Thursday, November 29, 2007

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go to the Hairdresser

Yesterday I spoke to a friend of mine who's having a terrible time with her mother. Her mother has Alzheimer's and is starting a rapid decline, which is heartbreaking for my friend and so sad for me because I've known them both for a decade or more. We talked about her mom for about a half hour and towards the end of our conversation, she casually mentioned that she had colored her hair ORANGE.

Allow me to say that my friend is not a punk rocker! She is just not an ORANGE type of person, so I knew there was a problem. When I probed further, she said that it was like a Lucille Ball red but then she'd put something else on top of that which had turned it orange, and now she was searching for yet a new color to add to the mix.

I was thinking of all of the Benadryl cream that I had to put on my poor scalp when my father had leukemia. During a period of a year or so, I colored my hair brown, added reverse highlights, bleached it back to blonde, and cut it off in a "short, chic" cut that made me look as though I had just enlisted in the military. By the time my dad died, I was almost bald!

It was just a distracting coping mechanism. I couldn't control my world and there sure as hell was nothing I could do to help my father. It was so awful to watch him, a medical doctor, suffer mercilessly through 30 transfusions. Every time he'd have one, I'd look in the mirror and think there was something wrong with my hair. It was an area where I could take action. And then when my hair looked horrible, I could obsess about it and make new plans to fix it.

I gave this characteristic to Tara, the main character in my novel. So if you wonder why she's a little odd, it's because she lives by the philosophy, "hair today, gone tomorrow."

Sigrid Mac
Author and Editor

Saturday, October 06, 2007


SIGRID: Welcome, Robyn. Thanks for being here.

ROBYN: My pleasure.

SIGRID: Can you give me a description of your novel, What the Storyteller Brings?

ROBYN: Sure, here's a brief summary: Meet Rosaline, a young girl in high school who calls herself the storyteller. Every Tuesday, she and her friends meet in her room for girl talk. Then they move on to more exciting things like storytelling. In these tales of adventure, she even uses real life characters like her friends and this boy on which she has a crush. In one story, fifteen students get kidnapped. Her listeners keep coming back for more as they wonder what will happen as the women are herded through the woods like animals. It’s all just for fun at first, until bad things and people begin merging into reality—like one of the kidnappers. Now, Rosaline must get to him in her story before he gets to them in real life.

SIGRID: Sounds fantastic! What an original idea. What inspired you to write The Storyteller?

ROBYN: This novel was originally written when I was fourteen. It was my fantasies about a boy I had a crush on written down in this orange notebook that I would carry around with me. Every week, I would write a few pages and bring it to school where my friends and classmates couldn't wait to see what would happen next. They’d get mad whenever I showed up at school without an added chapter!

Ten years later, after joining the Air Force, I received a phone call from my sister in Virginia. She found a box of short stories and other English assignments in my old room. She began reading them to me over the phone and suggested that I do something with my writing. So the next time I went home on leave, I went through that box. I ended up coming across that old orange notebook, and as a twenty-four year old looking back on what she wrote as a fourteen-year old, this adventure about getting kidnapped with my crush sounded like a low budget movie. As I dusted off the old pages handwritten by a “love sick” teenager, I decided that with some major revisions, I could rewrite that book and submit it for publication.

Although the contents of that orange notebook weren't originally about a storyteller, I thought back to when I would get threats from my friends when I didn’t bring it to school. That compelled me to insert a character who had her friends come over for storytelling hour. I kept the part about her getting kidnapped with her crush. As I continued to copy the pages from that notebook into my word processor, I asked myself, why not have situations in her stories merge into their lives and see how they handled them?

It took about fourteen years to get that novel to where it is today, and even now, I still compare myself to the storyteller. She says that once she begins telling her stories, she never knows where it will take her. The same is with my writing. Once I start typing, my imagination takes control and propels me into some surprising places. That’s what happened with my novel as I detoured from the rest of that orange notebook and let my imagination lead me. What the Storyteller Brings sounded like the perfect title for a girl who, through her stories, wreaked havoc into the real lives of those around her.

SIGRID: Having read the book, I can see how it could have taken that long to develop. It's a moving, complicated, really enjoyable tale with suspense and a moral. Do you have a particular message for young girls in their relationships?

ROBYN: Yes I do, and it’s a message I am very passionate about. The negative consequences of sex extend beyond sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy. Emotional baggage also involves its pain and suffering. That is my main message in general. My novel illustrates a very ugly side to premarital sex and girls need to know from the beginning the kind of behavior that can propel them into a vicious cycle of failed relationships. What gets girls in trouble is that just like the character, Rosaline, they like affection, cuddling, and the idea of having a boyfriend. They let their fantasies run away with them as they let boys tell them they are satisfied with cuddling but too often, most boys are just looking for sex. I don’t feel that this makes guys some separate evil entity; it’s just that they’re more sexually charged than girls. The problem with girls is that they think they can control a situation when they are alone with a guy and things begin moving in the wrong direction. Girls have this false sense of trust in themselves and sometimes in the guy as they think they can stop things before they go too far. Sadly, this false sense of trust pushes them into sex.

What I’d like to say to young girls is this: Sex is a powerful force in our lives and is not to be taken lightly. Abstinence gives us the power to take charge and not let the consequences of premarital sex control our lives. Women of all ages need to stop sending mixed messages and take responsibility for our actions. Recognize sexually charged situations in time to move away from them. Cuddling, making out, or doing things you feel will satisfy a guy is not telling him no. It’s telling him that you will eventually have sex with him. Show him through your actions when you’re not ready for sex. Even if it may involve breaking up with him, say no and mean it—don’t dance around it!

