Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's (Un)officially Fall

Even though we are roasting here, it's sorta kinda fall.  Houston schools start tomorrow.  It's my granddaughter's first day of high school.  She admits to being a little nervous but not much.  On her first day of kindergarten (which seems like yesterday) her picture was in the Houston Chronicle, holding onto her daddy and crying.  But now she's a young lady, who walks better in high heels than I ever did, and certainly better than I do now. She'll be fine.

And another sign of fall:  It's football season.  Will the University of Texas Longhorns regain their rightful place among elite college football teams?  Will the Houston Texans get to the Super Bowl...or at least past the second round of the playoffs?  We'll see.

Halloween items line store shelves and I actually saw some Christmas items a month ago.

I''m looking forward to a chill in the air and eventually some colored leaves.  Fall is my favorite season.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Interview with Leila Summers, Author of It Rains in February

Q: Can you share a little about your story with us?
A: On the 1st February 2006, my husband, Stuart, arrived home from work and unexpectedly confessed his love for another woman - a married woman whose children were friends with my children. I thought there must be some mistake, a misunderstanding, or perhaps, he was having a midlife crisis. But Stuart spiralled down into depression, becoming obsessed, and my perfect life began to unravel along with his sanity. I spent the following year torn between my own heartache and trying to save him. Every day I treaded lightly, juggling work, children, tears, and threats of suicide. On 24th February 2007, I got the dreaded call. Stuart was dead. His father said, "It's over." But it wasn't over, for me, or for any of us. I was a widow at the age of thirty-seven, with two young daughters, aged six and four.


Q: What inspired you to write down your story?
A: During the traumatic year leading up to Stuart’s death, I kept a journal, a space to simply pour out my pain. After he was gone, I typed up the scribbled tear-stained pages to keep as a record for my daughters so that they would one day know the story. More words poured out as the story expanded until I realized that I had the skeleton of a book. I included all of Stuart's letters and emails leading up to his death. Four years went by as I worked for hours at night, the story growing and evolving as I filled in all the spaces.
Writing became an important part of my healing process. There were many times that I wanted to forget the idea of publishing, but something kept spurring me on. It was as if the telling of my story was as important as putting it out there for the entire world to read. Only after my book was published, and I was forced to officially call myself a writer, did I discover that another part of the process was to find myself.


Q: Is there a message in your book that you hope to share with readers?
A: To be honest, I tried to keep away from including a ‘message’ in my book, and simply shared my story. I believe that stories have the power to heal, not only ourselves, but others who come across them. Not all stories have happy endings. But the depth that comes from within them, the powerful feeling they leave us with, reminds us that we are all connected. Each of us has our own story, our own heartache and our moments of joy. Mine is a story of love and loss, but also hope. Hope because no matter what any of us have been through, we know that someone else has been through hard times too, and has survived. I have survived.


Q: What has been the response to your book? 

A: I have been surprised by the many positive responses to my book. As I mentioned, it wasn't intended as a book with a message. But books have a way of finding readers who relate to certain aspects of a story. As expected, there have been angry readers too; people who do not understand how I could put up with as much as I did. I can appreciate how they feel. I didn’t plan my story, it simply unfolded before my eyes, and I dealt with it in survival mode on a day to day basis. If I hadn't lived it, I might feel the same way. Whatever emotion the book brings up, I am satisfied that, at the very least, I have done what every writer aspires to, and that is to evoke strong emotions within a reader. In retrospect, I have no regrets.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: After I published my memoir at the end of 2011, I moved to a tiny country village in South Africa where I now live happily with my two daughters and our six pets. I have just started writing my second memoir, a story of life after grief.


Q: Where can readers buy your book?

A: It Rains In February: A Wife's Memoir of Love and Loss is free to download on Amazon Kindle today! Visit to get your copy.


Q: How can readers connect with you?








Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Quotes for the Week: Summer

I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer.  My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music.  It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips.  ~Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.  ~Russel Baker

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.  ~James Dent

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our Vet by Toby and Tiki


Today our vet, Dr. Eckerman, had  a big party to celebrate his 40th anniversary in practice.  We weren't invited of course--only humans.  Our mom went and said it was lovely.
Dr. E. has been taking care of us since we were small kittens.  To tell the truth, we don't like him very much.  He pokes and prods us--very demeaning for a cat.  The vet is about the only place we go, so as soon as our mom puts the cat carrier in the car, Toby knows what's in store and he throws up.
As soon as Dr. E. touches him, Toby growls. 
But he has taken good care of us, saved us from fleas and heartworms and infections and such.  So we sent him a copy of our favorite book, Poetry for Cats.
And here's one of our favorite poems, written by John Donne's cat.  We think it's especially appropriate:
Vet, Be Not Proud
Vet, be not proud though thou canst make cats die.
Thou livest but one life while we have nine,
And if our lives were half as bleak as thine,
We would not seek from thy cold grasp to fly.
We do not slave our daily bread to buy;
Our eyes are blind to gold and silver's shine;
We owe no debt, we pay no tax or fine;
We tremble not when creditors draw nigh.
The sickest animal that thou dost treat
Is weller than a man; in peace we dwell
And know not guilt or sin and fear not hell.
Poor vet, we live in heaven at thy feet.
But do not think that any cat will weep
When Thee a Higher Vet doth put to sleep.
Oh, dear, we don't really mean that.  And by the way, if you'd like to read some more poems by famous cats, look up Poetry for Cats by Henry Beard.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Writing Our Lives: Interview with Joe Pfeiler, Author of Half Italian (and then some)


Describe the book:

Half Italian (and then some) is the story of my Italian family, as seen through my eyes. The humor is unique, like the time my grandmother flushed her dentures down the toilet, later retrieved from a septic tank. The book isn’t just for Italians; it’s for anyone needing a good laugh.

Currently, the book is a finalist in two categories of the Readers’ Favorite 2013 book contest.

What inspired you to write the book?

This came after reading Frances Mayes’ books on Tuscany and Yvone Lenard’s on Provence. Both authors created worlds I couldn’t wait to get home to each afternoon, simply by writing about “what happened.” I found myself wishing I owned something that had “happened” to write about. But all I could think of was two stories on the Italian side of my family: a homemade electric chair (complete with live shock) that my cousins made as a joke, and my family using a still to make booze during Prohibition. Those didn’t seem like much of a start. But my father had recently passed away, and I realized time was precious. So one Saturday morning I sat down at the computer to type those two stories into a document. With that, something in me opened and the rest of the words flew.

I saw on Amazon that you write about your grandmother (sounds hilarious). What other family members do you write about?

A mixture of the immigrants, the American-born generations and the Europeans: my great aunt, my uncle, my mother, a particularly lively cousin, and some of my family who still live in Italy.

My grandmother’s first U.S. experiences have entertained people for many years. She’d never seen a banana, mustard, or a fruit pie until adult age during her migration from Italy to California, and threw them all out the window of her train because she thought they were spoiled. (Mushy fruit? Yellow meat? Wet, squishy stuff, between crusts!?)

Is the book a series of short pieces or one long, connected story?

It’s one connected story, beginning with my family leaving Italy. As they continue their lives in Southern California, I’m always present, commenting. My interest in the old country grows, and the book’s apex is my first visits to Italy.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

The chapter titled “Grandma” is particularly important to me. I hadn’t intended to include her death, but once I began to write about it I realized I’d never processed that loss. That chapter is a turning point, the end of one period of my life. The loss of my great aunt, another life-changing event, is also a section that’s important to me.

I loved writing about the chickens.

What has been your family’s response to the book? Did they know ahead of time you were writing about them?

A few family members knew I was writing the book and couldn’t wait to read it. Then, surprise! They had little to say, once they read it. In fact, one cousin remembered very little about it, when we spoke later. Maybe they’ve just heard those stories too many times.

Enthusiasm at this time is coming from those who don’t know my family, which pleases me greatly – that means I did my job, and wrote a book that’s interesting to a wide audience, not just those who know me.

I particularly like that the book gives new life to a past that’s gone. The loss of my grandmother was devastating, so hearing remarks about her now, from people I don’t know give her a new kind of life. I feel like she’s standing nearby, smiling.

What is your writing background?

Half Italian (and then some) is my first book.

