Friday, August 30, 2013

Last Train to Omaha: Review, Giveaway, and More

A few months ago, Ann Whitely-Gillen wrote a guest post for my blog, called The Experience of Writing.  It was so well written that I promised her--and myself--that I'd read her book as soon as I had a chance to do so.  Now, finally, I've read her book, Last Train to Omaha
 
Published in 2013, Last Train to Omaha centers around protagonist James Milligan, a thirty-five year old architect in Chicago, who's been traumatized and deeply wounded by the loss of his best friend, Stephen Pike, who died at the age of 18.  As a result, James suffers from intense emotional pain which has lasted for nearly twenty years.  His only outlet seems to be helping veterans like Martin Diggs, who have experienced the horrors of war, at the Aaron Milligan Palliative Care Center hospital, where his parents and sister also work.  James is referred to as "The Shepherd" at the hospital because of his role helping patients who are close to death.  Although James appears to have a gift aiding the dying, he's been unable to live his life fully because of the trauma he experienced as a teenager.  He's bound by a past that continues to haunt him, even though his family--especially his sister, Kitty--have been supportive.  James has been closed to all relationships since Stephen died, but one day he meets Rebecca, the nurse who will be replacing Kitty (because Kitty's almost ready to give birth).  Although Rebecca is attractive, charming, and compassionate, and there is romantic potential between them, James is still aloof and distraught and emotionally unavailable.  Will James ever heal emotionally and psychologically?  There's a truckload of tension and drama.

What did I think of this book?  I'll cut to the chase because this is a rather long post, which also includes an informal essay by the author, and a giveaway.  I had a feeling this would be a good book, but I didn't know just how good it would be.  It surpassed my expectations.  Last Train to Omaha is profound and poignant, intelligent and thoughtful.  From the first page, I was an attentive and eager reader.  Gradually, as the story unfolded, I learned more about each of the main characters, including Stephen, and how he died.  The author has an exquisite ability to animate her characters; they are real people, with strengths and flaws.  I became emotionally invested in the main characters, especially James, Rebecca, Kitty, and Martin, who's particularly charming.  

Ann Whitely-Gillen is a superb writer.  It was hard to believe that this was her first novel!  She makes us think about how deeply past events, especially horrific ones, can affect us.  Last Train to Omaha is also a lovely tribute to our veterans, who have suffered greatly for others.  As I mention in my introduction to Ann's guest post, Last Train to Omaha is a story about accepting the past and moving forward.  Having read the book, I can now add that it's also about accepting the responsibility to live life more fully, to experience our emotional, physical, and spiritual journeys more completely.

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
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In the introduction of Last Train to Omaha, Ann wrote that she had a vivid dream which led to the writing of this book.  I found this remarkable, and asked Ann to tell us more about the dream, which starred the main character in the novel, James.  She talks about the dream that became her book, below.



Ann's Dream

AWG: One of my all time favorite Hollywood movie directors, Billy Wilder, once said, “You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.”  I can honestly say that I took his advice to heart upon hearing the news that I had breast cancer.  My initial state was that of shock and anger.  Life seemed to be rolling along normally for everyone else around me, while I became paralyzed with fear and anxiety.

In the mornings, radio announcers would come on with their usual jovial chattiness.  The sound of garbage trucks wheeling by juxtaposed with school children and their parents hustling about to catch the morning buses fueled my isolation.  In the evenings, I lay awake staring into nothing, longing for the trivial worries that used to keep me up before my new status as a cancer patient.  One night, during my usual fit of insomnia, I picked up a book that I had been putting off reading (thanks to my denial) entitled The AntiCancer Book by David Servan-Schreiber—a cancer survivor himself.  Each night I would devour the words on the pages—taking down notes on nutrition and the science behind the body’s ability to ward off disease.

Eventually, I came to a chapter in the book that talks about spirituality and death which was written to aid the terminally ill and their respective family members.  I decided that fear would not keep me from reading this portion of the book as I was determined to find peace with my newfound status. After all, a lifetime of stress and anxiety was likely the culprit to my disease in the first place (in my opinion) and I desperately wanted to manage it once and for all.  As I started to read I became enthralled with the concept of living towards death, particularly where Dr. Servan-Schreiber talks about Dr. Scott Peck’s strategy to coach his terminally ill patients through the dying process.  His premise was based on the poem by Carl Sandburg entitled “Limited”—Life is the great train speeding through time and space and we are all passengers.

