Friday Five: Karen Carr

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Karen Carr, author of children’s and mystery short stories, novellas, novels, poetry.

She’s a retired grandmother from North Iowa. Her grandchildren have provided lots of ideas for her children’s books. Now that she is retired, she likes to spend her time traveling to visit her children and grandchildren, and hopefully to go to author events while she is doing it. She is currently working on an 1860 historical novel centered in the Wild West.

Her recent book is Mystery at Burr Oak: A Dog Named Wang. Wang is a hero when he solves the mystery in the story. She wrote this story to honor her mother, as she had a dog named Wang.

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Karen Carr1. What was your attitude towards reading when you were a kid?

I read all the time. I couldn’t get enough of reading.

2. What genre do you currently read most and why?

I read Mysteries, because I like to see if I can solve them before the end of the book.

3.What are some of your favorite words and why?

Exacerbate. I just like to use it but have not found a place in any of my writing for it, yet.

4. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and why?

Nurses Aide. I worked the 11 to 7 shift and when I came home then I worked in the field on our family farm. I was always tired.

5. What author has influenced your writing style/subject the most and why?

Janette Oke. I like the style of the Old West and that is what I am patterning my current book on.

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Mystery at Burr Oak: A Dog Named Wang is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Tuesday Tournament – Christmas songs

It seems like I’m one of about five people who enjoy listening to Christmas music for two months straight every year. That said, there are some holiday songs that are better than others. So, in the spirit of the season, today’s tournament is a chance to determine which song is the best.

Which Christmas song is the best?

(Feel free to define best any way you want.)

We have five contenders this week:

“Last Christmas” by Atomic Tom

As someone who worked in retail throughout high school and college, I came to loathe this song as sung by WHAM! But then one of my favorite bands that no one has ever heard of, Atomic Tom, put out their version and it quickly became one of my favorites. Also, you should get Atomic Tom’s CDs because The Moment is one of the best albums ever.

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/We Three Kings” by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan

One could make a pretty strong case that Barenaked Ladies’ Christmas album is just a holiday cash grab (“Deck the Stills” – “Deck the Halls” with the lyrics changed to “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young” over and over is a great illustration of this point), but that didn’t stop me from buying said album or from really enjoying this song.

“All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey

This song is objectively one of the best Christmas songs ever, according to numerous charts. It’s been covered many times, including for that cute scene in Love, Actually where Sam plays the drums to impress his American classmate as well as by Atomic Tom, but I think this version will always be the best.

“Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (12/24)” by Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Okay, so fun fact – The guys in metal band Savatage went on to form the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is why sometimes you see this song attributed to Savatage and sometimes to TSO. Either way, I love this combination of “Carol of the Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser

This song is fun, original, and very well done. Also, probably from a cash grab album but whatever. They were probably poor college kids at the time.

Honorable mention

“I Am Santa Claus” by Bob Rivers

As a metal fan, and as someone who sometimes gets sick of the same songs over and over and over, I wholly enjoy this parody of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”

So, readers, which song is the best?

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 18-12-2017 22:22:29
End date 25-12-2017 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which Christmas song is the best?

In addition to voting in the poll, if you leave a comment below explaining your choice, I’ll randomly pick one reader to receive a free copy of my upcoming ebook, “Spice Pirates,” as well as a $5 Amazon gift card.

Media Monday: On (not) coping with the death of a loved one

Media MondayThe story: “Find Me an Angel” by E.D. Martin

The movie: A Man Called Ove

The music: Hula” by Solstafir

A few years ago, I participated in a writing competition that tasked us to write a story based on the song “The Riddle” by 80’s British teen idol Nik Kershaw. I’d never really heard of him, but the more I listened to his stuff, the more I liked it. I decided to write a story based on each of 100+ songs he’s put out over the last few decades (I’ve currently finished about 5).

