Monday, April 25, 2011

Mondays With Mike: Playwright Tom Quiner and JPII, the musical

AS THIS IS posted it is Easter Monday, and the Christian world is entering into that period where the Resurrection is being celebrated. It is also a week away from the Catholic Church’s beatification of the late pontiff, John Paul, The Great. So this week I’m making a departure from my normal visit with mystery, romance, or other fiction writes and am happy to interview a local playwright who has written – to much acclaim – a musical on the life of John Paul II: The Pope of the People, which has just completed a very successful run in the Des Moines.

Tom Quiner has written and produced six musicals, all with faith-based themes. One of his favorite subjects is “Does God exist?” In 2009 he wrote a play titled, The Guy Agnostico Show. The play was modeled after The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The host of the show, Guy Agnostico, an agnostic, debates famous people from history on God’s existence. Tom and his wife, Karen, founded Breakthrough Marketing 23 years ago. His company writes, designs, and prints brochures and collateral marketing pieces along with designing Content-Managed Websites and eMagazines.

Mike: Tom, let me welcome you and wish you a Happy Easter. First tell me, how did you get started writing … did you start with plays and musicals? Or prose?

Tom:  I’ve been writing my entire business career, specializing in marketing and advertising copy. In my spare time, I began writing songs in the 1980s as an enjoyable pastime because of my love of music. They were mostly secular. But my music interests began to shift toward expressions of my faith. To that aim, I began setting psalms to music and wrote two Mass settings. Eventually, I expanded my musical interests to telling stories using a variety of musical forms, from an operetta, to mini musicals of faith, to full-blown musicals. Some of my efforts were purely musical, like a series of Easter fanfares I co-wrote with Robert Weast. Some were plays with minimal music, like The Guy Agnostico Show. Collectively, I term these efforts as “evangelization through entertainment.”

M: You also write a blog and newspaper op-eds, what is the general nature of those? Political, religious, etc?

T: Most of my blogging and newspaper entries are political in nature. My opinions are very much influenced, though, by the question of whether truth is relative or absolute. Because my Catholic faith teaches me that God is the source of Truth, my political writings very much reflect those views. That doesn’t mean I agree with the Church on every political issue, but our goals are certainly the same. I do write on faith matters on occasion, but more on the subject of apologetics. I have many readers who do not agree with my Catholic religious views and, in fact, question God’s existence. I enjoy making the case for God based on the evidence in a way that makes the agnostic think. That is the basis for my play, The Guy Agnostico Show.

M: How did you start writing musicals? What kind of musical background do you have?

T: I took traditional classical piano lessons as a kid. When I was in college, a good friend of mine gave me piano lessons on how to play music off of a guitar lead sheet. A lead sheet simply gives the melody line of a piece of music along with the guitar chords. That preliminary instruction in music theory helped to launch me on the road to writing songs. I have no more formal training than that.

Everything after that was mostly self-taught. So much of writing music comes down to desire and then doing it a lot. I have written a ton of music. A few pieces are pretty good! After writing songs for about fifteen years, I began writing a musical based on the parable, The Prodigal Son. It was never performed, because it wasn’t very good. That was followed by a 45 minute Advent operetta called We Need a Savior. It was performed twice.

Cast of Pope of the People with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad

M: What is the primary difference between writing prose fiction, and writing for the stage?

T: I have not actually written prose fiction. I’ve read plenty. There are obvious differences. Writing for the stage uses far fewer words. For example, it is up to actors to physically convey emotions with expression and gesture that may require many words to convey in prose.

Many of my musicals are all-sung productions. It is more difficult to hear sung words than spoken words. This creates a challenge for the composer to write music that is singable. I have written lyrics for three musicals where I did not compose all the music. And I’ve written several musicals where I did both. My newest production, The Pope of the People, is the first musical I wrote that uses extensive narration. This approach made it easier for the audience to follow the storyline.

M: Let me go to The Pope of the People … where did the idea come from? How did you ever get the idea about writing a musical about John Paul II?

