Tuesday, March 21, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: John Achile Yusuf, Author

John Achile Yusuf, Author
John Achile Yusuf wanted to envision what it would be like to need to survive. In his recently-published novel, SURVIVAL, he tells the story of a group of students who crash in the jungle. He places everyday people in the extraordinary setting of a jungle where they face a choice of waiting for help or figuring a way out.

Yusuf, who says he’s not much of an outdoors person, did travel to the forest to get a feel for what it’s like to be alone there. He also checked in with others on how it feels to survive. He considers this first novel to be adventurous literary fiction and plans to continue writing.

Q: What inspired you to write SURVIVAL? Would you characterize it as “action and adventure” or “literary fiction?” Why?

John Achile Yusuf: My inspiration for SURVIVAL came to satisfy my curiosity. A friend of mine had died in a car accident and I couldn't shake the thought that he had survived and was somewhere in the forest waiting to be rescued. Added to that, I was fresh out of secondary school with no direction whatsoever. I seemed lost myself and needed to go on a journey of discovery. SURVIVAL is what you want it to be to you. To me it is an adventure and literary fiction. Though the regions exist, the settings are fiction as are the characters. So to me, it is an adventurous literary fiction.

Q: Do you have experience “surviving” in a jungle? If not, how did you envision your characters’ actions and responses to their setting?

John Achile Yusuf: I have not had a near-death situation in the jungle if that is what you mean, but I have been in the forest a few times during the writing of the book, not to spend days but to have a feel of what it would be like to be lost. I've stayed while it rained with no covering but trees, after a while the raindrops begin to hit you. I made sure to have some of the experiences firsthand, that way I could relate with my characters. Other aspects of experiences were gathered from other sources. I remember getting information from a soldier on surviving in that kind of environment for days and how it would begin to wear you down.

Q: How do you help readers engage with your characters? Why do we care what happens to them? Have you based them on real people? Are your characters heroic or normal people set in extraordinary circumstances?

John Achile Yusuf: My characters are based on everyday people, but to draw the reader to engage with the character I try to make the character outstanding in a particular aspect. Everyone has fantasies of what could be, and when you see someone with what you wish you had, you'll want to know how it plays out; one could relate with a particular character because it reminds him/her of someone and so on.

This will make you care what happens to the character, because you have either linked the character to yourself or someone you know; better still, you'll care because at that moment (reading the book) you have become a part of that world and you'd want to know how the characters fare.

The characters are mostly based on real people. But the trick is to take traits from a couple or more people and merge them into one character. The characters are not heroic, they are just everyday people plunged into extraordinary circumstances.

Q: By setting the book in the jungle, you were able to present specific circumstances to your characters in order to tell your story. How did your setting support your story?

John Achile Yusuf: In order for an adventure to take place, there has to be events and these events had to be created. In this case the setting is in a jungle. It was an open-ended setting. They have a chance at life; wait to be rescued – if at all help will come – or try to find a way out. In life people are programmed to survive, this story reflects the struggles young people go through when faced with decisions. Without proper guidance, many are lost and are never recovered.

Q: Is SURVIVAL a story to inform readers? Or to entertain?

John Achile Yusuf: It serves as both entertainment and a lesson to inform about the struggle for survival and the urgent need for guidance

Q:  Are there villains in SURVIVAL? What characteristics contribute to a compelling villain?

John Achile Yusuf: Not villains per say, just everyone playing out their roles and trying to survive. A compelling villain will be at the center of the story, working his way into the hearts of the readers/audience, make them hate, despise, blame or even like him/her. Not all villains die, by the way. But a compelling villain knows he is a villain and would do anything to protect that title.

Q: How do you create the tension or suspense to cause readers to want to turn the page?

John Achile Yusuf: We have the setting, the storyline and the characters. The most important thing for me is to create a flow and keep at it. Each scene linked to another and making sure not to drop into the black hole of boredom. So I read three to four scenes back before creating a next scene. This keeps the tempo for me and if the tempo drops beyond a certain mark, I cancel and create a different scene.

Q: Do you use humor to create characters or tell your story?

John Achile Yusuf: I use humor to tell story more than I use it to create characters

Q: What’s next? Do you plan to continue writing?

John Achile Yusuf: I have various write-ups I need to work on, and yes, I hope to continue writing

Q: Tell us about John Achile Yusuf. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

John Achile Yusuf: I read, watch documentaries and movies. I am not much of an outdoor person so good movies and good music keep me going. I don't like to cook alone but I like to help when the cooking is going on.

About John Achile Yusuf

John Achile Yusuf holds a Bachelor's Degree in Geography and Planning from Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria. SURVIVAL is his first book.


