Wednesday, November 10, 2010


November 9, 2010
in Author/ Celebrity Interviews
By Laurel-Rain Snow

Michele Cozzens - Author, Business Owner, Jewelry Designer

Today I’d like to welcome an award-winning author whose latest book, Irish Twins, is unique, mystical, and a real page-turner.  Michele Cozzens truly has lived a dream life, so I am thrilled to have her join us here.

1. Michele, I have now read three of your published books, and each one is so unique. What inspires your stories?

First of all, thank you for reading my stories. It may sound odd but sometimes I get so close to the work while writing, I lose sight of the idea that someone outside of my head will be reading. As far as what inspires me, I think it can best be described as a trigger. My first novel, A Line Between Friends, was triggered by a cryptic note I once received from a long-term friend, who—without explanation—asked me to stop all contact. In order to honor his request, I didn’t contact him to ask why. Instead I made up two fictional characters and handed over the scenario to them. Even though I definitely rewrote history to a large degree, and found myself relating more to the man than the woman, the experience was quite therapeutic . . . and fun.

A hilarious bunko group triggered my second novel, It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club. I was part of this group for years and reveled in their humor and their drama. As I simultaneously raised two daughters, I couldn’t help but reflect on the evolution of female friendships/relationships from elementary school to middle age. Our group no longer meets due to a variety of circumstances (mostly life getting in the way), so I’m glad I have this little piece of evidence that a group like this once existed.

As far as my newest novel, Irish Twins, is concerned, because I am an Irish Twin and I have an extraordinary sister, I have always wanted to write a sister story based on our lives. The trigger, however, was my mother’s death. Writing this story from what I imagined to be my mother’s point of view, once again proved to be a very cathartic method of dealing with my grief over losing her.

2. In Irish Twins, you describe an interesting phenomenon—the afterlife as a transitional place, but different from “purgatory.” Can you share how you created this place?

I grew up as a member of the Catholic Church. Just as there are prayers, psalms and 1970s guitar mass hymns I will never forget, there are also catechismal concepts deeply embedded in my psyche. Purgatory is one of them. Regardless, I don’t think I ever truly understood this so-called “in-between” or “judgment” place. As I created the in-between place for my narrator in Irish Twins, Anne, I used everything I’d learned as a child—and asked other grown-up Catholics for their interpretations. Ultimately I created “Ohr.” Ohr, which is the Hebrew word for “light,” is the place where Anne spends most of her time in this story as she reviews and judges her life. By the way, in choosing a Hebrew word, I purposefully wanted to blur religious lines, and stress my belief that God created us in His image; however, man created religion, and in this place, religion did not exist. What I ultimately propose in telling the story of Anne and her family is that faith and love are the strongest and most universally important concepts.

3. Was there an individual who inspired the character of Anne Shields in Irish Twins?

Yes. My mother. The story begins with the death of Anne, who is not only an Irish Twin, but also the mother of Irish Twins. I describe, as I know it to have happened, the exact way my mother died, which was while water-skiing at the age of 80. When she was still alive, my mom was rather tight-lipped. She didn’t share a lot with us about her personal history. I was an inquisitive child and was often disappointed with her choices to not only not answer my many questions, but to also assure me I had no business asking them in the first place. So, like I did by telling the story of Joel and Noelle in A Line Between Friends, I made up a history based on a few things I actually did know about my mother’s life. I think it’s important to note that I did this with a great deal of love and respect. Throughout the process, I liked to believe that my mother was channeling the voice of Anne to me from that in-between place.

4. Are you currently working on another book? If so, what can you share about it?

I have ideas for two books: a novel about youth soccer and another non-fiction book about the business of being an inn-keeper, which would essentially be a sequel to my first book, I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner. I’ve got notes on each and a lot swimming around in my brain, but technically, I haven’t begun writing either one. Right now I’m heavily focused on my teenagers and their many needs.

5. What is your typical writing day like?

My most creative and productive period of time begins the moment I get out of bed in the morning. When I’m in the middle of a novel, I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband who gets the kids rolling and out the door to school. I tend to work in snippets throughout the day, and I pace A LOT, particularly after an idea or sentence comes to me. Movement stimulates me. So does the shower. I often jump in the shower when I’m stuck and inevitably, the words or where I want to go with the story/characters come to me. I have a lovely office; however, I’ve been known to cart my laptop to other spots in the house—next to the fireplace or to the place we call the “Arizona room.” On nice days, and there are many here in Tucson, I work outside. Something else I do, and have done with each of my books, is spend time between writing sessions with my husband or a girlfriend working out and sharing ideas. I’ve found that when I return to my computer, a lot of the conversation finds its way into the work. It takes the notion of working in a vacuum out of the process. Once the kids are home from school, I’m primarily in mom mode, which usually involves driving them to some kind of sporting practice or cleaning up some kind of mess.

6. I know that you divide your time between two unique homes. Which one is your favorite space for creating?

How I wish I had time to “create” while spending summers in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place, where my husband and I take pride in having created a unique family business (Sandy Point Resort, the world’s first disc golf resort). In the future, after our kids are out of high school, I hope to spend more time there, and certainly more time writing there. For now, however, Tucson is where I write and design and create my jewelry line. It’s simply a matter of having the time when I’m away from running the business.

7. From your website, I have learned that you once had a career in journalism. Would you share your journey to your current writing experiences?