One of my favorite songs of his is “Find Me An Angel,” which inspired this week’s story. I interpreted it as a man, overcome with debilitating grief after his wife’s death, issuing a desperate plea to her to help him find relief. I entered the story in a contest on my writing critique site and although I didn’t win, I got a really positive response, so I posted it on Medium where it’s had a strong showing. Go read it.

Shortly after I posted “Find Me an Angel,” I watched a thematically-related Swedish movie, A Man Called Ove (although the trailer says it’s lighthearted, don’t be fooled – it’s a tearjerker). It’s about this cranky old Swedish guy, Ove, whoss wife recently passed away. As the movie progresses, we’re shown just how much he doted on her and what a positive influence she was on him. He decides he can’t live without her and tries to kill himself but keeps getting interrupted by people in his life needing him – including a fiery angel in the form of his new neighbor, Parvaneh. It’s also a book by Fredrik Backman, which I haven’t read yet but intend to do soon.

Finally, today’s song is “Hula” by Solstafir, which I picked for several reasons. First, the lyrics and video are about a woman (not) coping with the death of her child, which fits in with “Find Me an Angel” and A Man Called Ove. Second, the song is beautiful. And third, I’ve been trying to work as much Icelandic stuff into my life as possible as my spring break trip to Vikingland gets closer.

Taken as a whole, my story, the movie, and the song all portray different aspects of how someone reacts to grief. Do you give into it? Do you hold it inside and let yourself become bitter or empty? Or do you accept your loss and strengthen your relationships with those around you? For each of the characters, it seems to be a combination of all three.

New stories to share!

Eight years ago, in 2009, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I came out of it with a really crappy novel and a renewed love of fiction writing – it had been over a decade since I’d done any creative writing. Although my first novel will never see the light of day without massive rewrites, I’ve built up quite a collection of short stories that are ready to be released into the world. Some have been published in various online and print journals and anthologies, while others have been compiled into collections on their own.

But I still have a lot of stories that are just languishing in the cloud. While I intend to release them in collections some day, when I have enough to combine into a decent offering, I want to be able to get them out NOW. I’ve been too busy with grad school over the past few years to focus on submitting them to publications, so I was glad when I found out about Medium as a platform.

Medium is a website that delivers your work to potentially millions of readers. I’ve set up an account, where every week or two I plan to publish something new. I already have a handful of stories that you can read.

I also plan to publish articles and guides related to my career passions – trauma-informed care, education, and research. I’m hoping my fiction readers aren’t too turned off by this stuff, but I don’t feel like maintaining two accounts so you’ll just have to learn while being entertained.

Please, if you have a chance, follow me on Medium and read the new stories I have to offer!

Friday Five: Johan Thompson

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Johan Thompson, author of sci-fi, thriller, and mystery novels.

Johan Thompson is a writer by night and manages a law firm by day. He lives with his wife, two boys and two dogs in Johannesburg, South Africa. After studying creative writing, screenwriting and watching every science fiction film created, he decided to draw on his interest and imagination to create his first science fiction novelThe Clone is his third novel.

The Clone is set in modern-day Russia, spanning over a period of twenty years. Olivia Richards, a scientist specializing in reproductive cloning, is lured to Russia by the wealthy Petrov family to further her research. Everyone wants the clone created. The scientist, to advance her theories. The Russian gangster, for supposedly he is the one being cloned. The Russian gangster’s sons, for they know the real reason. The scientist’s husband, for he wants her to be happy.

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Johan-Thompson1. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for your works or biggest/most out-of-the-ordinary thing you’ve done while researching?

Besides writing this interview on the toilet, just kidding. Some of the weirdest things I researched were, arsenic poisoning, heroin overdose and a marijuana cookie recipe. I think most writers would be in trouble if their internet history were to be discovered by the authorities. Especially those writing horror.

2. How much of your published writing is based on personal experiences?

When writing an emotional scene, I draw from my own experiences. You have to in order to create an authentic character. With regards to storyline and plot twists, not much… my life, luckily, is not that chaotic.