When the plane carrying a group of Nigerian students to South Africa for the annual African Colleges Competition, crashes into a Congolese jungle instead, there's a lot at stake. These students were chosen to represent the nation, because of their academic brilliance and sportsmanship; their ability to beat competitors is the reason they are their country's hope.

But in the jungle, there are different sets of rules … and some are being made up along the way. Thrust by Fate into hostile territory, it's not just a question of who will survive. There's also the issue of what – their friendships, innocence, sanity, sense of right and wrong, and hopes for the future.



The quiet air of the Congo jungle was suddenly broken. A fierce-looking, young man leaped over a log and through the shrubs. He was running breathlessly, cutting his way through marshy lands, hanging vines, low branches, twigs and the thistles. In his left hand, he clutched a white cowboy hat. The hat had been reduced to a dirty, brownish moistened piece of clothing, but its owner was not ready to let it go. In fact, he had just killed a man for this same hat—this same dirty brownish piece of clothing. In his right hand he held on tight to a re-curve folding knife.  It was The Commander.

He scuttled through the jungle, trying to keep from falling due to exhaustion. He kept at it. He was fleeing for dear life. There was nothing else on his mind, but to make a getaway. With no destination in mind, he ran aimlessly.

Hard on his trail were two vicious 4-foot-tall men with spears in their hands. They were quite familiar with this jungle so their feet went faster than his and began to gain on him. As he ran through the jungle, his mind raced over what would happen if he were caught. He began to think of those he had left behind, his friends who were in the hands of these brutal pygmies. It was with a jolt, that he remembered the two men he had stabbed. Had he really killed two men?

“Don’t be a fool,” he thought as he sped on.

He took a quick glance at the knife in his hand as if to make sure the bloodstain was really there and to confirm he had really stabbed the men. To his dismay and relief, there was blood smeared along the shaft of the 3-inch blade. He ran, swinging it through the air.

His blows had been precise and he had sliced the right nerves and veins, so their continued existence was out of the question. Come to think of it, taking their lives was worth it. If the men died, then he had done a good deed.

Femi was injured and it was by the arrows of one of these men. So what if he had killed them? It was in self-defense, he encouraged himself. Then his mind returned to the escape.

He had to lose these men as soon as possible, then think of what to do. As he thought on these things, his legs gained ground, vigor returned and he began to run faster. He only began to slow down when he listened but heard no footsteps behind him. He came to a sudden halt and turned around sharply. He didn’t know why he decided to stop, but a thought was forming. Perhaps he could fight these two men and take their lives as well.

But when he turned, there was nothing. Apart from the chirping of a few birds, the croaking of distant frogs looking for mates and the crickets making their evening appearance, it was just quiet. He dropped his jaw wider and let in as much air as possible—he needed the jungle air.

He remained alert. He scanned the area with his eyes and his grip on the handle of the knife became firmer. It was too quiet for his liking. He had expected his pursuers to burst through one of the openings. But they didn’t. He waited. Then, his nerves began to relax. He managed to drag himself to the hidden shades of a thicket, before beginning to sob. He went down on one knee, then on all fours, weeping hysterically.

SURVIVAL  is available for purchase on 

Twitter https://twitter.com/achilegodson 

Monday, March 6, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Nataša Nuit Pantović, Author, Trainer, Yogi and Spiritual Researcher

Nataša Nuit Pantović, Author, Trainer,
Yogi & Spiritual Researcher
Nataša Nuit Pantović brings us her ninth book, TREE OF LIFE, as part of the Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training series. She considers the Alchemy of Love Mindfulness a spiritual rather than a religious endeavor. TREE OF LIFE is poetry— spiritual not religious—that is an “inspirational and motivational encounter with various spiritual journeys into Love, Consciousness, Bliss.”

Nataša Nuit Pantović has traveled widely and currently lives in Malta with her two children. At the moment she is working on her next book, “Conscious Creativity.”

Q: You’ve just published the ninth book of your Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training series. What is love mindfulness and what drove you to write this series?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: A team of spiritual researchers worked hard for 5 years to give birth to a serial: Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training, non-fiction and fiction books that explore the alchemy of soul, and our inner quest to reach our highest potential. The serial includes 2 books on Mindful Eating (exploration of a vegetarian and vegan life-style), 2 courses on Mindful Living (Mindful Being and Conscious Parenting), 12 modules of a personal development journey that inspire creative thinking with hundreds of transformation tools, 2 spiritual poetry books (Art of 4 Elements and Tree of Life) and a Spiritual Fiction Novel set in Macau at the Time of Enlightenment (17th century) called: Ama Alchemy of Love.

Q: TREE OF LIFE is your newest book. On what aspect of love mindfulness does it focus?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: TREE OF LIFE is a spiritual poetry book that explores our relationship to Divine. Through the meditation poetry, mindfulness poems, alchemy meditations, we enter a yin & yang journey into Tao. Spiritual not Religious the book is inspirational and motivational encounter with various spiritual journeys into Love, Consciousness, Bliss.

