An H and Five Ws with debut steampunk author Beth Cato

BethCato-HCVBeth Cato writes about wild adventures on airships. She writes about mechanical gremlins and sexy (sexy) stewards with long hair. She is a Steampunk Goddess. She is also soft-spoken, beautiful, and fond of spending time with neurotic other writers, namely me.

Our husbands set Beth and I up on a blind date over a year ago, because we were both “artists.” We fell into friendship easily, because indeed, we were both “artists” with quite a lot in common (including a love for British TV). When the news came that her debut, The Clockwork Dagger, had been picked up by Harper Voyager, I was one of the first to hear … and REJOICE! I mean, seriously, if there ever was a reason for celebration!

The Clockwork Dagger will be published September 16, but because I “know people” (um, Beth), I got a look at an ARC. My full review will be posted Thursday, but in the meantime, take a gander behind the red curtain and learn more about a girl who’s about to take steampunk by storm.

An H and Five Ws with Debut Steampunk Author Beth Cato

How did you come up with the world of Clockwork Dagger?

A number of years ago, I wrote a steampunk story I was unable to sell. A while later, I was trying to figure out a new novel concept and I hit on the idea of doing Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship with a healer as the main character. I decided to use the same world from that old short story, though I had barely developed it there. The characters from that story do show up briefly in my novel as well.

Who is your favorite character in your novel?

Oh, that’s such a hard question. I have to say Mrs. Stout. She’s inspired by one of my favorite television characters of all time, Mrs. Slocombe on the British comedy Are You Being Served? Mrs. Stout is a fifty-something woman with a loud voice, loud hair, and loud clothes, but as vibrant as she is, she carries some terrible secrets. She’s so over-the-top with her mannerisms that she’s a delight to write.

ClockworkDagger_PB_Final1What is the best thing about being a writer? Worst thing?

Best thing, no question, is seeing people react emotionally to my writing. If I can make someone cry or feel angry or cheer out loud, it’s the most amazing thing in the world. The worst thing … rejection. Always rejection. Soon enough, I’ll have that in the form of harsh reader reviews, too. I fear my skin will never be thick enough to deal well with that.

Where have you felt most inspired?

I took a cruise to Alaska last summer. One morning, our ship traveled through the fjords to view a glacier. I sat by our open balcony door and wrote in my journal and read a book. We then did a day trip by bus and train from Skagway up into British Columbia. I breathed in that crisp air, as if I could store it in my lungs as long as possible. I knew I needed to write about characters going to these places. In my next book, I hope to do just that, though it will be hard for words to do justice to that wild beauty.

When (if ever) have you wanted to give up on writing?

I have an urban fantasy novel that I wrote and rewrote and wrote again. It was near and dear to my heart. The problem was, I worked on it for ages but I never had anyone critique it an an early stage. When that finally happened, the feedback was devastating. The book, quite simply, did not work. You can’t accept all critiques (some people are just plain wrong) but I knew this person was right.

I spent about three days in a horrible depression. I could barely eat or sleep. I really debated if I should completely give up, but then the next question was, “What am I going to do if I don’t write?” I couldn’t think of anything else. So, I figured, I need to fix this book. I need to prove I can write. I tore the novel apart. I rewrote it yet again. I had it critiqued by a whole group of people. Six months later, that novel is what snared my literary agent.

Why steampunk fantasy?

Adding magic and mythological creatures in with history makes things fresh. I made things a little easier on myself by setting the novel off Earth, so I didn’t need to rely on strict historical details, though a lot of World War I-era research still went into it. I had the chance to think about so many what-ifs: “What if battlefield medical wards could use healing magic alongside standard surgery? What could limit that magic? What if your enemy in trench warfare had fire magic … and airships?”

Airships in particular are a trademark of steampunk. I was obsessive about making them as realistic as possible. I based the principal airship in my book on the infamous Hindenburg, down to the room descriptions and the angles of the promenade windows. For me, those historical details make it more real and believable, even with the heavy reliance on magic. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write and to read!

Learn more about Beth at, and look forward to my review of The Clockwork Dagger Thursday!

An H and Five Ws with Painter/Photographer Chambers Austelle


Chambers Austelle (great name) is a Charleston, South Carolina, native and artist. I own four of her pieces. One—a black and white photograph of a forest that I understand she took while almost falling from a car—was a wedding gift. I have a spooky Halloween painting of a haunted house and two glorious portraits of my dogs.

Sure, I’m an obsessive fangirl, but she’s also my sister-in-law. My brother is a musician, and I find it miraculous that two artists can cohabitate and still love each other without MURDER. (Because seriously, I’m sure Jake wants to just murder me sometimes.)

Chambers is prolific and inspiring. She presses on, despite the difficulties of being an artist (i.e. rejection and emotional meltdowns). It’s time for you to meet her.

An H and Five Ws with Painter/Photographer Chambers Austelle

How did art become your passion? 

I think people love to hear about epiphanies. They want to know that “Ah-HA!” moment. Well, I never had one. The closest I think I’ve ever come to that is when I’ve tried other things and have inevitably realized, ah-ha, I should really just be making art. I think my mother may have realized it was going to be my passion, or already was, when I was seven. I think that was around the time she gave up on my room’s walls or carpet ever staying clean. I’ve always wanted to explore and create new things, using everything as a canvas or platform. I never took it too seriously until I changed my major to Studio Arts and realized that being an artist was a real possibility.

Who is your biggest artistic influence?

Wow. That’s a tough question. Sally Mann hands down set the path for my artistic style in photography. When I was in college, Rothko and Francis Bacon were definitely my favorite contemporary painters. For me, their work was the strongest and most mesmerizing. I know, I know, could their imagery be more different? But for me they’re both extremely meditative in their own way. I am influenced by so many different artists, though. I love images and am constantly looking at different works of art. Currently, I’d have to say the biggest influence award goes to Egon Schiele and Matisse for their use of line and flatness of color.

As an artist, what are you most afraid of?

