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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Remembering (and Respecting) Our Veterans"



by Chaplain Bill Bowman (special to Conversations Magazine)


I waited 35 years before applying for my veteran's disability benefits.  I had never heard of the terms Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and didn't know that I suffered from that syndrome/disorder.  When I met with my first VA representative, he spoke down to me because I was not infantry, or a grunt, while serving as a Marine in the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1967-68.  During that span of time in Vietnam, the US military suffered over 16,000 killed in action.  I was made to feel inferior and guilty for applying for the benefits that I had earned while serving.

While serving in Vietnam in heavy combat areas, I was sent or taken to 8 hospitals in a 13-14 month period.  Two of these military hospitals were out of Vietnam.  Because of the heavy combat within my immediate area, I was suffering from PTSD, but the disorder had not been named by the government until the mid 1980's.  I was sent to a military mental hospital for 8 weeks and, after that period of time, requested to be sent back to my unit in Vietnam.  Permission was granted.

My VA representative informed me that he did not see any combat operations listed in my military records.  However, he did see the name and dates of the hospitals I had been in.  He informed me that he could not see why I was applying for benefits but he would put the required paper work into the Department of Veteran's Affairs, even though he said I would be denied my benefits.  I was denied my benefits three times and it took a three year fight with the Department of Veteran's Affairs before I won my case.  Because of all of my injuries, and the fact that I do have PTSD, I was awarded a 100% disability rating from the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

Many persons, because of how the Vietnam veterans were received upon their return from the war when they were spit on, learned and have an appreciative, positive and supportive attitude.  Many will never support the military and/or their families.  I have a member of my wife's family who will always put me down for serving.  The country, as a whole, does support the military.  The young Americans not serving are too busy playing games and trying to keep up a status (symbol) to care about others.  The important question should be does the government, Department of Veteran's Affairs and those n power provide complete support for these honorable young people who stand tall, serving their country?

A Veteran's How-To Guide was written for the veteran and his/her family and will offer explanations of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and how to get through the VA disability process.  Because the VA representatives are free, they can and will help you.  However, when you are denied this book will also guide you through the pitfalls of the VA process.  It was further written with the intent to guide veterans, whether combat or not, and from any war, through a process established by the Department of Veteran's Affairs, (DVA), Disability Benefits and Pension Qualification System, when applying for veteran's disability benefits.  The process was developed to be long-termed, time delaying, misdirecting and frustrating.  The DVA will require all supportive documentation, want every emotion evaluated and ask for duplicitous medical examination and every bit of historical data that can be presented by the veteran and/or outside sources.

This book offers a detailed description of the veteran's journey from the initial visit to the Veteran's administration facility where the vet meet the veteran's service officer (VSO) to finally receiving his/her first benefit check.  While it is ultimately rewarding, it is a very complex and frustrating system that is not user friendly.  The primary goal of this book is to make the journey "user friendly" and rewarding for both the veteran and his/her family.  Every veteran who applies will need a support team, a knowledgeable VSO and faith in God.  Those three things will provide the tools necessary to get through the DVA disability process in a time efficient and less frustrating manner. 

Frequently, the veteran is unaware that they have emotional problems (PTSD) and/or TBI, or they may be in a state of emotional denial.  What is most important for the veterans and their families to know is to be prepared for an uphill battle.  This book takes you through the journey that Bill, the author, experienced so it is written first hand and warns the vet of every pitfall and every obstacle that has been set up on his/her pathway.  He talks about his personal experiences and offers sanitized versions of the letters he had to write in order to reach his goal. 

Because of the physical and/or emotional ailments that plague so many of our veterans, those who do start this process, are facing a long and demeaning process.  This guide was written in a user-friendly manner and provides a step-by-step method for the veteran to follow to obtain his/her VA benefits, eliminate some frustrations and provide, through Biblical scriptures, a calming force through faith in God.  The wording is such that everyone can understand what is being said which helps when you are discussing your emotional and/or physical problems.


Chaplain Bill Bowman along with his wife Chaplain Anne Bowman are the co-authors of the book A Veteran's How-to Guide: Regarding Obtaining Veteran's Disability Benefits, Dealing with Clinical Psychological Disorders and Problematic Stress Responses.  To find out more Information or to give them your comments on this subject visit www.chaplainsbowman.com or email them at chaplainsbowman@hotmail.com.

MODEL CITIZEN: Lauren Eichhorn


Model Citizen: Lauren Eichhorn
Age: 21 years old
Hometown: Daytona Beach, FL
Height: 5'4
Interests: Writing/Swimming/Dancing/Anything fun and active/Traveling

Lauren in here own words: Although I've just started out, I feel that I am a great fit for the industry. I know it's tough out there, but if I can make it, I can definitely show other girls out there that they can make it too. And that's what I aim to do. I am just a regular girl, you know? I am someone's daughter, someone's older sister, I am a friend and a student. Being a model would give me the chance to be a "role" model of sorts. I would like to put out an image that anyone can be someone to look up to. I am friendly and hardworking and would love a chance to pursue a career in the industry (even if it's just a career on the side). I find modeling exciting and fun! It's an opportunity to try new things and meet new people, and that's what I am all about!

"I think I've always been interested in modeling on some level. I remember getting all glammed up with my younger sister back in middle school and taking pictures of each other. I think it made us more confident and we had so much fun! I just remember thinking, "I could do this for a living, you know? How hard can it be? We're doing it right now after all."