SIGRID: I hear you, woman! That's controversial advice nowadays because so many teens are sexually active. In many ways, this is a fallout from the women's movement which advocated free love and equal rights for women as well as men. I've always believed that SHOULD be the case; however, in reality, men and boys in particular are built different biologically. They also seem to be more into the game, the hunt, and once the hunt is over, might wish to move on. That's painful enough for grown-ups but devastating for 15-year-old girls. What you're recommending is a set of behaviors that will protect young girls from being hurt. Actually, your message is very much like that of a book geared towards adult women, The Rules. It can seem kind of old-fashioned at first, but at heart, its main goal is for females to attain relationships rather than one night stands or end up in situations where they might be used, and for them to feel good about their involvement with guys rather than lie awake at night crying on their pillow over some guy who said he would call but didn't.

Do you have plans to write a sequel?

ROBYN: My fingers are itching to get started on the sequel! It’s not only because What the Storyteller Brings just hit the market and it’s still fresh in my mind, but it’s also because there is so much more that has happened to Rosaline that I couldn’t contain it all in that first book. I already have the first twenty pages written and must warn my readers that drama is jumping from the first page—so strap on your seatbelts! Even though I’ve begun already, I have to pause as I work on the finishing touches of Triangle of Revenge, which will be released in the winter or early spring of 2008. Also fiction, this novel is about a pastor who fell away from the church when tragedy compelled him to turn his back on God. Then I expect to complete the sequel to What the Storyteller Brings in the fall of 2008.

SIGRID: I can't wait. I enjoyed the first book so much and the Triangle of Revenge sounds awesome too. Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview, and I'd like to inform my readers that Robyn Demby is a native of Chesapeake, VA. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Religion from Mount Olive College, North Carolina. Retired from the Air Force, she currently resides in Goldsboro, NC where she writes full time. What the Storyteller Brings is available on, so grab your copy now. Also, you can visit Robyn on My Space at Don't forget to add her to your friends’ list.

Friday, September 28, 2007

D'Amour Road has been accepted by the Braille Institute

D'Amour Road has been accepted to be part of the permanent collection of the Braille Institute. I'm very excited about that because they are selective about the books that they put on tape and they don't accept everything by a long shot.

Also, my sister is visually impaired from a degenerative retinal condition called retinitis pigmentosa and she has never been able to read my book. Once it's on tape, she'll be able to hear it and offer her criticism ;-)

Unfortunately, they can only put it on tape cassette rather than CD because they give a certain type of cassette player to the blind and visually impaired. I would have preferred it on CD but I'm thrilled that people with limited or no vision will be able to hear my story about female friendship, midlife crisis and unrequited love.

Sigrid Mac

Saturday, September 08, 2007

New review of D'Amour Road by the author of Equal Partners

What I liked about D’amour Road

I finally managed to find the time to read D’amour Road. The book is well written and carefully edited. But of course I would expect nothing less from Sigrid Macdonald. What I want to include here is the outstanding features. They are not listed in order of importance.

1. The story unfolds in Ottawa and surrounding areas. As an Ottawan, I found myself in a familiar environment. If you’re not from Ottawa, the book may tempt you to come and pay us a visit.

2. Without apologies, the author serves us a “slice of life.” It’s all there: addiction; unrequited love; greed; entrapment in an unsatisfactory job, marriage, etc.; confronting middle age and of course our own mortality; our obsession with looks and youth; and many other human flaws.

3. The book kept my attention from the first sentence to the last. I was tempted to peek at the last pages; good thing I didn’t. I would have missed out on a really surprising resolution.

4. Dialogues are never easy for a novelist. But Sigrid makes it look easy. The dialogues are vivid; the characters seem to be talking in my presence, like in a play.

5. The epilogue is unusual. It includes the “About This Book” as part of the book. It reminds us that reality and fiction are not clearly delineated. A clever device; I am sure the author won’t mind if she is imitated.

6. The novel opens a small window into the female mind through which males can peer! Other female writers have done that; but it was done quite effectively in this case.

7. The book does not mention it, but Evolutionary Psychology (E.P.) figures prominently here . E.P. deals with old instincts that we still carry from our primitive days. The woman who starts a relationship with a former prison inmate, or an abuser, is responding to an instinct as old as the world. In primitive times a woman chose the toughest male she could get. She had a better chance of surviving if her mate was as vicious as possible. Hers was a world inhabited by frightening beasts and even more dangerous humans. While not needed anymore, such an instinct is acted upon by some modern women. E.P. applies to men as well but in different ways.

Roland Ezri, author of Equal Partners

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Signs (2004 on DVD)

Signs is a sci-fi thriller about a family who discovers ominous crop circles in their fields. It's written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who was brilliant in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village.

Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a reverend who lost his belief in God after his wife was killed in a tragic car accident. His brother, Merrill Hess(Joaquin Phoenix), thinks the circles are simply a hoax whereas Graham's children, played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, are convinced that aliens have finally reached Earth and they may not be friendly.

This hypothesis is supported by newscasts which indicate that crop circles are popping up all over the world, and actual aliens are caught on film.

The movie revolves around the family's struggle to barricade themselves from a potentially hostile force, but the larger picture has to do with religion, faith and spirituality. What do we believe in? Is there a higher power that will protect us? Is there a purpose to death and can those who've lost their belief in God regain it?