Failing. My husband is an artist as well, and we talk and joke about how hard the struggle is. If something we’re working on isn’t coming along the way we imagined it, it hits somewhere deep. Being an artist isn’t a job; it’s who you are. So if you fail at a task, you feel you’ve failed as a person. We joke how people who have office jobs (not that office jobs can’t be stressful) probably never go home and cry about how they could’ve stapled those papers better, stacked them in a more aesthetically pleasing way, or made that sticky note a little more compelling. Oh yeah, then there’s that real fear of will we have food and can we pay that bill?


Where have you done your best work?

I have a beautiful studio. It’s the biggest room in the house. It’s filled top to bottom with canvases, weird tools, cameras, and little treasures I might or might not use one day. And everyday I drag what I need out to the kitchen table and set up shop. I love our home, and I guess I feel most comfortable in the most lived in room.

When have you felt most frustrated as an artist? Have you ever wanted to just give it all up and become an accountant?

I get FRUSTRATED with the can opener; I get disappointed with art. When I’m starting a new piece, I am excited. I can see the image in my head and can’t wait for it to be real. I work in layers, and although I have an idea of what the final image should look like, I like to leave room for interpretation and to follow the work itself. It’s extremely rare that the final piece will look like what I had first imagined. This being said, that middle ground also leaves room open for disappointment. I finished “Ann” a couple weeks ago. I was so upset halfway through. I thought I had failed. I left it alone until the next day, in which I worked straight through to the finished product. It’s always a give and take, but it’s always, always worth it.

WHY are you an artist?

I’m an artist because I can’t imagine being anything else. The first art class I took in college was Drawing 1, the prerequisite for all other studio classes. I remember the professor asked how many of us were Studio Art majors. After a whopping two of us had raised our hands, he told us that being an artist was a lifestyle choice, not a job. “Make sure this is what you want,” he said. It’s a conscious decision you’ll have to make everyday. It’s hard to answer this question without giving a cliché answer, but I make art because I love to. Yes it’s hard and scary sometimes. I always have to work to get better. It’s incredibly rewarding, though. It’s my job to create new beauty, whether it’s a contemporary portrait or just a burst of color and pattern.

Learn more about Chambers Austelle at her two websites:

I chose my favorite pieces of her work for this blog post, but there are so many more you need to see.


An H and Five Ws with Wayward Girls Author Karen Brown

Through the priceless Atria Books Galley Alley, I received a book by an author as yet unknown to me. The book: The Longings of Wayward Girls. The author: Karen Brown. Wayward Girls is her first novel, although she is already a highly successful short story writer.

I was intrigued by the cover; read the book right away. Although I’ll do a full review of Wayward Girls on Thursday, here’s a tease: I loved the book enough to contact the author and tell her so. I even begged her to do an interview on my blog. So without any further ado from me, I present …

An H and Five Ws with Wayward Girls Author Karen Brown

9781476724911_p0_v3_s260x420How did you first get published?
As an undergraduate majoring in Creative Writing I wrote stories for class. One of my professors also assigned us the task of choosing one journal or magazine where we felt our work might be published, so I sought out the “periodicals” section of the university library, and the trove of literary magazines collected on the shelves.

At the time these were the venerable journals like Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Yale Review—and even though I wasn’t sure any of these would take my work, I started submitting to the ones that published stories I enjoyed. I think this professor was keenly aware of the nature of submitting—you want to align your own sensibilities with the editor, and you want to submit to a journal impressive enough that it pleases you to imagine your story in its pages.

Of course I had many rejections. But I also learned that once a story was complete, I should start another, and eventually my stories got better, and a couple of years later I was lucky enough to be pulled from the slush pile of The Georgia Review, one of those venerable publications I’d discovered on the library’s shelves. My first publication was an incredible honor—the journal is beautiful, and has featured so many fine writers.

Who is your biggest literary influence?
I think my influences change all the time—I’ll read something that really resonates with me for whatever reason, and some sense of it always reverberates in my work. But my first biggest literary influence was J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. I read it in Junior High, and was drawn to Salinger’s characters and settings, to the way the stories all feel very large, as if we know more about the characters than he is actually telling. But I was most intrigued by his tone—often darkly funny. Later in college, a professor read us “The Laughing Man” from Nine Stories, and I remembered the book and read the stories again. It is probably the book I’ve reread the most, and each time it is a different experience.

KarenBrownAuthorWhat are you most afraid of?

A fear I’ve long-held, that I’ve never overcome is that of being lost. I’m so leery that I don’t even trust the GPS. I have to map out new routes, and any change in the plan—a detour, a roadblock—makes my heart race and my palms damp. I have vivid memories of my mother, cigarette in hand, at the wheel of our station wagon. All six of us children are loaded in the back, our luggage is tied to the roof, and she is in a panic, trying to negotiate the interstate on the way to the beach. I’ve heard, too, that my grandfather had zero sense of direction. I like to blame it all on a faulty gene. It would be wonderful to embrace the whole “Sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself” thing. Maybe one day?

Where do you get your ideas?

Stories surround us, and as writers we learn to become attuned to them. They don’t always exist fully formed—they can be part of places, or involve people we observe. I’ve come to recognize when the story is one I can tell, one that combines what I know, and what I want to know. So most of my ideas come from vague memories of the past, or places I visit, or sometimes a vivid dream. The story unfolds from that—I don’t often know what will go into its telling, or where it is headed. I don’t know what details I’ll discover in the writing of it, or which I’ll pull from memory. It’s a strange sort of combination that occurs.

mae_muddypond5When (if ever) have you wanted to give up on being a writer?
Once I began to write regularly I knew I’d never give it up. Even when I couldn’t write all the time, when work or life interfered, I knew I would get back to it, that writing was waiting. Someone I met at a reading recently said that if you’re really a writer you are one for life.

WHY are you a writer?
I thoroughly enjoy making things up. I always have. It’s like playing house as an adult. I like crafting the words on the page—putting them together so that they create worlds the reader can enter and live in for a while.

