The Largest Christmas Project on the Globe!

Imagine, due to a life of poverty, that your child has never received a gift of any kind, not from you, your family, or from anyone.  Now imagine your child’s face when a shoe box full of gifts is handed to him or her free of charge.  Who would do such a selfless act?  The answer is a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child.  A branch of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child is the world’s largest Christmas project.

Operation Christmas Child became a part of Samaritan’s Purse in 1993 when Dave Cooke from Wales handed the project to the organization.  Samaritan’s Purse is based out of Boone, North Carolina and, although founded in 1970 by Dr. Bob Pierce, the current president is Franklin Graham.  The group’s purpose is, “to provide immediate, no-red-tape response to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations – especially in locations where few others are working.”  According to its mission statement, the organization has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Fourteen countries take part in the giving of shoe boxes:  the United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Approximately 8 million suffering children in more than 100 countries on six continents will receive these gift boxes.  The recipients include children in Sudan, Russia, China and other war-torn and poverty-stricken countries.  Several shoe box gifts have also been distributed in North America to Native American and Appalachian children.  One such distribution took place in the Alaskan town of Hooper Bay.  In August of 2006, the community was devastated by fire, and Samaritan’s Purse helped rebuild the town and handed out shoe boxes to those who lost everything.   OCC has donated a total of 88,666 shoe boxes to need children living in the United States, but its focus is international missions.

Empty  shoe boxes are packed year-round by compassionate individuals, families, schools, churches, civic clubs and other organizations in all 50 states and 14 countries.   Even U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all packed an Operation Christmas Child shoe box with gifts for needy children.

Each OCC brochure includes shoe box labels, and donors can choose if they would like the box to be sent to boy or girl. Then they are to select the age of the recipient.  The ages range from 2-14 years old.   Also included in the brochure is a list of suggested gifts.  Some of the items include school supplies, candy, hygiene items, family photos, notes of encouragement and yes, even shoes.  Some of the volunteers’ favorite items include the following:  dolls, small cars, washcloths and games.

After the boxes are brought from local drop off points, they are inspected at six warehouses across the United States.  Next, they are shipped by cargo planes, trucks or sea containers to a variety of destinations.  In the remote location of Zimbabwe, one local form of transportation has been used – elephants.  Other colorful modes of transportation have included camels and dog sleds.  By using “EZ Give,” the online giving option on the Samaritan’s Purse Web site, donors can follow their box to the destination country where the boxes are hand-delivered by church leaders in that particular country.

The coordinator for the Southeastern Pennsylvania area, Lynette Dallman, has been with the organization for 3 years.  When asked what drew her to Operation Christmas Child with so many other charities to volunteer for, here’s what she said: “Operation Christmas Child impacts the lives of children and gives them hope.  It lets them know someone out there loves them.”  Lynette has traveled side by side these precious boxes on two occasions.   First she traveled to Panama in Central America and then to Burkina Faso, West Africa.  With a thrill in her voice, she recounts the exciting atmosphere. “I felt so honored to be handing out gifts that had been prepared for these children.  Just to look into their eyes and give them that knowing smile, lets you know you care about them.  Seeing them open their boxes, to hear delight in their laughter and to see their faces is such a joy.”

If you would like to be a part of this mission of giving, Samaritan’s Purse will be collecting gift-filled shoe boxes at more than 2,400 drop-off sites in all 50 states during National Collection Week, Nov. 14-21, 2011.  To learn more visit

Originally printed in The Country Register, October 2010.

Jackie Aitchinson’s Herculean Journey – Flourishing with Ankylosing Spondylitis

When I was a teenager, I begin having lots of aches and pains. The doctors labeled them as, “growing pains”. After having constant pain in spine I went from physician to physician yet, they could find nothing wrong, and they basically said it was all in my head.  My general practitioner believed there was a problem so kept sending me to different hospitals, different specialists.  Eventually I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spodylitis, a painful, progressive, extreme form of inflammatory arthritis.  However by the time I received the correct diagnosis, my x-ray showed I had severe damage and needed fusion in my spine.  I was told the doctors had not been looking for AS, for it is generally a mans,’ medical problem!

It was the early 1970’s. By this time I was married and in my early 20’s. One of the things I was told was that my spine was not strong enough to carry children. For the next few years, I was continually taking painkillers and had several stays in hospitals with major flare ups.  The consultant at the Northern Hospital in Edinburgh, viewed my drugs. He expressed his concern and disgust that – a)I had never been referred to the hospital before, and b) that I had never been on anti inflammatory medications.  After Naporsyn was prescribed, the pain was held under control. Unfortunately, I spent undesired time in the hospital.

The next major event in my life occurred a few years later on New Years Eve. I decided I was not going to drink alcohol, as my friend were simply going around  to visit the neighbors in the wee village, we lived. While walking about, I slipped on the ice and was carried home by two drunk men. Fortunately, one was a fireman so knew how to carry me safely.  The next morning my general doctor, called and immediately insisted I got to hospital.  As it turned out, upon falling,  I had smashed a vertebrae. It was contained so no danger, so I insisted on going home, even though it was very painful. I was informed by my doctor that if I had been drunk, I would probably have been far more relaxed and therefore, would not have done much more damage to my spine.

The next incident that followed, involved one of my eyes left. My eye looked strange so I went to see my general doctor.  He found nothing, however two days later, he arrived at my door and insisted I go to the Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh,   where I ended up staying for a week.  After reading up about AS, he  spotted a connection between my eye irritation and the disease.  I had developed iritis  and since it had not been treated promptly, it had become worse. I needed injections administered directly into my eyeball, for drops did not work. From then on I had iritis on average 3-4 times at least every year, as eventually, both eyes were effected.  Each time, I detected a flare, I went straight to the eye hospital, for I learned my lesson from the first incident. Thankfully, I only had two additional hospital stays due to my iritis  I got to be so good at recognizing the signs of the condition that, I ended up in a few arguments with nursing staff who told me there was no sign of iritis. After I insisted on seeing my doctor, he would confirm that indeed my eye was infected.  In over 30 years, I have only misdiagnosed myself once!  The doctors should by now read the bloody notes from previous appointments and listen to me! I am reactive to steroid eye drops, for it can cause the pressure to build up in my eye.  This pressure can turn into glaucoma. On one occasion I actually lost sight completely in one eye for a few hours and was rushed to eye hospital. The doctors were rushing around and accidentally gave me pills plus an eye injection. This combination made the pressure in my eye soar. My eyes are now very sensitive to light and I have lost some peripheral vision in one of my eyes and will most likely need surgery for this problem. I go to the eye hospital every few months for check ups.