Q: Why did you select poetry as the best way to communicate TREE OF LIFE?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: Tree of Life in various religious interpretations, within myths, and as a mystical concept represents the inter-connectedness of all life on our beautiful planet. The Tree of Life is considered to be the symbol of 'Creator'. Mayan believed that Heaven, Earth, and Underworld are connected by the ‘world tree’.  The world tree flows out into four directions. I am deeply fascinated by the four directions, the four manifestation of life on Earth and the symbolism that connects Eastern and Western mythology and philosophy.  The cross with branches passing through each of the layers of existence - underworld, earth, and the sky. The poetry expression is the easiest way to express this most amazing journey.

Q: You’ve traveled widely and researched multiple approaches to “love mindfulness.” Does one approach appeal to you more than another?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: The Eastern and Western approaches to God and spirituality developed in different directions. The western thrived exploring science, music, sports while the eastern focused on the interconnectedness of all, with a greater emphasis on myths, occult, micro-macro relationships. There are Yin and Yang approaches to life. Within my novel A-MA: ALCHEMY OF LOVE, I explore these in greater details. A-MA is set in 17th century China, at the time of first real contact of Eastern and Western civilizations, first printing books, first Universities that translated ancient works, first enlightened minds that saw that the merge of the two could lead to an amazing wisdom sharing.

Q:  Could you list 3-5 tips on how readers can practice and/or achieve love mindfulness. What’s most important in their quest?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: We all have a wish to live our highest potential and with a conscious effort we can learn to listen to our Souls. Mindfulness is a Spiritual Transformation Tool that works with Mind Training and it just cannot be compared with any 'fast food' recipe, or quick 'out of the box' enjoyment technique. Learn from the elements, from water the vastness of Blue, “Allowing oneself to Be in Silence, to Be with Nature, explore various Spiritual Exercises,…, respecting each unique Being, our Mother Earth and our amazing Matrix of Causes and Effects.” Nuit (Mindful Being quote). We waste tremendous time and energy with all the technology gadgets. I have never had a TV or a mobile phone, and I use my Internet only to work, does this fact resonate with you? Can you imagine the amount of creative time you would gain if you would learn how to “control” your technology addictions and focus on creativity, love, relationships?

Q:  You have included CONSCIOUS PARENTING in your series. Can children be taught to engage love mindfulness? Vice versa, can adults embrace it without childhood exposure? Or do we need to be reared to be mindful of love?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: After helping Father George (a most inspiring Priest who works in Africa) build a school in a remote area of Ethiopia, I decided to enter the most amazing world of parenthood adopting two angels from Ethiopia as a single mum. My 25 years of yoga and meditation, and my spiritual exploration journey through Theosophy, Zen, Tantra, Antroposophy, Yoga, my yogic vegetarian life-style where I danced barefoot in the rain, meditated for hours in search of God, read 1,000s of spiritual books still could not prepare me for the joys and troubles of parenting. My children Ema and Andrej are my biggest Conscious Parenting teachers. They took me on to this mindfulness journey of parenting taking me out of my comfort zones. It is us parents that need to engage and train Mindfulness and Love, it is us parents that need to go back to inspiration, creativity and contact with Soul, Nature, God.
'Soul stands at the center of the children growth and development, as an Essence, an Observer, consciousness coming forth to experience the magic of Life. Be tentative to the Soul’s whispers. A child has a deep longing to discover that the world is based on truth. Respect that longing. In our attempt to help children grow into inspired adults, we wish them to carry the youthfulness of their souls, and the wonders of childhood into their old age.' Nuit, Conscious Parenting

Q: You have been to many countries (50+) and exposed to many people and cultures. Do you see differences between the poor in developing countries versus the more affluent in Western developed countries regarding love mindfulness?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: My soul is the one of a nomad and I learn tremendously every time when in a different country. Travelling through Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu countries often as a single woman or without a lot of money helped me see that we are all One in our search for God, Oneness, Inspiration, Beauty, that we just call God different names. Once you hugged a 3,000 year-old Kaori tree, been chased by an elephant on your way through Savana, shared tea with Bedouins in Sahara, faced a lion walking with a Maori guide, prayed with Tibetan Buddhists, Hindu Priests, Portuguese Alchemists, within Orthodox Christian caves, you know that this amazing mix of cultures help us enter the space of New Consciousness.

Q: Do you consider love mindfulness a religion? Why or why not?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: The Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training is Spiritual not Religious endeavor: we do not represent any Religion or a Sect. There is NO attempt to sell the offering as an offering of a ‘Guru’. The spiritual exercises from various Gurus and Philosophers are used within our mindfulness courses. We also do not want to sell ‘Instant Happiness’. No ‘Get Rich in a Day’ messages, with a firm belief that if we do learn how to listen to our Soul we will be able to live our Highest Potential.

