Book Review

Reviewed by Heidi Sutton

When Center Moriches resident Lauren Coffey was recovering from surgery eight years ago, she used that time to write her first children’s book “The Adventures of Lola Larissa Lily a little lady bug.” On March 9, she will release a sequel to that book, “The Adventures of Lola Larissa Lily a little lady bug finds a fantastic friend.” Recommended for ages 2 to 9, the 27-page picture book, with adorable illustrations by Charles Berton, uses a fun, whimsical writing style that children can relate to in order to teach an important life lesson. Coffey recently took time out from preparing for a book launch at the Book Revue in Huntington to answer a few questions about her latest venture.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am originally from Center Moriches on the eastern end of Long Island and have always loved working with children. I went to college for early childhood education but then switched to business and psychology. I moved around a lot for work in my 20s and then ultimately moved back to Long Island as I just missed it too much.

For most of the last decade I have been working in the benefits field, primarily with Aflac. My partner and I have a full-service insurance firm called the Coffatello Group. I made that switch after I had a pretty major accident myself. I love what I do because of how I am helping people and currently expanded my passion for helping others into the business community as well. In addition, for the past two years I have been acting in the capacity of business development and events planning for a regional networking organization.

What were your favorite books growing up?

I loved all of the Dr. Seuss books. I still have the originals that my brother and I read together. I also enjoyed anything that involved horses. I actually read the “Encyclopedia of the Horse” as child over and over.

Why did you decide to start writing children’s books?

I don’t think it started as a conscious decision. I always had journals of short stories and poems that I would scribble in. The first book was actually written in 2009 after I had a bad accident and a major surgery that put me out of commission for many months. I was going stir crazy and I was immobile and one can only watch so much TV. I decided to make a storyboard for my first niece. That didn’t take me as long as I had hoped so I wrote a story for all of the creatures I had just made to tell her. Everyone told me for years that I should publish this; so in 2014 I did. “The Adventures of Lola Larissa Lily a little lady bug” was born.  Then people started telling me how much their children loved it and asked for a sequel.

How would you summarize the book?

The book introduces a new character and teaches an important lesson; never judge others by how they look. Similar to the first in that it involves all the characters in the series, the book shows camaraderie and the close relationship they have overlooking the types of creatures they are, i.e., frog friends with a dragonfly and lion with a zebra.

What do you hope children will learn from reading this book?

I hope that they learn in a fun way to be accepting of others by taking the time to learn about one another, diversity and treating people or any living being with respect instead of just assuming and judging someone.

Why did you decide to make the main character a lady bug? 

Who doesn’t like lady bugs? Often people who hate bugs often will like lady bugs. It just sort of happened organically as I started writing the story.

What other types of creatures are found in the book?

Zebra, flamingo, frog, turtle, lion, dragonfly, lady bug, giraffe and elephant and Lola Larissa Lily’s new fantastic friend … who is revealed in the new story … but you have to read it to find out!

All of the characters have funny names like Dee Dee Delilah Danda and Fiona Florence Fatima. Why did you decide to do that?

I love laughing, having fun and being silly. I was imagining the laughter of my niece and now the children as I was thinking of the most ridiculous combinations possible but try to have them be rhythmic as well. Mainly I wanted names that are not commonly used.

How would you describe Lola Larissa Lily? 

I think that she is a very open-minded, optimistic, all inclusive and an empathetic little lady bug who loves living life and having fun with all her friends. Lola Larissa Lily also has grit, determination and loyalty, which we saw in the first book.

Will there be more adventures with Lola Larissa Lily in the future?

Yes! There will definitely be more adventures and I can’t wait to share them!

Tell us more about your book launch at the Book Revue on March 9.

I will be reading an excerpt from the book and doing a signing at 7 p.m. All of my books will be available for purchase at the Book Revue that day, and there will be some fun activities for the kids. Many of my events have a pajama-optional invite and this one is no different. It will be a great time for everyone. Future book signings will all be posted on my Facebook page and at www.LaurenCoffeyBooks.com.

Why do you think reading to a young child is so important?

I feel like it creates such a bond and is a time to connect with your children or any little one in your life. I know I looked forward to it as a child and my future step-son really does too. He looks forward to picking out a book every night before bed.  Today’s world is very disconnected with the introduction of more and more technology.  This simple act of reading to a child is a special time to spend and share with one another and create memories and let your imagination run wild. Kindle is great and my books are also available on there, but I still think having a physical book collection is a great thing.

I’ve noticed you’ve used the same illustrator for all three books. Tell us about him.

Charles Berton (http://charlesberton.com) is a very talented man who can almost read my mind as to what I am picturing in my head. He has an ability to take the written word and capture it with his drawings. My choice was to make the characters very cartoonlike, but he can draw an image that looks like a photograph.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book?

I would say just go for it. Don’t put pressure on yourself like a school or work assignment. My first book was written by just putting down my thoughts or a scene in the story fragmented and then put together. My second book, “The Boy Who Did Not Care He Would Not Share” was written in 24 hours. If you want to write, write. If you want to paint, paint. Life is short so do what makes you happy.

Check out the rest of Lauren Coffey’s children’s books, available at www.amazon.com.

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Tom Sarc

By Rita J. Egan

When Thomas Sarc had enough of telemarketers interrupting his life, he decided to have a little fun with them by playing pranks on the callers. The result of his antics as well as others’ pranks is his latest book, “Tom Sarc Gets Revenge on TELEMARKETERS.”