T: I was very much inspired by Peggy Noonan’s book, John Paul the Great. Specifically, the chapter titled “We Want God!” thrilled me. It described Pope John Paul II’s trip home to Poland in 1979 and how it changed history. Newt Gingrich’s documentary, 9 Days That Changed the World helped provide additional fodder for the musical. Then I went to the Vatican’s website and poured over the Pope’s homilies he gave in Poland on that fateful trip.

M: Can you give us a thumbnail description of the play?

T: The Pope of the People focuses on a few key elements of JPII’s first ten years as Pope: his trip to Poland and the threat he posed to the communist government; the impact it had on the Solidarity Labor movement; his trip to Iowa; the assassination attempt; and his forgiveness of his would-be assassin. The theme is man’s yearning for God.

M: One of the interesting scenes in The Pope of the People involved his visit to Iowa. Were you there when he was here?

T: Yes, I was there. I was a Protestant in those days, but nonetheless thrilled to see a Pope come to Iowa. I converted to the Catholic Church a year and a half later. I celebrated my 30th anniversary as a Catholic this Easter.

M: Pope of the People was a big success here … and it garnered a good deal of publicity … have you received any inquiries from outside the area about licensing the play?

T: I have heard from groups that would like to have it performed in their area. For example, I received calls from a couple of people with Polish ancestry who live in Pennsylvania. I told them to buy the CD and DVD, which are under production, and I heard from folks in Kansas City, Sioux City, and Cedar Rapids. I am in the process of reviewing the first seven performances in order to make some revisions and hopefully make the piece even better. My hope is to actively market it to other Catholic dioceses and theater groups around the country when I feel it is sufficiently polished.

M: Have you received any comment from anyone in the Church hierarchy … or even the Vatican?

T: No, other than [Des Moines] Bishop [Richard] Pates who attended a performance and enjoyed it. A number of Central Iowa priests attended the production.

M: I know you’ve written other plays … are they all musicals? And can you give me a sentence or two about each one?

T: We Need a Savior: an Advent operetta. The lives of a bereaved Jewish man, a street waif, and a Roman Soldier collide around the time of the birth of Christ.

Calvary, the Resurrection Story: A full-blown, all-sung musical co-written with Phil Havens. It begins where Jesus Christ Superstar ends.

The Day I Lived Forever: An all-sung mini musical of faith. Two broken souls encounter Christ at communion.

The Woman at the Well: An all-sung mini musical of faith co-written with Phil Havens based on the gospel account.

Fanfares for the Stations of the Light: A series of fourteen Easter Fanfares co-written with Robert Weast based on the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Christ.

The Guy Agnostico Show: Talk show host, “Guy Agnostico,” debates God’s existence with special guests from history, including Adam & Eve, King David, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

A Living Heaven: The story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the saints (co-
written with Phil Havens).

The Pope of the People

M: How would someone contact you about licensing rights?

T: Call me at 515-276-9266 (office); 515-689-9266 (cell); or

M: I understand there will be a CD and perhaps a video of Pope of the People… how can someone get one?

T: I hope to have the DVD ready in late April and the CD by late May. Visit the website to order:

M: Tom, I really want to thank you for joining us today. My wife and I saw Pope of the People and it was a great show … in fact, my wife enjoyed it so much she went to see it a second time. Good luck with everything.

By the way, here is the link to Tom’s blog, Quiner’s Diner.

The pope in Iowa, "O, Iowa!" from Pope of the People.  Pope John Paul II was played by Maxwell Schaeffer

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mondays With Mike: Romance author Sandra Edwards

SANDRA EDWARDS WRITES in a in a variety of genre: contemporary, paranormal (mostly time travel and reincarnation themes), and hardboiled suspense with romantic elements. She's an active member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and has won or been a finalist in numerous RWA-sponsored contests. She lives in the Lake Tahoe area with her husband, two kids, four dogs and one very temperamental feline.

Mike: Thank you for joining me today, Sandra. You have a very interesting variety of writing. Is there a common link among them all?