All the major religions in the past, together with New Age philosophies, have used practices such as: mindfulness, meditation, prayer, music, dance, singing, writing, art, sports etc.  These practices improve health but also help in living a better life. Exploring the field of Mindfulness we found our mission. It is to help the explorers grow as conscious human beings. Alchemy had the same goal. We do not attempt to answer questions but to inspire the search and research within this area.

Q: What’s next? Will you continue to write love mindfulness training articles?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: At the moment I am preparing a new book called: “Conscious Creativity”. Working as Head of Business Development of a UK IT company for 10 years left me with some inspiring personal development tools that I wish to explore further within a course that has a “Creativity” focus, creativity as a divine inspiration.

Q: Tell us about Nataša Nuit Pantović. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Nataša Nuit Pantović: Nature, friends, family, books and learning something new. I learned to roller-blade when I was 25, started my Chinese and piano lessons when I was 40, went into deeper explorations of Astrology when 30. The world is full of exciting explorations and I am its very devoted explorer.

About Nataša Nuit Pantović:

Nataša Pantović Nuit is author, trainer, yogi and spiritual wesearcher who lives and works in Malta. She is the author of 9 Mindfulness Books called Alchemy of Love Mindfulness Training.

Nuit has traveled through more than 50 countries and lived in 5: UK, New Zealand, Holland, Serbia and Malta. She Worked as Head of Business Development, Trainer and Organizer of various Body Mind Spirit Festivals. In Malta, she now writes and lectures about a variety of spiritual and self-development topics.

Always fascinated with energies of: Love, Divine, Power of Mind, Creativity, Tao, Living one's Highest Potential, Nuit writes self-development courses, poetry, novels exploring topics of inner-development, esoteric or occult teachings, and New Consciousness. The main theme of her Mindfulness Books is our alchemy transformation, the alchemy of soul, our everlasting quest to find the gold within, discovering the stone that transforms metals into gold.

She holds a BSc Economics, Belgrade.

Tree of Life Spiritual Poetry Book Spiritual Poetry. The beauty and wisdom of alchemy is in transforming a soul into its highest potential. Within the Nordic cultural myths we find Yggdrasil, the tree that provides a magical spring-water of knowledge. In Chinese mythology a Taoist story tells us of a peach magical tree that produces a peach every three thousand years. The one who eats the fruit becomes immortal. At the base of the Tree of Life is a dragon, and at the top is a phoenix. Climbing the Tree of Life, enjoy my poetic spiritual exploration into alchemy, meditation, Tao, Tantra, magic and mysticism and feel free to create your own journey.


A-ma Alchemy of Love Novel Spiritual Historical Novel. A-Ma is a historical spiritual novel set in the 17th century Macao that follows lives and spiritual insights of settlers of this little
peninsula in the middle of China. A-Ma main protagonist is Ama, an African alchemist, Goddess, a guru, a lover, a story-teller that inspires and gathers artists, preachers, priests, philosophers from all around the world within the magic settings of her coffee house. She believes in a Spiritual truth that we all can live our highest potential, discovering the gold within. Traveling through space and time, we find ourselves in the midst of an amazing blend of Chinese, Portuguese and Africans that live together on this little peninsula. This magic place that is rapidly growing as a center of trade offers a consciousness pot for the highest alchemical practice ever, the alchemy of humanity, creating an energy matrix that will change the lives of generations to come.


Link to Amazon for TREE OF LIFE
Link to Amazon for A-MA ALCHEMY OF LOVE 

Published by Artof4Elements
Twitter @alchemylovenuit

Monday, February 27, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Mark Flagel, Author

Mark Flagel, Author
Mark Flagel offers PEACH MOMENTS, his new short piece to inspire readers to realize that recalling their “peach moments” can help guide them through tough times. He believes that these special moments of happiness and exhilaration can help overcome some of life’s hardships.

In a previous interview here, Flagel discussed his novel PRICE OF GOLD based on the East German secret doping of its female athletes in the 1976 Olympics—an occurrence that he believes needs to be better understood. 

He is currently considering setting up a web page for people to describe their “peach moments” and writing a new book with the working title “A Millennial Handbook”.  Flagel is a retired lawyer, who has always wanted to write. 

Q: What drove you to write PEACH MOMENTS?  Why reach out to people to get them to savor their best moments?

Mark Flagel: We live in a complex, mysterious, painful, unjust, yet magnificent and wondrous world. When I was 18 years old, I was a bit pissed off at the world, at what I perceived to be the unfairness of having to work 30 hours a week to help support myself through college, at the fact that so many people had so much more than I had. Then I bit into that peach and dissolved into a state of pure euphoria.