The Central Islip resident has written a dozen books covering various genres, and “Tom Sarc Gets Revenge on TELEMARKETERS” is a funny one. And, while he can’t guarantee that readers will get less calls, some of his past telephone conversations will garner a chuckle, while others will have the reader laughing aloud.

At the end of the book, Sarc offers a few practical tips to try to eliminate calls from telemarketers, as well as advice on how not to fall for the telephone scams that are happening more frequently nowadays.

Recently, the husband, father and grandfather, took time to answer a few questions about the book via email.

The cover jacket of the author’s latest book.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Half a dozen times a day, seven days a week, during dinner, while watching TV, even before I get up in the morning, these pests call. It does no good to tell them to put you on the “do not call” list because, personally, I don’t believe there is such a list. So, if I can’t stop their calling, I can at least have fun with them—and annoy them too. My book is a compilation of my personal interactions with telemarketers as well as those of others who sent their stories to me. I wrote the book to show others, who are also fed up with telemarketers, some things you can do when they call.

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?

I am sure that most people are fed up with receiving telemarketer calls. I bet even telemarketers hate getting calls from their own kind. My book is a weapon against these pests. It is a humorous collection of conversations that actually took place between the telemarketer and the victim that was called. If you are looking for a way to have fun dealing with telemarketers, this book is the one you want.

What has been your funniest exchange with a telemarketer?

Not to give away the entire “exchange,” let me just say that I pretended to be a detective at the home of the person the telemarketer called — in this case the telemarketer asked for me, Tom Sarc. I pretended that I was investigating the murder of Tom Sarc and asked questions indirectly accusing the telemarketer of being involved in the murder. The telemarketer became very upset and nervous. I believe that this is the most hilarious interaction I have had with a telemarketer and will use it again for future calls.

Have the number of calls you receive from telemarketers decreased since you started pulling pranks on them?

No. I didn’t expect them to. I have even gotten calls from the same telemarketers but probably a different person calling.

This isn’t your first book. In addition to the humor genre, what do you like to write about?

I write about what the “moment” or a “situation” puts me in. My first book was a humor book — ”E-Mail Letters From a WACKO!” — that actually started out as a serious book dealing with unethical practices of a former employer. From there I moved on to children’s books, teen horror, general horror and more humor. I even published a family recipe book titled “Dishing Out Delicious.”

How did you start writing?

I first started writing while in college.  I found that I was very good in literature and writing and received a lot of praise from my professors regarding my writing — both short fiction and poetry.  My very first published writing was poetry for various magazines and anthologies.

What books do you have in the works right now?

Currently I am working on a nonfiction “covert operation” type book. I also finished a children’s book about dogs and started a book about how to “beat the system.” I am also working on a book about a murder that took place on Long Island in the 1800s.

Are your books self-published?  

Yes, although I am in contact with some major publishing houses and literary agents who are interested in my work.

Any advice to those who want to publish their own books?

The first thing I would do is buy a copy of “Writer’s Market” and study what various publishers are looking for. The hardest part of writing is sitting down and doing the work. You have to invest everything you have into creating your book and that requires discipline. After you come up with an idea for the book, you write a sentence, then a paragraph and, if you are lucky, an entire chapter. Writing happens in little bits and pieces.  It’s a step-by-step process but it is not complicated.

Here are some steps to follow:

1. Decide what your book will be about.

2. Set a daily word count goal.

3. Have a set time to work on your book every day.

4. Write in the same place every time.

5. Embrace failure (not everyone can be Stephen King or James Patterson).

6. Don’t give up!

“Tom Sarc Gets Revenge on TELEMARKETERS” is available in bookstores, at www.thomassarc.com and through the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

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Above, the author behind the bar at Mario’s in Setauket with a copy of his book

Reviewed by Kevin Redding

In writing his first book “Wednesday Night Meeting,” a large novel of connected short stories tackling a wide range of topics from religion to baseball to surrealism to poetry to minor traffic violations, East Setauket resident Louis L. Lasser IV set out to create something unconventional and personal, wanting to, in his own words, “write a book I always wanted to read.” It’s clear when speaking to the 38-year-old North Shore native that the unconventional route has always been his preferred one, and his book, made possible by a Kickstarter campaign and available now on Amazon and at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, is for those looking for something different.

The tap dancer-turned-math teacher-turned-bartender-turned-author, who grew up in Mount Sinai, got inspired in New York City, and spends his mornings writing and his nights serving drinks at Mario’s Italian Restaurant in East Setauket, recently spoke with me in the darkly lit, cozy restaurant about his upbringing, his complex relationship with religion, how film directors informed his narrative style and the influence Long Island and Manhattan have had on the book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Mount Sinai going to dance classes, tap and ballet, because my mom was a ballet teacher. I would hide it for a long time and didn’t want to tell my friends. I actually ended up studying a lot, started playing [sports like baseball and football] less and dancing more … I quit football in high school just to tap dance, which my coach didn’t really understand or like very much. He was like “what are you kidding me, Lasser?”

I started at Cheryl Rich Dance Studio in Nesconset and then when I went to Adelphi University, they didn’t have tap programs so I had to take the train into the city to Broadway Dance Center and started taking classes from the world’s greatest tap dancers, Savion Glover, Omar Edwards, and it ultimately led to me dancing on stage with Gregory Hines several years later, so that was a big part of my life and it still is.

What did you study in college?

I was a math major. Then I taught math for 12 years in the private school system. I taught in the city (La Salle Academy), Southampton and then in Sayville at Prince of Peace Regional School.

What got you interested in writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I liked writing poetry and I learned that I could save a lot of money on mom’s presents by writing her a poem, putting it in a frame, and then she’d cry — which I knew was an accomplishment for a gift.