3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

To stop time… obviously, especially as a writer. I would also like to read minds, mainly my wife’s.

4. What literary character are you most like and why?

That’s a difficult one. I aspire to be like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A perfect role model to my kids, unwavering in my beliefs and a true romantic.

5. What’s your current writing project and what are your writing plans for the near future?

I’ve recently completed a sci-fi novel that is set in the not too distant future. Scorched Earth confronts the burning issues of global warming and immigration which divides our nations. I’m also currently working on a time travel novel. The basic premise of the story is that if you could go back in time and prevent a bad experience, would you do it. Sometime from a bad experience, a good experience will flow. So if you prevent the bad experience…

I met my wife of twenty years, because my father died of cancer and my mom installed a new kitchen from his life insurance money. My wife was the kitchen designer. Life is truly stranger than fiction. So the question is, would you go back? I would, in a heartbeat, but I will also go back and give my parents the money for a new kitchen.

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The Clone is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Tuesday Tournament – Folklore-ish kids movies

When I watch a movie with my kid, I try to find ones with themes and lessons and cultural exploration. I don’t have a lot of time to watch movies, so I want something that teaches a lesson while entertaining us. Life lessons are the best, especially when it’s about how to accept who you are while growing as a person, or changing society rather than letting society change you. I love all the films in this week’s competition, even more so as they draw from cultures I’m not that familiar with.

Which movie is the best?

(Feel free to define best any way you want.)

We have four contenders this week:

  • Song of the Sea
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • The Book of Life
  • Moana

Song of the Sea:

When an Irish father’s grief over his wife’s death begins to impact his parenting, his mother takes her two grandchildren to live with her in the city. The brother blames the move on his little sister, but when she turns out to be the only selkie that can save Ireland’s fairies from a witch, it’s up to him to help her get back to the sea. Along the way, he learns the importance of family.

Why I like this one: First off, there aren’t nearly enough stories about selkies, IMO. And second, the whole story can be viewed as either a literal battle between selkies and fey and witches, or it can be seen as a creative little boy’s imagination in overdrive as he too processes his unresolved grief over his mother’s death. Also, I’m a huge fan of Lisa Hannigan and love this song.

Kubo and the Two Strings:

A young boy in feudal Japan lives with his mother, earning a living telling songs with his lute and origami. But when he stays out too late, his sorcerer aunts find him and destroy his village. His mother sends him on a quest to find his father’s armor and stop her sisters and father, accompanied by a gruff talking monkey and a fun-loving samurai beetle. Along the way, he learns the importance of family and sacrifice.

Why I like this one: Monkey pushes the boy to reach his goals, managing to be supportive without sugarcoating anything. And Matthew McConaughey is a lot of fun as the beetle. The ending is good too, as the whole village comes together to help the boy and promote love over hate, with a nonviolent solution to their problem with the sorcerer. Also a great soundtrack.

The Book of Life:

Set in colonial Mexico, this is the story of a love triangle – a young woman must choose between a heroic bullfighter and a humble musician whose family push him into bullfighting as well. When he thinks the woman is dead from a snakebite, the musician follows her into death so they can be reunited. Turns out it’s all a ploy by La Muerte to win a bet against his rival. The musician must find a way to conquer his fears and meet his family’s expectations while staying true to himself. Along the way, he learns the importance of family.

Why I like this one: The animation is amazing. And the lesson is powerful – you don’t need to be the biggest and the strongest and the best to win, you just need to be the best YOU.


A young woman in Polynesia thinks she has the key to ending the blight that threatens her people’s island, but no one believes her. So she embarks on a solo journey to save the people she’ll someday leave. Despite hardships and the “help” of a trickster god, she makes her way across the sea to restore balance to nature. Along the way, she finds a way to unite her people’s past, present, and future so that they can prosper.

