From Child Prodigy to Self-Publishing Expert: A.G. Billig’s Amazing Literary Journey

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on author/entrepreneur A.G. Billig, and how she is bringing her vast media, publishing branding experience to thousands of authors through SelfPublishingMastery.com. Here, she discusses her professional background, writing experiences, and her vision for the world’s most diverse self-publishing online platform.)

She wrote her first short story as a child. At age 13, the Romanian media dubbed her a child prodigy. Three years later, she was writing professionally for a popular national newspaper on teen issues. Then, at 17, she became a radio host — which led to producing a TV show for an independent Romanian network. Finally, when A.G. Billig entered her twenties, she became editor-in-chief for a variety of teen magazines.

Author, self-publishing and branding expert A.G. Billig

How’s that for the start of a writing career? A career seemingly predestined at birth? What happens if you add to that a Master’s Degree in public relations and communication and a sharp, incisive entrepreneurial mind?

Now, this captivating, multi-talented author, and international media and branding expert has established herself in the U.S., imparting her knowledge and insight to benefit thousands of authors. She is the creator of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a multi-channel platform that brings writing and business tips, consulting, books, writing and editing services, resources, online summits, professional referrals, the best writing instructors, a publishing imprint and much more. In 2017, it was named one of the Top 100 self-publishing blogs online. It’s only going to grow.

In an announcement I’m very proud to make, the editorial services wing of my company, Word Journeys, is shifting to SPM in a new partnership agreement.

As a writer, A.G.’s work is extensive in the journalism world, and growing in books. Her two books, Four Doors and Other Stories and I Choose Love, are award-winners. Her deep, thoughtful soul and incisive mind merge in her works to provide delicious prose that informs as it invokes feeling and thought, giving us insight into ourselves. Interestingly, that is what the greatest mentors do: show the way, often without stating it in those terms.

A.G. Billig presenting a workshop on branding and marketing for self-published authors at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. Branding and marketing are central themes _ and features — of  SelfPublishingMastery.com

A.G. is a mentor to authors throughout the world, and has caught the attention of writers conference directors. She has presented at the Greater LA Writers, Genre-LA and Digital Writing & Self Publishing conferences, and recently conducted a Master Workshop on author branding. In this two-part interview, she unveils the full scope of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a huge author asset in a self-publishing market that saw an estimated 900,000 titles published last year.

WORD JOURNEYS: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to begin writing?

A.G.Billig: When I was 8, my parents bought a brand new car. My excitement about the prospect of future summer trips across Romania translated into a short story, the first in a long series. My father, an avid reader and aspiring author, loved my writing and encouraged me to pursue it. By 13, I was winning national literary prizes for short stories. I wrote my first novel, a teenage love story, at 15 —and then took a break from writing fiction until 2012.

WJ: What was one of the biggest takeaways of your early journalism career, when you had years of top professional experience by the time you reached your twenties?

A.G.: It was a beautiful way to meet extraordinary people and share their amazing stories with the rest of the world, stretch my comfort zone, and learn new skills. It felt good whenever someone would stop me on the street to tell me they enjoyed my shows.

WJ:   What books did you read as a teen and young adult? How did they inform and shape the stories and book ideas you wanted to pursue?

A.G. Though Romania was still under Communist rule in my early years, I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with books. My father was born in Paris. He loved French culture as well as universal literary giants. The moment I learned how to read, I started devouring writers such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Giovanni Boccaccio, Jane Austen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. These authors and readings shaped my literary tastes and taught me how to write. I learned how to use description, write dialogue, and build solid characters from them. I also learned the type of emotional and cognitive experience a book is supposed to create for the reader, that essential element that stands the test of time. Although I never wanted to be like these authors, I always aimed at giving my best in my writing. We can all do that by being authentic and passionate about what we do.

WJ:   When did you start considering working with self-published authors? What need did you perceive?

A.G.: In 2015, at the London Book Fair. It seems like this event changes my life every three years — I wonder what’s going to happen in 2018! I attended as a journalist (I was a contributor to the Romanian edition of Playboy). I was already following podcasts on self-publishing and wanted to know more about it. The free talks and panels proved to be of great help. The success stories of self-published authors such as Mark Dawson and C.J. Lyons, making six-figure incomes on their books, gave me an A-HA! moment. I realized that the publishing game was changing and self-publishing opened a global market for authors, provided they had the necessary skills. Since I have an entrepreneurial mind, I seized the opportunity, not only for myself, but also for my fellow authors. I realized that they needed support with branding and marketing their books. They would needed resources, information, and education. “Why not use my passion for journalism to serve these people?” I asked myself.

Early in 2016, just about the same time I self-published I Choose Love, Self-Publishing Mastery was born.

WJ:   Let’s go back to your creative love – writing books. First, tell us about I Choose Love – certainly a timely read in this day and age.

A.G.: I never thought I would write a non-fiction book, but a lot went on in 2015 — terror attacks, natural disasters. The world was (and still is) governed by fear. The only way out was choosing love, again and again, every second of our life. At that point, I Choose Love came to me as what some would call a “download”. It took about a month to complete. It was easy for me, because it stemmed from my heart. I also had a clear structure from the beginning, and a thorough knowledge of the topic based on seven years of spiritual practice and personal experiences. It offers practical tools for overcoming fear and attracting love into one’s life.

WJ: Can’t think of a subject more purposeful! You also mentioned you shelved your teenage love of fiction writing until 2012. Typically, when we leave our story writing youth, we rarely find that thread again, but you did. Tell us about Four Doors and Other Stories.

A.G.: This book shows what can happen when we are in the flow. It marked my return to writing fiction, and it brought me a contract with a U.K. publisher.

