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 Review Of The Day
 Interview with Author Joseph O'Donnell
 

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Joseph O'Donnell, author of The Tall Tree.

FQ: So many children’s books today just tell a goofy, silly, or adventurous story without delivering a teachable message. Was it important for you to write a children’s book that conveys an important message (the value of diversity)?

O'DONNELL: My three granddaughters are biracial so a story that conveys a theme of the importance of diversity is important to them while they are young and will, hopefully, become even more meaningful when they get older.

FQ: While the message of the importance of diversity comes through strong in your story, there’s also a message about not wandering off by yourself (as Sammy does, and as many young children might be tempted to do). Was that intentional or did it just happen as you wrote the story?

O'DONNELL: I needed a way to introduce “Mister Gray” into the story. So Sammy’s adventurous nature was a convenient way to do so. But, I knew I had to send a message to the little readers later by including a line about Sammy’s regret for running away and his vow to never wander off again. I loved the way my illustrators made this point very clear by showing Sammy shivering and afraid in the forest when he realized he was lost.

FQ: Where did the idea for The Tall Tree come from? Why a tree in the forest full of animals, rather than, say, a group of school children? Did you know before you solidified the plot that you wanted to teach children about diversity?

O'DONNELL: When our oldest granddaughter, Alessandra, was almost three, she had a very difficult time falling asleep at night. When she was visiting us at my in-law’s home in New York one holiday weekend, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that might help her fall asleep.

I thought for a few seconds and remembered that my mother-in-law had a feral cat that she named “Mister Gray.” Alessandra always ran to the back door with great excitement whenever her great-grandmother put food out for Mister Gray to be fed. Then Alessandra waited patiently for him to appear. She was truly fascinated by this cat.

With this thought in mind, I tried to come up with a little story that featured many different animals that lived together in perfect harmony until one day something happens that “opens the door” for Mister Gray to come to the rescue.

I made up the story in about five minutes—most of it “on the fly” as I held Alessandra on my shoulder and worked my way to a happy ending with Mister Gray as the hero. By the time I finished, Alessandra was sound asleep.

The next night, Alessandra was still awake at 9 PM and showing no interest in bedtime. Once again, our daughter asked me to tell Alessandra a story that would help her fall asleep. So I went into her bedroom and began telling her another made-up story. But she stopped me immediately and said, “No, Grandpa. Tell me about the tall tree.” I must admit, I had to gather my thoughts for a few seconds to remember the details of the previous night’s story—I had never written it down! However, I was able to pull it together and get to the same happy ending.

Sure enough, by the time I was finished, Alessandra was sound asleep. A week later, my wife and I were back at our home in Florida. Our daughter called to say she was still having a difficult time getting Alessandra to fall asleep at night. She asked my wife to make a video of my telling the story of The Tall Tree so she could play it for Alessandra at bedtime. My wife has a “flair” for such assignments and jumped to it without delay. Like a Hollywood director, she instructed me to sit on our bed, adjusted the lighting, and surrounded me with a large group of stuffed animals. Then she recorded my reading of the story of The Tall Tree. When we were finished, she sent the video via email to our daughter. Our daughter reported back to us that the video worked like a charm—from then on, Alessandra fell asleep to that story every night.

Alessandra is now age 8 with two younger sisters—Shira, age 5 and Hasana, age 3. All three of them love to listen to The Tall Tree. It seems to be the perfect non-pharmaceutical sleeping potion.

FQ: You’re known for writing mysteries, in particular, the “Gallagher” series. What made you decide to try your hand at a different genre? And why children’s books?

O'DONNELL: As you can see from the above statements, it really happened by pure circumstance. But I am so pleased that I have been able to make a small contribution to this important genre. Children need more books that are not only entertaining, but stimulate their imagination and teach them about values. In The Tall Tree, Sammy, the little mouse, comes face to face with a large cat that would normally be considered a mortal enemy. But Mister Gray is gentle and comforts the frightened Sammy to not be afraid. Then he encourages Sammy to hop on his back for a thrilling and exciting ride back to his family of friends at The Tall Tree. The message is subtle but profound: Don’t pre-judge someone as your enemy until you know more about him/her.

