“Old Christmas” by Washington Irving – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


Old Christmas is a tale of the quaint and old English traditions of celebrating Christmas. Irving travels to the English countryside and meets an old schoolmate, who invites him home to spend Christmas at the family estate.

Goodreads


I’m a big fan of Christmas, but admittedly I’d never read much Christmas-related material. There’s no time like the present, though?

If the name Washington Irving sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He was American, but this story takes place in England.

The first part is the author/narrator philosophizing on how great old Christmas traditions were, many of which were falling out of fashion. (One has to wonder what he’d think of Christmas today!) The story is told in first person, and the narrator is traveling. He comments on the scenery and other travelers, and then is invited by one Frank Bracebridge to join him at his father’s estate to celebrate Christmas the “old-fashioned” way.

The rest of the story goes through the festivities of the night of their arrival, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. There are many foods and drinks described – did you ever want to know what goes in wassail? – as well as clothes, songs, and church outings.

Some charming passages:

“…they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at present.”

“I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.”

“If, however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humour with his fellow-beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not have written in vain.”

As is always the case when reading an older text, there were various words I had to look up. But something else I found interesting was that, once upon a time in England, Christmas had been banned! (Read more about that here and here, if you’re so inclined.) I find this whole thing funny, since so many overly-enthusiastic evangelicals think there’s a “war on Christmas” in our times.

This is a short read and, as long as you’re ok with some old language, a sweet and warm little story.


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“A Little Bit Wicked” by Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


In this lively, laugh-out-loud book, Kristin shares her journey from Oklahoma beauty queen to Broadway leading lady, reflecting on how faith and family have kept her grounded in the dysfunctional rodeo of show biz.

Goodreads


I am admittedly one of those people who’s seen Wicked on tour… oh, 3 or 4 times? That’s not too bad, right?

Kristin Chenoweth writes a pretty straight-forward memoir here, which talks about her childhood, theatre and TV experiences, love life, etc. It’s roughly in chronological order, with sidesteps here and there.

I thought the story of her adoption – and a possible sighting of her birth mother later on – were riveting. She grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with one older brother and tons of first cousins. Like many girls, she started dance lessons from a young age. She later started singing, often in church.

Chenoweth briefly competed in some local pageants as a way to win money for college. She was often one of the shortest competitors, but she knew her talent – singing – was stronger than some of her competitors’ talents. She never took first place, but earned some money to help her out in her school days.

One story I found funny was about her needing a tonsillectomy in college. She was training under a demanding vocal coach, and was worried that her soprano voice might change. In the end, it did – it got higher.

After her undergrad years in Oklahoma, Chenoweth moved north to study opera in Philadelphia. But she had other friends moving to New York, and it was so close… that she often found herself tagging along on musical theatre auditions in the big city. And, she was cast almost immediately!

(She did eventually finish her Master’s degree, to please her dad.)

Getting cast in a show is only one step, though, and the rest of Chenoweth’s story will remind readers what the “struggling actor” life is all about: crappy apartments, long hours, physical accidents and injuries, etc.

Obviously, she gets gigs that are better and better. She starts getting work on the West Coast, as well – first on TV, then in a few movies. She does a lot of charity concerts, performs on the Oscars, and dishes on her boyfriends (most notably, Aaron Sorkin). She also has a dog named after Madeline Kahn.

This memoir will mostly appeal to people who already find Chenoweth charming, or people who love hearing the backstage gossip on their favorite Broadway shows.


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“French Exit” by Patrick Dewitt-Review

By: Kota


★★★★☆

A realistic and heartfelt comedy, French Exit is bound to draw you in. Written by Patrick Dewitt, this novel will make you laugh and cry and gain a new perspective on both wealth and mortality. 