I created this short stories collection about love, because love represents the foundation of who I am and everything I do, including helping other authors become successful. My vision was to portray love as our true essence, which can be expressed in so many different ways. Once I had this concept clear in my mind, I just allowed the inspiration to flow in.

WJ: What is your vision with SelfPublishingMastery.com? What are the features? How do you, and the platform, assist writers in their journeys?

A.G. My original concept for Self Publishing Mastery was to be the Billboard magazine for the global self-publishing industry. My vision was to support and empower indie authors from around the world to self-publish, and help them master the publishing process.

We began by (and are still) covering book marketing, the writing craft, the right mindset for success, writers’ conferences, success stories, writers Facebook groups, podcasts, and book blogs. After the past year of getting a chance to talk to authors, we decided to add an educational component. Now we will also have workshops, online courses, books, and an online academy. We’ve just further expanded the range of our services for authors through the full-service portfolio, twenty years’ standing, that Word Journeys is bringing in. We have evergreen content, constantly refreshing. We’ve also got some goodies for those who subscribe to our newsletter such as “The top 20 Amazon book reviewers list” and “The successful book launch checklist.” Authors can and will find all that they need for successful self-publishing on our site. Please stop by!

(NEXT: A.G. Billig breaks down SelfPublishingMastery.com, and the particular challenge self-published authors face with branding, distribution, and lifting their work above the growing mass of titles and voices — and how to reach their world of awaiting readers in the process.)

 

 

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Book Lovers: The L.A. Times Festival of Books is Here!

One of the most enjoyable parts of being an author is participating in book signings — and few are better than the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Desiree Duffy of Black Chateau Enterprises and yours truly at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books.

For the third straight year, I will be signing books at the USC Campus on Sunday, April 22, from 3-5 p.m. It also happens to be my sister Karin’s 50th birthday, so getting from USC crosstown to Encino for the birthday dinner afterward will be interesting, but the afternoon is all about books, and my sister understands… I think…

I digress. On Sunday, I will be signing Voices, Backroad Melodies, Writes of Life, When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water at the Black Chateau Booth #912 in the Black Zone. I will be part of a two-day author collective put together by my publicist and fellow author in the 3-5 slot, Desiree Duffy, the owner of Black Chateau Enterprises.

            The L.A. Times Festival of Books is huge, and awesome. Up to 150,000 people come for the two days to see a collection of bestselling authors, new authors, and entertainment ranging from panel discussions to live bands and very lively public question-and-answer sessions. The festival is the third largest of its kind in the U.S. It’s a book buyer’s and reader’s dream – and, for authors, a rare chance to talk with so many readers.

“I find that consumers like choices, so having several authors and books for them to chose from at a book fair, means that you are more likely to have something they’ll like,” Desiree says. “Book fairs can be exhausting. Authors signings can be draining. Doing an hour or two signing is much easier than committing to running a booth for an entire fest. It gives authors time to walk the fest, check out panels, and network.”

Since Desiree walks the delicate creative and time management tightrope between being a publicist and author (she’ll appear under her nom de plume, Vanta M. Black, to sign her novel Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place on Sunday afternoon), she also understands the dual existence we writers lead. Often, we prefer to tuck ourselves into our offices and write, not connecting so much publicly — but books don’t sell if we don’t go public. Contrary to the beliefs of many, online presence alone does not beget success. The group signing helps even the shiest authors interact with their audiences.

“We are social beings. When we connect in person, that bond is stronger than it could ever be online,” she explains. “Being an author means being a brand. You are connected to your writing and being able to talk to people, share stories, learn about them as readers, and make connections helps strengthen your brand.

“Plus, what you do in the real world needs to translate to the online world. As an author at an event, being able to promote and post online about it gives you valuable content. Whether it is social media, your author newsletter, your blog or website, your book fest experience should be featured online. Online and offline exposure leverage one another, making each stronger.”

I’d like to introduce you to the other authors at the Black Chateau Booth (once again, #912, in the Black Zone), the works they’ll be signing, and their signing times:

Saturday, April 21:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Susanne Bellefeuille, author of Path of Lucas: The Journey He Endured

Autumn Doerr, author of Baker’s Dozen: A Lexi Fagan Mystery

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Christina Cigala, author of XXvXY: The Final World War

Bobby Goldstein, creator of XXvXY: The Final World War; and the TV show Cheaters

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Mark J. Rose, author of Matt Miller in the Colonies Series

Lon Varnadore, author of Mostly Human: A 4Pollack Novel

Sunday, April 22:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sean Patrick Traver, author of Wraith Ladies Who Lunch

Raye Mitchell, Esq, author of How Women Negotiate from a Position of Strength

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Michael Priv, author of The Fifth Battalion

Laurie Finkelstein, author of Next Therapist Please

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Robert Yehling, author of Voices and Just Add Water

Vanta M. Black, author of Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

The booth will also feature books from Nanishka Torres, author of Fenrir Chronicles: The Prince; and Magda Ayuk, author of Blue Bird.

Each appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books has been a thrill: discussing pro surfer Clay Marzo’s life with autism in Just Add Water in 2016; and launching Voices to the world in 2017. This time, I’ll also be previewing Crawl of Fame, the memoir of Ironman triathlon legend Julie Moss, which officially releases on October 2.

As for Desiree? She well remembers the thrill of her first L.A. Times Festival of Books signing gig. It’s like runners feel about the Boston Marathon; I know I never get tired of that feeling when we arrive on the scene! “I had a booth the year I released Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place. It was my dream to be there, and seeing it happen, was amazing,” she recalls. “I checked off an item on my bucket list. I think a lot of authors feel that way. There is something special about the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It is iconic. A must-attend.”