What did you like to write about?

Everything from appreciation for life and the crazy chance that we even exist to seeing the good and bad in things. A lot of it came to question religion and the role it plays and whether people really think about their religion or whether it’s a religion of convenience. A lot of my life has been about religion. My grandfather was a pastor, my mom taught me to question things and be very accepting, and my own readings led me to be very skeptical about a lot of stuff, so a lot of my life has been trying to figure out what religion means and the book tackles that.

When Prince of Peace closed, a lot of teachers got reassigned to other schools or private schools and I liked teaching but I didn’t love it and I always wanted to write and wanted to take on something bigger than poetry. I wanted to actually put a novel together.

What is your writing process?

I treat it like a job. Every morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. is writing time. The pen wasn’t on paper at 6 but I woke up, made the coffee, opened the laptop, started taking notes. For three hours, I had to “show up.” Sometimes it would be really productive, and sometimes you’d regret it. Sometimes I’d wake up and say ‘this week this chapter has to be done or I’m gonna punch myself in the head’ or force myself to take a cold shower for an hour. Set some punishments, which isn’t a bad way to actually motivate yourself. I’ve heard a good way is to take a terrible picture of yourself and give it to someone else and, if you don’t meet that deadline, they post that picture on social media, so you better get it done.

Tell me about ‘Wednesday Night Meeting.’

There are four main characters and they all start out with their own short stories that alternate throughout the beginning and then become a cohesive novel halfway through, and the story arcs of each character are based on math equations where they eventually will start separately and meet in the middle and then their lives are altered from there. That’s kind of the math teacher background playing a part.

One of the main characters is a poet questioning what’s going on with religion and the book takes place about five years from now and it’s after a big breach where everything embarrassing — any sexual history that you’ve had, search history, keystrokes — is out there and no one knows exactly who knows everything but it, in turn, makes most of America become religious to at least publicly atone to say “I’m not that bad, I’m not that terrible, I’m gonna correct my life.”

There’s this Mafia-like group [in the book] going after people that question God because people don’t like when you have questions in this fictional world [2020]. So the secret group DOC (Defenders of Christ) is going after artists, writers, and will do anything it takes to kill or suppress someone who has influence in raising other people to question their superiority. They’re going after the main characters, who are openly questioning it and don’t know they’re being targeted.

A majority of the book takes place in Manhattan. What is your relationship with the Big Apple?

Living out here on Long Island I’d see the city as a big beacon basically, the center of the entire universe. You have all the skyscrapers and all these things. My grandmother, who was an opera singer who sang for a radio station in Chicago, would take me in all the time to see Broadway shows and go shopping.

Every once in awhile she’d wake up and want to go to the city and have no one to go with, and my mom would say “Lou, do you have any tests in school today?” and I’d always say “no, never, of course not, I don’t even think they want me there today.” And she’d say “I was thinking it would be good for your grandmother to go with someone” and I’d say “I can make that happen.”

So I skipped out on several days of school to go out into the city, and had a really great picture of the city and I wanted to just keep going there. I’ve always held it in high regard and I frequently go there, for dance or just to go out to dinner.

Has Long Island influenced the book?

Oh, a lot. I could argue this area is one of the best places to live anywhere — we have beaches five minutes from us to drive down and do some writing, it’s a short train ride to the city if you need further inspiration. Bartending here you meet a lot of locals [and] they’re very encouraging. I think Setauket gives you the space to really think, it’s a great town to live in. I use Setauket as a place to write. Before I started working [at Mario’s], I was writing here at the bar. If I go anywhere, the locals will expect me to have a laptop and a book and a beer just doing my thing.

Who are your influences?

Outside of writers like E.E. Cummings and David Foster Wallace, I like the way Quentin Tarantino puts a story together. He doesn’t stay in the same timeline. Spike Lee also does some really cool things and tells things differently.

The book was self-published thanks to Kickstarter. Tell me about that.

I didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route because I have no following … I’m a new author, and no publisher’s gonna say “let’s take on some guy from Setauket and bet on a book that’s really weird in layout with a lot of weird fonts.” I knew I had to do it myself and I figured Kickstarter would be a way to raise some capital for doing everything myself like editing, illustrating the cover, etc. There’s a lot of behind the scenes things that you don’t really think of that require money. I met my goal in about two weeks.

What’s next for you?

I have a really broad outline of what my next book will be about. The main character will probably be a tap dancer. I think I want to call it “Sky Ride Tap,” which is the name of a bar in Chicago under the Skyride, a World’s Fair exhibit. It’s just a dive bar but I want it to take place there so I’m anticipating going to Chicago in a few months and staying for a week, going to that bar everyday, talking to people, and figuring out how I can do it.

 

St. James author puts heart and soul in her first novel

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

After 10 years of journaling, St. James resident, Cece Gardenia, recently published her first book, “Bringing the Inside Out: Peeling Away the Emotional Layers to Self Acceptance.” The fictional story based on her life centers around polio survivor Colette Aliamo, who throughout her life carries both physical scars as well as emotional ones from her disease and complicated relationships.

Cece Gardenia

In the book, Gardenia invites readers into the heart and soul of Colette who was diagnosed with spinal polio at 22 months in the 1950s. For a few years, the young child was required to use a brace and crutches and was in and out of the hospital until she was 11 years old.

The author delves honestly into the feelings of insecurities and anxiety that she was left with after beating the disease and the dynamics of relationships with family, romantic partners as well as others. Gardenia, who uses a pen name, hopes that readers will find their own path to wholeness, peace and joyfulness after reading her first literary venture. For anyone who has faced adversity in their life, they will easily relate to Colette’s battles with insecurity and anxiety that plagued her in life.

