It seems like only yesterday we were relaxing in the warm summer sun, but now winter has officially arrived! This cool weather calls for cozying up by the fire, clutching warm mugs of hot cocoa in hand, and cocooning ourselves in the softest blankets. With the holidays fast approaching — and many days off from work and school — what better time than now to start a new series! Red Sky Presents has the first eight books of Avalon Web of Magic available on Amazon. Follow the adventures of Emily, Adrienne, and Kara as they work together with the magical creatures of Aldenmor to fight against the Dark Sorceress. This magical series tells of the power of friendship and trust, while dappling its pages with exciting twists and turns that will keep you coming back for more! The final four books of the series will soon be released, so stay tuned!
Loved getting to know George Samerjan in our latest interview? Well, we have exciting news! The latest in George Samerjan and David Saperstein Christmas books has just arrived — A Christmas Performance is now available on Amazon! Be sure to grab this book before the start of the holiday season and a couple others as we continue our November sale. All e-books on Amazon are now $2.99!
George was kind enough to share photos of the charming dollhouse he built for his neighbor’s granddaughter for Christmas. It takes a lot of time and care to craft something as wonderfully whimsical as a doll’s house, but seeing the joy on a child’s face upon receiving such an object makes it all worth it.
Q&A with George Samerjan
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
I knew as an adolescent. Being a writer was all I ever wanted to be. I started writing poetry at an early age. To date I’ve written more than 2,500 poems and had a volume of poetry published, as well as numerous poems in collections and literary magazines.
What was it like seeing your work made into a film? To see the images in your mind come to life must have been amazing. Did you make any changes to the original story to adapt it for the screen?
It was an incredible experience in 2002, when David and I drove to Toronto where A Christmas Visitor was shot. I remember standing behind the director, watching a TV video monitor, which was attached to a camera shooting the scene.
We had headsets on and watched one of most powerful scenes in the movie: where Matthew is healing Jennifer with a gentle touch. The director wasn’t happy with the first or second take. He took the actress playing Jennifer outside and spoke to her for a few minutes. She came back and nailed the scene.
I remember tears coming down from my eyes as the actress spoke words I had written. It was quite the experience that day. I also remember there was an issue with the script so David and I went to one of the trailers and worked out a solution. We rewrote a scene, faxed it to the producer in LA who approved it, and then we saw the new scene shot.
You’ve written three Christmas books. What is it about that time of year that inspires you to write?
I’ve always been profoundly moved by the Christmas spirit and the sense of people truly caring for others. It isn’t so much that the time of year provides inspiration, but the concept of Christmas gives me and David, as writers, a stage on which to build the characters, plot, and dialogue. Christmas books are quite different from other types of novels. The challenge with a Christmas book is to tell a moving story without drifting into sentimentality.
What is the collaboration process like between you and David?
I think we have a rather amazing and productive collaboration process. I met David in 1995 and we’ve written a number of books together. We have never had a major disagreement. Sometimes we differ in a particular scene or plot issue, but we talk it out.
A writer knows when something works and when it doesn’t, and a writer always seeks something which works. We’ve very honest with each other about how we see something. Usually, one of us has an idea for a novel. We talk it through: What is the story, who are the characters, when and where does it take place?
Once we agree that it’s a book we want to write, we’ll do a synopsis and an outline, and one of us will write the first draft, and then send it to the other. Then, the other goes through and edits or revises the draft, and sends it back.
If one of us comes upon something major, we’ll talk it through and then fix. David is the only writer I’ve ever collaborated with. Sometimes when we’re writing novels on our own, we’ll send them to each other for an honest opinion. It has worked very well.
Has your time in the service inspired many of your stories?
I think you could say that. My literary agent has Second Chances, a novel I recently wrote, out to publishers. It is a love story between an Army nurse and an Army pilot. She also has my novel, Long Journey Home, about a New York National Guard Soldier who served in Afghanistan and experiences a great challenge in returning to civilian life.
