author

Author Interview with Peter Stipe

Two years ago, I went to my very first author event at the Williamsburg Book Festival. One of the best things about book festivals is having the chance to interact with readers and other authors--plus, there's books for sale! Anyway, it was at this event in Williamsburg that I met fellow writer Peter Stipe, author of the short story collection Finding Our Way. We've kept in touch since then and I've had the pleasure of beta reading more of his work. 

I am so excited that Peter has now published his second book (and first novel!): The Art of Love. Peter was kind enough to stop by my blog for an author interview--read on to find out more about his work, his creative inspiration, and his most recent novel!

Interview With Peter Stipe || www.ellensmithwrites.com

Ellen Smith: I’ve had the pleasure of beta-reading some of your stories, including your new release, The Art of Love. Often, your stories focus on exploring relationships. How would you describe the relationship between your two main characters, Mary and Patrick?

Peter Stipe:  Mary and Patrick share a natural attraction to each other.  They fall in love almost the day they meet.  Unfortunately there are too many issues that each of them must deal with for the relationship to work.  The reader learns on page one that the relationship will fail.  But I hope we all root for them to sort it out as we follow their story.

Mary feels an intense need to be perfect in order to please her demanding parents.  Perfection includes attaining perfect grades in grad school, marrying the right man before living with him, and above all, following the strictest directions of her Catholic faith.  Patrick is consumed by his art and is inexperienced in building a relationship with a woman.  He allows Mary to lead him in the relationship and cannot bring himself to act on the urges that both he and Mary feel.  Religious faith does not play into his direction though he does begin following Mary to church.  Their relationship is awkward, stumbling along with neither of them knowing how to move forward.

In counterpoint we see the free-wheeling relationship of their artistic friends, Melanie and Aaron.  Both very successful as artists, living together in a magnificent loft apartment, Melanie and Aaron seem to be the perfect role models for Mary and Patrick.  Then they encounter a crisis that threatens their relationship.  Maybe the perfect relationship has flaws that Mary and Patrick haven’t seen.  Melanie and Aaron are worldly but are also struggling in their relationship

Mary and Patrick are also advised by older mentors.  For Mary it is a former professor, a nun, Sister Catherine whose advice follows traditional Catholic guidelines.  For Patrick it is his Uncle Win, an artist.  Both Sister Catherine and Uncle Win care deeply about Mary and Patrick.  Some but not all of their guidance is worthwhile.

The story follows the development of this difficult relationship.  Mary and Patrick both try so hard to make it work.  We know from the beginning of the book that it can’t.  Still they are a beautiful pair and they share a wonderful year together.

ES: The Art of Love takes place in Rhode Island. I’ve actually never been to New England, but your descriptions made me feel like I was there! What inspired you to set your story in Rhode Island?

PS:  I moved to Virginia three years ago after living most of my life in New England.  It is a beautiful part of the world and I’m pleased that you felt that while reading my story.  Along with Providence the story takes the reader to other parts of Rhode Island; to an art festival in the countryside nearby, to Block Island, and to Beavertail Point, all favorite places of mine.  The story also involves visits to Patrick’s home on the coast of Maine, to Mary’s family vacation home on a lake in Connecticut, to Boston, and briefly to Montreal, though that’s not really part of New England.  Patrick settles at the end of the story in the small town of Newmarket, New Hampshire, near the coast.  I lived in Newmarket before moving to Rhode Island.  It too is a place I am fond of.

I lived outside of Providence and worked in the city for many years.  One of the fun aspects of Providence is the contrast between two colleges there with abutting campuses.  Brown University is a classic Ivy League school with traditional Ivy League values.  The Rhode Island School of Design, RISD, is one of the best art schools in the country.  It is a campus proudly displaying alternative artistic cultural approaches to art and life.  I was intrigued by the contrast of these two neighboring colleges and thought that setting the two lead  characters on these campuses would point to the conflicting views of Mary at Brown and Patrick at RISD

We also follow Patrick, a quiet country boy from the rural coast of Maine into New York City where Mary is most comfortable.  We feel Patrick’s unease in the city and sense another road block in their relationship.

Behind the Scenes of The Art of Love || Author Interview with Peter Stipe www.ellensmithwrites.com

ES: Patrick’s development as an artist is a central theme in The Art of Love. Are you an artist as well?

PS:   I dream of being an artist.  When I graduated high school I almost went to art school but decided instead that it would be easier to earn a living with a degree from a school with a more mainstream curriculum.  I went to college and grad school in Boston and taught for a while before moving into Human Resource Development and Training.  But all the time I was working I kept up with my art as a hobby.  I do watercolor and photography.  Now that I’m retired I am able to dedicate more time to both.  I have my work on display at On the Hill Gallery in Yorktown and participate in several art shows each year.  I have been on the Board of Directors of the Yorktown Arts Foundation for the past three years.