As an endnote: Any advice for a novelist looking for representation and/or a publishing house?
I never fully understood what revision was until I wrote a novel. For me, it wasn’t the story or the characters but the structure—the way the story was presented—that posed the most trouble. You have to be open to telling the story the best way, and sometimes the best way—the one that allows the reader access—isn’t the method you’ve chosen.

I’d advise anyone writing a novel to have a handful of careful, like-minded readers take a look at the draft, and then to be open to their feedback. Carefully crafted query letters are also vital. You can’t acquire an agent or an editor until you’re able to attract them to your story, and provide a strong manuscript when they request it.

(To learn more about Karen Brown, visit her website: Full review of The Longings of Wayward Girls will be posted Thursday, but if you can’t wait … just go buy it now. You won’t regret it.)

An H and Five Ws with Amy Donohue, Comedian and Kidney Donor

"The Fabulous One."

“The Fabulous One.”

It took a while for me to really meet Amy Donohue. I knew her because she was famous … to me, at least. She is a recurring speaker at Ignite Phoenix and Ignite Phoenix After Hours. She has classic, bad-girl movie star style, and she’s a hot chick. When I finally met her face-to-face, we realized we “knew” each other via Twitter and I realized I had to know more about her. Amy is about to embark on an amazing road trip, so I caught her just in time for an interview.

In April of 2011, she donated her right kidney to a friend’s mom. She met the friend through Twitter, so social media played a big part in the process. Now, Amy is making a documentary about her experience and the experiences of other kidney transplant patients and donors. From foodie, comedian, and socialite, Amy has now become a hero; read on and get to know the lovely, brave Ms. Donahue.

An H and Five Ws with Amy Donohue,

Comedian and Kidney Donor

Once upon a time, you were a humble comedian and Phoenix foodie. How on earth did you become a heroic kidney donor?!

It honestly happened because of the relationships I’ve built on Twitter. I wouldn’t have responded to a random tweet. A woman (Kirti) I had originally met on Twitter sent out a tweet about how her mother was suffering from kidney failure.  I had already been tweeting with Kirti, and we got together with other friends for dinner several months before. I was getting into the tub, saw the tweet, and responded. Crazy, right?

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My mother. She divorced my father when I was just eight. I saw her go through a lot of hard times, financially and emotionally. Being the oldest and seeing it all firsthand made me the person I am today.

What made you decide to make a documentary about your experience as a donor?

I was on my way to a gig last July and picked up a couple comics. On the ride over, I told them I was thinking about making a documentary. I really wanted to meet all these donors who I had built relationships with over the past two years. What better way than a road trip? Wait. Let’s film it!!! There you go: Social Media Stole My Kidney.

Where do you feel most inspired?

Believe it or not, I am an introvert and my inspiration comes when I am alone. Whether I am walking Dexter or just sitting on the couch, that’s where my ideas come from. Oh, and some of my best comedy jokes were written in the bathroom.

Amy with Kirti's mom.

Amy with Kirti’s mom.

When have you been most afraid? (I’d say “pre-op” is a fair answer …)

Honestly, I wasn’t afraid going into surgery. In fact, I didn’t have much fear at all, except for when I lost my job. I’ve been most afraid when, with my business, money isn’t coming in like I need. I think the biggest fear in my life at all times is financial. I’m slowly learning to let go of the worry and just work as hard as I can.

WHY is it so important to spread the word about kidney donation?

As of today, there are 118,095 people waiting for an organ. Of those, 96,086 need a kidney. My surgery took 90 minutes. I was out of the hospital within 48 hours of donating. Yes, there is ALWAYS the possibility of something going wrong during surgery. There are always risks. But you take a risk with your life every time you get behind the wheel, especially in Phoenix.

My life has changed drastically since donating. I look at everything differently. I have a greater appreciation for the good things, and I am not as concerned with the petty. I saved a life. I gave someone a better quality of life. Who wouldn’t want to do that???

(Learn more about Amy and her quest to travel the country at Follow her on Twitter at See her Ignite Phoenix presentation about the donation process at

The documentary .... more to come!

The documentary …. more to come!

An H and Five Ws with Dark Rose Author Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly is the acclaimed British author of The Poison Tree. She’s so awesome Stephen King gave her an endorsement. How cool is that? I loved her first book, so I knew I had to read The Dark Rose when it hit American soil. Well, I read it, but you have to wait for the full book review until Thursday. Until then, allow me to introduce Her Royal Awesomeness Erin Kelly.

Bio: British author and journalist Erin Kelly is thirty-five. She studied English and European Literature at Warwick University and was a staff writer on the UK edition of Cosmopolitan for three years. Her first novel, The Poison Tree, was published by Viking in 2011 and has been shortlisted for the 2012 Strand Magazine Critics Choice Award. Her second acclaimed psychological thriller, The Dark Rose, is out now in hardback, and her third will be published next spring.  She lives and writes in North London with her husband and three-year-old daughter.

How did you become a published author?
I’ve been a journalist since I was twenty-two, but all I ever really wanted to do was write fiction.  But as a freelancer, I kept putting it off in favour of paid work. Then, in 2008, I got pregnant, and that was the focus I needed. For a few months, I eased off on my freelance work and spent my days furiously writing the book that would eventually become The Poison Tree. When it felt like a book, I did things the old-fashioned way, by writing off to agents with a short cover letter, a synopsis, and three sample chapters.

And then … silence. Months of it. I can’t even say I was rejected by agents, because in many cases they didn’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of my manuscript. I eventually signed with an agent a few weeks before my baby was due. We made a few structural changes to the novel, inserting a prologue at the beginning to pull the reader immediately in and polishing the characterisation. There was a flurry of interest from several London publishers (in fact, I did one interview with a potential editor while I was in labour), and it looked promising, but no offer was forthcoming. They all said the same thing: they weren’t sure how to market my book. Was it crime, literary, or women’s fiction? No one could agree. And the cliffhanger ending, which I had thought so clever, had polarised opinion.

I let myself wail and wallow for about twenty-four hours. Then I thought hard about what to do next and concluded that they were right about the ending: it was too open. I was always clear that this was suspense fiction, and one of the silent covenants the author makes with the reader in that genre is that there is a reward of some kind in the final pages. A few loose ends are good, necessary even, if the book is not to appear too contrived, but the big question that has been driving the novel so far does need some kind of resolution.

