Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

Publisher: White Flowers Press (Oct 28, 2014)
Category: Self-Help, Mental Illness, Grief, Psychology
Tour dates: Oct/Nov, 2017
ISBN: 978-0982117620
Available in Print & ebook, 232 pages
Making Peace With Suicide

Insightful, compelling, and compassionate, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding, and Comfort takes a good hard look at the world-wide phenomena of suicide. This book is designed for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide and felt that sucker punch of grief; for anyone who is in pain, walking unsteadily, and considering suicide as an option; and for anyone who works with, guides, or counsels those feeling suicidal and/or suffering the profound grief from a suicidal loss.

Making Peace with Suicide includes stories of courage, vulnerability, and steadfastness from both the survivors of suicidal loss as well as the unique perspective of the formerly suicidal. It offers shared wisdom and coping strategies from those who have walked before you. It explores the factors leading to suicide and the reasons why some do and some don’t leave suicide notes.

Making Peace with Suicide sheds light on the phenomena of suicide vis-à-vis our teens, the military, new mothers, as an end-of-life choice, and asks if addiction is a form of slow suicide. It provides a seven-step healing process and opens the door to consider suicide and the soul, the heart lesson of suicide, and the energies of suicide.

If suicidality has impacted your life, Making Peace with Suicide is a must-read. You will be guided through the unknown territory, given insights to allow understanding, stories to help you heal, and ways to make peace with a heart wide-open. Making Peace with Suicide is good medicine for the body, mind, and soul.

Praise for Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

“As a minister/therapist for more than thirty years as well as a wife who lost her military husband to suicide, I have never found a more compassionate, effective book on suicide and its aftermath. This book serves many needs and highlights the myriad ways in which suicide changes one’s life direction. I cannot say strongly enough how powerful and helpful this book is.”–Rev. Colleen E. Brown, Unity minister

“The loss of a loved one by any means is traumatic. When the loss is by suicide, in addition to the grief of the loss itself, survivors are often left riddled with guilt, anger, shame, and endless questioning, by both themselves and by others. In Making Peace with Suicide, Dr. McDowell gently and brilliantly weaves vital suicide survivor education with comforting and inspirational thoughts and quotes, all designed to direct the reader on a path of healing, resolution and peace.  A must-read for anyone who has been touched by the tragedy of suicide and left to answer the question, ‘Why?’ ”—Carole Brody Fleet, award-winning and bestselling author of Widows Wear Stilettos…; Happily Even After…; and When Bad Things Happen to Good Women…

“Finally. A book that explains—in the simplest of terms, in a non-sensational, non-academic manner—the phenomenal, worldwide epidemic we call suicide. If you read one book on mental illness and how it affects our world, READ THIS ONE!”–Ginny Sparrow, Editor, American Association of Suicidology

“No topic could be more timely than suicide. This remarkable book addresses people who have contemplated ending their lives as well as those who have to deal with the aftermath of those who succeeded. But it will also be invaluable to mental health workers and military chaplains, especially those who deal with young people who have been bullied and veterans with PTSD. For such a complex topic, Dr. McDowell’s writing style is reader-friendly and the stories she presents may well evoke tears. Her wise recommendations include teaching self-mastery techniques to help people cope with the stress of a success-oriented society. I have read many books on this sensitive topic, but none with the breadth and scope of Making Peace with Suicide.”–Stanley Krippner, PhD; Co-author, Personal Mythology: The Psychology of Your Evolving Self and Haunted by Combat: Understanding PTSD in War Veterans

Interview With Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

Hi Adele, thanks for joining us today!

TR: Please tell us more about yourself and your qualifications.


Thanks, Teddy. I am delighted to discuss the unfolding of my book with you.

I have a doctorate (Ph.D.) in psychology and have been a psychotherapist for 35+ years.  I am the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today’s Fast-Paced Whirl and Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding, and Comfort.

In my earlier years, I worked in corporate America, but was always fascinated by psychology. In fact, as a 6th or7th grader, I gave my classmates a self-designed color test predicated on a book I read about Dr. Max Luscher’s psychological color test. Talk about a book that made a difference in my life!

I served as the director of outpatient treatment at an urban drug clinic and was founder/director of The Greenheart Center, a holistic, psychotherapeutic, and psycho-educational non-profit center in Stamford, Connecticut.

I have worked with suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault crisis hotlines, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Joplin Tornado, and the Newtown shooting; clients struggling with addiction as well as those moving through profound life changes such as grief and health challenges.

My work focuses on helping clients find hope, balance, and peace in the face of crisis, trauma, abuse, and grief. I look at life through the big view finder, by which I mean a psycho-spiritual-energetic lens.

TR: How much time and effort went into your research for the book?


