Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview with Author Kitty Gogins

Kitty Gogins has been fascinated from an early age with her parents’ journey to become Americans. As a school board director for her local school district, Kitty has long been intrigued by her parents’ efforts to shed the prejudicial upbringing of their childhood and believes their journey is relevant to our changing times.

Olga Wagner and Tibor Zoltai were teenagers in Hungary near the end of World War II. Homeland destroyed, they each fled Hungary carrying only a rucksack.”

Hello Kitty. I really love the title of your book. It takes place during World War II and is about your own parents’ escape from Hungary. Tell us about their story.

My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees’ Journey to America is the story of Olga and Tibor and how they adapted to life-altering changes. Their world destroyed in World War II, they fled Hungary as teenagers. Olga just minutes ahead of advancing Russian troops and Tibor conscripted into the German Army almost died as an American POW. Their experiences on the losing side provide a unique perspective of war, the actions of Americans, and the daily fight of refugees to survive. Immigrating as indentured agricultural servants, they united and embarked on a cultural journey to become Americans. Through perseverance and creativity, they learned how to thrive, Tibor as a world-renowned professor and Olga counseling refugees, earning the title “area immigrants’ patron saint.”

My Flag Grew Stars looks to history to provide an inspiring story on adapting to major upheaval, something many of us face in these challenging economic times. 

After arriving in America, was the transition difficult for your parents?

Olga and Tibor came to North America via Canada as indentured agricultural servants. Hoeing sugar beets was backbreaking work, but they considered the opportunity a godsend. It provided a country to call home, a land away from war-torn Europe where food and jobs were scarce, and another war was expected to erupt anytime.

While delighted to be in a new world, they found everything foreign ― the culture, the language, the buildings, the land, and even the food. They knew everyone would speak a different language, but didn’t expect to live in flat, treeless countryside with distances vast beyond their imagination; for buildings to be constructed of flimsy wood, not brick and plaster; for even women to wear trousers, something Olga had never seen before.

Over time, Olga and Tibor began to understand and adjust to deeper differences, like Americans need more personal space, less touch. One difference that particularly impressed them was the U.S. founding principle of ‘all men are created equal.’ Coming from a society that discriminated against Jews and others who were different, this was a new and powerful concept.

This is the first time I’ve interviewed someone who has written their own parents’ biography and I’m so excited about what you have done. This book will be a treasure to your children and grandchildren yet to come. How much research did you do for your book?

My book, while it reads like a novel, bringing history to life, is non-fiction. I spent over a thousand hours on research. I was lucky to have lots of original material: Tibor’s diary, a thousand pages of love letters, and multitudes of official documents and pictures. I supplemented these with dozens of interviews and digging into historical events, so I could recreate their lives ― the events, the atmosphere, the feeling, the tone of conversations.

All events really occurred: Olga’s family crossed the Alps with no supplies, steps ahead of Russian troops; Tibor almost perished from starvation; Olga scared away a car hijacker in Minnesota by yelling at him in her native tongue.
Wow! When I was writing my parents’ biography, I had many love letters written between them and also letters that he wrote to his parents as a missionary. I also had his autobiography so I was able to write their story in story form like you have done. Those letters made his story come to life. I’m impressed with what you have done. Since this story is about your parents, what does your family think about your novel?

My family has been very supportive, contributing documents and memories. They too have been fascinated by the story and want it captured. My father, Tibor, passed away before I began writing, however he would have been ecstatic to see his story published. My mother, Olga, while honored and delighted to help with research, is a little uncomfortable with having her life so public.

What a wonderful legacy! This book is a treasure. Okay, now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.

I’m always game for visiting a new place, eating new food ― even if it can still stare up at me ― or trying a new activity. When I turned forty-five, I knew just how to celebrate. I jumped out of an airplane. Granted I did it tandem, strapped to the front of an expert like a baby kangaroo, but I got to feel the air rushing by, the freedom of zigzagging through the clouds, the sensation of dropping at racing speeds. After two weeks of saying, “Could you please repeat that,” since my ears were still plugged from the dive, I acknowledged that I wasn’t likely to do it again. But it was worth it. 