Witty yet dark, humorous yet sobering, Patrick Dewitt’s French Exit is a must-read that shows the ups, downs, and oddities of a certain mother-son relationship. Aptly named, French Exit is the tale of what happens when mother Frances and son Malcolm become bankrupt and escape to Paris. Right with them is a character who later becomes my favorite, Frances’ independent cat, whom she swears is a reincarnation of her husband. With Frances’ egotistical attitude and Malcolm’s childish ways, this book is a rollercoaster from start to finish. I enjoyed the insight into what it would be like to flaunt the last of my money marching around Paris, taking in the sights and later becoming engrossed in life after money. The character developments, even that of the cat’s, are ones to be praised as well. Heralded as a classic dark comedy, Dewitt creates an exciting, hilarious, and of course, a sometimes sad situation out of something anyone could experience- poverty. 

“On Time – A Princely Life In Funk” by Morris Day with David Ritz – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


“Brilliant composer, smooth soul singer, killer drummer, and charismatic band leader, Morris Day, has been a force in American music for the past four decades. In On Time, the renowned funkster looks back on a life of turbulence and triumph.”

Goodreads


A few weeks ago, I tackled Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” So it seemed only logical to follow that with Morris Day’s memoir, which was published the same month (October 2019). If you don’t know Morris, please take a break and go watch Purple Rain. (Or even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, for that matter!)

This is another memoir that is written in a unique style. In this one, the story is (thankfully) told in chronological order. There are three “voices” in the book, though – Morris, Prince, and MD (who is Morris’ onstage persona). Obviously, they were all written by Morris, but he uses these voices to kind of argue with himself on certain points where there are conflicts or confusion.

Morris was born in Springfield, Illinois, but moved to Minneapolis when he was still young. His parents were divorced, and he had several step-dads and half-siblings. His older sister was the rock to him, and continued to help him out of trouble well into their adulthoods.

Morris started out as a drummer. He met Prince in high school, and became the drummer for the Purple One’s band. There were several other funk outfits going at the time, and he admired certain players and singers in some of them. He was constantly in search of a good groove.

When Prince created his first signed band, The Revolution, he did not invite Morris to be the drummer. But, he did offer Morris a completely different gig, if Morris wanted to go on tour with them – videographer. Of course, Morris said yes, despite not having any experience. In the early eighties, this meant lugging around a heavy camera. He stuck with this gig for three years, just to be close to Prince’s creative genius.

Eventually his loyalty paid off, and Prince wanted to make a Morris album. Morris had never been a lead singer, but Prince convinced him he could do it. They produced the whole album themselves, and then Prince revealed that he envisioned Morris with a band, not as a solo artist. So Morris dipped into his Minneapolis funk favorites to come up with band members for The Time (even though none of them actually played on that first album).

This story sets an important precedent for many of the stories that follow, and I’ll quote Morris directly:

“Naturally, that made me crazy, but being driven crazy is the price you paid for being around Prince.”

Most people know Morris Day from his performance in the movie Purple Rain. His character has the same name, Morris Day, but was a little more bombastic than the real Morris at that time. This came out of figuring out how to make Morris the foil for Prince in the movie, and the idea that – since Prince would obviously be the sexy one – Morris could be the funny one.

This is where we see the birth of MD, the more exaggerated version of Morris. The character from the movie became his onstage persona, and often blended into his real life. Over decades, Morris fought with drugs, alcohol, and women. He did get married, and had a family. He did have some successful albums, both with the band and as a solo artist. He feels he had an ongoing struggle between MD, who wanted all the fabulousness of being a celebrity, and Morris, who wanted a family and to just play good music.

But his other lifelong struggle was with Prince. He wanted to get out of Prince’s shadow at some points, but also knew that Prince was a genius. Prince would invite him to play at some shows, then change his mind at the last minute (when the band had already traveled to the city of the show). A later incarnation of The Time actually had to record under a different name, because Prince claimed he owned the name – even though they were still touring as The Time at the time.

Morris eventually gets clean. He also gets divorced, and remarried. He sees Prince one last time – for the first time in a decade – a few months before his death. He still considers him a brother, albeit a hard one to deal with sometimes.

This is a fun and easy read, especially if you like music. The hardcover edition comes in at just over 200 pages, and the conversational tone is easy to digest.