FQ: As a retired pediatric dentist, did you tell stories to your young patients to keep them relaxed during their exams? I see, also, that you have three granddaughters – do you make up stories for them? And did you test The Tall Tree out on your grandchildren? 

O'DONNELL: There were many occasions in my career as a pediatric dentist where I had to “talk a child through” a difficult procedure. I learned very early that, in these situations, children need a steady, low-speaking voice with a repetitious cadence to help reassure them that everything is fine and that they will be all right. I believe that the success of The Tall Tree as a bedtime story is that I have incorporated this concept of a repetitious cadence into the story.

As far as my granddaughters, they love to play “made-up” games with me. The current favorite of the two younger girls (ages 5 and 3) is “Pizza House.” All that is needed is some red construction paper, a scissors, a sheet of white paper, a piece of cardboard, a medium size cardboard box, some adhesive tape and a cell phone. With the scissors, I help them cut the red construction paper into a circle. Then we tear off some small pieces of the white paper, crinkle them, and attach them to the red circle with the adhesive tape. (This is the cheese.) Then we cut triangular “slices” of the pizza, re-arrange them in a circle and place them on the piece of cardboard (the tray) in the delivery box. When all of this is done, I give the girls my cell phone and ask them to hold it while I go into another room. Then when I get to the kitchen I use another phone to call my cell. When they answer, I order a pizza. Taking my pizza order over the phone and then delivering it is the best part of the game for them.

FQ: Speaking of changing genres, many people who have never written a book seem to think that writing a children’s book is much easier than adult genres/novels. What would you say to those people?

O'DONNELL: I believe that, in many ways, the challenge of writing a good children’s book is no different than that of writing a good novel. The author in either genre needs a “hook” in the beginning, a compelling story and a narrative that leads to a satisfying ending. In the case of a children’s book, the author also needs the assistance of a talented illustrator. I was fortunate to work with two very talented and creative illustrators.

FQ: Now that you’ve written a children’s book, do you plan to write more? Or will you be returning to mysteries? Is there another genre that you’d like to try?

O'DONNELL: I have thoroughly enjoyed writing in both genres and may do another children’s book. However, at the present time, I am writing the biography of a man who has been “connected” to The Mob through friendship and a legitimate business for his entire life. His experiences are nothing short of fascinating and help to shed light on the personal side of this criminal enterprise that has previously been largely unreported. I expect to finish this book by the end of this year. Stay tuned.

FQ: You used two illustrators for this book, Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. This is the first time I’ve seen a team of two illustrators work on the same book. How did that work? Do they always work together?

O'DONNELL: I was very fortunate to have been introduced to two very talented young illustrators—Kasidy Sinteral Scott and Kestrel Erickson. They worked closely with me throughout the production phase to develop an understanding of the images I imagined for the story. As we progressed, they provided dozens of samples for my approval. In the end, they beautifully captured exactly what I had in mind—a group of different little creatures and birds that lived happily together in perfect harmony. The colors are bright, vivid and, as you stated, the characters are wonderfully adorable. No doubt, the illustrations help to move the story along. I could not have been happier with the end result.

FQ: Speaking of the illustrations, I mentioned in my review how much I enjoyed the bright and cheery artwork. Since this is your first children’s book, I’m guessing you didn’t have an illustrator in mind before you began this project. How did you find your illustrators and what was the creative process like between you and them?

O'DONNELL: Kasidy is the daughter of my publishing representative at Outskirts Press. Kestrel is Kasidy’s friend from their days in art school. Our working relationship was conducted via the frequent exchange of emails and telephone calls. It worked out perfectly. I recommend them to any author who is considering an illustrated children’s book.