Oh my gosh! Now we know the real you! The audacious and daring author who will try new things, including jumping out of a plane and becoming an author! By the way, it seems like nothing could be scarier than being a first time author.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview with Author Sally B. Watkins

Sally B. Watkins has a master’s degree in social work and is a psychotherapist and life coach. She lives in northern California and enjoys camping, sailing, hiking, and cooking healthy food. She is happily married and has two grown sons. Based on her twenty-year psychotherapy practice this book shows women how to create a full happy life with their “normally flawed and imperfect partner.”

From girlhood we have subscribed to the happily-ever-after myth from Sleeping Beauty, to Barbies, to romance novels, but men have not been socialized to fulfill these fantasies. I’m a big advocate of acceptance and teach women how to change the only one they can change—themselves!” –Sally Watkins

Hello Sally. Your philosophy is: Learn to love what’s right instead of trying to fix what’s wrong. Please tell us about your new book.

I’ve discovered in my own life and those of the many clients I’ve seen in my twenty year psychotherapy practice that our focus on trying to find and create a perfect relationship is the cause of much of our unhappiness. We come by this idea honestly because it is everywhere reflected in our culture—the idea that the perfect partner is out there and if we find our soul mate the relationship will be blissful. This is of course a delusion and we can spend a lot of time being miserable searching and discarding normally flawed guys or trying to perfect the guy we have.

My book is actually about how to develop and empower yourself, something many women don’t think about because their focus is on attracting a man. It helps women understand what it takes to develop a strong inner self and become mature and grounded to be able to weather the normal ups and downs of life and love. Just like the clients who come to me for help, I spell out for the reader how to think about their relationship and themselves and look at what they have in a positive hopeful way. It’s full of exercises that show women how their childhood wounding may be interfering with their current relationship, how they can reactivate their own dreams, and tools for communicating and empathizing with their guy to strengthen the connection between them.

Often when a woman changes her perspective and discovers how to make her life happier her partner is charged by this new energy and the relationship can be improved. Conversely, when a woman focuses on the negative and complains and cries or enlists the help of a counselor to fix him, the relationship can get worse.

What wonderful counsel! Sally wrote, “The purpose of a relationship is not to make you happy—no one person can or should be expected to do that—but rather to help you evolve and grow in character and strength and support your being in the world.” What a wonderful thought! This book will help women solve a wide range of problems. The secret is by changing your mindset. You said that we “will experience a decrease in anger and disappointment” as we learn to understand our self more fully. Sally, where did you get the inspiration for your novel?

I grew up in a home with terrible violence and deprivation and didn’t see a good relationship modeled for me. As a young woman I desperately wanted a prince to save me and looked long and hard for one, and struggled to figure out who I was. I had a lot of therapy, went to many groups, and read hundreds of self-help books. It’s what made me want to be a therapist and go back to school to get an education. I’m grateful for those early problems because I really understand from my own life what women are going through. A college education is important but overcoming my own childhood wounding is what makes me a more credible therapist and now author.

You wrote: Women can help a man be more relational when she realizes that being attuned to her feelings and needs does not come naturally to him. She can remind him of the things that matter to her, prepare him to handle emotional conversations, and not take it personally when he tunes out or shuts down. Do you find this is one of the greatest problems in marriage?

It really is for the simple reason that women want relationship security above all else, more even than financial security. It’s our nature to want reassurance on a daily basis that our guy is still into us and will stay. This is why we read into what he does to decide if he loves us or not. Unfortunately these signs don’t convey love to a guy and he doesn’t come by them naturally. Men were trained to ignore their feelings and not ask for help, and to be tough. Often guys want to please us but need help to know how. It’s a wise woman who helps him be successful in this regard.

