Jun 19 2012


Published by under Interviews

This week, my special guest is Stuart Ross McCallum, author of Beyond My Control: One Man’s Struggle with Epilepsy, Seizure Surgery & Beyond, an honest, easy-to-read, and compelling account of his struggle with temporal lobe epilepsy.

Thanks for being my guest today! Please, tell the cool peeps about yourself.

Thank you for inviting me today, Molly. It is a delight to be here on my favourite character blog. I am married to the most awesome girl in the universe (Lisa; my wife will be reading this) with two wonderful kids and a couple of fine furry pooches. (Just kidding about Lisa, she is truly the love of my life!) ☺

Your memoir, BEYOND MY CONTROL: One Man’s Struggle with Epilepsy, Seizure Surgery & Beyond is a very personal story and couldn’t have been easy to tell. What made you decide to make your story public and write a book?

It is an extremely personal story and (truth be known) during the final editing stages, there were divisions within the book that I considered removing, as many passages, which were described in detail are deeply shameful, embarrassing, and frightening experiences. However, by relaying the story exactly the way things happened is what makes Beyond my Control a very real account of living with epilepsy. There are several reasons why I believed my story should be told. I hoped by sharing my experiences written in a manner, which is not geared exclusively towards the medical community would create greater awareness. The many books I have read about epilepsy are heavy and overly clinical, and I believed there was a need for a human story that people with and without epilepsy could relate to. After all, as people we all share experiences, which are beyond our control.

Did you have thoughts about how the book would be received? Were there any surprises along the way?

To be perfectly honest I had absolutely no idea how well my book would be received. My only aspiration was that it would be read and people would find it an enjoyable and an educational book. Not too heavy as there is no shortage of humour throughout. The feedback I have received from people is humbling indeed. One particular occasion was receiving a thank you email from a lady, who had just finished reading my book. She suffered many similar, ultimately bizarre experiences that I did, and believed she was slowly going insane. My story reassured her that she wasn’t losing her mind, and she couldn’t thank me enough. We have been good friends ever since.

I was deeply honoured when the world’s leading online resource for epilepsy chose my book (out of the many written on the subject) as their first book to review. It is a thousand words in-depth review, so I will just share a small part with you here. To quote: Robert S. Fisher, M.D., Ph.D. Director Stanford Epilepsy Centre.

Beyond My Control, Mr. McCallum puts the bewilderment, frustration, fear and anger surrounding having seizures into language that everyone can understand. When he says things like “I felt like a walking time bomb; always thinking, when is it going to explode?” he makes epilepsy real and not an abstract medical disorder. For people with epilepsy and their families, reading the book may help to decrease the sense of isolation brought on by a chronic medical illness. But epilepsy affects many people differently. Some with epilepsy will observe that they do not become violent after a seizure, do not always have an aura to warn of an oncoming seizure, or do not have seizures like the ones described in the book. Some who take the journey through epilepsy surgery sadly will have ongoing seizures or complications of surgery. Therefore, the book is not a compendium of what someone with epilepsy should expect for themselves. It is one person’s story, an example of how epilepsy can be faced with courage. The tale is told with sensitivity, humour and honesty. It is a strongly recommended read for people with epilepsy and those who care about them.

I know you have a great interest in the genetic side of epilepsy, yet you didn’t discuss it in the book. Can you tell us a bit about it here?

I would love to shed some light on the genetic side of epilepsy. Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) was once considered an acquired form of epilepsy and wasn’t listed among the presumably hereditary. Our daughter, Lucy, had her first seizure at the tender age of twelve-months. Lisa and I both thought that there must be a link to my condition; surely, it couldn’t be just a coincidence. A few years later our family was asked if we would like to take part in a study looking into the possibility that (TLE) could be inherited. After extensive testing here in, Melbourne, a gene was detected in our family and a family in America. Since the discovery, many families have shown to carry the gene. Interestingly, my father carried the gene yet never had a seizure in his life. Being a carrier doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up having full-blown epilepsy, it will raise its ugly head in some people and not others. Which doesn’t surprise me as epilepsy is an insidious condition which often strikes without warning.

What do you think people most misunderstand about epilepsy?

Epilepsy has been shrouded by myths and misunderstanding for centuries. The lack of awareness and understanding has allowed many of these myths to flourish in some communities. To name just a few: Epilepsy is contagious. People with epilepsy are disabled and unable to work. You can swallow your tongue while having a seizure, which is physically impossible. Epilepsy is a form of mental illness, and the list goes on…. Even today many sufferers are afraid to speak out about epilepsy in fear of ridicule or rejection. I must add, all over the world there are many organizations and epilepsy advocates working diligently to dispel these, and many more myths. It will take time to educate people and remove the stigma which has been unfairly attached to people with epilepsy for centuries. However, today, we are much better equipped with the advances in technology (social media) to spread awareness than ever before.