How do you keep yourself motivated? I keep myself motivated by having fun. I try not to take rejection too personally. I realized that if I like something enough, I shouldn't give up. Let me tell you, having two jobs that aren't all that glamorous (one as a fry cook and the other as a smoothie maker) really keeps me looking for modeling jobs on the side. So far, I haven't had much luck, but opportunities are everywhere! Right time, right place, you know? And like I said, I don't intend to give up.

MODEL CITIZEN: Tyler Townsend


Model Citizen: Tyler Tremel Townsend

Age: 17

Height: 5'2

Hometown/Current City: Tanner, AL

When it comes to pursuing your goals and dreams what keeps you going?
I have to stay motivated because if I stop dreaming they will never come to pass. I have to be motivated in order to reach my goal in-spite of the many setbacks that will come.


Any advice you have for others with a dream to help them along their journey?
My advice to others is to be persistent and never stop dreaming.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Ageless Journey: Not A Nightmare"


by Helene Weinberger

Success or Failure - which label applies? Or is it neither? I remember a poem from my youth:

How do you measure success, God?
What is the scale that you use?
What do you get if you win, God?
What do you get if your lose?

What if you climb toward your fate, God,
And the rings of success come to you,
What if you're lucky and grasp them, God?
What would you say that is due?

What if you climb toward your goal, God
And grunt and sweat to get there?
What if your hands miss their aim, God
And grasp only circles of air?

As adults often we may have a nightmare feeling that we have grasped only circles of air in our long search for success and fulfillment. Those awful feelings are sometimes so overpowering that we believe our lives have simply been one futile road taken after another. Then, indeed we may need either professional help or maybe only a deeper look at what we have really done with our lives.

When I first read the poem quoted above I was 15 years old in a girls' school in California and believed that every other girl was more atttractive and vivacious than I could ever be and carried with me a long litany of my worst qualities. At that time no one really paid attention to these types of emotional "growing pains", and no family was available for support. I was very much on my own to deal with my failures and less desirable qualities the best way that I could. And that in itself became a great learning tool.

I began to count some of my accomplishments and successes, not only my failures. Poetry became a means of self expression, and the love of literature began to develop more strongly. And I found that physical exercise, especially walking, gave me energy and some feelings of exultation. Finally I realized that I was capable of working with my contemporaries if they needed some help in test preparation. In other words I discovered some potential means of personal survival.

Now, glancing back through the years, I realize that my early traumatic experiences became tools toward achievement of goals. Today when I am really tired, or hungry, or ill, or perhaps lonely, I temporarily return to the dark doldrums. But I also am aware that I have been given the capacity to enjoy a more bounteous life.

It certainly is not financial success that gives us the awareness of our personal value, nor is it whether or not our life partner recognizes our personal worth. It is always within our own being. Have you given of yourself to a cause that you believed in? Have you, by your example, given someone stability and persistence? Do you try to be supportive of your family and friends? Have you thanked those who have gone the extra mile for you? Have you reached beyond yourself for the extra strength when that was demanded?

Or are you measuring yourself in competition with some idealistic figure of power and status? Are you fearful that if you allow yourself to recognize your own ability you are lacking in humility? Is perfection your goal? If that is what you seek, then you have an impossible task.

We are all human beings with human frailties, not God. Let's just be grateful for what we are today and let us not be afraid of letting our own light shine forth as one small beacon that helps to illuminate the world.

MODEL CITIZEN: Mathurin Owona


Model Citizen: Mathurin Owona

Age: 28

Hometown: Yaounde( Cameroon)

Currently living in Washington D. C.

Mathurin in his own words: As a fashion model, my interests are very detailed. I always want to become a super model. In the same industry I want to act and be in commercials. Fashion is one of my natural gifts therefore I want to be exposed and showcase my talents to the world. I decided to do this as a profession because I first enjoy doing it and also to show people the importance of fashion.

What keep me motivated as I pursue my goals and dreams?
I want to be successful to live a better life;and I always want to be part of those who are making this world a better place not only for me and other now but for future generations as well.


What advice would you share with anyone looking to pursue their own dreams?
The advice I can give to those who are looking to make their mark by pursuing their dreams are : You have power if you have the desire. Your dreams and goals can come true if you have the desire and the courage to face all the challenges while pursuing them. Always believe in yourself knowing deep in your heart that you can do whatever you set out to do. Never listen to those who said you were not good or good enough because you're. Commit yourself to always move forward everything and anything is possible good luck.

Find out more information about Mathurin at www.facebook.com/mathurin.petit.

"Dating and Relationships In 2011"


by Meg Collins

Remember those amazing days when you would go to a school dance or mixer, be asked to dance by a cute guy, and dance all night long? Sadly, you would part ways, he would ask for your number, you would wait anxiously by the phone and all your girlfriends were giggling about it because he was kind of cute, and without hesitation, he would call you the very next morning? What happened to those times in life, where meeting someone was utterly easy and non-complicated? Letterman jackets, class rings, going steady; those days are gone, my friends. A new time and a new era is upon us in meeting someone of utter value and potential to share our lives with in 2011.

Eye dating, speed dating, online dating websites, craigslist, and so many more venues are prevalent. Tell me, where do you go to meet people of true value? I have been told to go to hospital libraries, and my local church. My Mother used to tell me to go to the most elite places and she had me in Cotillion until nearly High School. I could not stand it and I left; today, I wonder what parts of my life may have been different by staying in those foxtrot classes with girls and boys I barely knew in my life. We used to get in two lines, as we were partnered up with our dancing partners in that fashion. I always seemed to get the boy who stepped on my feet all the time.