When I emerged from that moment, I felt maybe, just maybe, my and anyone else’s relative disadvantages didn’t matter so much, because I knew no one on earth, no matter how advantaged they were, could experience more bliss than I just had in that moment, and everyone is capable of having similar moments. Disadvantage and injustice and hardship abound. We see it everywhere. It can be debilitating.

So I felt it important to reach out and write a very short piece that will (I hope) be inspirational, motivational and contemplative, and suggest to everyone that peach moments are one of life’s great equalizers, and that a reflection on the peach moments of your life can lift you up through difficult times.

Q: One of your reviewers says PEACH MOMENTS is “an inspirational book for all ages.” Did you intend for it to be for a specific age group? Or do you believe that even the “youth” should take the time to relish their special moments? Who can benefit most from your book?

Mark Flagel: I didn’t intend to be limiting. Peach moments are blind to age. They're for everyone, and the idea of taking time to relish special moments is a universal one. It’s my hope that everyone who reads PEACH MOMENTS will benefit in some way, either by focusing on, remembering, and looking forward to their own peach moments, or just by thinking about some of the complexities of life addressed in the book. Of course, some parts of the book are intended for mature audiences, as peach moments can involve physical intimacy and other adult oriented situations, so parents might want to exercise some discretion with children.

Q: What is there in your story to make people cherish their best moments? How do you make readers care about your “character” or comprehend your message?

Mark Flagel: The goal of PEACH MOMENTS is to have readers focus, not on me or my character, but on themselves. The articulation of some of my own peach moments is intended to evoke reactions like: “Wow, I remember a moment like that;” or: “I felt the same way when [fill in the blank]”. Jumping back and forth between some of life’s complexities, injustices and mysteries, on the one hand, and peach moments, on the other, is intended to get readers to think about their own views on these issues, but to end up back within the realm of blissful remembrances of their peach moments.

Q: Do you believe that your message is relevant universally?

Mark Flagel: I do. Mysteries and complexities and ups and downs follow everyone through life. Everyone should be reminded that, no matter their circumstances in life, they can experience moments that take them to the highest of heights, and that eliminate or at least lessen some of the disparities they feel and injustices they see around them.

Q: Can you provide 3-5 tips to help us cherish our special moments?

Mark Flagel: Take a moment, every day, to reflect on the positive. If you feel sad or angry or stressed out, pull out a photo album of your last family gathering or vacation. Then think about the next time you’ll be seeing family or good friends or celebrating a special occasion. Put your favorite music on, turn it up, and let it envelop you. Dance. Call someone close to hear the sound of their voice. Think about some of the simple things that add joy to your life.

Q: What do you believe prevents people from appreciating their special moments?

Mark Flagel: I don’t think of anything as preventing people from appreciating special moments. That said, life has a habit of knocking people down. The world is full of hardship and injustice. Difficulties can be suffocating, and the swirl of life can cause anyone to feel angst and sadness and stress. PEACH MOMENTS is really just a simple way for me to suggest a path to rise above and know that each and every one of us, despite the difficulties of life, can pull ourselves up to the highest heights of bliss, happiness and serenity.

Q: You’ve also written PRICE OF GOLD, a novel about the East German secret doping of its female athletes in the 1976 Olympics. Did you enjoy writing one more than the other? Do you prefer fiction over inspirational writing?

Mark Flagel: The books are very different, and I greatly enjoyed writing both. PRICE OF GOLD allowed me to fictionalize a very real and troubling doping story that I still feel has been largely and unfortunately overlooked. PEACH MOMENTS, on the other hand, allowed me to express a message of hope, optimism and egalitarianism, with emphasis on this last notion – that peach moments are great equalizers; they are for everyone, and allow everyone, regardless of circumstance, to reach the highest heights imaginable.

Q: You spent most of your life as a lawyer. What caused you to want to write?

Mark Flagel: Ever since I can remember wanting to be anything, I wanted to be a writer. I decided, though, early on, to focus on making a living first, so I chose law. It was a good choice for me, as I greatly enjoyed my 31 years as a practicing attorney. But the yearning to write things (other than legal stuff) never left, so I decided to pull the trigger and indulge that yearning.

Q: What’s next?

Mark Flagel: I’m considering building a website to allow people to post their own peach moments and comment on the peach moments of others. I’m also working on a book that’s tentatively titled “A Millennial Handbook”. Stay tuned on both fronts.

Q: Tell us about Mark Flagel. In a previous interview you said you like to play poker, walk and think, and spend time with your family. What special moments have you had recently that you’d like to share?