And, there’s Home Without a Flag, a collection of poetry I wrote during my combat tour in Vietnam and the decades after, about combat and what it is to be a veteran. Even in A Christmas Visitor and A Christmas Passage, there are veterans in the story who are portrayed in a very positive light. I definitely drew on my experiences to write these characters.
Do you have any specific rituals that help you write?
I have a pretty well established routine. When I’m writing a book I write six days a week in the morning. I get up early, take my dog outside and feed her, shower and dress, and then get to my desk. I’ll write from 6:30AM until noon. Then, I’ll go to the market, buy four newspapers, and return home. The next morning I repeat the process.
What are some other hobbies you have outside of writing?
My primary hobby is building doll houses. I built seven for my late wife’s granddaughter as she grew up. Each year she gave me a request for new doll house. Over time I acquired the tools, and devoted one room in my house to a workshop. I’ve built twenty doll houses and I always have one in the works.
The last one I built I gave as a surprise, including furniture, to a young girl in town who had a health problem. The one before that I built for my neighbor’s granddaughter and we surprised her with it on Christmas. I built two at the same time for two young girls, twins, who helped us place American flags on the graves of veterans in our town cemetery one Memorial Day. Building a doll house requires concentration, and it clears the mind.
Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a writer, never give up. Keep writing. I had dinner once with an executive of the Washington Post. I mentioned I was a writer. At the time, I was unpublished.
He asked me why I would do anything I hadn’t made any money at. I told him of the Cuban writer, Jose Marti, who wrote 75 novels in his lifetime. I told the executive, when I die I’ll have written 75 novels whether they are published or not. He was mystified. Later, I ended up getting published.
If you’re a writer you write because that’s who you are. If you get published or have a film made, that’s even better.
It’s the Spookiest Time of the Year! Do you have your costume all set? Have you scouted out the best places with the best candy? How about looking for the scariest decorations? Whatever you have in mind, there’s no better way to celebrate the thrills of frightful festivities than coming home to a book teeming with paranormal intrigue. Check out Charlie Most and Charlene Keel’s Lost Treasures of the Heart, winner of the 2016 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Novel and Best Series! With a story filled with pirates, ghosts, time travel, and mystery, it’s sure to delight!
He’s known locally in Novato, California as the “Man of Many Mysteries”, an intriguing character who seems to have popped right off the pages of a book. But that’s because the stories he concocts are drawn from the many adventures Harold R. Miller experienced as a member of the National Security Agency.
Harold joined the army reserves in 1957 after graduating from college with a degree in journalism. In 1962, Hal became active so he could attend the language school in Monterey. There he discovered he and two other men were extremely adept at interpreting Morse code.
“There were three of us who were sent to a six-week school (for Morse code training), but it took us only two weeks to complete. All of us were copying five-letter groups, forty-five a minute,” he says. Eventually his superior officer told him and his friends to entertain themselves, so the rest of their time was spent hanging out in coffee shops. After training was over, Hal was assigned to a top secret facility in Okinawa with the National Security Agency.
During our conversation, Hal was eager to share his stories, diving right into his most amusing memories. It was as if no time had passed as he recounted everything, from the time a tarantula landed on his mosquito netting, to the exasperation an Okinawa local had when it came to people running from attacking airplanes —you run towards the plane, not away. It was clear that Hal’s time in the agency was not entirely marked by top secret missions and investigations. In fact, he found time to hang out in the local boat yard, crafting a trimaran (a sailboat with a main hull and two smaller outrigger hulls) and becoming close friends with Kosygin, the last member of the royal Ryukyu line and a current member of the Okinawa government body, the Diet.