I lost a friend and colleague to suicide in mid-2011. As a consequence, I wrote an article entitled “A Psychologist’s Suicide” to help me make sense of her passing. Shortly thereafter, I was doing dishes at the kitchen sink and was guided to write a book about suicide. Et voila, I began in 2011.

The book was one of the most challenging projects of my life. I interviewed people from all over the world about their loss of loved one by suicide or their own struggles with suicidality. I talked about suicide non-stop. In the beginning, I would be a toast by the end of day. I felt like I had crawled over broken glass and barbed wire, but there came a day when I saw a bigger picture, which was that suicide is one of the all-time greatest teachers about compassion. That understanding helped me turn a corner in my work. It also allowed me to talk about suicide non-stop and without the prior psychic weight.

The book-writing was in fits and starts at the beginning, whereas the end was pretty much non-stop focus. I was tired of the labor pains and ready to birth this baby. It was intense and deeply rewarding. I realized that the writing of this book was a culmination of all of my therapeutic interactions, which makes me so grateful.

TR: How long did it take you to complete?


I started in the fall of 2011, and completed the book the end of summer of 2014. It was a three year process.

TR: Tell us about your cover. Did you design it yourself?


No, I did not design the cover myself, but I was involved in the process. The cover mattered to me greatly.

I sent an assortment of pictures to my dear friend, big-deal novelist and designer, Meredith Blevins. She had asked me what color palette I wanted and what feeling I’d like the cover to convey.

Meredith chose the exact photo (which I had previously purchased from istock.com) and played with the original photo colors. Then, Meredith did her magic. We played with a few possibilities to birth the final result. I love love love the cover. It is soothing and restful.

TR: What do you do when you are not writing or being the “feel good doctor”?

ARM: Needless to say, I love to read and spend time with family and friends. I also love to play with flowers and dogs (not at the same time). I am a fan of British mysteries in every form and love to travel – can you say London? — when the opportunity presents itself. I also love a good slug day when you can do nothing.

TR: Has the book won any awards?

ARM: Yes, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort won the 2015 gold (first place) IPPY (Independent Book Publishers) in psychology and a third place Living Now: books for better living award.

TR: What should we know about suicide?

ARM: We need to understand suicide so it is no longer a topic of shame and taboo.. This is an article that I wrote that I think answers the question.

      12 Things You Should Know about Suicide

 by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.        

Suicide is a dirty word, mired in judgment, shame, and taboo. It is often whispered or, even, denied (“Oh, he died of heart attack.”) or avoided (“She died suddenly.”).

Given the staggering statistics, isn’t it time we take suicide out of the closet and bring it into the light? Isn’t it time we begin the conversation so we can help one another and find solutions to help alleviate the enormous amount of pain circling our planet?

The first step is to understand suicide. This helps make sense of the unknown and feared, the tainted and tabooed. As a former suicide hot-line responder and a practicing psychotherapist who has worked with suicidal clients for 35+ years, here are 12 considerations I wish everyone understood about suicide:

  1. Suicide is universal.

Suicide is not a foreign concept. Each and every one of us know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has considered or acted upon suicide. Further, most everyone would allow when in a dark, despairing place that the thought of ending all of their pain — even in the most fleeting of abstract ways – has crossed their mind.

  1. Suicidality is a global epidemic.

From young to old and across every socio-economic strata, suicide reaches every nook and cranny of our planet. According to the World Health Organization, globally, there is, on average, one suicide every 40 seconds.

And, the number of suicide attempts is astonishingly higher. The National Research Foundation reports that the number of suicide attempts can be 20x greater than the deaths by suicide.

  1. Why do people choose suicide?

Generally speaking, suicide happens because at that moment in time — and with the likely impact of extreme emotional pain, haywire neurochemistry, constricted thinking, trauma, dire circumstances, and/or the influence of substances — it felt like the only response to end the agony of their life.

  1. Suicide has many faces.

Suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.

  1. Depression is the strongest risk factor for suicide.

And this makes sense. Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression offers no options or possibilities. It is a tight, cramped, airless space. Individuals feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. They hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Their thinking is binary and boxed. And they feel utterly despondent and despairing. There is no sense of self.  There is overriding pain which is often expressed as “There is no point. Why should I live?”

  1. Survivors of a suicidal loss are at risk for suicide themselves.

Death becomes tainted and shame-faced when described as a suicide. Suicidal grief is complicated. There are so many mixed emotions (i.e., guilt, anger, heartbreak, confusion, to name a few) that are left in its wake.

Suicidal loss is also traumatic and leaves survivors reeling after the sudden death. They may have witnessed the suicidal act, discovered the aftermath, and/or repeatedly envision the specifics. And as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.

Further, since the taboo of suicide has been broken and the threshold crossed, a surviving loved one may choose to end their own pain in the same fashion.

