Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Gewanda Parker - Hope and Healing

Gewanda Parker’s childhood was the picture of dysfunction. Born in Sebring, Florida to a drug-addicted mother who was consumed with her own demons, Parker never experienced the security and stability that most children enjoy. Abandoned, neglected and abused, she found solace in her faith and in writing. Her journals became her safety valve, the only way she could express her pain. They would eventually provide the basis for a book that would help herself and others heal.
“I’ve journaled all my life,” Parker explains. “It was my only safe place, the thing that helped me express myself openly.”  She never realized her innate writing talent until her ninth grade teacher told her she had a “knack” for writing. In the face of overwhelming odds, Parker earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary.  She went on to become a middle school teacher, a featured concert singer, the founder and CEO of Hope and Healing Corporation, an organization serving the needy locally and abroad in Haitian and African orphanages and “G-Girls,” a group that helps at-risk teenage girls.

Parker’s transition to published author can be seen as a case of divine intervention. “I was teaching Bible study and was invited to do a seminar on anger, love and forgiveness,” she recalls. “Afterward, I was asked to put the information in book form.” This led to Feeding the New You, a book Parker describes as “a devotional for spiritual growth.” But Parker’s next book would prove more difficult – and emotionally challenging.  It was a book that was sixteen years in the making.
It Only Hurts When I Can’t Run: One Girl’s Story is an unforgettable memoir that chronicles the tumultuous years of Parker’s childhood. Parker used her journals to help her recall the details. “I wanted the book to tell my story,” she says, “but I wanted it to be a story of redemption, not anger.  So I had to do the soul work and face my own demons.” The book, while cathartic, was extremely painful to write.  According to Parker, “Every time I had to go back and relive an experience, I’d hit a wall. Then I’d go through extensive counseling before I could go back to writing.” She takes pride in the fact that she was able to tell the story without being incriminating. “I didn’t want to paint a bad picture of anyone,” she explains. “I tried so hard, wrote so many drafts so the reader could see the redemption of my story, with the other characters being secondary. After reading the finished story, I felt such relief. It was like exhaling. I could finally own the truth of my story without shame.”

Parker’s describes her next book, All About Grace, as “scriptural references grounded in practical living about moving from a place of condemnation to receive God’s unconditional love.” She is also working on a book titled I Am the Flower, one she hopes will help women with self-esteem issues.

Unfortunately, Parker’s plans were sidetracked by some major setbacks. After being put on total bed rest with a high-risk pregnancy, she had to put her career on hold. According to Parker, “Raising a two year-old, soul-searching, overcoming huge obstacles and deciding to change the course of my approach to life,  I looked back on my life and sat back and thought, ‘This is what life is about, and I’m going to start living it now!’ It was then that I realized that taking ownership of my life and keeping my faith as my compass also meant I had the power to change it. The more I turned my thoughts to positivity and success rather than to mental and physical exhaustion and defeat, the more I discovered about what I want. I had to face the things I didn’t want to face in order to create a roadmap for myself."

Parker's roadmap was influenced by a question someone once asked her - "What if life didn’t happen to you, it happened for you?"  This led her to begin to ask herself some questions. “What if I examined all of the things that had happened ‘to’ me and saw where they had led me?” she asks. “What if I realized there was a purpose for every circumstance of difficulty, struggle, pain and trauma? How would my perspective change if I realized my quality of life is directly related to my reactions? Would I stop and appreciate these moments of darkness if I realized they are necessary to guide me to the light in my life? With a change in focus, it is 100% possible to change your life.”

Parker hopes that sharing her life experiences will help others see that there is always hope for healing. “The premise of all my writing is that I have lived it, I am living it, and I have gone through the process to get to the other side,” she says. “If I can leave you with one bit of advice today, it would be to create a vision for yourself and your life. Use the opportunities that come when life throws you a curve ball to review your goals and dreams and start living them now.”

For more information, go to www.gewanda.com

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Cat Who Communicates with a British Accent - A Guest Post by Claire Hamner Matturro

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Claire Hamner Matturro. Claire is the award-winning author of the Lily Cleary Mysteries, a lighthearted 4-book series featuring the exploits of a Sarasota lawyer. Claire's latest release is something quite different, and she tells you all about it here.

Imagine you are a cat—a beautiful, sleek black animal with a superior intellect—and you need desperately to tell some sweet, but dense humans that the clue they need to save a kidnapped diabetic law student and to stop a serial arsonist is hidden in a can of cat food in the fridge. You, the cat, cannot speak human words. They, the humans, are linguistically challenged and don’t speak cat. You know the kidnapped law student, Layla, had a penchant for hiding stolen jewelry and cryptic flash drives in clever places, like cans of cat food. And you know Layla possessed something so condemning that someone else is willing to kill to get it back.

What you—the cat—don’t know is how to compel your humans to dig out the cat food from the back of the fridge and find the clue. And, you have to communicate this to the humans with a splash of arrogance and a touch of a British accent.