If this sounds like a movie with a lot of depth, it's not. It's slow-moving and the acting is quite wooden from everyone except for scene stealer Abigail Breslin who wooed the film world in Little Miss Sunshine two years later. Gibson, ordinarily above average, gives a completely emotionless performance and Phoenix is, at best, subdued. Culkin is cute but slightly annoying.

Moreover, the plot itself has huge holes in it. Gibson and Phoenix are brothers although in real life there are at least 18 years between them. Depictions of the aliens are so ridiculous that they seem juvenile and their Achilles heel, which I won't mention here as a spoiler, is so absurd as to be laughable.

The truth IS out there but you won't find it in Signs; if you're truly interested in extraterrestrial life, rent Contact with Jodie Foster based on the last book that astronomer Carl Sagan wrote before he died.


Joaquin and Liv

This is such a romantic video -- had to post it!! Joaquin Phoneix is sensational and it's so clear that he and Liv Tyler are infatuated here in Inventing The Abbots.


When You Say Nothing At All

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quills -- Examining the Marquis De Sade

Quills is a fascinating story about the infamous French aristocrat, the Marquis de Sade. More historical fiction than biography, Quills takes place in an insane asylum where Sade was banished after spending several decades in prison for sexually assaulting a number of prostitutes, almost poisoning them with Spanish Fly, beating and terrorizing a young beggar girl and deflowering his sister-in-law; the latter so infuriated his mother-in-law that she had him arrested.

Inside the madhouse, the Marquis, brilliantly played by Geoffrey Rush, was given permission to write by the liberal minded Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), but was forbidden to publish. Where there's a will, there is invariably a way and the Marquis found such a way in Madeleine, a young laundry maid, played by the lovely Kate Winslet, who has been remarkably good in every movie I've ever seen her in. Thus, de Sade persuades the young woman to pass his writing to an outsider who manages to publish them, evoking fury from the Emperor Napoleon and wild cries of outrage, as well as titillation, from the masses. When the abbé discovers that the Marquis has broken his rule, he takes away his mighty quill but the determined de Sade continues to write, using wine, blood and even his own feces. And he must then face the wrath of the cold and hypocritical Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), who is brought in to keep the Marquis in check.

At first glance, Quills appears to be a movie about censorship and the importance of maintaining the right to free speech. It tends to glorify the Marquis de Sade; although we do experience him as vulgar, we are sympathetic to his plight. The drums of the American Civil Liberties Union can be heard quite distinctly. What isn't emphasized in the movie is that de Sade was more than simply pornographic or shocking -- those who've read his original works (I read both Justine and something else by him when I was in my early 20s) know that he was outrageously cruel and went way beyond advocating rough porn like Larry Flynt in Hustler magazine. De Sade enjoyed torture, was completely amoral and was very much a nihilist.

Quills is a morality play since the movie makes it very clear that the Marquis' "incendiary" writings had a profound effect on other inmates and readers. This gives the movie its depth because we're asked to decide which is more important -- free speech or the potential for inflammatory material to cause grave danger by provoking acts of great malice. And we must acknowledge that for many people, particularly from the repressed era of the 18th century, de Sade's writings were liberating.

Cinematography, costumes and acting are all excellent. Joaquin Phoenix does a passionate and convincing job of playing the young Coulmier, who is tormented by his desire for the laundry maiden and Rush steals the stage as the nasty Marquis who is also entranced with Madeleine.

What is not entirely up to snuff -- no pun intended -- in Quills, is its accuracy. Screenwriter Doug Wright portrays the abbé as young, idealistic and handsome whereas in real life, according to movie reviewer Tom Holmberg, he was a gnome in his 60s, with a hunchback and gnarled legs. De Sade is depicted as having a loving feeling towards Madeleine, which saves him from being a one dimensional, frozen hearted, sex fiend, but in reality, the Marquis bragged about sodomizing the teenaged Madeleine -- probably not something that would have gone over too well with a Hollywood audience.

Aside from that, and some moments of parody that lost their authenticity for me, Quills is an ambitious, well-done movie that posed philosophical questions that stayed with me long after I finished watching.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Tears Than Laughs in Sicko by Michael Moore

A young child gets sick with an imminently treatable virus; her temperature soars to 104° yet the hospital refuses to treat her. She has a seizure, followed by cardiac arrest. Still no medical care. Eventually, she dies. Was this little girl an impoverished Haitian? A rural African or better yet, an inner city kid from Detroit? No, she was a white American with health insurance whose carrier insisted that she be transported to another hospital within the network. How could that happen?

In his finest film to date, Michael Moore provides a devastating critique of the US health care system, or the lack thereof. He opens the movie by talking about the 50 million Americans who don't have any health insurance but quickly moves on to focus on the remaining 250 million who are insured, largely by health maintenance organizations whose sole goal is profit at any expense.

Moore traces the origin of the HMO to a highly inflammatory conversation that President Nixon had with an aide back in 1971 whereby Nixon announced that it would be a terrible idea for government to expand its role in health care but a wonderful prospect if it were to be privatized. And so we find ourselves in the sorry state that we have today where people work their asses off, believing that they will be protected if they get sick but in fact, they are routinely denied coverage and/or benefits by HMOs for any reason under the sun. Pre-existing conditions can disqualify people from getting insurance. Failure to disclose a benign and ridiculous problem such as an ordinary yeast infection led Blue Cross to stop payment on a hospital bill for a distraught woman with endometriosis who had been faithfully paying her Blue Cross premiums.