 

Author Feathered Quill Book Reviews  Added On Wed Nov 06th,2019
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 Latest Reviews
 Coldwater Revenge
 

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

 

Coldwater Revenge takes place in 2002 with the setting in a lakefront community along the Canadian border. Tom Morgan, a high-powered New York lawyer, has taken a break from his job to spend time with his family. He is at a crossroads in his life and trying to choose the path he wants to follow. Shortly after his arrival in the small town of Coldwater, the body of a local man is discovered in the lake. Sheriff Joe Morgan, Tom’s younger brother, recently lost his staff and is the sole police officer in the town. Joe enlists Tom’s help in what turns out to be a high-profile murder case. During a meeting at Tom’s law firm, he finds out that a case from years ago in which he was only peripherally involved could cost him not only his job but also jail time. Time is critical for proving his innocence, but Tom refuses to leave Joe without support.

 

When Joe becomes critically ill due to his exposure to a deadly toxin, Tom takes over the investigation, and his theories and probing questions put him in the uncomfortable position of questioning the likelihood of whether his brother or Susan Pearce, the sister of the victim, could be involved in the complicated case in which a bio-research company is also entangled. Career choices along with personal and family relationships all point toward Joe’s and/or Susan’s possible guilt. While working on the case, Tom not only is dealing with inner turmoil, possible career implosion, family differences, and his feelings toward Susan, his ex-girlfriend, but he also winds up in precarious situations that lead to life threatening danger. Will Tom escape perilous predicaments and identify the killer? Is there a potential bio-terrorist plan afoot and can it be stopped? Will Joe’s body succumb to the poison?

 

James A. Ross has put together a disparate group of compelling characters, each with their own agenda, who share a connection with one another that include positive and/or negative relationships. Readers gain insight into the motivations behind characters’ behaviors and reactions. The story is true-to-life in painting a picture of how a small-town sheriff skirts the edge when it comes to following the letter of the law by allowing some illegal activities to go unpunished and the subsequent fallout. Ross does a terrific job in the use of imagery and figurative language to bring the characters and storyline alive and make for a richer reading experience.

 

Ross draws readers in with a terrific opening line and holds them spellbound while reading this spine-tingling and suspense-filled page turner. It is a roller coaster ride for readers as they are shocked, mesmerized, and fascinated all at the same time. This riveting story includes lies and betrayal, violence with intent to maim or kill, alleged clergy misconduct, ups and downs of family relationships, secret oral language, suspected bioterrorism, moral and ethical issues, underhanded dealings, personal dilemmas, and a small amount of swearing. Coldwater Revenge is most definitely a top shelf-worthy read and a great debut of the Coldwater Mystery Series. I look forward to the release of Coldwater Confession, the second book in the series.

Author Dianne Woodman  Added On Tue Jun 29th,2021
Rating (1)  Category Mystery/Thrillers
 Supplant
 
