The Passionate and Whimsical Poet of Penzance

This week, before I go on a wireless vacation, I’m delighted to showcase the talents of a gentleman known OwainGlyn.128.348405to thousands of devoted fans as Owain Glyn.  Not only is he one of the most prolific poets I’ve ever run across but his work spans the emotional spectrum from romantic sonnets to whimsy and scathing diatribes against politicians to anything that “fits in a sock drawer” (a collection he calls Miss Sellanious).  Although he is revered on Wattpad (the free-read site where I first ran into him) and could easily rest on his laurels, he still finds the time to read and comment on literally hundreds of poems and stories of all genres every day! One of his poetry collections, Windswept, has just been published by Outer Banks. Here are some early reviews:

Windswept Front CoverWelsh writer Owain Glyn has brought us a collection of poetry worthy of his homeland Windswept is exquisite, you will want to keep it by your bedside for years to come. – V.L. Sloan
Windswept is awash with words that appear simple but work like magic. This is poetry that Tom, Dick, and Harriet (And I) can read, and enjoy. It connects with us, and has the power to transform us. – Colm Herron
Owain Glyn’s Windswept brings to mind the great romantic poetry of the nineteenth century. It’s nuances eloquently displayed through the shifting winds that have swept through heart of this wonderful poet. – Lisa Cole Allen

And now meet Glyn Hockey!

JTT:  Greetings my friend! Congratulations on the publication of Windswept!  I’m looking forward to soaking in a bubbly bath, drinking champagne and reading your beautiful poems by candlelight.  (And then maybe a little hanky panky later with the hubby) Here is one of my favorites:

What would you do
If I turned up on your doorstep
At two in the morning
Dressed only in my violin?
You know,
The one without a bow
That I play in the metro
Surrounded by funnel web spiders.
I don’t stay,
Because they say
It’s illegal,
And anyway
I can’t play.
This is nonsense
Of course,
Just like
The pantomime horse
On my bedroom wall.
All I really want to say,
Is what would you do
If I turned up on your doorstep
At two in the morning
Dressed only in my violin?
Would you send me away?
Because I can’t play?

The thing I love about your poems is they never seem stretched, you know what I mean?  It’s as though you just sat down, held a pen in your hand and the words arranged themselves brilliantly on the page.  No effort, no sweat. 

7879977-100-k473391GH: Ah, I only wish it were that simple. I start with an idea that I hand write, I leave it to settle for a few days before I return to it. if I still think it has merit I will produce a word document that I can edit and play with. A few days later I will return to it again, only if I am still happy, will I post it.

JTT:  I think I’ve forgotten how to write by hand! Aside from the fact that you live in Penzance on the coast of Cornwall and have a grandson named Jack who you’re urging on to naughtiness, all I know about you is from Tag it A-Z:

  • You’re allergic to royalty, politicians and tax collectors so you only eat them sparingly on rare occasions.
  • You love cake so much that you plan to be buried in a large chocolate eclair.
  • Apparently you wear underwear only when you expect to be run over by a bus.

Any other revealing things we should know about you?

GH: I guess my sense of humour reflects my interest in life, it is also a defence mechanism that helps me to see that not all is as bad as it may appear. I am an animal lover, (being Welsh that sheepmeans a strong emphasis on sheep) and a follower of Rugby Union, (Welsh Rugby Union)  I consider all the years spent residing in England as missionary work.

JTT:   I guess it was a sacrifice you had to make! I enjoyed England although I never want to drive there again.  For readers who know little (or nothing) about Wattpad, it’s very common on that site for writers to work together on collections – sometimes romantic, sometimes silly, sometimes holiday themed.  You’ve participated in a couple, my favorite being9502915-80-k283346 your The Whole Cole collaboration with a writer known as @knightwriter.    It’s a tit-for-tat between Old King Cole and his homicidal wife Alice. When you were working on it did you ask your wife and beloved mother-in-law (about whom you speak so sweetly) to act out scenes?  (you know – to get inspired…)

GH:  I had considered my mother-in- law for role play but she was far too busy teaching Ghengis Khan some basic manners.

JTT:  Glad to hear she’s keeping busy! From the silly to the very very serious, three of your collections, Armageddon, Marta, and the World According to Owain, address the many injustices in the world, leading you in one poem to ask:

“So, my question,
if man is forged in the image of God,
is he or she as perverse as we?” 

In other poems (War, for example) you expose a deep contempt for government institutions :

“I am war,
the whore of your government,
I ride my black steed among you,
at their invitation.”

Do you think there’s any hope for this world of ours? 

GH: There is much darkness in this world of ours, but there are shafts of light too. Conflicts are not caused by the many, but by the few. If we all learn the meaning of a few words; tolerance, compassion, empathy, we have a chance. We need to celebrate our differences, not use them as barriers.

JTT:  Sigh.  You’re so right.  I really wish we could go on forever but I know you’re busy with the release so let’s conclude with a final question about Wattpad.  The openness of 7235951-80-k466149the site has led people to post just about anything, which has resulted in toes being stepped on, gripes about the software they’re using, and the airing of personal health issues which can be difficult to “vote” on.  As a former “ambassador” (community advisor) you’ve tried to remind people to be civil and to remember that it is a free site. Do you think eventually they will begin monitoring content more closely than they currently do?  For those people who are not familiar with Wattpad, what would you like to say about your experience?

GH: Wattpad has the capacity to be a wonderful place, it allows writers of all levels of competency to interact. None of us becomes a master overnight, it takes practice, and encouragement. Wattpad, and its users are a microcosm of wider humanity. Yes, there are glitches more than I would like, but with a platform this size some problems are inevitable.

JTT:  I’m always amazed by the generosity of other writers on that site.  You’re absolutely right – despite a few problems, it’s a great place to mingle.  

Thanks again for taking the time to be here with me. I really appreciate it.  Releasing a book can be an extremely trying time. I had to hire a caretaker to strap me into a straight jacket (which made for a very interesting release party!) Then, as the reviews came in, post release anxieties descended on me like evil flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz!   “Did I release too early? Too late?”  To save you from such a fate, I’d like to point you to the best advice I’ve come across regarding life in general and fame in particular:

“If you compare yourself to others, never look upwards, you will get dizzy and invariably disappointed.  Always look downwards, that way you can make sure your feet are firmly on the ground and pointed in the right direction.”  – Owain Glyn, Advice to My Sons

My friends, I have only touched on the depth of this man’s talents.  You can read some of his poems on Wattpad for free but maybe not for long! OwainGlyn on Wattpad

For a limited time you can order a copy  directly from the publisher for $9.99 click Windswept – Poems of Love. Bring some love into your life!

