Friday, December 31, 2010

Sad little dog on New Year's Eve

Bo, resigned to his status

I’M SITTING HERE with a rather sad dog. He had a few lumps surgically removed the other day and now has to wear an old sweat shirt and a sock on his right rear leg to keep him from scratching and opening the stitches. The worst part for him is that he can’t climb stairs until Monday. His bed (okay, who’s kidding who, it’s really my bed, too) is up stairs and he wonders why the steps are blocked off to him.

But the poor little guy he seems to be taking it all with quiet resignation. Good boy, Bo! Just hang in for a few more days.

Happy New Year, everybody. Bow-wow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas: Glory to God; Peace on Earth

I SAW A sign the other day.  It said “Merry Mas … see what happens when you leave CHRIST out of Christmas.  Nice thought to share this weekend.  Please have a very Merry Christmas and for those traveling, travel safely. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Lee McQueen and a renewable energy suspense novel

ONE OF THE nice things about being a member of a local writers’ group is that you get to meet a bunch of folks who write outside of your genre. Lee McQueen is a member of my Beaverdale Books group that is hosted by Jerry Hooten (see my interview with Jerry, September 27). Lee is an Iowa native whose writing roots stretch deep into the world of books including libraries, bookstores, and publishing houses. Writing influences include Octavia Butler, Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe among many others. She has a masters’ degree in Library Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a degree in Spanish from Xavier University, Louisiana.

Mike: Welcome Lee, and thank you for taking time to be with us today. I’d like to ask first about your latest book, Celara Sun.

Lee: Celara Sun is a renewable energy suspense novel that details the hidden battle for control of solar and wind energy in North America. In 1999, I located websites that revealed the personal journeys of people who lived entirely off-the-grid and the steps they took—legal and extralegal—to get to that place. It made me wonder what would happen when more people became aware of the possibilities on an industrial scale.

That wonder led to a short story I wrote called “Children of the Golden Ra” (Imaginarium, McQueen Press, 2006). The short story led to a full-length novel—Celara Sun. I wanted to make solar and wind energy as sexy and exciting as oil, gas, and nuclear energy. Celara Sun reflects a point in time in North America—how we interact with our families, our workplaces, and with society. I wanted to recognize this time and explore it.

But I also wrote Celara Sun because I couldn’t not write it. When it comes to fiction, entire scenes, action sequences, and dialogue exchanges push until I commit them into a plot. A painter paints. A singer sings. A writer writes. I wrote.

Most of the action develops from conflict between two characters—Martina Butler, a researcher and Alexander King, the visionary who hires her. The characters in the book experience intense emotions. Some of the characters react to those situations in negative ways. Others find a way to rise above—eventually. But these are the people who occupy that world. The first chapter warns the reader of what to expect. There are no heroes or villains. There are only survivors.

M: Tell me about some of your other writings first, Imaginarium.

L:  Imaginarium is a short story collection.

M: Writer in the Library! is a collection of writers’ insights into the library's value to the writer. How did that come about?

L: Writer in the Library! is the most complex project I've completed to date. It took over a year to send the call for entries, do the research, plan the layout and graphics, and finish the editing, proofreading, and indexing while maintaining contact with the book's contributors.

However, it is also the most exciting work I've completed. I had the greatest experiences traveling to the East and West Coasts as well as Chicago to interview so many intelligent, well-read, and well-informed people. They are talented in so many ways and very forthcoming about how libraries have enhanced their writing abilities.

I learned so much from so many while writing this book. Likely writers and librarians at any stage of their careers will find many useful tips for ways to use libraries to enhance and elevate any writing project.

I'm very pleased that Writer in the Library! found its way into several public and  university library collections. For more follow this link.

M: Lee, how did you get started writing?

L: I started writing little doodles as a child. In college, my professors sensed that I had talent in that direction and encouraged me. So that was the point when I knew that writing would always be a major part of my life. But ten additional years passed before I considered myself a professional. I did work-for-hire, then I began to publish fiction.

M. Can you tell us a little about your writing habits? Do you write in the morning, evening, etc.

L: Lately, I write when I can. I have several projects that I handle at the same time. I have a weekly public affairs webcast called Blue.Green.Fusion  that focuses on blue collar jobs for a green economy. I interviewed Gunnar Olson of DART on public transportation. More recently, I interviewed Bill Stowe on public works and storm water management. Research for episodes like these keep me busy. I'm also editing the work of another writer. Plus, I'm working on the sequel to Celara Sun. I enjoy everything I do so I strive to find a workable balance.

M: What other upcoming projects are on the table?

L: I have three manuscripts lying dormant. I add to them from time to time when I take breaks from Celara Sun. I plan to wake up one of the manuscripts soon and incorporate the writing lessons I learned along the way. One of those manuscripts may become the sequel to Celara Sun. I enjoyed working with those characters, and I anticipate that the backdrop will switch from solar energy to wind energy.

M: Any other hobbes, interests, etc.?