The mistake men make is to not understand that talking about everything is how women connect. He sometimes hears her as complaining or criticizing him or their life. He may not get it that she’s trying to bring him into her day and her life and her feelings as a way of getting closer.

You are so right about that. I have six daughters and “talking about everything” is how they connect with one another. My husband has learned that about his girls. Sally, you use examples from your own life in your book. What does your husband think of that?

Warren and I have been married for almost 13 years. Most of the examples in the book predate our relationship. By the time we were married I had learned from all of my mistakes and was in the very best place to make things work out well with us. He is very proud of my book but doesn’t recognize the girl and woman I once was. 

Thank you so much, Sally. I have gotten to know you much better in this interview. Now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.

My dear husband and I share an office and when I was writing my book I needed to really concentrate. Idle conversation was hugely distracting to me and I would lose my train of thought. So, I made a very special hat out of green fabric and printed many words on it that made it an inspirational writing hat—words like “inspire”, “create”, “imagination”, “enlighten”, “develop” etc. Then when I had my funny green hat on, my husband recognized that I was deep in thought and didn’t say anything to interrupt me. He tiptoed into the office and took his phone calls in another room. Then when I took off my hat I was available for us to talk. It worked like a charm. The hat actually helped me to settle into my writing and it alerted him without words to what I needed from him.

Wow! I love your idea about the green hat. Your husband was so sweet to recognize the fact that you needed time alone, tiptoeing here and there. He sounds like a real sweetheart.

Change Your Mindset, Not Your Man
Book Review by Linda Weaver Clarke

This book is full of wonderful ideas to help a marriage become stronger, to help bond two people with two different backgrounds and ideas. Even if a couple is raised similarly, there is one factor to take into account. A woman is completely different than a man with different needs. Sally Watkins says, “Many women feel that the way to fix a problem is to confront their man, reveal their feelings, and ask for what they want to change.” This simply doesn’t work. We tend to believe in the “happily ever after” stories, believing there is a perfect man out there for us, and that life will be wonderful. Where did this idea come from? Fairytales, romantic novels, and romantic movies! Sally’s first chapter is called: Fairytale Fantasy—Busted.

I love what Sally said in her book. “The purpose of a relationship is not to make you happy—no one person can or should be expected to do that—but rather to help you evolve and grow in character and strength and support your being in the world.” What a wonderful thought! This book will help women solve a wide range of problems. The secret is by changing your mindset, not your man. You “will experience a decrease in anger and disappointment” as you learn to understand yourself more fully.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview with Fantasy Authors Donna and Ken Waters

Donna is from Pennsylvania. She majored in natural resources and environmental studies at the University of New Hampshire, is a ten-year veteran of the Coast Guard, and has taught forestry and environmental science. Ken is from Fort Worth, Texas. He is a computer science specialist, worked for many years as a consultant and taught business accounting. Ken and Donna are happily married and live in New Hampshire. They read mostly fantasy and science fiction.

Hello Donna and Ken. Fantasy is so popular now days. Please tell us about your new series: The Gnome Chronicles: Bracken and the Crystal Cave and The Dragons of Middle-Earth.

Our series: The Gnome Chronicles are specifically designed as easy read chapter books, for teens and adults. We wanted to create inspirational books that were clean, witty and entertaining. They have short chapters with snappy titles and plenty of action. The characters are very engaging. We have a claustrophobic gnome, a group of magic bees, an evil druid with malevolent minions galore, outrageous bats in the Laurel Caverns and a host of fairy creatures; which inhabit the realm of Upper-Earth, accessible through the crystal henge portal.

The second book in the series: The Dragons of Middle Earth also includes eye catching chapter graphics, all drawn by yours truly. Many of the characters have real-life problems and fears, which they must face in the course of their adventures. There are also moral lessons to be gleaned from these books: such as how to cope with evil, responsibility to family, abandonment, lying, stealing and one of the most difficult of subjects – war.