Sure. I learned to write at an early age, and I believe it’s a skill I’ll have for as long as I’m lucid and my fingers remain free of arthritis. I received my first journal (actually, a “Five Year Diary”) on my ninth birthday and that’s when I began recording my life. Journalism was a natural course of study for me in college. After working as a reporter, feature writer and editor, my ultimate goal was to be a newspaper columnist. (I had a thing for Anna Quindlen and not only read her NY Times column, but all of her books, non-fiction collections and novels). After I achieved that goal while living in the San Francisco Bay area, life threw me a curve ball. I married a professional disc golfer, became one myself and left my journalism career behind to create the world’s first disc golf resort. I, however, never stopped writing. Ten years into our life at Sandy Point Resort, I’d answered the question, “How did you do it?” and heard the words, “You’re living my dream life,” many, many times. Then when a national magazine, (Midwest Living) published an article featuring our story, our phone rang non-stop. Interestingly, the callers weren’t inquiring about reservations. Almost all wanted to know how we went from being a couple California-based yuppies to living a life on Golden Pond. Mind you, they were calling on our toll-free line and phone expenses really added up! I’d answered so many of the same questions so many times, the book I’m Living Your Dream Life practically wrote itself. I found an interested publisher (McKenna Publishing Group) very quickly and this book, published in 2002, continues to sell quite well for them. My relationship with McKenna is so strong, I give them a first look at everything I write and they have published a new book every two years during the past decade.

8. Do you have any favorite journalistic adventures that you can describe for us?

I had many adventures while working as an editor in San Francisco for a publication that focused on tourism, meetings and conventions. When you write or assign hotel and property reviews, the hotel sales teams roll out the red carpets. So, not only did I get to sleep in luxurious, oceanside suites, I also played golf, took hot air balloon rides, ate lavish meals and had just a few spa treatments. Let’s just say, I didn’t mind the perks and did my best to present objective and informative property reviews.

9. What can you share about your family life?

Well, I just turned 50 and along with my husband of 21 years, I’m raising two teenage girls. Let’s just say family life is VERY hormonal. The one question I’m often asked is about whether or not our girls give us any trouble over moving back-and-forth between the desert and the Northwoods. They do not. Both Willow, 15, and Camille, 13, love spending summers at the lake, and they have a lot of friends there as well. Also, they’re both at an age where they can be helpful running the family business. Each makes a substantial contribution. We’re a tightly knit unit and definitely enjoy being together, especially when we’re active athletically. If I were given a choice of doing anything exciting or interesting on any given day or night, my first choice would always be to be with Mike and the girls.

10. Most people enjoy reading about a writer’s journey to publication of that first book. What can you tell us about that experience?

I may have answered this question previously; however, what I didn’t say is that I went about finding a publisher in what I felt was a realistic manner. Having worked as an editor and experienced the “slush pile” of queries, proposals and resumes for staff positions, I understood how difficult it is to stand out and be noticed. I therefore looked for a small publisher who was actually in acquisition mode. This is how I found McKenna Publishing Group. The rest was just luck. The editor who read my manuscript liked a crack I made about how only Catholics tend to go to church on Sunday while on vacation (he married a Catholic and found that to be true) and told me years after the publication of I’m Living Your Dream Life that after reading this line, he knew he’d publish the book no matter what the rest of it contained.

The other thing I’d like to stress is that after you have the good fortune to find a publisher willing to shell out the money to publish your material, the difficult part truly begins. I have found it far easier to get my work published than to get it read. Unless you’ve got major connections or are a celebrity with a tell-all book, it’s highly unlikely your book will sell enough copies to pay the monthly electric bill. This is why I’m so very grateful to people like you, Laurel-Rain, and the massive and supportive writing community on the World Wide Web, who have helped me spread the word about my books. I’ve met writers and authors from around the world and have developed valuable friendships.

11. I know that you have a blog and also network on Facebook. What marketing efforts work best for you?

I try not to saturate my blog or Facebook with marketing efforts, because my guess is people find that boring. No one likes a boastful self-promoter; however, if we don’t promote our work, who will? I have to admit, with a wry smile on my 50-year-old face, that on my birthday I posted my birthday wishes, which were to have “ Respectful, HEALTHY and well-behaved children; Political and World Peace; and For everyone who reads this to go straight to and buy a copy of Irish Twins. I’m happy to report that my marketing effort worked and there was a brief spike in sales. Hey, whatever works, right?

12. The Dames love animals … do you have any pets?

Oh yes indeed. Her name is Cinco (because she is the fifth member of our family) and I absolutely adore this little six-pound, longhaired Chihuahua. Previous dogs in my life were all huge—labradors, huskies and hybrid wolves. I never imagined myself to be a lapdog kind of girl. Boy was I wrong. And P.S. She loves ME best. It’s because I’m the MOM.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How May I Offend You Today?

I woke up to the television report of Juan Williams’ firing by NPR after voicing an opinion on FOX’s “The O’Rielly Factor.”  It is my understanding that this NPR news correspondent turned senior news analyst makes regular appearances on FOX news, which in spite of its “Fair and Balanced” tagline, is known for its general right-wing, conservative political stance. NPR, on the other hand, is a non-profit, member-based media organization, operating on mostly (98%) private donations or non-government sources, and it has a left-leaning, liberal reputation. That Williams maintains objectivity for one organization and voices opinions on another does shine a spotlight on his credibility. And according to the NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, this was not an isolated incident. Williams was already walking a fine line.

First let me say, I don’t believe Williams’ comment about an underlying fear of Muslims on airplanes dressed in religious garb on its own warranted firing. It was an honest admission and may have voiced a fear shared by many Americans since 9/11; however, I do believe the comment was ill-advised, and it pandered to the O’Reilly audience. In other words, it wasn’t news reporting or analysis, and it really wasn’t even opinion. It was a personal admission that supposedly violated NPR’s code of ethics as it illustrated and may have even promoted a prejudicial stereotype.

“News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues,” said NPR CEO, Vivian Schiller.

If this is truly the case, how and why did NPR tolerate Juan William’s appearances on FOX news in the first place? And why wasn’t he fired for previous statements he’s made publicly? Further, there are other NPR correspondents who voice opinions on other networks. Are they the next to be fired?