Moore contrasts the American system with that of other countries and points out that the United States is the only Western industrialized country that lacks a universal health care system. He visits Canada, Britain, and France -- and even Cuba, in a particularly daring, in-your-face maneuver that only he could pull off -- concluding that they are vastly superior to the US.

What Moore doesn't mention is that most of the countries above, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have a parallel private system. He tends to glorify Canada with his selective perspective and interviewing techniques, dismissing news reports about long waiting lists for procedures and lack of proper equipment in Canada as being sheer propaganda; he interviews Canadians in Windsor, Ontario who claimed that they had only been waiting for 20 minutes or so to see a doctor.

Having had the advantage of living in the US for 26 years and the remainder of my 28 years in Canada, I can say with confidence that any time I've had to go to the emergency room in Ottawa, I've waited four to eight hours. I also waited 18 months for a hip replacement that I needed at the age of 47 as a result of a car accident; and there is a marked shortage of MRI machines in Canada's capital. As a result, a small private system has emerged in Québec where people go across the line to pay $700 for their MRI so as to discover a tumor before it metastasizes. Canadians also pay for medications, physiotherapy and dental care, although these services are subsidized for those with low income.

Also, theoretically, Canadians have the choice of any doctor that they want to see. However, in real life, many people have difficulty even finding a family doctor due to a severe shortage even in the cities. I wouldn't leave my family doctor for anything, even if I couldn't stand him. Fortunately, I do like the man a great deal but I know many people, including cancer survivors and older people with Parkinson's and serious blood disorders, who cannot find a family doctor so they rely on treatment from walk-in clinics. That's the worst kind of medicine for someone with a chronic problem or a complicated health history. For those with flus and bad backs, it works fine but not for anything more complex.

Despite these minor problems with the Canadian system, I would choose it hands-down any day of the week over American health care. Canadian Medicare is unquestionably better which is why it wouldn't have hurt Moore at all to have made a more balanced presentation of the facts.

Aside from the outstanding medical care that Michael Moore managed to subversively obtain for some 9/11 workers in Cuba, the country that stood above all others in his analysis was France -- 35 hour work weeks, five weeks paid vacation per year even for part-time workers, full universal health care, nannies who are sent out by the government to help new mothers (and even do their laundry!), excellent subsidized day care, and romantic couples kissing in parks along with families relaxing, so unlike their American counterparts, filled with road rage as they drive home after their backbreaking 10 hour day to pick up some fast food at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The French have it all, including the pastries.

What Moore doesn't address is the recent election in France. Why was the left-wing government voted out and replaced by a strong right-winger if everyone was so happy with their idyllic situation?

Lastly, Moore asks what's wrong with the American government. I ask what's wrong with the American people. There are only 435 members of the House of Representatives, 50 members of Congress and a handful of people in the White House. If there's power in numbers, the people have it. Why aren't they using it? When did they become so complacent? Why aren't they marching in the streets, holding dead children in their arms and missing fingers that they couldn't afford to reattach? Has the Bush regime rendered them all terrified? But the problem predates Bush by a long shot and didn't seem to improve during the eight years that Clinton/Gore had in office.

Don't buy the argument that the government can't afford universal health care -- according to the Associated Press, US taxpayers are spending an estimated $10 billion a month in Iraq. Ouch.

I loved Sicko and I'll see it again on DVD so I can pause, rewind and reflect on the horrors of the American health care plan. No one says it better than Moore and I've been a fan of all of his movies, however, he always has his point of view and it wouldn't hurt him to balance things out just a tiny bit. That won't prevent me from giving this ..ary a five-star plus rating but I didn't find it as funny as others did. Sarcastic, yes. Black humor? Definitely. Laugh-out-loud funny? Hmmm. I missed that! But don't you miss this brilliant, acerbic exposé.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

On behalf of all rape victims

Holly Desimone was viciously raped by an acquaintance who escaped prosecution and managed to leave the country. She launched a one-woman campaign to find him, creating her own justice.

In the process, Holly lost many things including the support of her family and her children. But she gained strength, confidence and blazed a trail for other women in Canada by having the courage to break her own publication ban and go public with her story.

You can watch a short video here -- powerful stuff. Hats off to you, Holly.
So proud of you, girlfriend!


PS Also check out Holly's Fight for Justice which is one of my links on the right.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sweetness in the Belly: A Novel by Camilla Gibb

This beautifully written and impeccably researched tale contains a wealth of information about the battered country of Ethiopia and the strength and resilience of its people. It is obvious that Camilla Gibb had first-hand experience in the field and has the highest regard for those who went through the terrible years of war, famine, upheaval and dictatorship.

Sweetness in the Belly personalizes this unthinkable social and political tragedy so that we have an inside view into the life of Lilly, a privileged Muslim woman with an ill-fated attraction for Aziz, a doctor and a man of another class. The book goes back and forth between Ethiopia and England as Lilly reflects back on early years in her homeland before she was forced to flee. It is a testament to human nature that anyone can survive the atrocities that were perpetrated on these blameless souls, and can emerge with any kindness, decency and dreams for the future.

That makes this a book of hope with a wealth of fascinating information, although at heart, it's also just a great story. I'll be looking for more books by Gibb, after I've watched some lightweight comedies on DVD that will serve as a buffer from reading about so much pain.

Sigrid Macdonald, Ottawa, Ontario

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I absolutely adored this critique of religion by Richard Dawkins. He is a preeminent scholar who backed up his arguments against the existence of God, or rather the probability of the existence of God, beautifully. Dawkins also made a compelling argument for the fact that religion is not simply a benign preference that one adopts; it can be and is indeed frequently used to justify sexism, homophobia, territorial disputes and futile, bloody wars.

