Friday, January 25, 2013

Richard Michelson: Connecting Children With The World Through Story

Everyone's Story welcomes Richard Michelson. Rich was introduced to me by a friend at church (hi Bobbie!). As Rich and I chatted we learned we were from the same Brooklyn neighborhood--East New York. As you will discover in the interview below, East New York has directly influenced how we both interpret the world and how it has impacted our writing. Rich is also the owner of the prestigious art gallery, R. Michelson Galleries, in Northampton Massachusetts. He's also the Poet Laureate of Northampton. Please welcome Rich.

Book Giveaway Opportunity:

Rich is graciously offering 1 of his children’s books to 1 randomly chosen commenter—winner’s choice! The winner will be announced between 4-6 EST on February 1st. Please leave your email address within the body of your comment. Thanks.

An Interview with Richard Michelson:

In our introductions to each other prior to this interview we discovered we were two former Brooklyn kids from the neighborhood with one of the toughest reps—East New York. Small and fascinating world! In your website bio you credit this beginning as influencing your “exploration of racial issues.” Does this reflect directly in your children’s books TWICE AS GOOD and ACROSS THE ALLEY?

Definitely. It reflects in those books plus Busing Brewster and As Good As Anybody. When I was born my area of East New York, Brooklyn was 90% Jewish and 10% black. Each year the lever tilted a bit until it was a balanced see-saw- 50/50 (the period of time covered by Across the Alley) and before long it was 10% Jewish. Later the Latinos moved in and the African American population declined.  Eventually my family joined the white flight to the suburbs –but weekends I would drive with my Dad back into Brooklyn to work in his hardware store. I would leave a white world, and enter a black one. I grew up yet thinking blacks and Jews were best friends with a common economic enemy but I was also accustomed to racial stereotyping and ethnic jokes.  As I grew older, I tried to understand the tensions and the anger brewing on both sides. As a writer, I write about the things that interest me, or the things I am trying to understand. Racial concerns and social justice issues are always on my radar.  

Your book, AS GOOD AS ANYBODY, tells the true story of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel who joined forces in fighting for the civil rights and equality for all. Obviously this is a tale that encourages compassion for others, challenges one to stand up against the norm of society, and to take great risks. This is not light reading for a child. Was this book a hard sell to the publisher? And speaking of risks, why do you believe it’s necessary to write these moralistic stories for children?

I never set-out “to teach” children a lesson. I set out to explore a subject, and often what interests me is how people react to difficult situations, step out of their societal comfort zone, overcome their circumstances and reach for their dreams (sometimes failing, and sometimes changing the world in the process). In both my fiction and non-fiction work the story is paramount. I am interested in the struggle more than the result; the journey above the destination. Children do not want to lectured; they want to be challenged or filled with wonder. If the story resonates with their lives on some level, they will keep turning the pages. I write for young children because that is how you build a society’s foundation. You start with the children and work your way up. I am convinced kids understand complex issues better than we older folk do.  School kids are dealing with demands of friendship everyday, and the moral complications of wanting to speak out for what is right, and still fit in with the majority. Stories are a safe way to figure out how best to navigate the world.

Moralist stories have a bad rap, and often it is well deserved, either because the moral overshadows the story, or because someone feels they have a lock on God’s truth ( I am thinking here of the literalists in all religions). That is a recipe for a bad book. Yet I am driven to write because I want to communicate certain values, or my way of seeing the world, so I don’t automatically reject the term. All my books tend to be difficult “sells” to the publisher because I write books that explore political, religious and social fault-lines. But I don’t recall this book being any more difficult than the others, and I have been more than fortunate in finding a reading public among librarians, teachers and families. 

HAPPY FEET talks about the sacrifices parents make for children. On top of equality-for-all, is parental sacrifice another reoccurring theme in your books and poetry as well as in your own life?

I think parental sacrifice is a theme in most everyone’s life. Or if not, it should be. Any life examined, is greatly changed by the output of time and money that children command. For artists especially, time is precious, and money buys time.  How we balance the demands without resentment is crucial.  In the end I judge myself (and others) by the whole person, not just the author part of my personality. I know plenty of wonderful writers who are miserable human beings, and some very caring non-readers. I’ll take the latter any day of the week. Rabbi Heschel once said “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

A stumbled-upon-job at the age of 19, selling fine-arts reproductions out of the back of your van, proved to be the path that took you to becoming an author and opening your renowned art gallery. As a teen, what did you originally dream about becoming or doing in life?