It’s amazing to me that there’s anyone left out there with the balls to voice an opinion without being slapped with a politically incorrect label.

My blog is benign politically, for the most part, and that’s because as an independent voter, I abhor partisan politics. That doesn’t mean that I completely refrain from voicing political opinions and that some of my non-political Internet postings have not been offensive to some.

For example, recently I posted a photo of a white male streaker, which I happened to snap during the half time show of the local high school’s homecoming game. I didn’t have my telephoto lens and the runner was clear across the field. So, while I did manage to get a shot of him in frozen motion, in the 5-1/2” x 3-1/2” snapshot, his number-4 shaped figure measured ¾” x ¼” and the only clear anatomical details visible were his bent elbows and his left knee. It’s impossible to make out a nose or whether or not he was wearing a cap—and there was certainly no evidence of genitalia or even butt-crack. Regardless, I received a message indicating that there was concern among the high school faculty that I had posted “naked photos of a minor” on the Internet and it made them uncomfortable. The person who wrote to me didn’t want me to get in trouble, so I said, “thanks for the heads-up” and removed the photo.

Hey, I didn’t know it was a “minor!”

I heard the streaker was caught and there was talk about charging him with far more than an “indecent exposure” rap. It was alleged he’d have to register as a sex offender for his homecoming prank. I don’t know whether or not this is true because frankly, it’s an outrageous a charge and really hard for me to believe. But if it is true, my opinion is that it’s a major injustice to this minor and a gross misinterpretation of the law.

Five minutes after the streaker photo note, I received a comment on another homecoming photo I’d posted, which was of a white girl dressed in costume as a black woman. The comment said this costume was “racially insensitive” and also asked why they didn’t have a black girl play this role. Gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming. So, lest I be responsible for anyone else being offended, I took down that photo too.

I thought back to 20-some years ago when I dressed up as Oprah for Halloween (and Mike was Phil Donohue). I painted my freckly pink skin chocolate brown, wore a dark-haired wig and big earrings. And since Oprah was in one of her heavy phases at the time, I added a pillow to my middle. It was a long time ago and probably before the height of politically correct watchdoggedness, but I don’t remember anyone saying my costume was racially insensitive. I do remember an African-American friend at the party told me I “passed for a sister in every way—except for the blue eyes, baby!”

We’re supposed to go to a Halloween party tomorrow night and I’m sitting here staring at my tall black witch hat. I wonder if wearing it tomorrow might offend supporters of Christine O’Donnell, the republican senate candidate from Delaware who infamously proclaimed in a recent television commercial, “I am not a witch. I’m YOU.”

Hmmmm, I can only imagine how many people were offended by THAT statement—especially in light of her exposed resume misrepresentations and the accusation of her using campaign funds for personal expenses.

I can honestly say it is not my intention to offend anyone by what I write or what pictures I post; however, if you do find me offensive, than all I can suggest is that you get over it and move on. With my fiftieth birthday looming over me like a waning moon and the life lessons I’ve just experienced, I really don’t give a damn.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Life of Jeremy Izzo: Threading the Eye of a Needle

He lived for 29 years. No one believes it was long enough. And yet, he lived. Boy, did he live.

Jeremy Izzo’s funeral was one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life. I’m home now—returned to an adult world from a few days in my childhood surroundings and among childhood friends/family. But after an intense few days spent with people I love and amidst grief so thick it clogged my throat and threatened my ability to breathe, I’m having a hard time readjusting.

There are so many things I don’t know and can hardly explain; however, I know one thing for certain. I am changed.

Since the moment I learned of my dear friend’s son’s passing, everything around me felt different. I call it a “death haze.” I’ve seen it before—like when my parents died—or when I lost my father-in-law. . . or when my beautiful, 20-year-old niece suffered a fatal heart attack.

Jeremy also had a heart attack. He had a genetic disorder called “Marfan syndrom.” Marfan’s affects the body’s connective tissue, and it emerges during puberty.  People who have it are typically quite tall, with elongated features—long limbs and thin fingers. I remember when he was 12 and he came to Sandy Point Resort along with his mom and dad, and brother and sister. I marveled at this extraordinarily tall young man—far taller than his parents—who spent every waking moment on the basketball court.  “Wow,” I said to his mom. “You’ve got a real jock on your hands.”

It wasn’t long after that when Jeremy, already a basketball star, collapsed on the court. When Marfan’s was diagnosed at the age of 13, the doctors told his mom “he had the heart of a 75-year-old man.” He would never be able to play competitive basketball again.

Although his heart was also breaking with disappointment, Jeremy did not let that stop him from living. This amazing child, who faced a wall that could have stopped him in his high-tops, did not allow that wall to crumble down upon him. He became the first student coach at his high school, Nazareth Academy. He was such an inspirational figure they named an award after him: “The Jeremy Izzo Love of the Game Award.” This is given each year to a senior who demonstrated a true spirit of love for the game and inspiration to the team.

Before landing a head coaching position at Joliet Catholic Academy, where he also taught history, Jeremy went to the University of Illinois. There he was the student manager under such big names in the world of Illini basketball, as Lon Kruger, Bill Self and Bruce Weber. There was definitely a buzz in the funeral home when Weber showed up to pay his final respects to his close friend, Jeremy. In fact, the place was filled with athletes and students whose lives Jeremy had touched. The line of people snaked around the lobby of the large funeral home and I watched as his family stoically stood in a receiving line for over five hours.

The next day, Joliet Catholic was closed and its students were bused to the church in LaGrange.  Their solemn, cherubic faces lining the stairway—the pathway for the casket—broke my heart. This enormous, exquisite church was filled to the rafters with mourners, all there to support this lovely family. Voices sung out in spite of the tightened throats and tears flowed.