Mark Flagel: All those things are still true! I’ve been very blessed this past year to have taken some fun trips with family, to Galway and London and Paris and Berlin and good old Big Bear, California. There were many special moments, and I’ll share one. My older son is in the Army. My wife and I took him, three of his Army and one of his Navy buddies up to Big Bear just before Christmas. One evening we all sat around the dinner table, and I asked them if they were happy having chosen a path that will likely call on each of them to put their lives at risk defending our country. To a man, they didn’t blink, they didn’t flinch, and they each, with gleams in their eyes, said they couldn’t be happier or more proud and they couldn’t conceive of doing anything else. There were many reasons for the tears in my eyes at that moment. We are the free; they are the brave. I, too, could not have been more proud. It was a very special moment.

About Mark Flagel

Mark Flagel was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1958. Westminster, the neighborhood he was raised in, was a blue-collar, middle-class environment that did much to shape his future values. Flagel moved to Long Beach in 1974 before attending UCLA to study political science. He graduated magna cum laude in 1980 and went on to law school at UC Berkeley. He practiced law for thirty-one years before retiring in 2014 to pursue his lifelong passion of writing.


Peach Moments are the great equalizers. They’re the blissful, euphoric moments that can arise from love, achievement, beauty, a spiritual experience, and so many other, simple sources (including, for example, biting into a juicy, succulent peach on a hot summer day). No matter who we are or how much money we have, our Peach Moments can take us to the highest heights imaginable. No one—not your boss, not the millionaires or billionaires of the world, not the royal families or politicians of the world—has ever experienced a higher level of bliss than you did in your Peach Moments.

PEACH MOMENTS describes author Mark Flagel’s original “peach moment,” then alternates between observations regarding some of life’s mysteries and other Peach Moments from Mark’s life, as food for thought and to remind you of Peach Moments from your own life—those moments, there for every single one of us, that take us to a blissful, euphoric, serene state of mind.

Author Twitter: @peachmoments

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Christopher Hansen & J.R. Fehr, Authors

Christopher Hansen, co-author
Volumes 1 and 2

Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr bring us THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP, volumes 1 and 2, described by one reviewer as “Whoo whoo whoosh! A mega magical experience!---- A wonderfully written story of a world where everyone has magic and can do magic, the authors take it one step further into the world of augmented reality.” Both authors value their characters and even learn from them, have an appreciation for the rules of world-building and magic, and combine approaches of “reflecting” images or feelings along with “echoes” of real life.

Although they live 1,000 miles apart in different countries, they collaborated on all parts of the two volumes. They plan to continue to write together. Christopher Hansen enjoys spending time with his family and exploring with his three children. J.R. Fehr has a day job working with people with disabilities but also finds time for an active social life in Vancouver, British Columbia.

J.R. Fehr, co-author
Volumes 1 and 2
Q: What led you to write THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP? Are you a fan of fantasy stories? Do either or both of you have a favorite fantasy author?
Christopher Hansen: Yup I’m a fan of fantasy. But I’m not a fan boy; I don’t have a real sword hanging on my wall and I don’t have the slightest clue how to speak elvish. I have plenty of fantasy authors I enjoy, but there is one I think is way-WAY-way above all the rest. This may seem nutty, but it’s whoever made all of the fantastic stuff we see here on earth.

Take geckos for example. They are so cool. I once spent the night in a rundown wooden hut in Hawaii. It was awful. But there was a gecko climbing around on the walls chirping all night long. And somehow, it transformed this nightmarish hut into something wonderful. 

Or take volcanoes. Think of lava exploding up into the air or rivers of hot red, liquid rock. Who could have thought up something like that? It’s absolutely crazy. And then don’t get me started about all the photos the Hubble telescope has taken of the stars. Geesh, if I could invent a fantasy story one billionth as fantastical as that I’d be happy. 

J.R. Fehr: When I was younger, I was a big fan of The Wheel of Time, but I’d have to say my favorite fantasy author is C.S. Lewis (and not just Narnia either). I took a class on his fiction in university and loved every second of it. His final novel, Till We Have Faces, was one of the biggest influences on my first novel, Skyblind.

As to the bigger question, what led me to write THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP . . . well, that is a bit of a story. It all started when Chris Hansen, my co-writer and friend, was up visiting me at my home in Vancouver, Canada. One day, we decided to meet with another artistic friend of mine who had just completed a new project. And, much to his dismay, the initial reception was not great. This friend was deeply discouraged and was on the brink of giving up his art altogether.
This encounter left a lasting impression on Chris and myself. Without saying too much about it, this experience ended up being one of the key pieces in the formation for the original idea of THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP.

 Q: Who are the target readers for THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP? Young adults? Would you also characterize it as a “coming-of-age” story?
J.R. Fehr: It is definitely a “Coming of Age” story, and the target audience would fall to teens, but I wouldn’t want to limit it to just them. I feel like the themes discussed here are relevant to all ages, and that this story is full of characters that (hopefully) anyone can relate with. Most of the characters are 16, but there’s a few point of view characters who are older.  