Now in 2011, dating seems to be an utter challenge. There seem to be so many rules and regulations. I feel like I have created the handbook for potential dating. Does he call his Mother at least twice a week? Does he put his cell phone up or down on the table when you are with him? When receiving many calls on a date, does he kick them to voicemail, not letting you know who was calling so many times on the phone? Is he separated or divorced? Has he served prison time? Does he see his children frequently? Does he owe back child support? Is he consistent? I must add, a “Normal, “date includes a full meal at a restaurant, am I correct in saying that, folks? (Fast food does not count for a real date).

Calls past 10pm is a no go my friends. Stay true to your uniqueness and your inner spirituality and the man or woman will soon thereafter follow in God’s time and not our own, does true love manifest in your life. When your insides truly match your outsides, only then can you give yourself fully of spirit to another human being. Tell me, if you are single, how is dating going for you? I want to hear from you today. Email me at beachermeg@gmail.com and let’s talk so I can share your stories.

Let me be your "Dear Meg" columnist. Be well and of good spirit and cheer, always being true to you and your inner calling in life.

Meg Collins is a Radio Host, Editor, Ghostwriter, Author, Poet and guest columnist for Conversations Magazine.

Mary's Motivational Message: Soul Mate Friends


During the month of July 2010, I initiated Girl Friends Appreciation Month as a means of embracing and celebrating the beauty housed in the soul of these remarkable relationships.

Very few things annoy me however, when I hear women speak in negativity about our inability as women to have healthy and loving friendships I cringe. I cringe because I know without doubt, that perspective is far from the truth. How many times have you heard these words stated as unchallengeable facts: Women cannot be trusted, you are better off just keeping to yourself, all women do is gossip and keep up ciaos. By all means don’t have them around your “BOO” and if there being nice, they must want something!!!

Well, let me tell you about the beautiful women GOD has placed within my life. They represent various cultures, ethnicities and ideologies. But most importantly, they are extremely positive. Even when they did not have children, they found the time to celebrate mine with Love, Encouragement and Endless Support. They love me and I them. In addition, they encourage me, they motivate me and they extend to me their wisdom. Check this out, as a collective force we hold each other up, we have learned numerous life lessons from each other, we display the utmost respect, we don’t always agree but we agree to disagree and they have integrity.

Within my circle, all except for a few have been connected for numerous years; many since high school. And when we met there was one common denominator, there was this instant connection. There was no doubt or fear. However, there was this level of unbelievable comfort. Have you ever met someone and immediately you felt as though you had known them for a lifetime? I believe in “SOUL MATE FRIENDS”.

What I’m expressing to you is that there has been no conflict; no drama and no disrespect…just LOVE. If you and the women within your life constantly: Argue, Gossip, Fight, Disrespect each other, Lack trust, Dwell in utter confusion, Envy each other and Display jealousy and this is reflected in all of your relationships; please stop casting stones at others and ask yourself, “why am I attracting such dysfunction” and “why am I maintaining it within my life.” Perhaps, it’s time to start issuing pink slips because life is just too short for non-sense.

For those of you blessed with SOUL MATE FRIENDS, let them know just how much you LOVE and APPRECIATE them; for I truly believe that we learn out greatest life lessons from each other while being an example of God’s love. And as you journey through yet another month, set aside time to Celebrate and reflect on the dynamic women GOD has placed within your life, to add to your journey.
Love, Joy and endless…Peace, Remember that we women ROCK!!!
Mary E. Gilder-Author of, A Misrepresentation of Myself
www.maryegilder.com meg@maryegilder.com

Reading Rainbow's Passport Around The World Through Books


by Eddie Brown (special to Conversations Magazine)

Reading Rainbow had, and still has a tremendous effect on me.

I grew up in an African-American, middle-middle class family and usually summer travel was expected. However, there were occasions where our travel was limited to places family lived: Nashville, Chicago, Detroit.

Watching Reading Rainbow, especially the segment where kids would give summaries of their books, allowed me to "travel" to places and meet people I'd never met before, like China, West Africa, and Australia.

In the elementary school I attended, (North Jackson Elementary, Jackson, MS) our student body was entirely black. Our librarian made sure to reinforce our confidence by reading to us books with African-centric themes or characters. I remember suggesting that we should read "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ear" by Verna Aardema during our daily story-time. My librarian was very impressed. She asked, "How did you learn about that book?" I told her "I read it on Reading Rainbow."

Finally, as far as I can remember, my consumption of books (as a child) was somewhat based on awards or critiques. Reading Rainbow would typically note if a book received a Caldecott Medal. So, whenever I'd go to the public library in the summer, I'd ask the librarian, "Now, did this book receive a Caldecott?" as if I were some type of 8 year-old literary pro.

Interestingly, I've pursued a profession where reading and storytelling is what I'm paid to do for clients or to stay ahead in my industry. Even now, as an adult, if I need to escape reality, I'll "travel" to Europe or somewhere.

What do I pay in airfare? $12.99 or whatever Barnes and Noble usually charges for a best-seller.

Eddie Brown, Jr. is the owner of Brown Public Relations, LLC. You can follow him on Twitter at @EddieBrownPR.

"The Legacy of Reading Rainbow"

by Cyrus Webb (Conversations Magazine,September/October)



Reading Rainbow Theme Song
Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow

I can go anywhere
Friends to know
And ways to grow
A Reading Rainbow

I can be anything
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow
A Reading Rainbow


When I was growing up, Reading Rainbow was one of those shows that was on my daily to-do list. From the theme song to Levar Burton's upbeat personality and introduction to new and exciting places, I looked forward to that show to take me away from where I was and to introduce me to new books along the way.