See you all in a week!

Meet Shelley Sackier, author, blogger, pilot and whiskey drinker

Today I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Sackier, creator of the always entertaining blog – Peak Perspective – and author of the upcoming teen novel DEAR OPL.

Shelley Sackier author photo3JTT: Hey Shelley – thanks for being here!  First of all, how did you come up with the title Peak Perspective?

SS: The blog title and tagline (Peak Perspective: trying to see above the fog.) was born of both sight and wordplay. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m surrounded by mountains, and living on top of one gives me a spectacular view, except when it doesn’t. Some days I’m fogged in, occasionally I’m above the cloud base, but most days, the scene is truly breathtaking and allows me a view of three counties. As I’m always staring out one window or another for a moment of inspiration, rare is the day when something remarkable does not flit across my field of vision. It’s a little like living on the live set of a National Geographic special filmed by the Weather Bruichladdic viewChannel. Some days are truly spectacular. Some days are scary. A couple have made me think that it might be time to start doing bladder strengthening exercises.

JTT: Please send me a copy of those bladder strengthening exercises ’cause I need ’em.  With those spectacular views there must be a lot of artists living in your part of the world however your illustrator, Robin Gott (who I just adore), lives in Essex England. How did you find him?  

040813nakedartist (729x800)

Cartoon courtesy of Robin Gott

SS: I love the fact that Rob and I live in separate countries and have worked together for a few years but have never met. There’s something so remarkably “today’s business world” about that. We were introduced years ago and had almost worked together on a different project. The blog venture just sort of spilled out of that serendipitous past.

Robin is one of those incredibly multi-talented folks whose craft spills over into myriad dimensions. Animation, acting, drawing, writing. His work is prolific and I feel so fortunate to have this time to be creative with him. I’ve discovered what it feels like to work with someone whose brain will likely be preserved for science.

However long the blogging business keeps us artistically woven together, I can think of so many other missions I’d like the two of us to take a crack at. Time will tell. Fingers are crossed. Pencils are sharpened.

JTT:  Blogging does provide us with some interesting bed fellows doesn’t it?  Well, ”bed fellows”isn’t exactly the right term.  Collaborators?  Gads, that’s not much better… (help me troops!)

Haggis in glasses

Haggis of Peak Perspective

Speaking of blogging, I’ve been in awe of your blog for a long time.  I wonder if you’d mind sharing some blogging tips and tricks (or is it top secret)?  When did you start?  How did you build your incredibly supportive audience? 

SS: Well, firstly, thank you for saying so. That’s the hope of so many writers. Tips and tricks? I think, as with so many things in life, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and embrace vulnerability. And even more importantly, you have to be willing to fail. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking myself out of safe mode, skinning both knees, and then moving on. There’s so much to learn when you make mistakes. Being careful does not make a terribly exciting life. And I crave challenge. And chocolate. I’m not sure which I devour more.

Also, it might be extraordinarily helpful to have a roadmap—a story grid of a sort. Why are you blogging? Is it to share wedding photos? A trip to Dubai? Your time in the slammer? It helps to understand what the end goal is.

My blogging exploits began strictly to develop a skill I thought I needed improvement with—churning out about 1000 words on demand. Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay, finish the laundry. When you devote attention to something every day, bit by bit the challenge begins to feel increasingly more comfortable. Welcome to the new normal.

Jonathan Sackier Blue Ridge Mountains VirginiaAnd building the supportive audience comes from caring about what people have to say. There are so many wildly interesting people on our planet, each with a distinctive voice, and I find it’s like a funky orchestral hot mess when I engage with everyone. It’s a huge time commitment, and I’m not looking forward to the approaching day when I’ll have to back off because of other writing commitments—ones from people who are actually paying me to produce work for them, but I’m hoping to have at least created a community of people who can carry on the conversation if I’m not there and who have made worthy friendships simply from having had my blog site been their playground.

JTT: “Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay,” AMEN!  However, you did manage to finish DEAR OPL while building your audience.  Congrats on that major accomplishment.  You deserve chocolate, lots of chocolate.  However, I know from reading DEAR OPL (and your blog) that keeping our food safe, nutritious, and delicious are important issues for you.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for potential readers but the main character, Opl,achieves some amazing things while battling a common bugaboo for many of us growing up:  a negative self image.  At first, I have to admit I thought the mother was cruel – always making a big issue of Opl’s understandable weight gain (I mean, she had just lost her father!) but by the end you managed to make the mother sympathetic.  I think it had to do with Opl’s growing awareness that staying healthy need not be an arduous task. Was personal experience a motivation for writing DEAR OPL?

SS: I’ve had food issues for as long as I can recall, but not of the same type as Opl. Working in the entertainment industry, one gets judged every which way but Sunday. It was brutal. Costumes were measured and remeasured on a regular schedule. If you lost a pound of sweat during a show from exertion, and your waistband had a half an inch worth of give in it, it was immediately sewed shut. I survived for years believing that fat was an enemy and that tinned peas and Cream of Wheat was my culinary lot in life. This was horrifically rough for someone who grew up in a family full of caterers, butchers and chefs. I loved food, but was always being deprived of it because of the fearful sweeping top to bottom gaze of an unforgiving producer or director.

I was determined to raise kids with the idea of nutrition as the motivating factor for meal planning and food education, and didn’t want to create battles over what we put into our mouths. I knew that as my kids grew more independent I’d lose a lot of sway over what they’d be choosing to eat. I knew that layering information in small bite-sized chunks, and also walking the talk would be important components of whether or not they’d remember what I’d said, and did as I advised. Most importantly, indulging in food they knew I’d cringe at was a given, but I hoped that they’d pay attention to the correlation between what they ate and how they felt afterward. I know the pressures teens feel when trying to fit in with their friends, and that sometimes food issues become friendship issues. In my mind, I believed they’d make diet related decisions based on things other than what the crowd was doing. They learned to love good food, and cooking it themselves has been an ongoing joyful discovery.