A few years later,  someone pulled away a chair that I was about to sit on it.  I fell hard and the next day I was in great pain.   The doctor insisted it was a flare up of AS,or a bad bruise. (For I was not screaming and crying when I saw him) I told him it wasn’t, for I know my body.  However when I went to see my rheumatologist. He took one look at my face as I walked in, and sent me immediately to x-ray which turned out to be break number two.  The third time was five years ago as I bent down to pick up a bit fluff on the floor, I heard a crack. Same old same old. I pulled a muscle, torn ligament etc.. So my doctor sent me to a physiotherapist. It was an interesting journey crouched in the back of a taxi, for you have no idea the number of potholes in Edinburgh!! Anyway the physiotherapist sent me home as they refused to touch me, as I was in so much pain. They made arrangements for an x-ray, and insisted that they would need to come to me until they were satisfied with my situation, so I would not need to travel.   They found that I have osteoporosis.  This bone condition, combined with the AS, means I have to be very careful of falling over etc.

In December 1999 they my rheumatologist decided to operate on my back as I was becoming very badly bent over. This meant opening me up from shoulder to bum, breaking the spine in a couple of places, placing metal rods at each side of the spine and inserting hooks to pull everything into alignment. The operation was on a Tuesday and they put me in a plaster body cast on the Friday. (It should have been longer before applying the plaster, but it was coming up to Christmas and the holidays and they hurried the procedure along.  It was the worst thing ever!  If you can imagine, I could only sit up being held by several people and I was in extreme pain and experienced dizziness. The nurses placed a huge amount padding all around me.  It went from under arms, up to my throat, and then down to my hips.  I was given morphine injections whenever I wanted one. Then there was the scaffolding. I was carried over and laid on this structure, with pipes running under my knees and under arms. There were material bonded around my neck pulling my head into place and the same ones on my feet so my back was being pulled straight. When they finished the plastering, I was carried back and sat up as they had to make sure the plaster wouldn’t be too high to choke me, or too low to hurt me when sitting. Then laid me down on a trolley and sent to x-ray to make sure everything was in the right place. I was then put on a morphine drip and was in hospital for a month.

I had to learn to walk, to get washed without wetting the plaster etc.. After a few weeks had to go back to hospital for there was a black discharge, leaking out the bottom of the plaster, which my mum noticed when she was bathing me.   It turns out it was an infection because the plaster went on too early. The plaster  was taken off for less than a week and I had to say on the bed, in the wee room and couldn’t be moved. No further problems, but I had two further changes of plaster, each one a little lighter than the last, over a 10 month period. After all this, I was fitted with leather and metal strap-on body brace.  This switch was bliss, as I could take it off at night and when I bathed.  I needed to wear the brace for a year.

I began to suffer from extreme fatigue and when I saw my doctor, he sent me to the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh for tests. There they carried out my first endoscopy, to see what is going on in stomach. It was found I had a hiatus hernia and lots of lesions in my stomach due to taking the anti-inflammatory drugs over such a long time. Blood tests also found I have an under-active thyroid.   The thyroid and AS both have the same side effect – fatigue. I describe my continual exhaustion like, “Walking through water, all the time.” They also discovered that I had a lot of irritation in my stomach and colon due to the years taking anti inflammatory drugs, and that I was anemic. Again, this produced even more fatigue. So I was limited to taking, which really are ineffective for me.

A few years ago I read about a very new injection which had been used for similar conditions, called Enbrel.   I qualified to be given the medication so started with initially twice weekly self injection. The dosage was then doubled, so I could receive it once a week.  However the anemia was becoming a problem and I needed to be rushed several time to the emergency room for blood transfusions. The average blood count is 120-150 for a woman. At one point mine count was 50. My doctor gets excited of my count is in 3 figures!! Despite several endoscopes, colonoscopies and a camera pill evaluation, there was no obvious reason for the ongoing severe anemia.  It was determined that it is just attributed to my AS.

So daily I take painkillers, injections, thyroid pills, hernia pills, iron pills, calcium pills, osteoporosis pills and eye drops. I get a shopping bag full with each prescription, luckily as I don’t pay for any prescriptions!

There has been the almost inevitable depression at times, mixed with loss of confidence caused by the way I look.  At times I have the feeling of being such a nuisance when out with friends, for I can’t walk far for long.  I don’t want to go out much for I always need to have a seat before long, so I longer have a social life. What I do enjoy is having friends over for visits. This too can be difficult, as I worry that I can’t manage to have my home as nicely as I’d like it to be.  My true  friends will understand my limitations.

The AS was also a contributing factor to the breakdown of my marriage. It is a very difficult condition for a patients’ partner to understand.  This is even more challenging when ones partner is young and active, as in my case.  Work life was also very difficult due to the constant medical struggles, and after the association I worked for merged with another,  they moved offices.  This meant hours of travel each way with three change of buses.  After three years of working with AS, I simply knew I couldn’t go on any longer and one day just got up and went home. My HR manager and my GP were very helpful and guided me through it all.  Thankfully, I signed off sick for a year which meant I could claim early retirement on health grounds. I remember going to see my GP with trepidation. After explaining the situation to him, he quietly said, “I can’t believe it has taken you so long to get to this point”.    He told me he admired my determination to work, and didn’t have any idea how I had managed to go on for so long. Well that was it, several boxes of tissues later we got organized. Again I think I was especially touched at this rare moment for AS patients are so used to people not really getting it.  We feel we have to defend ourselves from being considered lazy. Presently, I don’t get the old age pension as I am too young, and I could not have been able to do it with out the support of my partner an my mother.

I had major surgery last year, as I was finding it more and more difficult to breathe. I was taken off Enbrel while they investigated my chest/lungs. What they found was my entire stomach and part of my colon had moved through the hernia into my chest cavity and were squashing my lungs.  This happened because of my bent back.  The surgeon opened me up hip to hip in order to pull everything back into place and then stitch my stomach to the abdomen wall, so this will not happen again! Unfortunately while in for this procedure, I caught MRSA  and a throat infection.  I was also told they found my hernia did not close, as they couldn’t get me flat enough, so after all that still have a hiatus hernia!.

Another problem which has manifested itself this last year or so has been a twitch at my left eye, which became stronger and eventually moved down my face. This caused my lip to become a bit twisted up, looking as if I’ve had a stroke.  I was given Botox, several times but did nothing to really help. My doc suggested an MRI to see why this was happening. It was all arranged that I go in to have the scan of my head, however as the table part is very hard and flat so, It was too painful to lay on it.  So I must wait for them to come up with a better way of diagnosing this problem.

I got back on Enbrel in January, however I have been disappointed with the results.  It’s as though it’s not as effective as it used to be. I have also noticed my hands are very painful now, with the knuckles swelling, and some morning they are completely numb. The doctors are thinking perhaps it is carpel tunnel and my knees are also in pain while I am walking. Feet, ankles, and sciatic nerve are all in pain too.  My neck is bent very badly for I have to strain to look up the whole time I am walking.  This is very uncomfortable, as you can imagine.

My eyes have been much better lately, in respect of my iritis. Leaving work has been helpful in this way, as I am not on the computer all day long like I use to be.  Less stress from my job has also improved the situation, I believe.   I am also using two different very mild steroid drops in both eyes continually, as a maintenance program.