It seems politically correct nowadays to separate fundamentalist religions from the mainstream, in particular when we are talking about Muslims; however, Dawkins argues that all religion is a form of fanaticism because it's based on myth and compulsion. He talks about how frequently we overlook the fact that suicide bombers truly believe that they will be rewarded in the hereafter for their heinous deeds.

The only complaint that I, as an agnostic, would have about The God Delusion is that it offers no solace. Dawkins seems to find comfort in science and the evolutionary theory but I don't and I don't imagine that a terminal cancer patient would either. That's not to say that fear of mortality justifies a belief in a higher being whose presence we can't confirm -- it is to say that I understand why people embrace the concept even if it runs contrary to what we know scientifically.

Sigrid Macdonald, Ottawa, Ontario

Bush's Brain -- SCARY!!!

If you want to rent a true horror movie, watch Bush's Brain, based on the book by two Texan reporters. Their assertion that Karl Rove is running the White House is frightening because apparently he's a brilliant but ruthless man that no one elected. This DVD was released in 2004. Much of the information is outdated. Only brief allusions were made to the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq whereas much attention was paid to the background of Karl Rove -- if even 1/10 of that is true, he is a man without a soul or a conscience and he's directing our domestic and foreign policy.

The big surprise is not so much how Bush and Rove pulled this scam off; the true surprise to me is how the electorate put these men in for a second term! The first term was quite "iffy." It could be argued that Bush was appointed by the Supreme Court because that race was so damn close, but all that really says is that the country was divided right down the middle in terms of partisan politics. When we knew perfectly well that Bush revealed himself as a war president, why, oh why elect him for a second term?

Thankfully, he'll be ousted in 2008 but that's not soon enough for the dept that he's run up, the programs that he's destroyed, the American troops that he's sent needlessly to die or be maimed, and the horrific damage that he inflicted on the country and the people of Iraq. And this is only January. He's got lots of time to expand his reign.

Sigrid Macdonald, Ottawa, Ontario (formerly from New Jersey)

Promise Me by Harlan Coben

This is the second book that I've read by Coben and I was immediately engaged by the people and the story line. He manages to weave an intricate plot without dropping characters along the way, overly complicating matters, confusing the reader and developing shallow protagonists. I loved Myron and will look forward to reading about his previous adventures.

The basic premise of this one is that one night, without thinking about the consequences, 42-year-old Myron Bolitar, an ex-athlete turned entertainment lawyer, overhears a conversation between two teenage girls, one of whom he knows quite well. They're talking about drinking. It's senior year in Bergen County, New Jersey (where I grew up, BTW!) And the number one priority for affluent parents and their children is getting those teens into a decent university.

Myron remembers that a classmate in his high school never made it because she was killed by a drunk driver. He makes the girls promise him that if they're ever in trouble in the middle of the night, they can call him at any time -- no questions asked. Little does he anticipate where that promise will lead him and us, the readers.

Much like his other book, whose name I have forgotten, this was a page turner. I will put Coben at the top of my list and go back to read his other books. Very well done and highly recommended, although it stretched the imagination a bit at times.

Sigridmac, author of D'Amour Road

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It

Mark Steyn makes a chilling and compelling argument that we need to be more concerned about international demographics than global warming and compact fluorescent light bulbs. He enumerates the birth rates for countries around the world, starting with North America and moving on to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China, India and Russia. Steyn claims -- and I have no reason to disbelieve him -- that Europe and Canada are failing to repopulate themselves. Some countries are really bad like Germany, Japan, Spain and Italy, which Steyn also criticizes for their left-leaning, socialist tendencies since he believes they contribute to unemployment and far too great a reliance on government.

What will happen down the road is that we will have nations, or perhaps entire continents, with such aging populations that they don't have enough young people to support them in retirement. And their tax bases will be so high that fresh blood won't want to immigrate there.

The countries that are doing very well in terms of fertility are mainly Muslim countries and that scares Steyn because of their anti-Semitism, opposition to Western ways and lack of "forward thinking." He quotes a UN statistics from 2002 that said that in one year more books were translated into Spanish than into Arabic over the last one thousand years -- pretty frightening and evidence to Steyn that the Arab world is quite xenophobic.

As an independent, I'm not prone to taking a conservative position on most issues but I do like to read all sides. And in this case, much of what Steyn argues is irrefutable in terms of sheer stats about populations. For that reason alone, I give this book 5 stars because it was a serious eye-opener for me and it was very well-written, researched and funny as hell.

However, there are some things that I don't think that Mark Steyn fully addressed. The first is that he pats the United States on the back for managing to at least have a fertility rate above 2.0. He mentions that this is NOT coming from the average 30 year old couple who live in his hometown in New Hampshire; we can thank the large number of Hispanics and Mormons for keeping the US population high. Latinos are largely Catholic so it seems that both groups in the US may be keeping the population afloat for religious reasons. Thus, it's not so much that *America* is enlightened or any different from Europe or Canada when it comes to having children or being concerned about keeping the population growing; it's the Red states (Republican women) and certain religious groups that are doing so.

Another area that I think he could have focused on more was women's rights. I've been a long-time feminist since the early 70s but I concede that ready access to abortion, more reliable birth control, women entering the workforce in large numbers and thus being able to support themselves financially, along with increased cultural and social acceptance of divorce have all contributed to these declining birth rights. Therefore it's hard to recommend that giving Islamic women more rights and equality will do anything but reduce their rate of breeding.