  1. The majority of people do not leave suicide notes.

When people who attempted suicide were asked why they left no note, they allowed that they were unable to find the right words and felt guilty; were preoccupied with preparing for their exit; felt no once would really care; felt no note was necessary; were too tired and they wanted their family to forget them as soon as possible.

  1. Please don’t say “committed suicide.”

In the Western world, suicide (not assisted suicide) has been decriminalized. It is no longer accurate – and considered insensitive by many – to say “committed suicide.” Instead, you might try “died by suicide.”

  1. Suicide is not an act of cowardice.

Imagine if I were to put a pillow over your face, wouldn’t you try to stop me? Our instincts are to fight for life. Suicide happens for a lot of reasons. Cowardice is not one of them. Pain – physical, mental, psychological – is the predominant catalyst.

  1. Listen if someone talks about being suicidal or makes off-hand threats about suicide, death or dying.

These are warning signs. Suicidal people may express their suicidal feelings before they act as a way of seeking help or connection. Please do not argue, lie, cajole, shame or bully. Do not dismiss or ignore their expressions of pain and despair. Simply listen with an open, non-judging heart. Allow them to air out their dark thoughts and feelings. Fully listening to someone and knowing you are being heard is an enormous, healing gift.


  1. If a loved one is on the verge of taking suicidal action, trust your good instincts and act quickly:

Establish physical safety.

Have compassion and create a connection.

Insert a pause to stop the momentum and expand the circle of help with possibilities and resources.

  1. Call the 24 hour, toll-free hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (English and Spanish).
  2. Text the crisis text line 741-741.
  3. Find online support groups; 24 hour teen crisis lines, and specialized veterans services.
  4. Get professional help.
  5. Go to the Emergency Room of your local hospital.
  1. Ultimately, suicide is a lesson of compassion.

Suicide teaches us to release judgment, extend a helping hand, and remember we are all connected in our humanity. You know the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Compassion, not judgment, is the only response to suicide.

About Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

Described by one of her smaller clients as “The Feelings Doctor,” Award winning author, Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist with 35+ years’ experience who likes looking at life through the big view-finder.

Dr. McDowell has worked with suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault crisis hotlines; survivors of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Joplin Tornado, and the Newtown shooting; and clients struggling with addiction as well as those moving through profound life changes such as loss and health challenges. Her work focuses on helping clients find hope, balance, and peace in the face of crisis, trauma, abuse, and grief.

Dr. McDowell is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today’s Fast-Paced Whirl. The suicide of a fellow psychologist led to the creation of her second book, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding, and Comfort.

Adele — a Texan by birth and pioneering spirit — lives in Connecticut where you will often find her driving along the highways and byways, singing loudly in her car.

Adele is a frequent blogger on suicide and loss for the Huffington Post Canada. She has won two awards for ‘Making Peace with Suicide’:
-IPPY (Gold) in the Psychology category (Independent Publisher Book Awards)
-Living Now Award (Bronze), Books for Better Living from IBPA (Independent Book Publishing Association)

Websites: www.AdeleRyanMcDowell.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adeleryan.mcdowell
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Adeleheals?lang=en

Buy Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.


Giveaway Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

This giveaway is for the choice of print or ebook however, print is available to the U.S. Only and ebook is open worldwide.  This giveaway ends on November 30, 2017 midnight pacific time. Entries are accepted via Rafflecopter only.

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Making Peace with Suicide by Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker
Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Publisher: Artistic Origins (April 30, 2017)
Category: Memoir, Adventure, Inspirational
Tour dates: Oct-Nov, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-940385-05-1
Available in Print & ebook, 181 pages

The true story of a simple man who has spent his life working amidst the quiet embrace of nature and her animals. Despite the happy normalcy, his soul calls out to him through a series of visions urging him to search for the higher design in his life. His inner voice beckons him out into the wilderness, away from all that he knows and understands, to find the higher meaning of himself.

After nearly a decade of stubborn denial, he removes his self-imposed blindfolds to embark on what is to become his personal journey into the unknown.What he finds will forever change his life.

Instead of meaning, he finds a tempest. Finding courage through his animals he forges onward in search of his own truth.  Is there a greater universal design for each of us? Or is there only chaos and confusion? Your answer lies within, if only you dare to take the journey.

 A Journey Within highlights the duality between both the physical and the spiritual.  It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner-self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.

Praise Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

“A good book. A REALLY good book. The author has a way with words. He has you thinking you are right there with him. I enjoyed the adventure Mr. Baker. Thank you!  It reminded me somewhat of “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. It all goes back to, or starts with, “Why do bad things happen to Good People”? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. I’ve read so many books in an effort to find an answer that I agree with. Some ideas make sense, some do not. I truly hope Mr. Bakers’ journey (s) help him find the answer.”-Kindle Customer

Interview With J. Mitchel Baker

TR: Please tell us something about ‘The Journey Within’ that is not in the summary.  (About the book, character you particularly enjoyed writing etc.)