ES: Mary is attempting to navigate her adult life while staying true to her religious beliefs. I think the coming-of-age element to the story will ring true with a lot of readers! What inspired you to write about that conflict for Mary?

PS:  I have known people who are like Mary.  I wanted a way to highlight the unbending nature of Mary’s values.  Grounding them in her Catholic faith seemed to work well.  It could have been any fundamental religious belief.  Having a strong faith is a good thing but it can become a problem when the values within that faith become unyielding to the point that they interfere with natural relationships.  I care for Mary and hope the reader can also sympathize as Mary sees the relationship fall apart.

ES: The Art of Love is your second published book and first full novel! Can you share anything about your future writing projects? Anything in the works?

PS:  Of course!  I’m always writing, several hours a day typically.  I have lots of stories waiting to be told.  I am bouncing between two right now.  One is a fanciful story, maybe a fairy tale.  It follows the development of a girl from birth to early middle age.  As a child she believes that fairies inhabit her grandfather’s garden.  They help her cope with crises.  As she grows older she never outgrows the fairies.  They are always there when she comes up against the challenges of growing up.  Maybe the fairies are real.  Or maybe they are just her way of dealing with troubles in her life. 

I’m also working on a two-part story, tracking my discovery of the life of my great-grandfather Oscar.  His story as related to me by my mother conflicts with the facts I uncover about his life with research.  The semi-fictional part of this story will be how I try to reconcile the differences between reality and my mother’s fanciful account of Oscar’s life.  The real fiction in this story will be my fantasies about how Oscar might have lived, a story that evolves as I learn the truth about him.  I have many other half-worked out stories, some short stories, some likely to evolve into full-length novels.  And my first book “Finding Our Way”, is out.  It is a compilation of eight short stories.

ES: It was great talking with you! Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Where can readers connect with you online?

PS:   People can contact me at Peterstipe.com or by visiting PeterGStipe on Facebook.  My two books, Finding Our Way (a collection of short stories) and this one, The Art of Love, are both with Amazon and with my publisher, Hightide Publications.

The Art of Love
By Peter Stipe

Author Interview with Carole Brecht

Please welcome  Carole Brecht , author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

Please welcome Carole Brecht, author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

Carole Brecht recently published her first book: The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey. I met Carole through social media just about a year ago. Prior to publishing the book, Carole created an active online Facebook community called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation (formerly known as The Sandwich Woman). The posts are always uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational, and it’s impossible not to feel drawn to such a positive place on the Internet.

She also has a presence on Instagram, Twitter, a blog and her Tangled Art Boutique online store that her sister, Jan Steinle, and her own together. There's a Caregiver gallery of 60+ designs and the store houses a total of 160+ designs with a variety of gift lines, including tote bags, cell phone cases and greeting cards. A fun place to shop with all the customization features.

When Carole’s book was published, I knew it was going to be a wonderful and engaging read. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! One of the lovely things that Carole does in her online community is to encourage all of us to recognize ourselves as CaregiversWhether we are caring for an aging loved one, a young child, or simply being present for a friend or neighbor in need, we all have opportunities to care for others and we all need support and encouragement in that caregiving role.

Throughout the book, Carole seamlessly shares stories from her personal caregiving experience with letters of inspiration and her Caregiver Zentangle designs, an art form she has found to be relaxing and healing. These are a few of her favorites:

I’m thrilled that Carole agreed to be interviewed for my blog and I’m excited to introduce you to her!

Interview with Carole Brecht, author of The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey   ellensmithwrites.com

ES: Carole, congratulations on publishing your first book! What has the publishing experience been like for you?

CB: Thank you Ellen! As a new author, I found the process challenging, especially because my book is a book of pictures and text. I had a large learning curve, but it was a labor of love.

ES: What inspired you to write The Artistry of Caregiving? What did you hope readers would take away from your story?

CB: I was my mom's Caregiver for several years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2010 and my dad was still working. (He didn't retire until he was 85 yrs old) I had just closed my art gallery in Pittsburgh, PA and intended to get another job. My parents needed me at the time so I put my job hunting on the back burner. During the time of caring for my mother, I experienced great sadness, isolation, the sense of being alone and I became withdrawn. These feelings are not uncommon for those that take on the Caregiver role. By the end of my mom's life I was compelled to write a book for those that were caring for a loved one. I thought - if I am going down this slippery slope of emotions, there must be millions around the world that are too. All I could think about was helping someone to not feel alone, but very much supported, affirmed and understood. I didn't write a tell all book. I didn't write a book about a particular disease. I wrote a book of inspiration with a unique format to support those navigating the emotional journey of Caregiving, for all ages. 