Sandra: Thanks for having me, Mike. I do write in various genres. But the thing they all have in common is that these genres are tangled with strong romantic elements. I write both single titles and series. Whether or not a book ends up as a single title or part of a series depends upon the story.

M: Can you give me a brief overview of some of your work?

S: Crazy for You is contemporary romance and is the first book I wrote (back in the 80s) and was originally intended as a single title. Over the years a sequel has been trying to emerge, and because this is one of my most popular books, I’ve started developing the sequel idea.

Incredible Dreams is a paranormal time travel romance that was born from my love of a good ghost story and my fascination with the 1940s. At this point, I have no plans for a sequel to this book, although I do have other time travel books in the works.

As for series works, Soul Searchers is a suspense series with paranormal elements. I’ve got a new series coming up. The Time Brokers combines one of my favorite genres (time travel) with the very hot paranormal element of vampires. The first book Staked brings a new twist to the vampire theme and will release this summer.

M: What started you writing?

S: I think I was probably born a writer, as I started spinning verbal tales at an early age, but it wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that I actually started writing them down. I wrote short stories in school to amuse my friends.

M: How did you get your first book published?

S: I’m an Indie author whose story is like so many others I know. I’ve won/finaled in plethora of RWA-sponsored contests and received numerous “requests from editors” via the contests, only to later receive rejections. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “your writing is too outside the box”.

JA Konrath [author of the Jack Daniels Mystery Series – Mike] is the reason I decided to go Indie (in July 2010), and I don’t regret that decision at all. To date I’ve sold around 30,000 copies of my books on Kindle and Nook.

M: I take it that all of your books are available as ebooks, correct? Are any available in traditional paper format?

S: Yes, all my books are available in ebook formats. Crazy For You, Secondary Targets and Incredible Dreams are available in print (via Amazon). Broken Wings (a novella) and Vegas, Baby (books 1 & 2 in the Soul Searchers series) will release in print later this summer as a 2-pack edition.

M: There has been a lot of discussion on this site, mainly by my co-writer Robyn Gioia about ebooks. Can you explain the process of producing an independent e-book?

S: A lot of work goes into producing ebooks independently. Since the entire process is on the author’s shoulders, it helps to be a bit of a control freak. Having your book edited by someone other than yourself is a must. If you don’t know one or two good editors, you’ll have to pay someone. Then there’s cover art. I’ve created some of my covers, others I’ve paid for. There are great cover artists out there who have reasonable rates. Once you have a professional-looking cover and a thoroughly edited manuscript, you’ll need someone to format it for the various e-readers. I do my own formatting (and I can be hired to format for Kindle and Nook). Once you upload to KDP (Kindle), PubIt (Nook) and Smashwords (which distributes to various outlets), your work isn’t done. People can only buy a book if they know about it. Marketing is a must (what works and what doesn’t is debatable, at best). It should be noted that even if you go the traditional route through a publisher, you’re still going to have to do the marketing yourself. Publishers rarely sink marketing dollars into new authors these days. So either way, the marketing’s going to be up to the author.

M: As an independent, how do you market your books?

S: I try to get myself on as many blogs as I can. I do cover/banner spots at various websites. I’m a regular visitor to a few reader-friendly forums such as, and

M: How can someone purchase one of your books for find out more about them?

S: My books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and various other outlets via Smashwords, including Sony, Kobo, Apple and Diesel. Links to Amazon, BN and Smashwords for each book can be found at my website.

M: Getting down to the actual writing: what are your writing habits? In other words, do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?

S: My days are pretty routine. I spend a couple of hours in the morning addressing promo. I spend time as needed for technical things like formatting. My afternoons and evenings are usually spent writing and swapping critiques and beta reads with some of my author friends.

M: Anything upcoming?

S: Yes, as referenced above, the first book in the Time Brokers series titled Staked will release this summer. I’m also participating in a month-long blog tour in May. At the end of the tour I’ll award a new Kindle 3 to one lucky follower.