Recently, Gardenia took time to answer a few questions about her book via email.

What made you write this book based on your life experiences?

To offer the reader the idea that no matter what their struggles are, perseverance and the belief that their life can be altered for the best. I have gotten a tremendous amount of feedback from readers that say the story resonated for them and has put their challenges in perspective. Many can’t even imagine a child having polio nowadays. How do you explain what it was like for you as a child suffering from the disease? I felt frightened, isolated, deserted, lonely and often not physically well.

Describe the main character, Colette Aliamo?

Despite the hardships and feeling broken most of her life, she is a force of strength and defiance and is relentless in her beliefs to be true to herself, regardless of the consequences.

In your book, you discuss loss and fear but you also talk about healing and acceptance. What advice would you give those going through tough times?

Be strong in your beliefs and follow your true north. When you are authentic, you will never harbor regrets or guilt.

Was there anything you discovered about yourself while writing this book?

I realized how resilient I was, and how much more I healed than I initially thought.

You also write in the book how Colette learned from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that she had the “disease to please” syndrome. How did you overcome worrying about what everyone thought?  

It was learning to believe in myself through my experiences of wellness. Once I conducted myself in a positive vein, I noticed a transformation, not only of confidence but I earned the respect of others. I don’t know if I could have done it alone however. Being medicated has allowed me to be the person I always wanted to be. I am still myself but a more whole person.

How did you come to the decision to take medication for depression?

After many efforts and paths taken to find a way to alleviate my depression, I exhausted my options and took the advice of my friend.

However, you don’t rely entirely on medication. What other things do you do to treat your anxiety and depression?

I did find in the end that I did not have coping mechanisms to rise above my condition and knew that medicating myself was the only alternative left. There are times if I am overly stressed I feel a shift in my well-being. Along with the medication, I resort to yoga (deep breathing) and being present and mindful in the moment enough to overcome my anxiety.

I understand that the painting of the little girl on the cover is of you. Tell me the story behind it.

I had a photo of myself that had been taken when I was a little girl which I wanted to use for the cover, but the publisher would not let me use that because they thought the professional photographer might still be alive 66 years later and would have an issue with it. I hunted for other photos but none reflected what this photo did for me. It depicted my strength and defiance, as if I was telling the photographer, “Go ahead, take my picture!”

I was despondent and my husband tried to comfort me, but there was no answer to the dilemma. We went to bed that night, but I was awoken at dawn’s break by my husband. I asked him, ”What are you doing?” He said, “I am looking for your photo.” With a limp hand I pointed to the armoire and went back to sleep. That morning I found the photo of me on the kitchen table and right next to it was a painting of that image that my husband had copied. A gift of love.

Do you have any future plans to write more books?

I’m considering the idea but don’t want to work on something unless it’s something I think is worthy.

Is there a website where people can visit to find out more about you and “Bringing the Inside Out”?  

There is a web page under the name Cece Gardenia but no blog is set up as of yet (www.cecegardenia.com). The better access is through my Facebook page, Bringing the Inside Out, Peeling Away the Emotional Layers to Self Respect by Cece Gardenia.

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

When Richard Specht lost his son Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) in a tragic drowning accident in 2012, he asked his aunt for advice on how to deal with the insurmountable pain. Having lost two children of her own, she told him he could let the pain consume him, or he could transcend it and find something to keep the darkness at bay. When he and his wife Samantha discovered that those who offered help during their time of need wouldn’t allow the couple to do anything in return for them, the Spechts decided to take the aunt’s advice to heart.

The couple began performing small acts of kindness for others and set out on a mission to honor their son by making the world a better place. Their efforts soon turned into the ReesSpecht Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the importance of compassion and respect. The foundation has become known for its ReesSpecht Life cards that are used by those who perform random acts of kindness to pass on to the receiver in hopes that they will turn around and also carry out a kind act.

Rees Specht

The success of the foundation inspired Richard to leave teaching in 2015 and travel to schools with his presentation Cultivate Kindness. His hope is to teach youngsters the importance of compassion and deliver an important anti-bullying message to them as well.

When talking to children in grades K to 2, he uses the first book he has written, “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.” Specht said he encountered many road blocks when he first approached publishers, but he eventually self-published it in 2014. The result of his determination is the heartwarming story of a little boy who performs one kind act that plants a seed that cultivates a chain reaction of compassion in his community. Complemented with vibrant illustrations by Adam D. Smith, the book is one that will teach children a valuable lesson in a delightful way and even inspire adults to stop and lend a helping hand.

To date the book, which is sold exclusively through the foundation, has sold over 10,000 copies and all proceeds go to fund the nonprofit’s scholarship fund. Recently, Specht answered a few questions about the book via email.

The main character in “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness” is based on your son who died tragically. How do you describe Rees to people?

This is a tough question because we only had 22 months with Rees. What 22-month-old isn’t sweet, loving, mischievous and full of energy? Rees was all of these things with every new day revealing a little more about him to us. When I wrote the book, I took those qualities I saw in him and tried to project what I felt Rees would be when he reached the age of the character in my book. The Rees in the book is the manifestation of the little boy I always envisioned him to be.

The book is an extension of your ReesSpecht Life movement. What does your organization do and how did it start?