The new conclusion I came up with felt completely inevitable and right to me, and it actually became the major talking point of the book. What I was sure about was that I didn’t want to compromise on my tone or my style to make it easier for publishers to pigeonhole me into a genre. I could have stripped away some of the descriptive passages to increase its appeal to hard-boiled crime fans or played down the plot to pander to the literary snobs, but my voice is my voice: it’s the one thing I can’t change or compromise.

The gamble paid off: six months after those initial rejections, I had four publishers fighting over me. The funny thing was that the reason they loved the book was the reason it had been rejected at its first outing. Instead of seeing it as a book that didn’t belong on any particular shelf, they saw it as crossover fiction, something that could appeal to several different markets at once. It was a good welcome to the arbitrary and mercurial world of publishing.

Who is your favorite author?
(Deep breath) William Boyd, Ira Levin, Maggie O’Farrell, Kate Atkinson, Jonathan Safran Froer, Chris Cleave, Kate Atkinson, Barbara Vine, Jean Rhys, Evelyn Waugh, F Scott Fitzgerald, LP Hartley, Tana French, Ian McEwan, Donna Tartt, Lesley Glaister. What my favourite writers have in common is that they can all make words dance and create true characters, but they aren’t afraid of strong narrative. I love to be caught up in books where I can’t wait for the next chapter to find out what happens, but the language makes me want to linger over every page.

What genre do you prefer reading?
I get sent a lot of books in my own genre, literary and psychological thrillers, from publishers who want to promote new authors, so the balance is skewed in that direction. But it would be dreary to read only books like mine; it would be like limiting myself to one food group. I don’t have a favourite genre and there is no genre I wouldn’t read.

One thing I am finding is that the more I write fiction, the more appealing non-fiction becomes as a kind of palate-cleanser. Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd have both written brilliantly and beautifully about my home city, London. Bill Bryson’s travelogues are my go-to comfort read. And I love rock biographies: Keith Richards’ Life, Dylan’s Chronicles. If you haven’t read Just Kids by Patti Smith I urge you to order it as soon as you’ve finished reading this interview.

Where do you spend your writing time?
In a sloping study above my bedroom. It’s not really a room so much as an attic with a skylight and a desk in it. You can only stand up in the dead centre of the room, and the acute corners between the wall and floor are slowly filling up with books. I think there’s a wasp’s nest behind one of the piles. I’m scared to investigate.

When have you ever wanted to give up on being an author?
I won’t deny that those early rejections were disheartening. Now that I have a couple books behind me, I’m plagued by different sorts of doubts. I feel like throwing in the towel about three-quarters of the way through every book. There seems to be an unavoidable phase where it’s nearly there, but there are one or two conflicts I just can’t seem to resolve. By then I’ll be about nine months in, tired and drained and longing to stop plotting and get on with the really fun bit, playing with the language. But it’s like running: you can’t stop when you hit the wall, or you’ll never finish the race.

Why do you think books are important?
There’s a complicity involved between reader and writer that doesn’t exist in, say, film; reading makes you do some of the work, from imagining the characters’ faces to finding your own themes and messages between the lines. That, along with the hours invested in a book, mean that the rewards are greater, deeper.

No other medium is as intimate as books. Nothing beats that borderline uncomfortable feeling you get when a writer describes an experience or opinion or emotion that you thought was unique to you: suddenly the roles are reversed and you feel like you are the one being read. I suppose only song comes close to doing that.

For more about Erin and her amazing books, visit

An H and Five Ws with Yoga Bitch Author Suzanne Morrison

I randomly heard about Suzanne Morrison via an email from a writers’ group buddy. Suzanne’s new book trailer was featured on “Funny or Die.” As soon as I saw the trailer for Yoga Bitch, I decided Suzanne was FUNNY and that I had to read her book. Being the yoga enthusiast and writer that I am, she seemed like my kind of gal. Well, I finished the book, and Suzanne is my kind of gal. The full review of Yoga Bitch will follow next week, but in the meantime, meet author Suzanne Morrison—one hell of a cool chick and an incredible writer.

About Suzanne Morrison: Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment was published in August of 2011. The book had its start as a long-running one-woman show of the same title, which played in New York, London, across the country, and around the world. Suzanne is currently developing a new show, Optimism, about her adolescent fascination with Ted Bundy, who was a friend of her parents, and she’s at work on a new memoir, Your Own Personal Alcatraz. You can find Suzanne at the Huffington Post, where she blogs about the reading life, and at her own blog, where she writes about absolutely everything she’s reading, writing, and rehearsing. Also, be sure to visit her website:

And now … An H and Five Ws with Yoga Bitch Author Suzanne Morrison!

How did you first get involved in yoga?
I literally just walked into a studio on a dark night when I was twenty-five and feeling lost. I don’t have any memory of why I chose the studio I did, or why that night was the night. I only remember going through that first class (taught by my teacher, Indra, who I followed to Bali) and feeling like I’d found something I had been looking for without realizing it. I literally felt like I had found a home. It’s amazing to me that now, ten years later, I still feel that way when I go to a yoga class. Who would have thought?

Who has inspired you most in life?
I’d have to say my parents. They have never stopped learning, never decided they knew enough about themselves or the world and could now sit back and watch TV. They are constantly learning new things, reading new books, changing their minds, thinking of things from new perspectives. I think age is something to fear only if you lose your curiosity. When I think of myself at seventy or eighty, I picture myself following in their footsteps, and I get kind of giddy thinking about how many good books I will have read by then.

What book should every aspiring yogi read?
Good question! I suppose it’s obvious, but the Yoga Sutras. I’m partial to Satchidananda’s translation, but I’m sure there are many other great ones out there I haven’t yet come across. That book is such a great manual for living. As for yoga memoirs, I adore Christopher Isherwood’s My Guru and His Disciple. It’s a pretty densely packed, extremely honest memoir of Isherwood’s spiritual life. He practiced bhakti yoga, hardly any asana at all, though there are some very funny stories about his brief foray into asana. And Isherwood was one of the best writers of the twentieth century, so naturally it’s very nicely written.