On that note, we’ll see you at Booth 912, Black Zone this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

           

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‘A Metaphor for Real Life’: Conversation with Fantasy Author Ryan Peabody

Like many fantasy readers, Ryan Peabody spent his childhood imagining worlds and dreaming up big adventures. However, when he entered law school, his love of fantasy grew for another reason — it gave him space to relax and explore.

Shadows of Hammerfall author Ryan Peabody

“I like the unexpected,” he says. “I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, even as a youth and all the way through law school, as a space to relax and explore. I have read all different genres, fiction and non-fiction. But I was always drawn back to fantasy for its unique ability to capture the imagination with adventure and big ideas. As a writer, the world of fantasy was so vast that the logical next step was to further expand that universe in areas that I personally wanted to explore.”

The Texas-based author has wrapped up Shadows of Hammerfall, the first in an eventual three-book series chronicling the adventures of brothers Drakiel and Kael, and their efforts to save their kingdom from corruption, invaders, frightening primordial creatures … and how they shape themselves, society and world in the process. It features many twists and turns, including some that surprised Peabody as much as anyone.

‘I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change,  in both themselves and in the world around them.’ — Ryan Peabody

In other words, a strong fantasy debut by a lifelong fan of the genre. Shadows is being shopped to publishers now; publication is anticipated in late 2018 or 2019.

Word Journeys sat with Ryan to discuss Shadows, in a conversation that not only offers up plenty of tidbits about the book, but gives insight into the writing process.

WJ: Ryan, thanks for joining us. Where did you come up with the seed of what became Shadows of Hammerfall?

Ryan Peabody: The very essence of fantasy is a metaphor for real life. I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change, in both themselves and in the world around them. So many people today just accept the ideas of others rather than testing their own. My characters face off against the greater problems in society and find that making any progress to finding solutions is infinitely more difficult than they appear. The Shadows looming over Hammerfall are those problems, and iour aspiring heroes must pass through the crucible of fire and transform from naïve youth into hardened adults.

WJ: Can you elaborate more on what we’ll read in Shadows?

RP: Two brothers are born into a family where their entitlement is all they will ever need. Yet satisfaction in this lifestyle becomes more unbearable and oppressive than being in prison. They strike out to challenge the powers that be, and in the process, find themselves so far over their heads that  the course of their lives changes forever. As their brotherly relationship is shattered and rebuilt, they individually uncover a corruption in Hammerfall that will unlock secrets of an ancient past that will plunge them all into darkness. They alone can stop it, if they can only rebuild their broken bond in time.

WJ: In the book, we see a parallel, in some ways, to the social and political movements in the US. Did you have that in mind when writing it? Or did that draw out naturally through your characters and their stories and journeys?

RP: It’s more about the controlling forces in society than politics. That being said, politics has a tendency to get out of hand on either side; most people may agree. So I wanted to use that as a starting place and delve deeper. I wanted to pit my heroes against the person behind the person; the unknown antagonist pulling the strings of society. At the same time, I wanted to craft characters able to justify any action as a means to an end, and challenge notions of morality as they begin to slide down a dangerous slope to becoming the very thing they proclaim to fight against.

WJ: You present a great juxtaposition of influences in the boys’ lives, between Yodden, their wise blacksmith friend and a guiding light; and the Prime Chancellor, a very corrupt and authoritative, yet charismatic man. Tell us about the ways in which you present good v. evil in these characters, and also the room that fantasy allows you to develop variations of the theme.

RP: I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil by making these two characters pulling toward their own ends, but by following very different directions. It’s almost like the idea of vigilante justice; is killing a known killer justifiable? Or is due process more important than righting a wrong, particularly if the justice system itself is corrupt? The main characters must decide to fight within a broken system or justify their actions outside of it.

WJ: “Shadows” is in many ways the story of two brothers, Drakiel and Kael, who embark on a journey together – and then everything in both their lives changes. What are some of your favorite parts of their journey?

RP: My favorite part, without giving too much away, was their role reversal over the course of the book. The brothers start out with nearly the same personality profile and then are drawn in such dramatically different directions. I found this to be a particularly interesting concept, what would happen to the same person growing up in different environments; taking a different path through life. How dramatically different would the “same person” end up as a result of very different environments and external forces? I also explored how such seemingly small decisions can have dramatic impact on the life paths we follow.

WJ: One of my favorite parts is Drakiel’s sentence to the Wilds, a truly foreboding land – but you do a great literary thing by showing him experiencing his own lessons, then coming back to fight again with those new lessons in place. How does the journey, along with the original wild landscapes and creatures you created, help you draw out Drakiel, as well as set up the later story?

RP: Drakiel needed to learn humility; he finally had a situation  he had no control over. He had to give in. He had no choice. He had to be broken down and rebuilt. He had to give up who he was so he would have the opportunity to grow into who he was meant to become. In discovering the new land he was also discovering who he was meant to be. The wilds were a reflection of his own inner-self. Instead of fighting against the world he had to learn to adapt to it, and in doing so became a very dangerous man, taking these lessons back to the civilized world as a force of nature himself.

WJ: What types of creative license does working with two brothers give you when developing character?

RP: Although there are a host of unique characters, the brothers consistently emerged as focal points because of their unquenchable need to take action. The type of action they individually decide  frames their decision-making process and drives their characters. One sees the world as black and white while the other a pallet of gray. The reader may be able to almost anticipate how they will each react in a given situation, particularly as they come to know them better and better throughout the story.

WJ: When writing fantasy, what do you think are the most important ways your story holds the audience?

RP: Character and plot, in that order. The characters, including the creatures the readers will find unique and interesting, are constantly forced to make big decisions based on inadequate information. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes wrong, but most of the time in ways that will leave the readers questioning what they would have done in the same situation. The plot continually splits off and then rejoins the mainstream as well, like a river with branching tributaries, rapids and all.