Jeremy’s mom asked me to stand at the podium and deliver a letter she had written to her son, which she had worked on late into the night. In spite of her overwhelming grief, she put together a eulogy containing such strength and beauty, I felt it did justice not only to her son’s spirit and accomplishments, but it also was testimony to all of those who loved him. “Jeremy’s mom, Laura (Santos), asked me to read this letter . . . and it is my honor to do so,” I said into the microphone. And with a deep breath and a pounding heart, God’s grace enabled me to read her letter to the thousands of tearful eyes looking back at me.

I can’t tell you what it feels like to lose a child. I do, however, know the pain of losing someone whom I love with all my heart. And I have learned to understand the lessons the dead teach us. I’ve learned to believe that death is what comes at the end of a life and that funerals and eulogies are meant to celebrate that life—in spite of our grief. When we remember our dead loved ones, I feel it’s their way of reminding us to celebrate our own lives—while we are still living them. And it’s our responsibility to live them well.

The amount of effort Jeremy’s mom and dad, step-dad, brother, sister and young wife put into the arrangements was extraordinary. There was an impromptu candlelight vigil organized within hours of his passing; there were poster collages and slide shows, and even an Illinois State Police escort for the funeral procession. And that letter! How my friend found the courage and the strength to put together those powerful, heartfelt words can only be accredited to faith in a higher power.

Jeremy has left behind a wonderful legacy of a short life very well lived. His efforts to make the most of each day clearly showed he knew how to thread the eye of a needle. I pray his family will see this gift each day in the bright blue eyes of his one-year-old daughter, Addison Faith. And I know she will hear stories of him throughout her life.

To anyone interested in contributing to the Jeremy Izzo Trust Fund to help support the education and wellbeing of young Addison, please contact me (or hit the above link) for more information. Meanwhile, please keep this family in your prayers . . . and also, remember to hug your children as much as possible.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

GROWING Old Together?

Mike and I celebrated 21 years of marriage tonight. Not just marriage. GOOD marriage—the kind any romantic dreams about. It’s the kind that begins with a mutual physical attraction, and then leads to a pursuance of good nature and a copasetic sense of humor. It’s followed by an undeniable passion and (perhaps) even to acts defying common sense.

Getting married is called “taking the plunge” for a very good reason. And I believe one can be either happily or unhappily married to understand this vernacular phrase. Trust, I thank God each day for my lucky fortune in first meeting Mike and then having the courage to marry him. And I can say without hesitation, that taking the plunge with this man is the luckiest and smartest decision I have ever made.

Meanwhile, last year when we started waking up each morning and telling one another what hurt (“Aargh, my feet!”; “OH! My hip joints.”;  “Ouch! My back!”) my husband and I believed we had discovered what it truly means to grow old together:

It means telling one another what hurts.

And now, as we continue raising two beautiful teenage girls and face challenges of which we were warned—but couldn’t have possibly understood until we met them head-on—today, I believe we were reminded once again of a way to embrace each moment.

Today as I was getting ready for the morning’s soccer game, I learned that one of my oldest and dearest friends had just lost her son. When she phoned to tell me of his death, my mind went numb and clouded with grief.  I couldn’t form words to comfort my friend.

Are there any such words?

And then, out of nowhere came my daughter. Her arm was around me at once, and before she even knew what happened, her grave look of concern expressed that she was there to help no matter what. And in spite of the extraordinarily stressful few weeks she had just faced at school, and the soccer game waiting for her, that’s exactly what she did.

Clicking off my cell phone, consumed in grief and struggling with uncertainty over what I had said or what I was supposed to do, I told my daughter what happened. She instantly hugged me and said, “It's okay Mom. You’re such a good friend.”


I studied my own blue eyes looking back at me and tried to focus. She's fifteen, I thought, and I'm on the verge of turning flippin' fifty. I've been trying to teach my daughters the value and importance of friendship all their lives, and all I could say in response was: 

“Am I?”

I believe that today I reflected upon not only what it means to grow old . . . but also upon what it means to grow up. And ultimately I can’t help but ask—in Jeremy’ name—Is there ANY question at all about how much we love our children?

God bless you and keep you, Laura, and I’m so sorry for your loss.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

If You Can See This Without Glasses, Don’t Bother Reading It

I don’t know how else to express this: It SUCKS going blind.

For some forty-odd years, God blessed me with perfect, 20/20 vision. And then I crossed the bridge into the world of MIDDLE AGE, and suddenly, my arms weren’t long enough to hold words in print far enough away to see.

When it first happened, I had a vision exam and was told, much to my disbelief, that I STILL had 20/20 vision. “This normal aging change in the eye's focusing ability, called presbyopia, will continue to progress over time,” said the optometrist. And I’m not sure I saw it clearly, but I think he was wearing a smirk when he said it.

True to the diagnosis, my condition has progressed over time. And for the past seven years, my ability to read the fine print has deteriorated to the point of being book blind. Simply put, I can’t read ANYTHING up close without wearing glasses.

My daughter increased the font size on my text messaging device; however, I still have to hand it to her to read to me unless I’m already wearing glasses. Problem is, I don’t need the glasses—and can’t see with them—for anything besides reading.

(Although lately, I’ve found that I also wear them while cutting and eating my food).

I admit that I used to laugh at my dad whenever he stretched out his arm while attempting to read something like a newspaper or a report card. And I couldn’t understand why every pair of glasses he had was held together with black electrical tape. At first I thought it was because he was employed as an electrician, and my siblings and I grew up believing that anything and everything could be fixed with black electrical tape. Later, however, I learned that his glasses fell out of his front pocket every time he leaned over and the repeated abuse caused them to break. Rather than buy a new pair, he repaired them.