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Introducing Kota, Our Newest Reviewer!

It’s been a few months since we last shook things up over here, and now we’re doing it again!

To learn more about Kota Whitacre, check out her official bio over at our “Meet Us” page.

For fun, though, we thought we’d introduce Kota with one of those silly book surveys – like the type people do on social media, but with all bookish questions.

Kota and Loki

Author you’ve read the most books from: Shari Lapena

Currently Reading: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Drink of Choice While Reading: Black tea

E-reader or Physical Book? Physical

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: Percy Jackson

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: Animal Farm– George Orwell

Hidden Gem Book: The Shore of Women-Pamela Sargent

Important Moment in your Reading Life: The very first time I stepped into a library as a child

Just Finished: Miss you-Kate Eberlen

Number of Bookcases You Own: 3

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: The Girl With All the Gifts-M.R Carey

Preferred Place To Read: In bed with my dog

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books: The Rosie Project– Graeme Simsion, French Exit-Patrick Dewitt, Miss you- Kate Eberlen

Worst Bookish Habit: Starting more than one book at once

Your latest book purchase: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Ken Kesey

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late): The Stranger– Harlan Coben

Look for Kota’s first review soon!


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Brittany Takes on NaNoWriMo 2020

What Is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand new novel. They enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists.

NaNoWriMo officially became a nonprofit organization in 2006, and our programs support writing fluency and education. Our website hosts more than a million writers, serving as a social network with author profiles, personal project libraries, and writing buddies. NaNoWriMo tracks words for writers like Fitbit tracks steps, and hosts real-world writing events in cities from Mexico City, to Seoul, to Milwaukee with the help of 900+ volunteers in thousands of partnering libraries and community centers like… well, like nothing else.

NaNoWriMo is internet-famous. It’s community-powered (hello, Wrimos!). It’s hosted authors drafting novels like Water for Elephants, WOOL, and Fangirl. It’s a teaching tool and curriculum taught in 5,920 classrooms, and NaNoWriMo’s programs run year-round.

Whatever you thought NaNoWriMo is, it’s more than that.



For as long as I could remember I wanted to be a novelist. I’ve started and stopped so many stories in my life. I’ve played scenarios and scenes in my head for years without writing them down. I’ve told myself I’ll do NaNoWriMo year after year, but I’ve yet to stick with it after a week.

But this year I will do it! This year I will complete my NaNoWriMo! And I will take you all along with me.

The Plan

So, what I’m planning to do to help me write my novel will be to stream it. I’ve started streaming on Twitch this past month or so and have enjoyed it. My goal is to stream an hour or so of my daily NaNoWriMo and treat myself with a game stream like I’ve been doing. I won’t wholly be writing the novel on stream as I work best with pen and paper, so most of the stream will me my typing up what I’ve written.

I also will be sharing my working document with you all so you can join me on this journey. Since I’m utilizing Google Docs you as a read will be able to commentate on the document itself and give me suggestions and critiques.

I will be giving a weekly update on my word count and some commentary on the writing process. Also feel free to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be tweeting when I’m online streaming as well as other NaNoWriMo related things during November as well.

What will the novel be about?

I’m planning on writing some shorter stories in the New Adult Romance genre. I hope to spend a week on each couple’s story, but if one couple monopolizes my creative juices they will get more screen time. At this time I don’t have an outline, nor characters plotted out so it will be ever evolving over the month of November.

“New Adult fiction bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult genres. It typically features protagonists between the ages of 18 and 25 with the cap at 30ish.

The genre tends to focus on issues prevalent in the young adult genre as well as focusing on issues experienced by individuals between the area of childhood and adulthood, such as leaving home for university and getting a job.

New adult is typically considered a subcategory of adult literature rather than young adult literature.”

According to Goodreads:

Some of my Inspiration

Kiriska’s 2020 NaNoWriMo calendar provides daily inspiration as well as a word count goal

Links

Interview with Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Author of “Move On Motherf*cker”

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK

Last week, I let you know about “Move On Motherf*cker,” which comes out next week. If you’re interested in learning more, read on! The interview below is one that the author, Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, did with her publishing company to tell people about the book.