JTT: You’re absolutely right – making decisions about what to eat based on how you will feel afterwards is far wiser than going along with the crowd but it is a hard lesson for many teens to learn. On your blog you’re doing an excellent job of what marketeers call “building your platform” and so I’m fairly confident this next question will be an easy one for you to answer, please describe Dear Opl’s ideal reader?  Who are you talking to?  What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

IMG_0694SS: DEAR OPL’s reading base is 9 to 13 year-olds, but I’m hoping to attract kids who may be in a similar situation as Opl—those who feel like they are either losing the battle with weight, or who feel they can’t stop eating junk food, but mostly kids who are desperately looking for a bit of direction. People don’t realize how much help is available and often give up before they’ve even begun.

My hope is that Opl will be able to communicate that there is no “magic pill,” and that change can happen in small ways that have a ripple effect result. If we expect to shift the habits of a lifetime, it requires education, support, patience and faith that you’re doing the right thing. (And a big dose of self-forgiveness when you don’t.) I feel that all too often we’re told by marketers to expect a miracle effect with their slick headline promises and a mind-blowingly easy overnight success. I’m hoping to impart some savviness.

JTT:  You’re absolutely right – kids are bombarded by “lose weight overnight” ploys which are nothing by quackery.  It’s horrible.  Speaking of horrible, now onto the uncomfortable revelations part of the interview (just pretend I’m Barbara Walters).  You’re a pilot and whiskey drinker, is that correct?  Were you also abducted by aliens like other famous whiskey-drinking pilot drinkers, i.e., Harrison Ford? Please describe some close encounters of the third kind you’ve had while soaring through the clouds.

SS: Really? Ford was abducted?

JTT:  Whoops, sorry.  I was actually thinking of the drunken pilot from the movie thThe Fourth of July who saves the world from aliens somewhat in retaliation for having been abducted by them. 

SS:  Well, flying and whisky have been a significant part of my life. Although, never at the same time for obvious reasons.

When I was first learning to fly, in order to gather up the courage to do solo night flying (which is incredibly different than daytime flying — you’ve got nothing but a Lite-Brite board beneath you), I’d belt out the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Arc while doing finals and preparing to land the aircraft. You have to acquire a fair amount of knowledge to fly and land an airplane, and a teensy bit more if you’re hoping to reuse it. But you also have to have an element of faith. 

Also, having an old codger for a flying examiner was a lucky thing. I think he realized as I was taking my final physical flight exam that I was still too timid with the aircraft. He took the controls and shouted, “You’ve got to manhandle this beast, lass! And you’ve got to know its limitations.” He then proceeded to pull the plane up into a stall and let her do a falling leaf pattern for about twenty seconds before recovering the aircraft. Kept telling me, “She ain’t gonna break!”


Flying at night

I think that was about as close to an extra-terrestrial experience as I’ve ever had, as I was fairly sure I’d not live to walk on our planet again.

JTT:  I love that story! My father was a pilot – he loved to get me into his little Cessna and do loop-de-loos! Okay, here’s your chance for revenge, what embarrassing question would you like to ask me?

SS: You see, this is where I’m struggling, Jan. I can find absolutely no dirt on you. You are one of the most impressive humans I’ve come to know. Your work with the Make a Wish foundation, your advocacy for at risk foster children, your books, your blog, your terrific writing … yeah, I got nothin’.

But maybe I’ll ask the question readers are probably wondering: how is it that you can get so much done in one lifetime?

JTT: How sweet of you but perhaps I should have given you my ex-husband’s phone number!  

Whenever I hear the theme song from Raiders, I’ll think of you soaring across the skies! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and best wishes for the release!  


DEAR OPL’s back cover

DEAR OPL is available for pre-ordering on Amazon here.  The official release date is August 4, 2015.  Here’s my review:

DEAR OPL is an honest look at a problem facing many young teens: negative self-image brought on by weight gain.  It is also the story of a family trying to move ahead after a catastrophic loss.  Young OPL (who left the “A” off her name in order to lose weight – LOL!) has a talent that surprises her classmates and gives her an outlet for the ongoing frustrations of teen life.  She can blog!  In fact, she rapidly becomes a blogging superhero as “Dear Opl” dispelling advice to her peers with an abundance of sass and wit.   But she doesn’t just make a difference in her own life, she reaches out and makes a difference in the lives of others. 

 No update on the letters from Sweden – but as soon as I find someone to translate, I’ll let you all know!

Crossing in Time: DL Orton

Today in my When I Get it Together (WIGIT) semi-regular series on meeting other writers, please welcome DL Orton whose sci-fi DL_Ortondebut novel CROSSING IN TIME (first in a series) was recently released and is free on Amazon May 25, 2015 (which I hope is today unless my talents using WordPress are total crap). This fast paced novel envisions a world on the brink of extinction where two star-crossed lovers may hold the key to survival.  However, they must go back in time. A very risky business.  From my reading of her book, DL has researched quantum physics, climate change, and – dare I say it? – Masters and Johnson’s studies on sex.  

JTT: Hi Deb, thanks for agreeing to be featured on WIGIT.  Let’s assume you’ve come from either the future or past (which is probably the truth). Which is it and why?

DLO: My pleasure, Jan!  I’m from the future, of course. Come to the dark side; we have time machines. Unfortunately, if I told you why, I’d have to shoot you. And yes, a woman DOES eventually get elected President, gays DO have a constitutional right to marry, and Florida IS going under.  If you want to know how Game of Thrones ends, sign up for my newsletter. (PS:  If you’d like to win a special prize, guess the news headline for May 4th, 2050, and include your email address written backwards e.g. moc.notrold@old in the comments.  I’ll send you a telepathic message if you win. Or perhaps I’ll arrive in your bathroom with the news!)

JTT:  Wow, well I’ll have to sign up.  In your book, Crossing in Time, you address two issues which psychologists believe are more strongly related that most people would think:  parallel universes and the gender gap. Your response?

DLO: A shower curtain, an ant, and a bowling ball.

JTT:  What?


Bowling ball with Einstein’s image – incredible!