The formation of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation is very similar to the concept of the book: It started with a little idea, a seed that kept growing with each kind act my family and I received in the wake of Rees’ death. My wife and I wanted to repay those acts of kindness, and no one would let us. We felt this obligation to do more than simply say “thank you” and grew frustrated that no one would let us pay them back. So, instead of paying people back, we decided to “pay it forward.”

The idea was to do 500 random acts of kindness and give each recipient a “ReesSpecht Life” card that had Rees’ caricature on the front and a little about his story on the back. We didn’t expect that once people received the cards they would want their own. Before we knew it, people were ordering cards from us, and we very quickly went through those 500 cards. That was almost four years ago.

Today, we have distributed 395,000 cards to every continent on Earth. In addition to the cards, the foundation now provides $1,000 scholarships for graduating high school seniors who show a commitment to kindness, grants for teachers to incorporate kindness into their lessons, meals and sundries for families suffering hardship, and we perform school assemblies to grades K to 12 to remind students of the importance of kindness.

What made you decide to write the book, and how would you describe it to those who haven’t read it yet?

Believe it or not, the idea for the story actually came about because of a problem we had with our original logo for the foundation. The first 20,000 cards we printed had a picture of Rees dressed like Superman on the front. We were informed that using the image of Superman, regardless of who was in the costume, was a trademark infringement and could cause legal issues.  We were devastated by this, and I struggled with how I could come up with a new logo that so perfectly fit our mission like the “Superman Rees” picture did. Then, out of the blue, the idea hit me: Rees loved tractors. It was one of the very few words he could use, and every time he saw one he would get excited and yell out “TRAKTA!!!” So, I realized that should be the focus.

The new logo was developed with Rees riding a tractor called Trakta, and the back-story just flowed from there. Rees, driving on Trakta, would cultivate kindness just like a farmer cultivates his crop. People responded so positively to the new logo that I realized there was something more there and I wrote the outline of a story focusing on Rees who discovers that kindness, just like the seeds he plants, can only grow if you do the things necessary to cultivate it. The book takes this idea that every kind act we do helps that “seed of kindness” grow. As the story progresses, we witness each kind act causing that seed to grow.

You use the book in your K to 2 presentations. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the children about the book?

The book is the backbone of our K to 2 presentations. I actually learned how to do 2D animation and developed an animated version of the book with sound effects that I use. When I present it, the children in the audience get to follow along as each kind act helps the seed of kindness to grow. There is nothing like hearing 200 5- to 8-year-olds exclaiming in unison, “grow seed grow!” Children seem to love it as they get to see that seed grow with each kind act.

In the book, Rees encounters other children. Are they based on people that were in his life?

Actually, the children in the book are indeed based off of real children, but they are not children Rees knew in his lifetime — but I hope he knows them now. All of the children in the book are actually based off the real life child-angels from parents who shared our pain and helped us through this difficult journey. Their particular stories in the book are actually based on their real life personalities and interests. For instance, the reason Kaylee is dressed similar to Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” is because that was her favorite movie. The same holds true for each of the children in the book.

Is this your first book? How long did it take to develop? 

Yes, this is the first book I have ever written. I actually wrote the outline for the story over the course of several nights while on a family vacation in Berlin, Germany. When we got home, I started writing the actual book right away. It took me about two months to get the story completed. Since I couldn’t draw, I wrote the book more like a novel, describing every scene as well as the dialogue. Once that was completed, I handed off the book to my illustrator Adam, who took my descriptions and turned them into the pictures you see in the book. All in all, the process took about 10 months from concept to our first printed copy.

Do you plan to write any more books in the future?

Originally, I had no concrete plans for any sequels. That changed when I got a call from a pair of Hollywood producers who got a copy of the book and asked me if I was interested in turning the ideas from the book into an animated series. They asked me if I had ideas for further stories, and I told them, “Of course!” They asked me if I could send them those ideas, and I got right to work developing a series of stories that build on the original premise of the first book.

Before I knew it, I had around 14 stories that would serve as the outline for the TV series, as well as my books. As of now, I have two more books completely written, and I am getting ready to send them to Adam for illustration.  In addition to those two books, I just completed the script for the pilot episode of the TV series, which is its own, stand-alone, story.

For more information about “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness,” the ReesSpecht Life Foundation, and its school programs, visit www.reesspechtlife.com or www.cultivatekindness.org.

Clinton Kelly

BOOK SIGNING: Port Jefferson Station native Clinton Kelly will appear at the Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington on Monday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. The Emmy award-winning television co-host of “The Chew” will be signing copies of his new book, “I Hate Everyone, Except You,” a hilariously candid, deliciously snarky collection of essays about his journey from awkward kid to slightly-less-awkward adult. For further information, call 631-271-1442 or visit www.bookrevue.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Jack Kohl

It becomes clear when you speak to Jack Kohl that he does nothing part-way. The 46-year-old Northport native is completely immersed in the arts, with an extensive career in music composition, piano and theater. Now, Kohl is sharing the stories that have captivated his imagination for decades. His first book, “That Iron String,” was critically acclaimed by reviewers. In late July, he released “Loco-Motive,” a philosophical novel that pays homage to his two greatest loves: Long Island and running.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kohl about his latest venture. Both of your books are set on Long Island.

Were you born here?

Born in Manhattan, but we moved to Queens right after I was born, and then out to Northport when I was three. Except for a few brief periods of living away for work or school, I’ve always claimed Northport as my native place.

What do you love about this area?

What makes Long Island so remarkable is that whenever you go to the shoreline, you have all of New England looming in the distance, and at the same time, to the west, you have the whole of our republic, with so much to explore. I’ve never exhausted what the Island holds in my imagination.

Did you always want to be an author?