Q:  Did you create “rules” for the magic of your characters? Do these rules help to offer a sense of credibility?
Christopher Hansen: Did we create rules? Wow. That’s like asking if presidents create executive orders or if Texans like BBQ. (Texans generally do, by the way.) 
Yup, we spent a lot of time creating rules. We did this primarily because we, as authors, needed to stand on solid ground when we were writing the story. We needed to know what could happen and what could not in this world. 

J.R. Fehr: Oh yes. We spent a significant amount of time working out the rules for the magic, as well as the rules for everything else. This was part of a “world building” phase that we were in. I’d estimate that we spent about 5-6 months working steadily on this, as the “magic” in our story is quite different than traditional magic.

Q: Are there heroes and villains in THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP? What are the characteristics of a compelling villain?
Christopher Hansen: Yes there are. But the heroes and villains might be difficult for some people to see. I wanted the characters in the book to reflect ordinary people in our world. So there aren’t Super-heroes or Super-villains. There are people who have aspects of themselves that are heroic as well as aspects that are villainous. We had fun taking characters and flipping our understanding of them upside down and then upside down again. In one chapter a character will act heroic, but then later on they will be a real stinker, only to later on do something marvelous. 

This said, there is one primary villain in the series of books. He/She/It is very hidden. But he/she/it is hard at work, doing diabolical, villainous stuff. Muwah ha, ha. Cackle. Hiss. 

Q: How do you engage your readers to care about your characters? How will we relate to characters who make magic?
Christopher Hansen: For me, THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP is all about the characters. Writing it was such a joy, primarily because I fell in love with the characters. I spent a tremendous amount of time listening to them (which, I’m sure must sound utterly strange and maybe preposterous) and getting to know them.  
I never know if readers will relate to my characters. But people really have connected to the characters in these books. I have no idea how this happens.

Practically what I do is rather straightforward. I assume no one will care about my characters unless I care about them. I figure if I can relate to them, others might also. I also think it’s important for characters to feel real, or believable. This is especially true with characters who have magical powers. So we spent a lot of time working out the rules of the magic so that what the characters did with magic felt “real.” 

J.R. Fehr: The simplest explanation is just giving the characters time to be real people. Both Chris and I try to let the characters speak to us out of their own characteristics, rather than force them to say or do things to advance a plot. As a result, this is a story full of rich characters. 
As to relating to characters who make magic . . . all fiction echoes real life. It is my hope that when people read the things I write, that they’ll get a sense of themselves. Readers can think “What would I do in that situation?” or “How would I act if I faced those obstacles?” Everyone can’t cast out magical projections in our world, but we can do other things that are similar. I encourage any readers to ponder that, and consider what the equivalent of making magical projections would be in our world. We may not be able to make a magical blue wallaroo appear, but we can certainly create other things with our talents.

Q: Is THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP primarily for entertainment or did you embed a few messages along the way?
Christopher Hansen: Can I say, “Neither”? I sure hope people find the books entertaining. I love fun stories and I love to write things that interest me and make me laugh. As a result there are many silly, fun things in the books. And I also hope some readers find some message in the books that helps them in life. However, neither of these things was a goal. 

Instead the objective was for the books to reflect something. Think of a painting. A painter takes something they see and then attempts to reflect that something onto a canvas with paint. It may be something they can see with their eyes, like a waterfall, a buffalo, or their daughter. Or it might be something imaginary, say a dragon or a person they’ve never seen. It can also be something abstract, say a feeling or an idea.

Before I set out to write a book I generally want to know what it is a reflection of. Sometimes I don’t know what this is until I’ve written an entire first draft of the book. On occasion it may take even longer. Other times, like with THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP, it was clear in my mind right from the beginning. For me this isn’t a message. It’s something that exists in reality. To give you an example, it may be childhood friendship. You know those relationships that you have before puberty, hormones, and dating seem to scramble our brains and change what friendships are. That’s not the theme of  THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP, by the way. I’m just giving an example. 

It’s generally wise for an author to keep the specific thing a book is reflecting a secret. This is because the thing it reflects is often killed when the author reveals it. It’s like taking a living frog and dissecting it. While this does have value to help people understand frogs, it does end the frog's life. After you look at the heart, lungs, and gall bladder of the frog, it’s not going to get up, start hopping around the table, or make its cute croaking sound. I as an author desire to create living things, but I’m happy for others to dissect the books I write. Thus, I’ll leave it to you to open up THE MAGICIAN’S WORKSHOP and see what reflection of reality you find inside. 

J.R. Fehr: Just as I said “all fiction echoes real life” I’d also say that fiction is very rarely (if ever) purely entertainment. I believe that every story has some meaning and is filled with messages—even if the readers (or authors) don’t recognize them.