For me Reading Rainbow was one of my motivations to begin reading and eventually writing. Even if it was a subject that I didn't think I would be interested in, the show would at least challenge me to think outside of the box and want to give it a try. Then there were the kids like my self who had read books that they were excited to tell us about, and through them I learned how to talk with others about what I was reading.

Yes, Reading Rainbow changed my life and the lives of individuals all around the country. Through it a literary community was formed that started a movement based on books yet expanded to include a genuine interest in the world around us. After 26 years on television,more than a two dozen Emmys and gaining the distinction of being the third longest running program on PBS it was announced that August 27, 2009 would be the end of the popular show. I felt sadness not just for those of us who became better because of the show but for those who would never know the power it had to influence others and encourage a love or reading.


As my way of paying homage to Reading Rainbow and the lives it changed I asked individuals to share with you, our readers, the impact it had on them. Here are just a few of the responses:


"Here’s a factoid I find interesting. There’s a Twitter account with 2.5 million followers, from a now-31 year old named Justin Halpern called @shitmydadsays (www.twitter.com/shitmydadsays). He is only following ONE person, and that’s Levar Burton. I think that says something about the impact of Reading Rainbow." Will Craig, www.partnerswithparents.com

"I was growing up in the 80's and 90's and am such a product of Reading Rainbow. Today I'm a published author. I won't say that it was all Reading Rainbow's doing, however I loved that show. I can remember getting the books they mentioned out of the library at various times. That show was part of my routine. I think one thing awesome it did was it exposed me to various books and subjects I wouldn't have normally investigated." Anna M. Aquino, www.annamaquino.com

"I was a huge fan of this show...looked forward to it whenever it came on. I believe the excitement it fostered in me about books, and by extension writing, led in part to my current career as a freelance copywriter." Michael Schein, www.scheincommunications.com

"I grew up watching episodes of Reading Rainbow at school and at home and absolutely loved the show! Levar Burton was such a great host and really made me believe that reading books would take me on exciting adventures. Seeing how the show made children's books come alive really inspired me to write stories as a kid. Even listening to the theme song now brings a smile to my face and my heart. :) As a children's book author, I'm sad that the wonderful program is off the air because I know how important it is to nurture a love of reading in children." Sheri Fink, www.thelittlerosebook.com


"I absolutely loved Reading Rainbow growing up and I also really loved reading. And I still REALLY love reading. I have very happy memories of Levar -- 'you don't have to take my word for it!', the musical number about 'cooperation makes it happen,' the episode about "New York - the city that never sleeps!" The whole show was like a fun invitation to discover the joy of reading, which I think is the most important gift any kid can ever receive. As our country seems to focus more and more on standardized testing as a measure of literacy, we seem to have lost track of the basic truth that adults read because they WANT to read... so if we want to raise readers, we need to find ways to feed kid's innate DESIRE to read. I think Reading Rainbow did a great job of this and I'm sad it's not around anymore!" Rebecca Zook, www.zooktutoring.com

"Reading Rainbow was one of my two favorite shows as a kid and it had an enormous influence on me growing up. My mother raised my sisters and I mostly on her own in poverty, and it was a combination of her influence and Reading Rainbow that turned me on to books for as long as I can remember. It was depressing to here of the cancellation a couple of years ago, as I had hoped my children would be able to look forward to the show as much as I did. It filled me with a love for books I’ve never left behind, and I credit my eventual success in college and law school in part to Reading Rainbow. My strongest Reading Rainbow-related memory, though, stems from Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. On one of the days where we were doing grenade training, a recruit and I before the training began to debate whether Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street had the better children’s song. I very quietly started to sing the Reading Rainbow song to prove the other recruit wrong when, unbeknownst to me, a Marine instructor had approached us from behind. He lost it, and had me sing as much as I could remember as loudly as I could in front of the Marine recruits before getting back to training." Michael M. Giel


"Reading Rainbow always brought books to life in a way that made it fun to read, but my family took it one step further (probably at my insistence). We incorporated Reading Rainbow into our vacations. Because of Levar Burton’s adventures, we visited Dinosaur National Monument, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown where he ate on the show (which involved rewinding and pausing a taped copy of the episode over and over to get the right address), and more. As a now 26-year-old, I still want to visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where Levar x-rayed a mummy; that episode also cemented “Mummies Made in Egypt” as my favorite book at the time and inspired me to want to be an Egyptologist. When I visited Hawaii earlier this year, I was disappointed that my husband and I wouldn’t be traveling to the island where Levar learned about a’a and pahoehoe and couldn’t visit the studio of the artist who used the volcanic rock on Reading Rainbow. Between the loss of Reading Rainbow, the declining popularity of libraries, and Kindles/Nooks/iPads, I’m just not sure how children will learn to love reading as much as I did, and still do." Amanda Kelly

"Growing up, Reading Rainbow was my world! I truly feel that I stayed interested in reading because of this wonderful show. Today, I attribute a great deal of my success to my love for leisure reading. I was greatly saddened when it came time to say farewell to the show 2 years ago & I believe that its absence creates a real void for young people. The importance of reading isn't stressed enough in our society today; the show was incredible in engaging youth and making reading seem like a fun thing versus something young people have to do." Rina Shah

"The show inspired me to work in publishing, which I do now. It was also incredibly important to me when I had few friends at my new school." Nina Lassam

Have a Reading Rainbow story you want to share? Feel free to post it on our website with this story or email me at cawebb4@juno.com. We look forward to hearing from you and keeping the work of the show alive.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN: The Jason Sole Story"


by Cyrus Webb

When one talks about change, alot of times they are addressing what we see. For Chicago native Jason Sole change came in the form of everything that he is from the inside out. He is an individual that many had written off or doubted would ever become anything. Because of his faith and hard work, however, he has not only been able to prove them wrong but empower others who might have been in a similar situation or headed down the wrong path.