I didn’t dream much. Still don’t. Mostly I work hard and put one foot in front of the other and hope that today will improve just a bit on yesterday. I don’t wait for inspiration in my writing life—I just force my butt into my chair and stare at the screen until I shame myself into putting down words. As a teen I definitely had the desire to “make something of myself” but mostly I wanted to figure out how to make enough money to get through the week. But it is true that I had very little exposure to the “fine arts” and happenstance introduced me to what would become my life’s work. 

Congratulations on being chosen as Poet Laureate of Northampton (MA). Was this a surprise or something you’d hoped to achieve?

It was a lovely surprise. First of all I am thrilled to live in a City that takes the arts seriously enough that they even have a Poet Laureate. Secondly I am following in some amazing footsteps— poets like Jack Gilbert, and fellow East New York Blooklynite Martin Espada. Since my writing for children has often eclipsed my poetry for adults, I was thrilled to be acknowledged by the Northampton Arts Council, and happy for the platform it provides me to help spread my love of poetry.  

And here’s the how-do-you-do-it-all question: you’re an award-winning author; own a prestigious art gallery; give lectures; and very much a family man. What’s your secret of juggling it all?

As I say on my site, I am a full time poet, full time kid’s book author, full time gallerist, and full time husband and father. Now pay close attention because here is my secret: I am a neurotic mess most of the time and barely keeping any of the balls in the air, and I am constantly stressed out, and I often make everyone around me miserable. 

You’ve come a long way from the little boy who grew up in MY East New York neighborhood (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) to who you are today, but tell us: can you ever take the Brooklyn out of the child?

It appears not since much of my writing life still resolves around the old neighborhood. At least for me, I have spent my adulthood trying to understand my childhood. And after 30+ years in Massachusetts the old Brooklyn accent is very much alive.

Author's Bio:
RICHARD MICHELSON is the author of more than 20 books for adults and children. He has been a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award (twice). He received a Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medal from the Association of Jewish Librarians, the only author to be honored with their two top awards, in the organization’s history. The New York TimesPublishers Weekly, and The New Yorker have all listed Michelson’s books among their Ten Best of the YearAs Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom was among Amazon’s 12 Best Children’s Books of the Decade.

Michelson’s adult poetry has been published in many anthologies, including The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Blood To Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, Beyond lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness, and Unsettling America: Contemporary Multicultural Literature. . His poetry has been praised by Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel as “deeply moving.” The Jerusalem Post called his collection Battles & Lullabies, “a touching masterpiece … and one of the best poetry books in many years." Clemson University named Michelson their R. J. Calhoun Distinguished Reader in American Literature in 2008, and new poetry has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Image: Art, Faith, Mystery and The Harvard Review.

Michelson is a board member of PACYA (Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults), and he has lectured, and read from his works in India, Eastern Europe, and throughout the United States. He is the owner of R. Michelson Galleries and the current Poet Laureate of Northampton Massachusetts. His website is You can also find his gallery on Facebook.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jean C. Gordon: Author of Heart, Home and Faith Stories

Everyone's Story warmly welcomes multi-published author Jean C. Gordon. This is Jean's second appearance here. It's been a joy watching her literary career growth through the years. Jean is now focusing on Christian Inspirational Romances. Her third Love Inspired title will be out this July. Go, Jean! Check out Jean's dynamic Book Giveaway offer below of SMALL-TOWN DAD, her current release (there's a link for a preview). Jean also joins us for an interview. 

Book Giveaway:
Jean is offering 1 copy of SMALL-TOWN DAD to 1 randomly chosen commenter. For easy contact, please leave your email address within the body of the comment. The winner will be announced next Friday, January 25th, between 4-6 PM EST. Looking forward to seeing your thoughts!

Click here to read an excerpt of SMALL-TOWN DAD

                             Questions for Jean:

Your current Harlequin Love Inspired novel, SMALL-TOWN DAD, centers on a theme of how God intervenes in one’s life with another plan up His sleeve. Has God intervened in your life in such a manner?

Yes, in a fairly big way. From the time I was in high school, I had planned on having several children. After we were blessed with our daughter, I couldn’t have any more. God led us to adoption — something we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of doing — and our special needs son, whom we needed as much as he needed us.

Do you have a reoccurring author’s theme amongst your novels or do they all vary?

While not intentionally planned, all my books seem to have a theme of home or coming home.

You set your stories on upstate New York. What are you hoping to capture for your readers by this story setting?