L: Other than writing I enjoy reading. Other than that, I take opportunities to enjoy art, music, and film. Every creator needs an appreciator. I am a fan of the work of many people.

M: Where your books can be purchased.

L: Celara Sun, Writer in the Library!, Imaginarium, and Kenzi are all available at

M: Thanks, Lee. I’m posting links to where you can purchase your books:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Catholic author and musician Alex Basile

SINCE THIS IS the Christmas season, I did want to follow up with another Christian writer. Today we are visiting with Alex Basile a member of the faculty at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, New York, where he is the chairperson of its Religious Education Department and oversees a staff of 23 teachers. He is a graduate of St. John's University in Queens, New York (class of 1984), and received his Masters Degree from Fordham University in the Bronx, New York in 2001.

Alex has written four books: Finding Faith In A Godless World: A Catholic Path To God;, Lessons from The Master: Living Like Jesus; The Gentle Road To Jesus: Bringing Christ To Every Classroom and Home; and The Complete Christian: A Guide To Living (scheduled for later this year). He is a regular contributor to the website In addition to his writing he is a musician and has produced 18 CDs for Kellenberg. He is a member of the band, The Irish Mist. He lives in Lynbrook, New York with his wife Allison and their two children.

Mike: Welcome Alex. Let’s get right into the change of pace here. Many of the authors I’ve interviewed write mysteries, children’s books, science fiction, and the like. You write decidedly Christian (Catholic) books. How and why did you decide to write in this area?

Alex: I have come to realize that the Catholic faith has been the most influential thing in my life. The more I learn about other religions, I am assured that the Catholic faith is the one true faith. I want others to come to love our Church in the same way. The more our culture and the media attacks the Church, the more I want to defend it. Many people take the Eucharist for granted. I spend a lot of time focusing on this Blessed Sacrament. When we are open to this gift of Christ, I believe that we can experience heaven on earth. It can transform us.

M: Have you written any. . .for lack of a better term. . .secular books or articles?

A: I am working on a book about the New York Mets. Baseball has always been a passion of mine. Being a long, suffering Mets fan, I thought that an existential look at the Mets would be interesting. I am sure that I will sneak God into the book at some point.

M: Can you give me a brief one or two line synopsis of your titles?

A: Finding Faith In A Godless World – An examination into why God exists using the Catholic faith and the ordinary things around us. The Complete Christian – As Christians, we often forget about Christ in everyday living. Using Jesus as the pattern of living will make travel, parenting, career, and each day more fulfilling. The Gentle Road To Jesus – A straightforward guide to teaching young people about Jesus Christ. Lesson From the Master -- The  book discusses the traits of Jesus and how we can emulate the Master teacher and incorporate these characteristics into our lives.

M: This is the Christmas season and every year we are assaulted with secular messages, some actually contradict the messages of the newborn Savior. So taking from one of your titles, how do we find Faith in a Godless world?

A: By opening our hearts and minds, we can find God. I often tell my students that we, ourselves, are the main obstacle to God. Once we take our blinders off, we can discover His presence. It is difficult getting into the “faith game” by standing on the sidelines. As Blaise Pascal stated, the time to pray and go to church is when you least feel like doing those things.

M: Can you tell me a little about your writing style? Do you write in the evening, after the family is in bed, or early morning, etc.?

A: I usually write in the evening once I have had time to digest the happenings of the day. Being a teacher, I probably learn more from my students than they learn from me. My style is simple and straightforward. I leave the complex Theology to others. People feel as if I am sitting next to you and having a chat. If you have read my books then you have theoretically sat in my classroom.

M: Do you have any advice for writers seeking to get into the religious writing field? How difficult is it to “break into” the religious writing field?

A: Never give up. If you have a message that you believe in, keep pushing until someone publishes it. Many publishers only publish a dozen or so titles every year. Don’t take it personally when you receive a rejection letter. The competition is fierce. So many writers talk about how they had almost given up hope when the big break finally came. Write about elements of our faith that have inspired you. People are starving for spirituality. There is always something new to write about. Be an evangelist, and pray to the Holy Spirit for inspiration.

M: Do you know of any denomination-specific writing groups or organizations that someone wanting to write in the field of religion might want to examine?

A: Yes. An excellent group to belong to is the Catholic Writers Guild. I belong to this group and the local chapter of the Catholic Writers Guild of Long Island. Social and professional networking is so important. To have the endorsement and the friendship of others in the same field is vital. We can accomplish more as a group than in solitude.

M: In addition to writing, you do speaking. Tell me about your speaking engagements.

A: I speak to various groups. Since I lead many retreats at school every year, I also lead retreats for parents, catechists, and other students. I talk about faith, professional development, spiritual growth, music, sexuality, and other contemporary issues. I have spoken at conferences, conducted workshops, and given graduation addresses. I enjoy meeting others interested in learning about their faith. The “universal” element of Catholicism is evident everywhere.

M: Tell me a little about The Irish Mist.