Over the phone, I could hear the hint of a chuckle in Hal’s voice as he told me about his last night in Okinawa. Yacomem, the boat yard guard manager, invited Hal and his friend Bruce Kek over for dinner with Yacomen’s wife and two children. Yacomen treated them to a traditional Japanese meal and then escorted them into another building where they met another wife and another two children. Six hours and four meals later, they had met all four of Yacomen’s wives and their eight children. As dinner came to a close with the fourth wife, Bruce made the brave decision to ask her what she thought of her polygamous marriage. She knew the other women, she pleasantly informed them. They were all friends and their children all attended the same school.
After being plied with Sake all evening, the two men were greatly surprised the following morning at 6:30 when they were summoned to the commandant’s headquarters. Still feeling the effects of the sake, they were not in the best of shape and couldn’t stop giggling.
“Bruce was the kind of guy who would just look at something and giggle, and of course that would make me laugh,” says Hal.
After a few reprimands and an order to pack their things, Hal and Bruce shipped out for 45 days of special training with the Defense Intelligence Agency. There, Hal learned to plant listening devices on buildings and to discover how many members of the Diet wished to repatriate the island to Japan. It was only after a mission to plant listening devices went awry that Hal finally decided he wanted out of the DIA. He was relocated to Belize on Special Assignment, or R&R (rest and recuperation).
“What they meant by R&R was that I’d be under observation to make sure I was sane enough to leave. And if I weren’t, I would not have liked to know the alternative.”
Once Hal was officially free to go, he started a new career as a private investigator, a career he feels he had since “before Christ was born.” After a visit by Philip Castro, the Chief of Security for the Philippine Airlines in 1983, Hal started his first book, The Philippine File, the closest to reality he has ever written. It prompted him to continue documenting his journeys from The Australian File to The Emerald Head Caper. It wasn’t until he went back to finish The Philippine File that he decided to solidify a series, and thus created the back story for Penn Gwinn, his reigning protagonist in Thai Moon Saloon. Each book is filled with intrigue and adventure, and of course the classic twist and surprise ending.
The reality of life in army intelligence divisions cannot be completely outlined in a book or a movie. When prompted about Hal’s views on the media’s fascination with spy movies and unbelievable action sequences, Hal avidly critiqued how phony most of the stories end up being. Those films are merely created to excite young audiences, ones with minimal ability to see through the simulated experiences.
After eight years and six months in the agency, Hal decided it was time to walk away. He crafted four boats in his spare time (two of his own design) and accumulated unforgettable adventures and friendships that would lead to stories filled with laughter.
As the interview started to wind down, I felt that as much as I had been permitted to hear about his life, there was still so much more to Harold’s story than a mere hour or more could cover. Luckily for me, the rest of Hal’s story can be glimpsed in his action-packed Penn Gwinn series. Although Penn Gwinn may be just a fictional character, his very being is a lens through which the intriguing Harold R. Miller can be viewed.
Loved Charlene’s interview? Take a look a these fantastic photographs from Charlene’s time as a stewardess, model, and as managing editor of Playgirl!
The Sky’s the Limit for a Small-Town Girl:
Q&A with Author Charlene Keel
Where are you from originally and how did you get into flying?
A small-town girl, I was born in the Florida panhandle (Panama City) and moved with my family to Tallahassee when I was fifteen. After I graduated from Leon High, I worked as a secretary at Florida State University, where I learned some coeds were paying their way through college as “working girls,” catering to local and state politicians.
I included that tidbit in one of my novels. After I appeared on a local TV show to promote it, the book was banned, until my publisher demanded the local distributor honor their contract. It was great! The book, Come Slowly, Eden (title comes from an Emily Dickenson poem) went into a third printing! It’s no longer in print, but I think it’s my favorite book that I wrote.
When did you start writing and realize this was the career path you wanted to go on?
When I was in third grade, I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and I was hooked on the written word. That’s when I decided to become a writer like my favorite character, Josephine March. I was eight years old and started pecking out stories on my mom’s typewriter.
What is it like collaborating with other authors? A few of your books are shared, so I was wondering what the conversations are like. How do you deal with different writing styles/voices?