I like to show readers the “other” New York, outside of New York City. I’m sure many people will be surprised to learn that Upstate NY has many small villages and hamlets with populations of 3,000 or less. Paradox Lake, where my current book is set is a mountain community with a year-round population of about sixty people (2010 census).

Has your tax and financial writing background helped you to write novels in any way, such as self-discipline or maxing the hours in a day or  . . . ?

I think the most important thing I’ve learned from my day job is to be open to revisions. Your editor is your friend. You’re a team. S/he wants to help you make your book the best it can be. 

Before publishing with Harlequin you published six sweet romance novels, and now you will see your third Love Inspired title coming out in July. Many will say you’re quite successful! At this point of your career, are you running into any bumps or unexpected surprises—writing or publishing wise—that you never thought of before you were published?

The amount of time promoting takes. My earlier books were for a publisher that sold primarily to libraries. I couldn’t expect a lot of other sales, so it wasn’t cost effective—in terms of time or money—to promote. Publishing with Harlequin—and with my two self-published backlist books—I feel more pressed to promote. I try to pick and choose and do a medium amount of promotion based on what I know other authors are doing.

Any tips on juggling a full-time job/career with a growing writing career?

Yes, figure out a way to give up the other job. Seriously, you need to have the discipline to set up regular blocks of time to write and work on your book during those blocks. You have to look at writing as a job. You’re not going to last long at another job if you don’t show up to work when you’re supposed. Similarly, you can’t succeed as a writer if you don’t write regularly. 

How useful is getting the buzz out on your books social media wise?
I really don’t know. I post regularly on Facebook and every few months on the Craftie Ladies of Love Inspired Romance, as well as guest blogs. But not having privy to immediate sales information, I have no way to measure the impact.

Courtesy of Google Image

What encouragement do you hope that your reader will carry in her or his heart upon finishing one of your novels? 

That no matter what the situation, they can rely on God to show them the way through it.

Viewers, do you have a question or comment for Jean? She'd enjoy hearing from you ♥

Author Bio:

Jean C. Gordon’s writing is a natural extension of her love of reading. A professional financial planner and editorial group manager for an international communications company in Albany, NY, Jean is as at home writing retirement- tax-, and investment-planning advice as she is writing romance novels, but finds novels a lot more fun.

She and her college-sweetheart husband tried the city life in Los Angeles, but quickly returned home to their native Upstate New York. While Jean creates stories, her family grows organic fruits and vegetables and tends the livestock de jour.

Jean likes to give back when she can. She and her husband team-taught a seventh-and-eighth-grade Sunday school class for several years and currently serve on her church’s Evangelism Committee. She also shares her love of books with others by volunteering at the church’s Book Nook. 

You can keep in touch with Jean at:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Deanna Nowadnick: Living With The Fruit Of His Holy Spirit

Everyone's Story welcomes Deanna Nowadnick, author of the memoir FRUIT OF MY SPIRIT: Reframing Life in God's Grace. Deanna shares with readers that despite missteps and misdeeds God's grace and love for us is huge... a perfect boost to the still young New Year. There's a preview of the opening of her book--which she's offering as a Giveaway, plus Deanna shares her thoughts on peace on earth beginning with each of us, followed by a awesome YouTube video. Come visit with Deanna. She's looking forward to meeting you.

Book Giveaway:
Deanna is offering one copy of FRUIT OF MY SPIRIT to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced on Friday, January 18th between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your email address within the body of the comment. Thanks!

The opening of Deanna's book :

