Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing Your Memoirs by Guest Blogger - Hawley Roddick

Author of Memoirs: Saving the Stories of Your Life and Work

Three Ways to Just Say No to Memoir-Writer’s Block

Did your grandparents write their memoirs? If they did, are you glad? If they didn’t, do you wish they had? Have you written your own memoir?

To write your memoir is to create a unique legacy—a lasting record of your life and of what you learned along the way. And when people you care about read your reminiscences, they journey with you as you try to make sense of your experiences. They even may become better able to make sense of their own lives.

Yet despite general agreement that memoirs are blessings, people find scores of reasons not to write their own. If you’re in that particular crowd, take heart. Here are some ideas to diminish or demolish blocks (excuses) that separate wishful thinkers from the journey of a lifetime: writing a memoir.

Excuse 1: My life isn’t interesting enough to write about.

As Mark Twain said, there is no such thing as an uninteresting life.
Each life is, after all, not just the events that outsiders observe but also the inner experiences of the person looking out through the eyes that others look into. No two people (not even identical twins) experience events in exactly the same way. Childbirth is, for example, commonplace. Yet each birth seems like a miracle, and the arrival of a daughter or son is a peak experience for the parents. How could your kids be bored reading your accounts of their arrivals? The story is about them, too! In fact, your entire story is also theirs because you’re their parent.

To get over any self-consciousness about writing about yourself honestly, just remember that we all have a lot more in common than we often realize, and writing about our lives gives us and our readers new perspectives. It’s a way of processing experiences and bonding with others. Moreover, it influences the way we are remembered.

Excuse 2: I’ve had painful or private experiences that I don’t want to relive or reveal.

No one but you decides what to share in your memoir. While writing about trauma and loss can be painful, it can also be healing for you and perhaps for readers who also have unhappy memories. On the one hand, you have an implied contract with your readers to be honest. On the other hand, you don’t want to betray people, expose intimate memories, or cause rifts.

One way to deal with the question of how much truth to tell and how to tell it is to write first without censoring yourself. Later, read what you wrote and decide how much of it to share. Writing a memoir is a process that is in itself rewarding. You don’t have to share everything you write with others. Some of it may be for you alone.

In regard to self-censorship, as a professional memoir co-author, I have had two clients tell me about first husbands their families knew nothing about. When one woman read the first draft of her memoir, she asked me to delete him. The other woman decided it was time for her adult children to know about this chapter of her life and husband #1 in her memoir.

Excuse 3: I don’t have time to write about my life starting at my birth.

You needn’t write chronologically and comprehensively. To help you get started, here are some ideas for topics (based on my book Your Memoirs: Saving the Stories of Your Life and Work):

* Who has influenced you most?

* What were your major decisions?

* Did you experience any life-changing events?

* How would you describe your education?

* What were your biggest mistakes and disappointments?

* Have you had any surprises and good luck?

* What accomplishments are you most proud of?

* Have contemporary historical events helped shape your life?

* How does your lifestyle as an adult compare to your parents’ lifestyle? To your children’s lifestyle?

* What do you want most for those you love?

* Have extended family members and close friends been significant?

* What objects in your home mean the most to you and why?

* What are your favorite sayings?

* How do you relax?

* Did you ever almost die?

* If you could relive one period of your life, which would you choose and why?

* If you had the power to change the past, what would you change?

* How would you most like to be remembered?

Choose any or all of these questions to answer. Add any others that occur to and appeal to you. Write by hand or on a computer. Or record your memories and have a professional transcriber put your words on paper. Tell as much or as little as you like. The how and the how much don’t matter. But you and your life story matter—to people who matter to you.

And by the way, the best time to start a memoir is today!

Hurry! Chance to WIN the New Pulse Slither ENDS Sept 6th

Drift, Turn, Spin, Carve, Whip, Skid, Slide or Cruise -
The Possibilities Are Endless with the NEW PULSE SLITHER

Bravo Sports, one of the world leaders in outdoor rolling fun and action sports products, is proud to announce the release of their latest creation, the one-of-a-kind Pulse Slither drift scooter.

The first innovative three-wheeled scooter of its kind, the Slither offers the ability to pull off tricks and maneuvers that are simply not possible on any other scooter or wheeled good thanks to the two large front wheels offset with a single rear wheel housed in a pivot-mounted swivel truck.

The Pulse Slither translates the fun of riding a snowboard, skiing or surfing into a street toy. It can be ridden facing forward or standing to one side and is propelled by “slithering” from side to side or by pushing with your foot, opening up even more trick possibilities and making it that much harder to put away. The rudder-like rear wheel with variable tension gives the rider the freedom to drift in and out of turns, zip around corners, execute lightning-quick 180º turns and adjusts to their skill level.

Emblazoned with vibrant in-molded graphics, that won’t chip or peel, the Pulse Slither is available in two dynamic color ways: Electric Blue “Skull Wing” and Toxic Green “Von Scroll.” Due to hit stores mid-October, the Slither, which retails for $59.99, will be sold at all the major retailers and select sporting goods locations.

The Pulse Slither is the long-awaited follow up to last year’s hit ride-on toy, the Pulse Kick N’ Go. Bravo Sports CEO Tony Armand, the brainchild behind both scooters, adds “We are so excited about the release of the Slither. These extreme scooters offer more versatility, functionality and excitement than a traditional scooter and are so fun for kids of all ages and skill to ride.”

About Bravo Sports:
Bravo Sports, headquartered in Santa Fe Springs, California, is a global leader in the recreational and sporting goods markets. With offices, factories and warehouses in the United States, Italy, Thailand and China, the Company’s operations truly span the globe. Since 1965, Bravo has provided the highest quality and most innovative products to sports and outdoor enthusiasts worldwide. With a stable of market-leading brands including Pulse™, Quik Shade™, Moto Shade™, Airzone™, Tony Hawk™, World Industries™, Kryptonics™, Hyper™ and Variflex™ to go along with industry leading licenses with outstanding partners like Nickelodeon, Mattel and Cartoon Network, Bravo consistently seeks to exceed the expectations of its consumers and customers alike. At Bravo, the goal is simple – to create simply the best products for price in the world.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New E-Book Site

Looking for a fun, new, and educational alternative for your kid’s computer time? Check out WIZZ-E (

This recently launched e-book website brings to life new and classic stories for kids aged 0–8. Beautiful, animated illustrations will keep the youngest of children glued to the screen, and for those emerging or independent readers, each word is highlighted as it’s spoken along the page.

Every book also comes with a comprehension/recall quiz to check understanding and engagement with the story. “Wizz-E’s aim is to bring reading materials to young kids to foster a love of books and reading by making it fun. The more exposure a child has to reading the more their literacy levels improve—making screen time educational and fun.”

These wonderful books are reasonably priced, starting at just $5.99, and for a limited time the classic tale of “The Three Little Pigs” is on sale for only $2.99. What DVD or conventional book offers so much for so little? Plus, gift certificates are available for all those hard-to-buy-for kids’ birthday parties your little one is sure to be invited to.

In addition, WIZZ-E also has games, jokes, and puzzles and has recently started to publish interactive “Simple Math” books.

If you want to learn more about WIZZ-E, take a tour, or view a sample, visit the website at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Funky Kidz CD

Looking for some great music for your kids? Music that can bridge the gap between Elmo and the “normal” radio station fare? Then I have two words for you: Funky Kidz.

Funky Kidz is over 37 minutes of award-winning musical compilations, featuring some
of the best classic children’s songs, such as “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” and “Yellow
Submarine.” With a steady, toe-tapping beat of drums, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, and electric guitars, this CD resonates the true New Orleans style.