Supplant
By: Shane M. Toman
Published by: DartFrog Books
Publication Date: June 2021
ISBN: 978-1953910585
Reviewed By: Kimberly Trix Lee
Review Date: June 26, 2021
How far would humanity be willing to go in pursuit of scientific progress? Mik and Zen find out in Supplant by Shane M. Toman.
The year is 2071 and there is a serial murderer with poison frog genetic code on the loose leaving trails of dead girls in his wake. This process of genetic implantation known as Supplantation had once been the world’s most sought-after elective procedure. That all changed in the late 2040s when the world found out about the massive side effects on all offspring of supplanted people. The procedure was then criminalized.
Supplant follows several characters as they live their lives - lives which will all inevitably converge. Albert Murata is the CFO of Genovas, a gene-editing corporation on the verge of bankruptcy with crashing share prices. Professionalism and morals out the window, he lied to investors and eventually convinced the Genovas CEO to sign a human supplantation experiment with Correcticorp, the state prison system, the US Army, and the state of Illinois.
Mik is the only surviving member of the US Army’s 121st reconnaissance division, a division that had been created with all of its members supplanted with pit viper genetic code. He signed up for it for the sake of his father’s medical treatment but now that his father is dead and the 121st division defunct, the US military essentially forgot all about Mik. He is now a butcher’s apprentice who likes to hang out with his friend Ollie and drink in one of the dive bars that do not have any of the security sensors that could determine whether somebody’s genome has been implanted with a non-human genetic code. The trouble begins when Mik and Ollie are brought in for witness statements after they get involved in a barfight and Mik’s supplantation history is flagged in the system. With the help of Filip, the owner of the butcher shop where Mik works, Mik gets introduced to an underground haven of supplanted people.
Meanwhile, Zen is a security firm executive with a reproductive system issue and an abusive husband named Aidan. After one violent encounter that leaves Zen with a concussion and an imprisoned husband, a phone call from said husband leads her to look for information and ask questions that inevitably put her name on somebody’s hit list. With armed men on her heels, she crosses paths with Filip and eventually gets to join the ragtag underground haven. Together, they all work to put a stop to the unethical human experiment.
Supplant by Shane M. Toman is a plot-driven sci-fi thriller that started strong but began to fizzle about halfway through the story. In the beginning, the introduction of the various characters was effective, the dialogues were crisp, and the scenes engaging. However, as the story progressed, in the middle of the rising action of the story, the actions of the characters and the resulting sequences of events started becoming disjointed. The crucial scenes that would drive the plot were rushed and the dialogues became mundane. This story has a lot of potential and I think I would have liked it had there been a better-developed connection between the characters’ motives and their actions while at the same time, driving the plot to where it’s supposed to be. I have to say, however, that my favorite in this story is a well-written side character, an inmate named Jose, and all the sequences he was in. Jose, I’m rooting for you.
Quill says: Supplant is a story with an interesting premise on CRISPR technology in a Human Nature x Gattaca setup that starts out strong but fizzled halfway through.
For more information on Supplant, please visit the author's website at: http://shanemtoman.com
Author Feathered Quill Book Reviews  Added On Tue Jun 29th,2021
Rating (0)  Category Science Fiction
 Saints and Martyrs
 
Saints and Martyrs
By: Aaron Roe
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: April 2021
ISBN: 978-1636495644
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: June 18, 2021
A youth becomes a man through a perilous, painful search for ultimate truths in this dynamic debut offering by author Aaron Roe.
Damian Kurt was raised by a strict Catholic mother and a strong, forbearing father whose sudden death has left a hole in the teen’s life. His home-schooling, domineering mother is bent on impelling him to acknowledge his destiny to become a priest. But Damian knows that his private actions, mainly his youthful, almost uncontrollable lust, could or should keep him from that vocation.
An accident while working out at the gym may be a blessing in disguise for Damian, slowing him down and giving him time for journaling, contemplation, and more visits to the confessional. He splits with his mom, going to live with his gym teacher for a while, but finally, Mt. Angelus beckons and he joins the ranks of young seminarians overseen by priests who at times seem diligent, at times negligent and dismissive, and at least once, rather creepy. Damian feels comfort in his priestly garb and has time for further introspection, attempting to write his father’s biography. His efforts are aided by Professor Harold House, whose class, Spiritual Autobiography, feeds perfectly into Damian’s wish to follow in the footsteps of the great saints – including, he believes, his own dad. Meeting Harold’s son Eden, who loves to gaze at and study the stars, is further inspiration. But when something great is lost in Damian’s conflicted young life, something greater will be gained, to put him on the path to a brighter future.
Roe writes with notable skill, moving the reader quickly but rationally from scene to scene. We see Damian’s struggling with his adolescent urges, while diligently making lists of the steps he must take to spiritual self-improvement. He is a reader as well as a writer, and his inner explorations, as deftly drawn by Roe, may be his saving grace. Roe is comfortable with dialog and narrative alike; this is an intelligent book about a teenage boy’s search for piety, but it is not a pious book, so young adult readers can easily identify with Damian and appreciate his conflicted viewpoint. The book leads steadily to a startling and gratifying conclusion that could, one feels, beg a sequel, with a youthful, likeable and believable protagonist with much more to accomplish.
Quill says: Issues of piety, priesthood and true integrity provide the undercurrent in Aaron Roe’s action-filled, contemporary and credible saga of one tormented teen’s quest for life’s meaning.
For more information on Saints and Martyrs, please visit the publisher's website at: http://www.atmospherepress.com
Author Feathered Quill Book Reviews  Added On Tue Jun 22nd,2021
Rating (0)  Category Fiction
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