WJ: You’ve set up Shadows of Hammerfall for eventual growth into a number of future books – one of which you’re writing. Can you give us a sneak preview of how Shadows ends – and where you are taking it from there?

RP: Without giving too much away, Shadows ends with a glimpse into an uncertain future. But to understand the future we must first understand the past. Book Two starts by answering some of the big questions about the more secretive characters and the incredible impact they will have on the story. It pulls back to get a bird’s eye view before quickly plunging  into the thick of the story.

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The Mended & Splendid Life: Interview with Author Christine Dwight

 

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you’re looking forward to a great year of writing and reading — and hearing from great writers on the Word Journeys Blog, along with a variety of new features, stories and participatory activities to fulfill your writing, reading, marketing and promotional needs.

Mended & Splendid Author Christine Dwight

We open with a truly splendid author, the Laguna Beach, CA-based Christine Dwight, whose high-impact memoir Mended & Splendid is making the publishing rounds. Mended & Splendid is the heartfelt story of a woman who thought she had it all — twice — only to lose two husbands and face two different types of cancer battles. She emerged with a splendid, empowered outlook that was fueled by her many passions, from yoga to fashion and jewelry, from travel to cooking, from photography and art to collecting specific period pieces. Now, this High Jewelry Ambassador for Chanel and Certified Life Coach prepares to share her story and impart the wisdom attained through her remarkable life. Enjoy.

WordJourneysLiterary: Could you share the basic storyline of Mended & Splendid?

Christine Dwight: Mended & Splendid is one woman’s raw truth about finding beauty from the breakages in her life. My standing today comes after emerging from three major traumatic events, any of which were capable of impacting my life in a negative way for many years. I share how I moved through these experiences, the wisdom I gained, and how I circled back to the inherent beauty of things to heal into the splendid state I enjoy in my life today.

WJ: What prompted you to write the book? What did you feel was missing from many memoirs about overcoming personal tragedy and loss?

CD: I really want to share my story. It deals with prevalent issues people are faced with today. I want to let people know they are not alone. I am approaching all of it in an intimate way, bringing the reader on my journey with me. We stand side by side all the way, in good times and difficult times. I hope my experiences and realizations educate and inspire readers while they are on this journey with me.

WJ: What single moment in your life prompted you to work through your challenges and emerge in a more splendid manner?

CD: When I was sick and going through my divorce in 2012, I learned future visioning, including the start of my vision board, to see where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to see my life unfold. That was a catalytic force. From there, I increased my visioning and added meditation. When I started practicing meditation, I turned fear into love and started to get excited about the splendid life awaiting me.

WJ: If you were one of your readers — broken and not knowing what to do next — what advice would you give from your own experience?

CD: My first answer might surprise some, but the absolute top priority when you come out of something long-lasting and traumatic is to address your own health, physically and spiritually. They are equally important. If your whole world’s collapsing, if you’re not sleeping, you’re overweight and also sick, that’s no place to start. In silence, learn to listen to your inner voice, pray, meditate, and love.

WJ: How does your background in travel, food, fashion, art and fine jewelry figure into Mended & Splendid? What do you find these bring out in you, and other women, that motivate them to seek out their more beautiful, splendid and happy selves?

CD: My background is interwoven throughout my story. I am very passionate about all of these things, and have been for a long time. I am a life long student of the finer things in life. It is just in my DNA.

I grew up in a middle class family, but ever since I can remember, I have been mesmerized by quality, craftsmanship and the intricacy of well-made items. I have always been rich in my desire to learn more. Even if I was just dreaming about it, I would study and learn more. This knowledge helped motivate me to become a happier, more beautiful, splendid person.

Christine Dwight began to re-imagine and vision her life using a storyboard. Many of her visioned dreams and goals have since happened, with more to come in 2018.

WJ: You’ve been through the loss of a husband to suicide, and a marriage that included betrayal and unequal treatment. Tell us how you managed to emerge from both, because either outcome has crushed millions of women. What steps did you take? What did you celebrate about your own qualities — and how did you move them into your everyday life?

CD: I needed to ask for help, which I received. After that, I started taking the steps to a healthier life, both physically and spiritually. This takes time, so I needed to learn PATIENCE. This was not going to be an overnight process, my divorce wasn’t going to be wrapped up in a month, and my health would take some time, too. I knew the things I was dealing with had a time frame attached.

I started to celebrate my own qualities once I was able to forgive my first and second husbands. I realized I had to forgive them, so I would no longer dwell on the negative. I realize anger equalled a false sense of power. One cannot move forward in anger. Forgiveness set me free to move on in a healthier way.

WJ: Tell us some of the fun moments in Mended & Splendid, in which are dancing with life again.

CD: In December 2017, when I woke up alone on my 57th birthday, I sat up in bed and took a deep breath. My thought was that I no longer had to be perfect. From this point forward, I wanted to be present. I began by stating, to myself, “I love my life and I am so excited for my future.” This was a major turning point. As far as specific experiences of dancing with life, one moment that stands out is sitting under the Southern Cross, in central Australia, staring at the Southern Hemisphere sky and marveling at the beauty of everything around us.

WJ: Mended & Splendid uniquely appeals to women throughout, from those who can only aspire to have means, to those who already do but haven’t yet found their inner power and beauty. Could you speak to the inner richness your narrative celebrates, and how someone with and without means can draw from it?

CD: First, I’d advise us to educate ourselves on what we are truly passionate about. What stirs you just thinking about it? What continually draws you and excites you with its possibilities for your life at the same time? Even if you cannot afford to do something, learn and know as much as you can about it. As your hobby, become an expert on whatever you want in life. Between the internet, the library and other resources, not to mention your own appetite and passion, this will shift your energy into a more exciting place and draw you that much closer to your desires.