These are the “highlights” of the last forty years of my life. There are too many to go over each one of them for their have been many over the years .These days the depression is more disabling, partly because just so tired of it all and partly because in all honesty, I don’t have much of a life. As I said earlier, no social life in the evenings, too much is involved when planning transportation.  I am always  concerned if I will be guaranteed a seat.  I don’t think it’s fair to make plans with a friend and then  call off at the last-minute.  During the day,  my friends all work and my partner now works nights.  Even when I have visitors over, we have to be very quiet for my partner sleeps during the day.

I go out as often as weather allows usually with my Mum, as I am not too confident on my own any more. I think the effect of years of living with a chronic disease, is often thought of in terms of the effect on the body alone.  It also  equally affects the mind, family,  and friends of those living with the disease. Ones life becomes AS, as it controls every aspect of your person. People treat you differently than those who are healthy and it affects every decision you make.

I would like to make known that having joined various groups pertaining to AS, and by starting my own for group for AS’ Peeps, has been the best thing ever. I’ve met so many fabulous out there, who are a pleasure to know. These people are from all over the world. All  have a generous spirit.  They are the ones who listen to my concerns and support me.  We all exchange ideas, treatments, hopes and dreams, My life is much richer for these new friends even though I shall probably never meet them. But the big thing, the HUGE thing, is they all know,understand and accept everything you have to say because they LIVE IT.  I wish social media, would have around in the olden days when I started on this journey, for it would have detracted from the loneliness and isolation.

What a joy there has been in the new friendships made, because of this horrible condition! That has been one of the major factors in me getting more involved and active in spreading information about AS. When I hear all the different stories, (and many similar conditions), the huge delays in diagnosis I can understand what these patients are going through.  Some were diagnosed late, which allows the disease to do severe damage before any treatment has been given. This delay also allows the mental wounds to fester.  Those that don’t understand have hinted that we are simply seeking attention or have a mental illness. In my case if it was not for my doctor who doggedly kept sending me to specialist after specialist, until the final x-rays showed a very damaged spine.

About Ankylosing Spondylitis

The disease usually starts in ones teenage years and early 20’s.  Men are three times more likely to get AS than females. The disease usually starts with lower back, and early morning stiffness. It can also affect most joints, eyes, heart, liver etc as well.  Many people with AS take NSAID’s (non steroid anti inflammatory drugs).  The inflammation causes the pain. However in recent years, the treatment is a mix of these type of medication with muscle relaxants.  Other medications that are used are the newer biologics in the form of injections or infusions. These suppress the immune system and so stop the inflammation.

There are periods of extreme activity known as flares, which can last any amount of time.  There are periods of quiet, but usually the pain is somewhere in between.  AS causes the bones, in particular the vertebrae, to fuse together, which restrict movement.  (So some can end up like me, which is very bent over.) Patients frequently need fusing in the neck area. The other main symptom of the disease is severe fatigue. This can be a real problem as people can look well and so appear to be lazy! One day you can be severe pain, the next fine, but very tired. This again, is what people find hard to understand about AS. One doesn’t get ill, get treated and get well. Every one is different, and there is no way of knowing how you will progress, so the priority is to get pain management in place that works for you, and try to stay as mobile as possible.

I have now put on too much weight due to going a long time with little exercise. It is difficult to exercise with my breathing problems, recent surgery and the fact that it is winter here. I am hoping to get out and active soon and start a healthy diet. Hopefully this should help me shed some of the excess weight. The only exercise I am allowed to do is to walk. Having a fused spine and neck coupled with osteoporosis, this is the safest activity for me. I am not even allowed a massage!

A friend once told me my appearance, told the world, what kind of day I was having. When I am having a good day, I wear normal make up, all neat and tidy. Everything is in place – full face, hair, nails, jewelery and I wear a scarf.  If I am having a very bad day,  I represent myself in full camouflage mode! Do you know what? She was right!!”

I feel optimistic that with all the work being done to investigate the disease. The AS community is bringing much information to the attention of people interested and doctors, the new medication available, that those who have recently been diagnosed and those who will be will have a brighter future than those of us from all those whose journey started all those years ago. There is certainly much more support and information out there to enable them to be able to investigate and learn so they can make informed decisions.
Information from The National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society

– Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a painful, progressive form of inflammatory arthritis.

– It mainly affects the spine but can also affect other joints, tendons and ligaments.

– Ankylosing means fusing together. Spondylitis means inflammation of the vertebrae. Both words come from the Greek language. Ankylosing Spondylitis describes the condition where some or all of the joints and bones of the spine fuse together.

– Entire fusing of the spine is unusual. Many people will only have partial fusion, sometimes limited to the pelvic bones.

– Other areas such as the heart, lungs and bowels can also be involved with AS.

– Inflammation occurs at the site where certain ligaments or tendons attach to the bone. This area of the body is known as, enthesis.

– The inflammation is followed by some erosion of the bone at the site of the attachment. This is known as, enthesopathy.

– As the inflammation subsides, a healing process takes place and new bone develops. Movement becomes restricted where bone replaces the elastic tissue of ligaments or tendons.

 – Continued inflammatory leads to further bone formation and the individual bones which make up your backbone (vertebrae) can fuse together.

– The pelvis is most commonly affected first. The lower back, chest wall and neck may also become involved at different times.

AS is a very variable condition. Some people with AS have virtually no symptoms whereas others suffer more severely. AS tends to affect men, women and children in slightly different ways. In men, the most commonly affected areas in men are the pelvis and spine. Other joints which may be involved are the chest wall, hips, shoulders and feet.  In women, the involvement of the spine tends to be less severe. The most commonly affected areas are the pelvis, hips, knees, wrists and ankles.

As a devoted advocate to informing others of the dangers of AS, she writes for various chronic illness blogs:

Masquerade of Words ( Spondylitis Blog Carnival) masqueradeofwords.wordpress.comA group committed to spreading information about the disease. This way the variations of the disease can be clearly seen.  This blog also educates friends and family of the many facets of AS.

AS Peeps and AS Standing Tall Together and  Thinking out Loud – – Jackie created these groups to exchange ideas and offer support to those with the disease.

She is also a very active book reviewer.  For a book review, you can find her at Book Reviews by Jackie

Mary Cunningham: Author – Non-fiction / YA – Tween

My last and most excellent writer, may I introduce to you…Mary Cunningham!

Carla: What would you like to share about yourself?

Mary:  I’m a wife, mother, and writer and live with my husband and newly adopted canine, Lucy, in the mountains of West Georgia. The location isn’t as remote as it sounds since I’m within walking distance of a grocery story—a requirement in every one of our nine moves!

I enjoy golf, swimming, a variety of sports (viewing), hate the summer heat and the winter chill, but haven’t found a way to purchase that vacation home in Maui.

On the professional side, I’m author of the award-winning, four book, ‘Tween fantasy/mystery series”,Cynthia’s Attic.  This series was inspired by a recurring dream about a mysterious attic where twelve-year-old best friends, Cynthia and Gus (Augusta Lee), find a magic trunk that sends them through time solving mysteries with their ancestors. Their first adventure finds them traveling from 1964 back to 1914 where they meet their twelve-year-old grandmothers!