Non-yoga books that every yogi should read? Everything Rilke wrote, starting with Letters to a Young Poet and then moving on to his poetry. If you want to move into your heart, Rilke is an exceptionally good guide.

Where do you feel most at peace?
Well, I’m least at peace when I’m not writing, so I guess I’d have to say: when I’m writing. Writing isn’t exactly a peaceful activity, but it requires complete concentration to do it even somewhat well, and as every yogi knows, concentration is a gateway to peace of mind.

I often feel at peace in yoga, at the end of class. But sometimes during class I’m thinking about people I want to punch, or stupid asinine things I said twenty years ago. I love that moment in a class when I realize I’ve dropped all that and am finally concentrating on the poses. I don’t think I’ve ever left a class without having done that.

Jeez. Yoga is awesome. Ha! (I haven’t made it to a class in two weeks due to holiday familypalooza, but I am going back to class tonight. I want to write a love letter to yoga, I’m so excited about it.)

As a writer and performer, when have you wanted to give up … and what stopped you?
Amazingly enough, I have never wanted to give up writing. I give up performing all the time, but performing is a compulsion, so I keep coming back to it. But I can’t think of a single time I’ve wanted to quit writing—even when it seemed kind of juvenile still to be holding on to the dream of being a writer, even when my first novel was rejected. I simply have never wanted to do anything else.

I would say the closest I’ve come to despair had more to do with publishing than writing, because trying to get published, and then being published, is a very hard business. Rejection, mean reviews, and this online world that I have to constantly avoid: Goodreads, Amazon reviews. I envy writers who published before the internet made it possible to read every single thing readers think of one’s book! And the rejection never ends. The unkind reviews will never end so long as one has the good luck to keep publishing. And so the writing must be the most important thing. I learned that this fall after my book tour. It was so much fun to meet readers and do interviews and to travel, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is a very private thing: it’s me, sitting down every morning in a quiet room to put words on the page. Everything else—publishing, enduring rejection, self-promotion—is a means to this end.

Why do you write?
I don’t know. It was never a choice; it was just something I started doing the moment I could pick up a pen. Maybe it’s because I had three siblings and writing is a sneaky way to get a word in edgewise. Maybe it’s because I’m slightly mentally ill. I really don’t know. I do know that, while it’s a messy business, I’m very grateful that I get to write. It is so difficult, but being able to express the experience of being alive is a great gift I want to be worthy of. I think I would explode if I had to keep it all inside. (There you go. Maybe that’s why I write; because I would explode if I didn’t.)

Halloween Town: An H and Five Ws with the Glendale Paranormal Chasers

Are you afraid of ghosts? These guys sure aren’t. They recently gave a presentation at the Litchfield Park Branch Library, and the room was filled to exploding. I guess we all want to know more about what happens to us after we leave this mortal coil … I decided to pick their brains a bit. Plus, they’re going to take me on a cemetery visit to check out a place they consider to be “highly active.” Awesomeness. Allow me to introduce Tim Schell of the Glendale Paranormal Chasers.

Tim is a 40-year-old husband and father of three. He’s been ghost hunting for 19 years! He grew up in Laporte, Indiana, until the age of 19, when he joined the US Navy and had some of his first experiences with the paranormal. The Glendale Paranormal Chasers group is only 11 months old, and he started it with his wife because he was tired of hunting ghosts all by himself. Now, let’s learn more about what he does and what he believes.

How did you get involved in ghost-hunting?    
I was 17 years old, and I apparently had a ghost in my mom’s house. We didn’t know it until an eight-pack of soda bottles exploded one by one right down the line. Then I heard someone sit in my mom’s recliner, and I heard footsteps on the stairs. That’s when I went to my local library to read about spirits, and I’m still interested, some 19 years later.

Whose ghost would you most like to meet?
I really don’t have anyone whose ghost I would like to see, but if I was to choose one, as a kid, I always liked Elvira … so that would be my choice, haha …

Phantom mist ... Oooooo.

What is the most solid evidence of the existence of ghosts you have ever witnessed?    
I saw a little boy in my home back in Michigan and even communicated with him. His name was Adam. He told me he died in a car accident in South Bend, Indiana. He was looking for his family. He was in the hallway of our home and then walked down the hallway, lay down on our bed, and disappeared.

Where is the scariest place in Arizona?  
Honestly, still looking for it—although mind you, I have been to many haunted locations and come home with plenty of evidence as far as EVPs, video, audio on video, and pictures. I’ve had many personal experiences, as well, like hearing a voice in my ear or being touched by an invisible force. These places are haunted, but not scary haunted.

When have you felt most afraid?    
Not really afraid, but I have been startled many times. In daylight and at night time. Especially when a spirit whispers in your ear …

Is that a ghostly face?

WHY do you believe ghosts stick around after death?    
Because the Bible says, “We will ALL rise together.”  Also I know for a fact that if a person dies a tragic death, they’re more likely to be earthbound. They were knocked out of their body so fast that they don’t realize they’re dead. Another option: They didn’t get to tell someone something like “I love you,” or a goodbye. My team and I have also seen situations where a dead person does not want to give up his or her home or an item because they love it so much.

Thanks so much for this interview, Tim! Be sure to check out the Glendale Paranormal Chasers on Facebook. Happy hunting, guys! Now, readers, it’s your turn! Tell me your best ghost story! BOO! Happy Halloween!

An H and Five Ws with MY DAD, Part II

For your consideration: Part II of An H and Five Ws with MY DAD, Dave Dobie. (If you missed Part I, click HERE.) Now, read on …

What is wrong with American politics?
What isn’t wrong with American politics? The two party system is absolutely broken. What exists today is open hostility between the two parties. They are incapable of governing fairly or working together in any meaningful way. What we have in Washington today is a herd of arrogant, egotistical, blowhards who simply want to maintain their power, prestige, and influence. If their decisions help the American public, it is purely by accident. Civility no longer exists. It has been replaced by overt antagonism for all opposing points of view, starting from the top down.