WJ: You present your story as a platform to inspire readers to do the mending and find the splendid in their own lives. What prompted you to add this subtle call to action within your narrative? How does your life coaching background play into it?

CD: While I was going through my divorce, I decided to sign up for an 18-month coaching program. I was learning how to assist others in mending, while healing and mending myself. Through the processes I learned, I was able to work past my own blockages and be in a position to mentor and help others do the same. It’s all about the process, as well as the work and results, when you’re coaching or being coached.

WJ: In part, you sell the feeling and experience of being splendid in your High Jewelry Ambassador position with Chanel. What do fine and high jewelry symbolize or emphasize in your personal definition of splendid — and how does your book convey that feeling?

CD: Chanel High and Fine Jewelry is happy, beautiful and magnificent, like museum pieces. These are gems I cannot afford to purchase myself, but it gives me tremendous joy and pleasure to show this art form. Eventually, these treasures find the right homes. I love the stories behind what inspires people to gift each other, or themselves. This is truly splendid.

WJ: How is Christine Dwight different than earlier in life? In what ways is you still the girl who enjoyed a happy childhood in sunny Southern California?

CD: I am marinated from experience and now have the wisdom, knowledge and education that I did not have as a young girl. In this memoir, I can share my story, and educate and inspire others.

I am still the happy girl from Southern California riding her Schwinn cruiser to the beach everyday in the summer. I learned early on from my fifth grade teacher to do three nice things a day for others, even if it means something as simple as smiling to three different people. I still do this religiously.

 

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LA’s Epic Rock & Roll, Fashion & Art Party: Interview with Author Nora Novak

VIEW THE LOS FELIZ CONFIDENTIAL BOOK TRAILER

Whenever she’s asked why so many Millennials and Generation Z men, women and teens continue flocking to the music and style of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Feliz Confidential author Nora Novak has a ready answer: “I think Millennials are recognizing a sense of excitement and freewheeling attitude of that era by listening to classic rock, and streaming movies and documentaries that portray the ‘good times’ they find appealing in a way not found in today’s device-dependent, stressful and more violent world,” she says. “I think the boomers, the internet and the media have had a hand in this, unlike previous generations.”

Nora, who grew up in and currently lives in Newport Beach, is the author of one of the finest scenester memoirs in years, and winner of a 2017 Southern California Book Festival Award. Los Feliz Confidential takes us right inside the classic home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz where Nora and her boyfriend hosted some of LA’s wildest parties of the 1970s and early 1980s. But their wildness was classed up by the fetching, willowy blonde hostess, whose elegance, glamour, style and love of music turned these parties into something extravagant. With her visual descriptions and deeply honest portrayal of her own feelings, goals and hopes, Nora lures us into a narrative so rhythmic and rich that you can practically hear the songs of the period spinning on her turntable — and the lyrics weaving in and out of the narrator’s heart. If you can’t remember the titles of these memory markers, no worries: she lists them in a back, a clever piece of “soundtracking” the book.

But Los Feliz Confidential is much more than a musical all-nighter put to words. Nora takes us through her rich, complex world that she creates on the fly, as a trendsetting scenester and traveler completely in touch with her native Flemish roots. The fact she was born in Belgium, grew up in the U.S. with her Old World parents but never lost her connection to Flemish culture (but rather dove into and celebrated it), adds to both the perspective and depth of the book. She takes us around the world on her fascinating (and sometimes wild) adventures, one of which she shares in the interview. She also takes us into the crazy all-hours fun of 1970s Los Angeles, and into the glam rock, punk rock, hard rock and early New Wave worlds that she made part of her own. We meet her friends, and again throw ourselves on Sunset Boulevard and into the clubs and scenes that many look back on with deep reverence, while younger generations seek to know more about this time period where freedom, platform shoes, liberation, shoulder pads, creativity, long hair, imagination, art, style, and great music prevailed.

Los Feliz Confidential and Art Damaged Author Nora Novak.

Turning all these experiences and elements into a treasure trove of a memoir was no easy task, but Novak has the chops to pull it off. She’s a fine artist, designer of her fashion line (Noraluxe Loungewear), art gallerist, actress, model, and also the author of the novel Art Damaged. She comes from a very talented family as well. Her mother, Emma Albertina Bogaerts, a lifelong storyteller, is the 105-year-old (not kidding!) newly published author of Emmy: Memoir of a Flemish Immigrant, now available in English and being shopped to publishers in Europe. Nora’s brother, Mark Leysen, is an award-winning art director and fine artist, as well as the author of Klown, his third novel (Traveling Shoes Press) about a late-night talk show host who runs for President. It definitely echoes the present state of the world.

We caught up with Nora recently. To get your Black Friday book shopping chops going, here is what she says about life, L.A., making scenes, and Los Feliz Confidential.

Word Journeys: Los Feliz Confidential is an epic scenester read – the incredible LA music-fashion-art scene and how you and others showcased and helped define it in your travels and daily lives. Could you talk about the amazing chemistry that exists between music, fashion and art, and why it was so definitive of a generation? And still is?

NN: Because that generation (talkin about my ge- generation) experienced an explosive time of cultural change, social mores, pop art and particularly British rock that spawned new looks in fashion as a lifestyle. There was an innovative and artistic energy that changed the way people dressed. The 70’s rock-infused fashion had an element of sensuality and glamour with an edge that I certainly favored and is still being recycled today. Innovative new artists, designers, bands and clubs emerged in L.A. and provided a more artistic expression in fashion. It all played out with the music creating a dazzling decade that many look back on for inspiration today.

A good example is Stephen Spouse collaborating with Debbie Harry in the 80’s and Jeff Koons collaborating with the new Louis Vuitton line today. Music blasts at every fashion collection. I think music, fashion and art have always had an evolving synergy.

