us a deeply personal, yet insightful picture of a child with autism; how he and they are similar in many ways and yet different, as well. Each numbered item is a quote from your book. Next is my question in italics.

Would you care to comment on these statements from the introduction of your book?

  1. Every child is unique; the extent to which they are affected is also individual. If you are not living with autism, it is easy to miss the child and only see the diagnosis. The book was written in an attempt to demonstrate, although outwardly, these children may appear different; but inside—where it counts—they are the same as you or me. Children with autism love, have an ego, feelings which can be hurt, a sense of humour, and even a mischievous side.What would you like to add to these observations?

It does not matter whether you are part of the mainstream or not.  We all seek attachments. Attachment is vital to our health.  Humankind tends to observe the obvious first, I’m no different. What is obvious about autism? Behaviors – mostly. What is missed? The person, the one who is seeking attachments, trying to find a way to belong and fit into our society. Autism is not contagious; your children will not catch it from a play-date with a child who has special needs.  In fact, mainstream children who engage others with disabilities exhibit more tolerance, confidence and appear to have deeper connections with their peers as a result.

I observed the mainstream public had many misconceptions about children with autism. I wanted the world to know – they have the same feelings, dreams and disappointments as us all.  Like most of us, people with autism also appreciate a good joke.

2. What you will find in these pages is a humorous and occasionally touching account of how a child with autism views the world.

On a lighter note, please comment on the emotional side of working with and parenting an autistic child.

Let’s see, the rewards are harder won, therefore; the moment you see something finally click for your child – it is like winning the lottery.  You make a BIG deal about their hard-earned accomplishment.  You start to see everything in a different light and tend not take things for granted.  You pay attention to the little things

This is by no means a portrayal of how all autistic children experience the world, as every child is unique.

Would it be fair to suggest that one of your goals is to encourage those who have misconceptions about autistic children to reconsider their positions and to look for meaning in the lives of these valued members of society?

Yes, absolutely. Try not to place a ‘cookie cutter’ label on them. In the interest of simplicity, many individuals with autism are labeled ‘low, medium or high functioning’.  Most people then have a general sense of the individual’s abilities.  What the general populous might not realize is, there are splinter skills within these categories.  You may have someone who is considered ‘high-functioning’ but cannot read or they struggle with math.  My son for example, is considered ‘low-functioning’ because his language deficits are pronounced. However, this is a child who did not speak until he was four years old, but he taught himself to read at the age of three!  We had him tested – no one believed us.  He is also a little math whiz, but struggles with social interactions.  He generalizes faster than most. This means once he has grasped the foundation of a new concept, he can generalize it across anything and he is off and running with it.  These are a few of his splinter skills, areas where he is above the curve.

I guess what I am trying to say, in a round-about way is- you don’t know what someone is capable of, or what you can learn from them until you give them a chance. You may be surprised.

Would you like to add any other comments?

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand on my soap-box and spread the message about people with disabilities. Many do not have a voice of their own. It is up to those of us, who love and care for them, to give them that voice. Parents should know it is okay to advocate for your child, special needs or mainstream. Encourage connections with people with different abilities – it will make all the difference – to you and to them. Eight months after I had finished writing the story and it was in the hands of my book designer, I came across the following link: I was delighted to see other like-minded people. The short clips on the link show two men with autism trying to dispel many of the misconceptions of developmental disabilities. Their message was exactly what mine is – inside we are all the same.


Filed under Author Interview, Autism