DLO: Start with the shower curtain: a two-dimensional object in a 3-dimensional world. Imagine that you, gentle reader, are an ant, walking, talking, and having sex (do ants do that??) on a thin, flexible membrane (or a “brane” in physics-speak). Layered beneath you are a million other shower curtains, all of them with their own allotment of ants (some of which get paid 78 cents on the dollar due to slight differences in their copulatory organs). In a very real sense, those other ant universes are close to you in space (and time), but still seemingly undetectable — until someone drops a red-hot bowling ball on those piled up plastic sheets and makes the real-world equivalent of a black hole.  Mind the gap.

SarahConnorJTT:  Okay you’re officially too smart for me. I saw strong similarities between your female protagonist, Isabel, and Sarah Connor of the Terminator Series.  Why is it that female protagonists in sci-fi series such as the Terminator, Alien and  Avatar are much more formidable than the protagonists of erotica such as Fifty Shades of Grey?  Can the sci-fi and erotica genres unite to gain an audience? 

DLO: Well, if the reviews I’ve been getting are any indication, then no. 😉 

Although my book is not erotica, I expect some women will be turned off by the sex (because my protagonist is the antithesis of the ditzy woman in 50 Shades, and Isabel’s lover is no demigod with a helicopter, handcuffs, and expensive taste in high heels. Sorry.)

JTT:  No reason to be sorry.  I think a lot of women fantasize about being an Isabel.  I hate to ask this question because it is so hackneyed in writer interviews, but as a reader I really am interested to know, what motivated you to write this series?  

DLO: When it comes to fiction, I find Frankenstein’s monster very appealing. I’m drawn to an author who tosses together eclectic body parts and then sews them into something cool and unexpected.  Books with character-driven sci-fi, lots of action, good (real!) sex, dark humor, strong female leads, a bit of a mystery, and an edgy love story are great reads, but there aren’t many out there. So I wrote one. And once I got started, the monster took on a life of his own.

JTT: That’s an interesting answer!  My book – the Monster!  Just one last question: What do you wished I’d asked you and why?

DLO: “What did you do with the $500,000 advance you got for the book?” But I’ll settle for: “Any advice for unpublished writers?”

I once googled “how to get rid of a dead body” as part of my book research. The browser ads I started getting after that were downright scary, and I began to wonder if the NSA was going to coming knocking on my door. (I can’t imagine what would have happened if I googled “how much fertilizer does it take to blow up a building.”) I have since learned about “private browsing,” and I highly recommend it.

My second best tip is: Keep writing, but also keep reading! Lots of the unpublished writers I meet have stopped reading because they don’t feel they have the time for it, and I think that’s a mistake. Reading is an excellent way to keep your writing tools sharp, and hey, it’s damn good way to come up with unsavory phrases to google!

And my final tip: Murder the hero, maim the children, rip the clothes off the intrepid heroine, bestow fame and riches on the villain, and set the whole damn city on fire, but whatever you do, don’t draw cartoons of bearded dead guys, and don’t shoot the dog!

JTT:  Great advice!  Best of luck with the book.

Between Two Evils Series: The First Disaster

Between Two Evils Series: The First Disaster

DL ORTON lives in the foothills of the Rockies where she and her husband are raising three boys, a golden retriever, two Siberian cats, and an extremely long-lived Triops. Her future plans include completing the books in the BETWEEN TWO EVILS SERIES followed by an extended vacation on a remote tropical island (with a Starbucks). When she’s not writing, playing tennis, or helping with algebra, she’s building a time machine so that someone can go back and do the laundry. 

How to contact DLO:

The Interpreter – Arleen Williams

faceToday I turn the floor over to fellow author Arleen Williams whose ALKI Trilogy has just been released. For those of you who don’t know, Alki Point is just west of Seattle Washington, an area very lush and green.  Wikipedia describes it as “reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest beach town, with a mix of mid-century bungalows, medium-rise waterfront apartment houses, waterfront businesses, a thin beach, and a road with a bike/foot trail running several miles along the water.”  As you can tell by the titles, Arleen is a very active woman as are her protagonists! In this piece she talks about the inspiration for her novels.


Years ago I was living in Mexico City and thought about studying English/Spanish interpretation. When I took the college entrance examination and failed, I was sad and filled with relief. It really wasn’t for me. I have too many of my own words and thoughts to express to fill the role of an official interpreter. Yet at times, I still feel like an interpreter. In The Alki Trilogy, I “translate” immigrant lives into stories, offering a window into the realities of modern immigration.

As I write these words, I am reminded of Reese Witherspoon’s 2014 movie, A Good Lie, about the lost boys and girls of Sudan. I remember sitting in the darkened theater shaking my head when those responsible for assisting these immigrants upon their arrival to the U.S. were portrayed as totally clueless.

“Nobody can be that dumb, can they?” I whispered to my husband.

“Most people haven’t spent thirty years working with immigrants and refugees,” he shot back.

In a world of instantaneous information, one would think we’d all know of the horrors that continue to bring immigrants – both documented and undocumented – across our borders on a daily basis. But we are inundated with snippets of news and information, with work schedules and family responsibilities, with the challenges of the hectic day-to-day routine so common in this country. We don’t always understand the stories or the worlds behind the headlines we catch as we rush from one responsibility to the next in our busy lives.

In The Alki Trilogy I introduce readers to characters living lives in the shadows of our own back yards, characters making livings, making love, making mistakes and often interacting with native-born Americans in relationships that enrich the lives of all. And like those immigrants who cut our lawns and clean our pools, who grow our fruits and vegetables, who care for our elderly and infirm, they do it carrying the horrors that brought them to this land branded on their souls.

I wasn’t on some sort of zealous mission when I started writing The Alki Trilogy. In fact, when I began the first novel, Running Secrets, I had no idea I’d be writing a trilogy at all. I simply had characters in my head demanding to be heard: a suicidal young woman and an Ethiopian home health nurse, a homeless Salvadoran girl alone after her parents were deported and the college student who offered sanctuary, an Eritrean man haunted by the terrors of his escape and the hatred of some African-Americans while buoyed by the love of another. These stories were rooted in a lifetime of teaching, explaining, interpreting my world to immigrants from around the globe in an attempt to help them build new lives in this strange land. I suppose at some point my audience shifted.

When I started writing Biking Uphill, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to Gemila Kemmal, and when Walking Home came to me, The Alki Trilogy flowed from pen to paper as though I were nothing more than a conduit for the voices of my students and the characters based on the lives and experiences they have shared with me over the past thirty years.