I’m also co-writer of the humorous women’s lifestyle book, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, and Ebooks, Ghost Light, and Christmas With Daisy, a Cynthia’s Attic Christmas story.

Carla:  When did you feel the need to start getting your thoughts on paper?

Mary:  Oh, wow. That probably would’ve been when I was about six-years old! I thought I was the next Robert Frost (My dad used to recite poetry to me at bedtime, along with his own made-up stories). That’s about the time I started writing some really awful verses. But, in my defense, I was just six!

From there, I wrote family memoirs, but never considered writing fiction until the idea for Cynthia’s Attic emerged. Now, fantasy/fiction is my favorite genre.

Carla:  What is WOOF about?

Mary: Best way I can describe WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, is with the book blurb!

Over fifty? Or planning a trip to mid-life in the near future? Bags packed, but wondering about your destination? Well, you’re not alone. With no map to guide us through the “joys” of middle age, three witty, resourceful, savvy women chart our own course. And you’re invited!

Join us as we romp through issues of expanding waistlines, deepening wrinkles, empty nests and muddled memories. And, we even find some good things to bark about! So, don’t just use this book to fan a hot flash. Look inside. Find out if you’re a Springy Spaniel or a Moody Mutt. Discover over 50 reasons to wag your tail.

But, WOOF isn’t just about the book, we also have a great blog (WOOFers Club Blog) where women over fifty can visit, make comments and even contribute to our special posts on “Dog Tails” (stories about the special canine friend in your life) and “New Leash On Life” (stories on re-inventing yourself after age 50). We love guest posts!

Carla:  Genre you’d like to try but haven’t?

I’m working on a couple of adult mysteries and am especially excited about a mystery/satire. I love  dry humor and the MC and her “cast” embody dry wit. I simply love writing, however, and enjoy jumping from one genre to the next.

Carla:  What are your literary goals?

Mary:  Hmmm. Goals for the future. I’d like to make a comfortable living writing. My husband is retired and like many seniors, we’re concerned about the future. How nice it would be to make tons of money doing what I enjoy!

An added bonus is encouraging students to write. When I speak to elementary schools, I usually end the program by asking them to remember that old author who came to their school, and how she inspired them to write. If I motivate one student to start writing, then I’m happy, although a few dozen would be even better! Lol.

Carla:  What’s your advice for upcoming writer’s?

Mary:  A very generous and blunt NY editor gave me a critique years ago that probably led to getting the first two books  in my Cynthia’s Attic series published. “Too much telling—not enough showing.” I had no clue what that meant before researching various writing websites and blogs. But, then I had one of those “light-bulb” moments. I spent the next six months on rewrites that moved the storyline through dialog and action rather than simply “telling” the story.

The second bit of advice is, “Write what you know.” It’s easier to write about the familiar. Since the original setting for Cynthia’s Attic is my hometown, Corydon, Indiana, and takes in many childhood memories, much of the research was already in my head. Since I’m a very visual writer (It’s much easier to write when I can picture a scene or character), old family pictures and stories about ancestors also bring authenticity to the story-lines.

Unfortunately, in WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, I know this subject matter inside-out! That’s why we decided to keep WOOF, for the most part, light and funny. We over-fifty women have enough to deal with when it comes to weight gain, hormones and hot flashes, so our objective is to provide a good laugh.

Carla: Favorite dessert?

I’ve always said anything chocolate, however, my maternal grandmother has been in my thoughts recently, and she made the best rhubarb pie in the world! Not to be confused with those fake strawberry/rhubarb pies! She made hers with rhubarb straight from her garden, along with a fantastic vinegar pie crust (the recipe is included in WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty). One of my fondest memories is her teaching me to make crust. In fact, I got so good at it, I made the crust and she made the filling. So, at this moment, I’d have to say my grandmother’s rhubarb pie.

Carla: Pets at home?

Mary: So glad you asked! Years ago, we adopted a sweet terrier/mix. Molly died in 2008 and we were so heartbroken, another dog wasn’t in our thought process…until a few months ago when we spotted a little dog who had just been abandoned. A great rescue group, 1 Lucky Dog Rescue in Hialeah, FL, took her in, got her shots up to date and then posted her pic on Facebook. One look at her and we were hooked. Thanks to the help of many, and—I’m convinced, a guardian angel or two—we are now adopted parents to Lucy, a Chinese Crested/Maltese mix.

She livens up the house with her playfulness and keeps us laughing throughout the day. I feel so fortunate to have brought not one, but two amazing rescue dogs into our lives, and I encourage everyone to check out the shelters first! Don’t shop – adopt!

Carla:  So sorry about Molly!  Nice that Lucy is such great company.  Would you please share with us, a line ,from one of your books?

Mary:  Great question! This isn’t just a line, but one of my favorite paragraphs. My dad was a huge influence on my life and my writing, so this passage from Cynthia’s Attic: Curse of the Bayou, warms my heart whenever I read it.

I stared at the solid, radiant blanket of stars. “The Milky Way,” my dad would point out. “That’s our galaxy, Gus. Remember to always respect the beauty and vastness of the universe.” A tear slipped from my cheek. “Another night, Dad.” I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate much of anything at the moment. I pulled my knees in tight and lowered my head. Maybe tomorrow will look better.

Mary: Thanks, so much, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Carla! It’s been fun!

Carla:  You are so very welcome, Mary!  Thanks for coming along for the ride 😉   Wishing much success to you, as you travel on your writing journey!


Mary Cunningham Books

Cynthia’s Attic Blog

WOOFers Club Blog


Echelon Press


Cynthia’s Attic: The Magician’s Castle – Amazon Link:

YouTube code for video: Cynthia’s Attic Series

YouTube Cynthia’s Attic Series URL:

Arnold Fanning – Screenwriter and Playwrite

Our next stop is Dublin, Ireland.  We are honored to have Arnold Fanning join us today.  A warm welcome to you Arnold!  Tell us about yourself.

Arnold: I live in Dublin, Ireland. I started writing when I was a teenager then kind of abandoned it when I went to college – University College, Dublin where I studied English. After college I worked in theatre and film production. I started writing short stories around then and got some published. Through my film contacts I got interested in film and adapted one of my short stories into a screenplay that got made into a short film (Still Rain, 2000). I also worked in literary management in a theater that got me motivated to write for the stage, and I later had a play produced in the Dublin Fringe Festival (Those Powerful Machines, 2008). These days I mainly write plays and screenplays, although I also have written a novel which I am currently sending out to publishers and agents. I unwind by listening to music and cooking, I go to the theater and cinema a lot, and read voraciously.
Carla: What is your genre? Tell us about your short stories and other projects you’ve worked on.