Politicians make Dad craaaazy. (Charleston, with his college pal, Dave Rich.)

America needs to exorcise the self-serving career politicians by instituting term limits. Politicians should be temporary custodians of the legislature, not permanent fixtures. We need dedicated people who truly want to serve their country for a set term and then get back to their private lives. By so doing, actual public servants would be attracted to higher offices rather than the power hungry know-it-alls, who in reality know very little. Politicians governing under term limits would actually make decisions that they felt were good for the country, not their re-election campaigns. We need to remove all incumbents and get some new blood in Washington.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of faith in the American public. We keep sending the same clowns back to Washington at a rate of ninety percent. We complain bitterly and then re-elect the same people. What’s up with that? Throw them all out! Hopefully the electorate is waking up. Remember that politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often and for the same exact reason.

Go Michigan! WOO! (Perrysburg, Christmas.)

Where do you feel most at home? Geographical and/or situational.
I feel most at home wherever my residence, my domicile, is. I have lived in numerous cities throughout Michigan and Ohio. I don’t feel any special bond or attachment to any of those places. However, whenever I travel I do eventually start to miss my house and all that it contains. I miss my bed, my TV, my furniture, all the little things I have accumulated over the years. There is comfort, safety, and a sense of security in the familiar, be that personal possessions or one’s daily routine. Vacations and travel are great fun, but as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” In the final analysis, home would be anywhere I was currently living, whether that be Ohio, South Carolina, Arizona, or Timbuktu. Someday we will live in a warmer climate. I hate winter in Ohio. When that happens, I will call that home.

When are you going to give up on the Detroit Lions?
Actually, I already have. It is true that I still root for them to win, but I have no expectations that they will ever be successful for a full season. I am totally convinced that this franchise will never compete for a Super Bowl in my lifetime. It is hard to believe in curses or divine retribution but if you are a Lions fan, it does make you wonder. Anyway, their losses no longer adversely affect me because I fully expect them to self-destruct, sometimes in very creative ways. That’s what makes them fun to watch. What silly or outrageous thing will they do this week to lose the game?

Me, Little Dobes, and Dad. (Perrysburg, Christmas.)

Why did you want to become a husband? A father?
For my generation, marriage and parenthood were expected. I also believe marriage is a divinely created union between a man and a woman. It is a state that God prefers for most of us, and He has put in us a God-implanted desire to move in that direction. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I would ever get married, but then I met your mother and it seemed so natural. No one wants to do life alone. Marriage provides the vehicle for a committed relationship, a certain permanence, where we can love and be loved in return. It provides a union for support and encouragement when facing life’s challenges. It is easier to do life when you have a loving partner, and marriage is the perfect platform for that to happen.

Children are a natural progression from the marital state. As parents we get to participate in the creation process. I can’t imagine doing life without children. As much as one loves a parent, sibling, or even a spouse, the love a parent has for their children is unmatched and quite profound. It can’t really be explained, but only experienced. Marriage and fatherhood were easy choices and without a doubt the best decisions of my life.


Yeah, I was crying by the end of this. So that’s my dad, in a six question nutshell. Mom always said I got my writing ability from my father, even though he never thought of himself as “a writer.” I think she may be right. The older I get, the more I realize I got more than just writing ability from the guy, though—I also got a dry sense of humor, a waning interest in social interaction, and well, a definite expectation that any sports team in Michigan is bound to fail.

More than that, I am who I am today because of the parents God gave me. Growing up, my friends called them “The Nazi Parents,” but I now thank them for it. My parents raised me with proper values, discipline, and Christianity. Without them, I would be utterly lost (as would my little bro). Their guidance was—and continues to be—priceless. For that, I thank them. I’m very lucky to have the support system I have: Dad, Mom, Aunt Susie, Papa and Grandma Schwind, Little Dobes, and of course, Jake. My family raised me right, so that I would be prepared for life’s challenges and for eventually being a good woman to a good man.

Thanks again, Dad, for doing this interview. Keep rockin’ your sarcastic, retired self in Perrysburg, Ohio. Love you so much! And GO LIONS!

An H and Five Ws with MY DAD

Growing up, saying “Mr. Dobie will get you” was kind of like threatening to send the Boogey Man. Okay, well, not to me, but for some reason, my guy friends were terrified of my father. Last Christmas, Jake and my little brother road-tripped up to Ohio from South Carolina. On the way up, they stopped to visit one of Matt’s buddies. That buddy (who will remain nameless, for his safety’s sake) said to Jake, “Have you met Mr. Dobie yet?” Jake replied that he hadn’t but that he soon would, to which Matt’s buddy said, “Watch out, man. He’s scary.”

Why this unnecessary terror of my father? Maybe because he was a parole officer. Maybe because he is into martial arts (and yeah, he does look kind of like Chuck Norris). Maybe, though—and more likely—it’s because he’s quiet. He doesn’t say much. In conversation, he’s likely to just kinda watch you and listen to you talk, unless he has something specific to add. I believe it was this silence that managed to harass my guy friends growing up.

It is also Dad’s silence that inspired me to interview him on my blog. I realized, months ago, that although I knew a lot about my father, I didn’t know some of the basics: who inspires him, what does he think about the institution of marriage, etc, etc? I needed to know this stuff, so I made him do an interview. He didn’t type his answers. He hand wrote them, on fifteen pages of tri-folded, lined paper. His interview, out of necessity, will be broken into two portions—one today, and one on Wednesday. I hope you enjoy this. I damn sure did.

A word of warning: my father is not politically correct. He says what he thinks—something I also strive to do in my daily life. You might leave offended, but trust me: it’s good for you.

Presenting, with pride:
An H and Five Ws with MY DAD, Dave Dobie

Dave Dobie Basic Bio:
1966–1970: BA Degree in Psychology from Miami University of Ohio
1971–2002: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections
2002–Present: Retired, slippers-wearing, paper-reading retired guy
Another interesting tidbit: “In the first grade, I went to a one room school house. There were a total of eight grades in the school with only one teacher. There were only three kids in my grade. (Does anyone remember Little House on the Prairie?)”