This is not a hypothetical, or at least it wasn’t for me while I was writing Trouble in Tallahassee (KaliOka Press September 2017), a romantic suspense novel featuring Trouble, the black cat detective.

Let me explain a bit before we get back to Trouble and the clue in the cat food.

When friend and fellow writer Carolyn Haines first asked me to join her Familiar Legacy author collective and to write a romantic suspense novel, I was thrilled. After all, I knew Carolyn to be this bold, funny, successful author, and awesome person who rescues animals and generously helps other writers.

At Carolyn’s initial invitation, I jumped at the chance.

Then Carolyn explained the project further. Carolyn had rounded up several talented, critically/commercially successful women authors who would create a book-a-month series. We would each write our own manuscript, to be set anywhere and anytime we wanted, and the characters and the style of writing would be up to us. Just one catch—each of us had to include Trouble, the black cat detective.

Even that didn’t make me jump back from Carolyn’s invitation.

Trouble is the son of Familiar, a black cat detective Carolyn made famous in the 1990s with a series of books such as Thrice Familiar, re-released in June 2017 by KaliOka Press. Familiar has uncanny abilities and intelligence, even for a cat. It takes a while for the people around him to realize that he is quite the skilled detective, far better usually than the humans. Familiar channels Humphrey Bogart from such classic movies as “The Big Sleep,” at least in terms of his attitude and his thought patterns.

Trouble is Familiar’s son, and he inherited his famous father’s uncanny intelligence and skills as a detective. And his sleek good looks and superior attitude.

But what Trouble didn’t inherit was his father’s tendency to think like Bogart.

Nope, Trouble is a Sherlock Holmes’ addict and channels Benedict Cumberbatch. That is, Trouble speaks with a British accent like Cumberbatch.

Okay, not speaks exactly. Trouble is a cat, after all, and though the Familiar Legacy authors have all been creative and imaginative in what Trouble can do, he is still a cat. That is, he does not speak in human words.

But he thinks in human words. To be precise, he thinks in English—and with a Benedict Cumberbatch accent and style.

After it sunk in on me during that first conversation that Carolyn was saying I would need to write approximately a third of a manuscript from the cat’s point of view and with a British-Cumberbatch accent, I jumped back.

Not the cat point of view, mind you. Animals as characters are not new to me. A large dog, a ferret, a parrot, and a troublesome blue jay play critical roles in the plots in my prior books Skinny-dipping (William Morrow 2004) and Bone Valley (William Morrow 2006). Taking that one step further to give the animal’s inner thoughts words sounded like a fun leap.

I wasn’t troubled by the idea of getting inside a cat’s thoughts and writing from the cat’s view point. Having shared my life with a bushel basket of cats, I fancy I know cats—or at least as much as any mere human can.

So there I was, thrilled to be asked to be part of Carolyn’s bold new adventure in her Familiar Legacy series, and not intimidated with the notion that I’d have to tell a large part of the story through the inner thoughts of a cat.

Nope, what stymied me was the British accent.

I don’t do British accents.

I do Southern. I’m a “write what you know” kind of person, and I know the South. I know Florida. After that brief, failed experimental foray into Oregon one long, cold winter, I prefer not to get too far from the Gulf of Mexico, even in hurricane season.

Given that daunting task of using Cumberbatch-speak, I had to think about whether I could pull this off. Carolyn supported me completely, believing in my abilities. After all, I’m the one who had a ferret save the day in Skinny-dipping and had a parrot causing a lawsuit in Bone Valley.

Having accepted Carolyn’s challenge, I studied the PBS Masterpiece Theatre productions of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch. This was hardly an unpleasant task as these are superbly well done shows. As I watched and re-watched, I jotted down phrases and terms that Cumberbatch’s Holmes said. I played with inner dialogue in my mind, and every time I wanted to use a Southern colloquialism, I substituted a British one.

The next task facing me was how Trouble could communicate what he discovers to the humans around him. For Trouble to find clues was not a problem—after all, as a cat, Trouble could smell, hear, and see better than any person and slide into spots people wouldn’t fit.

But he couldn’t exactly sit the humans down and tell them in English what he knew.

So back to the drawing board. I needed to figure out how Trouble could tell the two romantic leads, Abby and Victor, that a major clue is hidden in a can of cat food in the fridge—and he has to do it thinking in a British-Cumberbatch sort of way. Here’s what Trouble did:

Having discovered long ago it is never too early to try to communicate with a biped, I start meowing. In the plainest terms I can imagine, I tell them both what I need. Someone to open the damn refrigerator.


Victor hurries after me. I paw at the refrigerator door and he pulls it open for me, casting a curious glance at me. “Looking for chow or another earring?”

The chap’s teasing me, but I don’t take time to rebut. Instead, I put my head to the task in front of me and jump into the refrigerator.

“Hey, get down.” To his credit, he sounds more amused than angry.

Ignoring him, I push the cat food can with my nose toward the edge of the refrigerator shelf. Victor starts fussing at me, the amusement gone from his tone, as I push the can off the edge and watch with satisfaction as it falls to the tile floor.