Arnold: I don’t have a particular genre as such, although most of my work addresses sexual politics to a certain degree, and psychological power plays between individuals. My works whether scripts or fiction are generally dramatic in intent, but I do have a tendency towards black humor. My short stories have appeared in the American journal Crazyhorse, in The Irish Times, in The Phoenix Anthology of New Irish Writing, and been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 amongst other places. I’ve also had three plays produced in various venues in Ireland, and had two short films that have screened at festivals. Current projects include a novel which has yet to find a home, and a feature script which is in development.

From ‘Climb’: Crazyhorse Magazine, Fall 1997:

He’d went around to the other side of the tree. It was time to climb, to climb it to the top, the first and last time. He stood there facing it and touched the hard old bark with his palm like he had done that morning. It had dried since and was warm. The younger boughs at the top, he thought, would be smooth and cool when he got to them.

The first boughs were the hardest to reach, so he stood well back and took a run at them. The first try his fingers hit the hard bark and couldn’t make a grip and he fell back to the earth again. His fingertips buzzed with stinging pain then numbed. He went at it again. This time he made a good clean punt and made it to the knothole at the base of the first big branch. He dangled by one hand a moment and then swung his leg up. For a moment the strain made him grunt as he felt the earth pulling him back. He clenched his teeth and, unable to breathe, pulled his body weight up and then pushed himself against the knothole into a sitting position on the lowest bough of the tree. His hands beginning to sting again, he took deep breaths and sat there a moment before going on. He had started to climb.
Carla: Genre you’d like to tackle but haven’t.

Carla: I would really like to be able to write an out-and-out comedy; something along the lines of a Neil Simon or Woody Allen film, as I admire these writers immensely. I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at horror also, but this is a genre I am less familiar with. But I have always loved comedy everything from Harold Lloyd to screwball comedies to Allen and Simon, so that is what I’d most like to try.
Carla: Most unusual place you’ve found inspiration for your writings.

Arnold: I was at a play once on Broadway and stepped out on to the sidewalk during the interval for a cigarette. I had this idea: what if someone I really didn’t want to talk to now approached me and demanded my attention? How would that work with the time requirement set be the duration of the interval? And I immediately wrote – on the play’s program- a scenario based around this idea: a play set during the interval of a play. This later became my play Shafted, which ran for a week as part of The New Theatre Dublin’s New Writing Week.
Carla: What are your literary goals for the future?

Arnold: I am currently working on getting a couple of theater projects off the ground, working with directors and actors towards that goal. I am actively seeking an agent or publisher for my unpublished novel. And I am working with a director and producer on a feature script. Meanwhile, next year the Focus Theatre, Dublin, is going to stage a revival of my first play, Those Powerful Machines.

Carla: What does a traditional Irishman’s dinner look like?

Arnold: Generally speaking it is ‘meat and two veg’. However I like to cook, so my dinner is seldom traditional…at the moment I am particularly keen on cooking Chinese food.
Carla: Cats or dogs?

Arnold: I’m a sucker for both.
Carla: Best U2 Story:

Arnold: Nope, I’m one of the few Irish people who is not a U2 fan. But I did live near the pub where various U2 members used to go and drink and saw the Edge having a pint there now and then… but I wasn’t that impressed. I’m a Bob Dylan fan.
Author’s Biography:

Arnold’s first play Those Powerful Machines ran in the New Theatre as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2008. His other plays are Shafted (New Theatre New Writing Week 2009) and Dumped (Red Door Theatre, 2009). His short stories have been published in Ireland and America and broadcast on radio in England. He wrote the screenplay for the short film  Still Rain which was shown at the Cork Film Festival. He co-write the script for the one hour TV film Making Ends Meet  which was broadcast on Irish national broadcaster RTÉ and seen in film festivals in Ireland, England, and Canada. He has been a resident at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Co. Monaghan, Ireland, The Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts, USA, and the Edward Albee Foundation Residency in Montauk, Long Island, USA as well as a Work-Study Scholar in the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, Vermont, USA. He has participated in writer’s workshops in Dublin and Prague, participated in the Sources 2 script development programme in Germany and Norway, and received several grants from the Irish Arts Council.

Carla: Thank you for stopping by, Arnold.  Best wishes to you!

Contact Arnold Fanning on Facebook –

Valentinno: Poet and Screenwriter

Carla: Tell us a bit about yourself and your pen name.

Valentinno: To my family and friend I’m Kevin Brian Wright (but to my international following, I’m best known as Valentinno.)– A romantic poet, letter writer, renaissance thinker, and author of the critically acclaimed book, ” A Romantic’s Passion: The Tenth Muse”.

In this business a pen name, book cover, even the title of a book can affect how your book will sell. So being that I am a romantic poet my birth name “Kevin Brian Wright” sounded more corporate to me. Perhaps it would fit better for someone writing a book on finance.  It wasn’t very marketable for someone writing romance. But the name Valentinno being a variant of valentine which also means, romance, true love, heart, etc., was perfect in every sense of that word for me.

Carla: How did you make the transition from screenwriting to books? 

Valentinno: You’re absolutely right I am a screenwriter and that was my main focus, but I wore many other hats in the film industry as well. I was an award-winning action and fight director, I choreographed stunt, fight sequences and starred in over eight films. But the thing I most enjoyed was writing the scenes and watching them come to life on-screen.

After writing screenplays for so long I wanted to pursue other creative avenues. At the same time I was working on several collections of romantic prose and I wanted to tell my love story to the world. So I basically took a very long vacation and decided to concentrate on just my poetry, and so I published my first bestselling book in Europe in 2006.  I guess being a screenwriter will always be in my blood because, it seems I’m back from that vacation. Today I have two feature screenplays written with my business partner, Christina Sampson.  One is an action science fiction film named, “Vooshaday” and the other is an action movie entitled, “Organized Crime Bureau.”

Carla: You’re incredible popular in Europe and your latest book, “A Romantic’s Passion: The Tenth Muse”, that was released in January, has already sold out in France and Germany.  What element of originality do you feel fuels your popularity?

Valentinno: January 25th 2011 my book was published and by the 28th it sold out in Germany and France. Since then,”A Romantic’s Passion”, has been getting a lot of media attention. I have been doing radio tours, appeared on talk shows, been on the front cover of numerous newspapers, and have done many interviews, etc. It has been very exciting.

As for how I feel, I really go by what the reader feels because they are your true critics.  According to my readers my popularity stems from the old world romantic style and my elaborate imagery.

“O’ beauty, her endearing armor, that meets my elated glance,

My dear warrior! The courier of Saint Cupid’s almighty bow,

Where I have only pressed my lips against the cheek where

Rests love’s fair kiss and passion kindles those votive rays,

But a lover’s bliss, that blessed day!

When that seraph light retained my soul upon her

Flowering face and the tender tones of her sweet accents.”

Carla: Name the most unusual place you’ve found inspirations for your writings.

Valentinno: Honestly I don’t have to be inspired; I can just sit down at any time, pick up a pen and just write. Maybe because I write about my true life romantic experience, so the muse, emotions and visions are already the reality of my mind.