M: Can you tell me how that contest will work? There are more than a few folks here who would like a new Kindle.

S: Anyone interested in entering the contest will need to follow the blog tour (blog stops are listed at my website) during the month of May. Two or three questions will be posted about the participating authors (or their books) at each of the blog stops and will include a link to where the answers can be found. At the end of the blog tour everyone who sends me (via email) the correct answers to all the questions will be entered into a drawing for the Kindle 3 and a great starter library from the participating authors (approximately twenty books will be gifted to the winner). More info about the contest is available at my website.

M: Besides writing and taking care of two kids, four dogs, a cat (and a husband) do you have any hobbies? Or do you have any spare time?

S: I rarely have free time, but when I carve out a little block of it, video games (specifically RPGs) are my weakness. I especially love to play the Final Fantasy and Star Ocean series.

M: Thank you Sandra. Readers who want to contact Sandra may do so at; her web site  and you can check out her Facebook page.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mondays With Mike: Author Robert Kerr

I FIRST MET Robert Kerr at a book signing at the Joice, Iowa, Public Library in March of last year. He was promoting his book, Completely Restored, which involves a time-traveling family that begins restoring a century old home only to wake in the year the house was built. A school psychologist, he has followed an interesting career path: a welder, a carpenter, a mental hospital attendant, a mortician’s assistant, and a general Man Friday for an electrical engineer. He knows about restoring old houses, he and his wife, Joan, have rehabilitated five houses, including a Victorian-era house that inspired his book. Originally from Nebraska and the father of two grown children, he lives with his wife in Ankeny, Iowa. He reports that he is planning on retiring this year to devote more time to writing.

Mike: Welcome to my blog, Robert; I’m glad to have you here. First of all you need to tell me how you went from a mental hospital attendant, a mortician’s assistant to a school psychologist?

Robert: Actually, it has been an interesting journey. I majored in Psychology with the idea of going into counseling, but had to eat in the meantime. The mortician's assistant gig was while I was a college student. I lived in the mortuary with a room mate who was going into the "business". We helped with everything you would expect a mortician to do. I found it an excellent opportunity to observe people in many different states, from their best to their worst. It gives a rich source of characters and personalities to draw on in my writing.

After graduation, I took time off from school for a year to build the bank account up again before returning to graduate school. I received a call from an electrical engineer I had met at a seminar in college telling me of a job opening for a psychologist at the state hospital nearby. I applied and was hired to carry out behavior programs with mentally handicapped adults. I spent the summer and part of the fall working the three to midnight shift, tracking data, charting, and helping the clients with the routines of the ward. I also got quite a dose of the Watergate Hearings as that was all that was on our ward TV all day.

By October I was ready for a change and the same engineer who had told me of the state hospital job, hired me full time as the staff psychologist at his manufacturing plant. He was a true entrepreneur and inventor, specializing in equipment used by psychotherapists and psychiatrists. To say the least, he was an eccentric individual. We never knew when we came into the plant in the morning which personality would greet us. He was at once the hardest task master I ever worked for and at the same time one of the most supportive and encouraging people I ever had the pleasure to know. In the year I worked for him, there was never a dull moment; I had hundreds of unique experiences I could not have had anywhere else.

But, after a year, graduate school called and my boss helped convince me that if I wanted any kind of future, I had to pursue an advance degree and move on, which I did. After working in these two jobs for 15 months, I was committed to a career in psychology.

M: That is a wide range of experiences, tell me, what bearing has that background had on your writing?

R: Actually the main influence on my writing was the training I received in high school from a very dedicated English teacher who praised and encouraged me to write daily. Later, my experiences helped open my Nebraska farm boy's eyes to a larger world, one where I could use my training and experience to help students with difficulties in school find ways to succeed. And, after many years of writing essays, poetry, and short stories, which I never once tried to publish, I stumbled on to the true story of the Green Mountain Train Wreck and the role Dr. Elijah Jay played in the rescue effort; I was instantly hooked and couldn't resist intertwining his story with the adventures of a Marshalltown family who were taken back in time 100 years to the year when the house they restored was first built.