Why I like this one: Although she’s a hereditary ruler, Moana isn’t a princess. She’s helped by her grandmother, who tells her it’s okay to give up if it becomes too hard – and although this may seem discouraging, it actually shows that Moana is human, and that as a human it’s okay to fail, regroup, and try again. (And yes, I know there’s a ton of cultural appropriation issues and inaccuracies with this film, but it still teaches a good lesson.)

So, readers, which movie is the best?

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 08-08-2017 22:22:29
End date 30-10-2017 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which movie is the best?

In addition to voting in the poll, if you leave a comment below explaining your choice, I’ll randomly pick one reader to receive a free copy of my upcoming ebook, “Spice Pirates.”

Fall 2017 goal review

Mr. McNutterpants, from my short story “A Lesser Man” on Medium

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this fall.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

I have several chapters done on a novel, and I’ve finished a couple shorts. I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will spur me into action next month.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’ve started posting stuff on Medium. Three things are up so far – two are stories that have been published elsewhere, and one’s a new story, “A Lesser Man,” that’s pretty damn hilarious. You should read it.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

My academic timeline is about a semester behind where I want to be. But, most importantly, I passed my comprehensive exam and am now officially a PhD candidate! All I have left is my dissertation (and several classes for a master’s I just tacked on), which is my focus right now. My timeline right now is to have my proposal mostly done by Christmas break, so I can still theoretically crank out this nonfiction book over break.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

As I mentioned last time, events are turning into a major waste of time. I’m doing a solo reading tonight, and then I’m done with live events for awhile unless they have a proven track record for women’s fiction book sales.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

Sadly, this isn’t happening – this year. I’m headed to India for 2 weeks in January and Thailand with my kid for a month next summer – but for the rest of this year, it looks like I’ll be staying more domestic, with upcoming trips to Boston in November and hopefully Duluth in December (weather-dependent).

Sadly, now that I’m working again I have money to travel but no time for it.

6. Read 100 books.

I’m at 52 right now – 25 behind schedule. I don’t think I’ll be able to make this goal this year, but I should be able to get closer once a couple approaching academic deadlines pass and I have time to read again.


I think I’m in denial about achieving my goals. I’m going to keep trying, but it seems there’s a lot popping up that’s taking up my time (unexpected overtime at work due to kiddos in crisis, opportunities for academic projects that I don’t want to pass up, etc). Things are settling down, I hope, so I should be able to focus on writing more.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Tuesday Tournament – Portland vs Portland

I travel a lot, all over the country. This past summer I wandered out to Portland, Oregon, and I was in Portland, Maine, the year before. So, today’s topic –

Which Portland is the best?

(Feel free to define best any way you want.)

We have two contenders this week:

  • Portland, Maine
  • Portland, Oregon

Portland, Maine:

Lobster and amazing fresh seafood. Lighthouses and the ocean. Tons of breweries and restaurants. Hipsters. A weird museum of fake conspiracy creatures, including a giant beaver.


Portland, Oregon:

Amazing fresh seafood. Mount Hood and hiking. Tons of breweries and food trucks. Hipsters. Tree octopuses.


So, readers, which Portland is the best?

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
Start date 03-10-2017 22:22:29
End date 09-10-2017 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which is the best Portland?

In addition to voting in the poll, if you leave a comment below explaining your choice, I’ll randomly pick one reader to receive a free copy of my upcoming ebook, “Spice Pirates.”

Friday Five: Michael Saad @MSaad_Writer

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Michael Saad, author of crime and sci-fi short stories, novellas, novels, and history articles.

Michael Saad is a full time teacher who, when not lesson planning or marking, squeezes in fictional writing to keep him from hounding government officials on education, the economy, and the environment. He is happily married to his wife Jodi, and together they have two wonderful children. They reside in Alberta, Canada where Mike escapes to the Provincial Parks for seclusion from his frequent disillusionment with international politics. Mike’s works have appeared in several magazines. His novel, All the Devils Are Here, is on sale now and his newest novella, Let There Be Night, has just been released.