That’s because all the performers on Funky Kidz are some of New Orleans’ finest artists and musicians, including Ivan Neville of the Neville Brothers, The Radiators,
George Porter Jr. of The Meters, Bonerama (featured on The Late Show with David
Letterman and in 2008 Sugar Bowl), and more.

You and your kids are sure to enjoy the upbeat, rockin’ tempos and a familiar yet unique blend of instrument and song. My favourites are “When I See An Elephant Fly,” with its funky beat and fun lyrics, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by Theresa Andersson. Her rendition of this timeless classic is truly beautiful.

As a progressive mother of two, executive producer Lauren Busch Singer was disappointed by the offerings of children’s music and set out to expose her kids to a variety of musical genres. From the time they were in her belly, she played everything from hard rock to classical ballads. Her sons, Jake, 9 (assistant producer), and Aidan, 6, developed a love to the upbeat New Orleans sound and so the concept was born: “Take kids songs and just make them funky.”

The consulting producer is Grammy winner Tracey Freeman, most noted for producing over a dozen Harry Connick, Jr. albums since the early 90s. The compilation project consultant is award-winning producer Steve Alaimo, co-writer and producer of the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa” and producer of Stephen Sills, Jimmy Cliff, Inner Circle, and others.

A portion of the proceeds from Funky Kidz CD will go to fostering music education in classrooms throughout the country. They are working with the Grammy Foundation and other non-profits in working toward this goal.

FUNKY KIDZ™ is now available for purchase online at, as well as at various local retailers and on iTunes.
We have a sneak peek listen for you below. Enjoy :)

Take a Listen to Funky Kidz CD

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Is Your Child a "Shut-Down Learner?"

Is your child frustrated with school? Are his or her grades less than acceptable? Has your child been labelled as ADD or ADHD, dyslexic, or learning disabled? If so, they may be what is known as a Shut-Down Learner (SDL).

Dr. Richard Selznick, PhD, has been a nationally certified school psychologist for over 20 years and is a graduate school professor and the Director of the Cooper Learning Center at Cooper University Hospital ( as well as an author. His powerful book, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child, is a must-read for every parent and teacher.

This 160-page book points out the signs of a Shut-Down Learner in clear, easily understood language. Dr. Selznick shows the reader the difference between a “High-Spatial” (more hands-on) child and a “Language-Based” one. He also illustrates what signs to look for in an SDL. For example:

· Reduced confidence and self-esteem

· Hard time with language-loaded activities (e.g. reading and listening to lectures)

· Tendency to move and participate rather than listen

Dr. Selznick also understands the parents’ frustrations and helps educate them so they can “start to see their child in a more positive light,” as well as identifying the ineffective punishments for SDLs, outlining the steps to understanding your child, explaining what a good assessment should entail, and much, much more.

Dr. Selznick thoroughly understands the Shut-Down Learner. He not only helps with the diagnosis but also gives hands-on training for parents, teachers, tutors, and the children themselves. In addition, Dr. Selznick also offers real-life cases of SDLs and their success stories, plus an Appendix of follow-up reading and websites.

Dr. Selznick says, “Shut-down learners are not a small segment of society. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be found in a broad range of fields and jobs. Their negative experience in the early years could have been different. It’s my hope that this book will help the shut-down learner see himself or herself in a more positive light.”

For more information on The Shut-Down Learner, visit the book’s website at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jeff Rivera

Mr. Rivera is an award-winning young adult author and the founder of, the leading self-publishing website geared to bypassing the traditional book publishing method. Rivera’s first book, Forever My Lady (Warner Books/Grand Central), was a critical hit and was named Book of the Year by Mi Gente Magazine. In addition to his writing, Rivera is a sought-after speaker on new media and publishing and has been featured in The Boston Globe, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Miami Herald and on NPR and American Latino TV, to name a few.
In addition, Rivera has just started working with mega media outlet The Huffington Post contributing a regular blog/column and on-camera video segments mainly focusing on issues related to “Young Hollywood.” Rivera has also been brought onboard by web giant to conduct a series of on-camera interviews for its web channel, Media Bistro Weekly Round-Up, after the success of Rivera’s column on Media Bistro, for which he’s been interviewing various authors over the past year. As anchor for Media Bistro Weekly Round-Up, one of his first upcoming on-camera interviews will be with bestselling novelist James Patterson.

Mr. Rivera’s interview with me is exciting and insightful, so I’m going to post it question/answer style so as not to detract from the original content.

1. Could you tell us a bit about your background? Who inspired you?
I was inspired first and foremost by my mother, who was a single parent. I didn’t come to realize how much she sacrificed and gave up in her life just to raise us three kids. Here was a woman who attended Yale at one point, only to get married and end up raising three young kids by herself. We struggled on welfare and food stamps, but we never knew the difference until we were much older because she always made things fun. There were also some of the most amazing teachers I had growing up who recognized right away my natural desire to write and encouraged it by putting me in TAG (Talented and Gifted) classes in Oregon.

2. Can you acquire the “never give up” attitude, or is it something you’re just born with?

I think the “never give up” attitude is something that you are forced into in a sense. What I mean by that is that depending on your environment or what was going on in your life you either give up or you choose to move forward. For me, giving up wasn’t in my DNA. I just couldn’t imagine a world where I couldn’t write. It was as impossible to me as a world where I could not breathe.

3. Many kids have it very rough; what advice do you have for them?

I’m going to go beyond what they usually hear, which is “believe in yourself” and “never give up.” Kids hear that so much it goes in one ear and out the other. So what I’m going to say is if you wake up in the morning and all you can think about is your dream, whether it be an architect or a singer or a doctor, then that means you’re supposed to do that. You’re supposed to be in that field. But I would tell them to be open to the ways they can get what they want. For example, maybe you always dreamed of being a doctor ’cause you like helping people, but nurses often get to help and interact with people much more than doctors, so maybe when you get a taste of it you’ll find you really want to be a nurse. Or maybe you want to be a movie star ’cause you really love the attention and love you get from people when you perform. But if it’s immediate attention and love from your performance you might think about being a Broadway star. They get instant gratification performing in front of live audiences. Be open to how your dream, the essence of your dream, will happen, and you might be surprised what doors open up to you. And finally, I would tell them the same advice my father gave me, which was simplistic but very profound: “Be the best.” If you want to be a computer programmer, be the best there is. If you want to be a fashion designer, be the very best. If you’re the best, cream does eventually rise to the top.

4. What’s your opinion on “Young Hollywood?”

People always say there aren’t any real movie stars anymore. That those days are long gone from when we had the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I’m not so sure. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, young people loved music, for example, and their parents told them to turn off that “racket” [and] that “rock ’n’ roll junk,” but now we call that music “the classics.” Parents do the same today. That said, how we define a star is so different than the way we used to. Now we have TV stars, movie stars, reality TV stars, and even YouTube Stars. Whatever type of star you are, whether you like it or not, young people do watch you, and you do affect them. That’s just a fact.

5. Kids these days do tend to idolize movie and sports celebrities. What advice would you give these kids or their parents concerning this?

The fact of the matter is that kids are going to idolize people. That’s just a fact. You can’t demand that these movie stars behave better ’cause quite frankly they’re going to do what they want to do to get the attention they want to sell their TV shows and movie tickets and music and sports tickets. So, what can you do? I think parents can expose their children to other types of people their kids can idolize. Along with Britney Spears why not also show them a very successful doctor who came from nothing, or dare I say, a politician who is ethical (is that an oxymoron?). My point is trying to pretend your child will never see a Paris Hilton on TMZ stumbling through the streets drunk is unrealistic, so show them also a number of other role model alternatives.