M: That brings us to your book, Completely Restored, can you give us a short synopsis of it?

R: An Iowa family completes the restoration of a 100 year old house only to wake up one morning in 1909, the year it was built. They quickly make friends with their next door neighbor, retired physician Silas Fischer. During their time-travel adventure they try to discover why they have been thrust back in time and encounter the Rev. Billy Sunday, magician T. Nelson Downs, the 1909 World Series and eventually the 1910 Green Mountain Train Wreck. In the bargain, the somewhat dysfunctional family pulls together to deal with their plight.

M: What gave you the idea for the book?

R: I have to give credit to my wonderful wife of 38 years who has always been a lover of houses, old houses in particular. Several years after we were able to unload the money pit that was our one adventure into old house ownership, she said to me over coffee one morning, "Boy I sure miss that old house." After spitting my coffee across the kitchen, I replied "anybody who would want to live in an old house should have to spend a year living in the year it was built!" She looked up at me and said that would make a great plot for a book and Completely Restored was born.

M: Where can the book be purchased?

R: The book can readily be purchased on for $14.95 plus shipping. 

M: Can you tell me a little bit about what else you write?

R: In terms of sheer volume, most of what I have written has been reaction to various social or political phenomena which have stirred strong feeling in me. As far as fiction, the novel Completely Restored and a few short stories are it. I have also penned a few poems for family members and dabbled in song writing with a friend from Marshalltown. Essentially I write about the things I become emotionally involved in and I in turn try to stir emotions in my readers. In my work with parents, teachers and kids, it has been important to do the same thing at times to motivate them to change or accept change in others.

M: As a writer, what is more important: Plot or Character?

R: As a reader, characters are what keep me reading and wanting more, but it always seems that the plot is what I find myself referring to when I recommend a story to others. As a writer, I have developed the plot first, then developed characters and finally made changes in the plot to accommodate the needs of the characters. That makes it sound like I hold characters in the highest importance; I guess I do.

M: What started you writing?

R: As I said my high school teacher Edith Payne was a tremendous influence on me. Everyone should have at least one teacher like her.

M: Tell me about your writing habits? Do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?

R: Unfortunately, most of my habits are bad ones and my writing habits are no exception. I spent way too much time researching the story for Completely Restored, working on it off and on from 1993. Then in the summer of 2007, I began seriously trying to complete it and knocked out the first draft in 2 months. My serious writing usually takes place from 5 to 7 a.m., with quite a bit of coffee. This is the time of day when I am awake enough to type, but still not so alert as to get in the way of my characters lives.

M: Do you have anything on the drawing board; anything upcoming?

R: I am working on a sequel to Completely Restored in which the father and son go on a guy's road trip to Clear Lake in a restored 1965 T-Bird, but once again get transported back this time to the winter of 1959. One of them winds up being thrown in a mental hospital and they are both caught up in a murder. The working title is Car Crazy.

M: How about your spare time? Any hobbies, etc.?

R: Working on whatever house we happen to be living in is a hobby of mine in the same sense that capturing Moby Dick was a hobby for Captain Ahab. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, my spare time in the nicer months of the year always seems to go to some form of do-it-yourself project. (Did you catch the connection to Completely Restored there?)

We recently purchased a cabin on a Central Iowa lake which has been our home-away-from-home this fall and winter. We have added those touches to the inside that have made it ours. This summer, after I retire, I hope to get back into a routine of writing every morning until 7 a.m. before I start the day’s chores on the outside of the cabin property. It should make a great place to settle in and do some serious writing.

M: How can readers contact you?

R: My email address is

M: Thank you, Robert. It was great to have you with us today. 

R: Thank you, Mike.

Here is a link to Robert’s web page,and a link to purchase Robert's book, Completely Restored.

Monday, April 4, 2011

First Monday With Robyn: Ebooks continued . . .