How has your life changed since publishing Beyond My Control? What kind of impact has social media made?

My life has changed remarkably since publishing my story. Before I put pen to paper (literally) I did write Beyond my Control by pen; many pens and reams of paper! I have become much more aware of the challenges people face with epilepsy and an array of adversities that affect human beings today.

Social media has played a huge role, and through the various online networks, I have connected with some of the most genuine, talented, and sincere people I have ever known, many of whom will become lifelong friends. Late last year Lisa and I had the opportunity to visit America and meet up with some of our online friends. We had the time of our lives as the people we met were even more fascinating and wonderful in person.

While we’re on the subject, I’m always fascinated by the way people use (and misuse) social media. What have been your observations on the social media beast?

Perfect analogy, Molly, social media can be a beast at times. I am active on Twitter and Facebook, and I have found (personally) Twitter to be the most beneficial way to reach new readers. However, I do have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. I love the camaraderie I have with like-minded people genuinely wanting the best for each other. Never expecting anything in return, I take pleasure in sharing tweets which I find interesting, informational, and beneficial for a good person or organization. I am a strong supporter of other writers (indie and mainstream published) who I like as a person. I enjoy shouting out about great books which I have read, or definitely plan to read. This leads me into something I truly loathe; the all-about-me people on Twitter. And disappointingly, there are countless writers in this group. They are under the illusion that Twitter is the place to – constantly – shout out about their own work and precious little else. A pet hate of mine is people I follow back who immediately send me a direct message with a link attached to purchase their product. This annoying behaviour prompted me to add a motto to my bio: e-converse before e-commerce! Thankfully, the vast majority of people have grasped the communal side of social networking. And I do find my time spent networking most enjoyable.

What are your plans for the future?

My future, now that is a loaded question, as I have found that happenings in my life have often created pathways into new areas of interest. I can foresee that I will continue being an advocate for epilepsy awareness. It is immensely rewarding knowing that you are able to assist people who are going through a very difficult time in their lives. Writing will always be a part of my life; and I hope to write more books on a variety of topics. I would also like to try my hand at writing fiction.

Can you share with us your feelings about the ever-evolving publishing landscape. What are the pros and cons? Any predictions?

The publishing industry has changed dramatically since I published Beyond my Control. Interestingly, everyone I speak to seem to have an opinion on the way publishing is heading, and I suppose I am no different. We have entered a new publishing era, and I predict electronic books will continue to increase their market share, opening doors to unknown writers worldwide. Readers (like me) are embracing this new technology, as books have become more affordable and accessible than ever before. I don’t believe printed books will at any time be phased out entirely; however, their competition is fierce. I grew up reading printed books and I will always buy the printed edition written by my favourite authors.

I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?

Yes. I agree. As human beings we are all a little quirky and picky about something. Mine would have to be clothing. I love wearing quality clothes and shoes. I often browse through thrift shops and pick up amazing bargains. Admittedly, I have a ridiculous number of suit jackets, which I periodically donate to a worthy cause. I look at it as a form of recycling. ☺

What do you hope to know in five years that you don’t know now?

Great question, Molly. As scientific research and development into finding a cure for epilepsy is happening daily, I (among millions of others) would love nothing more than to hear a cure has been found for this insidious neurological disorder.

What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago?

Finally, I can now type quicker than write. I would – never – consider using multiple pens and paper for my next book! ☺

Where can people find you in cyberspace?

I have embraced cyberspace with gusto, and I am practically everywhere online. I can often be found mooching about on facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. ☺


Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs?

Thanks again for inviting me here today, Molly, I have had a delightful time. I would also like to thank all the wonderful people I have met online and readers (with and without epilepsy) who have appreciated my story.

Amazon U.S.

Amazon U.K.


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Jun 12 2012


Published by under Interviews

This week, I’m interviewing a very special guest. Sheri A. Wilkinson, who has graciously accepted my offer to share her battle with Crohn’s disease with my readers, in hopes of raising consciousness, educating people, and allowing us to get a glimpse into her world. Sheri is one of the coolest peeps I know — a ninja warrior with a big heart, a fighting spirit, and a love for her family and friends that knows no bounds. (Sheri has kindly updated us on her life since the original publication of this blog in 2012. You can find that update at the end of this interview.)

Hey, Sheri. Thanks so much for being my very special guest this week. Please, tell the cool peeps about yourself.

I am originally from Chicago, born and raised until 1998 when I moved out to rural Illinois. I am happily married; I have two daughters, five stepdaughters, four grandsons and two granddaughters. My family is my whole world. I am also a Crohn’s warrior, avid reader and animal lover.