There's no going backward and who would want to? But we need some form of education in the schools and campaigns on television and print that will raise awareness about our declining population. So many women my age were raised with the idea that they should delay having children until they were established in their careers; and by the time they reached 38 or 40 they realized that their eggs weren't that good. All of this info needs to get out to the public when they're much younger. I don't think it's that people aren't interested in having children or in keeping the population going -- much of this is simply ignorance about the fact that we even *have* a population shortage. I grew up thinking that we were having a global population explosion. The word needs to get out and reading this book is a great place to start.

Sigrid Macdonald, Author and Editor Ottawa, Ontario

When the Levees Broke -- The Enemy within

9/11 was terrifying. For the first time in decades, we were attacked on our own soil. But the assault came from outsiders. Even more frightening is to think there may be a malevolent group within the country that kills people by its own negligence. Prior to watching Spike Lee's masterpiece, I had naïvely thought that New Orleans was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Lee argues that the United States Army Corps of Engineers designed the levees so poorly that they could not withstand anything stronger than a category two hurricane.

Given the fact that the city is surrounded by water on all sides, it was inevitable that it would be hit by a storm much more powerful than category two, thus, the engineers-- who can't be sued -- bear an enormous amount of responsibility for the catastrophe that befell hundreds of thousands of people.

Worse was the downright embarrassing and disgraceful response of the Bush administration. It took George Bush 12 days to get down to New Orleans. Meanwhile, he was on vacation and making speeches about Iraq (hey, let's get our priorities straight!) while Dick Cheney was flyfishing and Condoleezza Rice was buying shoes. Spike Lee shows some old footage of Lyndon B. Johnson making a clumsy appearance in New Orleans following Hurricane Betsy -- old LBJ was out there in the dark with his flashlight and down-homey kind of way but at least he was there. People knew that he cared.

FEMA, as we all know, took five days to get to the city although somehow it only took our government two days to go across the world to help the tsunami victims. One can only conclude that it is deliberate disdain and racism or a complete lack of concern for people of lower incomes that resulted in such a horrifically slow and inadequate response to this tragedy.

Spike Lee, who I've always loved, tells the story of Katrina through the words of those who lived through it -- from rich to poor, black to white, the important to the "ordinary." Their tales moved me to tears and to an angry rage as the story unfolded from the beginning of the chaos to the cleanup -- or so-called -- and the bailouts of so many insurance companies who refused to pay up.

One thing that I would have appreciated in this HBO series was a few more facts. After watching for four hours, I still don't know exactly how many people were killed or injured. Also, there was a reference early on to the fact that the levees had been dynamited during Betsy and that some people suspected that the same may have happened during Katrina in order to flood out the homes of the poorest people to save the rich. That's a serious allegation and it deserved more time and attention in the film.

Otherwise, this DVD was fantastic. It was moving and irreverent -- a real eye-opener and must-see. Hope that it's resurrected before the next election!

Sigridmac, American living in Canada


Although I'm not a big fan of Jennifer Aniston's, I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced thriller about a married man who meets an attractive woman on a train and arranges a hookup. His relationship with his wife is strained because their young daughter is seriously ill and the woman that he, Clive Owens, meets, Aniston, offers the promise of soothing his pain. Little does he know that the heartache and nightmares are about to begin!

Jennifer Aniston plays a different type role, which is nice to see since she's usually typecast in that boppy, upbeat and giggly kind of way. She is serious, almost too much so, as a high-powered businesswoman.

Owens, who I just saw in Children of Men, does a marvelous job and I loved the unpredictability of the story. Looks as though he's on his way to being the next Nicolas Cage.


Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home

SEND is a great book that reminds us to check our knee-jerk reactions to e-mail. Regardless of how many years we've been on the Internet or how savvy we think we are in terms of e-mail etiquette, it doesn't hurt to brush up on some of the basics.

I can't count how many e-mails I receive in a given day that have a subject line that is completely unrelated to the topic; so many people, myself included, will continue a correspondence back and forth without ever changing the subject of the e-mail.

Due to the rapidity of the medium, we often expect unreasonably quick replies to our e-mails. And many people have no idea when to end a conversation. In person, we know how to do that easily. Most people are in agreement as to when a conversation is over but chitchat in e-mail can go back and forth into cyber eternity and someone has to know when to say stop, when to delete an e-mail or just reply with one line.

Much of the advice in this primer is based on common sense but I found it to be an excellent reminder that in general my own e-mails tend to be too long, partly because I dictate with a voice program, and that I reply too often instead of hitting the big "D" on my keyboard. Something here for everyone, particularly beginners, but also for old-timers too.


The Secret -- So unlike old-fashioned positive thinking

The Secret has a lot of things going for it. It emphasizes the importance of thinking positively and acting with confidence. It encourages people to affirm the abundance in their lives and to be grateful for what they already have. All of those are good things. If we think negatively and feel depressed, we're not likely to have amazing outcomes.

On the other hand, there are times when people work as hard as they possibly can but encounter numerous obstacles. If they don't succeed because they struggle against systemic racism, poverty, discrimination or debilitating illness, it's not their fault and there's no way that they can talk themselves out of that situation. They might be able to deal with it better but I preferred the more rational thoughts of Norman Vincent Peale to The Secret because he never blamed anyone and he was always sane and rational about who could and who couldn't further themselves.