Walking Home Front Biking Uphill Cover





About the Author:

Arleen Williams is a Seattle novelist, memoirist, and co-author of a dozen short books in easy English for adults. She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for three decades. To learn more, please visit and


Prince Charming – we blame you!

high-res-cover-leaving the beach

I was delighted to run into the works of fellow author Mary Rowan for a variety of reasons. First, we both have roots in Massachusetts; second, her protagonists are far from perfect (like mine), and third she’s brave enough to address both bulimia and rockstar obsession with stunning candor, gaining the admiration of myself and countless other readers. So I’m taking a break from blah-blah-blah blogging about my cat, my neurosis, my hubby, his squirrels, tuna noodle casserole, hookers, red-haired cannibals, etc., to introduce you to her.

Oh, by the way, Pretty Kitty is feeling much better.


Mary says “Hi!”

JTT: Hi Mary – thank you very much for agreeing to join my cast of soon-to-be world famous authors. Before you change your mind, let’s begin…

One thing I particularly liked about your book was the setting.  As I’ve probably mentioned, my mother’s family is from a small town in Massachusetts.  Prior to the mass shipment of textile jobs to China and India, it was a typical “Our Town” sort of place to live.  Then, with jobs gone, it started to go into decline. However, somehow it hung on and still remains one of my favorite places to visit.  Please tell us a bit about where you grew up and how that influenced your writing.


Lawrence MA during happier times. (from Bing images)

MR: That’s very interesting about your hometown. I love the mill towns in Massachusetts, and as you probably know, many of them are now enjoying revivals. When I was born, my parents lived downstairs in my grandfather’s house in Lawrence—a mill city—but when I was five, we moved to a neighboring suburb called North Andover. I went to Catholic school in North Andover until eighth grade, then transitioned to public high school, and my freshman year was truly miserable. Not only did I have very few friends, but my infant brother had died the previous year (he was only five days old) so my whole family—especially my mother—was still dealing with a lot of grief. Memories of that year helped me write about Erin’s feelings of isolation in Leaving the Beach. Fortunately, I made friends during sophomore year and high school improved significantly for me. Poor Erin wasn’t so lucky!

JTT: Very sorry to hear about the death of your brother. Yes, a child’s death is something parents never get over.

Moving on –  your book brought back memories of my twenties when physically I was an adult but mentally I still believed in knights in shining white armor. How is Erin’s journey similar to your own?


Oh Princie, Princie, Princie! How many bad relationships have  you been responsible for? Tut!

MR: Well, some young women have realistic expectations about relationships, but I wasn’t one of them! Maybe I read too many romance novels and saw too many romantic comedies as a kid, but I truly believed—as Erin does—that the perfect guy was out there, waiting for me. It took years—and a few bad boyfriends—before I realized that some of the best relationships thrive in spite of—or perhaps because of—the fact that perfection can’t exist in this world.

JTT: Erin’s experience, which you’ve so beautifully drawn, is something I have no doubt many young women go through. For me, it was all those Disney movies – Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella!

Another thing I was impressed with is how honestly you dealt with the subject of obsession.  I shudder to think of the hours I wasted daydreaming about a kismet encounter with the Beatles. Of course, Erin actually does encounter a rock star. Without revealing the plot, can you tell us if this scene was inspired by a real life experience?

MR: It wasn’t—that scene was entirely made up. But it was based on some very real fantasies about kismet encounters with various rock stars.


Hanging with the Beatles – in my dreams!

JTT:  That’s too bad!  I never had any kismet moments with an idol either.  Course, I probably would have run the opposite direction which brings me to the topic of low self esteem. Erin’s low esteem and her turn towards self-destructive acts were gut wrenching to me because I’ve struggled with weight issues throughout my life. Where can friends and family find help in dealing with loved ones who suffer from this deadly disease?

MR: If the person doesn’t have health insurance or doesn’t feel comfortable calling their insurance company, NEDA is a wonderful resource. NEDA is the National Eating Disorders Association, and their website contains a plethora of information. They also have a live, toll-free helpline. ( Another option is calling your health insurance company’s customer service number and explaining the problem. Health insurance providers can often recommend a therapist or treatment facility and also provide practical information about medical referrals, necessary forms, etc.

Q. Thanks for that info, Mary.  Changing the topic, in both Leaving the Beach and my book (The Graduation Present) college aged women set off for Europe where both have adventures, some good and some bad. I’m assuming you probably pulled those scenes from memories of a real trip.  Can you tell me the one memory or lesson learned?  Thing you would have done differently?


Mary?  Singing on the streets of Paris?

MR: That’s a tough question, because when I went off to Europe—I spent my junior year of college in Switzerland—I was very immature. Much more immature than Riley in The Graduation Present. So I did some crazy things that I wouldn’t recommend to others. But one thing I did get to do was play guitar with a friend on a street corner in Paris. We were having drinks in the Latin Quarter and asked a couple of buskers to play “The Day the Music Died.” But the buskers didn’t know that song, and when we tried to tell them the chords, they handed us their guitars and said, “You play it.” That little experience was the kernel for another novel of mine, called Living by Ear, which is about a street musician in Boston. Living by Ear was self-published in 2013, and will be republished by Booktrope this September.

JTT: Wow! It’s hard to imagine anyone more immature than Riley O’Tannen!  That’s a great story!  I was foolish enough to hang out with a couple of American guys who decided to roast a hotdog in the eternal flame under the Arch de Triomphe.  That didn’t go over too well with the French!

spencer on beach

Mary’s very happy dog Spencer!

Now to the important stuff: Where can people purchase your book?  Website? Twitter? etc.

MR: It’s available on Amazon, and in a couple of independent bookstores in the Boston area.

JTT: Last, what’s the most outrageous tweet you ever sent out?

MR: Ha! I don’t send outrageous tweets, because I’m still not that comfortable on Twitter. But if people want to follow me, I’m at @maryjrowen

JTT: I was pretty uncomfortable on Twitter at first too and then I realized that zillions of tweets go out per second so if I send out a few that are, let’s say goof-ball stupid, they’ll soon get buried beneath the avalanche. I have a couple of books of famous quotes that I’ll copy from just to say in the game.  Cheating I know, but there you have it!