I fell asleep peacefully that night and had one of the most vivid dreams I recall ever having.  In my dream, a young man is by the hospital bedside of a dying veteran.  He is speaking softly to the man—comforting him.  I cannot hear words but I can sense the presence of death in the air.  I can also feel anxiety surging through the young man’s body, as if suddenly I am transformed into him.  I see him walking down the long hallway of the hospital and I can smell the typical hospital scents.  He arrives at another veteran’s bedside and begins his vigil all over again.  He tells this patient about his best friend who was killed in a tragic accident when he was a teenager and how he has never been able to get over it.  The veteran, unconscious, is not aware of the young man, but still the young man unloads his pain as though he can hear him.

I awakened to the usual sound of the radio and in a haze, wondered if I had been transported into another time and space—-Was I there?   Did I know this person?  He looked like John Cusack?  Did I recently watch one of his movies?  Baffled by the bizarre dream (albeit it wasn’t my first experience with my eccentric subconscious) I started to talk to my husband about the man in my dream. The more I spoke of him, the more a story started to flow and without even knowing it.  I had described the entire plot to Last Train to Omaha.  I can still recall the look on my husband Doug’s face when I was describing this to him.  When I finished he said nothing for a moment.  Then—he grabbed my shoulders and looked me in the eye and said, “Annie, you need to write about this. You really have to write this story.”

When my husband headed off to work that day, I was left to my own thoughts again only this time, they weren’t riddled with fear and anxiety.  Perhaps a part of me was James (the young man in my dream) and maybe, just maybe, I needed to face a part of myself I had always wanted to but never knew how.  I feverishly started to write out James’s biography.  I ran the concept of his life by my best friend, Laurie, who along with Doug, nudged me long and hard to keep going on this project (despite it being my first time writing a novel and not really knowing anything about how to go about doing it!). 

In the end, my book was written, edited and published and I had overcome my cancer and all of the fear and anxieties that came along with it.  It was a dream that truly changed my life and as Wilder put it so many years ago—was the sole reason for my being able to “get up every morning” during the some of the darkest moments of my life.  For this, I am incredibly grateful.

Ann, thank you for describing how your dream changed your life and became your book.  I once had a dream which gave me a sense of being transported into another time and space (to the future), but that's a story for another day, perhaps. Your dream must have been particularly memorable and moving!  I think many of us would love to have a similarly dynamic and detailed dream that we could then turn into a book (which would of course require a lot of work).  

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Once again, the author is graciously offering a copy of Last Train to Omaha as a giveaway to one of my readers (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.  
  • For one more chance, leave a comment on Ann's guest post, and indicate that here.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, September 9.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, September 10.  Good luck to my readers!

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Really Random Tuesday #71: The New Baby and The Prosperous Heart


There's a new baby at our house!  Please help me welcome Daisy, a Chihuahua blend, to our family.  She's only two months old and weighs just under 5 lb.  Daisy's very sweet and has learned quite a bit in the past few days since we brought her home from the Helen Woodward Animal Center.  Our boxer, Jenny, passed away last summer, at the age of 14. We decided that our next dog would be a rescue, and thought that a mix might be a good choice from a health standpoint. When we saw this tiny dog at the animal center recently, we were smitten. 

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Although audiobooks are popular with many book bloggers, I've only listened to a handful of them.  My concern regarding audiobooks is finding the time and place to listen to them, since they are read "out loud".  I won The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of "Enough", an audiobook by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively, from Laura's blog, Laura's Reviews, during her generous audiobook giveaway this summer.  Determined to delve into this audiobook, I listened to The Prosperous Heart in my car, mostly while I drove solo, on short and long trips.

As I began to listen to The Prosperous Heart, I felt more prosperous almost immediately.  It related well to the experiences and feelings I was having a few weeks ago, to my thoughts and concerns. This audiobook helped me to worry less, and to focus more on the abundance of good things in my life.

The Prosperous Heart is filled with wisdom about prosperity--and so much more.  I relished the time I spent listening to this audiobook; it was surely quality time.  Author and narrator Julie Cameron's voice and words were soothing and inspiring.  Her descriptions of the joys of walking brought to mind recent wonderful walks I've taken, and the little surprises I've encountered, such as the magical, melodious church bells that greeted me one Saturday morning on my walk downtown.  There are many wonderful ideas in this book, and it was a pleasure to listen to.  A feeling of prosperity may result from discovering a hidden chrysalis, or finding that the pair of flip flops you bought on sale are extremely comfortable; little treasures add up.  Although I may not write "morning pages", I will, at the very least, count my blessings (that may be an overused phrase, but it does make us think about and appreciate what we have).  The book's comprised of 5 CDs, which seemed a bit daunting to me initially, but I discovered that they went by quickly, I was always eager to listen to more, and I've already listened to a few of the CDs more than once.  I think I'll "reread" this audiobook whenever I want to revisit and enrich my sense of prosperity.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related matters you can think of.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, then add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page

Your comments are welcomed!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blue Publishing: An Interview with Jacob Morris


"Behind every novel is a greater story of how it came to be published.”
~ T.L. Rese

When I received my first book in the mail from Random House a few years ago, I was overjoyed.  My father had worked for Random House decades before, as a copy editor.  I was thrilled beyond words that this well-known, respected publisher had sent me a book to review on my blog.  After that, I received books from numerous publishers, large and small.  Many things have changed since I started this blog in May of 2008, and book publishing, too, is evolving and transforming as a result of computers and the internet.  Here I present a brief interview with Jacob Morris, the founder of Blue Publishing, a company that offers ample guidance and professional publishing training to writers.