I think so. I was always a big pen-and-paper letter writer, and in my early 20s I had the will to write in large prose forms. A novel poured out of me about my happy childhood that was also set on Long Island, but it was never published. I grew up with my parents, particularly my mother, reading aloud to me from Dickens and Melville. I think the music of those two authors was inside me from very early on.

What are some of your other interests?

Most of my income is from my work as a pianist. I studied piano in pre-college in Juilliard and went on to get my master’s and doctorate in piano at the University of South Carolina as well. I teach some courses as an adjunct and do freelance performance as opportunities arise.

Are ‘Loco-Motive’ and your first book, ‘That Iron String,’ connected at all?

They are, in terms of setting. And if one reads both books very carefully, they’ll find that characters from “That Iron String” appear in the background of “Loco-Motive,” particularly the character Portsmouth Gord. I don’t intend to compare myself to Faulkner in any way, but he employed a similar weaving and overlapping of characters in his work as well.

Tell me about the story line.

I would say it’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner. I turned to running to help lose weight during my time in graduate school. I created a character who uses running in an irrational way to try to set the world’s problem’s aright. There are two very ordinary runners who, suddenly, during a race very much like Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K, break the world record significantly.

Part of the novel involves finding out why that was possible, and the great coincidence of those two people being in the same place. It also explores the almost sinister preoccupation of one of those runners with coaching the other to be even faster. The great theme of the book is whether or not improving our physical abilities can prove that the body (and physical matters) are superior to spiritual matters. The main character makes an argument that the physical realm is what we have to fight for.

What inspired you to write this book?

The narrator’s love affair with running is very much autobiographical. It’s a portrait of my experience learning to be a runner, as well as all the experiences I’ve had with the Northport Running Club and all of the wonderful characters I’ve met through running and fitness on Long Island. Of course, the town of Pauktaug is a stand-in for my own native village and so many other villages on the North Shore.

Even if one doesn’t quite follow all of the philosophical ideas in the book, I still think that people will enjoy its recognizable settings and the affectionate fallibility of the characters. They have a humorous preoccupation with their finish times, their fitness routines and all of the things that come with being a runner.

What do you like most about your books?

There’s so much literature out there about running, and I agree with the cliches — it makes you feel better and improves your way of life. I’ve made the majority of my best friends through running. But I think this book explores the psychic and spiritual elements of running like no other.

What is the target audience for this book?

I think adults or even a thoughtful older teen who enjoys literary fiction would be able to grapple with the book and enjoy it. There are no themes in it that would be inappropriate for children; it’s more a question of whether they can be successfully grasped. I’ve been happily surprised by the variety of people who responded positively to this book … you don’t need to be steeped in Fitzgerald or Melville to appreciate it.

Your books are published by Pauktaug Press. Is that your own company?

It is, yes. I had read about successful authors that went the route that eliminated the middle man in publishing and, after some difficulty finding a publisher for my first book, chose to pursue that myself. I also take pleasure in creating a recognizable place that exists mythically in the book. Pauktaug Press is a newspaper that exists in “Loco-Motive,” so it’s fun to create the illusion that it also exists in the real world. Some people don’t even question its reality.

What’s on the horizon for you?

“That Iron String” and “Loco-Motive” are part of the Pauktaug trilogy of books. Their successor, “You, Knighted States” takes Pauktaug and sets it back in 19th century Long Island and the Old West. It uses many of the same themes while focusing on the families and ancestors of the characters in the first two books. That book is in copy editing now and should be available in the spring.

“Loco-Motive” and “That Iron String” are available at www.jacksonkohl.com, Amazon and other major online retailers. Copies are also available at the Super Runners Shop, located at 353 New York Avenue in Huntington.

Eddie K. Wright, right, with his sister Mimi and son Drew.

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

Growing up in the primarily Caucasian town of Smithtown, Eddie K. Wright, the son of a white mother and black father, never felt like he fit in with the other children. By his teen years, he began to have run-ins with the law, and a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, he became a father when his girlfriend gave birth to his son Drew.

eddies-book-coverDespite a troubled youth, Wright reveals in his first book, “Voice for the Silent Fathers,” that his toughest obstacle in life so far was accepting the fact that his son was gay. Now 12 years into a 45-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute drugs, the author has spent the last few years using his time in prison to work on his issues and relationship with his son by writing. Due to the experience, which he describes as emotionally therapeutic, many of his fellow inmates have dubbed him “Gangster Turned Guru.”

A few months ago, Wright released his book in the hopes that it will inspire fathers like him to strengthen their bond with their children and accept them for exactly who they are. The writer is raw and transparent as he discusses his former no-son-of-mine attitude, and the book invites readers into the mind of a father trying to understand his son’s homosexuality.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Wright via email about his new book.

Tell us about your background, and how you earned the title, ‘Gangster Turned Guru.’ 

I’ve been in trouble with the law since my youth, doing months in county jail, graduating to a four-year prison bid and ultimately being sentenced by the Feds, where I got my “head knocked off” with all these mandatory minimums. But, it was my wake-up call. I changed my street gangster mentality because that was what was constantly bringing turmoil and stress to my life experience.

Once I began to live a spiritual way of life, I gained an internal peace within, and of course, being in prison everyone wants to know what it is that kept me so positive and optimistic with life. Through the years, I’ve always been spiritually mentoring everyone and with teaching yoga, what started jokingly as calling me the Guru, just stuck, because a Guru is one who guides you on your own spiritual path.

Can you summarize the book? 