We keep the atmosphere light and fun. But don’t be deceived. These books are extensively well researched. They include real scientific terms, facts, historical and mythological background, gemology and geology; as well as colorful Pennsylvania Dutch cultural references.

Wow! That’s so interesting. I didn’t realize that so much research goes into fantasy. Where did you get your inspiration for your novels?

I have always liked gnomes. It occurred to me one day that gnomes are the underdogs of the fantasy world. They seem to get honorable mention, but they never seem to be the main character. Then the idea of a claustrophobic gnome struck me as funny and Bracken was born. Of course I needed to have some interaction, so I chose a couple of teenagers; Drew and Holly (my favorite names) and included my real grandparents (Elmer and Lottie).

As for the setting, I chose my grandparents’ cottage in Majorsville, WV. They lived in the most enchanting place, with a giant stream running by their house that my brother’s and I delighted in exploring. My greatest inspiration was the happy memories of my childhood. The joyous remembrance of the adventures shared with my brothers, catching fish and discovering the magic of the great outdoors.

I love what you once said, “Magic keeps you young at heart. It has wrought miracles in our lives, and brings us ever closer to our dreams and to each other.” Please expound on this intriguing subject.

My husband taught me the true meaning of magic. I had spent thirteen years of my life studying and struggling to get a Ph.D. in science. All the magic had been trained out of me, as I was taught to be a skeptical, analytical machine. Then one day, I noticed the type of books my husband was reading. They were all fantasy novels and I asked him why? Did he not think they were a bit juvenile and perhaps foolish? To which he replied: “There is not enough magic in the world. The news is full of very limited reality and it is depressing. We have forgotten how to be happy. There is joy in magic. I choose to believe that the universe is based on happiness and the fulfillment of dreams. Magic happens all the time, but first we must believe and dare to dream.”

I realized that my husband was right. Then the reason for my lack of success in life hit me - like a ton of bricks. I have a romantic nature and life without magic was so uninspiring. Perhaps, I just wasn’t meant to be a scientist. Suddenly, all the pieces of the cosmic puzzle started to fall into place. As a writer, I have found my niche. I have finally found where I belong, professionally. Magic will ever be a part of my life now.

I love your husband’s answer to your question. You write fantasies as a couple. How do you go about it? Do both of you come up with ideas but only one writes it down or what? This is very interesting to me.

Excellent question! Ken and I have very different writing styles. It became apparent from the start that one of us would need to be the primary author. Therefore, I wrote the books. But Ken and I are partners in every sense of the word. He has contributed ideas, brainstormed with me about plot lines and characters, done marketing and research, scanned pictures, proofread and published. In essence, he has worked every bit as hard as I have. I do intend to list him as a co-author on all my books. We are ever partners in print.

That’s wonderful. Partners in marriage and partners in print! Okay, now tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.

Ken: There have been many astonishing things that have happened in my life. As a child, I’d gone swimming and thought I’d seen a light in the depths of the pond. I dove deep and swam hard towards it, only to realize that I was way too deep. I panicked and struggled frantically to thrash my way back to the surface. Out of breath and exhausted, I was about to give up, knowing that I really wasn’t ready to die so far beneath the water’s surface, when I felt like some massive hand grabbed me and pushed me the distance to the surface.

As a young adult, I was walking through a noisy foundry with steel filled crates stacked over twenty feet high along all of the paths around me. A forklift overloaded with steel, barreled around a corner and should have hit me, but a force that I could not see, pushed me firmly against one of the steel crates. When I turned around, I realized that I and the fork lift driver were the only people in the area.

My life has been filled with miracles and guidance, on how to get to where the miracle will be waiting for me. I’ve watched people and I know that there are miracles waiting for everyone. Will you go to where your next miracle is waiting or be patient enough to let it come to you?

Thank you, Ken. Your experiences show what kind of man you are: a man of faith who believes in small miracles. I appreciate both of you sharing your time with us today.