It’s great to have someone with whom to bounce ideas back and forth, and to figure out plot twists and fix plot holes. Some of my books, like the Tracks Trilogy: Dark Territory, Ghost Crown and Shadow Train, were partnerships from the beginning. My co-author and I lived in different cities, hundreds of miles apart, so we communicated by phone and email, sending the manuscripts back and forth for several drafts before the final one. We sold that trilogy to publisher HCI Books in a pitch meeting with just an outline.
Other books I have a co-author on started out as ghostwriting assignments. In my ghostwriting contract I have a provision that if the client wants me to help him submit the finished product to publishers, and I’m able to get one, then we become partners and my name goes on the book as well.
As for different styles, it’s important for co-authors to respect each other’s style, but to ultimately mesh them together in one voice. Reviewers of the Tracks Trilogy said we did that seamlessly. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, so I quite enjoy collaborating.
What was your apartment like in NYC, in your stewardess years?
It was crazy. While I was working at FSU, I applied to and interviewed with three different airlines: Delta, Eastern and TWA (Trans World Airlines), with my ultimate goal being a New York domicile. TWA accepted me first and I was already in training when Eastern also accepted me. After training, TWA assigned me to Newark, a 30-minute bus ride away from the Big Apple and the world of publishing.
The first apartment I had with four other flight attendants was in the Weequahic Towers, which locals referred to as a “Stew Zoo” because so many stewardesses lived there. With only two bedrooms and one bathroom, it was uncomfortable and inconvenient, and it was dangerous because my roomies were always leaving the door open as they went from party to party.
Within six months, I got my own place and started concentrating on my writing. I enjoyed traveling but I needed peace and quiet and my own little spot so I could be serious about becoming a writer.
Not long after, I met the publisher of Teen Magazine on a flight I was working. I’d already sent them a short story but they rejected it. I cornered the publisher and asked him why, and he told me to send it in again. Then he asked me to write a story about a stewardess because they were planning an entire issue on flight attendants. I accepted the assignment and got my story published. Teen also ended up publishing the first one I’d sent them. Turns out it was too long, so they serialized it.
What was it like traveling every day? Did you ever feel like you wanted to settle down?
The best thing about being a flight attendant, in addition to free travel and hotel discounts, is that it’s a part-time job. At least, that’s how I looked at it. I worked three or four days a week, which gave me time to write. After I sold my first book, I started taking my portable typewriter with me on layovers. Needless to say, if there were five stews on a trip, I usually got the single room since no one wanted to hear my typewriter going first thing in the morning.
You mention a lot of modeling on the side in your book; what was that like in the seventies? Did you enjoy it? Did you ever think of writing a book on that topic?
No, I would never write a book about modeling. I never thought of being a model until a passenger on one of my flights told me he was a photographer. He said I had great cheekbones and he’d love to do some pictures of me. I thought he was cute and someone I might want to know better. I didn’t think he was serious—I thought he was making a pass, so I said, “Sure! Why not?”
He actually was a professional photographer (and a perfect gentleman). He took lots of pictures which gave me my first portfolio and advised me to go for product and cosmetics modeling, since I’m way too short to do fashion. I never saw him after that.
I actually got a few gigs—I did a jewelry catalogue and some confession magazines, and I did the Revlon hair show for about three years. I also did one TV commercial for Heinz Pork and Beans. But I had no ambitions to be in front of the camera—I was only in it for the extra income.
One of the articles on your website mentioned running a “freakish modeling agency.” What was that?
After I quit flying, I ran my own modeling agency out of my home (by then it was in Brooklyn). It was called Freaks Unlimited and I represented character actors and unusual looking people. One of my clients was the late Herve Villechaize, who went on to become Tattoo on Fantasy Island.
We became friends and later, after I moved to Los Angeles, he escorted me to the Emmy Awards, which was great fun. We also worked together when I became a publicist for Columbia Pictures Television and was assigned to Fantasy Island. Of course, I let the producers know I wanted to write something besides press releases and they gave me a chance. I ended up doing six episodes of Fantasy Island and got to work with Ricardo Montalban, who was my champion.