JB: The telling of this story is, and has been, an intensely uncomfortable moment for me. It all began easily enough with the wilderness experience practically writing itself, with the constant traumatic replay seared into my visual and emotional memory. But then my editor said “no”. “Not enough.” “Go deeper.” She wanted the reader to know me, to experience the adventure through my lens.

Therein lies my paradox – I am a quiet, introspective observer of life, yet at the same time shouting out to the universe revealing all things highly personal to me. She was right; the story could not be told well without linking the person behind the adventure. But the discomfort remains.

TR: Describe the room you are sitting in as though it was a scene in one of your books.

JB: Slow, stealthy footsteps creep silently across the tile floor. The sun barely sheds light through the windows. The only sounds to be heard in the house are the clock on the wall, the coffee brewing, and the early birds chirping outside. Morning is my alone time. A time to focus. A time to write. Slowly I pull the wooden chair from beneath the table. The long deep moan of the chair echoes loudly throughout the house. I pause with a grimace until silence again settles in. No movement is heard. Quickly sitting, I find myself uncomfortably far from the table. Yet I dare not move the chair closer for fear of waking the family. I am ready. Let the work begin.

My mind has taken me back to that moment: remembering, experiencing, re-living. My words flow freely onto the page.

“Good morning”.

Startled, I look up to find my wife peaking around the corner into my inner-sanctum – the dining room.

“Whatcha doin?”

“I’m writing” I reply.

“Oh. I’m sorry” she says. “I’ll leave you alone.”

My mind tries to go back to that place from where I came as the sounds of pots and pans clatter in the next room. With a great deal of focus, despite the background noise, I’m finally back in my mind once again: visually in the moment, feeling the pain, and again finding my words.

 “Are you gonna mow the lawn today?”

Slowly I close my laptop.

TR: Using only adverbs, describe the writing process for you.

JB: Lightly but deeply; almost always playfully, sometimes sadly, but certainly powerfully.

TR: What writers have you drawn inspiration from? What other inspirations do you draw from?

JB: Having avoided mandatory reading through school as much as possible, I began reading consistently as a young adult, drawn to stories of intrigue from writers such as Uris, Ludlum, and Clancy. They took me to foreign lands and introduced me to dangerous lives. From there, I broadened into stories of Americana from McMurtry, Hillerman, Grisham, and L’Amour. But I found the truly great writers in the classics; of Hemingway, of Steinbeck, of Emerson, of Twain, of Buck, of Tolstoy – powerful writers who seemed to break all the literary rules.

But in the end, great stories don’t need to be only from authors notable in name. As a reader, I simply want the storyteller, any storyteller, to fully take me with them into the story.

TR: How long did it take you to complete ‘The Journey Within’?

JB: 4 months. Most of which was dedicated to wrapping my head around the emotions and thought processes that needed to be shared with the readers. Because my story is based on actual events, I could move forward at a breakneck pace through simple regurgitation.

TR: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

JB: Sam Elliot represents the iconic American cowboy. One could only wish he might choose to play a role that is me.

TR: Tell us about your cover. Did you design it yourself?

JB: Designed by Brandon White.

Admittedly, so much marketing emphasis is placed on the cover. This is what initially draws attention to a book. But I’m a rancher first and foremost, learning as I go about the publication industry, and never having travelled this road before, I clearly understand I’m an infant in the field. What I do know is that my budget is limited. I get nervous about potential costs.

So, thinking ahead to the cover, my idea was simply to have a contemplative pose over a campfire, hoping it might appeal to the cowboy/cowgirl in all of us. I told my wife what I was looking for and she took the pictures.

When it came time for cover design, I forwarded nearly every electronic photo I had to my publisher and she chose what I had hoped for – the photo from my early idea – something already paid for.

TR: If you could be somebody else for a day who would you choose and why?

JB: Almost anybody else as long as they were outside. I love the outdoors. That is where I draw my strength. That is where I feel connected to the earth.

TR: What are you currently working on?

JB: I am working on the second book of this story. The story told by ‘A Journey Within’ only tells of the life-altering event that had the power to change the course and direction of my life. I have since then wandered farther into the wilderness to see where that direction leads me. Wouldn’t you like to know what happened?

TR: What book/s are you reading at present?

JB: ‘Spider Woman’s Daughter’ by Anne Hillerman. I miss the Navajo stories once told by Tony Hillerman. But happily his daughter carries the torch now.