Splat. The can hits with a resounding clatter, and I hop out of the refrigerator.

Victor yells and I yell back. He’s going to have to learn better manners if he intends to marry Abby.

“What is going on in here?” Abby stands in the entrance way to the kitchen. “I can hear you two in the bedroom.”

While Victor starts to explain, I nose the can. The force of the fall knocked the plastic cover on the can loose. With my teeth and paws, I’m able to pull the lid all the way off.

“Meow.” I yell as distinctly and loudly as I can—meaning: would you two shut up and look at this?

They do.

Inside the can of cat food, there is no food. Someone—doubtlessly Layla—has scooped out the food and filled the can with a crumpled paper towel.

Victor swoops down and picks the paper towel up. Inside, there is a single gold wedding band.

Sounding like a boastful Mum, Abby says, “I told you he was a better detective than either of us.”

Trouble in Tallahassee is the third book in the Familiar Legacy series, which includes: Carolyn Haines’ Familiar Trouble, Rebecca Barrett’s Trouble in Dixie, Susan Y. Tanner’s Trouble at Summer Valley, and coming soon, Laura Benedict’s Small Town Trouble.
Trouble in Tallahassee and all the books in the series are available as e-book or paperbacks at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, i-Books, Kobo, and other likely sources. The Amazon link is:  http://a.co/86GoxBu.

For more information, visit Claire at www.clairematturro.com and “like” her on Facebook at Cat Cozy by Claire.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

In Memoriam: Anne Nichols Reynolds - Perseverance and Purpose

Sadly, Florida lost one of its Fabulous Writers on August 12, 2017, with the passing of novelist Anne Nichols Reynolds after a courageous battle with leukemia. A multi-talented, loving woman and devout Christian, Anne counted as her greatest achievements "maintaining a relationship with the Lord and having children, grandchildren, and a wonderful, supportive husband." May she rest in peace in the arms of her Lord.

“I’ve led an interesting life,” said Lake Placid writer Anne Nichols Reynolds. She’s been a teacher, an artist and a public speaker. She was one of the founders of Interlake Academy, a Christian middle school in 1978, where she taught English for 14 years. Her interest in education led to her appointment to the District Board of Trustees at South Florida Community College. She and her husband were in the cattle and citrus business. She traveled extensively, enjoyed lobstering in the Florida Keys, worked with archaeologists on a pre-Columbian village site located on her property, and participated in a dig in Israel. But her true passion was writing, and this resulted in the creation of books she hoped would help readers appreciate life and the importance of making the most of the time they’re given.
Reynolds’ interest in writing started early in life. “As a child, I wrote poetry and fairytales,” she said. “I was a voracious reader and always loved writing.” While attending Florida Southern College, she compiled a list of 100 goals she wanted to achieve. One was to write a novel, but she lacked the confidence to pursue that dream. Years later, she decided to take a writing course at a local college, and that changed everything.
I’d been working as a staff writer for a magazine, but I wanted to learn about creative writing,” she recalled. “The professor invited me to join her critique group. I also joined the Florida Writers Association, a group of writers helping writers.” With their support, Reynolds was finally able to cross one item off her bucket list when she completed her first novel, Winter Harvest, in 2014. A romance set on a cattle ranch in Colorado, Winter Harvest is the story of Dana Winter, a bestselling writer, and her journey to acceptance, wholeness and new love. Winter Harvest was followed one year later by another romance novel, A Will of Her Own. The tale of a young girl’s involvement with an influential Florida family, A Will of Her Own placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards.
Reynold’s next book, Mast Island, is a thriller set on an island off the Georgia coast where Abby Parsons, an up-and-coming artist, discovers a devastating secret about her past.  According to Reynolds, “The story just came to me from beginning to end. I guess I have a vivid imagination and some inspiration from a higher power.”  The thing she liked best about the book is the way her main character gets to step out of her comfort zone and have an unforgettable adventure. “Getting emotionally involved in my characters’ lives can sometimes be difficult or uplifting,” she said. “I shed happy tears when a character is forgiven, and I celebrate their triumphs. The characters live on in my mind after their story is told.”
Her final novel, Shadow of Death, is a murder mystery set in North Carolina. It involves an estranged set of identical twins, one of whom is murdered and the survivor’s search for her sister’s killer. “My books always involve a spiritual journey,” Reynolds explained. “I want to see growth in my characters. Like real people, they aren’t perfect and sometimes require forgiveness and redemption.”
A common thread in all Reynolds’ novels is the importance of perseverance and being true to one’s beliefs and values. Reynolds believed that “perseverance is a necessary part of being optimistic about life’s outcome.” This was reflected in her outlook on her life as well: “I’m happy with my books and I’m happy with life, and as long as readers enjoy my stories and care about my characters, I’m satisfied, and I’ll keep writing.”

For more information, visit Anne's website at www.annenicholsreynolds.com.