I’m very honored that you’ve chosen to talk to us about Crohn’s Disease (CD) and your personal battle with it. It is important for everyone to understand that you are here as a person battling CD, not as a doctor or medical authority, and that your responses are based on your personal experience and knowledge only.

Yes, thank you for stating that. I always let everyone know I am not a physician and even though I feel an expert on the subject, any questions or doubt on what I say should be discussed with your doctor. If this interview can help one person, I would feel as if I made a contribution to society. So many people suffer in silence and embarrassment when they don’t have to.

Most people have heard of CD but many do not understand exactly what it is. Can you explain?

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.

The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue. Like ulcerative colitis, another common IBD, Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications. Sadly there is no cure for CD, my dream is to one day wake and find there is a magic pill/drug to cure this disease.

What are the causes of CD? Who gets it? Why?

The exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown. Previously, diet and stress were suspected, but now doctors know that although these factors may aggravate existing Crohn’s disease, they don’t cause it. Now, researchers believe that a number of factors, such as heredity and a malfunctioning immune system play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease. My doctors believe I was born with a deformation in my transverse colon (upper part of small intestines).

Why people get it is still not know, Some researchers suggest that people living in large metropolitan areas are more susceptible, but this has not been documented to my knowledge, as fact. As I mentioned, I am from Chicago, a large area, so my personal belief is that this could be true.

What are the symptoms of CD?

Inflammation: In some people, just the small intestine is affected. In others, it’s confined to the colon (part of the large intestine). Inflammation may be confined to the bowel wall, which can lead to scarring (stenosis), or inflammation may spread through the bowel wall causing a (fistula).

Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease can range from mild to severe and may develop gradually or come on suddenly, without warning. Some of the symptoms are:

Abdominal pain and cramping. (In serious cases, the pain may be severe and include nausea and vomiting.)
Blood in the stool.
Ulcers (As well as ulcers in the mouth similar to canker sores.)
Reduced appetite and weight loss.
People with severe Crohn’s disease, like me, have also experienced:
fever, fatigue, arthritis, eye inflammation, mouth sores, skin disorders.

How is CD diagnosed? Is CD often mistaken for something else?

When CD cannot be diagnosed it is often just classified as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or in my case stress and anxiety. And I must tell you having this does cause stress and anxiety!

Some of the tests to diagnose CD are:

Blood Tests, fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance Imaging, capsule endoscopy, double balloon endoscopy, small bowel Imaging, barium enema.

I have had all of the above except the capsule, and though these tests are not pleasant, I feel it is necessary to get a correct diagnosis and to ease suffering faster. The final test that gave me a definite diagnosis was a biopsy; that was when I knew I officially had Crohn’s Disease. It was a bit frightening and depressing knowing there is no cure and what lies ahead for me.

Are there certain risk factors?

Yes here are some risk factors for Crohn’s:

Age. Crohn’s disease can occur at any age, Most people who develop Crohn’s disease are diagnosed before they’re 30 years old.

I was in my mid 40s when finally diagnoses and was told I had probably had it for over 20 years due to all the damage and scarring to my intestinal tract. I went through so many tests and medications and was told it must be stress. I am happy to say I finally found the right doctors, and am glad times have changed. My life would have been much more painless if I had found out, say 20 years ago.

Ethnicity is another factor. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can affect any ethnic group. People of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent have an even higher risk.

Family history and cigarette smoking is also a risk. Smoking is so dangerous in many, many ways. I highly suggest that you smokers quit. Being a former smoker, smoke-free for three years now, I just had to throw that in!

What complications can arise from CD?

Crohn’s disease may lead to many complications. Some are:

Bowel obstruction.
Ulcers. (They can occur anywhere in your digestive tract, including your mouth and anus, and in the genital area and anus.)
Fistulas. (They can be life-threatening if left untreated.)
Anal fissure.
Colon cancer. (Having Crohn’s disease that affects your colon increases your risk of colon cancer.)

How is CD treated?

Anti-inflammatory drugs are often the first step in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Some are Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) Mesalamine (Asacol, Rowasa). Corticosteroids.

If those fail then we move on to immunosuppressant drugs some are
Azathioprine (Imuran) and mercaptopurine (Purinethol). These are the most widely used immunosuppressants for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

Infliximab (Remicade). This drug is for adults and children with moderate to severe Crohn’s disease. It’s also used after other drugs have failed.

Adalimumab (Humira). This drug may cause remission, and is used when Infliximab has failed.
Certolizumab pegol (Cimzia)
Methotrexate (Rheumatrex).
Cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
Natalizumab (Tysabri).