Q: How do you use your settings or worlds to propel the story?

Christopher Hansen: For me stories consist of a world, the characters that exist in that world, the actions the characters take in that world, and finally the way the world changes because of those character’s actions. Thus, I need to know a lot about the setting/world and characters before I can begin to craft a story. 

Put another way: Stories are propelled by characters. But those characters exist in a world that has rules, history, geography, weather, and all kinds of things that affect those characters. The more solid the world, the more solid your characters can be. And if you have solid characters who have clear dramatic desires the story usually flows pretty easily. 

Q: How do the two of you work together as authors? Do you divide chapters or character development between you?
Christopher Hansen: We have loved working together; co-writing has been the best experience. 

The short answer is that we did everything together. This was easier than we expected even though we live in different countries, about a thousand miles apart. But it took a lot of time, about three to four times as long as it would take writing a book alone. Most of our work was done over the phone. We must have racked up thousands of hours. Pity the cell phone company that sold me an unlimited international calling plan for $5 a month. 

J.R. Fehr: Ah, yes. Co-writing is quite the interesting endeavour. It was really easy in the beginning. It was just a matter of brainstorming ideas and coming to agreement on things. When we actually started writing, we divided up pieces of the plot and assigned certain characters to each-other to work on. We’d write an initial “1.0” pass on a chapter, then share that with the other person, who’d go through and improve it with a “2.0,” which they’d then send back. We’d go back and forth like this, editing each-other’s work and improving areas where one might be weaker. Honestly, it was so much fun. I’ve been writing all my life, but I definitely think co-writing is my favorite. It’s so nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and to help me out when I get stuck.

Q: What’s next? Will you continue to work together?
J.R. Fehr: That’s the plan! I’m mega excited to share the rest of the story with you!

Q: What do you both like to do when you’re not writing?
J.R. Fehr: I have a day job working with people with disabilities, which—when combined with writing—takes up most of my week. I’m pretty active in my community here in Vancouver, and I have a rich social life. I don’t have any hobbies that are anything that exciting, but I do enjoy board games, hiking, movies, and traveling.

Christopher Hansen: I spend most of my free time with my family. I have three kids and we do all kinds of things together. One of our favorites is to be out in nature. Just last weekend my son and I went on a nighttime snowshoe hike. We trekked in the dark up to the top of a mountain where the wind was blowing at forty miles an hour. It was so strong it was constantly knocking us over. Bits of snow were flying through the air and stinging our nearly frozen faces. We were hungry. Our hands were damp and numb. 

But despite all this it was absolutely incredible. A huge wall of clouds covered the full moon. Every so often the wind would blow the clouds in a way that allowed the moon to peek out. Whenever this happened the moon was so bright that it was able to light up everything, almost like it was day. By its light, a nearby mountain range would appear. The valley below us would light up. The snow covering the grove of trees behind us would glow. It was an utterly inhospitable place for humans, yet there we were, witnessing something incredible. 

We stood, fighting against the wind, watching the world blink in and out of existence, like someone was switching the light switch on and off in their bedroom. One moment we would be standing in nothing but darkness, then the moon would break free and the world would light up. This only lasted for a brief moment before a new patch of clouds would rush in and cover over the moon once again, thrusting everything into darkness once again. Back and forth it went, like some cosmic battle. But all along, the moon kept on rising. Bit by bit, it traveled higher in the sky. Eventually, it was well above the clouds, and there was no fear of it being covered again. Everything remained lit up. 

And in this light we hiked down the mountain. It was easy to see; there was no fear of getting lost. The whole experience was magical.

About Christopher Hansen
The first glimmering Chris Hansen had that there was far more to reality than he had ever imagined occurred six days after his ninth birthday. “Christopher!” cried a wise, old sage. “Life is full of deep magic. Miraculous things happen all the time and all around us, if you know where to look for them.” Full of expectation and childlike optimism, Chris began searching for this magic, prepared to be surprised and amazed by it. And he was: he found Wonder! Now he’s chosen to write stories about it.

When J.R. Fehr popped out of the womb, he knew there was more to the world than the four boring hospital walls that he was seeing. “Zango!” his newborn mind exclaimed as he saw people appear and disappear through a mysterious portal in the wall. As a child he found life wowtazzling, but as he grew older the cold water of reality hit him, and the magic he once knew vanished. After spending some wet and shivering years lost in a joyless wasteland, he once again began to see magic in the world. He writes because the Wonder of true life is far grander than anything he ever thought possible.

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as
nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.


In Volume Two, the Festival of Stars has finally arrived, and the Color Ceremony is about to commence. As children from all over the islands gather to stand before a puller, one question remains: who will have a Color, and who will be found void?

Rejoin your favorite characters as they step forward and receive a label that will have the power to dramatically alter the course of their lives forever.

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