1) Welcome, Jake!  How has the world of publishing changed?  Tell us about your background, and why you started Blue Publishing.

JM: The publishing world has changed quite a bit even in the past few years.  The rapid growth and marketability of independent publishing have brought forward a lot of talent that might have been missed otherwise.  The internet has done well to fuel niche markets and introduce readers to books and knowledge that many readers would have missed otherwise.  With the rapid growth of eBooks and tools to help authors make those books, authors can get their books on the market in a matter of hours if they wanted to.  It is a really exciting time to be in the industry.  Also with the growth of Print on Demand options we are still seeing strong sales in the print divisions of the book market which for me is very exciting.  I think as we keep moving forward we are going to see more and more publishing services and less and less publishing companies.  We are already seeing that with big companies like Simon and Schuster who now offer Archway Publishing which is a self-publishing company.  Because of this big shift I was noticing a lot of amateur content being put out on the internet and quality dropping like a rock in almost every element of the books.  There wasn't a way for books to get cleaned up and so readers started getting frustrated and it was creating a mess for authors to get readers to pick up their books unless they were free.  I also noticed that the market was just getting flooded with writers without a clue on how to market their books.  For instance in 2010 there were only 400,000 books in the Kindle library.  Today there are well over a million books available for sale on Kindle and countless more available for free.  Nook and the iBookstore have seen similar explosions.  Authors quickly got lost in the sea of books available with almost no way to push their books to the top.  I worked with a number of frustrated authors who just couldn't seem to catch a break.  So rather than trying to work with all these authors individually,  I decided to start Blue to teach everyone effective ways to publish and market their work.  So far it has had a great response, and I hope to really be able to tap into the author market and be able to teach hundreds of people at once how to be successful.


2) What sort of support do you offer to aspiring authors? What are realistic expectations for a writer who signs up with Blue?

JM: I offer training and classes online, as well as exercises to improve writing skills and design skills.  I also post articles that keep authors up to date on the book industry as well as tips and tricks scattered throughout the site.  At this point,  I'm up to 900 min. of training and some 110 pages on the site, and I keep adding more and more information and training each week.  Sometimes on a single day the site will get another three trainings and a few articles.  It is just a very alive website that I enjoy updating as I find information.  Someone who signs up with Blue should expect to learn everything they need to know to give them a shot at being successful.  The big key is if the author is willing to put forth the work.  If they are they will see growth as they learn with this site.  Also, I opened up the site to questions so if you have a question that I don't address on the site at that time, all you have to do is ask on the site and you will get a response usually within 24 hours by either a written response or a new video.  As the site grows and more and more questions come in from authors, it really will be a one stop shop to learn everything.  I currently spend time each day scouting author forums and looking at their questions and seeing if I have a training made up already that answers that question.


3) What type of writers would benefit most from your services?

JM: Any author who has a literary work that they are willing to work to turn into something successful. One of the hard things for an author to learn is that once your book goes to production it is no longer a work of art and it has become a product to be sold.  I've worked with authors and many of them have a struggle thinking of their book as paper to be sold and not as their baby.  If the author is ready to work as a businessman or businesswoman then this training is perfect for them.  If they want to just be creative then Blue isn't the right fit. You won't be able to sell your book as a writer, and anyone looking to sell their book will need to change their thinking just a little bit or have someone else do it for them.

Jake, thank you for taking the time to discuss Blue Publishing, and best of luck with your business! 

For more information and/or to sign up, please visit Blue Publishing.

Questions and comments are welcomed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mailbox Monday


My stacks runneth over.  It's time to take inventory.  Most of the books I got in the mail this summer are books that I won on other book blogs.  I won Belinda's Rings by Corrina Chong from Melwyk's blog, The Indextrious Reader, Redwood Bend by Robyn Carr and The Look of Love by Bella Andre from Kristin's blog, Always With a Book, and The Prosperous Heart, an audiobook, by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively from Laura's blog, Laura's ReviewsMr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad arrived in the mail for an upcoming review for Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.


Created by Marcia from To Be Continued, Mailbox Monday is a meme that gives us a wonderful way to share and showcase our new books.  Mailbox Monday is hosted this week by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog.

What new books did you add to your stacks?


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