Tell about your writing process:

I write down my thoughts ASAP because some tend to fly away and not come back. On vacations, I carry a tiny notepad and make bullet-points. Doesn’t matter how rough-form the thoughts are, as long as I get them in writing. After that, I try to be patient. Connecting the pieces of even one small story can be challenging. I’ve learned, though, that just a few minutes spent each day on one section can produce a smooth story that seemed impossible to complete when it was nothing more than raw thoughts. Later, when re-reading, I ask myself if things make sense. Have I written about a character before introducing her? Is there a contradiction as to when events took place?

What are you working on now?

I just finished “On the Roads of France,” a collection of three short stories about driving in France, plus one in Italy, all my own experiences.  The liner notes will include, “From the lanes of a medieval village to receiving a speeding ticket, this collection will amuse as well as provide tips on how to supplement and respect a GPS.

I’ll also be continuing with a second memoir, about the other side of my family, called “The Other Half.” This will have some darker moments than Half Italian (and then some).

Any tips for writers, especially memoir writers?

Read your work, and ask why you want to include the material you’ve written. What does it contribute? Does it support your book’s general direction or one of its threads? Would someone who doesn’t know you find the material entertaining?

I recently read a memoir that was presented like an inventory list. This, and limited personal observation from the author made the book a difficult read. Several parts of the book read as if random memories had been recorded on tape and those words were simply transferred from recording onto the book’s pages. The book’s only direction seemed to be linear time, such as who did what and when they did it, with few comments or feelings from the author. One section was simply a roster of who’d lived where, like names poured from a bucket, with no direction or reason.

Make your writing personal. When writing about someone else, share your own experience of that material with your readers, not merely “what happened.”


Kobo link:

BN (Nook) link:

Amazon (Kindle) link:



Memoirs Only link to Half Italian:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Quotes for the Week: Attitude


 If you have nothing to be grateful for check your pulse.  ~Author Unknown
 Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.  ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Life's Little Instruction Book

Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don't count on harvesting Golden Delicious.  ~Bill Meyer

True contentment depends not upon what we have; a tub was large enough for Diogenes, but a world was too little for Alexander.  ~Charles Caleb Colton

To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.  ~Confucius

Monday, August 12, 2013


School starts in a week and it's still summer.  In fact, it's sooo summer that my brains are fried.  I can't think of anything to write about today.  And Saturday night I went with a group of friends to see Shakespeare in the Park at Miller Outdoor Theater.  We chose to see Antony and Cleopatra, which I've never seen before, but who doesn't know about Cleopatra and her famous suicide from the bite of an asp.  A light rain was falling as we settled on the hill behind the theater.  It stopped just as the curtain went up.  When the curtain fell and people headed out, we packed up our chairs and picnic baskets and left, too.  We wondered why the actors did not come out at the end and why, unlike most of Shakespeare's tragedies, Cleopatra and her lover didn't die at the end.  "Oops," as our esteemed governor would say, when I checked the Cliffnotes, I discovered there was no curtain call because the play was not over.  We left at intermission.  All five of us, all of us well educated and familiar with the story.  Too much summer.  Maybe Shakespeare should be watched in cooler weather.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Writing Our Lives: Interview with Katherine Thompson, Author of The Day I Woke Up

Describe your book for readers.

It is the account of the first ten months of my life living with retrograde amnesia. Recording from that very first moment I looked around and realised I had no idea where I was or who I was through to life once settling down. Meeting family and friends at the age of 26 and not knowing who they are, yet these people holding photographs of you and them from only a few weeks previous as well as, not understanding the concept of God when living with a religious family, so much seemed to happen in the first few months, and this book is an open invite for people to share with me the highs and lows of the first ten months.

It is a story that will inspire you, with moments that will make you laugh, and possibly cry, there shall be insights you may never have considered before as well as emotional rides you will recognise within yourself.  

What is retrograde amnesia?

Retrograde amnesia is a loss of memory-access to events that occurred before a specific event or illness; the inability to recall information mainly personal information. 

Psychogenic amnesia (Which is what I have) is defined as having retrograde amnesia (the inability to recall past memories) yet being able to form new long term memories. This is different from organic retrograde amnesia as psychogenic amnesia occurs without damage to the brain. It usually occurs from a traumatic incident. 

What is the treatment for that type of memory loss?