Frequently prescribed is Metronidazole (Flagyl). Ciprofloxacin (Cipro).

There are other medications to ease symptoms including:

Anti-diarrheals. Laxatives. Pain relievers. Iron supplements. Vitamin B-12 shots. Calcium and vitamin D supplements.

And the last resort is surgery. I am not sure of the percentage, but most people with CD will have at least one surgery in their lifetime.

What are some common misconceptions about people with CD? What are your personal pet peeves?

I feel the most common misconception that people have is, “you are just not eating right,” “it’s all in your head,” and it is “just stress.” Although stress does bring on “flares,” it is not the cause of CD. My biggest pet peeve is my weight (Isn’t that a touchy subject for most women? LOL).

As I have stated, the most common sign is diarrhea and most people with CD are thin (It is kind of hard to maintain weight with all that is going on in our digestive tracts). Plus we just do not like to talk about this. I cannot tell you how many times I have cried over the insensitive remarks people have made over my weight. I am a tiny woman to start, but before my surgery, I was so ill, malnourished, and underweight that I just stayed in my house to avoid whispers, stares and rude comments. If I had a dime for every time someone asked me if I was anorexic, I would be a millionaire!

I do not like when a complete stranger comes up to me and asks me if I am anorexic, how much do I weigh, and the dreaded, “My dear don’t you ever eat? You need some meat on your bones.” **eye roll** Can you see me rolling my eyes, Molly?

What can people do to raise awareness for CD and to understand more about the disease?

For one, The CCFA (Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America) CCFA.org has a lot of helpful info and ways people can help to (fund) research to find a cure. They also have so much information on Crohn’s Disease.

I also found support groups for IBD, since most people just do not understand us (people) with CD. And the main thing I feel is, if you know someone with CD ask questions!

We (at least I don’t) mind answering questions. I just wish more people understood what we go through daily. Having to plan trips around injections, making sure I know were a restroom is AT ALL TIMES, not eating the night before so I won’t have any “accidents” along the way. Just going to the grocery store or to the theatre can be a stressful event for me.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about CD that I haven’t asked you?

There are just a few things I would like to mention.

CD is not contagious; it is not easily recognizable, (unless we lift our shirts and show off our scars), and often we do not look sick.

Also, CD can be found anywhere in the body (although most common in the digestive tract). I have it in my intestines, stomach, esophagus, throat and mouth. Right now my gallbladder is being watched for signs of possible granulomas. But I will face that battle when the time comes. My friends know I have a great sense of humor and I call myself the CD ninja warrior.

It has taken over 20 years and many misdiagnoses before I finally was diagnosed with both CD and UC (Ulcerative Colitis). I have had a Right Hemicolectomy (also known as a bowel resection) along with my appendix removed.

You are a vociferous reader and friend to many authors. Please, tell us about your love for reading.

I have had a love for reading for as long as I can remember; I will read just about anything I can get my hands on! I have just recently entered the electronic world and yes, I caved and got a Kindle. I now have almost 200 books downloaded, but my love will always be a hardcover book. And, Molly, since your blog, I have to admit my TBR pile is rapidly growing! I have to admit if it were not for my books, I would not have made it through my recovery and all the horrid tests I endured.

Who are the special people in your life you’d like to brag about?

There are too many to mention, all my friends and family are special to me in their own way. Molly, you, of course, are my favorite.

But I have to say number one is my husband Lewis, he has been my rock and been with me through all my “health Issues.” He has seen me at my best and at my worst. He is my strongest support and I could not have faced all of this without him.

Also my daughter Lizz, she is a remarkable young lady who is wise beyond her years. She is my “mini-me” and a tremendous helper. She is always there to help me in any way she can. Whether it be helping with housework, making my meals, and just sitting and reading with me or telling me about her day when I am at my physical worst.

And I could not end this without the mention of my wonderful doctors who have (literally) saved my life twice in 2011. Dr. Gregg Davis (my PCP), Dr. Jae Kim (my G/I) you are the man! And finally Dr. Mark Williams (my surgeon) who endured many humorous encounters with me, not knowing I was joking…seriously Doc do I look like I had breast implants!? Inside joke. LOL! I just have to make sure they read this interview.

All joking aside I would not be here today if it were not for these remarkable, wonderful, knowledgeable and awesome physicians/surgeons.

Social media, that ever-evolving beast, has changed the way we do everything. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I love the chance at meeting new people, I have meet a few wonderful people online, namely one Ms. Lisette Brodey ☺! If I named everyone else, this interview would never end, but you all know who you are.

The bad part of social media is that private parts of my life (that I do not want made public) always manage to become public knowledge. Seems in this modern world we are losing our privacy, the price we pay to interact online.

I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?