Eckleberry-Hunt has a Masters Degree in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Indiana State University, and had a long-running private practice for children 12 and older, adults, couples, and families. She is currently engaged in executive wellness coaching.

Q: How did you discover the MOMF approach?

Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt

I took a risk and took a new job. Shortly after starting, I realized that the environment was extremely toxic. To cope, a colleague and I started having cursing competitions where we used increasing crazy language to describe the insanity around us. We were in a lot of pain, and none of the things I’d taught my patients to use were working for me in sustained ways. One day, I blurted out to my colleague, “Move on Motherfucker!” My point was that we were talking about the same stuff, and it was going nowhere. It was time to move on. We both paused in that moment – sensing a deeper meaning – and laughed heartily. In that moment, we discovered that we were creating our own suffering. The situation was the same, but we were making it worse. In that moment, we chose to be motherfuckers. I learned that talking back to oneself, being mindful, and calling oneself out with profanity as playing the motherfucker (as a friend would do) allowed an emotional release. It allowed me to move on. I tried it with some patients, and others felt the same.

Q: What are people’s reactions when you describe MOMF?

To be honest, I don’t use it with everyone as it isn’t meant for everyone. You have to be open to cursing, and the issue has to be amenable to MOMF. For example, I would never tell someone to use MOMF to manage abuse (past or present), grief or other serious psychological disorders. When used appropriately with the right person, though, MOMF is healing. I think people get the point of holding themselves accountable, and it feels empowering. In any situation, we are all vulnerable to feeling like we’ve lost control, but we can regain control of our reactions with targeted techniques and practice. Humor and profanity helps release the pain that sometimes jams us up. I think people also feel like MOMF is relatable. It makes psychology everyday. 

Q: How does MOMF differ from other self-help methods?

MOMF includes other research-based self-help methods (like CBT and mindfulness) . The difference is the focus on our own accountability in creating and maintaining suffering AND the targeted use of profanity to release emotional pain that may get in the way of the other methods working.

Q: What makes MOMF work so well?

I believe it is using shock value to break through the internal BS our mind is creating and the laughter that can be induced. Personally, I have found immense value in learning to laugh at myself. If we can see and accept ourselves as flawed – sometimes acting a little crazy – it feels healing. What I am talking about is learning to accept ourselves – as is – just as we do for our friends. It is a process, and it is doable.

Q: What do you recommend for people who have trouble cursing?

I typically haven’t recommended MOMF for people who don’t curse. There are other methods out there, but I guess one may be able to use other targeted words to get self-attention. It is just finding a word or words that pack the punch – not everyday words. 

Q: What is one of your favorite journaling or self-awareness exercises from the book?

 Chapter 9 is about moving on from past hurt. This is something that gets a lot of people stuck, and they have no idea how to move forward. I love the work of making a complete written list of hurts to let go. It puts pain into language. It gives words to the complex chaos in our heads. It helps us find our voice and gives validation to the hurt. It is the first step in what I call emptying the shit sack. It all starts with sorting through all of the heavy stuff we’ve been carrying and acknowledging it.

Q: Why is this book and talking about MOMF important to you?

I know there are a lot of people who don’t feel like counseling is for them, don’t have access, or don’t feel ready to share. They may also find traditional techniques too complex. My hope is that MOMF will speak to people in a new way. I want to attract new folks to research-based methods so they see they work. Making it more fun or relatable is a method of doing that. Counseling can be expensive, particularly in a time when insurance is a luxury and deductibles are so high. I wanted to create an affordable and effective tool that people could use on their own for common life stressors and situations. To be clear, though, this book is not designed to replace counseling. Trauma, grief, depression, and other serious psychological disorders. These need professional treatment, and I highly recommend a good therapist. For everyday stress and anxiety – to learn to tame the negative voice in your head – MOMF can be a useful tool.