It’s been fabulous getting to know you a little better, Mary. Thanks again!  Read more about Mary here:


Jan, blah-blah-blah blogging with a cat’s butt in her face.

Readers – it’s hard to believe but I’m rapidly approaching my 100th blog!  Thanks so much to those of you who’ve stuck with me through the good, bad, and boring.  It means more to me than I can say.  So what should I blog about for that 100th post?  Maybe I should just repost my most popular post to date.  What do you think?

Meet Jennifer Hotes: A Creepy Obsession Becomes a Novel

When I was in my early teens, boy, oh boy, did I love spooky graveyards! Mesmerized I’d read gravestone inscriptions and wonder about the dead.  Of course, I was not alone.  For her sixteenth birthday my step-daughter wanted nothing better than to take a gang of her fellow goths to a graveyard at midnight to hustle up some ghosts, vampires or zombies. Unfortunately all that happened was they got lots of bugs stuck in their spiky hairdos – ick!

Goth Sweet Sixteen  Party in the cemetery. Where else?

I gradually outgrew my fascination with the dead but a frightening childhood memory continues to haunt author and graveyard aficionado Jennifer Hotes to this day.  In her words, here’s what happened.
Jennifer Hotes, author, artist, mother and hospice volunteer

“It began with the best intentions, a single mother searching for a babysitter so she could attend night school, however it resulted in a lifelong obsession with cemeteries.

I was a petulant child, my older brother, Garth, was the good one. I had a wild imagination and frequently woke up from nightmares screaming loud enough to wake the entire household. No relative would share a bed with me when we came for a visit. They called me Rosemary’s baby. They joked about exorcisms.

No one wants to sleep with me except Satan.

“No one wants to sleep with me except Satan.”


But, Mom didn’t take this into account when she decided to beef up her teaching credentials. Desperate for someone to babysit Garth and me, she finally found someone, the daughter of a cemetery caretaker. After feeding us supper, she dropped us at a little house in the middle of a graveyard and into the care of a woman with a friendly face and dishwater-blonde hair. Clad in overalls, the woman urged us to trek outside and play. She assured us that she and her siblings grew up in this cemetery. Their favorite games had been hide-and-seek and tag.  We did the same thing in our apartment playground, right?

Go out in the graveyard to play, little girl…The ghosts won’t hurt you!

With a gentle nudge, she pushed us off the front porch onto the cemetery grounds. I remember how sinister the headstones looked in the dark, shaped like smoky ghosts anxious to play, anxious to scare the shit out of a couple of kids. Maybe we attempted to play, but the black space in my memory leads me to believe we probably crouched behind the house, shivered and piddled in our pants, as we counted down the minutes until she allowed us back inside the safe, cozy house. Once  inside, I remember falling asleep on the couch, eyes glued to the picture window hoping for the flash of my mother’s headlights. We were silent on the drive home.  What Mom mistook for natural end-of-day sleepiness, was actually the result of living in fear for hours. Terror wore us out.

th-1The effect of that cemetery never left me. It whispered to me in my nightmares, it colored my imagination in reds and grays. Like coming upon a grisly accident, I found I couldn’t look away from a cemetery, and, in fact, was drawn to them. Maybe it was a lame quest to conquer a phobia, but I became obsessed with finding cemeteries and walking through them. One night I had a nightmare which would eventually become my first novel, Four Rubbings. The dream flickered to life like a movie, four teens visit an old Seattle cemetery to create tombstone rubbings on Halloween night. They hope to make a connection with the people buried beneath the tombstones. They get more than they expect, when the four graves lead them to uncover mysteries, mysteries that need to be unraveled to bring peace to the dead. 


The author's trusty hound, Cooper.  He knows  where all the bones are buried.

The author’s trusty hound, Cooper. He knows where all the bones are buried.

I knew that the four graves my characters rubbed needed to be based in reality, so I researched, traveled and visited forty plus graveyards across the west coast. My daughters spent two summer vacations exploring cemeteries with me. Yes, there will be therapy bills, but in the meantime, they’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and serenity of these places. They’ve become curious about the people buried within the graves, and wondered about their stories, just like me. We found the graves that the teens rub in Four Rubbings, and so much more. Even now, as we travel, our journeys always lead us to new boneyards, new discoveries and fresh questions.

For us, Memorial Day is something we celebrate everyday, taking time to remember those that have come before us, lived, tried their best and passed away. They were important. And as long as we take the time to touch their tombstones and speak their names, they continue to live. And that is a good thing.”

Jana Cover

On sale on Amazon


Jenn’s Website:
Twitter:  @fourrubbings



Loving Power – Meet John Wood


John’s buddy

Continuing with the theme of writers and their pets, I’m pleased to introduce John Thomas Wood, an essayist and novelist who doesn’t own a gorilla but for some reason identifies with gorillas.


John Thomas Wood – check out his website at

John’s most recent book, BE STRONG: BE SMART, A Father Talks to His Daughter about Sex deals with the delicate subject of how fathers talk to their daughters about sex and how that talk affects their later life.   I  never spoke with my father about sex, in fact I never even caught him in his boxer shorts so I consider this a very important book and will buy it for my daughter and son-in-law.


(they’re going to need it with  this little firecracker!)

Here are some reviews:

“The book is an amazingly straight forward frank discussion with his readers (and his daughter) bstrong13about sexual health.” 

“Not having had many frank discussions around sex growing up, I am afraid I stumbled a bit when talking to my children about sex. I wish I had had the opportunity to share this with my daughter at a young age.”

But instead of listening to me blab on about how great his writing is, here is a sample from one his essays.

Understand that everything is a work in progress.

That is just another way, maybe, of stating Darwin’s statement about evolution, but he was not thinking about relationships, work teams, organizations or politics. I am.

I think a lot about love and power. I write about them and I have recently – at this latter stage in my life – rediscovered the fact, the idea, that love is a work in progress.

Maybe you think it’s foolish to have believed anything else, to believe that love, once put in place, would stay there. If you worked hard to plan and build a house on a piece of land, you expected the house to stay there. Well, maybe not forever, but you get the idea.

But love is not like a house on a lot. If you think of all the metaphors that have been composed about love, not many of them are static. Love is not a rock. Love is not the sky. Love is not the Lincoln Memorial.