Cleanliness. I cannot stand clutter, dirt or disarray. Dirty dishes in the sink has to be my biggest pet peeve! I am a neat freak and my house can never be too clean. Call me OCD Sheri. I don’t care. My house has to be clean at all times.

Where can people find you in cyberspace?




Any parting words for the masses?

As I always say: “Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.”
I may have Crohn’s, but Crohn’s does NOT have me. Peace.

MARCH 2014: AN UPDATE: by  Sheri A. Wilkinson

Thanks for having me back. A lot had changed since my surgery and this interview. Due to my wonderful doctors and medications I am finally in remission. My flares were minimal post surgery, they did not last long, nor were they intense. I have overcome some obstacles along the way. I have had problems with my HGB (Hemoglobin) and am now permanently anemic (Due to CD). I have had another blood and iron infusion. I will need to be monitored (through blood tests) for life. I also have lost 40% of my hearing in my right ear, and my vision is poor and I now need bifocals, due to the toxic medications I need to keep my CD under control. But this is just part of Crohn’s and I make the best of each day.

I still have to be careful around people. Since my immune system is weak, using Humira makes it worse. But to me it is my “miracle” drug. When I leave my house (especially during the cold and flu season) I have to wear a mask. I also have to sanitize my house with bleach and keep it as germ free as possible to avoid the risk of a serious illness. But I have always been a neat and organized person, so it is not a big deal to me to take extra precautions.

But all is not bad. I have good news as well. I have exceeded my weight goal! This to me (which may seem trivial to most), is my best news ever! Having Crohn’s makes it so hard to gain weight, like the average person. I am so thrilled to be able to wear adult clothes. I also love my new healthier weight. I no longer have people coming up to me (embarrassingly) asking how much I weigh, how much I eat etc. I can now enjoy food! Before due to all the pain and discomforts of Crohn’s eating was for survival, now eating is a pleasure.


I am adjusting well to my new life with Crohn’s and I still hope and pray for a cure some day. The CCFA (Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America) is a great organization that offers advice and raises money for research in hopes of one day eradicating this debilitating disease.

On a personal not I also gained a granddaughter, and another granddaughter due this July. I also lost both my parents, my father to liver disease and mother to cancer. My family is still the center of my universe. They all mean the world to me. Once again I have to give credit to my wonderful husband Lewis and My youngest daughter Elizabeth (Lizz). They help me when I am at my worst and deal with me when I feel like giving up. Yes they have seen the best and worst of me and they never give up on me.



My parting words, if you suspect something is wrong with your stomach/intestinal/digestive tract seek medical attention. Do not suffer in silence. Crohn’s is not a “designer disease.” Most people have heard of it but know little about it. You often cannot tell a person has it. Although the testing and procedure for a correct diagnosis are not pleasant, they can and will help you.

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Jun 05 2012


Published by under Interviews

Please join me this week in welcoming novelist Barbara Ellen Brink.

Great to have you as my guest this week, Barbara. Tell the cool peeps about yourself.

Thanks for the invite, Molly! I’ve lived in Minnesota for the past twenty-some years, but I grew up on the West coast where the deep freeze was actually an appliance and not the backyard. I have one husband, two adult children who don’t answer their cell phones, and two needy dogs who sleep by my desk and beg for almonds whenever they hear the snack drawer open.

I really enjoy a nice glass of wine and a good mystery. Something tells me I would love your Fredrickson winery novels. Can you tell us about them?

I came up with the idea for the winery novels when I was back visiting relatives in Washington State. What I remembered as desert or farmland had been turned into vineyards since the last time I was in that part of the country. Much like California, Washington now has a huge wine industry. I wondered what it would be like to run a place like that. The idea sort of fermented in my brain and I wrote Entangled.

My fictional Fredrickson winery is run by a native Minnesotan who inherited the place from her uncle. The first novel deals with repressed memories from Billie’s childhood and solving a twenty-year-old mystery. Billie Fredrickson is a bit sarcastic, much like her creator, and often uses humor to deal with rough situations. There is a little winemaking, a little romance, some family issues, and a lot of suspense to keep you turning pages.

Crushed continues the Fredrickson family saga with some new faces, an old enemy, and a kidnapping during harvest.

I have a third winery novel planned and hope to get it out by this fall.

You’ve written two Christian suspense novels. Please, tell us more about them.

Running Home and Alias Raven Black are both about women looking for a second chance in life. In Running Home, Ivy’s husband runs off with another woman and she soon finds out he’s been dealing with some very bad guys and is wanted by the FBI. Ivy moves back to her hometown to start over, but danger follows her when her husband leads everyone to believe she is hiding what he stole. It’s about second chances but also about finding the faith she’d lost along the way and learning to trust again.