Q: Are you working on anything else?

Indeed! I have a couple of other things in the works. I am working on a book about recovering from a relationship break up as this is a very common concern of people who consult me. I can never seem to find the right book that helps people navigate the process in a healthy way. I am also working on a book about qualities that make people successful in life – with the goal of helping people harness and maximize these qualities. It is also about having a clear personal definition of success based on values rather than chasing what others tell us is success.

Find “Move On Motherf*cker” in stores on Nov. 3.

“Move on Motherf*cker” by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


Your negative inner voice is a total assh*le. Tell it to f*ck off with this irreverent, laugh-out-loud guide!

Goodreads


Self-help books are so subjective – I feel like a good book in this genre is any one that you find at the time that you need it. The same book may even hit you differently at different times in your life! That being said, I read this one all the way through in order to review it.

What drew me in first was the title. I assumed it was your average self-help book that had a sassy title to get your attention. (And I’m ok with that – I’ve read Jen Sincero’s “You’re a Badass” series!) But, in the foreword and introductions, we learn that cussing is actually part of the point. There’s a newer concept in psychology that says swearing is good for you – it can help relieve stress, and it can be fun!

All the real concepts you need to understand the MOMF (Move On Motherf*cker) methodology are in the first chapter. The key one is the idea of the second arrow. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to quote the author’s explanation:

If you are struck with an arrow, it hurts like hell. You can’t change that the arrow struck you. That part is done… When you bitch and moan about the tragedy of the arrow striking you, you create your own suffering – in addition to the original wound. In other words, you are striking yourself with a second arrow.

The opening chapters also talk about mindfulness and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – which seem like big, fancy terms. But it really comes down to noticing when you’re shooting yourself with that second arrow (through moping, dwelling, and negative self-talk), and jarring yourself out of that mental state (by getting up, moving, breathing, replacing negative talk with positive affirmations, etc.). This second part is where MOMF comes in – it’s a statement you say to yourself to jar yourself out of your moping/dwelling thoughts.

The author is also quick to point out several caveats to this method. Firstly, it’s meant to be a funny little jab at yourself, not abusive. If swearing isn’t your bag, make up another statement instead. Also, it’s not meant to be used in cases of severe trauma or grief. You wouldn’t tell a friend to just “get over” losing a loved one, would you? So, don’t treat yourself that way, either. It’s literally for moving your mental state away from dwelling on things – or blaming yourself for things – that are out of your control.

Once you get the concept down, the rest of the chapters are about applying it to different situations. There are stories gleaned from the author’s experiences as a therapist, and journal prompts. The chapters include ones on: sticking up for yourself, being a control freak, your love life, parenting, work, illness/injury, bad habits, and having a rough past. Obviously, not every single chapter will apply to every individual – so, you could easily pick and choose, and not tackle every scenario in the book.

This book is coming out on November 3rd, and I got a preview copy through Books Forward.

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“The Beautiful Ones” by Prince with Dan Piepenbring – Review

BY: Angie Haddock


From Prince himself comes the brilliant coming-of-age-and-into-superstardom story of one of the greatest artists of all time—featuring never-before-seen photos, original scrapbooks and lyric sheets, and the exquisite memoir he began writing before his tragic death.

Goodreads


To say that this book was a multi-sensory experience may seem odd, or even cheesy – but I knew I was in for a new experience just from picking it up. The pages are ultra-thick, the page numbers aren’t in the usual place, the typeset was large and unique. From the moment you feel this book, you know you’re in for an adventure.

This one is not a straight-forward memoir. The beginning is the 50-page odyssey of the book’s invention, explaining that Prince had the idea to write a memoir (or several), but died before it came to fruition. He had already picked a co-author (Dan), and signed the book deal. So, upon his death, the people involved in the deal were among those allowed to look through his extensive trove of notes and pictures and other momentos left behind at Paisley Park.