I, on the other hand, have a collection of reading glasses large enough to provide clear vision to a small town. I try to keep them in every potential reading venue in my home—and, of course, carry them in my purse and in my car. Usually, there’s a pair on top of my head and another hanging around my neck.

And yet, damn it, more often than not, there’s not a pair in sight when I need them . . . at least I pair that I can see.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Does it Feel to Get a Glowing Book Review?

The review of my new novel begins: “This is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.”

Reading a sentence like this brings on the exhale . . . the sigh of relief I dare say every author (who reads her reviews) experiences when a good one appears in print. Today I was honored to receive a glowing book review of Irish Twins from renowned journalist, celebrity interviewer and author, Betty Dravis

Dravis is a not only a top reviewer for, but she also has a very public persona with a multitude of websites and connections. Many know her as one of the most supportive and loved author advocates on the World Wide Web. Having her first take time to read your book, and then formulate a detailed, thoughtful and positive review is enough to make you believe maybe—just maybe—your book is pretty darn good after all!

Here is a link to her full-length review: BETTY DRAVIS LOVES IRISH TWINS

When I have the opportunity to speak to or communicate with other authors, the subject of reviews often comes up. A few years ago I wrote to the New York Times Bestselling humor author Laurie Notaro and asked her to review the ARC of my Bunko book (It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club) for a cover blurb. She said no. But she also said she knew who I was, and that’s because I had reviewed a few of her books. “Oh, I know who you are,” she said, indicating she recognized my name from a few Spotlight Reviews of her books on She continued: “ . . . And any author who tells you she doesn’t read the reviews is lying!”

Last Spring as a volunteer at the Tucson Festival of Books, I spent time with two authors, Barbara Samuel O’Neal (author of some thirty books) and Cassandra King (best-selling author and wife of author, Pat Conroy). I asked them both about whether or not they read their reviews.

“Only the good ones that my agent tells me to read,” quipped Samuel.

King, on the other hand, didn’t exactly answer the question. Instead she repeated advice she received from her famous husband, author of well-known works such as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini. “Early in my writing career,” she said, “my husband told me that only a masochist would read reviews posted on”

My five published books have received both good and bad reviews and I’ve matured enough as an author to know that taking them for what they’re worth is all part of the job. It’s easy to tell the difference between a personal attack vs. what is constructive criticism . . . and it’s also easy to tell whether or not a so-called reviewer has actually read the book. Yes, it may seem hard to digest, but there are some people out there, who for whatever bitter reason, feel the need to present an anonymous scathing opinion of who they think you are and what they think of your book.

I write a lot of book reviews and tend to publish only the positive opinions. Occasionally I feel strongly enough about something to dip into the two-star (vs. four or five star) areas; however, it’s rare. I have too much respect and empathy for authors to potentially hurt their feelings or criticize their hard work. Turns out, you can also insult readers who liked the books you didn’t. One time I gave three stars to a book primarily because in addition to displaying average to below-average writing skills, I thought it was marketed incorrectly and suggested it would appeal more to those interested in reading “Christian fiction.” To this review I received a comment calling me “obviously anti-Christian.”


So, to all book writers and all book reviewers, I congratulate you for having the courage to put it out there for all to see . . . and for all to criticize or praise. We know everything you write isn’t going to be glowing and positive; however, is sure feels NICE when it is.

For more information about Betty Dravis please visit her website at

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Things They Leave Behind

Stray socks. Bathing suit pieces. Cell phone chargers. Dirty Towels. Balled-up T-shirts. Stuffed animals. Pacifiers. iPods. Beach shoes. Sunglasses.

If I had to name the top ten items left behind by resort guests, all of the above would be on this list. Except for the iPods, phone chargers, and sunglasses, most people don’t notice the things they forgot to pack and take home, and we don’t get panic calls begging us to search their cabins or the grounds.

Our policy for the past eighteen years of dealing with people’s stuff is, if they call and we find what they’re looking for, we’ll pack and send. Most times we pay for the postage. Occasionally, someone will compensate us with a check for four or five bucks. But when it’s a big or heavy item, like the pair of ostrich skin cowboy boots left in Cabin #6, we sent them COD. All-in-all, I’d say we’ve spent hundreds of dollars and countless minutes packaging and driving to the post office to return items to guests. Everything unclaimed goes into a big lost and found box, which we usually end up donating to the Indian Reservation.

Dealing with the things they leave behind is definitely a resort-owner’s pain in the butt.

Over the weekend we had in another bachelor party, a common event during our shoulder seasons. From what I understand, there were about ten men in our Lodge who opted for a disc golf outing as the groom’s last hurrah. Usually our bachelor party groups are well-behaved and they don’t tend to leave the Lodge in, say, the condition depicted in “The Hangover,” (i.e. chickens running around and a tiger in the bathroom). But without the presence of women, the cabins are left a little more “used,” and there’s always crap left behind.

Today I heard from one of the bachelor-party set who was distraught over forgetting his pillow. His messages—one by phone, one by email—were urgent. “It’s in the lower level and it has a white pillowcase.”

I phoned our caretaker who located it immediately, and I asked him if it was just a standard bed pillow.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’s a lot nicer and it has a really fancy pillowcase.” And then, because he’ll be the one to have to package it and make the trip to the post office, his tone took a sarcastic twist. “No doubt his girlfriend is pissed at him because he left behind her 500-thread count, Egyptian cotton, one-of-a-kind, matched set pillowcase.”

“Send it COD,” I said. “Cotton on Delivery.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview with Michele VanOrt Cozzens

Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Michele VanOrt Cozzens, who is here to talk about her new novel Irish Twins.