6. Do you have any particular books you can recommend for our youth?

Definitely, I can recommend a number of great books. For those interested in books for young people of color, I would highly recommend the Bluford High Books. They’re clean-cut, but teens still love them, and they are great for reluctant readers. You can get them at most bookstores, and libraries often can’t keep them on the bookshelves because young people love them so much. If you’re looking for something a little more edgy, try Dream Jordan’s book Hot Girl. For Young Adults there’s a great graphic novel coming out by David Small called Stitches. Gotta get it. That’s all I’ve got to say. It totally changed the way I thought of a graphic novel. And then there’s Slant by Laura E. Williams. It’s great for teen and tween girls. It’s about body image and loving yourself, but it does it in a way that isn’t corny.

7. How did you manage to stay focused and “follow your dream”?

For me, I had no other choice but to make it. I couldn’t imagine not succeeding. I also kept going and eventually found people who were also going along the same path. As you succeed more and more, some old friends and even family members will be negative. They’re worried they’ll “lose you.” So they’ll discourage you or say you’re being “arrogant” when you tell them great things are happening ’cause they want to hold on to you. It’s great to be loyal and grounded, but always remember as you succeed you’re like a hot air balloon that must let out the sand bags. Sometimes those sand bags are negative people, sometimes they’re your own fears, and as you let go of the sand bags, you’ll rise above the clouds and realize, hey, you’re not alone after all. There are other people above the clouds too!

8. Any advice for our young authors out there?

My greatest advice is to keep writing, even if it’s just one page a day, to keep reading, and be the best writer possible. Surround yourself with published authors, not just struggling writers. And remember that a big part of writing now is living, so although you should be disciplined about writing, you have to live life too, or you’ll have nothing to write about.

9. Please feel free to add anything I may have missed or you want to touch upon.

I think I’d like to add that if I had listened to all the naysayers who said I didn’t have talent, that I would never make it, those that talked about me behind my back, I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing. You’ve got to be doing writing ’cause you love to do it, that you can’t imagine a world without writing. If you do that, then you’ll never want to stop.

Check out Mr. Rivera’s website at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amazing...Cayla Kluver

The now-peaceful kingdom of Hytanica remembers a time when, under a blood-red sky, the neighbouring village, Cokyri, kidnapped and slaughtered dozens of Hytanica’s newborn infant boys—all but one.

Princess Alera, verging on her eighteenth birthday, must choose a suitable man to be her husband, who will also become the successor to the throne. Her father, the King, is set on Steldor—a pompous, hot-tempered Military Field Commander. Alera despises Steldor and feels trapped by the rules and traditions set upon her.

One day a handsome young warrior is found on Hytanican land and is taken by the guards. Found to be from the enemy’s village, Narian has a shocking past and upbringing that threaten everything Alera has ever known and believed. Plunged into the unknown world of palace intrigue and ancient blood feuds, Alera must decide between true love and duty.

Cayla Kluver, the sixteen-year-old author of Legacy, is truly brilliant. Her eloquent dialogue and cleverly plotted tale of kings and queens, romance and deceit will keep you turning the pages and wanting more.

Cayla is truly an amazing young woman. She wrote the first draft of Legacy in just nine months at the age of 14 while attending public school. Her second novel in the series, Allegiance, is due to be released early in 2010, and she has almost completed book three, Redemption.

Cayla has been writing since she was two. She says, “I don’t remember it [the story] that well, to be honest. My mom says it was about a bunny, and I dictated it to her then drew the pictures to go along.”

I asked Cayla where she had gotten her inspiration from, so young and talented as she is. She said, “Life in general. That’s one of the most beautiful things about human existence, I think—that everything, even the weather on a certain day, can be inspirational. More specifically, people inspire me—there are so many strong, amazing people in the world and even around me who have experienced far more than I have. To be able to draw from their accomplishments is an absolute privilege.”

Of course, I couldn’t help but pry a little. Does Cayla know how the Legacy series is going to end? She said, “I do—I feel really good about it, even though I have no doubt I’ll miss writing about the characters in the Legacy series. They really represent my first venture into this type of writing, and whatever bumps there may have been (or may yet be!) along the way, this is definitely an experience I will never forget or take for granted. I’ve been really fortunate.”

So what’s next after this wonderful series? Cayla confides, “I have a bunch more ideas I’m really excited to flesh out and write. Without getting too specific, there’s one that has to do with time travel, one that’s very gothic, one about fairies and politics, one that’s much darker and more realistic than anything else I’ve written that has to do with a group of college students, and a few more here and there. I’ve just honestly never been so excited about the future in my life. I’m thrilled to be looking at possibly being able to do what I love for a long time.”

Cayla closes by sharing this advice for anyone who wants to be a writer: “Just keep writing, and reading, and learning everything you can about the world. Goodness knows I’ve got a lot more to learn! And remember, if writing is what you’re passionate about, don’t let anyone discourage you from pursuing that goal. You’ll always run into nay-sayers, people who will say what’s practical and what isn’t, but ultimately it’s about you and what will make you happy and fulfilled as a person.”

If you want to learn more about the Legacy series and Cayla, check out Cayla’s official website at

Amazing...Nicole Vance

Unfortunately, there’s probably not one person who hasn’t been to a hospital for one reason or another. Whether you were there to take care of your own medical concerns or visit a loved one, the experience can be downright scary and overwhelming.

With the best medical technology available to us today, we are fortunate to have trained professionals to help us through the process. However, with growing budget cuts, even the doctors and nurses rely on the many hardworking volunteers to help pick up the slack. Volunteers in the hospital do any number of jobs, from escorting visitors to the proper area to delivering food trays.

Nicole Vance knows the world of hospital volunteerism. In fact, she has chalked up over 350 hours doing such jobs as working in the Gift Shoppe/Candy Cart and helping out in the hustle and bustle of the ER.

Nicole said, “I just love helping people. . . . Never think you are too old or too young to do service! If you don’t think you have enough time to volunteer, in reality, you do. Volunteering is one of the best ways to spend your time!”

Hospital stays can be bleak at best. Volunteers take on many tasks that the nurses and doctors simply don’t have the time to do. Nicole tells us, “One time in the ER there was an elderly couple looking very bored sitting in their room. I poked my head in and asked if there was anything I could do for them. They said they wished they had a television or something else to pass the time. I asked if they wanted me to sing and dance for them, and to my surprise they agreed! I quickly pulled something together, it was very embarrassing. They laughed and laughed. I then had to leave to grab a patient some lunch from the cafeteria. For the next few hours I would randomly do a crazy dance move every time I passed by the door to their room. At the end of the visit, they told me they loved my crazy dance moves, and they made time pass more quickly. That made all the difference.”

Hospitals may never be on anyone’s list of “places they’d most like to spend their time,” but with caring volunteers like Nicole, your hospital visit may just turn out to be a bit more pleasant.

Way to go, Nicole!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Amazing...Brad Jencks

Have you ever walked by a forgotten cemetery? One that’s old and tired? Perhaps one that has been neglected for so long that the local kids now believe it’s haunted?

In the town of Bingham City, 15 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah, one such cemetery exists. But instead of tip-toeing around the crumpling headstones or ignoring the cemetery altogether, Brad Jencks decided to do something about it.

Since Brad did such a terrific job telling me about his work, here are his accomplishments in his own words:

“My school district inherited a ghost town cemetery with burials of 30 nations (People came to Utah for employment. A lot of people died young, and many immigrants were not sent home for proper burial in their native land due to lack of money). What started as a 100-hour Eagle Scout service project proposal was met at 2,790 man-hours.

“Still, I saw many needs and kept volunteering. I organized 2000+ volunteers over five years who restored and preserved grave markers, proved 1,100 unknown burials, authored a 1,500-page historical cemetery book, and installed a wall of honor for 1,825 burials. I received $75,000 funding/donations for a new fence, road, replacement headstones, and a granite military monument honouring veterans of six wars. I produced DVDs for The History Channel and Roots Television plus co-created a database, digitized the data, and donated it to the State Historical Society and free genealogy websites. I started a project entitled ‘Connecting Families Across The Globe’ and have noted much success in helping living family find family who share the same heritage and ancestry from Bingham City Cemetery. This is touching lives worldwide.”

Brad goes on to explain more of his daunting task: “Four Boy Scout troops helped me take a GPS reading and photograph of every headstone and burial. We hand recorded all [of the] information that we could read. Next I obtained an aerial photograph of the cemetery and made a map. My team helped place 2,400 flyers on gravesites, and we involved the news media, requesting more information about the many unknown burials. I have spent the past five years at the cemetery each Memorial Day weekend interviewing all visitors for information. My team and I also conduct international interviews via email. I co-created a database that reconstructed records lost by fire, flood, deterioration, and vandalism. Teams of students from four schools helped search old books, newspapers, [and] 157 rolls/53,000 names on microfilm to find burial records. We repaired vandalism caused by devil worshippers. Over the course of many years, scout troops, 4-H, Bingham High football team, and others helped me install new headstones. Recently the Veterans Administration granted approval, and all damaged or unreadable military headstones were replaced after years of extensive research. A formal military dedication took place, honoring those who risked their lives for us, our freedom, and our nation. I also learned to decipher several new languages about the many immigrant graves. The challenges were many, but each obstacle was met [by] the generosity of a community, ages 7–94, who donated 6,000 hours to help me.”

How has what started as a simple Eagle Scout project affected the community of Bingham City? Brad says, “This has brought my family and community together in a cause greater than self. A school service recognition club was formed as a result of this, plus I’ve spoken at a number of school assemblies motivating service. Now a school district can use tax payers’ money on education instead of cemetery issues. I made a historical brochure and educational walking tour for this ghost town cemetery. I teach lessons from tragic deaths resulting from drugs, alcohol, violence, rape, lack of medical care, and problems associated with past prejudice. These lessons change lives. At the conclusion of my educational tour, each member gives brief service to the cemetery. I created a job for myself as International Research Correspondent and lead a four-member team responding to inquiries, helping people from distant lands receive answers to what happened when letters to home stopped. ‘Connecting Families Across The Globe’ remains my lifelong hobby and endeavor!”

Brad concludes by advising, “Give of your time, talents, and skills to help people in this world that need you. If every person took one hour to help another, just imagine how this world would be a much better place. We need the youth of America to stand up and serve during these hard economic times. We are the future leaders of tomorrow. It starts with each one of us. Go out and do something good. Service will bless your life as you help others.”

If you’d like to check out “Connecting Families Across the Globe,” please visit the website at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amazing...Devin Glenn

With the news and media constantly reporting on the rages of war, it may seem like there’s nothing we can do except sit idly by and hope for the best. However, sometimes it’s not enough to just sit and hope. Sometimes it takes one person to step up and make a difference . . . or in this case, it takes a kid.

From the early age of four, Devin Glenn had a heart for the children suffering in Afghanistan. After hearing a news broadcast on the car radio, he said, “All I could think about was how scared the children there must be with bombs dropping everywhere.”

So he decided he was going to make a difference by sending them candy and DVDs. He admits, “I guess those were the two things that made me happy when I was four.” And with the help of his dad’s friend who was in the military, Devin was able to send a big package of candy-DVD–hope to some desperate kids.

But Devin didn’t stop there. At age nine Devin continued to hear about the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, “It just made me so sad.” So he took the initiative and started No More Wars. This foundation provides comfort and friendship for children in war-torn countries by sending stuffed animals and pen-pal letters. By “extending a hand of friendship,” the foundation “hopes to increase understanding and build positive relationships among the children of the world.” Devin says, “That way when we grow up we won’t want to fight each other. That’s my dream . . . No More Wars.”

So where does one start? How can one kid make a difference?

Devin explains, “I started earning money to send stuffed animals to the children in the Middle East by going door-to-door in my neighbourhood selling snow cones. I could soon see that it was going to take me a long time to earn money that way, so I came up with the idea of putting on a benefit concert with my friends (with singing, dancing, gymnastics, etc.) and asking for donations from the people who attended. That worked really well! Our first show was last fall, and we collected enough donations to buy over 100 brand-new stuffed animals. I also collected over 50 pen pal letters from classmates and friends. We sent the animals and letters to the Middle East in November of last year with Chief ‘Wiggles’ Holton of Operation Give.”

Devin didn’t stop there. This is an ongoing project, and he is already planning the next benefit concert. His goal for this year is to triple the number of stuffed toys and letters, and he hopes to quadruple it by 2010. Not only did Devin conceive of the No More Wars Foundation, but through his vision, enthusiasm, and leadership, he’s kept it going and growing. He has had to raise money, recruit performers, organize and direct shows, secure venues, advertise, purchase stuffed animals, collect pen-pal letters, and find a way to get his boxes of stuffed animals and letters sent to the Middle East.

In addition, Devin contributes much of his own money that he’s earned doing yard work directly to the No More Wars coffers (which, by the way, I’m told “he guards with fierce protectiveness and integrity”). His pledge to all his donors is that “every single penny” will go directly to No More Wars. So determined was he to keep that promise that he threw the 13 pennies that were left over from the purchase of stuffed toys right into the boxes to be shipped to the Middle East. “Maybe some of the children will want an American penny!” he said. What a remarkable young man!

Want to get involved? Devin closes with this advice: “Just do it. Don’t just think about it and dream about it—do it!”

Unfortunately, the No More Wars Foundation doesn’t have a website yet, but if Devin has inspired you to get involved, please email me at, and I will be happy to pass your email on to him.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Amazing...Jason O'Neill

Want to brighten your child’s day? Perhaps make homework a tad less annoying? Tack on a Pencil Bug and watch the fun begin!

What’s a Pencil Bug, you may ask? Pencil Bugs are cute, colourful, pencil/pen/marker toppers that will make all your writing tasks a whole lot more entertaining. And because Pencil Bugs are individually handcrafted, each one is unique. In addition, each Pencil Bug is individually packaged and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity that includes the date it was born along with care and training instructions. You even get a standard #2 pencil with each one.

What’s even more wonderful than Pencil Bugs is the amazing kid who invented them. Jason O’Neill was only nine years old when he had the idea for the Pencil Bug. He says, “I am always amazed at how my business got started. I never thought a simple idea to create a pencil topper just to sell at one craft fair [with his mom] would turn into a real business.”

Jason goes on to tell us, “There have been several stages since I first had the idea. Getting the supplies for the first few dozen I made for the craft fair was pretty easy. We just bought materials from local stores. The first challenge was when it became a real business, and people were ordering faster than we could make them.”

Jason hopes to expand his business and says, “For the past year, the biggest challenge has been finding a manufacturer that can mass produce Pencil Bugs so I can expand into more retail stores.”

Jason is now 13 years old, and in addition to being the founder of Pencil Bugs, he’s a straight-A student and enjoys the same stuff as his friends, like playing with his rescued dog and playing video games. Jason confides, “My parents set limits on how much I can be on the computer.”

However, that hasn’t stopped him from expanding his Pencil Bugs line to include bookmarks, birthday party invitations, greeting cards, t-shirts, and much more. Jason has also made the Top Ten Role Model List and has his story in the ever-popular Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens series. If that’s not enough, Jason also donates part of his sales to help underprivileged kids and has been doing so from the very beginning. He says, “Whatever you do in life, even if you’re not making a ton of money, it’s a good thing to help others when you can. I’ve given money to help foster kids and also buy toys, games, books, etc., for kids in hospitals. I’ve learned that even the smallest effort can make a difference in someone else’s life.” (To see Jason’s latest donation project, Teddy Bears for Kids, see below in our New & Now section.) Jason is definitely an amazing kid and finishes with this advice: “If you have an idea that you really believe in, don’t let anyone else discourage you from at least trying it. I always say, ‘you can’t get anywhere by just sitting on your ideas.’” For more information on Pencil Bugs and Jason O’Neill, please visit his website at

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Amazing...Blair Breazeale

It’s time for school! Time for new backpacks, notebooks, clothes, and . . . oh yeah, LockerLites.
What are LockerLites?

LockerLites are decorative, portable, magnetic lights that run on a three-button cell battery for the inside of a locker.

They come in many styles and colours so kids can express themselves. Plus, these handy little gadgets also have a great feature called a “photo cell power control,” which allows the light to be on only when the locker door is open and automatically shut off when the door is closed.

What’s even more amazing about LockerLites is the inventor. Blair Breazeale was only 11 years old when she came up with the idea for LockerLites. She said, “I started 6th grade and got my first locker. I wanted to make it look cool, but when my mom and I went shopping there was nothing exciting. The locker was dark and gloomy so I thought, ‘hey, it would be cool to have some lights in here!’ So the idea was started.”

Through an organization called By Kids for Kids Co., a youth marketing and media company that partners with the world’s leading corporations, Blair was able to see her idea become a reality. When asked if the process was difficult she said, “Yes, everything had to be perfect—packaging, product. It’s a lot of detail that took over a year to do.”

However, her hard work has paid off: this summer, the LockerLites line is on the shelves at approximately 1,700 Walmart stores nationwide. Blair says, “I’m still in shock! I can’t believe it. It’s very exciting, and I hope all the kids who buy it will love it.”

Blair saw a simple idea of hers come to “light” and says, “It’s important to believe in yourself and also have good support from adults that can help you. My mom has been awesome.”

To check out LockerLites, visit your local Walmart. For more information on the By Kids for Kids Co., visit the website at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Real Solutions from Real Moms Mastering the Juggle

When it comes to back to school, most news coverage focuses on getting the kids prepared for the new school year, but what about the newest population of students…Moms?

In these uncertain times, a record number of moms will go back to college this fall to advance current careers, find new job options, and seize opportunities to contribute more to household finances during a recession. In fact, Kaplan University has seen a 34% increase in moms enrolling first quarter of 2009 versus just a year ago.

Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions (

How do the families of college moms cope? A group of courageous moms at Kaplan University (, where nearly 75% of students are women and the average student age is 34, share their tips for juggling family, work and school in a Web 2.0 world. These moms have recently graduated from or are currently enrolled in the following programs: Bachelor of Science in Management, Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Master of Science in Nursing Education, Associate of Applied Science in Medical Assisting and Dental Assisting Diploma.

1. Gain the support of friends and family. We all need cheerleaders to successfully accomplish the many things moms do in any single day.

2. When you go back to school supply shopping for the kids, don’t forget your own supplies for online studying like printer ink and paper, a spare battery pack for the laptop and flash drives.

3. Prepare meals for the week on Sunday. Whether it’s a hearty soup, lasagna or a casserole, make meals that are filling and easy to take out of the freezer and reheat quickly.

4. Work as a team. Show the kids that running a family requires team effort and that your schoolwork is important too. Let them pitch in to help out with family chores.

5. Remind your significant other that he may need to brush up on his math and science skills because you will need him to help the kids out with homework.

6. Before you sit at your computer, take 15 minutes to do some stretching and/or a few sit-ups. Get the adrenaline pumping so that you are ready to commit to a few solid hours to studying and homework.

7. Instill in your children the value of making sacrifices. Teach them that hard work has positive results.

8. For those single moms or stay at home moms who sometimes have to do it alone, it’s ok to occasionally let the television be the babysitter when you have deadlines to meet. Don’t be too worried about it, as public and cable television have great, quality programs throughout the day that are educational.

9. Keep the faith. Everyone has their ups and downs, and sometimes, there are more downs than ups. At the end of the day you can still do this. Remind yourself how much your education means to you and of the future benefits it will bring to your entire family.

10. Plan some alone time, even if it’s a 20 minute soak in the tub to relax after the children are in bed.

11. If you have an infant at home, read your text book out loud. You’ll get your course reading done and soothe the baby to sleep at the same time.

12. Initiate a mutual reward system with your children. If they receive an A on a test, they get to pick a prize from mom. If mom gets the A, she gets to pick a prize from the kids!

(Recent Kaplan University graduate Karrie of Zimmerman, MN who is a single mom to five and also an eight year military veteran.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Avery Dennison Office Products announced its relationship with organizational expert Jodie Watson, founder and president of Supreme Organization and the organization expert from TLC’s “Real Simple. Real Life” television show.

Watson shares her expertise in an effort to help kids prepare for back-to-school and stay organized for a more successful and productive year. Recently, Avery Dennison became the first and only school and office supply manufacturer to join Box Tops for Education® which helps parents and communities earn much-needed cash for schools.

“Organizing schoolwork and materials allows kids to organize their minds so they are better able to focus on their studies,” says Watson. “It also helps children to be less stressed. When they know where their work is and are able to find what they need when they need it, they don’t waste time and energy looking for lost or misplaced papers, and have more time to get their assignments done well and in a timely fashion.”

Here are some of Watson’s helpful hints to prepare for back-to-school and get organized for a successful year with Avery Dennison school and office supplies.

Color-code and label prominently. Use different color binders for each subject and label the front cover and spine. Include a name and contact number in case the binder gets lost or left at school.

• Place a dry erase monthly calendar in the study area at home. Use dry erase markers to note days/times of classes, and when assignments or papers are due. Use different color markers for each class to easily differentiate them.

• Create a desktop file system in your study area at home. Color-code file folders for each subject to match the color-coding system in the binders. Make file folder labels on the computer or using a permanent marker so each folder can be easily identified.

“More than 600 Avery brand products will carry Box Tops coupons, including labels, binders, dividers, highlighters, glue sticks and more,” said Jeff deLeon, group product manager, Avery Dennison Office Products. “Students can get organized and ready for back-to-school while also earning cash for their schools by clipping and submitting the coupons.” In the 2008-2009 school year alone, US schools earned a record-breaking $50.6 million through Box Tops for Education. The cash will be used to fund valuable programs, and purchase supplies, equipment, uniforms and more.

Specific Avery products participating in Box Tops for Education include Avery® Durable and Heavy Duty binders, Index Maker® dividers, Avery® sheet protectors, address and shipping labels, Hi-Liter® highlighters, Marks-A-Lot® dry erase and permanent markers, Avery® glue sticks, name badges, and T-shirt transfers. For more information, visit

America’s schools have earned more than $300 million through Box Tops for Education since the program started in 1996. Thousands of schools have used that cash to purchase items such as computers, library books, art supplies and playground equipment. Schools can earn up to $80,000 per year, to spend on anything they choose, by clipping Box Tops coupons from hundreds of products, shopping online through the Box Tops Marketplace® and Reading RoomSM, and purchasing items from My Class EssentialsTM registries. To learn more about the program, visit

Box Tops for Education is a registered trademark of General Mills, used under license.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tips on Health Care Plans

Are you getting the most from your health insurance? Beyond the obvious (deductibles, co-pays, etc.) there are things you should be looking for in the fine print that can save money. So, what are they?

Steve Trattner, a 25-year healthcare industry veteran and President & Chief Marketing Officer of Cinergy Health (, has provided us with advice on ways to put cash back in your pocket and get the most out of your current health benefits, as well as tips for folks looking for alternative health options.

As with any contract, there are always things to be aware of. Steve reminds us “to thoroughly read the “limitations and exclusions” section of the health plan. This list will inform you of which treatments are not considered eligible expenses and may have a big impact on your decision process. It might also provide necessary guidance to ensure certain services are eligible for coverage.”

Steve also cautions, “There are new ways that some plans enforce waiting periods on pre-existing medical conditions for people purchasing private health insurance. The standard procedure would be to withhold coverage for treatment related to a pre-existing condition for 12 months. Lately, we’ve seen some plans add a new twist to the waiting period so that if within the first 12 months of coverage the patient received any care for that same pre-existing condition, the insurance company would extend the waiting period to 24 months from the effective date. Cinergy Health has only a six-month waiting period for pre-existing conditions, and this is waived if the person has prior creditable coverage.”

Confused about all those terms used on Health Insurance forms? Steve gives us an easy-to-follow list of insurance jargon with easy-to-understand definitions:

COBRA – The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which provides terminated employees (whether voluntarily or involuntarily and within companies with 20 or more employees) the ability to continue their health insurance through the employer for up to 18 months.

Coinsurance – The percentage of medical expenses the insured person must pay after and in addition to the deductible amount.

Co-payment – The fixed dollar amount the insured person must pay when a particular medical service is received. The co-payment may be in addition to any applicable deductible.

Deductible – The fixed dollar amount that the insured person must pay out-of-pocket each year before the insurance company begins covering medical services. Plans may require both individual and family deductibles and separate deductibles for certain services. Deductibles may also vary by in-network vs. out-of-network providers.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) – Accounts offered and administered by employers that provide a way for employees to set aside funds, on a pre-tax basis, to pay for their share of insurance premiums or medical expenses not covered by the employer’s health plan. The employer may also contribute to the FSA. The funds in the FSA must be used within the benefit year, or the participant loses the money. Flexible spending accounts can also be used to pay for childcare expenses, but those accounts must be established separately from medical FSAs.

Formulary – A listing of covered medications that are considered preferred drugs. The list is classified by therapeutic or disease class and is to be used as a guide for providers in prescribing medications.

Gatekeeper – A gatekeeper is typically the patient’s primary care provider and is responsible for coordinating and authorizing all medical services, laboratory studies, specialty referrals, and hospitalizations.

Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) – Similar to FSAs, HRAs enable employers to contribute to the account to help cover medical expenses. Employers may permit the remaining balance to carry over to the next benefit year.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – An HSA is an account that accompanies a “high-deductible health plan” and permits the insured person to contribute pre-tax dollars from his or her paycheck to pay for medical expenses, save for future medical expenses, and grow for retirement savings. The account is owned by the employee.
High-deductible Health Plan (HDHP) – HDHPs are required for the establishment of an HSA. For 2009 the IRS has established the minimum deductible to be $1,150 for an individual and $2,300 for a family. The maximum deductible is $5,800 for individuals and $11,600 for families.
Managed Care Plans – Managed care plans generally provide comprehensive health services to their members and offer financial incentives for patients to use the providers who belong to the plan. Examples include:

· Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)

· Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)

· Exclusive Provider Organizations (EPOs)

· Point of Service Plans (POSs)

Preadmission Certification – Authorization for hospital admission in non-emergency situations given by the physician or the health plan and required to ensure full coverage of services.

Preadmission Testing – A requirement designed to encourage patients to obtain required diagnostic services on an outpatient basis prior to non-emergency hospital admissions. The testing is designed to reduce the length of a hospital stay.

HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides certain rights for employees for portability of health benefits when switching plans.

Lifetime Maximum Benefit – The maximum dollar amount a health plan will pay for the insured person’s healthcare costs during his or her lifetime.

Maximum Out-of-Pocket Expense – The maximum dollar amount the insured person is required to pay out-of-pocket during a year. After the insured person reaches this maximum, the insurance carrier pays all covered expenses, often up to a lifetime maximum.

Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) – Often combined with a high deductible or catastrophic health insurance plan (though not necessarily), MSAs are set up to help pay out-of-pocket medical expenses. In an MSA, employers and individuals are allowed to contribute to the account on a pre-tax basis and carry over the unused funds at the end of the year.

Premium – The monthly fee paid for coverage of medical benefits for a defined benefit period. Premiums can be paid by employers, employees, or both on a shared basis.

Primary Care Physician (PCP) – A PCP is the physician who serves as the insured person’s primary contact within the health plan. In a managed care plan, the primary care physician provides routine medical services, coordinates care, and, if required by the plan, authorizes referrals to specialists and hospitals.

Usual, Customary, and Reasonable (UCR) Charges – Some plans refer to UCR as the physician’s charge that is usual for a medical service that does not exceed the customary fee in that geographic area and is reasonable based on the circumstances. This is the amount that an insurer may use as the starting point from which to determine the amount covered for medical services.

Not sure what type of plan is right for you and your family? Here’s a list of what’s out there:

Types of Health Plans

· Indemnity Plan – A type of medical plan that reimburses the patient and/or provider as expenses are incurred and allows the insured person the choice of any provider without having an effect on reimbursement. These plans reimburse the patient and/or provider as expenses are incurred. Cinergy Health offers this type of plan.

· Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) – An indemnity plan in which coverage is provided to participants through a network of healthcare providers that includes physicians and hospitals. The enrolees may go outside the network for medical services but will incur larger costs in the form of higher deductibles and higher coinsurance rates as well as higher billed charges from the providers.

· Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) – A more restrictive type of PPO plan under which participants must use providers from the specified network of physicians and hospitals to receive coverage; there is no coverage for care received from a non-network provider except in an emergency or pre-authorized situation.

· Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) – A health plan that assumes greater financial risk for providing comprehensive medical services and the responsibility for healthcare delivery in a particular geographic area to HMO members in return for a fixed, prepaid fee. Financial risk may be shared with the providers participating in the HMO.

· Point-of-Service (POS) – A POS plan is an “HMO/PPO” hybrid; sometimes referred to as an “open-ended” HMO. POS plans resemble HMOs for in-network services. Services received outside of the network are usually reimbursed in a manner similar to conventional indemnity plans.

To find out more about Steve Trattner of Cinergy Health, check out the website at

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tips on Moving

Research shows that the average American moves at least 13 times during his or her lifetime. Approximately 40 percent of these moves occur because of economic reasons. However, whether the move is because of downsizing or simply for a change of scenery, moving can be stressful.

So how can you reduce the hassle and heartache of the Big Day?

John Katz, CMO of FlatRate Moving, the Nation’s “Greenest” moving company, gives us some helpful and very useful advice (FlatRate Moving and Storage is the Nation’s premier provider of all-inclusive pricing for moves large and small and the leading proponent of fair and honest pricing practices. FlatRate is one of the first moving companies in the country to convert to alternative energy).

The first order of business for a move (after the location is set, of course) is to begin the packing. This can feel like the most time-consuming and daunting of all the tasks. So here are some pointers to help you along the way:

John’s Top Packing/Moving Tips:

· First, pack up what you don’t use: Items such as books you do not need can be packed right away. Keep your list up-to-date. Do not make the boxes too heavy for a person to carry, and place heavier objects at the bottom.

· Label all boxes and supplies, and try to pack things in categories (this makes the unpacking process much easier as well).

· Get a good night’s sleep the night before.

· Order boxes and moving supplies early so you can start packing: Moving companies provide boxes that are purpose-made and easily marked. If your moving company allows you to return unused boxes, order more than you think you’ll need (by 20%). Likewise, do not scrimp on tape. It is inexpensive and prevents boxes from splitting open. You need fresh felt tip pens for labelling. Use coloured ready-stick labels to designate boxes for their respective rooms.

· Document your media connections: Take photos of or make notes on how your media equipment is set up: television, sound equipment, modems, and computer equipment. Keep track of your remote controls and wires so you can locate them quickly in your new home.

· Make arrangements for pets: Moving can be particularly stressful for animals. You may want to consider leaving them with a friend or using a professional pet boarding service.

· Plan to care for your valuables and vital documents yourself: Most homeowner’s insurance will not cover property in transit. It may be desirable to insure certain items separately. Remember to take photos in case you need documentation to support loss or damage claims. If the items are irreplaceable (family heirlooms) or complicated to replace (passports and birth certificates), carry them with you.

· Put On Those White Gloves: If you are packing up without the help of movers, purchase a pair of white gloves (as well as bubble wrap, tape guns, foam, garbage bags, old newspapers, coloured Post-It notes, tags, etc.). When it comes to collector’s items, from a baby grand piano to a Picasso, a family heirloom, or even a wardrobe that consists of designer labels such as Prada, Chloe, and Jimmy Choo, it’s vital that these items maintain their mint condition or else they will depreciate in value or become ruined for life.

· Keep your moving receipts for income tax deductions: In many cases, moving expenses are deductible from federal income taxes. If you are moving because of a change in employment, you may be able to claim this deduction even if you do not itemize. Consult your tax preparer. Also note that there is an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers in the economic stimulus plan, signed into law by President Obama. To learn more, visit

· Start a book about your upcoming move, and keep it in one place: Create a “Move Book” using a large noticeable notebook to centralize all the important details of your move. It should contain any lists you make, including that of labelled boxes. Supplement this with a computer printout of box contents. E-mail this to yourself as a backup so you can also access it remotely.

After the packing is all finished, a good moving company is a must. John tells us, “Good companies guide you through the process and minimize surprises on moving day. They have local knowledge and a proven track record, and they can also advise you on receiving building permissions.”

Even though a move can be tough, we can still keep the environment in mind. John tells us why FlatRate Moving is the leading “Green” moving company. He says they have “eco-friendly trucks, which are designed to reduce the harsh emissions that diesel-run trucks generally produce [and] are very important to moving green. The trucks operate with Diesel Particulate Filters, which reduce hydrocarbons by 50 percent and particulate matter by more than ninety percent over the current 2004 emission standards.

“In addition to these eco-friendly trucks, donating clothing, furniture, and housewares to charity is another green moving must. FlatRate has launched a program in which our clients are able to donate gently used clothing to a charity by placing them in specially marked up-cycling boxes on the day of their move and [that] offers customers free lightly used recycled boxes for their move, not only reducing costs for the consumer but extending the lifespan of the materials.

“And don’t forget the moving facility itself. Through the addition of the new solar power system in FlatRate’s Bronx facility, we anticipate generating close to 100 percent of the building’s energy from the solar panels. This is a great way to reduce our carbon footprint, saving the equivalent of approximately 4,654 gallons of gasoline per year.”

So whether you’re on your first or your thirteenth move, it doesn’t have to sap you of all your strength and money. Follow John’s tips, and your transition may just make you want to pack up and do it all over again.
Visit FlatRate Moving on the web at

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Interview with author, Stephen Tremp

Recently we had the opportunity to catch up with Stephen Tremp and discussed his illustrious writing career. Come along for this fascinating interview and be sure to leave a comment or question, for Stephen will be checking in throughout the day.
Q: What or whom inspires you to write?
ST: I just see life and all of my experiences as one continuous action suspense story just waiting to be transferred to paper. I see “what if” scenarios throughout the day, regardless of where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m with.

Although I’m a bit of an introvert, I’m very passionate about developing “what if” scenarios. I can relate to the Drew Carey’s show Whose Line Is It Anyway? an improvisational comedy show. Give me a simple “what if” scenario, and I can develop it into an action suspense trilogy that will keep the reader up late at night, turning the pages.
I draw much inspiration from Dean Koontz, Dan Brown, Stephen King, and the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child tandem. I read a lot of fiction thrillers and felt I needed to identify a unique niche market that a large segment of the population could identify with and get excited about.
I think I’ve found it in a world where the Information Age is moving at breakneck speed, and breakthroughs in areas of science that were once fodder for science fiction are now becoming a part of our everyday life. I believe I’ve found my calling, my gift to the world.
Q: How did you get started?
ST: I accepted a voluntary layoff after toiling over 10 years in the banking and finance industry and took advantage of the opportunity to write full-time.
Breakthroughs in physics and technology are broadcast into millions of homes via numerous cable channels in layman’s terms and computer graphics anyone can understand. I thought I would capitalize on this particular niche and incorporate them into an action thriller series weaving together breakthroughs in physics and technology with greed, murder, and mayhem. Will these breakthroughs benefit mankind and be used to further civilization, or will they be stolen and used for greedy gain? I think we know the answer. That’s why the world needs a hero like my protagonist Chase Manhattan.
Q: What did you find to be the most frustrating step/process of getting your first novel published?
ST: I signed a non-exclusive contract with iUniverse, who was acquired by AuthorHouse. During the transition, much information was lost and it took about two or three additional months to bring Breakthrough to market. iUniverse (really, AuthorHouse) originally sent my unedited draft off to print. Can you imagine my response when I received the (ahem) final product? This was just the beginning of a series of comedies of errors.
But iUniverse has terrific customer service. They fixed everything in a timely manner. So some of the sting of their mistakes (which were many) were soothed by awesome customer service reps.
Q: Do you have an agent? If yes, how long did it take for you to find one?
ST: I do not currently have an agent, but I am actively pursuing one. I use Publisher’s Marketplace, a site to look for reputable agents and view deals they have made over the past couple years.
It took about three months of receiving feedback from various sources before I felt my query letter was professional. I even had my editor / proofreader go over it. I now understand why, after my initial effort of sending out my query letter, I received rejection for every one.
I feel much more confident today and have just this past week sent out about 50 query letters to specific agents. I’m expecting big things in the near future.
Q: How long did it take for you to write Breakthrough?
ST: Two years from start to finish. I thought I could accomplish everything in about eight months. But after the first editing/proof reading, I realized I still had a lot of research to perform and character development to perform. Then I had a second editor / proof reader go over the entire manuscript a second time. This was money well spent.
Q: Are your characters based on yourself or anyone else you know?
ST: The protagonist, Chase Manhattan (I may have to change his name to Chase Hawkings) is loosely based on me, only he’s a little bit taller than I am, a little bit better looking, a little faster, stronger, smarter, and much richer.
The rest of the good guys (and girls) and bad guys (and girls) are partialy made up and partially based on people I’ve known throughout my life.
Q: Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
ST: Honestly, I don’t suffer from writer’s block, although there are times when I do write, I can’t use the material because it lacks substance or excitement. So I save the material and revisit the snipits in the future. I have a junkyard of sorts, and if I need a part, I go to my junkyard, grab what I need, then polish, refine it, and insert it.
Q: Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you
tackle it?
ST: I really don’t struggle very much as I love what I do. I love performing due diligence in my research. Much of the two years I spent writing Breakthrough was devoted to researching the latest and greatest in the realm of physics.
I also had to research the Boston and Cambridge, MA area via the Internet as well as Boston police procedures. I also use Google Earth and yearly weather reports to describe a particular area. Honestly, there is so much information available at my fingertips, the biggest struggle I have is sorting through the wealth of information and eliminating relevant data.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to get a book published?
ST: The number one piece of advice I can give an aspiring author is to budget money for a competent editor / proofreader. Even editors who want to write and publish a book need an editor. This is the biggest, and one of the easiest, mistakes an author can make.
Editors / proof readers are vital to your success. Vital is an appropriate word. It means: necessary for life. Don’t try to go it alone, even if you call yourself an editor. You need that second set of eyes to look over your manuscript before you forward it on for printing.
You’re only as good as your editor / proof reader. Perception is reality, and the person buying your book will be the ultimate judge, not you, the author. I can say this with confidence, and hope to convince everyone I can to find a way to budget for a quality editor / proof reader.
Most editors / proof readers will review your first 10 pages for free. I’m confident even the most experienced writers will be amazed at the results. Do what I did; pay for a few pages here, a few chapters there. Before you know it, your entire manuscript will be transformed into a work of art.
Q: Please share with us your latest work-in-progress.
ST: I am currently writing the next two installments of the Breakthrough trilogy entitled Opening and Escalation. These two books will pick up where Breakthrough left off and take the story on an international level. The setting is the United States, China, and the Middle East.
These next books are very exciting as I use more discoveries and breakthroughs in physics in these books. Its too early to give away anything from these books, but for those who read Breakthrough, they will have a pretty good idea what direction Opening and Escalation will go.
What’s awesome for me is that I do not have to not have to set my stories centuries in the future and use characters with pointy ears. Since mankind is on the cusp of discoveries and breakthroughs in just about every facet of our lives, I can use our modern day setting and not have to resort to using a science fiction genre.
I’m also outlining an eerie Stephen King-type thriller entitled Murcat Manor set in Michigan.
Readers can visit my blog site at

Currently, Breakthrough can be purchased through traditional retailers. Currently, Breakthrough is cheapest though Barnes and Nobel, but can also be purchases through Amazon, Borders Books and Music, and Target.
Stephen, it has been a pleasure hosting you and getting to know you better. Best wishes for your continued success.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Guest Author ~ Stephen Tremp

We have the pleasure of hosting author, Stephen Tremp - today (August 3rd) and again on August 5th. Today he shares with us a bit of his background.

Stephen has a B.A. in information systems and an MBA degree in global management. He is currently completing his doctorate program in business administration. Stephen spent over ten years in consumer finance for some of the largest companies in the industry, holding numerous management positions. After many years of writing short stories and poems, Stephen has taken the last two years to fulfill his lifelong passion: write and publish Breakthrough. He has four more suspense thrillers to follow. Stephen receives his inspiration from some of his favorite authors: the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child tandem, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King, among others.
Please be sure to stop back on Wednesday, August 5th and learn more about Stephen's exciting writing career.
We look forward to your comments.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Ahhh, Labor Day. It’s the bittersweet holiday. Falling on the first Monday of every September, it’s traditionally looked upon as the end of summer. You may think it’s too early to plan ahead for this holiday, but getting a jump start on your plans is always a good idea.

Not sure what to do this Labor Day? Well, here’re a few fun festivals and events that may just have you looking forward to “the end of summer.”

EQUIFUNK, in the Pocono Mountains (2.5 hour drive from NYC), is a unique festival taking place September 4-6. EQUIFUNK offers a summer camp-like experience complete with sports, crafts, swimming, canoeing, zip-lining, rock climbing and much, much more. In addition, The Radiators and The New Mastersounds will perform live concerts.

Your family will enjoy “bunking” in the fully renovated cabins with all your meals, including outdoor evening barbeques, “mess-hall” breakfast buffets, lunches and poolside snacks and beverages, provided. Admission for the two-day festival is $250 per person (prices subject to change) and includes accommodations, all meals and beverages, and all shows and performances. Children under 12 stay free. Family events are offered daytime and babysitting services are available for a nominal fee.

To purchase tickets to EQUIFUNK or for more information, please visit the web site at

If you’re in or around the Huntsville, Alabama, area, visiting Huntsville Botanical Garden is a must-do. Fall fun here includes hayrides, the amazing sorghum maze, music, the enchanted forest, and the much-anticipated Scarecrow Trail. You may even enter your own home-made scarecrow for judging. Just go to their web site at to download an entry form. But hurry, deadline to enter is August 19.


Why not spend this Labor Day floating in the air? Callaway Gardens, located in Georgia, is holding its 11th annual Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival September 4-6. The festival kicks off Friday evening with the ever-popular “Balloon Glow.” You may then book a time in the morning or evening to soar in one of these beautiful balloons. If that’s not enough, you may also enjoy family entertainment, exhibits, music, demonstrations, and much more. For more information, check out their web site at

So don’t sit around this Labor Day mourning the loss of another summer. Get up, get out, and celebrate. Even if can’t make it to one of these festivals, check your local listings for fun activities and events happening near you.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is Your Baby Getting Sick?

To wrap up Baby Week, Dr. Erika Schwartz, Medical Director of Cinergy Health (, was kind enough to share her tips and advice on “how to know if your baby is sick.”


1. Fever. Infants should not have high fevers. In the first 6–12 weeks of life, most infants carry their mothers’ immune antibodies that protect from common illnesses. If a newborn has a fever over 100.4° F rectally, a doctor should be contacted. If a child has a fever above 100.6° F for more than 24 hours, the younger the child is the quicker a doctor should be contacted. Fever dehydrates children, so focus on keeping kids well-hydrated.

2. Cough. Infants should not be coughing. Sneezing is normal, but coughing is not. Keep in mind the fact that infants don’t move, so secretions will drip to the back of their throat and have to be removed by the caregiver. Call a doctor if an infant has a cough. If an older child has a cough, put him or her in the bathroom and turn up the shower to get steam into the child, which will loosen secretions. If the cough is productive of green or brown phlegm and sounds like a bark, call a doctor.

3. Change in appetite. Infants and young kids should be hungry and eat well at feeding time. If the baby or young child doesn’t eat, skips meals, or sucks poorly, call a doctor.

4. Cranky. Babies and young children are usually in a great mood. They coo and giggle. If you see a change in your baby’s mood, it’s usually a sign that he or she isn’t feeling well. Check to make sure your baby doesn’t have a fever, belly pain, diarrhea, or constipation. Do not ignore mood changes.

5. Colic. Infants routinely suffer from bellyaches and colic. After they eat, their little bodies have to digest the food, and sometimes the transit through the intestines is difficult. If the baby is inconsolable, you may want to consult a physician and discuss the formula or your diet if you are breastfeeding.

6. Vomiting. While it isn’t unusual for infants to spit up food after they finish a meal, it is unusual for them to vomit. Projectile vomiting—vomiting that shoots out across the room—is associated with digestive problems and congenital narrowing of the digestive tract. If the child projectile vomits or just starts vomiting, call a doctor. Infants get dehydrated easily, and dehydration is the most common cause of children’s needing hospitalization.

7. Colds. Colds are uncommon in newborns. Sneezing is okay, but if the baby starts having a cold that interferes with breathing by creating nasal congestion, call a doctor.

8. Rash. Rashes are unusual in newborns, so any rash that covers more than the diaper area should be looked at by a physician. Often formula allergies may be causing the rash.

9. Eye discharge. A rare occurrence but certainly something to keep in mind. If the baby has a discharge coming out of one or both eyes, you should consult a doctor.

10. Ear problems. If a baby tugs on his or her ear, or an infant rolls his or her head to one side (actions that are associated with crying and often fever), you are probably dealing with an ear infection, so you should take the baby to the doctor


*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.