They decided to use some of the stuff they found that interested them in the following way: After the intro, there is what Prince had written so far of his proposed memoir. This is mostly about his parents, growing up in Minneapolis, and other things about his early years. They include scans of the actual, handwritten pages – but fear not, it’s typed out afterward, for easier reading. But, they did type it as close as they could to the way Prince wrote, including using an emoji (for lack of a better description) of an eye for the word “I.”

After that is a photo album, with annotations, from his earliest years getting a recording contract. He and some bandmates went out to California to record, and he took pictures of random things like their hotel room. It’s cute to think of this huge personality as having once been a young kid viewing a new place for the first time, in awe of its different terrain and style.

There are mountains of other pictures and notes, often paired with quotes from interviews, that show the artist coming into his own and doing things his way. Then we have another handwritten tome, a synopsis of what he first envisioned the movie Purple Rain to be about. Following that are a few more pictures, notes, and fun finds.

I want to leave you with some fun/funky quotes from the mind of Prince himself:

“…the bass & drums on this record would make Stephen Hawking dance. No disrespect – it’s just that funky.”

“Try to create. I want to tell people to create. Just start by creating your day. Then create your life.”

“If there’s something out there that U want – Go 4 it! Nothing comes to sleepers but dreams.”

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Interview with Gregg Maxwell Parker, Author of “The Real Truth”

BY: Angie Haddock


A funny and touching novel about media, memory, compassion, confusion, religion, regret, politics, and purpose.

Goodreads


I found “The Real Truth” through Goodreads, and was excited that the author was open to doing an interview. The book itself was an easy and enjoyable read – it comes in under 300 pages and has a recognizable format.

The main character, Derek Severs, is a conservative radio show host who thrives on getting into arguments on-air. He starts being visited by ghosts – not of people he knows personally, but of well-known figures from history. Unlike this premise’s Dickensian predecessor, these ghosts visit in groups of 3-4, usually, and take Derek to various places he hasn’t been before (including Woodstock), in addition to some places he has been. Eventually, as Derek becomes more accepting that the ghosts are going to continue coming back, they take him to the point in his college days that he currently needs to come to grips with.

Without giving away the resolution, I would say that the book ties things up nicely, but not too unrealistically.

The author, Gregg Maxwell Parker, published this book a few years ago. He has since put out two more novels, the most recent being a middle grade novel. Here’s my unedited interview with Gregg.

Angie: Where are you living/writing from these days?

Gregg: After living in the US most of my adult life, I’ve relocated to Japan. My wife is from here, so that makes things easy. I am very happy to live in an era where I can stream NFL and NBA games from another continent. Otherwise, I might miss LA a lot more.

Angie: Did you always want to be a writer? Or, what inspired you to want to write books?

Gregg: I remember stating that I wanted to be a screenwriter as early as middle school. I loved movies and wanted to write them, though I had no idea how someone actually went about that since I lived in Nebraska and knew no one who had ever worked in movies before. I’d always loved to read, but never considered what went into actually writing a novel; books just sort of existed. Junior year of high school, my AP Lit class (shout-out to Mr. Holechek) read “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner and “A Place Where the Sea Remembers” by Sandra Benitez, and I discovered George Carlin’s books. That was when it first dawned on me that authors weren’t impossible geniuses, and that anyone could sit down and write a story about whatever they wanted. I studied Creative Writing at USC, and that was where I really fell in love with it and decided this was what I wanted to do.

Angie: Considering the topic of this one – have you ever worked in media before? 

Gregg: I’ve had a strange and meandering career path, with stints in many different industries – online media, film & TV, education, health insurance, industrial/agriculture, nonprofits, and plenty of office jobs. I think “The Real Truth” is a little informed by my own experiences, but what I found in writing it is that the book really took shape the more I moved it AWAY from the concrete reality I thought I knew and allowed it to be its own thing, let the character be his own person. Instead of making him as much like the talk show hosts I’d listened to as possible, I focused on how he was different from them, why he wouldn’t like them, and that’s when I was able to see him as a full human being and understand where he was coming from. Now, when I’m preparing to write something, I might do a little research, but as soon as I start developing a list of facts or details that I’m determined to include in a novel or story, I know it’s time to stop researching and start making things up.