Our conversation is one that stresses the power that comes from being the change you want to see in the world. Jason Sole is truly an example of change you can believe in, and through his story he hopes hope to individuals who may not realize that their greatest days can still be in front of them.

Thank you, Jason, for taking out the time to share your story with us. I think the first thing I want to share with our readers is the response to your journey. What has surprised you the most about the way people have related to you and your experiences?
I usually receive constructive and destructive criticism. On one hand, people are happy that I have overcome obstacles to become a catalyst for prisoner reentry and gang denunciation but on the other hand, people feel that I should have never received a second chance. I understand that I have made some terrible mistakes but I feel that I can help others learn from my trials and tribulations. At this point in my career, I accept the good and the bad; therefore, nothing really surprises me anymore.

When you look at your life experiences, what would you say has kept you inspired through the tough times?
Inspiration comes in many forms and I believe that my ability to find inspiration through testimonies of others, God, family, and even those who wanted me to fail, has served me well in quest for redemption. I tend to look at the struggles of people before me and remind myself that if they could endure their struggles, I must find the resilience to succeed in the face of adversity as well!

Can you tell us what role your family had in helping you as you confronted different challenges?
My family has always been there for me but they really could not help me confront the different challenges because many of them hadn't encountered them. For instance, after being shot, they didn't understand why I would throw myself back in the trenches to continue to fight. This was inconceivable to them but they expressed their love and care, which I always was able to come back to when the smoke cleared. I love my family dearly but they didn't understand the oppression that comes with being a three-time felon or doing significant amounts of time incarcerated in numerous facilities or what it is like to be deprived housing and employment because of prior mistakes. I have always been able to ask my family for aid and assistance when faced with obstacles.

Jason, there are some people who don't believe that change is possible. What would you say to those who believe where you are from and what you have done defines who you are?
If people do not believe that change is possible, they really have not looked at history. Change is possible even when it is met with resistance. When preparation and opportunity meet, success is the result. I continue to work on my personal and professional development; therefore, when opportunities come, I am always ready to step in and deliver. I am not proud of my past but I have accepted it. My mishaps explain particular periods of my life but the way I was able to go from being looked at as a gangster, prisoner, three-time felon, and outcast to being a great father, husband, national trainer, consultant, PhD Candidate, and instructor at universities does define me.


Not only have you made changes in your own life but you are helping others along the way. Why has this been something that is important to you?
It would be easy to revel in the fact that I have changed but that would be extremely shallow. I am proud of the man that I have grown to be but if I can't help others overcome and make their dreams come to fruition, it would be for nothing. I believe that our life mission is to serve others by making their lives better. Oftentimes, people do not know what they are capable of accomplishing until they see someone else do it. For instance, there are all sorts of myths that claim that people can't leave the gang world without being killed. While this is true in some cases, it is not the norm. By visiting juvenile correctional facilities, schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions, they can ask the tough questions and I can help them navigate through the life's ills.

Our theme for 2011 is a year of new beginnings. What would you say to those reading this that are looking to make changes in their own lives?
I would recommend that they work on nourishing their mind, body, and soul. It is also imperative that we change the people around us that prevent us from reaching our full potential. We have to create circles of people that support us and hold us accountable, even when it feels uncomfortable. Change is always an option if we do the work on a daily basis to make it a reality. It ultimately depends on how bad you want it!

Congratulations again on all that you have accomplished, Jason. How can our readers find out more information about you and the work you do?
The easiest way to find out more information about my work and me is to visit my website (
www.jasonsole.com). Thanks for providing the platform for me to help others.

Author Michael Hicks: Tweeting His Way To Literary Success


by Cyrus Webb

As the September issue of Conversations Magazine discusses the challenges that bookstores and music stores are having when it comes to surviving in today's economy, authors like Michael Hicks are taking full advantage of the opportunities made available thanks to sites like Amazon. His book Season of the Harvest has done remarkably well thanks to the author's use of social networking sites like Twitter, however, it being a well-written book has not hurt him as well.

In this interview Hicks talk about his beginnings as an author and why this is a path that in spite of the hard work and dedication needed to pursue it is definitely worth it in the end.

Thanks for taking out this time to talk with us Michael. Before we get into your book SEASON OF THE HARVEST, let's talk about your fascination with words. When did you realize that you could tell a good story?

That realization really came with the first reader review I received on Amazon when I
originally published what is now the IN HER NAME omnibus, my first novel. Until then, I
simply enjoyed the process of writing, and at the time I was writing that novel (which is
now also published separately as the first three volumes of the IN HER NAME series) I was
going through a rough time in my life, and writing was very therapeutic.

But the first reader review really did it. I had already accomplished a life goal by
publishing a book, but to have someone - even just one person - say they really enjoyed
reading it was an incredible high! 

It has normally been my experience that great writers were at one time big readers. Is that true in your case?