Being the father of a gay son is a taboo topic that’s never discussed. Most fathers won’t even admit they have a gay son, much less show loving support. I describe how I overcame my no-son-of-mine mentality to come to totally accepting who my son is, because my responsibilities as a father didn’t change just because my son is gay.

What made you decide to write about the struggle you had when you were younger with accepting your son’s homosexuality?

This book was needed for my son to read to understand what I was going through; why I made so many of the mistakes that I did as a young father. I was lost and confused because you never really heard of or seen fathers accepting their gay sons, most of the time they abandon them. It’s not because they don’t love them, it’s that their fears and anger are overshadowing that love. I wrote my story to be able to help others, fathers, in particular, to know what it means to love unconditionally.

Your relationship with your son is a strong one today. What do you think are the key ingredients to maintaining a great relationship with your child, even when your lives didn’t play out as you had planned?

The key ingredient is loving unconditionally and repeating the Serenity prayer whenever I needed, which was often. Being open and honest with my son has meant a lot for us both. It was OK for me to tell him, “I don’t understand your lifestyle but I don’t have to because I still love you.”

When you told family members and friends about the subject of the book, did anyone object? 

None of my family objected, but it was more of a shock from a few friends, because again, for a father to even admit to having a gay son is a surprise. Writing a book and telling the world, there weren’t objections, just praise for my courage for doing it.

Your sister Mimi Wright helped you self-publish the book. Can you give new writers any insight on how to get their book published?

I’ll have to go into my Guru mode on this question because we all have limitless potential, and as long as you keep your mind focused, the Universe will draw everything needed to make it happen. Just keep writing; building your social media platform and posting samples of what you write. Live as if you’re already signed to a major publisher.

I write like I have a deadline to meet that I’m under contract for. Act as if and it will become your reality. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened at exactly the right moment as all things do. So just stick with it.  Once you’re ready, check out my sister’s company at www.mwrightgroup.com. She’s amazing.

What advice would you give to parents when they learn that their child is gay or a lesbian?

When a parent learns or even suspects their child is gay or lesbian, just make sure the child knows that your love for them won’t change and allow them to discuss it with you. Support is super important because homosexual teens have the highest rate of suicide.

What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself while writing the book?

That I was causing all of my pain and frustration by trying to change who my son was, without ever thinking about changing myself. For so many years, that was the key, changing my way of thinking and stop being so judgmental.

What does Drew think of the book? 

Drew loved the book. It’s helped us heal our relationship and so that alone makes it a success for me. He told me that he now understands why I acted some of the ways I had. We were able to heal our wounds.

You are in the process of working on your next book. What is it about?

“The Evolution of a Gangster Turned Guru” is just what the title describes. It’s my personal spiritual transformation by learning about the Universal laws, God’s love, and most importantly, how to truly love myself. I discuss how we are each responsible for what we experience, the power of our thoughts and how by changing the way we think, we change our life situation.

Where can people go to learn more about ‘Voice for the Silent Fathers’ and you?

Like I mentioned, as an author your internet presence is everything. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram @EddieKWright.  My author blog can be found at www.eddiekwright.com and each of my books has a website at www.voiceforthesilentfathers.com and www.gangstertoguru.com.

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Reviewed by Rebecca Anzel

A family of ducks living near a river by author Stacey Moshier’s home in Mastic was the inspiration for her new children’s book “Dylan the Singing Duck” (Squidgy Press). This 52-page book, with illustrations by Barry Sachs, is the heartwarming story of how a little duck, with the encouragement of new friends, discovers the importance of never giving up on a dream. Moshier recently took time out from writing new stories to answer a few questions about her first book and new-found passion for writing.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I’m actually a New York State certified teacher. I subbed for many, many years in various districts but just didn’t land that full-time position.

Tell me about the book.

The story is about a little duck named Dylan who wants to sing. Despite everybody laughing at him or thinking that who heard of a singing duck, he still holds on to that and goes for it. With the help of some friends, he finally achieves that dream.

How would you describe Dylan?

I would say initially shy — determined though. And just a good little guy.

What inspired you to write this book?

One summer we had moved into a new house by a river, and there was a family of ducks there. On a whim I just started writing. My family was coming together. You have to believe in a dream, that it’s going to be okay and believe in each other and trust in that. That’s where that idea came from. And then, of course, not giving up on yourself and believing in your goals and dreams. I always want a lesson to be behind [a story] that you can carry with you throughout your life. Dylan’s lesson was “don’t give up on yourself, believe in your dreams.” I didn’t set out to be a writer but it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I’m working on other stories. Of course, life gets ahead of you, and you have to find the time. I have a bunch of ideas in my head so that’s pretty much how I got into it. I did it not knowing that I was a writer, but I am.

How did it feel when you saw the final book?

The publishing was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe I did it. It was a very proud accomplishment to be published.

What do you hope children will learn from reading your book?

That they can be whatever they want to be and never to give up on themselves, and that it’s okay to be different.

Tell me a little about the new stories you’re working on.

One is going to be called “Why So Mean Norma-Jean?” It’s about anti-bullying. There are two cats, Norma-Jean and Babies. They are my cats actually. The other one is called “I Love You Just As Much.” It’s about Francesca who has been the only child for five years and now they’re having a baby. She’s not thrilled. And then the third one is “Tumbling Timothy Jay.” It’s about a turtle who wants to be a gymnast. Through the help of his friends he tries to overcome his obstacle.

What advice would you give to someone who is writing their first book?

Don’t give up — go for it. Even though it’s hard to get published, don’t give up that dream. If you have an idea and you’re inspired to write, do it. I carry a notebook around with me all the time. I write little things that come to my head, even if it’s just an idea. At least it came to my head, and I wrote it down and maybe I don’t do anything with it for a little bit, but I have it.