She is a former journalist and newspaper columnist, and is the author of I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner, The Things I Wish I’d Said, A Line Between Friends, and It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club. Irish Twins is her third novel. Along with her husband and two daughters, Michele is the owner/operator of Sandy Point Resort and Disc Golf Ranch in northern Wisconsin, where they spend their summers. The remaining nine months are spent in Tucson, Arizona, where their daughters attend school. She is the co-founder of the non-profit organization HerBeware, which is dedicated to educating the public about the potential dangers of unregulated herbs found in dietary supplements. Profits from book sales have gone to this cause and to Breast Cancer Research.

Michele VanOrt Cozzens

McKenna Publishing Group (2010)
ISBN 9781932172362

Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (09/10) 

Tyler: Welcome, Michele. I’m glad you could join me today. Before we get started talking about the twins specifically, what made you decide to make them Irish?
Michele: Hi, Tyler. Thank you. Your question makes me smile because I didn’t have the idea to write about twins, nor had I any real motivation to “make them Irish.” My initial intention was to write about sisters, and I wanted to base them on my sister and myself. It just so happens we are Irish Twins, and this term has been used to refer to us since we were little. You see, Irish Twins is a slang term for two children who are born to the same mother in a period of time less than twelve months. (We are eleven and-a-half months apart). When researching the origin of the term, I learned that it was decidedly derogatory, stemming back to the anti-Irish sentiment in cities like New York and Boston during the 1840s Potato Famine, when a million Irish immigrants flooded the shores of the United States. “Irish Twins” mocks the fertility of the Irish and their disdain for birth control methods. It also suggests the Irish didn’t know the true medical definition of twins, or two children conceived and born together. And while my sister and I are indeed of Irish heritage, my understanding is that this term is now widely accepted as a description of two children born to the same family who are less than a year apart, regardless of their ethnic heritage.
Tyler: I understand the novel is really about two sets of Irish twins, Anne and Molly, and Anne’s daughters, Jennifer and Catherine. What made you interested in a story about two sets of twins?
Michele: As you may have surmised from my previous answer, Jennifer and Catherine, or Jenny and Caylie, are based on my sister and me. I think we’ve had a great relationship and have always been quite close. Throughout our adult lives, we have often called one another to tap a memory—or fill in a blank. Things like: “What was the name of that girl I pushed down because she was teasing you?” Or “Where were we when you got your pinkie finger slammed in the car door?” We were certain we’d “had the same life.” That said, as our lives progressed and we ended up choosing and following very different paths, I got to thinking about how two people, who for most of their years “had the same life,” could end up in such different places. The answer is that it was about making choices. Irish Twins explores the choices made by each sister, and how these crucial life-changing choices end up defining each sister as an individual.
As far as the older generation of Irish twins, Jenny and Caylie’s mother, Anne, and her sister, Molly, many of the choices Jenny and Caylie made in their lives came about because of how they were raised. And the key figure in their life, of course, was their mother. This is why Anne is the key figure in this story. She is the narrator and the true heart and soul of Irish Twins. I liked the idea of making her an Irish Twin as well, and that is why I created Molly.
Tyler: Will you tell us briefly a little bit about both sets of Irish twins, including how they are alike and different?
Michele: In each case, the elder twins, Molly and Jenny, are the more outspoken, confident siblings. The younger twins, Anne and Caylie, admire and envy their sisters’ sense of self. Neither realizes, however, that their elder sisters admire and envy them as well—for different reasons. As family secrets are revealed and both sets of sisters learn to become honest with one another, closer and more meaningful relationships follow. There are parallels between the two sets of twins, especially where their marriages or choices in mates are concerned, and the reader may find herself wondering from time to time, if history will repeat itself.
Tyler: What do you think makes the Irish twins appealing to readers?
Michele: This is as much a story about raising children as it is about being raised. Not every reader has children; however, I think it’s fair to say that every reader has been raised. As Anne looks back on her life and the lives of her children, she experiences varying degrees of nostalgia, sadness and joy. I’m certain this story will trigger a host of childhood memories for every reader.
Tyler: Michele, just a minute ago you referred to the potential reader as “herself.” Is that an indication of whom you think is your target reading audience?
Michele: No, it was simply grammatically correct. I could have just as easily said, “readers may find themselves wondering from time to time...” I’m sure there are some men who might believe this is women’s fiction or even chick-lit, and therefore, write it off or not be interested; however, I don’t think either genre is exclusive of male readers in general, and I certainly believe this story will have meaning for both men and women.
Tyler: Beyond this being a book about Irish twins, it is a step into the afterlife with Anne when she dies. What made you decide to write the book depicting Anne’s life after death?
Michele: Two summers ago, my seventy-year-old cousin was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. She suffered a brain injury and spent several months in a coma before she ultimately died. Throughout the summer, her son stayed in close touch with me, keeping me aware of her progress or lack thereof. I was very fond of this cousin for many reasons, but particularly because she was my mother’s favorite niece. My cousin often talked about how the first thing she learned about my mom (when my mom, who like Anne came from Boston to Chicago after the War) was that she liked her tea hot! As I grieved for my cousin, I tried to get through it by imagining my mother waiting for her in heaven with a piping hot cup of tea. This lovely idea comforted me, but the familiar feeling of the grief I experienced when losing my mother some ten years earlier made it a very difficult time. Ultimately, by creating Anne and telling the story through her—and essentially what I imagined to be my mother’s voice—it was a way of keeping my mother alive or with me. Plus, there was so much I didn’t know about my mom. So, by really spending time with her and piecing together the small things I did know, I used my imagination to fill in the blanks and create an image of her in the character Anne.
Tyler: What difficulties did you find in trying to depict the afterlife? For example, how much did you rely on sources and how much did you fictionalize?
Michele: Depicting the afterlife wasn’t difficult because I really didn’t impose any rules upon myself. Once I had the idea for the tea, the story took shape around the symbolism of each teacup. As for relying on sources, I suppose it’s fair to say my Christian upbringing and a whole lot of Catechism and Catholic school curriculum guided my thought. I considered the idea of Purgatory—and how Catholics believe you must pray for souls to release them from Purgatory and to the right hand of the Father.  My version of Purgatory, or an in-between place, was a place called Ohr. Ohr is the Hebrew word for “light,” and I liked the idea of this being a place of 360° light, which enabled Anne to shine a spotlight on her life. Each time her surviving husband or one of her children prayed, she saw them through the tea. So, their prayers, in effect, helped move her through her judgment.
Tyler: Did you consider other ways to tell Anne’s back-story, such as through a diary, discovered letters, or an old friend showing up, or was the afterlife the only way you considered? Do you think the afterlife more beneficial than one of those other means to bring in the past narrative, and if so, why? Did it enhance the potential viewpoint for example?