When my Candy Kisses episode was shooting on the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, Ricardo came to me and said, “Miss Keel, thank you so much for writing such a beautiful script for us.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “But there’s only one problem. One of the producers changed one of Mr. Roarke’s lines, and it’s something Roarke would never say.”
“Please tell me what you wrote,” Ricardo responded. I told him my original line and he said, “But that’s perfect. I will go to them and have them change it back.”
And he did. And they did. And executive producer Arthur Rowe told me later that my Candy Kisses episode was probably the only script in television history that was shot exactly as the writer had written it.
What was it like writing about all the intimate details of your life? Did you know that you were going to pen a story about your experiences while flying?
Funny story about that. Although I wrote Sky’s the Limit in first person and presented it as my life story, most of the experiences I discussed were not mine. When I went into Dorchester Publishing to pitch a friend’s movie script as a novel, I mentioned I was a flight attendant. The editor promptly asked me to do another Coffee, Tea or Me.
I was leading a busy but quiet life flying, writing and modeling so I didn’t think that bestseller was an accurate account of stewardess life. But I was eager to get a book published, so I said I’d research it and get back to her.
It was back in the day before we all had computers and printers, so I memeographed 500 copies of a questionnaire and gave one to every flight attendant I ran into, telling them I was trying to do a book to disprove Coffee, Tea or Me. I promised them their answers would be anonymous. I got back over 300 questionnaires, and most of the events in Sky’s the Limit are those of other cabin attendants. Obviously, I couldn’t criticize Coffee, Tea or Me, since it was spot on.
I’m delighted that The Sky’s The Limit is now available from Red Sky Presents. It has been updated with new stories, which are all mine (especially the chapter about flying with celebrities), and an epilogue that lets readers know what’s happened to some of the crazier characters since the book was first released in the late 1970s.
Do you have pets and/or hobbies?
I’m a full-time freelance writer, editor, screenwriter and ghostwriter so I don’t have time for hobbies. Cooking is a necessity and I’m really good at it but I wouldn’t call it a hobby. I have two dogs (a Pekingese and a Chihuahua) and two cats who just sort of showed up at my door as hungry stray kittens. I didn’t have the heart to turn them away.
What’s your fantasy job, if you weren’t a writer?
I’d be singing Tom Waits songs at a piano bar in a hotel (and maybe a little Mahalia Jackson). I love Tom Waits. His music grabs me by my soul and won’t let go.
That’s right! This year, Red Sky Presents will be giving away books from our five children’s series, including our two newest releases: Rosemary Potatoes and Her Three Bears and Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet. We will be sending these books to children’s hospitals that you recommend! Comment your recommendations here, on our Twitter or Facebook, and we’ll let you know which hospitals will be receiving books this holiday season.
Even cats offer congratulations to dogs everywhere on National Dog Day! Over fourteen thousand years ago, for reasons unknown, dogs decided to hang out with humans and quickly earned the title of Man(kind)’s Best Friend.
Any human who has never experienced the happiness of a warm puppy has missed out on one of life’s greatest joys. It’s a scientific fact that dogs reduce stress and lift people out of depression. They’re always glad to see us and they don’t expect much of us. They’re really smart and capable of a variety of useful activities, from entertaining us with charming tricks (“Roll over…Shake hands…Catch the Frisbee,”) to guiding the sight-impaired or helping children learn to read.
Celebrate the day by taking your dog for an extra walk to a pet bakery where you can buy him a special cookie, then read to him and your kids about Brittany, Lace and their friend Henry, a stately black Labrador retriever, in our Sweet Tales series by Laurie Hyman.
Editor’s Note: Brittany and Lace, the adorable, adventurous cats in Sweet Tales, offer their congratulations to dogs as well. “Especially since,” Brittany said at press time, “Every day is Cats Day.”