Why do you think reading to a child is important?

I know kids are all into the Kindle and all the electronics. But the physical act of holding a book is just the best thing of all. Just for you to actually read to that child I think inspires a love of reading and an interest in it. You know, if they see a parent or teacher or someone holding a book to read it to them, and they sit and enjoy it, I think that promotes a love of reading.

Readers can contact Moshier by phone (631-618-5889) or email (dylansadventures@gmail.com) for an autographed copy of “Dylan the Singing Duck,” which the author will send with free shipping anywhere on Long Island.

Charles F. Wurster

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

The cover jacket of the author's latest book.
The cover jacket of the author’s latest book.

In 1972, the pesticide DDT was banned across the United States following proven harmful effects on wildlife. The positive impact of the ban cannot be understated. According to a recent study by the Connecticut Audubon Society, the population of ospreys is 31 times greater than it was in 1970. The bald eagle population is 25 times greater nationwide.

But before the ban, former Stony Brook University professor Charles Wurster found himself at the forefront of the battle to stop DDT. His book, “DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund” (Oxford University Press, 2015), recounts the story from Wurster’s perspective in vivid detail, from his childhood to the establishment of the Environmental Defense Fund and beyond.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the 86-year-old professor emeritus, now living in Maryland, by phone.

Were you always an animal lover?

Yes, I think so. My parents weren’t much into wildlife, but they always showed excitement when they saw animals, so those were little encouragements for me. But from age 11 to 20, I spent every summer at a camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania — that put me in a natural environment and I learned bits and pieces about wildlife, especially birds, turtles and snakes. Later on, a high school teacher took a car full of students to Florida in the summer to learn about birds, which sparked my interest in a big way.

Do you remember when DDT was first used?

I was teaching at Dartmouth in 1962 and went to a cocktail party for a birding friend, who said they were spraying Dutch elm trees with DDT [to eradicate Dutch elm disease]. She told me it was killing birds and she had dead birds in her yard. I signed a petition at the party to stop the use of DDT in the town, but the town fathers ignored it, saying they were being very careful.

What made you realize that DDT was harmful?

When the town refused to stop using DDT, some of us decided to perform a study to see what happened. We compared bird populations before and after they sprayed the trees, and at first there were no dead birds. But within a few weeks, we began to find birds that were convulsing and then dying. At the time we had no knowledge of the [scientific] literature that was already published about DDT. Gradually, we began to catch up with it, and eventually we published a study in Science Magazine, which gave credibility to our work.

Did you ever see yourself getting involved with the effort to ban DDT?

I never dreamed I would get involved with such a thing. It was very incremental. I wanted to stop the use of DDT in Hanover [Massachusetts], and the effort succeeded by the next year. Eventually, I moved to Long Island, where I got involved in efforts there to stop the use of DDT. [In New York], they were focusing on its effects on ospreys, which were not reproducing properly and eating their own broken eggs. A group of us filed a lawsuit and were able to get an injunction in two weeks. That news was electrifying. It got us to start thinking bigger. In the fall of 1967, we incorporated the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with the goal of bringing science into the courtroom. We hadn’t the remotest idea of what it would be at that time — we were just a group of 10 people with an idea.

What was it like to fight against the use of DDT? Did people listen or did they disregard you?

At that time, much of the general public was becoming environmentally aware and involved, so they were generally favorable to us. Wherever we went, there were droves of birders and environmentalists rushing out to help, which was an excellent support. But the (pesticide) industry also began pushing back, even though they didn’t have the science to support their case. Several federal agencies tried to throw us out of court, but they failed.

What were you feeling?

It was scary in a way, because we knew we could get shut down and the industry was saying nasty things about us. But we believed it was the right thing to do. It’s like watching a football game — you’re cheering for the team, and you’re likely to lose, but you stay in the stands anyway because anything could happen. The EDF got to a point where we knew we were the ones that could [ban DDT], and we really wanted to win this thing, so we pushed forward.

Did your life change in any way afterward?

After the ban of DDT, I really started to focus on the development of EDF and various other environmental issues. I still sit on the board of trustees today.

What made you want to write a book about this issue decades later?

Within the past ten years, I started to realize that our story was being forgotten. Most people didn’t know how DDT was banned, and there was a lot of false information given in the media saying that Congress had banned it. That was so annoying to me — we purposely avoided Congress! And that same junk science presented about DDT was being used to influence the climate change issue. I started to get after several people I knew who I thought could write a book, but in the end, almost everyone who was actually there for the ban had died. I thought, “Gosh, I’d better do this.” But it was never a plan of mine.

What is the greatest lesson you learned from your experience?

I think it’s that one person can begin to make a difference, but you can’t always be a one-man band. The critical work and studies on DDT were done by so many different people, and we weren’t all present at every hearing. It was important for us to work together.

Why do you think your book is relevant today?

One reason is because it’s just interesting — I intended it to read like a novel, even though it’s completely true. But it also gives a great case history for how a small group of people can make a difference. So much (in society) has changed, but that idea is still true. So many people have this hopeless feeling that they don’t matter and there’s nothing they can do, but this book sends the opposite message — if there’s something you feel strongly about, get out there and do something about it!

What can we do to aid in wildlife conservation efforts on Long Island?

Find a group of people that share a common purpose that matters to you. Working as part of a team, you can escalate those issues and help to create big changes.

“DDT Wars” is available online at www.barnesandnoble.com and www.Amazon.com.

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