Zentangle of Carole's mother, featured on the back cover of her book.

Zentangle of Carole's mother, featured on the back cover of her book.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your book? What was the process like for you?

CB: I started in September 2014, two months before my mom died. She passed on November 23, 2014. She was my best friend and we were so close. The love I have for my parents runs deep. They have always been my best cheerleaders and have been so kind and generous over the years. I stepped up as the daughter to help them. I was out of work, I had the time and it seemed the right thing to do. I didn't know the word Caregiver until the end of my journey. Caregiving was not my career path. I completed my paperback edition in July of this year and the Kindle version launched in April. It was an intense process because I have 40 pictures in my book, 35 of them are Zentangles created by me. Most of them are affirmations for Caregivers, one of my favorite sources of inspiration. It was no small feat to get everything in place exactly the way I dreamed it would be. I wrote the book I would've liked to have had during those years caring for mom. To this day, I am now caring for my dad throughout the workweek. Looking back, it was quite a long journey, but well worth it. I had a calling to help others and there was no stopping me. It became all consuming the last year, trying to meet deadlines and understanding the process as I went along. I didn't have my ducks in a row. I just jumped in and learned as I went.

ES: Throughout the book, you encourage Caregivers to care for themselves as well. One way you recommend doing this is by taking time to be creative. How was making time for creativity helpful for you as a caregiver?

CB: I'm an artist by trade and hadn't created original art in many years. I was too busy raising my 4 children. I discovered Zentangle at the end of my mom's life, a few months before she died. I fell in love with it immediately! I am an abstract artist and it was a perfect fit for me. Anybody can draw a Zentangle. You don't have to have a formal background to draw lines and create patterns. Once I started making them, I was appreciating not only the beautiful creation, but also the Zen aspect to it. This form of art requires focus, patience and peace of mind to stay the course. All those benefits spilled over into other areas of my life, including Caregiving. After a long day, it was a great way for me to unwind. Being in a creative mode seems to bring joy to many, so I encourage you to find something you can do on your own, anytime of day or night, to work on when the mood hits. 

ES: I love that you included your Caregiver Zentangles in the book. For readers who might not be familiar, can you describe Zentangle Inspired Art?

CB: Zentangle® is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Everything you need to create beautiful Zentangle art can fit into your pocket. This easy-to-learn method of relaxed focus can be done almost anywhere, alone or in groups, without any special abilities or costly equipment. No previous artistic instruction required - if you think you have no artistic talent & can't even draw a stick figure, you can do Zentangle! To learn more, logon to: www.zentangle.com

ES: In addition to writing The Artistry of Caregiving, you created an Internet community for Caregivers called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation. What do you hope that visitors to SanGenWoman will gain from the community?

B: Like my book, I created a community that I would've liked to have been a part of during my years of caring for my mom. I'd like to think people will find peace, inspiration, affirmation, community and connection. My timelines are a mix of Zentangle Inspired Art that affirm and support Caregivers, created by my sister and myself. There are all different kinds of posts to engage, enlighten, educate and I hope bring calm to the reader's life. SanGenWoman on facebook is nearing 4,000 in number and is represented by 45 countries. The need for global support is great! My Instagram and Twitter feeds are topping 2,400 and my blog turned 10,000 page views a couple months ago. This all came from an idea to write a book in September 2014. I never gave social media a thought, but was advised it would be a good thing to do so when my book came out I'd have an audience in place. That was one of the best pieces of advice I was given at the beginning of my book writing journey. I was dealing with serious grief after mom died, but put aside my own heartache because my desire to help others was so much greater than my sorrow. You could say my grief inspired me to get the ball rolling. I had tunnel vision and all I could think about was helping another navigate the emotional journey of Caregiving. My social media is not just about Caregiving though. There are a plethora of topics I cover, including the art world. I want to reach a broad audience and there are many people that are not involved in Caregiving. I like to keep that in mind as I post. 

ES: Both in your writing and in your online community, you’ve created such an encouraging and uplifting space for Caregivers and San Gens. How can readers connect with you on social media and around the web?

CB: Thank you so much Ellen, that is my goal. Here is my contact information. Please come visit often and let me know if you have a topic you'd like me to post about.

Email: cbrecht4@gmail.com

Website: www.SanGenWoman.com

Facebook: facebook.com/sangenwoman

Twitter: @SanGenWoman - bit.ly/SanGenTW

Instagram: @sangenwoman - bit.ly/SanGenIN

Blog: bit.ly/SanGenBlog

Store: TangledArtBoutique.com

ES: Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today, Carole! It was a pleasure to read your book and to talk with you, too!

CB: Ellen, it's been great getting to know you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to meet your audience! You are a source of inspiration to me and I'm so glad we've connected!