Alias Raven Black follows bad girl Brenna from the last novel to working undercover for the FBI. Given the choice of prison time or playing nanny to the children of a mobster, she puts on her comfy shoes and settles in for the long haul. But conning a con man may be the death of her.

You wrote a thriller, Split Sense, that just won the 2011 Grace Award for speculative fiction. Wow, congratulations! Details, please!

Split Sense is one of those books that felt like it was almost writing itself. A few years ago I was watching a medical mysteries segment on the early news that talked about people with Synesthesia. People related how they taste words or see musical notes as colors, etc. I took that idea, twisted it around a bit and ran with it.

The Grace Award is partly reader driven, so it was exciting to know that people really connected with the characters and loved the story. Here’s a quote from the judges that will give you a little insight into SS:
“At the risk of sounding cliché, one awesome read! This speculative thriller is full of action, intrigue and a touch of science fiction. The plot twists and turns as we follow the lives of fraternal twins – a brother and sister, each of whom has an unexplainable, seemingly supernatural, ‘gift’. Adopted separately as infants, neither knows of the other’s existence until fate brings them together to combat a complex web of deceit and subterfuge that centers around a pharmaceutical company that has been conducting secret experiments on humans. Ms. Brink draws the reader in almost immediately and the surprises keep coming, right up to the very end.”

How much outlining do you do before you begin writing your books?

I usually have very little outlining done on paper. I have a basic storyline in my head and I write down some plot points right at first. I’m more of a write by the seat of your pants girl.

I meet a lot of crazy characters every day. Some are so freakin’ nutty you’d think a writer had made them up. How do you develop your characters? Do they ever surprise you by doing things you thought were “out of character?”

Sometimes I use bits and pieces of people I’ve known or met along the way. I’ve been asked if my mother is the model for Billie’s crazy mom in Entangled, but although she does say a few things that I’ve heard from my own mom, she isn’t really like her.

In Running Home, Brenna was a secondary character and I didn’t think she was that important to the storyline, but then wham! She decided to take over scene after scene. So I ended up giving her a book of her own.

What parts of writing a novel do you like the best? Which parts do you like least?

I especially like starting a new novel with that burst of inspiration from a bud of an idea. I get about a hundred pages in and suddenly hit a brick wall. This is called the middle. I like the middle least of all. But after struggling through the dead zone, I come out the other end and storm to the finish line.

What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?

Probably the same advice I was given. Write, write, and write some more. Start with short stories and work up from there. Although, I have to warn you that the middle just gets longer and longer.

I hear that you make a point to exercise so that you can eat chocolate while you’re writing! I love chocolate. So, tell me: milk chocolate or dark chocolate? Favorite filling?

In a desperate desire to fulfill my craving, most any chocolate will do. But my favorite is dark chocolate orange crèmes from Abdallah, a local Minnesota company.

I know that you and your husband love to ride motorcycles. Please, tell us about your weekend adventures on your Kawasaki Ninjas.

My husband had our whole family riding motorcycles about ten years ago. We took our teens and went dirtbike riding on the state forest trails. It was a lot of fun but my chiropractor was getting paid way more than I could make to keep up. Now we mostly ride our street bikes and take trips here and there. A couple years ago we rode out to the Black Hills and saw the president heads up close and personal. Last year we rode down through Missouri and saw why they call it the show-me state. Those people are bored silly down there. They’re begging for entertainment. That’s why you always see great videos of tornadoes from that area. They stay outside to watch! We actually saw guys parked along the highway, sitting in lawn chairs watching cars go by! This past weekend we rode about 250 miles just to break our backsides in so we’d be ready for a long trip in the near future. You can’t pack much on a motorcycle so you have to pack smart: clothes, raincoats, toothbrush, and a big bottle of Aspercreme for my husband to massage into my back at the end of a long day. I may be middle-aged but I can still take the corners fast.

The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?

Things are definitely changing. Self-pubbed books are now contending with traditional publishers and some are coming out on top. Either path is a hard road these days. Digital books have made reading cool again and I think a lot of younger people that weren’t reading are getting pulled back in by technology and then held there by great stories. Which is terrific for writers everywhere.

Social media, that ever-evolving beast, has changed the way we do everything. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I enjoy talking with people on Facebook and Twitter, etc. but it can definitely cut into my writing time. Apparently, my smart phone isn’t smart enough to write that next novel for me.

I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?

I’m picky about: my clothes, television programming, the hot dish selection at church potlucks, who can touch my Ninja, the books I read…

Where can people find you in cyberspace?

I can be found all over these days. My books are available in ebook and paperback at most online stores.

Author Website/blog
Amazon Author Page

Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs?

Hope everyone has a great summer and time to read lots of books!