All the Devils Are Here is about two brothers who grew up in a household rife with drugs and violence. One brother escapes the cycle, the other doesn’t, but both are brought together later in life when each realizes their parents’ drug legacies don’t just end with time.

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Michael Saad1. What author has influenced your writing style/subject the most and why?

I would say Stephen King. I was reading Stephen King novels far younger than I perhaps should have. It didn’t warp me too much, but his work resonated with me, and still does to this day. If anything, I relate more to him today than I ever did. He was a former teacher, I am a current teacher, so I understood his struggles early in his career trying to be a full time teacher and a full time writer. Fortunately for him, and for us, his fans, he was able to be successful enough as a writer to write full time.

2. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Tough question. Christopher Lee said he read Lord of the Rings every year, and picked up something new from it every time he read it. It took me two decades (and more importantly three movies) to finally get through those books, but I suspect, like Saruman himself, I would probably find something new in them every time I re-read them. That or A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, which I never, ever get sick of…

3. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and why? What was the best thing about that job and why?

Picking garbage in a city-garbage dump (I know it sounds like an oxymoron). The worst part of it was cleaning out the mass bins, where people throw everything from diapers, to compostable materials, to – well – everything under the sun. The worst material to clean up was old, wet, decaying grass – the smell of that was worse than any diaper. The best thing about that job was that it taught me almost instantaneously that that was not a career I wanted to have any time soon.

4. Why should people read YOUR stuff? Who’s your target audience and why?

My writing is grounded in the larger, societal issues of today. My target audience is myself first and foremost, and that is who I write for. If I don’t like what I’m doing, and no longer see any value in it, then I stop, because I wouldn’t expect anyone else to see meaning in it either. That is what I would tell anyone pursuing a craft, hobby, or vocation, regardless of what it is – do it for yourself first (you’re the one who has to live with yourself until the end of your days, after all), and then decide if you want to share it with the rest of the world. If you do, awesome and thank-you for doing so! If not, well, that’s fine too. It’s your life, and your contentment meter that you’re ultimately gauging, so if you’re happy with your decision, more power to you.

5. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

As the old saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes my stories come right out of the news, usually those stories where I think, “how on earth could that have possibly have happened?!”

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All the Devils Are Here is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Media Monday: When the love dies

DesolationThe book: Desolation (Mythical Madness Book 1) by A.R. DeClerck

The music: “Dying” by Hole

What happens when you’re the goddess of love, but you just ain’t feelin’ it? Why, send a half-god werewolf to save you!

Desolation is more than that, though. It’s a paranormal romance (fantasy romance?) about Vinnie, the goddess of love whose job it is to help mortals fall in love. But years on the job have taken their toll, and she’s come down with desolation – a terminal illness that causes gods and goddesses to wither away. The catch here, however, is that if she dies, love dies too.

Her sister calls on the Fates’ assassin, Gage, to save her. But in doing so, he has to face an enemy and past he’d rather forget about – the king who made him the half-werewolf he is today.

Although DeClerck says she writes “adventure romance,” there’s more to this story than just sexy people falling for each other and fighting bad guys. She addresses sacrifice (for family, for duty, for love) as well as the fundamental nature of love – is it purely chemical/biological, and even if that’s just a component, what does that mean for a relationship? Is there even a relationship?

Overall, it’s a good story (although I personally would’ve cut out the last few pages to play up the themes I mention above, but I guess that’s why I don’t write romance!)

The accompanying song, “Dying,” fits with the scene I would’ve ended the book with – the idea that love (personified, in this case) is dying. And it’s gonna fight, but sometimes that’s not enough.

As a bonus, Desolation is currently free on Amazon this week! Make sure to grab a copy, and then let me know in the comments whether you agree with my song choice.

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