About J. Mitchel BakerJourney Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Mitchel Baker is a graduate of Texas A&M University, living in San Antonio with his family. He has dedicated his life to ranching and managing natural resources, and continues to be a student of all things visceral. He is currently working on his sequel to A Journey Within as he stumbles awkwardly toward a higher consciousness.

Website: www.jmitchelbaker.com

Buy Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker


Giveaway Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

This giveaway is for the choice of print or ebook however, print is available to the U.S. Only and ebook is open worldwide.  This giveaway ends on November 30, 2017 midnight pacific time.  Entries are accepted via Rafflecopter only.

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Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Chords of War by Christopher Meeks and Sam Gonzalez Jr.Chords of War by Christopher Meeks and Sam Gonzalez Jr.

Publisher: White Whisker Books  (Sept 30, 2017)
Category: Military Fiction, Literary Fiction, Music Fiction
Tour dates: Oct-Nov, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9863265-2-3
Available in Print & ebook, 275 pages
Chords of War

The Chords of War is the tale of punk rock teenager Max Rivera from Florida, who seeks purpose as he tries to understand why his life always teeters between music and mayhem. After he’s kicked out of his band on tour, he joins the Army to change his life.

It’s after 9/11, and he finds himself under fire in Iraq, part of the surge in Baquabah. In order to deal with his teen angst and raging hormones among daily patrols, coordinated battles, and women fighting alongside him, Max creates a new band with soldiers. Will Max and his friends survive? How did he get to this point in his life?

The novel was inspired by the true-life Iraq adventures of Samuel Gonzalez, Jr. His life, and this book, reflects the story of a punk rocker who, after being kicked out of his Florida band, joins the Army and experiences the surge in Iraq in 2007.

Rutgers University professor Peter Molin, who teaches contemporary war fiction, has read an advanced copy of the novel. He writes, “The Chords of War breaks clean of Vietnam and World War II war-writing traditions by incisively portraying the war experience of millennial-era men and women agonizingly stalled between adolescence and adulthood.”

Advance Praise for Chords Of War

The Chords of War breaks clean of Vietnam and World War II war-writing traditions by incisively portraying the war experience of millennial-era men and women agonizingly stalled between adolescence and adulthood.”- Peter Molin,  Rutgers University Professor of Contemporary War Fiction

“Not your father’s or grandfather’s war novel! The Chords of War, about a young rock’n’roller who only thinks he is leaving music behind when he joins the Army to fight in Iraq, is realistically and movingly true to the voice, thought, and emotions of twenty-first century American soldiers on deployment. It invites comparison with novels such as Matthew J. Hefti’s A Hard and Heavy Thing, Brandon Caro’s Old Silk Road, and Maximilian Uriarte’s The White Donkey and memoirs such as Michael Anthony’s CivilianizedThe Chords of War breaks clean of Vietnam and World War II war-writing traditions by incisively portraying the war experience of millennial-era men and women agonizingly stalled between adolescence and adulthood.”-Lt. Col. (Retired) Peter Molin, US Army, Editor of Time Now: The Wars in Iraqand Afghanistan in Art, Film, and Literature,and Afghanistan veteran 2008–2009

“In a meaningless war, the soldier must find meaning from within – this is the crux and conflict of the Chords of War, a must-read contemporary war novel by Christopher Meeks and Samuel Gonzalez, Jr., inspired by the real-life story of Gonzalez. An ex-rocker, Max, enlists as a military policeman in the Army after a series of bad decisions cause him to reconsider his life. Music comforts and guides him as a millennial taking his turn on stage in the forever war. But the overture of his former life does little to prepare Max for the melee of modern war: the forte-piano highs and lows, the crash of life and death stakes. A very compelling coming-of-age story representative of many from Generation Y who have answered the call-to-arms to defend our nation.”- Dario DiBattista, Editor of Retire the Colors: Veterans and Civilians on Iraq and Afghanistan

Praise for Christopher Meeks

“It is a given, now, that Christopher Meeks is a master craftsman as a writer. The novel is a gift—and one of the many that continue to emerge from the pen and mind of so genuinely fine a writer.”—Grady Harp, Amazon Top-Ten Reviewer

This is one action packed thriller that you don’t want to put down. The author doesn’t waste time with the trivial; he gets right to the action and stays there. Just when you think things are as bad as they possible could get…wrong!
This was different from most thrillers I read in that it also has a little humor, I absolutely loved that aspect of the book.  The characters are well written, they seem like real people, flaws and all. There’s also romance in this book, which gives you a little relief from the gripping adventures.  I liked this book very much and so I will be checking to see what other books this author has written.“- Vicky, I’d Rather Be At the Beach

“Blood Drama was highly entertaining and extremely enjoyable. It is a combination black comedy and crime novel. The characters of Ian and Aleece are memorable, quirky, and unique. I  reveled in Ian’s quoting David Mamet (or some other playwright or work of literature) to deduce and interpret the information he had to ascertain where the clues were leading them.   Meeks is a gifted writer. He has a pleasing way of propelling the action forward while developing his plot and characters. I enjoyed Meeks Love at Absolute Zero quite a bit, but I liked Blood Drama even more. I’m hopeful that Meeks will bring back Ian and Aleece to solve another crime.”- Lori, She Treads Softly

Interview with Christopher Meeks and Sam Gonzalez Jr.