For those who want a book that pairs well with a nice bottle of wine, Entangled is Free on Kindle until June 14th.

And please do go and check out Split Sense. Download the sample and get caught up in Zander and Emma’s story. You won’t be disappointed.

Thank you so much for having me today, Molly. I enjoyed our chat. Let me know if you’re ever in Minnesota and I’ll give you a ride on my Ninja!

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May 29 2012


Published by under Interviews

This week, my special guest is author RJ McDonnell. As you read on, you’ll see that RJ has a special gift for everyone who visits this blog between May 30, 2012 and June 1, 2012 — and an extra special gift if you’re reading this on May 30th!

Hey RJ! It’s great to have you as my guest this week. Please, introduce yourself to the cool peeps!

Thanks, Molly, my name is RJ McDonnell. I have the pleasure of traveling my own personal “road not taken” almost every day. In my early twenties I was certain I would be earning my living playing in a rock band. I moved from Pennsylvania to California to improve my chances of making that happen, but fate threw a speed bump into my path. A few months after I arrived in San Diego, my left wrist was shattered in a “friendly” game of football, and I wasn’t able to play for more than a few minutes at a time for almost 20 years. Fortunately, after a couple of short-term jobs, I was hired as a non-fiction writer, and eventually transitioned into fiction where I reconnected with my passion for music.

I read that you’re a proponent of “write what you know.” How did your background help to mold your Rock & Roll Mystery Series?

I’ve been a mystery reader since high school. Action packed, testosterone-fueled mystery/thrillers got me hooked on the genre. But just as television tends to take a winning formula and do it to death, I was getting the same feeling about my favorite genre at the time that I was developing the characters for my series. To break with the formula, I created a protagonist with a similar background to my own. Jason Duffy worked his way through college as a club musician, earning degrees in Psychology and Counseling, only to drop out of the profession after getting disillusioned by the political BS that takes precedence over what’s best for the clients. So far we’re on the same path. Where I opted for a career in music (and later, writing), Jason entered a variation of the family business by becoming a private investigator. While there is plenty of action in the series, Jason usually tries to use his words and humor to diffuse volatile situations before resorting to violence.

Your detective, Jason Duffy, was a mid-twenties, near-novice in Rock & Roll Homicide. Can you talk about his development?

The series starts one year after Jason opened his own agency. Rock & Roll Homicide is Jason’s first music industry referral, and first murder case. He’s clearly in over his head and uses every contact and resource available to try to keep a slain rock star’s widow out of jail. He even resorted to mending fences with his cantankerous retired police detective father for the sake of his client. In the second novel, Jason is forced to take a life for the first time. Not only does he lose his innocence, he also comes close to losing his girlfriend, Kelly, in the process. Rock & Roll Rip-Off is the darkest novel in the series. We see a significant upturn in Jason’s competence as a PI in The Concert Killer. He’s forced to work without the benefit of his father’s help on a case that could shut down the concert industry in America. In my latest, The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death (scheduled for a summer release), Jason has to deal with major family issues while helping his uncle discover who killed his best friend and band mate. Jason evolved from the role of child to parent over the course of the four novels.

Your detective employs two former clients from his two-year stint as an outpatient mental health counselor. Did you draw from your own experience in the field?

When I was in grad school I had two nine-month internships. One was at a maximum security prison and the other at an outpatient mental health center. I then worked for two years at a social service center. People tend to fear the unknown, and fear can turn into scorn, discrimination, and sometimes even abuse when it comes to the general public interacting with people experiencing mental health issues. Jason employs two former clients from his days as a counselor. They’re both very good at their jobs, but have eccentricities that add humor and tend to endear them to my readers. My goal is to take some of the unknown out of the equation.

I read that your father was a high-profile crimes detective. How did he influence your writing?

My father was a huge television crime drama fan. When the commercials rolled around he would tell me what was real and what was “Hollywood.” He handled a couple of cases that made the national press. One made the cover of True Detective Magazine, and another was the subject of A Justice Story, which ran as the two-page center of the Sunday New York Post for many years. Some of my readers think that Jason’s father, Jim, is based on my own father. I’d say he accounts for about 25% of the character profile. The rest is pure fiction. But, my father’s influence on getting me interested in crime fiction is unmistakable.

You add a fair amount of humor to your mystery series. Where does that come from?

It started in junior high. My first gig was lead writer for the class clowns. My mother was in charge of religious education at our church and my father wore a shoulder holster. Risking a low grade in comportment was not an option. But I was brimming with great ideas and had two friends who were more than willing to run with them. A few years later, after taking a non-fiction writing job, I found an outlet for my humor through an acquaintance who was about to produce a Saturday Night Live-type cable television show in San Diego. Thirty-four of my skits were aired over its two season run. When it came time to develop character sketches for my detective series, I built in an outlet for my humor during some of the lulls between action scenes. It’s unobtrusive enough to avoid aggravating my hardboiled readers, but offers enough fun moments to prompt several readers to tell me it’s their favorite part. When they do, my inner seventh grader beams.