Michele: Considering my original idea was to write only about the living Irish Twins, Jenny and Caylie, the entire concept of Anne, her death and her back-story were of secondary thought. When my cousin died and I had the idea of the tea, however, and when I tied it to the true story of my own mother’s rather extraordinary death, I followed a path that enabled me to tell a much broader tale than I had originally planned. My mother didn’t keep a diary, nor did she have a collection of letters from her distant past. So, I didn’t have any documentation to guide me. She did leave behind several photographs and a few stories on which I could base the character of Anne. I used what little I knew and made up the rest. That’s what makes the story “fiction.” Meanwhile, using the afterlife, as you call it, was a truly effective way of dealing with my grief, and I think it’s fair to say, it was what got me through the process. Even though my mom has been gone for many years, the pain of missing her can still be quite acute on any given day. Holding her so close in thought—dreaming about her, wondering about what she would have said or done, etc.—was a way of not only getting to know her better, but also keeping her with me.
Tyler: Would you say writing about someone in the afterlife, a dead person, was restrictive in any way, or did you find it freeing?
Michele: Anne’s opening line is: “I have a little God in me.” She was/is a true omniscient narrator, and I didn’t find it restrictive in any manner.
Tyler: In our reviewer Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson’s review of Irish Twins, she says she kept asking herself what it was that set your book apart from others to make it so fascinating for her. What do you yourself feel sets it apart?
Michele: “Irish Twins” isn’t the first book to have a dead narrator. In fact, when I described it to one person, I remember her response was something like, “It sounds like “The Lovely Bones” from the mom’s perspective. I think what makes this story unique is that it’s about a family—a family unique unto itself, but not so unusual that people can’t find them relatable. What’s truly special about this story is Anne. It’s hard not to fall in love with her in the first chapter when you learn how she dies (water-skiing at age eighty is simply a very cool thing). I believe the reader can’t help but want to stay by her side to see what she sees as she journeys into the afterlife.
Tyler: What is the reaction or understanding you hope readers will have after reading Irish Twins?
Michele: I’d like to quote Anne, because I think she sums it up very well:
“I understood that all of our lives did not necessarily go according to the plans we may have hoped for or expected. And our parents couldn’t always be the people we expected or felt we needed them to be. Life offered a constant series of unpredictable events: economic downturns, wars, deaths, murders, miscarriages, stillbirths, accidents, alcohol abuse and, of course, abandonment. It’s so easy to make mistakes. But God does forgive us. 
And so do our children.”
Tyler: What kinds of responses have you received from readers so far?
Michele: I have to admit I was a little nervous putting this one out there. I wondered if readers would “get it.” So far, and much to my delight, I’ve received several really lovely reviews. It seems Anne is as loveable as I’d hoped. I should note that in the early stages of writing “Irish Twins,” Anne’s perspective didn’t carry on throughout the story. In other words, as I developed the characters, I tried out various narrators, namely the other Irish Twins, Molly, Jenny and Caylie. When work-shopping the material, however, I received a multitude of comments asking for “MORE ANNE!” So, it just goes to show you, when you listen to the intelligent critics—and sometimes that means putting your ego aside—you can improve your work. By the way, I highly recommend workshops for all aspiring writers/novelists. Writing can be very lonely work—and it can also make you a little nuts when you have characters living in your head and taking you in directions you hadn’t planned. Work-shopping takes you out of the vacuum.
Tyler: Michele, will you tell us a little about your previous two novels, and do you see “Irish Twins” as a departure for you or in keeping with your past writing?
Michele: My first novel, A Line Between Friends, poses the question as to whether or not a man and a woman can maintain a platonic relationship after they’ve each married someone else. I wrote the story from two perspectives, from both a man named Joel and a woman named Noelle. It was based on something that happened to me. I didn’t know or understand the reason why one of my college friends sent me an abrupt letter asking me to end all contact. So, I made up two characters and gave them the storyline. I let them explain it to me. A Line Between Friends won first place in the McKenna Publishing Group’s fiction contest, which, I believe, gave me the confidence to write more fiction.
It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club, my second novel, is more of a stylized comedy with eight strong, female characters. I had the idea to write about them after being part of a bunko group for a number of years. Bunko, a dice game, is played by millions of suburban American women as a means of escape or girls’ night out. The women in my group were hilarious—highly entertaining. I could only aspire to write characters as funny as them. “Bridge Club” does have a serious side as it addresses more poignant issues faced by many women, including alcoholism, caring for an elderly parent, financial struggles, and raising children.
There is no question that Irish Twins also comes from my life experiences. Writing this story, however, was a far more introspective and cathartic experience than anything I’ve ever written before. And I have to say, finishing the book was unexpectedly bittersweet. I was relieved to type the words “the end”; however, I felt like I had to say goodbye to my mother all over again. I’d had Anne’s voice—who, of course, had my mother’s tone and her delightful Boston accent—in my head for many, many months. It was difficult to let her go. Again.
Tyler: Do you have plans for any future books?
Michele: Yes. At my publisher’s request, I’m planning to write another book about the life of an innkeeper. (I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner continues to be a good seller for McKenna Publishing Group.) I’d also like to write another novel, and I’m toying with the idea of a story about youth soccer. Because I am a soccer mom—and currently both my daughters are involved with club teams—I spend a LOT of time scheduling family life around soccer. Youth sports, in general, is packed full of drama both on and off the field, and I think I can come up with a story filled with colorful characters and palpable conflict.
Meanwhile, I have a blog, ( where I post as often as I can about my daily life—which is that of an author, resort owner, mother of teenagers and great, big “beyotch.” Blogging is like exercise. It’s simply part of my routine and keeps my writing skills honed.
Tyler: Do you prefer writing fiction over non-fiction since you seem to be adept at both?
Michele: I enjoy both, but what I find really fun about writing fiction—especially after many years as a working journalist—is the incredible sense of freedom just to make things up! For example, in my first novel “A Line Between Friends,” the main reason for writing it was because when I received this strange letter from my good friend, I couldn’t get an answer to any journalist’s key question: “Why?” So, I made up the answer! I have no clue whether or not the friend who inspired the story has read the book; however, if he has, I’ll bet he wishes he told me why.
Tyler: You mentioned blogging as helping to keep your writing skills honed. What is your writing schedule or writing process like, and does it interfere with running your resort or vice-versa?
Michele: I don’t get a lot of writing accomplished at Sandy Point Resort. Running a resort on season is a 24/7 job and any time I spend in front of the computer is spent bookkeeping. But these days, since we winter in Tucson, I’m only in Wisconsin for three months. In Tucson, where I am right now, it’s a different story. After getting my teenage daughters out the door, the first thing I do is workout. (At this point in my life, if I don’t get in a good sweaty cardio workout, I’m edgy for the rest of the day!) Then I’m free to write until the time I have to get to the gym to coach the junior high volleyball team. If I happen to be in the middle of something—a book, for example, my husband is very generous in affording me the time I need to finish a thought or a chapter. He does all the grocery shopping and cooking and keeps the kids out of my hair if necessary. I’m quite sure I married the perfect man. He even sits and listens to my material as I read it aloud. He’s my first audience, my first critic, and he has helped make me a better writer.
Tyler: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today, Michele. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information may be found there about Irish Twins?
Michele: It was my pleasure, Tyler. As for my website, I’m pleased to report that it has just been completely revamped. not only provides details about my books, including book club questions for the novels, but also information about the resort we have owned and operated for the past eighteen years, and my jewelry business, Dream Life Designs. I’m also on Facebook and truly enjoy keeping up with friends on this phenomenal social network. I always enjoy hearing from readers. Thanks again for your interest in my work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Days I Abhor Being a Mother