By Robyn Gioia

When I originally started this thread on eBooks, I thought I’d chat a little bit and move on. I referred to the eBook trend as a tsunami (no disrespect to Japan) rolling over the publishing industry. The onslaught has and is quite literally bringing in a world of change. There is so much going on, I can barely keep up with the changes myself. It’s quite literally one of the hottest topic out there and worthy of all the news.

Many of you have heard about Borders, the mega bookstore that filed for bankruptcy. It’s closing many of its underachieving stores, including the store next door to me. Since Amazon reported eBooks have overtaken paper books in sales, it’s no wonder a store selling only one type of product is suffering. If a store today is to survive, it will have to morph into something different. I read where one independent bookstore owner has turned her store into a community center. The customers come in for coffee, chat with friends, discuss books, review titles, and keep up on the latest news in the book world. Sort of a book gossip center. She says business is up despite the changes in the industry. In the future, I envision more of this and bookstores offering download kiosks for eBooks at specially bundled prices; gems you wouldn’t normally hear about or find on the internet. Sort of sounds like TV cable, doesn’t it.

Times Square

I’ve learned a few more things about owning an eReader. My husband and I flew to New York for a day. He brought a large, bulky, hardback book, and I brought my Kindle which fits nicely into my purse. Because I had a meeting to attend, he thought he would bring his book along to read. Turns out, he had time to walk Times Square instead. Who is going to read a book when visiting New York? Anyway, he ended up lugging his book around with him without reading one word. He carried it through the museum, on the subway back and forth, into the restaurants, the Hershey store and every single place we went. Needless to say, it turned out to be a nuisance instead of a source of entertainment.

On our return home, he spotted a new David Baldacci book at the airport. He stood there reading the cover trying to decide if he had read it. Turns out he hadn’t. While standing in line to pay for it, he asked me to check the price on my Kindle. I pulled it out of my purse, and checked the online bookstore right there in front of a line of customers. It was the exact same price. Despite the annoyance of carrying the other book throughout the city, he decided he would rather read his new book in paperback form, so he went ahead and purchased it. I was secretly glad too because I didn’t want to share the Kindle on the way home. I was in the middle of my own book.

There are changes taking place in the digital book world almost daily. Barnes and Noble’s eReader the Nook, can do color, the iPad can show picture books, and interactive books are being perfected as we speak. Feeling left out? Your phone can be turned into an eReader too.

I mentioned before that my students have been reading Tom Sawyer on their eReaders. One of my students had to take her Nook in for service this week. She was upset too because she has all her notes recorded on it and every vocabulary word sticky-noted. Come to find out, because it’s a touch screen, too many fingerprints on the screen keeps it from functioning properly. One of my other students had to take her Nook into the shop where it was replaced. The Kindles in the room have not suffered the same fate. Probably because they aren’t touch screens.

My daughter came home last week and announced she was going to purchase a Nook. The touch screen is more intriguing than the simple menu on the Kindle, and she wants to borrow library eBooks. We stopped by the kiosk at Barnes and Noble to look it over. The first thing the salesman pointed out was how the Nook can download library eBooks and the Kindle can’t. He knew exactly what we wanted to hear. My daughter was tempted to buy it that minute, but she decided to wait a week so it wouldn’t be an impulse buy. Good girl. To be fair to the Kindle, I’ve been told that a Kindle user can request the app to download library books from Amazon but I haven’t done it yet. Why Amazon wants to lose sales that way is beyond me.

On a personal note, I’ve had two eBook publishers interested in my middle grade mystery. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I may publish it myself since the rules are changing and I’ve been reading how some big name authors are going the same route. The whole thing will require some thought. The book isn’t up and running yet, but I would like to give you a sneak peek at the new cover. When I showed it to my class this week, they gave it a huge thumbs-up. If it had been available that moment, a lot of the class would have downloaded it on the spot. Hopefully it’ll be ready to launch sometime in early summer.

Until next month, take care, and happy reading.

* * * * *
Robyn is the author of, America’s REAL First Thanksgiving, St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565, and the forthcoming novel, The Ghost, The Rat and Me, for an ebook publisher.