TR: Please tell us something about the book that is not in the summary.  (About the book, a character you particularly enjoyed writing, or anything else.)

CM: A book like this is a distillation of much more. Originally, it was going to be a linear tale that starts in book camp and goes to the war. As Sam told me his life before the war–in high school, in bands, and in love with various girls–I realized we had two vivid story lines: before the Army and then after joining. 

Also, Sam didn’t mention it right away, but women were in his platoon. Women could join the military police, and MPs were used in Iraq on the front lines. Women were fighting on the front. Women were often gunners in the Humvees. Suddenly I could see this was a larger story than just a guy joining the Army and starting a band over there. This would be a story of a kid coming to understand many things: in particular, the Army, war, relationships, and music. 

SG: For years I knew there was a story here just waiting to be discovered. It wasn’t until my collaboration with Chris where we went behind the curtain of what started as a rock band prepping for a different kind of war in Iraq to a tale of young soldiers struggling to remain sane, forming intimate relationships, controlling their fueling desires for more and growing up, all of this being seen through the eyes of young men and women.

War is a heavy burden on any person, but particularly with this generation – a generation who although move much faster than the Vietnam era boy and girls, also seemed to mature slower and have a different outlook on life all together. It was interesting to show people what war is like, not in a way we have seen before, with heroes running through bullets or men charging through open plains. This was a war fought by kids who had no idea what was even going on, like children in a sandbox. Those are the images of the chords of war – the chords of truth.

TR: Please tell us about your collaboration from start to finish?  

CM: I’ve written by myself for years, although at one point, I’d worked with two different people on screenplays. Working with Sam was unique as I had my protagonist in front of me, and I could ask him anything I wanted–and he’d tell me. I had not been to Iraq. This was his life. I have read many war novels, including those by Ernest Hemingway and Tim O’Brien, but I already knew from Sam’s stories this was a different war. 

Sam would read over what I wrote. Often what I wrote would bring up memories of another situation, and he’d tell me something new. I wrote detailed notes about everything. Sam is incredibly gifted as a film director, and he has a rich understanding of story structure. Thus, he offered many great ideas. We basically never told each other we hated anything. Rather, if something didn’t work for one of us, we’d offer suggestions for a change. Because this isn’t a memoir but a novel, our idea was to aim for the truth of what it felt like for Sam, even if that meant creating or exaggerating something. How it felt was most important.

After the third draft of the book, after I’d made a dummy version of the book bound by covers, Sam read the whole thing thoroughly, and we went through the book page by page. If there was a sentence, paragraph, or section that didn’t feel right to him, he’d read it aloud and considered what was off. We’d work out what needed to be done. Sometimes I gave a reason why I thought it should stay, but most of the time, he spoke so well, it made sense to alter it. Sometimes it was just a single word. Sam is meticulous–and yet he’s so respectful and considerate, working with him was a joy. In the end, we had a book we both loved. 

 SG: I always love the energy and passionate creativity that comes from a strong collaboration. To me, that is the root and spirit of any great project. Sometimes that root grows into something beautiful that lives on for others to enjoy, and sometimes it withers and falls apart before it even has a chance to see the light of day. I had taken a class at the Art Center College of Design in children’s literature, where Chris was my professor, and he always encouraged and pushed me to delve deeper into my storytelling – always with respect and a genuine care for characters.

When I was searching for a collaborator to help me take “The Chords of War” to the literary world, there was no doubt in my mind that Chris was the right choice. The minute we sat down for our first meeting to discuss, I knew deeply that this was going to evolve into something special. It was the beginning of a three-year road, and upon shaking hands, we not only invested in the story but in our upcoming journey ahead together – like two guys going out to sea with only the clothes on their backs, a paddle, some memories, and a typewriter.

On that boat, Chris would listen to my experiences, carefully notating everything in great detail and expanding on those by asking very in-depth questions that often cracked into my PTSD. Those moments would lead to tears and often unsettling past flashes on thoughts of the past, but Chris was right there and knew exactly how to use that for the best of the book. His sincere love for the story and respect to the detailed moment of my life were carefully handled by him every step of the way.