Like it or not, love is alive. Love is more like a river or a primrose. It is born, it changes and it dies. How could it be different? Everything is the universe has a cycle, even the universe itself. It has a big bang, it shrinks, it grows and, sooner or later, it implodes.

At this point you may think the subtext is discouraging: Don’t expect too much, don’t expect love to last. Maybe. Expectations are hard to manage and maybe your love will last all of your life and maybe not. My message, today, is best said by someone I have admired for a long time:

be of love(a little)

More careful

Than of everything…

Cummings wrote that and Sister Corita Kent plastered it on a poster and I have read it and re-read it for fifty years.

Love does need nurturing. It needs attention, tending to, fertilizing, honoring, repotted and guided to change. It certainly is admirable when you can do this to and with another person, but I am focused on doing these things to love itself – the way you love and the love that in that space between you and another person. That process needs care.

It’s very possible that love can die prematurely, for a hundred different reasons: neglect, strangulation, abuse, imbalance—you know the reasons, you know the feeling when that space between you is polluted, muddy and tense.

One of the saddest things about our education is we don’t have any training in love. We seem to learn by osmosis, by watching our parents, by meeting someone who knows a way of loving we don’t or — most of us – by trial and error.

From the chair I sit in today, love is still a little mysterious. There are still doors to be opened and things in the corners that need a light shined on them. Love is still a work in progress, a long trip that is often exciting and frequently boring. Sometimes there’s a rest stop, sometimes a dinosaur museum, a beautiful sunrise and an afternoon of singing along with the radio.

Love requires change. It needs a balance between growing on its own and being tended. What I wish for you and me is that we have the opportunity to practice this ongoing, sometimes elusive, often sacred space between ourselves and another person.

What else is there?

John Thomas Wood

Meet Duke Miller

Below is my original introduction to Duke Miller, a writer who earlier this year re-released a truly unforgettable collection of stories based on the years he spent working as an aid worker. The new edition contains sections from his other publication: Handbook for the Hopeless and is available for sale on Amazon.


Duke Miller with Missa Him (I’ve been told not to ask about the name) the dog who saved him when he fell off the cliff and got inspired to write LADWD.

Now readers, I did not sneak into his boudoir to get this shot.  This is honest-to-God the picture Duke Miller sent me for this post which, since the title of his book includes “dog,”  is supposed to prove that he actually does live with dogs – or at least sleep with them.

I met Duke in the author chat room on Booktrope’s  (our publisher’s) internal web site in October 2013.  It was a pretty dull place until he showed up.  Nothing but tips on how to market your book, or meet and greets with other authors. He was so honest, so hilarious, so original I just had to check out his book on Wattpad.

WOW. He blew me away.  So much so that I wrote a blurb for the back cover of his first edition, along with several other authors.

HR Backcover JPEG image

Here’s what I wrote: “If John Lennon had been an aid worker in the dark places of the world, this is the book he would have written.  Duke Miller has the same brutal poet’s soul, which, combined with a dry wit and illuminating vision, should make this book an instant classic.”

But instead of going on my word, read his words for yourself.  From the Prologue to LIVING AND DYING WITH DOGS.

“As I lay there, the rocks were grinding me into dust and then the title and voice of this book came to me. They were competing with my need to die properly at the base of the cliff, but I didn’t die. I crawled back up telling myself that I could make it as my dogs flew around me with dog capes fluttering in the air. I started writing in my mind that night in the hospital: blood for ink, air for pages, past for honesty. “Living and Dying with Dogs” is not a novel or a collection of short stories. It’s a lack of character study; a kind of long , sad poem written in constantly updating akashic sentences that have evolved into skins or life maps that hang in the closet of my heart. It’s about how I die. Paint by the numbers and with each pigment, you add what I was and what I am and maybe what I hope to be. The images are the people I left behind. I don’t want to take them with me into oblivion at the bottom of some new cliff just ahead. You take these emotions , these characters. If you don’t mind, let them loiter in your heart for a few days or longer. Most of them had a pretty rough time. They’d like that.


Duke with his first friend in Guanajuanto, a hotel owner and spaceship designer. Although a mad genius and plastic artist, he is also a force for good – fighting street gangs and sometimes winning.

The voice you will be hearing bets on the dying, fiddles with autofellatio, smokes opium, takes amphetamines, brushes against pedophilia, leaves people for dead , drinks too much, says things he shouldn’t, aborts babies, disappoints lovers, kicks the dying, weeps uncontrollably , causes his tortured lover to go to jail, can’t sleep, lies, and looks upon orgasms as a sort of Sasquatch of the lower realms. But other than that, he’s a good guy and if you could sit with him over a beer or a joint , you’d probably like him. Think of him as a prehistoric creature, swishing his tail across the yellow grass of a savanna; oblivious to the world around him, but rising up like a primordial freeway sign pointing the way towards the unfinished off ramp. Which raises the ancient questions of this poem: Can a person care and not care at the same time? Why do good people do bad things? Why do bad people do good things?”

From Jan: Since I originally posted this “interview” back in 2013, I’ve come to even further appreciate Miller’s work which you can read more of at TinHatsblog. Or on this site under Snippets. 

Cloud Forests and Capybaras Part 2


Love this picture of Cinda getting chummy with the dolphins!

Today I’m posting the second half of my interview with Cinda MacKinnon, the author of A PLACE IN THE WORLD.  During the first part of the interview we talked about the wonders of Colombia, the setting of her book and then we switched gears to talk more about her.

JT: When you finally settled in the U.S., what rocked your world?

CCM: I don’t know if it really rocked my world but I rediscovered libraries!  In Bogota every time one of my friends would get a new book in English, we’d all pass it around like it was the greatest thing in the world. It didn’t matter if it was pulp fiction – it was a book!

Books, books!  We all love books!

Books, books! A much better obsession that TV!

CCM:  I”m embarrassed to admit I also discovered cable television. We had a TV in Colombia but only watched it once a week, when the I Love Lucy show was on.

My husband was appalled!  But in the U.S. people talk about all the shows they watched growing up like Leave it to Beaver, which I’d never seen so, of course, I had no point of reference. That whole part of the American culture was alien to me.

JT: And did you also go bonkers over McDonalds’ burgers?

CCM (chuckling)  Did I ever tell you about the McDonalds’ connection?

JT:  No what’s that?

This innocent looking sandwich is destroying the rain forests!