Your detective has been getting serious with his girlfriend. Is he going to pop the question?

One of the things I love about writing a series is the ability to develop subplots from one novel to the next. I write the novels in a way that they can be read as stand-alones, but reading them in order offers the added bonus of watching the series characters and their relationships evolve. Centermost is Jason’s relationship with his father and his girlfriend, Kelly. The father/son relationship devolved from acrimonious to estranged when Jason graduated from high school. But through his mother’s machinations they began to mend fences in Rock & Roll Homicide. Dad is not good at keeping his opinions to himself, and caused a huge riff in Rock & Roll Rip-Off when he tried to manipulate Jason into proposing to Kelly. Sharing his father’s DNA, Jason reacted as expected, and much to Dad’s horror, they now “live in sin.” The new novel has a highly significant development in this area.

I understand the fourth book in your series is scheduled for a summer release. Any sneak peeks for the cool peeps?

Here’s the back cover description: San Diego PI, Jason Duffy, travels to Scranton, PA in January after his Uncle Patrick’s best friend is murdered. He learns that Patrick and the victim were members of a rock band that nearly made it to the national scene in the late 60s, and were about to play a reunion concert in their hometown when the murder occurred.

The investigation leads Jason back to an “almost anything goes” era that is exacting a huge price more than 40 years later. To mix & master this musical mystery, Jason fills in for the murdered guitarist and soon finds himself struggling to avoid filling in a cemetery plot.

Someone doesn’t want that reunion concert to happen and is willing to do anything to cancel it forever. The case teaches Jason how easy it is for all of us to fall victim to our assumptions. It’s a lesson that could exact a tuition that may never be paid back.

The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?

I have some wonderful relationships with readers and fellow writers as a result of being an indie author. That said, publishing is a business, and business has always been about money and power. Ebooks comprised 1% of book sales in 2007, 10% in 2009, and 50% in 2011. The money/power paradigm has shifted faster than a teenager who sat in poison ivy during a camping restroom break. This created an environment where virtually all of the fixed costs, such as paper, printing, shipping, and returns are out of the equation for e-tailers. Ebooks are decidedly more profitable, and indies capitalize a major price advantage that is having a big impact on the money/power dynamic. It’s comparable to when baseball first accepted free agency. The average player of yesteryear, who had to take part-time work in the off-season to get by, is a millionaire in today’s system. Of course for every major leaguer there are 10,000 wannabes who never make much more than minimum wage, and we’ll probably see similar ratios in indie publishing as well. For those with the writing talent and marketing resolve, it’s a tremendous opportunity.

Social media, that ever-evolving beast, has changed the way we do everything. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

Without a doubt, the best part involves the relationships that are formed with readers and fellow authors. Writing is a very solitary profession. I don’t have a water cooler. My kitchen is my lunchroom, and if I actually eat lunch away from my computer it’s usually with a network news anchor. Just like the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” social networking has taught me that I am not alone. The worst part of social media is the time that it takes to maintain an ever-expanding base of friendships and contacts.

I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?

As I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title of my series, I’m a huge music fan. Unfortunately, I’m so into it that it drives me to distraction when I’m working, so I work in a quiet office. When I finally have the opportunity to listen, I’m very picky about needing the music to accurately reflect (or change) my mood. As long as I control the sound system, I’m happy. But put me in a club with a room full of interesting people and a DJ who sucks, and I’m looking for the door. I wish all karaoke shows could have a Gong Show format. I appreciate you affording me your picky foible forum, Molly. I’m now carrying a lighter load.

Where can people find you in cyberspace?

Rock & Roll Homicide
Rock & Roll Rip-Off
The Concert Killer

Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs?
For the next three days (5/30 – 6/1) my 2010 Mystery/Thriller of the Year award winner Rock & Roll Rip-Off is being offered free on Kindle for the first time ever. This is the 2nd novel in the Rock & Roll Mystery Series and follow-up to Kindle #1 hit Rock & Roll Homicide.

As a special bonus for Molly Hacker readers, Rock & Roll Homicide is also available for free today (5/30) on Kindle. This is the only site where I will be announcing the availability of this title for one day only. If you take advantage of the freebies please take a moment to write a brief review at the bottom of each book’s Amazon page – even if it’s just two sentences. Thanks for taking the time to get to know me. I hope to catch up with you on Twitter and Facebook.

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