WJ: Take us through your writing process for Los Feliz. How did you pare down your countless experiences into a tightly written 200-page book? What themes and points did you emphasize? And tell us about your decision to basically “soundtrack” the book, with songs listed for each chapter.

NN: First of all, I wrote what I could remember! I could have added many more stories, but I chose to keep it moving like the fast pace I was living at the time. I wanted to emphasize the difference of how immigrating here made me feel and my fearless sense of adventure. I tried to be give my stories a visual sense of the fashion and look of things, the easiness of life at that time. Everything I wrote about had music running through my mind, reflecting the time, so I naturally made many musical references. When I finished I was compelled to write a Playlist for each chapter, which I really enjoyed doing.

WJ: What are three of your favorite tales that you share in the book? And the funniest?

NN: Well (spoiler alert!), I do share an interesting story about my relationship with a Jordanian arms dealer and his Ambassador brother. There’s a tale about my first skiing experience – which also proved to be my last – and a humorous girl/girl story. I think the story about an ENT treatment given by my boyfriend’s surgeon dad is hilarious but for me it all seems humorous now. I’m still laughing!

Nora Novak’s fine collage work includes “The Girl from Antwerp”

Cinema Verite at Cannes? It’s red carpet time.

WJ: You are the daughter of a very take-charge, dominant father and a warm, artistic mother. How did that parent combination shape you as both a person and an artist?

NN: My father, although a stern and unpleasant man, instilled a strong sense of discipline and a somewhat sardonic outlook. However, he was responsible for my love of art and photography, for which I am grateful. My mother, on the other hand, emanated femininity, graciousness, a pleasant demeanor and sense of humor. The combination definitely shaped me as an individual and shows up in my work as an artist, as I generally incorporate female photographic images in my glossy mixed-media collages.

WJ: What struck me about your journey is how you took part in the lifestyle and excesses of the day, yet you always seemed to have a sense of who you were and what you wanted. How did you maintain that compass, if you will, of how to go forward?

NN: I readily enjoyed the excess and decadence of the times; it was a Bacchanalian era for rock ’n’ roll. Everything seemed so glamorous and indulgent, and was completely accepted in the L.A. that I knew. I did have goals though, like a working schedule and a sense of enough discipline that probably prevented me from becoming another Hollywood fatality. Many didn’t make it.

WJ: You write of your affinity for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. What was it about his voice, music, lyrics, and presence that captivated you? What do you feel musicians today can learn from their predecessors in terms of delivering from heart and soul vs. making a hit?

NN: Bryan Ferry evoked a sultry, seductive kind of singing unique from other rock stars. Not to mention his suave, good looks, elegant style, sophistication and harmonica playing that simply resonated in a big way for me. I thought his music and lyrics quite beautiful and loved his sexy album covers. It seems like everyone can sing today with a huge range and big powerhouse voices, but at the end of the day, it’s generally the more unique voice with soul and a great tune that becomes the hit. The late Amy Winehouse comes to mind.

WJ: You’ve also been creating works of art. Tell us about those.

Nora Novak’s “Nico”, honoring the late New York scenester and Velvet Underground singer. Part of her Femme Fatale collection.

NN: I started a new series, my “Femme Fatale” collection. I just finished three mixed-media collages, that can be seen on my website noranovak.com and will be exhibited soon. I’m thinking about starting another book next year, possibly a sequel to Los Feliz Confidential, picking up where it left off moving into the crazy 80’s.

WJ: Lightning Round: Who are your five favorite authors? Musicians or bands? Artists? Fashion designers?

NN: My favorite authors? When I was young, I would say John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. I that progressed to Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and more recently Irvine Welsh and Edward St. Aubyn. Musicians: It’s still Bryan Ferry, Iggy and the Stones and Amy Winehouse, miss her. Artists: Jan Van Eyck, Kees Van Dongen, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel to name a few. As for designers, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, love the vintage Halston — and my own Noraluxe Loungewear line, of course!

WJ: Final question: If a musician came up to you and said, “Hey girl, I want to play you one song that speaks to who you are,” what would that song be? And who would be playing it?

NN: Well, I would love it if that musician was Bryan Ferry. I’d request his cover version of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, but wait; can I get one with Iggy on vocals, Mick on harmonica and Keith on guitar, and they can play whatever they want?

WJ: Let us cue it up! Thanks so much, Nora, for a fun and enlightening look into an era so wonderfully captured in Los Feliz Confidential.

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A World Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond ADHD, the highly anticipated book by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling, will release worldwide from Rowman-Littlefield Publishers on August 16. Pre-ordering is available now.)

Happiness and excitement filled our hearts as we drove across the 401 highway in Ontario, Canada, destined for the U.S. border. Our happiness was borne by the anticipation of the answers I might receive at our destination, answers that would explain and perhaps present new directions in a life I’d had such a hard time understanding, right down to my ADHD diagnosis five years before

— From Beyond ADHD, by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling

Jeff Emmerson’s revolutionary look at the ADHD diagnosing and prescribing epidemic, Beyond ADHD, breaks down into two parts: the current environment and pressures that are causing so much diagnosing and prescribing; and looking ahead into much more helpful, progressive, and successful ways of working with those dealing with attention issues.

In this segment of our interview, Jeff gives us a peek into Part II, and how things might look if we utilized fitness, diet, further education, behavioral therapy and other approaches — approaches that, frankly, feed the whole person — rather than the current prescribe-first mentality.

Word Journeys: One of your biggest supporters of this book is Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of John Hopkins Medical School and esteemed chair of the DSM-IV committee, which sets diagnosis and prescription guidelines for more than 300 defined mental health issues. What did Dr. Frances tell you that further inspired you to address these issues?