This innocent looking sandwich is destroying the rain forests!

CCM:  Well, one of the reasons the rain forests are disappearing is to feed America’s love affair with hamburgers.  Costa Rica lost, I forgot the percentage but I can look it up for you, a lot more of their rain forests than Colombia and the reason was cattle ranching.

JT: So to save the rain forests we should eat fewer hamburgers?

CCM (chuckling): Costa Rica is trying to promote eco-tourism which should help (although it encourages more trampling on sensitive plants so…) And then there’s reforestation, however, what regrows is not always the same as what had been there before – the plants, well, they’re just not the same. It’s kind of a double-edged sword but better than nothing.( Click here to learn more about what is being done to save the rain forests)

JT: Your novel is set in the late 1900s. Is there any particular reason you chose that time period?

Long swinging bridge.

Long swinging bridge.

CCM:  It was the peak of bad news for Colombia – you had the drug cartels, the guerrillas, the coffee fincas being taken over for cocaine…I should clarify, most cocaine is not grown in Colombia just processed there.

JT: You told me you considered killing off your protagonist (Alicia).  Why?

CCM: During the ’70s and ’80s it wasn’t uncommon for people to simply disappear in Colombia.  I knew people who were driven off their land and some even lost their lives.  It just seemed a likely thing.

JT:  You recently returned from a trip to Columbia, how was it different from the Colombia of your teen years? Did you still fear for your life?


Town consumed by city.

CCM:  The embassy is, of course, telling people not to travel to certain areas (embassy personnel are not even allowed to travel by bus!) however, my friend travelled all over without having any problems at all.

There are certain foods you may want to avoid.  In Bogota or inland areas avoid fish – except trout.  I ordered  bass and it came head and tail intact, fried to a dried-out crisp.  Stick with trout, chicken or beef- they are big on beef.  Fish is good in coastal areas of course.  My favorite dish is ajaico


Check out for more delicious Colombian recipes.

chicken stew with potatoes, corn, capers, herbs and avocado.  Also be sure to try arepas, corn cakes, and

empanandas, sort of meat fritters, while in Colombia – and I love the platano, plantain, and yuca.   By the way, the water is safe in Bogota – but not rural areas.

JT:  Last but not least, how was your experience publishing your first novel?  Any words to the wise to debut novelists?

CCM:  That’s a huge topic – I could write a book!

And now blog followers, as promised, one last picture of Gaston, the most wonderful dog in the world.

GAston pensive_0960ps

Cloud Forests and Capybaras

front cover finalThe other day I interviewed Cinda MacKinnon, author of A PLACE IN THE WORLD, the passionate story of a young biologist struggling for survival in the cloud forests of Colombia during a very turbulent time.  On her blog she explores Colombian culture and the rain forests in addition to inviting fellow ex-pats to share their experiences – fascinating stuff!  Aside from being an author, Cinda is an environmental scientist who holds an MA in geology.  More importantly she’s the owner of the world’s most wonderful dog, Gaston.  Baby Gaston (2)

I’ve known Cinda for many years and during that time she’s refused to age, still lovely as the proverbial breath of fresh air and just as delightful.   I’ve never seen that lady in a bad mood. Wait a minute.  What’s up with that?  Writers are supposed to be moody and often depressed.  Not to worry, loyal readers, I’ll definitely delve deeply into this deviance from the writerly norm ; )

We decided to use the interview as an excuse to have lunch together at Siam Orchard, a popular Thai place across the street from the library in downtown Orinda.  After getting our orders, Cinda dove right into what inspired her to write A PLACE IN THE WORLD.


Ginger Salad – yummy! 

CM: I grew up without a place where I felt I really belonged.  My father was in the foreign service and we moved a lot but spent most of our time in Latin America.  So, I know what it’s like feeling stateless. That’s why once my heroine found a place she loved she insisted on staying there, despite the difficulties, and making it her home.

JT: A PLACE IN THE WORLD is set in the cloud forests of Colombia near where you lived as a child.  To me, cloud forest suggests elves, fairies and talking trees. What sort of enchanted beings or plants would one expect to find in a cloud forest?

CC (chuckling):  Well, let’s see – no elves or fairies that I’ve seen!  But there are jaguars, capybaras and quetzals.  The jaguar are beautiful animals, frightening but magical in their own way and the capybaras are unique because, well, I don’t  think they live anywhere but in South American.

JT: What is a capy…?  (JT stumbles with the pronunciation)

CM: Bara?  It’s the world’s largest rodent. They sort of look like oversized chipmunks.

(Click here to check out a hysterical video of a singing capybara.  A giant rodent singing opera? That’s definitely magical.)

JT:  And the…

CM: The quetzal?  It’s the most fascinating bird in the world.  It has iridescent emerald feathers, a red breast and tail feathers this long (Cinda indicates an arms-length.) The Mayans used to collect its feathers believing they had magical powers.

"Just a gorgeous bird"

The Quetzal “Just a gorgeous bird”

(Note from JT.  After seeing a picture of one, I have to agree.  Look at those tail feathers!)

JT: How about legends and myths?

CM: The myth of El Dorado (the Golden One) comes from Colombia.

JT: Oh really?

CM (nodding yes): Many, many years ago, before the Spaniards arrived, there lived an Indian ruler (El Dorado) who – as a part of an annual ritual – covered himself in gold dust and then the Indians took him on a raft to the middle of a lake and threw him in … well not threw him in.  He got in the water and washed the gold dust off. His followers then threw gold and other offerings into the “sacred” lake. When that gold was discovered years later it prompted the legend. (JT: For more about El Dorado click here.)

Then there’s the legend of Salto Del Tequendama, a beautiful 550-foot waterfall near Bogota with a tragic history.  During the Spanish conquest many of the indigenous people thought the only way to escape being made a slave was to throw themselves from the top of the falls. The legend was that halfway down they’d magically transform into an eagle and thus could fly away to freedom. Sad.

(From JT: For more about  Salto Del Tequendama and its Haunted Hotel, check this out:  It’s fascinating and on my bucket list.)

 Ok peeps – that’s all for today.  I’m tired of transcribing.  Next time, Cinda discusses what bewitched her upon returning to the states (even though it mortified her husband), the hamburger’s sinister connection to the rain forests,  and why you may want to re-think ordering fish in Colombia.
Stay tuned!