There is no real answer to 'treatment' for amnesia unless you know the cause. If the retrograde amnesia is organic, where there has been damage to the brain or an illness, I.E a lesion on the brain then treating the 'illness' or the 'brain' itself, may cure the amnesia. Whereas trauma induced amnesia usually leaves the person not remembering what happened to them, therefore the trauma can not be treated (which would be through therapy, some try hypnosis as a means to try and recall the information). 

Have you recovered your memory?

No. Three years later and I still have no recall of memory from before the 22nd July 2010.

Why did you decide to write the book?

After I first lost my memory I saw a counsellor who encouraged me to journal, as a manner of coping with the present day life. Towards the end of my counselling Wendy, my counsellor encouraged me to ‘share’ my story with people, to inspire others, and help others who too may be experiencing some of the emotions I had struggled with and overcame, even if there situation was different. One of the ways she suggested was to write a book. I gave it some time, and thought, and decided that actually, I would.

What has been the response to the book?

The response has been very positive indeed. Many people have emailed me or sent me a facebook message to tell me how inspired they have been, and people have found new understanding of different illness. One person who read the book living thousands of miles away from me who I would never have encountered in my walk without the book has a father with dementia; they found themselves a completely new understanding of how their father must be feeling, as well as some helpful tips in how to talk with him. Some others who are in the medical profession have said it is a very insightful book whilst others who have simply read it as an inspirational read have expressed their enjoyment.

What is your writing background?

Well, having lost my memory, I don’t know what my background is but over the last few years it has only been journaling as well as reflective diary / assessments weekly for college.

Are you working on another book now?


Tell us about your writing process.

Once I had decided to compile the journals into a book, I then decided to have the book edited. Whilst this was happening, I looked into ways and manners to have the book published and decided that actually self publishing would be just as complicated as well as easy as finding a publisher to take on my word. Once I had found my way of publishing, it was easy. The process of actually writing the book was in some ways very difficult because I found myself reading and rereading the book over and over. Then there was the idea of my life being exposed in such a manner, this issue didn’t really arise until after I had published it, though I had doubts before hand, once it became available to the world, I found myself some what fearful of what others would both think, and know.

Any tips for writers, especially memoir writers?

The best ‘tip’ I could ever give someone is actually a question; “Why are you writing the book?”

Ensure your motives are from the heart! If you are someone who has a passion for writing, or you feel you have a story that could benefit someone else in the world then I would say don’t give up! Keep going, the hard work (as it is hard work) and the emotional rollercoaster ride is worth it. There shall be days you wonder why you are doing it as well as days you enjoy every step, no matter what kind of day you are having, don’t give up. If you are looking to make money, you could be setting yourself up for a fall.

ENJOY it! If you really are not enjoying what you are doing, don’t do it. 

Katherine's book is available on Amazon.  Take a look.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Quote for the Week: After A While

After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and sharing a life.
And you learn that love does not mean possession
and company doesn't mean security
and loneliness is universal
And you learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises,
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open,
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build your hope on today
as the future has a way of falling apart in midflight
because tomorrow's ground can be uncertain for plans.
Yet each step taken in a new direction creates a path
toward the promise of a brighter dawn.
And you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and nourish
your own soul instead of waiting
for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that through it all you really can endure,
that you really are strong,
That you do have value.
And you learn and grow-----
with every goodbye you learn.
                       Veronica Shaffstal

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Books of July

I've read more than usual this month, as always a varied group of books.  Here they are:

One of those gossipy books that tells you  the  "inside story" of the women behind the astronauts.  Being from Houston, I especially enjoyed it.  A fun read.

A book club choice.  This is a little known novel by Pearl Buck centering around a bondwoman in a Jewish home and the push-pull of assimilation in China.

I was anxious to read this book.  Its subject matter is timely, given the horrific events in Cleveland, but the book was a total disappointment.  The main character, one of several girls held for years in a basement hideaway,  has been so traumatized by the experience that she has become a virtual recluse, never leaving her apartment, ordering food sent in, working from home, seeing no one.  I could understand that, but then./..  The monster who kidnapped her comes up for parole and suddenly she's traveling around the country, venturing into dangerous areas, ignoring the warning of the FBI man who has handled her case, trying to solve the mystery of how this all got started.  If you like heroines who lack realistic motivation, this is the book for you.  If not, skip it.