Angie: The ghosts who show up seem pretty random – both as individuals, and in how they are grouped together – was that intentional? How did you pick who you wanted to write into the book as ghosts?

Gregg: I remember those sections were some of the first things I outlined when working out the idea. It may not seem obvious, but the choices of who those characters were and how they behaved were extremely calculated. This is a book that is largely about expectations – not just the main character’s, but the reader’s as well. These are, for the most part, people Derek has specific ideas about, just as he has specific ideas about morality and life and death and all sorts of things, and what he finds isn’t what he was hoping for. When he sees Abraham Lincoln, he’s expecting a specific thing, but it turns out this version of Abe isn’t the same as the one from life, and isn’t providing him with what he wanted. Derek is perpetually disappointed in both himself and the world around him, and now he’s finding out that this fantastical afterlife may be just as disappointing.

The same is true for the reader. I have to swim against a current in this story because it fits into a narrative that you’ve heard a thousand times. I know, based on the concept, that you have specific expectations about what will happen to this guy and how the story will end, and I have to subvert those expectations in order to open you up to the possibility of something different. The ghosts do a good job of making sure the reader understands what they’re in for. When Bob Marley shows up, I know how you’re expecting him to speak and act, and it becomes clear quickly that you won’t be getting it. In the same way, I know you’ve seen a hundred TV episodes based on “A Christmas Carol,” and you’re comfortable with that structure, but making you comfortable isn’t my job. It would be easy to write a story where a middle-aged white man is visited by people from his past, or people he admires who order him to change, but that doesn’t reflect the world as I see it. Everything you watch or read is “Man is selfish, writer/deity teaches him a lesson, he changes.” So the question becomes: “How do I do the OPPOSITE of that? What person is the OPPOSITE of who would be useful to Derek in the traditional version of this story?” The only way for me to give you something you’ve never seen before is to take something you’ve seen a million times and blow holes in it until it’s unrecognizable.


Angie: I felt like religion/Christianity was handled pretty fairly here. By that I mean – yes, there are some hypocrites in the bunch, but most of the churchgoers were kind and inviting (well, at least, to someone they thought of as one of their own). Should I assume you grew up going to church? Did you want to include religion in this story for any specific aim, or was it more just a part of the character’s atmosphere?

Gregg: I grew up in a religious environment, and I suppose some of those experiences informed the sections of the book that involve Derek’s church. I was thinking on this today, and I honestly don’t remember when or why those aspects of the novel entered the picture; I think it was just always a part of it, since the story deals so heavily with the afterlife, and with a person who has a definite idea of what that afterlife is and should be, so much so that he doesn’t want to look into it for fear that it’s not going to be what he expects. There is something tragic about people who are afraid to admit they don’t know something, and that’s the part of it that stays with me, looking back. I rarely read my own work once it’s finished, so it’s been a couple years since I opened this book, but I don’t think of the religious characters as being hypocritical or whatever words one might use, since that’s not how they see themselves. They’re convinced they know what is true and what is not, and they’ve made up their minds about this man. He’s thought of himself as part of a large collective of like-minded people, but as the story progresses, his mind is less made up than it once was.


Angie: Tell us a little about what you’re working on now or next. 

Gregg: After finishing a book each of the last three years, I decided I didn’t want to put anything out in 2020, and instead concentrated on learning how to advertise and promote my latest book, “Troublemakers,” which has been my most widely-read title and I think is my favorite thing I’ve worked on (though again, I don’t go back and read my old stuff, so that’s probably recency bias). I wanted to wait to let the next idea present itself to me, and after a few months, I settled on something that will be a real challenge. I’m still in the outlining stage, but this is looking to be the longest and most serious book I’ve ever written, so I honestly don’t know if it’ll come out in 2021 or later than that, but I’m excited to try something different.

Find Gregg’s books at his website or on Amazon.


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