There's a reason that the serenity prayer became very popular in 12 step programs and that's because there really are some things that we CAN control and other things that we CAN'T. Rape, child abuse, sudden dismissal from a job, a spouse dying, working at a crappy job for minimum wage... those things are out of many people's control. When we get into Third World issues, applying The Secret becomes ludicrous. Can we feed Ethiopians, eradicate HIV, boost sagging economies that are strangulated with debt? Hardly. No matter how much someone with AIDS in Kenya affirms that he is healthy, he won't be!

Don't get me wrong. I own The Secret and have watched it several times. For middle-class folks who are reasonably healthy, it's possible that the techniques here can make them happier and more successful. Having an attitude of expectancy is always a good thing unless we blame ourselves when our dreams don't materialize and we never had a chance in the first place.


The Queen -- One of the best movies I've seen in ages

The Queen was a fantastic depiction of the way that Queen Elizabeth may have felt following the death of Princess Diana. Despite all of the media hype about the latter, this movie is new, fresh and surprisingly funny. I laughed out loud a number of times both at the Queen and with her.

How can an apple become an orange? That's what Elizabeth had to do after the sudden and shocking death of her son's ex-wife, whom she had never liked to begin with. A reserved, imminently proper woman, Elizabeth was completely out of touch with the need of the public to grieve. She wanted to mourn privately but didn't understand that the country lost Diana too and had to have more closure. Although she wanted a private service, she needed to bend and come round to something that eventually included pop stars like Elton John -- a 180° turn that was most difficult for her.

As always, Helen Mirren is nothing short of amazing. I've loved her since her early days in Prime Suspect and have watched every episode! She doesn't disappoint here either; neither does the character who plays Tony Blair, whose name escapes me at the moment. Acting is great, story is wonderful. Only question I had was the reliability of the details and facts -- were those leaked by palace insiders? Interesting to know..

This is a movie I could watch two or three times and probably will!


Who was the monster?

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino is a compulsively readable book which grabbed my attention from the very first page when the narrator confessed a seething hatred for her unspeakably beautiful sister. Kirino shows exactly what kind of a curse striking beauty can be for a woman in the same way that ugliness or ordinary features work against women. She provides a scathing indictment of the highly competitive nature of Japanese female schools as well as the workplace and introduces a number of self-loathing individuals whose lives appear to be full of promise when they're young but in fact, their fate has been sealed early on.

Male-female relationships are portrayed as a form of combat; at one point, Kirino says that in order to decay, plants need water and that in the case of women, "men are the water." Ouch! Cruelty, competition and class are the big issues in this book along with sex and what might make a woman choose to prostitute herself.

In the end, Karino concludes that women become prostitutes because they hate other people -- a bit simplistic and dismissing a more obvious reason which is that many prostitutes, male and female alike, sell themselves simply for the money; because they're hooked on drugs or too young to get decent jobs or sexually abused and need to reenact the pattern.

The ending was ambiguous and left me with some unanswered questions but nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed every single page of this beautifully written, wonderfully analytical, wildly entertaining and provocative story about a young woman who grows up with an abnormally attractive sister who she calls the monster. "The monster" eventually becomes a prostitute along with another schoolgirl known by the narrator -- 6° of separation? -- and in the end we must conclude that all of the characters are monsters: mean-spirited, self-loathing and ridiculously self absorbed.

Well worth the read. Sigridmac

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Meet Marilyn Celeste Morris!

Marilyn Celeste Morris is on a Virtual Book Tour to discuss the release of her scintillating new book, Once a Brat, which is all about her life as a military brat following World War II.

Marilyn attended schools overseas, in Seoul Korea, 1946-47 and Linz, Austria (1949-1952) and various schools stateside. From this background, she has crafted her autobiographical Once a Brat, relating her travels with her army officer father from her birth in 1938 to his retirement in 1958.Her first novel, Sabbath’s Room, was published in 2001, and her most recent work, Diagnosis: Lupus: The Intimate Journal of a Lupus Patient was released in December, 2005 by Publish America. She has taught creative writing at Tarrant County College, Fort Worth TX and survived numerous book signings and speaking engagements. She is co-facilitator for the Fort Worth Lupus Support Group, North Texas Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America and advisor to the Board of Directors. When not writing or editing emerging writers’ manuscripts, she enjoys searching for former classmates and true to her Brat heritage, she has a suitcase packed under the bed, ready to travel at a moment’s notice.

I was fortunate enough to interview Marilyn recently and would like to post the content of our e-mail exchange here. If you have any further questions or comments, you can reach Marilyn Celeste Morris directly at (817) 246-2639 or by email: marilyncmorris at sign See also for excerpts of all three books. Her publications may be purchased by calling the publisher at 877-333-7422, from the website at; or your local bookstore can order for you. AND You can read an excerpt of Once a Brat here.


SIGRID: What was it like for you as a child growing up in war-torn countries like Austria and Korea? I understand that you had to keep a suitcase packed under the bed so as to be ready to evacuate if necessary. Wasn’t that frightening?

MARILYN: I would say maybe a bit apprehensive. When we were in Korea, we were aware that the Russians were above the 38th parallel, not far from Seoul, and it was commonly assumed that at some point, they would try to invade South Korea. Which they did, on June 25, 1950. We had left Korea by that time, and my dad was stationed in Linz Austria, but we were on a family vacation in Paris on that very day. What concerned us at that time was the possibility of war breaking out in Europe, too, and there we were…I may have been too confident in my assumption that if anything were likely to happen, the army would take care of us.

SIGRID: Was it difficult for you as a teenager being an Army brat? Most teens need to individuate and separate themselves from their parents; they want to rebel or act out in some fashion. There would have been serious consequences for you if you had done that.