How did you feel about your job as a parole officer? Honestly.
First of all, I started my career as a staff psychologist at a prison in Southern Ohio. My primary duty was to evaluate the risk of releasing inmates back into the community. Those evaluations were completed for the parole board’s use. Twenty-five years later, I used those same reports to assist me in making my determinations on release.

After about one year of institutional work, I transferred to field services where I worked as a parole officer in the inner city of Toledo. I held that assignment for about fourteen years before being promoted to unit supervisor. Ten years later, I transferred to the parole board. All told, I spent the better part of thirty-one years working in the criminal justice system.

In general, it was a very difficult and demanding job on all levels. The decisions I had to make on a daily basis affected the lives of so many people: parolees/inmates and their families, victims and their families, and future victims if my decisions were wrong. It was a daunting task and not to be taken lightly. Overall, however, it was very rewarding, and I truly believe I made a difference.

I never had much sympathy for parolees/inmates with their troubled backgrounds. What I was more concerned about was their adult decision making, the choices they made, and their victimization of the innocent. Regardless of your background, we all know right from wrong, and when you choose to do wrong, you must be held accountable. I didn’t care that they were beaten as a child. They are now the child-beaters, and they need to suffer the consequences. I have no appreciation for bleeding-heart liberals who are more concerned about the rights of inmates rather than the rights of the innocent people they victimized.

If you ever talked with a victim of a brutal sex assault or family member whose loved one was senselessly murdered, you would want to alleviate their intense pain and devastation as best you could and, at the same time, make sure that other families or individuals would not have to suffer those same tragedies in the future. I believe I aided in this cause and helped to keep society a bit safer. I take great satisfaction in that. As Beretta—a TV cop—once said, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Enough said.

Who has been your biggest influence in life?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for this. I never had any teacher, professor, or mentor that I could specifically point to that greatly influenced me. Obviously, many people have influenced me over the years, but it is difficult to determine in just what way that happened. Let me try to answer the question in another way and speak to you about the historical figures I greatly admire.

Dad in Hocking Hills, OH.

As a young boy, I was fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and read several books about him. To this day, I hold him in awe. He was a man who was predominantly self-taught, suffered great personal tragedies, and experienced chronic depression, and yet he overcame those obstacles and persevered to lead our nation through its most difficult period. His integrity, honesty, and strength of character are all to be greatly admired—and things we should emulate—to me, the photographic portraits of Lincoln are some of the greatest photographs ever taken.

I grew up in the Lutheran church. As a result, I was taught a lot about Martin Luther. As I grew older, I read more about him and found him to be an amazing character. I believe him to be one of the greatest and most influential theologians of all time. He took on the Catholic Church at great personal peril and is primarily responsible for all the protestant churches in existence today. He challenged the Catholic Church and was threatened with death if he persisted, but persist he did. He believed you could learn more about God and scripture through divine revelation than you could through church leaders or counsels. I believe this also. Luther was a man of great faith and was willing to die for that faith, and yet, he was oftentimes wracked with serious doubt. Was his faith justified? Was his God real? He struggled with these questions throughout most of his life, but his faith ultimately prevailed. If a man of Luther’s stature and intellect can have such doubts, then I can be less critical of myself in my own spiritual struggles. Luther was an extremely complicated man and certainly flawed, but there is much to admire and emulate.

Ever since I was a boy, I loved American Indians, and my interest hasn’t waned over the years. I have been especially drawn to Crazy Horse. In some ways, I view him as a kindred spirit. He was an exceptionally shy and introverted man who kept to himself. He usually camped at the outskirts of the village where he could be alone. When he walked through the village, he would keep his head down and rarely make eye contact. During council meetings, he would sit in the shadows and if he spoke, he would do so very quietly, but when he spoke, people listened as his opinion was highly regarded. He was a true non-conformist who didn’t follow the traditional Indian customs. He was his own man and did life his way. He was very modest and kept nothing for himself, sharing his possessions with the elderly and less fortunate. He was small in stature but a fierce warrior. His exploits in the battle field became legendary. His mere presence—just seeing him in the fight—rallied the other braves to fight harder. He soon even became their war chief. Quite a contrast. In the village he would be withdrawn and quiet and unnoticed. But in the battle field, he was larger than life and always out front where the fighting was the heaviest. He was not a natural leader. He led not by choice but because his people needed him. He refused to compromise with the American government and fought to defend and keep the Indian way of life. He was willing to sacrifice all for his people, and he eventually did. He was a loner who set aside personal preference to protect and lead his people.

All three of these men led remarkable lives. All showed great courage in the face of extreme adversity. Not only were they all inspirational during their lifetimes, but they continue to inspire me this very day.

End of Part 1, An H and Five Ws with MY DAD, Dave Dobie. Part II is coming your way Wednesday. A preview: Wanna see my dad get fiery hot? Just ask him about American politicians …

Dad in Charleston, SC.

Halloween Town: An H and Five Ws with Wiccan Priestess Ashleen O’Gaea

You never know who you might meet at a writers’ conference. Sure, you’re gonna meet some weirdoes … but there’s also the off chance you might meet someone super cool and interesting, like Ashleen O’Gaea. And who better to do an interview in the month of October?

O’Gaea (pronounce oh-jee-uh) is a Wiccan priestess and author of several books about the religion; now she’s breaking into fiction.  She is also a wife, a mother, and a camper.  O’Gaea lives in Tucson, where there’s a long-established and active Pagan community.  She fancies herself sort of artistic, wishes she could actually dance, and takes her single-malt whisky (preferably without an e) neat. Check out her website at

An H and Five Ws with Wiccan Priestess Ashleen O’Gaea

How did you become a Wiccan Priestess?
Can I blame my mom?  She was a very active volunteer for the Unitarian Church in Portland, and that rubbed off on me.  I was active in the UU Church here for several years, and when we discovered Wicca, it was just natural that I’d start volunteering . . . only there wasn’t a group to volunteer for!  I began to read with the zeal of a convert and started writing about Wicca almost immediately, and probably because of articles in several small ‘zines, many of which are gone now, I was recruited by a local priestess, Delia Morgan, to help found the Tucson Area Wiccan-Pagan Network in 1988.