We never fought or came blow to blow with each other, but instead, if we came across a fork In the road, we would listen and find solutions on how to make it better. After many drafts and meticulously reading and re-reading the pages with over a year of additions and improvements, we were finally docked back on shore with more respect for each other than when we sailed off. It was an honor, and I would proudly serve with Chris again – he is a true soldier in my heart – a soldier of literature.

 TR:  Since much of the book came from Sam’s real life experiences, what made you decide to fictionalize the book?

CM: There are a number of reasons. Sometimes the way something happened obscures what an experience was like. For instance, say you had a major life-altering experience on a roller coaster at age six, and you had seven cousins with you. Maybe you can explain it better in a story in with fewer people. 

Another example: I spent my junior year of college in Denmark because I’d fallen in love in Minnesota with a visiting Danish young woman. By the time school started, she was living with another man but never told me. I only found out when I landed in Denmark. In retrospect, it was funny, but certainly not at the time. A friend said, “You should write a novel about that.” 

I did–but I didn’t want it about a college student in 1975. I wanted it in Denmark now, so I made it about a genius physics professor teaching at the University of Wisconsin who falls in love with a visiting Danish kindergarten teacher. I put my protagonist though hell–much worse than I actually went though–but the deep feelings I had about my time there made it into the novel Love at Absolute Zero. A good novel tells truths. 

In our novel, Sam and I aimed to tell his truths. He wasn’t John Wayne yelling, “Follow me, men!” He was an adolescent experiencing war when he didn’t even understand why we were fighting in Iraq beyond maybe it had something to do with 9/11. 

SG: Fictionalizing the story wasn’t what I initially had in mind. The truth is I didn’t know where to start. Have you ever found a drawer in your home, or an old shoe box full of decades old items and collectibles? When you put all that in there, you didn’t think much of it, but revisiting it was like discovering a treasure trove. There were so many memories bubbling to the surface, so many faces resurfacing after years of not remembering them.

Those memories were fading away but, unfortunately, not the pain of those memories. Those never go away. Chris helped me channel that pain and to find the good that helped keep those away. For me it was the music.

As we started discussing life details from the beginning of my life until my return home from hell, we both learned together that music was a character in its own right, a true hero that had saved me time and time again – almost an invisible entity that lived through me. That was the magic that spawned the idea of evolving true moments and circumstances and culminating them around fictionalized (although strongly based on) moments that were surrounded by music. This to me was very special.

The stories on their own were powerful and true, but once the music element was thrown in, it was like raising the gain on a Marshall stack amplifier and breaking the guitar on stage – the feedback would be endless. I believe this book will be that feedback that lives on.

TR: I love the cover, please tell us about it. Did you design it yourself? 

SG: My friend and graphic designer Jeff Joseph and I, who had worked together from my Art Center days on large graphic photography, got together one afternoon to discuss possible ideas for the front cover of the book. We wanted something people can relate to, something they had seen before, recognized and then flipping it on its head with a new twist that would have them go “Hey, that’s interesting” or “Wow, I’ve never seen it quite like that before”.

When you think of war, you immediately think of the loss that comes with it –  the causalities and the innocence lost. The image of the helmet on top of the rifle is the true symbol of that loss and the bravery that once filled that helmet. We knew that would be a great place to start. Now how can we incorporate music into that? We started messing around by placing, drum sets, microphones, etc. in a war zone – each one looking pretty cool, but once we incorporated the guitar to those helmets in place of the rifle, we stopped and said, “I think we might have something”.

We searched endless hours online for great references of the helmet and rifle to get perspective on how to approach it and came across great ideas. We married those ideas and splattered the punk rock style across it with the strings and fonts, and the cover was born. Chris has his book designer (Deborah Daly) who he had worked with for years on his past novels, and she joined in to bring her eye to the image. In the end, it was a true collaboration that together, formed something unique, haunting and full of rock n roll.

CM: This book came out through a publishing company I had started in 2005, White Whisker Books. I publish four other authors beside myself. After Sam and I finished this book, I felt this book was so big, a bigger publishing company needed to take over. Small presses can go bankrupt, believe it or not, in receiving many great reviews. I had that nearly happen with a book by Shelly Lowenkopf—his short story collection won awards and great reviews. Bookstores ordered. Of course, they went on bookstore shelves, spine out, so few people noticed it, and then the books were returned. It is an expensive thing for publishers. That book is still in the red.

So I sent The Chords of War to over a hundred agents. Twenty-five wrote back, and were polite. Six asked for the manuscript. Two later said it wasn’t right for them. Four never got back to me. I decided I loved the control of making the book look just right. I also decided I would not make the book returnable. I also have made three versions: hardback, trade paperback, and eBook.