A: I formed the group, The Irish Mist, in 1990. We have performed pop, rock, and Irish music in the New York area for more than 20 years. Our latest CD is called “Home To Ireland” and features many of the songs we love to play live. The band is composed of myself, on lead vocals and guitar, Ronnie D’Addario, on guitar, lead, and background vocals, and Michael Groarke, on piano, lead and background vocals. Ronnie and I also work together at Kellenberg Memorial High School and have produced 20 CDs together that are primarily contemporary Christian music.

M: Where can we purchase your books and CDs? How can one contact you?

A: People can purchase my books and CDs at (1-800-343-2522),, cdbaby, and itunes. People can contact me at I encourage people to ask questions or write to say hello.

M: Thank you, Alex, and have a very Merry Christmas.

A: Thanks for including me in your ministry. Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interview with the governor-elect; a good time to buy my book!

Gov.-Elect Branstad
OVER THE WEEKEND I finished my monthly column for the Catholic Mirror, here in Des Moines. It is an interview with Governor-elect Terry Branstad. For those of you outside the state, Terry Branstad was governor for 16 years and left office 12 years ago. When he was first elected he was – at that time – the youngest governor in the United States. This year he sought and won an unprecedented fifth term as governor and will take office January 14. The interview is non-partisan and deals with his life, marriage, and faith. The December issue is scheduled for delivery December 17. If you do not receive the paper, you can follow the link and read the column on line.

BTW, it is not too late to order my mystery, End of the Line, for Christmas delivery. The book is set during the Christmas season, so it’s a perfect time to read it or give it as a gift. Follow the link to the right to check out the book and some of the reviews on the site.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Update for the Modern Dickens project

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO (September 6) I asked my friend Kali VanBaale to explain the Modern Dickens project, which was just kicking off. It is a collaborative project with the Iowa Arts Council and is a serial novel designed to feature undiscovered Iowa authors. Starting with an opening chapter written by the project organizers, each month writers are challenged to submit a proposed “next” chapter. The winning writer is paid a cash prize, his or her chapter is published on the project website and a new contest for the next chapter begins. The project continues for twelve months resulting in a thirteen chapter novel. The final product will be published and, of course, all the authors will receive a writing credit for their work in addition to their cash prize.

I asked Kali for an update, and here is her report:

Hi Mike,

Sure! I'd be happy to give an update!

Kali VanBaale
We're currently running our December cycle of the contest for Chapter 4, and the deadline for this one is December 21.

Janet Rowe Pillar won the October contest for Chapter 2, and John O'Donnell won in November for Chapter 3. Janet did a podcast interview for the Modern Dickens website and also a reading of her chapter at DiScala Café in Des Moines. Her author bio is on the site. We're planning the same for John O'Donnell as soon as we get some dates set up. Each winner received $100.

About the story:

John Domini opened the story with a former National Guard Iraq vet murdered with a military issued weapon on the eve of her marriage to another woman near the Iowa State Capital. Emily Dunstadt, the murder victim, is the daughter of a Des Moines insurance magnate, and friend of Stikka, a fellow Iraq vet suffering from PTSD. Stikka and her lawyer boyfriend, Saul, are quickly drawn into the murder mystery. Soon, a suspect emerges, a Bosnian immigrant who vehemently claims innocence.

Janet Pillar's Chapter 2, DOWN THAT LINE, delves further into the Iowa immigration angle, tackles hot Iowa political topics such as gay marriage and illegal immigration, and sends Stikka and Saul out into the Iowa countryside as they follow the trail of clues. But after a car explosion that nearly kills them both, they end up hiding out in a vacation house at Clear Lake, fearing for their lives.

Charles Dickens
John O'Donnell's Chapter 3, THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE, opens the morning after the car explosion. We learn a bit more about Dot, Emily's fiancée, who found Emily's body. Meanwhile, Stikka, Saul and the accused Bosnian refugee, learn that all traces of yesterday's car explosion are gone, as if it never happened. Saul also discovers evidence of tampering with his car while it was parked overnight at the lake. When the group arrives at Saul's friend's farm for help, they're horrified to discover the friend dead, hanging from a rope in the barn. The death toll, it seems, is mounting.

So far, it seems the judges are picking chapters that take the story in an interesting or surprising direction, but don't stray too far from the existing story at the same time. All 3 chapters can be downloaded and read for free on the website: We also accept donations through the site.

Thanks again, Mike!

Thanks, Kali! And now for anyone interested, check out the site and feel free to leave any comment here. And while you are at it, check out my book (at the right); I think you’ll find it is a great murder for Christmas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Polk City Library Monday December 6

JUST A REMINDER for those of you in the central Iowa area:  This Monday (December 6) I will be at the Polk City Community Library,1500 W. Broadway, Polk City, Iowa for a presentation at 7 p.m.  This will be a chance to purchase my new mystery, End of the Line, as well as Murder Most Holy and get them autographed. They make great Christmas gifts, especially End of the Line which is set in the weeks before Christmas! Hope to see you there.