Carla: You’ve used photography in your latest book to coincide with your poems. 

Valentinno: I used photographs in my book so readers can not only read the love story through words but visualize the romance through photos. I wanted to give the audience something different.

Carla: A line of poetry that changed your way of thinking.

Valentinno: I don’t think a line of poetry could change my way of thinking, but writing, “A Romantic’s Passions”, opened my eyes and mind to many new things. Even though I’m an expert on the subject I am still just a student of the world and love will always be the greatest teacher.

Carla: What was it like writing for the Queen of England?  Was the process a bit intimidating?

Valentinno: I was honored and very excited to write for Queen Elizabeth II. The poem in which I wrote was entitled, “O’ Blessed Nightingale.” It’s now displayed in her private estate, in Balmorals Castle.

Regardless of how high-profile someone is you have to look at them like every other reader. You can’t get intimidated or you won’t give your best work. So I sat down behind my computer and wrote the poem like I would for anyone else. Weeks later I received a letter by royal mail telling me how much she loved the poem, it’s presentation etc.

Carla: When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite thing to do to unwind?

Valentinno: I always like to unwind with a good run or walk, or a couple of hours in the gym.

Carla: What did you have for dinner tonight?

Valentinno: Chicken stuffed with crab meat and asparagus

Carla: Your most beloved coffeehouse?

Valentinno: Tea and Sympathy; because I’m a tea drinker.

Carla: Favorite romantic vacation destination?

Valentinno: Venice, Italy

Carla:  Cats or Dogs?   Cats

Thank you Valentinno!  I wish you much success, in your future endeavors.

While he now writes full-time, Valentinno has more than 27 years of award – winning writing experience. He has received 60 international literary awards in less than 5 years, including a nomination for the Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and was inducted into the “Who’s Who of Poets.” Valentinno also won best manuscript at the Christopher Newport University’s annual writers conference, as well as composed poetry for Queen Elizabeth II. Valentinno is a consummate writer and his excellence in his craft has earned him international fame. He is no emerging romance writer. He has already earned worldwide recognition for the finest embodiment of the art of poetry, thus ranking him among the greatest old world romantic poets.     

To purchase Valentinnos’ books:

Kieryn Nicolas: Author – Young Adult

A big, warm welcome to our youngest featured author, Kieryn Nicolas!

Carla: Tell us a bit about yourself.  How old were you when did you had your first book published?

Kieryn: I was fourteen when I got the contract and fifteen when it came out in print. (The eBook was released a few days before my birthday.) I was so excited when I saw the first print copy of Rain—I started jumping up and down, flipping right through it; the works. I was excited to see the first copy of Flawless Ruins, too but I was at a book festival surrounded by boxes and tables so there wasn’t much space to jump up and down.

Carla: When you’re not at school or behind the keyboard, what’s your favorite thing to do to unwind?

Kieryn: Read! I also like to run, especially with my friends, or practice Taekwondo. (The sport takes a lot of concentration, though. Maybe beating up the punching bag in my basement is the part where I unwind. 🙂

Carla: Tell us about Flawless Ruins, your new book.

Kieryn: Flawless Ruins is different from Rain in that it’s set a few hundred years in the future, and I have chapters from two different points of view. Oh, and there are no men in the book!…Or, at least, there aren’t supposed to be. The book cover based on a design by my sister. She drew the background image!

Carla: What’s your advice for teens who want to write professionally?

Kieryn: Know what you’re writing. Make an outline or storyboard so you don’t get stuck. Get feedback from others, like your friends and family. Also, make sure you WRITE!

Carla: Name the most unusual place you’ve found inspirations for one of your books’ characters?

Kieryn: Before my trip to Disney World I was looking up information about the marathon weekend , and I saw a picture of Cinderella. I think she was running to her carriage at midnight, but in the picture she looked pretty freaked out, and that reminded me of a dream I had the night before. The dream and the Cinderella image fused together into an idea for a character (and plot). I haven’t finished this book, but I’m glad I saw the picture of Cinderella!

Carla: Favorite line from a favorite book.

Kieryn: “Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, history would have been different.” ~The Picture of Dorian Gray

Carla: When you are done sorting through all those college pamphlets, and decide on a school, what subject will you be majoring in?

Kieryn:  I HAVE NO IDEA. Recently I’ve been looking at anthropology and political science, but less than a year ago I wanted to study forensic science.  ( I’m still interested in English and creative writing.)  Who knows what I’ll think in a few months? (I wish I did.)

Carla: Where can my readers find your books?

Kieryn: Rain and Flawless Ruins are available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, OmniLit, Smashwords, and others—links are on my website


Fun Questions!

Carla: What did you have for dinner tonight?

Kieryn: Garden pizza—I picked the tomatoes off, of course.

Carla: If you were a color, what would it be?

Kieryn: Turquoise, probably.

Carla: Your favorite vacation spot?

Kieryn: Long Beach Island, NJ! I go there every summer. It’s fantastic.

Carla: Cats or Dogs?

Kieryn: Dogs. Definitely dogs. Large dogs.

Carla: What’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever received, personally or professionally?

Wow, I’m not sure. What jumps to mind are a few emails I’ve received from adults, telling they really hadn’t expected Rain to be very good (because of my age). But they were emailing to say they really enjoyed my writing—which I think is a great compliment for any author to hear!

Kristen Hagopian – Author, Columnist, Consumer Reporter, Supermarket Spokesperson and Motivational Speaker

A giant welcome to our multi-talented guest and my dear friend Kristen Hagopian!  (Clapping in the background) She is the reigning,”Queen of Frugality”.

Carla:  Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an extremely fortunate, loudmouth, married, work-from-home Mom of two wonderful kids that put up with me beautifully.  I am also the creator of a little book entitled, Brilliant Frugal Living.  In the last two years, Brilliant Frugal Living has evolved into some fun, crazy job descriptions, including, but not limited to, Author, Columnist, Consumer Reporter, Supermarket Spokesperson & Motivational Speaker. All  this is  has been fueled by tremendous luck and frightening natural hyperactive DNA, combined with a caffeine addiction worthy of a 12-step program.

Carla:    You make me feel so lazy with your fast paced life! When you’re not writing for your column or out in the community speaking, or taking care of your family, what’s your favorite thing to do to unwind?

Kristen : First of all, you are one of the busiest super-achievers I know!  To answer your question, I love combing through local thrift stores to sustain my uncontrollable designer handbag addiction ($5 for a black Gucci leather handbag, what am I supposed to do, walk away?  I think not… J Most of them go as gifts, I swear!!)
I’m also addicted to Julia Child’s “French Chef” episodes from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I have just about all of them.  After the craziest of days, when the kids go to sleep, I’ll play one of her shows where – I don’t know – she does zucchini five different ways, and suddenly I’m inexplicably in my mellow zone.  Must be the butter.  Bon Appétit!
I’m also a library geek, I love to read.  Books about fabulous speakers always get my attention at the library.  I’m reading a great one about Steve Jobs.  The guy is a Motivational Speaking genius! 