Emmerson: When I discovered his stance on ADHD, current diagnosing standards and his beliefs about the big-picture of what it is to be “normal” these days, I was immediately refreshed (if surprised at the same time). He confirmed my fears early on when he spoke about true ADHD diagnosis prevalence being around 4 percent in American children. Considering he was the Chair of the DSM-IV task force, this was very, very believable. After all, it would be only too easy for him (of all people) to “toe the party line,” but no – he told the truth, even when it wasn’t convenient. He also speaks adamantly about the current opioid crisis and many other topics in healthcare that are severely lacking, ones we need to address with courage, honesty and the desire to get ahead of them before epidemics come forth any more then the opioid one already has, frankly. ADHD may well be on the same path in its own way.

Word Journeys: Another big supporter of alternative approaches, and Beyond ADHD, is Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, director of the SENG Institute for Gifted Children. Can you speak to how focusing on a child’s or adult’s gifts, and their natural hunter-gatherer minds, actually takes us beyond the ADHD mindset?

Emmerson: It’s funny what we can achieve when three key things (are allowed to) happen:

  • Our natural abilities are uncovered, focused on and supported;
  • We’re taught to have a “growth-mindset” that teaches self-resilience and focusing on lessons to be learned from every “failure or mistake;” and
  • Different learners or personalities from the “norm” are empowered in environments that focus on strengths and don’t force them to learn in areas that they may have zero interest in (those not needed for day to day life).

Self-worth, confidence, positive morale toward society, and inspiration toward imagination and self-growth need to be taught and nurtured in education systems more than ever. A new day has arrived. We need to buy into the medical model for being “different” and focus instead upon the unique abilities and passions that each of us have within. This cookie-cutter approach to education (at the cost of any alternatives for many millions of us) simply doesn’t cut it, and it’s showing in a number of ways in a profoundly “sick” society.

Word Journeys: What role has Big Pharma played in the increase in ADHD diagnoses?

Jeff Emmerson: An immense one, more than many of us might realize. From suggestive advertising to Americans and those in New Zealand via television to funding healthcare providers, offering incentives to drug reps and physicians to advertising in more subtle ways through online media outlets, and through heavily influencing research findings, they pretty much have their hands in everything, not to mention the U.S. government, in a huge way. While medications definitely help some live better lives, there are billions of dollars changing hands, so following the money to understand its potential influence is of crucial importance.

Word Journeys: A growing number of people think ADHD is a catch-basin, not really an affliction, but more a convenient label for what could be a hundred different things. What is your opinion of that?

Emmerson: I get where they’re coming from! Let’s use some common sense for a moment. I believe that the diagnosis does help some in a wonderful way; I know it does, in fact. I’ve been told tons of stories from others, and I’m all for whatever empowers and helps people learn more about themselves and tools toward self-worth, resilience and most of all, self-awareness. However, the pendulum has swung way too far in favor of rushed, ill-informed ADHD diagnoses to put a band-aid on issues we simply aren’t equipped to address at their deeper cores.

Once I discovered how easily I was wrongly diagnosed with ADHD, my world was never the same again. I saw the elephant in the room where ADHD is concerned: What it is; how to diagnose it (as a diagnosis of exclusion since nearly one hundred other true root causes mimic it); and how to treat it/see it in society. I could NOT, in good conscience, let this newfound awareness go. My soul screamed to bring it to the world through building the largest online community I humanly could.

Word Journeys: You combined your personal stories with the pressing issues in Beyond ADHD. What did you learn about your own journey while weaving your stories into the material?

Emmerson: First of all, I quickly realized that I’m far from alone in living with these symptoms. Beyond that, I’m both humbled and fiercely driven from all the learning I’ve done over the last four years or so. I now have three or four additional book topics in mind for future projects (based in mental health and current society) that I know are needed desperately by millions of people going through challenges in this realm (including those who care for them in any number of capacities).

I also learned (and confirmed to myself) that even if life seems lost, even if the conventional road to what society calls success doesn’t work and we make mistakes that seem insurmountable (with the shame that often comes with them), we CAN completely turn things around with the right support, shift in mindset and faith/resilience. Man, that’s the most humbling part of it all for me – that and seeing others who have been somehow touched by my efforts. I now want others to feel the way I do. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. Everything from here on in is icing on the cake.

Word Journeys: If you could envision a society beyond the current ADHD protocols, what would it look like?    

Emmerson: We’d re-evaluate current education, healthcare, food, water, industry, parenting and other social support structures/initiatives in society. Then, I’d look beyond labeling in psychiatry/psychology and look at ways to evolve through a strengths-based approach, entrenched in a solid foundation from as young as possible. From there, massive investment into the collective well-being of society would be made in forms we deem most important from both macro and micro perspectives while ensuring minimal waste of said investments to ensure well-targeted and efficient service to society. It would be tracked and watched to constantly be improved upon as time passes and the world evolves/encounters challenges. That would be a good start.

As we know, it’s much easier to raise a healthy, equipped child by investing in their upbringing than it is to try and mend a distressed or “damaged” adult human being. We should always be mindful of that — from the moment we become parents, educators or healthcare providers.