MARILYN: Fortunately, by the time I reached high school age, we were back in the States and I was able to complete all three high school years in one school, Lawton, OK. As for trying to rebel, I just couldn’t do that; therefore, I was somewhat of a goody-two shoe who never acted out. (I saved that until my second divorce, lol!)

SIGRID: You've said that your life of moving from place to place has resulted in the ability to simply walk away from jobs, marriages or relationships without looking back. That must have been a helpful mechanism for you when you were young but has it put a damper in your adult life?

MARILYN: Yes, it was a helpful mechanism as I was growing up. I learned not to get too attached to a person or a place, so my relationships were superficial. Unfortunately, I carried that into my adult life and marriages, until I realized I was repeating that pattern. I did, however, enjoy my work as a “temp” in many job assignments, knowing I would be there only for a certain amount of time and I didn’t have to take any work-related problems home with me at the end of the day.

SIGRID: What do you think of the armed services today and the mixed feelings that people have about the Iraqi war? Unlike Vietnam, this time around the people who disagree with us being there seem to be much more able to separate their respect for the troops from their disapproval of the war.

MARILYN: The armed services today are completely different from when my dad was on active duty. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I might point out, however, that during WWII, we had a draft, and our young men came through. With today’s culture, I kind of cringe when I hear people protest against the war in Iraq, and this can’t help our soldiers’ morale. My feeling is, you can be against the war in the Middle East, but please support the troops over there.

SIGRID: Do you have any advice for young people who are growing up as Army brats today? Words of wisdom, perhaps.

MARILYN: As with yesterday’s army being completely different from today’s armed forces, the children of the military are no doubt experiencing a much different life than I did. My daughter and I went to Europe about ten years ago and stayed with some friends in an army base in Germany. It was like a Little America, with all the conveniences of home. But I suspect these kids still have a struggle with being moved around so much, just as I did. My words of wisdom would be, “You are experiencing a life others can only imagine, and maybe some day you will come to appreciate your nomadic way of life. I did.”

SIGRID: Marilyn, you've given us a lot to think about. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. It was great having you here and I wish you the very best success with your book!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Please Welcome Francine Silverman!

Hi everybody. This is Sigrid Macdonald, author of D'Amour Road. Today I'm pleased to welcome our guest, fellow author Francine Silverman. Fran has written four books altogether and the last two have to do with marketing and promoting. Fran is here today to talk about her latest book, Talk Radio for Authors – Getting Interviews Across the U.S. and Canada.

Before we start, I'd like to explain a bit about the format of doing a blog interview. I will ask Fran a number of questions and she will respond by clicking on the "comment" icon at the bottom of my post. After 20 minutes or so, I will open the floor up so that you readers have a chance to participate. Please reply the same way that Fran does via the "comment" button, and ask as many questions or make as many observations as you like. Now, down to business.

Hello Fran. How are you doing on this Monday afternoon?

... Stay tuned everybody. Fran is with me but she is just figuring out how to make a comment. We should be broadcasting momentarily.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Author Alert!

Coming Soon! March 12 at 2 p.m. right here on my webpage. Virtual Interview with Talk Radio Host Francine Silverman

Talk Radio for Authors – Getting Interviews Across the U.S. and Canada, by Francine Silverman, is hot off the press from Infinity Publishing.

The book is a valuable resource for authors and others since the guest criteria includes several specialties.

There are 40 categories and each listing contains the show’s theme, guest criteria, email address and website, along with host and guest bios providing background information and host opinions on what constitutes the best and worst guests. All this is designed to simplify the process of matching the guest with the show’s specialties and provide an intimate look at each program.

Talk Radio for Authors is available at Infinity Publishing at toll free number 1-877-BUY-BOOK

Francine Silverman was a newspaper reporter for many years but her writing/marketing career really began in 2003 when she was author of two local guidebooks, Catskills Alive (1st and 2nd editions, 2000 and 2003) and Long Island Alive (2003), both published by Hunter Publishing. Having trouble marketing them and hungry for ideas, she decided to start an ezine for authors of all genres.

Book Promotion Newsletter was born in March 2003. She compiled a questionnaire with all her burning questions that she continues to send to each new subscriber. Two years later, she had so many creative marketing strategies from subscribers that she put together a book called Book Marketing from A-Z (Infinity Publishing 2005), containing the best marketing tactics of 325 of them.

Fran was spending so much time on the computer that she decided to start an on-line publicity service and began offering a membership service to her subscribers in which she sends out Expert Sheets with their bios to radio hosts and columnists. At present, Fran has 50 clients and continues to find them radio and newspaper spots.

Then she began a radio show on Achieve Radio,, called "Book Marketing with Fran," in which she interviews authors about their marketing strategies. Meanwhile, she had accumulated so many radio show websites while doing publicity for her authors that she decided to compile her new book, Talk Radio for Authors - Getting Interviews across the U.S. and Canada.

I can personally attest to Francine's effectiveness since she landed me an interview on Sirius radio last year. I was a guest on The Good Life Show with Jesse Dylan -- a program that has featured Deepak Chopra and health guru, Andrew Weil. In fact, my interview is still up on The Good Life Show Web site, which ended up being an excellent advertisement for my first book on total hip replacements.

Fran will be doing a virtual interview with me on March 12. It will be posted here on D'Amour Road and it's entirely free! If you're a writer who is interested in promoting your work on air, make sure to tune in and participate in my interview with Fran. It will be well worth your while.

Sigrid Macdonald