Fruit of My Spirit: Reframing Life in God’s Grace

by Deanna Nowadnick

         I’m a mess. The highlights in my hair hide a pre-gray drab. One hip and one knee have been replaced and another knee should be. I’m overweight and under the illusion that I’m going to wake up one morning to a younger, skinnier self. On good days I whine and complain. On bad days I whine and complain more. I’m impatient whenever life has the audacity to thwart my plans. I get frustrated whenever life presents a detour or a hurdle. At one point I planned to live to 125. When I remembered that the Bible says Moses only lived to 120, I decided on 119. I can’t imagine God needing me around longer than Moses.
         Life has its challenges. Life is a challenge. I know my existence is about more than this body. I know it’s not about gray hair, failing body parts, and excess pounds. I know the important stuff’s on the inside, but honestly, I’m not so sure that the inside stuff’s any prettier. Perhaps I’ve been expecting God to act as my own fairy godmother, ready to pop into the scene any moment now with a twinkle in His eye and a wand in His hand. I’ve been waiting to be tapped ever so gently on the forehead and magically transformed into a loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled delight in His life, adorned in a nice white ensemble, cute shoes, and fresh nail polish. In thinking that, I’ve not only trivialized God’s love and forgiveness, but I’ve missed the magnitude of His mercy that’s been shared with me over and over again. I’ve overlooked the fruit of His Holy Spirit that’s already a part of my own spirit in all that I do and all that I am.
         So now what? Filled with His Holy Spirit, do I step back from life as I’ve known it? Do I need to tiptoe around the messiness of each day, avoiding the dirt and grime of my daily existence? If not wearing a white ensemble, something off-white? With His fruit, will I have this new aura about me that parts the seas and calms the storm within?
         From an early age, I’ve been told that I am a child of God. I was brought up in the church. I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I attended youth group. In high school and college I worked part-time in the church office. I was active as a child, as a young person, and as an adult. That being said, I’ve still wondered at times about my place in God’s family and God’s place in mine. When the lights are turned out and I’ve left the church building, is there really a spot in God’s heart for a defiant child? In His divine plans for a self-centered teenager? In His family for an adult who gets tired, impatient, frustrated, and distracted? Just having to ask tells me that I’ve truly failed to grasp the enormity of God’s love and mercy. And today, I stumble through life trying to understand a gift that has no measure, picking myself up, only to trip on the very next hurdle. Bumped and bruised I’ve failed to see God’s incredible ability to make the best out of the worst, the most out of the least, using forgotten moments, selfish intentions, and regrettable mistakes all for His glory.
         I think I have a pretty good understanding of God’s gift of unmerited love and complete forgiveness, intellectually. Like any good Sunday School student, I could put together a well-worded essay on the tenets of faith; my head’s got it. But my heart’s not so sure. I realize now that I’ve rested in my intellect without finding comfort for my soul. I’ve reacted to life with the frustrations of a child, the hurts of a teen, and the failings of an adult. I have buckled under the weight of God’s law and found it harder and harder to stand tall in the light of His love and grace. I’ve let my own plans and ambitions trump God’s will for me in my life. I’ve ignored His blessings, focusing instead on life’s challenges, and let the what-ifs consume my thoughts and energy. And now wrongdoings and shortcomings, imperfections and transgressions have become stone tablets amounting to fifty-six pounds of excess weight.
         So here’s where I find myself: I’m sitting in church on Sunday morning. We’ve just sung a couple uplifting songs of welcome. Next is the Confession of Sins (for all those wrongdoings, shortcomings, imperfections, and transgressions):
Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.
         Some Sundays we’re more blunt: “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto Thee that I am by nature sinful and unclean.” And with those words, I’m left in a poor, miserable place with no room to hide behind the collective voice of the congregation. God has offered me errors and omissions insurance and I’m still opting to fight my own battles in court—day after day after day. I’ve not only returned His gift of forgiveness unopened, but I’ve left him waiting in the foyer of my life as I linger endlessly at the pity party for innumerable mistakes. God’s patience has been undeniable and completely undeserved. He has waited when I couldn’t be bothered, when I was determined to go it alone, when I had a “better” idea, an easier solution. As the failures amassed and life’s struggles accumulated, He remained faithful, loving, and caring for me, guiding and pushing me.
         By focusing on the trials of this life, I’ve overlooked the forgiveness that comes immediately after my confession in the pew. I’ve missed the harvest that springs forth from seeds of grace. And in doing so, I’ve missed the fruit of God’s Spirit described so eloquently in Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia, a letter written in part to help new Christians who had lived under Old Testament law move forward in New Testament grace. He passionately encouraged them to live by the Spirit and to share in the fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:22–23
         With Paul’s encouragement and God’s blessing, I want to reframe my own life in God’s love and grace. I want to take the memories, those pictures that have been hanging on the walls of my heart, and reframe them. I want to replace broken glass, bad matting, and damaged wood. Together with God, I want to redo each photo, this time concentrating on the beauty of each remembrance, this time surrounded by a frame of love and forgiveness. Through it all I want to focus on the hugeness of God’s faithfulness. There won’t be a tap on my forehead; there will be no magical moments. This is real life, not a cartoon re-creation. God’s holding my hand, not a wand. He’s really there; He has been all along. He has loved me without hesitation every day, every moment, through the best and the worst. I’ve truly been a part of His most glorious plan and most wonderful purpose. The Divine Master has been using my life and my missteps in the creation of a beautiful masterpiece, a blessed work of art colored with love and hope, highlighted with mercy and joy, and signed by the Almighty Himself, my Lord, my Savior.
         As I go forth with God, my efforts to reframe life’s experiences are not just redecorating projects; they’re an opportunity to look back and see His love and forgiveness, to recognize the fruit of His Holy Spirit in my life. More importantly, they’re the chance to see a bigger purpose, something that’s been easy to overlook. God created me in His image. I was blessed to be a blessing. God picked me for a special purpose—one that would require the talents and experiences of a middle-aged woman, someone who had known both joy and heartache, someone who had lived life to its fullest, yet also known the regret and sorrow of a wasted moment and a neglected opportunity. He wanted my strengths and my weaknesses, my quirks and my flaws, my loves, my passions, and even my ditziness.
         I’m not a child of God because people told me so; I’m His child because He made me so. He has loved and cared for me without fail through the best of times and during the most trying. When the lights were turned out and I left the church building, He left with me. And as part of His family, my growth in Him brought forth the fruit of my own spirit, imperfect, a little blemished, but delicious, sealed in His grace, fruit that has been a part of all that I do and all that I am. And now I look back with patience and understanding and look ahead with hope and joy. More importantly, I pause in gratitude for a God who was willing to include me in His unique and blessed plans for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
         And so I pray:
May the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him,
so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Romans 13:13