Absolutely! I've been a voracious reader since grade school. In fact, I occasionally got
in trouble while reading in class, because I'd become so immersed in whatever I was
reading that the teacher had to yell at me to get my attention. But reading has been a
major part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I mainly read
what's now considered classic science fiction: Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke were my
favorites. But I added a lot of other authors to that list in the years since then, and
also expanded my interest to thrillers (Relic by Preston and Child remains one of my
favorites) and a little bit of fantasy and paranormal here and there.

Ironically, my reading is actually one thing that's suffered as a consequence of my focus
on writing: with most of my time taken up with a full-time job (which I hope to trade in
soon for full-time writing), family, and squeezing in some time to write, I have very
little time to get any reading done!


Michael, writing can be a very personal thing for people. Was it easy for you to share your work with the world and were you pleased with the response?

When I published IN HER NAME, which first hit the streets in 2008 for the Amazon Kindle,
I sort of covered my eyes and hit the "publish" button, inwardly cringing
because you don't know what to expect when you shoot your first book off into the void.
It was indeed a very personal bit of work for me, but - particularly after my wife read
it and encouraged me to publish it - I decided that it didn't make any sense for it to
remain in the box under my desk where it had already sat for fourteen years. I told
myself that if people liked it, great; if they didn't, that was okay, too, because I'd
published it and sent it on its way into the world. And I can't be anything but
tremendously pleased with the response from readers, both in terms of their reviews and
also what folks have told me directly.



For those that are just hearing about your book SEASON OF THE HARVEST, tell them about it.

SEASON OF THE HARVEST is a parable about our growing reliance on genetically engineered food, which falls into the general category of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The hero of the story is FBI Special Agent Jack Dawson, who is investigating the gruesome
murder of his best friend and fellow agent who had been pursuing a group of
eco-terrorists. The group's leader, Naomi Perrault, is a beautiful geneticist who Jack
believes conspired to kill his friend, and is claiming that a major international
conglomerate developing genetically engineered crops is plotting a sinister
transformation of our world that will lead humanity to extinction. As Jack is drawn into
a quietly raging war that suddenly explodes onto the front pages of the news, he
discovers that her claims may not be so outrageous after all. Together, the two of them
must battle a horror Jack could never have imagined, with the fate of all life on Earth
hanging in the balance.

I know some folks have looked at the premise with raised eyebrows, wondering how
interesting or exciting a story could be about genetically modified organisms! But if you
look at the reviews that have been posted so far, you'll see that the story tends to keep
readers turning the pages, and quickly. I've gotten a lot of complaints about people
losing sleep because they had to stay up late to finish the book!

But SEASON OF THE HARVEST also has a message: think about what you're eating, because unless you only eat organic food, chances are a good portion of what you eat has genes in it from some rather nasty strains of bacteria and other organisms that have nothing to do with the host plant. Genetically modified corn, soy, wheat, rice, and many other food
crops are in most of what we eat today. But as consumers, we don't have the right to know
about whether we're eating GMO-based food: the companies that make these genetically
engineered strains have gone to great lengths to ensure that we're kept in the dark. Many
folks mistakenly think that genetically engineering these plants is the same as what
people have been doing through history by cross-fertilizing different strains of plants
to create new varieties. But I doubt you'll ever get a plant that way that has genes from
a bacterium that produces toxins that repels insects, as one example. I don't know about
you, but I really don't want to eat that stuff!

I'm not a conspiracy theory buff, but in researching this book I really had to wonder.
And while I had originally planned to make it more of a traditional thriller, where money
and power through control of the food supply was the driving motive for the villains, the
real-world story about GMOs is so outrageous that my muse came up with another
alternative: what if the forces guiding the changes in our food supply aren't even human?
And what if the end-game is really to wipe out humanity?

You are one of those authors that takes advantage of the internet to market your
book as well as yourself. Take us into that journey for you and what you feel as though it has done for your career as an author.

The internet has really made a career as an author possible for me. Marketing, however,
has been my weakest area, by far. Part of that is because of time limitations. Between a
full-time job, family, and the various other things life throws at you, I usually wind up
with maybe two hours a day that I can devote to my author persona. Until SEASON OF THE
HARVEST, I spent almost all of that time writing, rather than promoting. I still made a
fair number of sales, but if you don't tell anyone about your book, they won't know to
buy it. Word of mouth is golden, but the author's mouth has to be speaking the words,
too!

With SEASON OF THE HARVEST, I felt I had a convergence of real-world issues across two
genres (science fiction and thrillers) that packed some real punch and had serious
potential to climb the charts. Ignoring the marketing for it would be sheer stupidity.
But where to start?

The internet has always been a strength for me - I've been on the web for a long time -
but I had to figure out how to leverage it. I had a big following on Facebook, but many
of them were folks who friended me mainly to build up their own friend count (and vice
versa for me, early on), and while Facebook really works for me as an individual, I
didn't feel like I'd gotten very good traction with it for my books. The vast majority of
my "friends" there weren't reading my updates any more than I was reading
theirs, and my author page has been sort of a hit or miss affair. I've also had a blog
for quite a while, but it's been a major challenge for me to keep it updated.

Then there was Twitter. I'd been on Twitter for a fair while, but to be honest I'd never
really made any headway with it. There's so much junk out there, endless tweets wanting
you to buy something or promising free iPads, that it was a real turn-off. Then I sat
down and looked at what some other folks were doing, folks who seemed to be achieving
some success with it. Then I devised my own strategies to reach out to potential readers
to promote my work and myself in a way that would hopefully be effective and also
wouldn't come across as an endless stream of spam.