This takes me to your question of the cover. I had hired a great book designer, Deborah Daly, who had been the art director once for St. Martin’s Press. Before she even had an idea for the cover, Sam sent me this one. Deborah loved it and added the guitar strings and we played with lettering. She also had a great design for the interior. Self-publishers assume the inside is automatic, but no, it takes great care to have the right font, the right size and leading, and make sure each line, paragraph, and page breaks in the right place. It’s the extra attention that helps make a book easily read. Of course, the writing adds to that! It starts with the cover to get the attention. I thank Jeff and Sam for being so brilliant.

TR: What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

CM: There are so many great scenes, but the most critical for me were the opening and closing of the book, and those scenes changed over time. I happen to love the ending as to me it’s lyrical. Iraq isn’t about happy endings, and what Sam and what his friends went through wasn’t warm and fuzzy — but Sam and the people in the novel grow, even if there’s a sense of ambiguity to some of it. The Iraq War did not end on a sure note, and neither did Sam’s experiences.

SG: It’s hard to choose a scene because every scene lends itself to another. They all flow together as well as the memories in my head do. The realistic and poetic opening and ending to the novel sure stick with me as pivotal moments during the read, and the relationships between the characters are always my favorite moments – especially when the music is born between them.

TR: What are you currently working on?

SG: My first feature, Railway Spine, another veteran story of PTSD (this time in the Vietnam War era), has just recently received distribution, so we are preparing for that. I am working on directing another feature film in February 2018, a veteran film with comedic horror elements, which I think will be another fantastic and uniquely different approach to showing audiences the real experiences of a veteran.

I’m also teaching my first classes as a professor in film studies in the state of North Carolina, and I’m working tirelessly to get The Chords of War to the next step of getting it to Netflix to be made into a series. When that day comes, it truly will feel like a mission accomplished. I would be honored to work with Chris on that platform and take our collaboration to the small or even big screen.

CM: I’d love to work with Sam again. He’s a true talent. Go onto YouTube here and see the film Sam made for my previous novel, A Death in Vegas. Sam even turned me into an actor. I trusted him, and he’s a gentle director with a clear vision.

Now I’m working on short stories. Alas, I’m going through a divorce but our breakup is amicable — not about blame but about growth. Maybe I’m sounding like Gweneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin of Coldplay, but sometimes relationships end because they’ve run their course. I didn’t want it to end, but that’s another matter. It’s a confusing time and a clear time. I want to get some of that in some short stories. I’ve written other stories over the years that have been published about other things, and, like a rock star creating an album, I’m not sure at this point what stories will fit in a collection.  

TR: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book? 

SG: That’s hard to say, but it’s definitely been something we have been bouncing around since we are working on bringing this unique true story to the small screen. When that day comes, I would like to cast talented unknown actors for the role so that the story feels authentic and real and nowhere near staged. The music in our veins were true every boot step we took and with every person we encountered – it was unfamiliar and new territory for us. I want audiences to walk that same path, feel what we felt, and experience these actors as if they are people they are leaning about for the first time.

CM: I trust Sam with that.

TR: How long did it take you to write this book from concept to fruition? 

CM/SG: Three and a half years. 

Thank you for this interview, Teddy.


About Christopher Meeks and Sam Gonzalez Jr.

Sam Gonzalez Jr.

Chris and Sam at Barnes and Noble

Award winning author, Christopher Meeks has had stories published in several literary journals, and he has two collections of stories, Months and Seasons and The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea. His novel The Brightest Moon of the Century made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Books of 2009. His novel Love at Absolute Zero, also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.

His two crime novels, Blood Drama and A Death in Vegas have earned much praise. He has had three full-length plays mounted, and one, Who Lives? had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize. Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books.

Website at: www.chrismeeks.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Christopher-Meeks-212382392140974/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopher.meeks1
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MeeksChris

Samuel Gonzalez Jr. is an Emmy nominated and award winning filmmaker who was born in the Bronx NY and raised in South Florida. He joined the United States Army in 2006 and was quickly deployed overseas during the height of the Iraq War as a military police officer. While there, in response to the stop-loss, he formed a punk rock band at Camp Warhorse, who then played several shows that raised morale for their fellow soldiers during the time of the surge.

In 2007, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for combat heroism. Since his return to the States, Gonzalez has received his B.F.A in Film from the prestigious Art Center College of Design and his Master’s Degree in Screenwriting from the New York Film Academy.

His feature film directorial debut Railway Spine, a coming-of-age period war and crime drama about the real psychological disease that is PTSD won the Golden Eagle Award for “Best Military Film” at the 2016 San Diego International Film Festival and several other awards including “Best Screenplay”. He lives in Los Angeles where he is currently in development on The Chords of War as an eight-part television mini-series. To see more of his work visit www.vimeo.com/samuelgonz alezjr.

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Chords of War by Christopher Meeks and Sam Gonzalez Jr.