Carla:  Aww…How kind.  Thanks, Kristen!  Oh, Savings Queen, tell us about your life-changing book?

Kristen:  Brilliant Frugal Living details the strategies our household utilized to compensate for losing half our household income (I was making $50,000+ when I decided to quit my Corporate job to start a family). Granted, it’s important to note I had the benefit of growing up in a fabulous (yet frugal) household.  We lived in fantastic neighborhoods, went to the best schools, always had great food on the table, wonderful holidays, etc.  However, I could see from an early age that my parents made it happen because they always thoroughly researched how to spend their money for maximum benefit (and always in such a way that left money over for saving and investing).  A few decades of having those lessons lovingly pounded into my head, combined with modern advances like the internet, made it possible to accommodate for losing half our household income, yet still making it work financially, without sacrificing any of the quality in our lives.  In fact, by the time we had Katie home for one year, we actually had more in savings than when my husband and I were both in Corporate America!


Carla:   What do you think makes your book unique? How has the economy played a role in the promotion of your book?  (Easy one!)

Kristen: The economy has undoubtedly played a role in the book’s success.  When I first tossed about the idea for the book, the economy hadn’t taken its latest downturn yet, things were still flying high, and nobody (and I mean nobody) was interested in a story about a two-income household that suddenly went to one-income.  Then, the economy went into recession, and suddenly every news story was about two-income households that had to quickly compensate for losing an income (or worse).  Now, everybody was interested in saving large amounts of money, and fast.  The book took off.

I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with thousands of people in my work, and one thing is overwhelmingly clear is that just about everyone felt that this downturn happened pretty much overnight.  It left some individuals without much time to plan or accommodate the shift with personal savings.  Once the recession hit, hard-working Americans were absolutely ready to change their spending behaviors to compensate for it, they jumped right into the challenge, but they needed some new tools and strategies to save large amounts of money fast, and I’m humbled to hear that the book seems to help people with that.

You ask how the book is unique: Perhaps Brilliant Frugal Living is a bit different because it shows how to slash spending without a lot of effort.  The strategies are easy and result in your living the same life you have now, having the same great food, brand names, etc, except the book gives you the tools to easily find them for 50-90% off.  It seems to be filling a niche.  I’m very grateful to hear it.

Carla:  Do you have plans for a follow-up book to, Brilliant Frugal Living?  If not, what projects do you have coming up this year?

Kristen: I’m having a great time in planning stages for a 2nd Edition of the book, one that incorporates all of my blogs and columns from the last 18 months!  If I’m lucky, I’ll wrap it up in the next six months.  As for titles, I’m thinking Brilliant Frugal Living II – Now Even Fruglier!.  (Yeah, I’ll keep working on the title…) The first edition of the book is self-published; this next edition I’m going to scout about for a publisher.  If only these publishers would advertise themselves in a way that would be helpful to me, like, “works well with fast-talking, caffeinated frugalistas…”, but alas, no such luck.
As for other projects I have coming up this year, I’m working with some radio stations that are interested in broadcasting weekly Brilliant Frugal Living segments – Should be fun!

Carla:   Name the most unusual places you’ve found inspirations for your book.

Kristen: That’s a great question.  There are a few places that have really stirred up inspiration for me, all for different reasons.  One of the most inspiring locations was a gorgeous, recently constructed, Mack-daddy high school where I was asked to conduct a “Brilliant Frugal Living” lecture for the students.  I arrived early and was looking around, and I noticed that this gorgeous, state of the art school had no Home Economics kitchen!  I asked a 20-something security guard where it was, and he had no idea what I was talking about.  Never heard of the concept.  “Home Eco-who?…”  Then I tried a joke about “Okay then, so where’s the “Take-Out Chinese 101” class held?”, and that went right by him as well.  Crickets.

So here’s this amazing school, with the best of everything, taxpayer-funded by people who (I’m guessing) cooked & ate at home so as to afford to pay the school taxes, only to have those taxes go towards a school that has no intention of giving students Home Economics lessons (a.k.a. “Running the Economics of a Home”!). No cooking, no sewing, no budgeting – I think it’s considered a bit outdated these days.  Personally, as a “Class of 1986’er, it completely freaks me out.  Amusing that they called me in to do a lecture to students on how to stay out of debt and save money.  I think we’ll file that one under “Irony 101”.

Another place I’ve found amazing inspiration was at the Laura Ingalls homestead in South Dakota.  I’ve always loved her books, and her personal story. This incredible writer was born into very limited means, not much education, was very poor for the majority of her life (she didn’t start writing the ‘Little House’ books until she was in her sixties), and yet through hard work and ingenuity she and her family always found a solution for any and all situations.  She always talks about how blessed and fortunate she was, never feeling deprived. I’m reading the books with my six-year old daughter now, and she loves them.  She has a million questions, all from an adorable child’s mindset: “Mommy, why did Laura’s Daddy get that honey from a TREE?!  Couldn’t he just get it from the store?  Why does she have a corncob for a doll?”  I highly recommend it as required reading for all kids.

Carla:   What’s the most effective promo you’ve ever done?

Kristen: The most effective promo was the guarantee I put on the book when I first wanted to get the word out about it.  I said that anyone who bought the book would save thousands of dollars, or their money back, guaranteed, no questions asked.  It’s the only personal finance book on the market that offers that type of guarantee, and it was the type of promo that not only put potential buyers at ease, but also got the attention of local news stations as well.  I highly recommend that sort of strategy.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

Carla: Amazing!   Share with our readers the most popular tip you’ve given on how to save money.

Kristen: Absolutely, here’s one of my favorites… We all love our little luxuries, our daily coffee from the coffee shop on the way to work, maybe buying a sandwich for lunch – all of these things are great, don’t get me wrong. But they add up.  Here’s a little experiment you can do with your cash instead.  Have a ten-minute talk with your bank, and have that $5/day put into a separate bank account instead.  Then brew your coffee at home, or throw together a ham & cheese from your own refrigerator.  You’re still getting your coffee, still enjoying lunch, nothing has changed, but now you’ve got $5/day going into a bank account as well.  By the end of the year, that $5/day becomes $1800.  That’s an average mortgage payment for many Americans.  Apply that $1800 as one additional principal payment, and you cut a 30-year mortgage down to 24 years instead.   Want some even better numbers?  Depending on your mortgage rate, you’re going to be saving, on average, about $120,000 of your own money over those 24 years.  Now, you could give that money to the bank if you want (you’re currently doing just that), but personally, in 24 years, I’ll be hitting retirement age… and I can think of something I’d prefer to do with $120,000, like KEEP it MYSELF!  More fun math: That $120,000 over 24 years comes out to $5,000/year.  By investing $1800/year into your mortgage, you’re automatically getting $5,000/year back.  It’s a lovely little return on your $5/day investment. Now that’s some Brilliant Frugal Living.