         With God, it can be so. Today I plan for the harvest by planting seeds of hope and promise, wisdom and insight. Together with my Lord and Savior, I look back at life’s struggles with new eyes, recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit in ways never before imagined or acknowledged. Those battered frames really do surround pictures of inestimable worth.
         So, as the old hymn proclaims, “This is my story, this is my song!”

Let There Be Peace on Earth by Deanna Nowadnick

I found myself without words. Hearing of the tragedy in Connecticut, my heart broke. Actually, my heart didn’t just break, it shattered. In the fraction of a second the love, joy, peace, and hope of the Advent season crumbled as the mother in me cried at the deaths of 26 babies, the teacher in me froze as the horrific events of an elementary school were shared in excruciating details.

Who, God? Who could do such a thing? Who could find himself so separated from society that life itself had lost all value and meaning?
What, God? What really happened that Friday? What caused one man to succumb to an evil plan of destruction?
Where, God? Where are You? Where is Your love, joy, peace, and hope in the midst of such overwhelming grief and undeniable pain and suffering?
When, God? When will it get better? When will we be able to find comfort and joy in a world broken by sin?
How, God? How do we make sense of it all? How do we give meaning to an event that is beyond comprehension?

I shudder at the impact of sin. I shudder knowing that evil is real. I shudder remembering that it started with a whisper in the garden, words of temptation that became an act of disobedience. That story was followed by another: a son’s anger became a deadly act of hatred.

I ache for answers. I ache to know what God would say to so many questions, those asked aloud and those I can’t put into words.

And now I pray. I pray that God might use me, might use us, to share love, to bring joy, to offer peace, and to promote hope in a world that is broken, in a world that is crying for justice and compassion.

Ann Curry, NBC News Correspondent, proposed 26 acts of kindness (#26acts) in response to her own question, “What can I do?” She wondered what we could do if we all committed 26 acts of kindness to honor the lost children and heroic teachers of Newton, CT.

As a Christian trying to follow God’s call this day, I wonder about taking Ann’s challenge one step further. What if we commit to 26 acts of kindness and one act of love, not the easy act of love, but the hard one? What if we each find a way to bridge a misunderstanding, to open a door slammed in anger, to find that moment of peace when every part of our being wants to shake in rage and frustration?

I’m not naïve enough to believe that a single act of love will overcome evil in the world, but I am challenged to find a way to make a difference, however small.
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

Jill Jackson yearned for peace, too. After living through wars and fears of nuclear bombs, after learning of families torn apart by conflicts, she believed the words to her song came through her and not from her. May it be so for us 

Author Bio:

Deanna Nowadnick is a Pacific Northwest native and debut author. Fruit of My Spirit began as a love story to her sons. She just wanted them to know how she met their father. One chapter quickly became many chapters. One day, she said to anyone who’d listen, “I think I wrote a book.”

When not writing, Deanna serves as Client Service Coordinator for The Planner’s Edge, a financial advisory firm. Deanna is active in her church, playing the violin and editing the monthly newsletter. She loves to knit, adores chocolate, and most importantly, enjoys a blessed marriage to Kurt. They are the proud parents of two adult sons, Kyle and Kevin.

Deanna is currently working on Book 2. Signs in Life: Standing with God at the Corner of Grace and Mercy tells of those times when God has come alongside and guided, directed and turned her.

Links to find Deanna:

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