A post-apocalyptic novel about a society of people who live in a silo (Yes, a silo).  The author did such a good job of world-building that I believed everything that happened.  Good story.  Check it out.

First of all, you have to overlook the fact that the author is clearly not a writer--maybe he's written medical journal articles but not books.   At any rate, this man was in a coma for seven days and experienced a visit to Heaven.  Did he convince me?  His experience was  so different from other near-death experiences that I've read about that I'm on the fence.  The book has gotten lots of press, so you might want to take a look and form your own opinion.

Cornwell's imagining of how Stonehenge came to be.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Interview with Jill Dobbe, Author of Here We Are and There We Go: Teaching and Traveling with Kids in Tow

TZ:  Just from the title I know your book is a fun read.  Describe it for us.

JD:  My husband and I are overseas educators and have lived and worked in seven different countries. My book is a travel memoir based on my family's first 10 years of living and working overseas in four countries (Singapore, Mexico, Ghana, Guam) and the crazy, hilarious, and sometimes scary adventures we found ourselves in.
TZ:  What inspired you to write the book?
JD:  My husband actually came up with the idea to write about our adventures and turn them into a book. Around that time I became more interested in reading travel memoirs, which led me to believe that I had one to write myself.
TZ:  Was it hard to remember your adventures or had you kept a journal?

JD:. While we lived in Ghana, Singapore, and Guam, my two kids were very little. I wrote journals so that when they were older they could read them and have an idea of what it was like when we lived together in those places. I also wrote from memory. During the writing of my book, I often emailed my college age kids to ask them if they remembered the name of a certain place or about something specific that happened. While I was writing my book the four of us enjoyed reminiscing together and I was often amazed at the different things my kids remembered that I didn't.
TZ:  Of all the places you lived, which was your favorite?
JD:  I think for each of us our favorite place to live was Ghana. Ghanaians were extremely friendly and we enjoyed the school that we worked at. We were there for five years and our kids completed all of their elementary years there while making friends from all over the world. With Facebook and Twitter now, they have also been able to reconnect with a lot of those same school friends.
TZ:  You must have many mementos from your travels:
JD: Yes, I am a shopper. I loved shopped in West Africa. There was just so much to buy and it was all handmade. I bought carved wood furniture that was built alongside the roads, Kente cloth that was hand woven by Ghanaian men, hand carved masks, and beautiful hand dyed clothing. Ghana was a shopper's paradise for me. When we left we had our things shipped to our home in Wisconsin. On the day they were delivered a huge semi pulled up in front of our lake cottage filled with all my Ghanaian treasures.
TZ:  What sets your book apart from other travel memoirs?
JD. There seem to be a lot of travel memoirs out there about single male and female travelers and their adventures. I haven’t seen very many books written by other overseas educators, but I do look for and read other travel memoirs. The one that comes to mind right now as somewhat similar to my book is Diplomatic Baggage by Brigid Keenan, which is actually a memoir about a trailing diplomatic spouse. I could relate to the different hardships that she experienced in her travels.
TZ:  What is your writing background?
JD. I always enjoyed writing, but as I taught fulltime most of my writing entailed writing letters to parents. Even more than writing, I believe that all the reading that I have done in my lifetime has been even more helpful. I also began reading more books from the genre that I wanted to write in and they gave me ideas to draw upon.
TZ:  Any advice for writers?
JD. My advice to writers is to just keep at it. Write about what you know and what interests you. Read other books in the same genre. Talk about what you're writing with others and ask friends to read what you wrote. I have a young friend who is writing her first memoir and she sends me her writings and I give her tips along with my honest opinion. She tells me that she finds it very helpful and motivating.
TZ:  What are you working on now?
JD. I am working on my second travel memoir now, which is about living and working in overseas schools in Gurgaon, India, Cairo, Egypt, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and wherever we end up next. In my second memoir, I am trying to include more writings about the schools that we worked in along with our adventures within the countries we were located in. This book is taking longer to write and I am listening to and incorporating advice from other authors.
TZ:  Where is your book available?
JD  Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I am also on Goodreads. My author page is

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