My HHp (Husband and High Priest) Canyondancer and I formed our first group in ’89 after initiating each other to First Degree at Samhain, and that group became Campsight Coven in 1991.   I was elevated to Third at Litha of 1991 by two eclectic priestesses in the community here; and in June of 2004 I was ordained by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church.  Basically, within a year of finding out that Wicca existed, I felt like I’d always been part of it, and priestessing was never exactly a conscious decision—it was just finding a name for what already felt natural to do.  (And by the way, being a Wiccan priest/ess means for Canyondancer and me what it means to ministers of other religions: we “marry ’em and bury ’em” and take care of everything else in between—including, of course, observing the holy days on our faith’s liturgical calendar.)

Who first got you interested in Wicca?
Short answer: our good friend Faerie Moon.

Longer answer: When I was in high school and college, “the occult” was a very popular diversion.  I read Tarot cards and had psychic dreams and all, but I didn’t have any context for any of that other than B-movie stereotypes, and that wasn’t anything I could take seriously.  The TV show “Bewitched” was cute enough, but Samantha still occasionally referred to “the man downstairs,” and that just didn’t light my candles.  People always saw something a little fey about me, and one friend meant to ask if I was superstitious and instead asked if I was supernatural, but it was all kind of jokey and being a little bit psychic was just amusingly weird for a long time.

When ‘dancer and I got married, we chose traditional music for the ceremony—the bridal chorus from Lohengrin—and the organist at the UU Church said it was “too Pagan” for his taste!  And we were celebrating Solstices and Equinoxes and “Mayday” and “Halloween”—so I guess it was pretty predictable that when Faerie Moon showed me Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, we said, “Oh.  So what we’re doing is called Wicca.”

What does Halloween/Samhain mean to you?
First, let me say that Samhain is pronounced saw-wayne or saw-win, and comes from Gaelic words meaning “end of Summer.”

In our Tradition (denomination) of Wicca, Samhain is the final harvest, a family reunion on both sides of the veil between the worlds, and the new year.  As part of our coven’s ritual we light candles, partly in memory of our dead and partly to represent the Light—that light we follow in death and in rebirth.  On the Wheel of the Year, Wicca’s liturgical calendar, our Tradition marks Samhain as the moment when the God transforms his death in the hunts and harvests to gestation, and begins to await rebirth at Yule.  We symbolize this turn of the Wheel when we carve our Jack-o-Lanterns.  We see them as counterparts to the Maytide’s Green Man, and we’re reminded that life is a spiral dance, and death is just one of the steps.

Where are the Wiccan celebrations of Halloween/Samhain this year in AZ?
I expect that Wiccans all around the state will be celebrating, because if one of our Sabbats is “most holy,” it’s Samhain.  The Tucson Area Wiccan-Pagan Network sponsors open rituals at all the Sabbats, and the open Samhain will be on October 24th on Hippie Hill in Himmel Park in Tucson.  As it happens, the coven I belong to, Foursight, will be leading it this year.  The details will be posted at  A quick look at Witchvox shows at least four other events: from the 29th, a Samhain Campout and Ritual sponsored by the Sacred Spiral Pagan Church; on the 30th, the Earth Love Fellowship Witch’s Ball; Fenix Fire Festival’s Masquerade Ball; and on the 31st, an open house at The Blue Eyed Witch, a shop in Tombstone.

When have you felt most in touch with a higher power?
The God and Goddess entered my life rather flamboyantly many years ago—before I was ready to recognize them.  Once when I was in deep (if slightly melodramatic) despair, the Goddess transformed my misery with an audio-visual experience that became wild inspiration that saved my day.  In my personal life now, there are lots of occasions, little humble moments: when I wake to find one of the cats quietly curled up and sleeping in the curve of my arm; or those afternoons when the grass in the Circle is emerald and the color of the sky is post-card blue, and the song birds are just filling the world with music . . .

As for feeling that connection in what we might call dire need, it seems to happen in two different ways.  In medical emergencies I have felt comforted by the God and his demonstration that life is cyclical; and when I was officiating at my mother’s memorial service, I could feel the Goddess lending me her strength.

In a way that feels a little more cooperative, I feel the Goddess working through me when I answer inmate letters.  I’m the writing priestess for Mother Earth Ministries-ATC, a Neo-Pagan prison ministry based here in Tucson, and I answer 50 or more letters a month.  Now and then, a letter makes me wonder how I can presume to answer someone whose experience and perspective are so vastly different from my own, how I can even hope to find a connection—and then, the easiest way to say it is that the Goddess starts typing with my fingers.  Often as not, that inmate will write back and say that I really hit the nail on the head for him.  Only it wasn’t me—or not just me, anyway.

Why are you Wiccan?
I’m Wiccan because Wicca satisfies me in so many ways.  First and foremost, Wicca accepts Nature as the source and object of sacredness, and celebrates the cycle of life.  Wicca offers a ritual structure that is both grounding and encouraging of inspiration.  There are parameters of belief, yet within them, individual interpretation is respected.  It’s a modern religion that honors and builds on an ancient spiritual perspective.  There’s no conflict between Wiccan beliefs and scientific discoveries.  Wicca’s very earthy, and yet lyrical.  It’s integrative without requiring assimilation in the worst sense of that idea.

In the late Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess, one of our most beloved liturgical pieces, we’re told to keep “beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, and mirth and reverence” with us.  We have an and between those words, when so many other faiths are emphasizing orAnd is a challenging word: it invites us, it dares us, to grow in love rather than let fear diminish us.  And—that’s why I’m Wiccan.

(Like she said, for some AZ Samhain events, check out And to learn more about Ashleen O’Gaea’s books, don’t forget to visit her website: