Renee interviews author Cara Cobb

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Cara Cobb

Cara Cobb is a resident of Cassadaga, Florida, a small community known for having a large number of psychics and mediums. She’s written a memoir about her life in a religious cult.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

My mother, a wealthy young Hungarian, was engaged to be married to a Nazi officer after WWII. Unfortunately for her, after the Allies won the war, the Americans allowed the Russians to first enter the cities that had been sympathetic to the Nazi cause. As our then allies barged through these marked cities, they plundered, raped and murdered the innocent populace.
My grandfather sent my mother and her two sisters out of Budapest ahead of the onslaught. They eventually trekked their way into Southern Germany, where they settled in a refugee camp high in the Bavarian Alps.
At the foot of the mountain was an American base, temporarily commandeered by a sergeant, an imposing New York Jew with a big heart, my father.
The Hungarians were hungry, cold and lacking in water and milk for their children. They needed help but were afraid to approach the Russian allies camped below. No young men were available to solicit the Americans, so the decision was made to send a beautiful woman with a big mouth.
My mother walked into the American camp— The rest is history.
I was born in Germany (February 14, 1952) and raised in the military. As we traveled, my mother insisted that we learn the language, participate in the culture and eat the foods of each locale.
After graduating from Berlin American High School in 1969, I married a GI from Hollywood, Florida. We returned to the states and settled in South Florida, where our first child was born in 1973 and I obtained an AA in Elementary Education.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
My father-in-law was a founder of a worldwide religious organization. My husband and I became very involved with the group and migrated to Fitzgerald, Georgia, to establish a community of “like believers” in 1978. Due to marital issues, I left my husband and the community in 2009.
My book, We Walk on Water, is a memoire of my 30+ years in the Move. My life there was unique, interesting and fulfilling. We gardened together, raised animals, birthed our babies at home, taught our own children and lived apart from the “world.” I left with no documented work experience to begin a new life at age 57.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
After leaving the Move, I learned of sexual, physical and financial abuse within the group that had been covered up. After my in-laws and mother passed, I decided to document my own experiences with candor, humor and love as an expose of this little-known, world-wide group.
The Move is the subject of a recent People’s Discovery Investigates Cult series for which I was interviewed. It is presently available on Amazon Prime Video and other venues.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
My biggest “aha” moment was when the UPS man delivered six boxes of my book to my door-step. I measure any success by the reactions of my readers, some of whom are former students from whom I have not heard in decades calling or writing to tell me how much my book means to them or how I have positively impacted their lives.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Books that have influenced me….. hmmmm, starting as a child with Edgar Allen Poe, Inspector Maigret and most recently, Educated by Tara Westover and The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. And I love Bible stories, especially the ones they don’t read in Sunday school.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I do not write every single day. I keep an electric typewriter open to type quick thoughts or reminders of things to add to stories later into my laptop. When I do serious writing, I usually go in spurts, having to stop every so often to “clear my palate” with housekeeping, errands, phone calls and such.

What are your interests outside of writing?

Outside of writing, we are very social and enjoy entertaining friends. My partner and I are yard-sale and thrift-store junkies. He owns several properties (three of which we use, the others are rentals) and we fill them with found art and unique furniture pieces. Oh, we also have a mannequin population in our Cassadaga home that I enjoy posing and dressing. In addition, I have three children and six grands (although, I see only one regularly).

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

If you are a writer, you know you are a writer. Write!!!! Keep a journal, write little stories. When I went into the religious group, I burned much of my youthful writings. I do regret that, although I have retrieved much from memory.
Yesterday, a writer friend gave me a profound insight. “Pretend you and I were driving to Winn Dixie together. What would you see? Cars, stop signs, street corners. Now pretend we are walking the same route to the store. What would you see? Perhaps a dead bird on the side of the road, perhaps a lost shoe, maybe an abandoned kitten. Write as if you are walking.”

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Taking care of the caregiver

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While being a caregiver for an elderly loved one can be deeply rewarding, it can also be extremely stressful. During those moments when my nerves are frayed and my patience is wearing thin, I’ve discovered some helpful techniques to remove myself from the situation and calm down.

How do I keep strong feelings from getting the best of me? I remember to “take five.” Best of all, my little mantra can take many different forms:

1. You could take five (literal) steps back from the situation if your loved one with dementia has become belligerent.

2. Count to five before you answer if you’re stuck in a cycle of repeated questions or comments.

3. Take five whole minutes to yourself (set a timer!) if you’re just worn out. While you relax, put on a calming television program or hand the person with dementia a favorite snack and leave the room.

4. In the evening, of course, you can always try five sips of wine…

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. She is currently writing the sequel.

Conversations with strangers

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A reporter’s notebook is a license to talk to interesting people.

Ever since I declared journalism as my college major, I’ve been striking up conversations with strangers. The notebook gives me a reason—and permission—to do it without feeling intrusive. Since my first reporting job at The Tampa Tribune, I’ve interviewed architects, designers, chefs, inventors, entrepreneurs, authors, activists – even a fashion designer (who paused during our conversation to give me tailoring tips for my suit.)

The interviews I conduct still challenge, inspire, and move me.

A reporter’s notebook is also a ticket to interesting places. Readers want to be taken somewhere, and, as their surrogate, I have “stomped the divots” at polo tournaments, broken speed records in an offshore power boat, drifted over Florida in a hot air balloon, watched the filming of “This Old House” for PBS and sashayed into Playboy Bunny tryouts. The key to bringing these experiences to life, is to convey the details.

Funny how my notebook – such a low-tech device – is the only thing I need to capture the sights, smells, sounds, and excitement of our world.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Memorial Day

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I won’t be spending Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery this year and I feel a little guilty about it. As a child growing up in New England, I remember my family’s tradition of gathering at the cemetery to honor our relatives by straightening tombstones, clearing brush and debris, and finally decorating the graves with fresh flowers. We said prayers for the dearly departed before eating “dinner on the grounds” (quite literally, on a blanket.)

It was a family reunion of sorts – between both dead and living relatives. I never considered it strange that we were picnicking atop the graves of our ancestors. It was simply a peaceful, all-day event, which included sharing stories and laughter.

Today, I live too far away to continue the tradition, but part of my heart will be in Washington DC and Brookline, Massachusetts, on this holiday.

May they all rest in peace.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

No dressing room needed

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Nude resort

During my tenure as fashion editor of The Tampa Tribune, I met a woman who ran a clothing store in a nudist resort.
“Nudists love clothes,” she insisted and I nodded as though the statement made perfect sense. Still, journalistic curiosity got the better of me when she invited me to visit her shop.
Driving through the security gate, I realized I hadn’t considered the potential awkwardness of my situation. I was wearing a linen suit and carrying a reporter’s notebook, which stood out in a sea of nakedness. As a parochial school grad, I admit experiencing initial shock the sight of a mixed doubles game of tennis. (The sight of so many objects bouncing on the court still haunts me.)
However, I now feel qualified to offer a few tips to anyone considering a clothing-optional experience this summer:
– Nude resorts understand it’s natural to look at people. What is not OK, however, is to stare. Like me, if you’re not used to engaging in eye-contact and conversation with someone who’s totally exposed, keep your sunglasses on.
– Nude resort etiquette calls for guests to sit on a towel. Resorts will have them at the ready, but bringing your own beach towel is a great way to easily identify your seat. Grabbing someone else’s towel by mistake isn’t something you want to do at a clothing-optional pool or beach.
– Clothing-optional resorts take great care to ensure their patrons feel safe and comfortable. That’s why many have strict policies around photography, some completely ban smartphones. Seize the opportunity to unplug from technology and relax. Bring a great book to read.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Renee interviews author Tabitha Young

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Tabitha Young

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in Virginia, outside of Washington D.C., but moved to Orlando to attend UCF (Go Knights!) where I received a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. It was five years ago when I met my husband, who is a graduate from Deland High, and two years ago, we moved back to Deland. During this time, I have fallen in love with the town and community.
Currently, I’m an active alumna of Kappa Alpha Theta and serve on the Advisory Board as the Facility Management Advisor for the Epsilon Theta Chapter at Stetson University. During my free time, I love being with my family (although we are usually working on our small family farm) traveling, and of course, watching college football.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
The idea for The Burden of Trust was literally a dream. This dream was different than my others because even after I woke, it continued to replay in my mind. A co-worker suggested that I write it down, and as I began writing the dream started to expand. What started as a doodle has turned into a full trilogy.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
My biggest challenge has been learning how to write. Writing a novel is completely different than composing an email or an essay. You have to learn how to tap into character’s feelings and emotions, and transport the reader into their world.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Most people don’t know that I initially had self published The Burden of Trust back in 2014. I sent it off to a reviewer and got a life lesson in criticism. She had explained that while the story was good, the writing was horrible. I was devastated. I remember sitting in a hotel room (because I was traveling with my husband) sobbing. It felt as though it had all fallen apart. Twenty minutes later and some support from my husband, I made the decision to start over. It was now or never, and I was determined to write a successful novel.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I tend to read what I’m writing. If it’s romance, I’m reading a Nicholas Sparks or Kristin Hannah. When I find that I’m lacking for descriptive language, I always turn back to Gone with the Wind, my all time favorite.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I try to write every day, but sometimes life tends to interrupt that. When the mood or motivation strikes, I sit down and write…even if it’s a napkin at a restaurant.

 What are your interests outside of writing?
First of all, I love college football! My family has a small farm, just a few cows, chickens and ducks and I enjoy going out in the mornings with my husband to take care of them. I love traveling to off-the beaten path places, meeting locals and learning about their culture.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
If you are writing your first novel, I would suggest hold off on publishing until it’s been edited by a professional and tested by a few reviewers. Don’t rely on friends and family for critical feedback. I learned a lot writing The Burden of Trust and one of the biggest things that I helped me was to read my book out loud. It’s amazing all the little errors you find. Always remember writing a novel is 10% writing and 90% editing!

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com.

Bark & Breakfast

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My favorite houseguests have fur.

My own beloved pooch died one month short of her seventeenth birthday and left a void in my life that nothing could fill. When a neighbor asked if I might help with her dog-sitting business, I happily agreed. With a few stipulations – pets must be non-shedding and under 30 pounds – I’ve played hostess to a number of furry houseguests when their parents go on vacation.

Each time they arrive, they run to me, tails wagging, crying with joy, covering my face with kisses. They are ecstatic to spend time with me.

My own children never greeted me with such enthusiasm.

(Full disclosure: They greet anyone we meet on our walks with the same exuberance, but I am not a jealous person. I can share the love.)

Dogs love to lounge in my lap or sleep at my feet as I tap at my computer keyboard. They make eager editorial assistants and never criticize my work. For a few magical days, they are my biggest fans, my new best friends.

I’m sad, of course, when they leave and my house feels empty again. But I know they’ll probably return for another visit…the best houseguests usually do.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers.”

Tea for two

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Rifling through my pantry this morning, I discovered a small package of loose tea from Harney & Sons American Tea Company. I remember the day I bought it, driving through the Berkshires with my photographer friend, Barbara Rosen. She lost a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer five years ago and the tea was a memory I hadn’t wanted to part with. I wondered if tea ever went bad?

Clicking around their website, I learned that Harney and Sons tea does not have an expiration date, but the company recommends their product be consumed within two years of the “best by date” on the packages. Whoops. “If your tea is outside that window, there’s no harm in consuming it, however, it’s very likely the flavor and aroma will be very subdued.”

Happily, it wasn’t. In fact, it smelled as great as it tasted.

Holding the cup, I missed Barbara a little less and remembered a lot more. She once said, “If you want to reach me, put your hand over your heart and talk. I’m there.” So I did.
Cheers to you, my friend.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of  The Anchor Clankers.

Renee interviews author Talya Boerner

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Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I grew up on a cotton farm in the Arkansas Delta (where my family goes back five generations). I have an economics degree from Baylor University. For twenty-five years, I lived in Dallas and raised two children while working as a commercial lender. About four years ago (as empty nesters), my husband and I moved back home to Arkansas. We now live in Fayetteville in the gorgeous Ozark Mountains with our two schnauzers, Lucy and Annabelle. I’m editing my next book and working to turn our backyard into a butterfly garden.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

The inspiration for my book came from my childhood. Although the genre is southern fiction, flashes and situations within The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee are autobiographical, inspired by the farm where I grew up and the people who influenced me. One of my favorite writers, Eudora Welty, said, “One place understood helps us understand all places better.” The setting for my book, Mississippi County, Arkansas, is my “one place understood”. The Delta, my small country church, the schoolhouse, the all-encompassing nature of farming—these things inspired me to tell Gracie’s story.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Leaving a successful banking career to follow my writing dream felt both exciting and frightening. While the solitary nature of writing fits my personality, I had no idea how difficult it would be to reach readers, to grow an audience, to earn an income from it.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

My most rewarding moments have resulted from connections made with readers who are eager to tell me that Accidental Salvation took them back to their own childhoods, to places or times they had all but forgotten. Also, having my book featured on NPR’s Arts & Letters was a definite high point!

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

A few of my favorite authors include Carson McCullers, Robert Olen Butler, Eudora Welty, Dorothy Allison, Charles Frazier, Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Jeffery Eugenides, and Nell Leyshon.
Childhood books that first sparked my love of reading include The Secret Garden, Little Women, Nancy Drew, Tarzan of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, and any Newbery award winner.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

Yes, I write most every day early in the morning with a cup of coffee. I start by recording in my journal the date, time, place, and current weather conditions. As a farm girl and gardener, knowing the weather forecast is ingrained in me. I can’t get started without checking the conditions. Crazy, I know!

What are your interests outside of writing?

Besides writing, I love nature and gardening, and I am a voracious reader.

Share some tips for other authors or aspiring authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

My advice to aspiring authors is to read excellent writing. Slow down and don’t be in a rush to publish your book. Hire a professional editor. Spend your spare time perfecting your craft rather than on marketing.
It’s my belief that good writing will be discovered. At least I hope so.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers.” To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com.

Renee interviews author Linda Fairstein

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I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Fairstein when she was the National Guest of Honor for the 2018 Florida Writers Conference. Warm and engaging, she has a personal story that is as intriguing as the novels she writes. (Producer Dick Wolf based the character of Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot in the TV show “Law & Order: SVU” on Linda.) Her latest novel, BLOOD OATH, was just released.

 
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I was born and raised in Mt. Vernon, New York – a very middle-class community just outside of New York City. For as long as I can remember, I loved books and libraries, reading stories and trying to write them. I had wonderfully loving parents who were very supportive of my goals. My father used to laugh every time I said that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, saying that I’d better think about a career that would actually allow me to support myself.

I went to Vassar College because of the great English lit program, back in the day when it was a women’s school. By my senior year, I thought my father had a point – I really didn’t have anything to write about!

My other interest was public service (a child of the JKF call to service – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you…’) and so I thought that law school would give me options to do interesting work. I went straight from college to the University of Virginia School of Law – which led me to my first job in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office – the 7th woman on a staff of 200 lawyers.

I stayed in that job for 30 years, running the country’s pioneering Special Victims’ Unit, and wrote my non-fiction book SEXUAL VIOLENCE and my first five novels in the Alex Cooper series while in that job.

I live in Manhattan most of the year, and have a home on Martha’s Vineyard, where I do a lot of my writing in the summer. My husband and I just bought a home on Gasparilla Island, off the Gulf Coast of Florida, where I have found a glorious new place to write and relax.

Little known facts? I’m still a lawyer. I do a lot of pro bono work representing victims of violence, and consulting on issues of sexual assault. My other childhood dream was to be a ballerina (!) – I took lessons until well into my early adulthood, which is why Coop takes ballet lessons, too. I miss my prosecutorial job every day, and stay close to the lawyers who succeeded me in that work.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

BLOOD OATH is the 20th book in the Alex Cooper series of crime novels. So many detectives and prosecutors are doing ‘cold case’ work now, solving crimes that happened decades ago that seemed impossible to unravel for so long. This story is the case of one such crime, and I wanted to explore the impact on both the victim and the perp of trying to get some justice so long after the fact. I always draw some of my motives and legal issues from real cases, so the plots are entirely made-up once the issues take hold in my imagination. This is one such story, like the others in the series.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

I think everyone who writes novels – especially in a series like this – is finding ways to make the characters evolve over time and keeping them fresh. Several books back, Alex Cooper was kidnapped. I thought it was important to have her experience the trauma of the victims she has worked with for so long. In the book that followed, she had to deal with PTSD and see things from that perspective – which affected her relationship with Mike Chapman, and required her to take a leave of absence. Coop is back in top form in BLOOD OATH, and it’s always a challenge to make that happen.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

The biggest ‘aha’ moment came at the very start of the series. My non-fiction book had been a NYTimes Book of the Year in 1994, but lots of people assumed it was a one-book experience, and that I wouldn’t be able to do fiction. My great friend and literary agent (first of all, a friend!) Esther Newberg encouraged me to try to tell my story about Coop, but not to go too far without showing her pages, just so she could tell me whether to plug ahead or give up. In the early fall of 1995, when I had written 64 pages, I sent them to her, and she gave me some constructive criticism. Just after Christmas of that year, I sent her the edited pages and another 30. Again, it was just for her eyes only! A week later she called me to say that she had decided, without telling me, that the pages were ready to show to editors – so she sent them out to three big publishers. She told me that there was a bidding war for FINAL JEOPARDY, and one of the publishers asked whether I thought I could do two books. I snapped back that I thought I could do ten – that I had always wanted to write a series of crime novels. Esther sold the Alex Cooper series the next day – truly my ‘aha’ moment. I pinch myself when I think that BLOOD OATH is number 20.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I’m a glutton for good books! I love to read other crime novelists, of course. Right now, I’m reading the brand-new Lisa Gardner book. I like Harlan Coben and Lisa Scottoline and Michael Connelly and Andrew Gross and Louise Penny. I love history and biography, too. My next book up is the Andrew Roberts biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I probably write crime novels because I was influenced so strongly by the Nancy Drew books when I was a kid! All good storytellers have influenced my writing.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

Yes, I try to write something every single day. If I am not moving along in my manuscript, I might be writing an article on some aspect of criminal law or helping a friend edit a piece of work. I think it’s critical for a writer to be living ‘in words’ every day – writing and reading, both of which I love to do.
As far as rituals go, I don’t have many. I am mostly a morning writer. I like to get up, read the newspaper, answer some emails, enjoy a few cups of coffee. Then I like to get right into the work. I stop in the early afternoon for some exercise – swimming or biking or hanging out with friends on a long walk. I never write in the evening – one glass of wine and I’m done with the written page.

What are your interests outside of writing?

I’m happiest when I’m with family and friends, so that’s usually my main focus. I love the company of other writers, and I have a loyal group of former colleagues with whom I stay in regular contact. I have played sports all my life – tennis when I was younger – and competitive swimming. I still love swimming laps and riding my bike (which I get to do every day on Gasparilla – it’s got fabulous bike paths). My husband and I love to travel, so when I take a break from writing, we like to head for some place foreign or familiar – without my laptop.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

So many aspiring writers have told me that they procrastinate a lot because they don’t know where they are going with their work. But you can’t write unless you sit down in front of a computer and start in on it. Write! Write something every day – even if it’s just a few paragraphs or lines. You have to enjoy the process or you have chosen the wrong field. It is very solitary and very difficult work, and often slow to show results. It has become harder and harder to get work published, but unless you keep at the writing – and polish your words – you’ll never get to the finish line. And once you do, and you are fortunate enough to be published, it’s a great thrill. Read, read voraciously – because good storytelling is inspirational, and seeing how other writers use the language is hugely helpful. No more procrastinating – get to work!

 

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Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com.