I'm not going to go into all the nuts and bolts of what I did (I'm saving that for a "how-to" ebook later), but suffice it to say that I believe that over ninety percent of my sales now are driven through Twitter. SEASON OF THE HARVEST was submitted to the Amazon Kindle store on 7 February, so like all other titles, it started off at the bottom of the heap. Using Twitter to reach out to potential readers (and leveraging my existing presence of Facebook, which certainly didn't hurt!), the book was ranked at about 1,500 by March 11th. [By] April 1st it had steadily moved up to 180 overall in the Kindle store, placing #2 in the overall Science Fiction and #14 in Action & Adventure, and sold nearly 3,000 copies in March alone. And that doesn't include any sales for the other ebook streams (e.g., iBooks, Nook, Sony, and Kobo).

And as the saying "a rising tide floats all boats" implies, sales of my other books have also leaped forward, both because of indirect sales (readers who like SEASON OF THE HARVEST and decide to try my other books) and direct marketing of those books through Twitter. For example, IN HER NAME (omnibus edition) was hovering at a rank of about 50,000 until I started really working on Twitter and HARVEST was released. Now it's at bouncing between 2,000 and 3,000 and is in the top 100 in two sci-fi categories and one sci-fi category on Amazon.

The bottom line for me is that this gives me hope that I'll be able to reach enough readers to take my books into the top ten in the Kindle store, which will open the door for me to write full-time. Looking at the success of self-published authors like John Locke, J.A. Konrath, and Amanda Hocking, I have not just hope, but determination to make that happen.

Another aspect of your life is your blog where you share not only about yourself but
other authors. In such a competitive business, why is it important to you to share those that you are reading and enjoying?

As I mentioned my blog is a weak spot that, like my Facebook author page, I'm
going to be focusing on to fully interlock my on-line branding. As for giving shout outs
and reviews for other authors, again, this is a case where a rising tide floats all
boats. A great deal of the traction I've gotten on Twitter, for example, is because other
authors and Twitter friends have retreated my posts, and I do my best to return the
favor. In fact, I put together a daily twitterzine called #BookNooz specifically to help
promote other authors and writers with whom I'm linked up with on Twitter, and something
I harp on is that retweeting things from other authors isn't competition, it's coalition,
because we help ourselves by helping others. Maybe one of my readers has already read all
of my books, and he or she might be interested in a book from an author friend. Why
shouldn't I help put those two together?

On my blog I've reviewed a couple of books by fellow self-published authors, and plan to
do more as time is available (both to read and to blog!), and those reviews appear in a
newsletter that I send out to subscribers (as a side note, folks who subscribe to the
newsletter can get a free ebook copy of the entire novel IN HER NAME: EMPIRE, the first
of the IN HER NAME series). It doesn't cost me anything to do that, and I don't think
it's leading people away from my books, it's simply making them aware of other good reads
out there.

What advice would you have not just for writers but anyone pursuing their dreams right now?

Wow, this question goes right to the heart of where my family and I are in our lives
right now! You see, not long ago we really didn't have any dreams: we were just sort of
floating along, tubing down the river of life. We had the good fortune to be comfortable
in our means, but we weren't really going anywhere. There was nothing we wanted to
achieve, no goals that we wanted to reach for.

That all changed for us about a year ago, when we opened up that box that so many of us
stuff our dreams into at some point in our lives, having given them up as childish things
that we could never do. We pulled those dreams out and looked through them again like
they were in an old photo album. We picked out the ones that we wanted, and added in some
new ones, and made the commitment that we were going to shoot for them. We knew that some of them won't be easy, and maybe we won't achieve them all. But if you don't try, you
never will!

Most importantly, we learned that to make dreams real, you have to consciously set them
as goals, come up with a plan of how to get there, and then get to work. That takes your
dreams from being a pie in the sky "I wish" to something concrete and real. You
also have to stick with it and not give up after you run into the first snag, or when
you've been at it for a week and you haven't achieved your dream of being at #1 in the
Kindle Store (or whatever). Big dreams can take a bit of time. But you sketch out where
you want to go, and how you plan to get there. And you do it in pencil (literally: you
have to write it down to help make it real) rather than pen, because no plan ever
survives contact with reality. You have to learn and adapt, and keep on forging ahead one
step at a time toward your goals, toward your dreams. And you'll get there!

Thank you for your time, Michael. Let our readers know how they can get in contact with you and stay connected with you online.

You're most welcome, and I appreciate the opportunity! The three main ways to contact me
are through Twitter (KreelanWarrior), Facebook (http://facebook.com/authormichaelhicks) an
d my author web site at http://authormichaelhicks.com.

PROFILE: Poet Carolyn M. Rodgers


by Tony Lindsay


There are poems that cause one to remember, and there are poems that make memories. A truly great poet can create a poem that does both. Carolyn Marie Rodgers was such a poet.

                                               

47th & Vincennes/Chicago

                                dark children     

                                running in the streets

joyscreaming about a kite           

dark children

clomping up and down on

half heels no heels half soled shoes

dodging chunks of glass

joyscreaming about a kite           

a kite

that flies no higher than

the two story liquor store

they stream in front of

 

don't these children know

that kites will fly

higher

much higher

than two story liquor stores.

 

                                II

a dog dances around

these children

sure-footed fast tipping

dances, like a ballerina

on his tender toes-

the dog speaks, the dog knows

of

too much glass.

 

                                III           

a man

in a deuce and a quarter

is staring daggers at me.

when I look,

i can see him through my

rear view mirror

he knows that soon i am going

to leave this space/

my motor is humming. . . .