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The Mastermind Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(First of a 2-Part Series)

I’ve been involved with many fascinating book projects over the years. However, none are as potentially impactful socially as Beyond ADHD: Overcoming the Label and Thriving, the book I wrote with Canadian ADHD expert Jeff Emmerson to be released globally by Rowman-Littlefield on August 16. You can pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Beyond ADHD is a critical book for our times. In the last 30 years, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has gone from a rarely diagnosed disorder to an industry hundreds of billions of dollars in size, fed by all sectors of society. It involves:

  • Ten percent of the North American population;
  • Concerned educators, employers and parents who send fidgety or inattentive workers or kids to the doctor or school nurse’s office;
  • Overworked doctors that prescribe quickly from nine-point checklists;
  • Pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) eager to sell powerful prescription drugs that impact the patient’s biochemistry (often negatively);
  • A compliant (until recently) media slanted heavily toward “diagnose-and-prescribe”, writing articles that spread the idea you can only treat ADHD with drugs;
  • An equally compliant educational system, employees on the lookout for disruptive or hyperactive kids — and, in some cases, using approved course materials provided by Big Pharma, which promotes ADHD as a lifetime disorder, versus something we can get beyond;
  • A U.S. Congress so heavily lobbied by Big Pharma (532 of the current 535 members received campaign contributions) that they won’t move to quash Big Pharma’s grip on pricing; and
  • A public so gripped by busyness, technological and social stimulation that their neurological systems are overloaded. Many assume it to be ADHD or another mental health disorder diagnosed as fast as, well, a prescription can be written. If this dynamic sounds like a part of America’s woeful prescription drug story, well, it is.

Beyond ADHD Author Jeff Emmerson

Those are the departure points for Beyond ADHD. The book revolves around Emmerson’s life and experiences, instructive and harrowing at times, but also a cautionary tale into why you don’t diagnose someone with ADHD and give them powerful prescriptions in 15 minutes (the average time one spends in a doctor’s office before getting this diagnosis and prescription!).

I first met Emmerson via Twitter in late 2012, his chosen platform for discussing ADHD and mental health issues. What a platform it is, with more than 700.000 highly engaged followers, including medical, mental health and social health experts who worked with us on Beyond ADHD. He also has a large video blog audience, and more than 15,000 LinkedIn followers. After a difficult first 35 years of life, Emmerson was diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. In 2015, he met with Michigan-based neuroscientist Dr. Timothy Royer, who shattered the diagnosis after considerable testing — which led to this book.

With four weeks until Beyond ADHD releases, I decided to interview Emmerson, to give you a taste of his forward-thinking perspective, one that brought me right to the table to co-author this book. In this first part of our interview (part two will be posted Friday, July 21), you can see in Emmerson’s answers numerous options, causes and ways of working with this that, frankly, are woefully underused.

WordJourneys: What inspired and motivated you to create Beyond ADHD?

Jeff Emmerson: My own journey through the mental health system. Or, to be more specific, how I was diagnosed with ADHD after a suicide attempt in 2011 and what I discovered when my intuition told me to dig deeper into other possible reasons for the symptoms and battles I’ve faced for many years. I saw a desperately failing diagnostic system that made rushing to diagnosis way too common. I knew I had to speak out so that others might be able to avoid the “murky waters” of misdiagnosis through deeper understanding of just how faulty ADHD diagnosing is for millions.

WordJourneys: What are the three biggest issues with the way we currently diagnose and prescribe ADHD?

Emmerson: Number One: Not ruling nearly enough out first through a collaborative, inter-disciplinary team approach that treats ADHD/ADD as a diagnosis of exclusion (not the other way around);

Number Two: Not making other interventions (instead of simply medication) just as high of a priority (such as behavior therapy, brain training, nutritional counseling, looking at alternate learning/schooling options, physical activity, creative outlets, trauma at home being assessed, etc.);

Number Three: Not digging deeper after a diagnosis is made, and/or assuming that medication use needs to be permanent. Self-resilience and accountability must be held to very high standards as part of treatment. In other words, treat the whole person, not simply diagnose, medicate and leave them to their own devices without on-going support and education into self-reliance and growth.

WordJourneys: Why is ADHD diagnosed at such a high rate now? Do we really have that many afflicted adults and children, or is it something else?

Emmerson: My deepest fear (and gut feeling) is that so-called ADHD (in millions of cases) is a band-aid diagnosis made because we simply don’t have the knowledge, research or resources to dig deeper and actually address some key contributing issues no one talks about: chemicals in tap water, air quality, societal “norms” industry-wise, increasing tech addiction, poorer sleep quality, and many other root causes for symptoms. Instead, we use stimulant medication to see if it “works” and leave it at that (assuming ADHD and making it a potentially permanent diagnosis on someone’s medical records, a whole other issue for several reasons).

WordJourneys: The education system has played an increasing role in getting kids to ADHD diagnoses. Is this a good or bad thing — and why?

Emmerson: This infuriates me, and here’s why: Some kids may benefit from diagnosis and treatment, but factors such as date of birth (what time of the year a child is born), learning differences, root-cause factors for ADHD-like symptoms (many of them) and other issues are way too easily turned into a rushed ADHD diagnosis. Frankly, much of our education system is antiquated and obsolete in relation to the technological age we’re living in, so we need to hold education policy makers to task, just as much as we weed out children who seem to be acting out in any number of ways. After all, some of the world’s most innovative and creative people disliked conventional school very passionately. We need to do something about this desperate need for wholesome, 360-degree learning to become the norm (to start with, anyway).

WordJourneys: What are the challenges facing doctors and mental health professionals in treating the whole person, rather than just the ADHD?

Emmerson: Resources. Funding for thorough, holistic care is scarce in the United States, especially in the mental health realm, and there is heavy pressure to reduce that even further. What’s even bigger is that investments in education toward self-awareness, resilience, and extra-curricular activities, and incentives for families to stay healthy both physically and emotionally, are dwindling away. The unfortunate reality for many healthcare professionals is that insurance companies and profits for medical practices push more and more patients to be seen in shorter and shorter time-spans, resulting in rushed, insufficient care. Profits can still be made while taking the proper time to treat patients holistically and fully. We just need to help the system evolve and incentivize providers in new ways that benefit all.

(Part 2 will appear Friday, July 21, on The Word Journeys Blog.)

To pre-order Beyond ADHD

 

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