Carla:  Great advice!  So let’s get right down to the most pressing question of this interview…What did you have for dinner tonight?

Kristen: Fabulous and super-easy Chicken Cacciatore!  Sautéed one pound of chicken breasts (on sale for $1.99/pound), combined with a jar of Emeril’s Cacciatore sauce (regularly $4/jar, only $1 at my local discount gourmet grocery!), served over rice – so good! Served with a salad & dessert, would easily cost $40+ for a family of four in a restaurant, but made everything at home for $5 (and have leftovers as well – WOO HOO!)

Carla:  Yum, yum!  If you were a color, what would it be?

Kristen:  Red.  No doubt about it.  Ultra-obnoxious, hurts your eyes to look at it power-red!

Carla:    Favorite vacation spot?

Kristen: I’m close to Lancaster, PA – home of Amish Country.  I love going out there on vacation, it’s peaceful, beautiful, quiet, lots to do, AND inexpensive – how many vacation spots can claim all of that?!  It’s a great place – I love it.

Carla:   Cats or dogs?

Kristen:  Ooh, good one!  I love both, but have neither at the moment.  My kids have three goldfish; all named “Dorothy” after the Elmo’s World character.  Does that count?

Carla:   Yes, amphibious creatures count. What’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever received, personally or professionally?

Kristen: My beautiful six-year old Katie told me recently that she was really glad I was her Mommy (complete with a bear hug as she said it).  Nothing tops that.  A Pulitzer Prize would come in far second to that.

Carla: Super sweet!  Nothing’s better then that! Where can my readers find your book?

Kristen: You can find Brilliant Frugal Living at my website, as well as on  I’ve shipped the book all over the world, and it’s also can be downloaded to Kindle!

Carla: Please check out Kristen’s latest tips on summer savings –

Kristen Hagopian is the author of “Brilliant Frugal Living”.  Her popular book details the easy, proven strategies she developed to save thousands of dollars a year on food, clothing, entertainment and more!  In the two years since her book was written, the Brilliant Frugal Living brand has since evolved into a Column read by millions, over 30+ appearances on ABC, NBC, Fox News and The Live Well Network, and she has been selected as the official spokesperson for a popular supermarket chain.  She conducts humorous lectures on the subjects of entrepreneurial issues, women in business, personal finance, wealth-building and more to civic, corporate and private groups.  Kristen resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her family.

Angela Roe: Author / Freelance Editor

A warm welcome to
Angela Roe!

Carla: So Angela, what should we know about you?

Angela: Oh sheesh…I’m a bit of a neat freak but my closets are usually messy. Not right now because I just finished cleaning them all out about a month ago! I’m addicted to television, it’s always on in the background. I get my story ideas from silly one-liners that stick in my head for some reason. Once I have that line, most of my books come to me in my dreams and I wake up and scribble them down, praying I can read the writing in the morning! I’m slightly crazy, slightly silly and hopefully a good person!

Carla: Being an editor, Mom and Grandma you must be so crazy busy!  What’s your favorite thing to do, to unwind? 

Angela: It gets crazy but we love it. My husband Phil and I have five kids and seven grand-kids. All of the big family events are at our house so it can be crazy but it’s our life and we wouldn’t change it a bit. How do I unwind? I read. I love to read, I read all the time. My family sometimes gets annoyed because when I read, I get so involved in the story that I forget where I am, or what I’m doing. I get lost in the world the author created and it takes me a moment to refocus on reality! I am also a shopping fool. My mom and I go on marathon shopping sprees. We often have to come home to unload the car and then we go back out…is that bad?? Phil thinks it’s bad but I think we’ve single-handedly reversed the recession!

Carla:  What is your genre?  Give us a description of your books. 

Angela: I write romance novels, children’s books and short stories of all kinds.  I love happy endings but I don’t always write them. It depends on my mood and what’s happening in the world!

I have a short story coming out soon called “The Bar Scene.” I co-wrote this with Stephen L. Brayton who is a good friend of mine and another Echelon Press author. I also have a romance novel coming out, hopefully toward the end of this year. It’s called “Stormy Encounters” and it’s also with Echelon Press.

A very good friend of mine named Dana Etzel is illustrating my children’s books and we’re considering various publishing methods for them, but haven’t settled on any specifics yet. Stay tuned, they’ll be popping up soon!

Angela: What’s the most effective promo you’ve ever done? What’s your advice for upcoming authors? 

Well…you asked…

A Write of Passage

My promo experience is pretty slim since most of my published work is non-fiction and client based.  I think the promo style depends on your genre. I know a man who wrote history books that he sold at gun shows and he was wildly successful at it. I plan on hitting a lot of craft shows and art shows with my romance novel. I think it’ll hit the right audience.

Advice for upcoming authors is to learn. Listen and learn and read. Surround yourself with successful authors and editors and you’ll become successful as well. Don’t give up, don’t stop and don’t think this is a short-term gig because it’s not. It’s a long-term investment and if you keep working on the promotion of existing work while creating new work, you’ll be a successful writer.

Carla: Who’s your all-time favorite author?

Angela: Oh man, that’s tough. I love Andrew Greeley, I grew up reading his books. When we visited Chicago, I didn’t fantasize about seeing Oprah, I dreamed of seeing Andrew Greeley…I know, I’m a giant nerd! I also love Diana Gabaldon,  James Patterson, John Clancy, Nora Roberts…I love writers who paint pictures with words.

Carla: What genre you’d like to try but haven’t?

Angela: Good question…probably young adult. I think I’m intimidated by how every word had to count. You have a limited amount of words but you need to create a full story, it can’t be watered down at all. I actually just wrote a first chapter of a book that I think will probably turn into a YA novel…we’ll see how it goes!

Carla: What do you think makes your book unique? 

 Angela: My book,”Stormy Encounters” is unique in a couple of different ways. The characters find themselves in a setting I’ve not seen in any other book and I think my dialogue is unique. Dialogue is my strong suit, and I think it’s really works  in this story. While it is a romance novel, it comes from a place that’s totally new and I’m pretty proud of that.

Carla: If you were a color, what would it be?

Angela: Probably deep green. It’s my favorite color. It’s soothing and warm and wraps me in comfort.

Carla: Favorite dessert? 

Angela: Oh depends totally on my mood, mostly anything with chocolate in it. I love cheesecake and ice cream. I’m not so big on pie or cake…unless it’s strawberry/rhubarb, then I’ll eat it no matter what it is!

Carla: Are you a cat or dog person?  Both? 

Angela: Dog. Her name is Sophie, she’s a Welch Corgie and she’s sitting at my feet chewing her rawhide bone. She’s a tri-color so she looks like a tiny Lassie. She’s a beauty but she sheds like crazy!! Wanna come vacuum?  =)

Carla: Sure!  I’ll be over soon.  Thanks so much for joining us Angela!  Wish you the very best in your writings.

Website information:

Freelance Writer/Editor
Blog: A Write of Passage
Twitter: @AngelaRoe
Echelon Press