 

he does not understand what

is taking me so long

why my head is bent towards

the pad in my lap

how could he know

i am

busy, writing poems

about liquor stores and dark children

with tender footed dogs and kites

and dusky proud men who sit and stare

daggers at me, while flaunting their

expensive pride,

in deuces and quarters

on 47th street.

 

3.8.70

 

On April 2, 2010 Carolyn M. Rodgers physically left this world, but her creative presence remains and exists strongly in the hearts of those who love poetry. With ten books of poetry to her credit she should be firmly imbedded in America's literary cannon. More than a poet she was a co-founder of Third World Press and an originator of the Organization of Black American Culture; educated at Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago. As a Black Arts Movement poet many of her works were controversial even within the movement. Whether her poems took civil rights themes, feminist themes, where spiritual, or conscious raising - she always left readers with images in their minds, she left them with memories.

"KIM VAZQUEZ: New From The Inside Out"


by Cyrus Webb (Sept. Conversations Magazine)

With each passing year we are forced to either make changes in our lives or be content with where we are now. For California native Kim Vazquez staying where she was in life was not an option.

The world got to know her first through her book LIVING IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR. There we saw Vazquez as an individual that not in a happy place and found her path to getting to where she knew she belonged. Along her own journey she has been able to empower others and help them to find their own voice as well.

In her second book NEW FROM THE INSIDE OUT the author shares exactly what each of us need to do in order to start on the path that can lead us to our own inner peace and happiness. It's not going to happen overnight, but with dedication we can get to a place that makes each day a little less chaotic.

Through this conversation Kim Vazquez shares a part of her journey and let's you know how you can use her experiences to begin renewing yourself starting today.

Kim, two books later, what surprises you the most about this journey you have been on since first sharing your story with the world?

It was a big surprise when I realized that my body, alone, can produce a high better than any drug I've ever taken: Joy. All my life I was self-absorbed and miserable. My first thoughts were about me, and what others were doing wrong. Why doesn't anyone make me happy? Why doesn't anyone make me feel loved? Yet, truthfully, no amount of attention was ever enough. In the past five years or so, I found that when I'm loving and helpful toward others, I'm the one who ends up feeling full of love. What a shocker! A by-product of love is joy. And the cool thing about joy is that it doesn't wash over you briefly and then quickly fade away, like alcohol or pain pills do. Feelings of love and joy can last hours, sometimes even days at a time. Now that's the kind of high I'm looking for!

 

When you initially made the decision to write the first book what was your goal and do you think you achieved it?

 

There are so many people in the world who are in emotional pain and using one form of escape or another to deal with daily life. With Living in the Rear View Mirror I wanted to give hope to anyone thinking about changing their life, whether that means giving up addictions, overcoming trauma, or letting go of self-pity. My secondary goal was to reach those who don't realize they're heading toward addiction. By sharing what goes on inside the mind of a person with the disease of addiction, I hoped the book would provide opportunities for understanding and identification. Lastly, since the book covers a lot more than addiction, I also hoped it would inspire people to live consciously. There's so much magic to be witnessed in this life, I don't want anyone to miss out on it.

 

As for achieving my goal, last year I received an email from a woman who told me that the book saved her son's life. Whoa. That was humbling.

 

Were you surprised at the way readers responded to your journey and related to it?

 

I've enjoyed hearing how people found such a variety of messages, uniquely personal to themselves, in my journey. There are a lot of layers to my story, but I had no idea it would touch others on so many levels. That's a wonderful surprise. I had one woman tell me that she loved the book so much that there's no way I could ever write another book as good. Hmmm. Let's hope she's wrong about that.

We are all in a constant state of flux it seems, growing and learning more about ourselves and the world everyday. Do you think you would be able to help people the way you do now if you haven't been through the experiences that led you to this point?

 

No. The beauty of the journey was finding out that there is a purpose for everything I've been through. If I'd had a charmed life I don't know how I would have learned the lessons that make me who I am today. As hard as life can be, I see all experiences, even the unpleasant ones, as foundational for what's to come in our future. The more we learn, the better we become.



You said two years ago, Kim, when you were promoting NEW FROM THE INSIDE OUT that "the negative thoughts and fears we accumulate become obstacles and prevent our authentic, happy nature from revealing itself." Talk about the importance of changing our mindset when it comes to living a better life.

 

Negative thoughts and fears grow like weeds in the mind. When left unattended and unchallenged, they create a habitually negative mindset. Many of us still think that the conditions of our life create happiness. But, if you think about it, there are wealthy people who are miserable. And there are terminally ill people who laugh freely and have a smile for everyone. If you wish to be happier, a decision has to be made to work with your mind to retrain it to notice what's good in life. Inside my mind is an attorney. Each day she can either make a case for what I have to be grateful for, or a case for what sucks about life. Now, I don't always make the best choice for the day. There are times that I catch myself wallowing in my own muck. What's different today is that I know I have a choice. I'm not running on "negativity autopilot" anymore.

 

What's next for you?  

 

I joke with myself that the memoirs keep writing themselves. All I have to do is live my life. There's never a dull moment. My follow up memoir is in progress. The new book called, The Awakening: Angels, Callings and Divine Guidance is the story of how I embraced working with my intuitive gifts and overcame the fear associated with coming out of the spiritual closet. The angels also told me to focus on how my relationships were healed. It's a beautiful part of the story.


Thanks for your time, Kim. Always a pleasure to talk with you. How can our readers stay in touch or get autographed copies of your books?

Thank you, Cyrus! It's always an honor to be interviewed by you. I can be reached at www.kimvazquez.com. Peace & Love to you, and your readers.