Today is one of them. The Beav and I covered about four-and-a-half miles this morning in triple digit temperatures and I swear, as much bile spilled from my tongue as sweat poured from my glands. If there’s really such a thing as “going on strike” from the job of motherhood, I think it’s fair to say, this morning I declared such a strike.

I did not get out of bed before the sun. I did not wake up either of my children. I didn’t prepare breakfasts or lunches. I didn’t issue reminders to bring homework or weekend projects. I didn’t ask about upcoming tests or even about after school activities. I’m not going to do one piece of laundry, pick up a hair-tie, bobby pin or stray earring. Shoes will remain where they were kicked off. Popsicle sticks, milk rings and breakfast dishes will sit and for all I care, attract ants.

If I can no longer perform the chores of motherhood with a sense of love and responsibility—only anger and resentment—isn’t it time for me to step away from the job?

Besides saying “good morning” and “good-bye,” I didn’t speak to my children before school. I figured by not saying anything, the opportunity for them to snap back or respond to me in a disrespectful tone would not exist.

I don’t think they noticed.

Since they don’t seem to pay attention to the things I say and all that I do for them, who knows how long it will take for them to notice the absence of these activities?

Two weeks ago while in the midst of cleaning up stray socks and listening to the whining over another lost iPod—(or was it a cell phone?)—I broiled with internal rage and concocted a list containing items banned from purchase for the rest of the year and taped it to the refrigerator. The headline screams NO MORE and the list includes things my kids regularly lose or don’t take care of properly. Each item on the list is over-represented in the clutter of this household and I simply have NO MORE tolerance for any of it.

When my husband came home and read the list, he laughed. And with his sense of humor still in tact, added the final bullet to the NO MORE list:


“Very flippin funny,” said Mommie Dearest.

He’s been home for just shy of a week and to my knowledge, he hasn’t purchased any of the newly listed contraband; however, yesterday he did look at a big, black pickup truck, which he’s considering buying for our soon-to-be 16-year-old.

I’m telling you, this just might send me over the edge, because I’m caught between wanting to be released from carpool duty and not wanting to perpetuate my child’s obvious sense of entitlement.

Did I receive a car at the age of 16? Hell no. I wasn’t even allowed to drive the family car when I was in high school. And further, my parents didn’t drive me to school or to extracurricular activities. I was forced to find a ride, ride my bike or walk. And I honestly don’t remember feeling deprived. It’s just the way it was.

What I do feel right now—and I feel it keenly—is that this thing called motherhood is by far, the most difficult job I’ve ever had. The workload is tremendous, the praise is practically non-existent and the pay has left me feeling impoverished. Worst of all, there’s no vacation in site. Ever.

So for today, I’ll have to settle for a strike. And BTW, my BFF Beav says my feelings are justified. And as the mother of four, she knows what she’s talking about. As far as I’m concerned, she’s president of the motherhood union.