Month: September 2015

An Interview With Writer Wally Wood


Wally Wood is the author of Death in a Family Business; here is a link to his blog:

Q: When did you realize you were a writer?

A: When I was in the 8th grade, my class was assigned to write a story. I wrote what I thought was a humorous sketch about my city-bound family driving into the country to cut our own Christmas tree. The teacher thought it worthy of reading aloud to the class, which laughed when they were supposed to. I read it to friends’ parents and they also laughed. I realized my words could entertain adults which gave me an enormous sense of power and satisfaction—neither of which I’d had a lot of until the 8th grade.


Q: What is your educational background?

A: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the School of General Studies, Columbia University, where my major was philosophy and my language was Japanese. I have Master of Arts in creative writing degree from City University of New York.

Q:  How did you come to teach writing in a prison?

A: The state had opened a maximum security men’s prison in Newtown six months before my wife and I moved to town. Two inmates escaped and rival gangs rioted—confirming resident fears of the prison’s existence. Prison officials held an informational meeting in a local church during which the prison’s head of Volunteer Services said the staff would welcome any volunteer help from the community. My favorite uncle had taught safely and successfully as a volunteer in a Michigan state prison for years, so I raised my hand. I eventually taught writing in two different state prisons for more than 20 years.

Q:  What is Death in a Family Business about?

A: Tommy Lovell, 29, at loose ends after the collapse of his restaurant and his marriage, goes to the Berkshires with Tom, his father, to help Otto Jonker, a family friend. Otto—like Tom—is an appliance/TV retailer, but his business is failing and has called for help. Before Tommy and his father can begin to help turn Otto’s business around, a motorcycle accident puts Otto in a coma and he dies. It seems to be an accident, but was it? When Tommy’s suspicions are raised he begins investigating, putting himself and his father in danger.

Death in a Family Business is about a couple of things: Relations between fathers and sons; business management (almost everyone has bought an appliance or a TV set; this story suggests what’s going on behind the scene); and the effects of a death on a family and a business.

Q:  What makes Tommy Lovell  a compelling character?

A: Tommy, who is a decent guy if somewhat shell shocked by his business failure and impending divorce when the book opens, becomes a much more active and resourceful character over the course of the story. He has something of an attitude, but he remains likeable. He’s curious and willing to take risks to satisfy his curiosity.

Q: What makes Massachusetts a good place for a murder mystery?

A: The small Berkshires city in which I set the story, Pittsfield, was in fact at the time (1986) in dire economic straits. The city’s major employer was laying off hundreds of workers and in the process of shutting down its factories. The direct and indirect effects of this had to affect virtually everyone in town. Fortunately, the city is in much better shape today.

Q: How would you describe your style of writing?

A: I don’t consciously work on a style, and what style I have, I think, differs from book to book. I believe that if a reader is conscious of a writer’s style, whether positively or negatively, the writer has failed. I want my readers to focus on the story, not on the writing, and if they are conscious of my style, I’ve failed. So I guess my style is clear, engaging, unobtrusive, and varies.


Q:  You went to Columbia University. Is the Ivy League really better or is it overrated?

A: The school I went to at Columbia was one of three undergraduate colleges in the university. General Studies is co-educational and designed for adult learners; the vast majority of the students lived off campus and worked full time. As a result, it was not an “Ivy League” school with all that implies, and I have no idea whether Columbia, Princeton, Harvard colleges are better or worse than, say, Pomona, Oberlin, Middlebury, or any other fine liberal arts college.

Q: What was the most challenging ghost writing job you ever had?

A: The most challenging ghost writing job was turning a research-heavy, passive-voiced, marketing doctoral thesis into a breezy and chatty—or at least readable and comprehensible—book. It was like trying to run through a swamp.

Q:  What is the oddest thing you have done to promote yourself?

A: I participated in a library-sponsored farmer’s market. Another author and I sat under a tent in the 95-degree afternoon, our site shoehorned in between fresh corn and homemade jams. Unfortunately, most visitors were more interested in feeding their families dinner than feeding their souls with creative writing. Nonetheless, I made a friend of my co-exhibitor and had interesting chats with the shoppers who did stop.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)


An Interview With Producer/Actor Rick Groat


Rick Groat is one of the stars of The Groat Family Western Show and the owner of,Groat Family Productions which produced the film Copperhead Creek; here is a link to his website:

Q: Why westerns? 

A: I was born in 1949, and grew up loving westerns, and wanting to be in western films as an actor. The first time I knew this was when I saw High Noon with Garry Cooper, I was 8 years old and knew what I wanted to do, After that I watched every western film, and played them out with my brother as kids. Having the west in our blood with my family history starting with my grandfather Cliff Groat in 1923 who worked his way up from an extra to being a western film director for the old Pathe Pictures in the late 20’s and 30’s. My Mom was a child actor for MGM in the late 30’s and 40’s. My Mom’s father had a ranch where I would spend all my summers on a horse and around the western life, and my love for being a western’er grew strong, and so it was just natural. I and my family created our family wild west show in 1962, with my mentor the 3’rd son of Jesse James, who taught me my craft as a stuntman, the use of a bullwhip, and much more. We still perform our show, with over 5,459 performances, and we are the longest family owned wild west show in US history. I became an actor doing all the westerns I could do first as an extra, then worked my way into writing, producing, and directing my first western film in 1983 with our own production. It was a classic black and white western that won 12 awards in 1984 from the Southern CA Motion Picture association. Over the years we made many films, and I also worked as an actor on many films for other productions.

The most important reasons why I do westerns are, they are just good story telling, with a direct plot. The best ones are the traditional classics by Ford and the like. This is what I try to make, as it is the best way to tell a story about the human effort of the American west, and can be a great example for our young people, and if told right, can inspire and entertain at the same time, and I also think they should be family friendly, as I can feel safe letting my family watch.
Q:  What will we see at the Groat family Wild West Show?

A: The show will take you back to a simple time, and one filled with comedy, stunts, and family fun. It is real western action including gun tricks, fist fights, and bullwhip tricks, with lots of participation with the crowd. It is about 45 min long, and is for kids of all ages, and will have you wanting to go home a watch a good western movie. We do everything from small birthday parties to large company events lasting an entire weekend. But most of our shows are one to two performances in a day at one event. We do only family friendly material, that is filled with thrills and fun. We are not history re-in-actors, but are western actors, and stuntmen, western film makers, and all family members.

Q:  Why do you think Hollywood cut way back on the number of westerns it once produced?

A: The reasons are many, but the most important ones are, Hollywood is concerned with making what they think sells the most, and what is the flavor of the month, if it happens to be action drama, then that’s what they do, and westerns are not as easy to produce if they are made well, as they deal with “real” film making, and not CGI, so, they are last to make. The other big reason is, there are not many real western film makers left, and most of the talent are working what pays the bills, and that is mostly other types of films. Another big reason is, after the hay day of western films, and through the 80’s and 90’s, some films were made by film makers that did not know how to make a traditional western, and even as there were a few great films made by Eastwood, and a few others, most film in that time were to far away from what fans wanted to see, and so they fell out of favor, and Hollywood backed away from the western. When the big budget Lone Ranger re-make came out, it was so far away from the real western that it lost money, and this is not what Hollywood wants. I think that the way of making the western film a thing that Hollywood will support, is to get back to the basics, and make good films with true action and a good simple story that make you feel good, and also important, the actors must be the real thing, and know how to ride and shoot, as well as be a good actor. The last reason I can list is, Much of the film makers have gone out of the country, as it is just to costly for an independent to make a film here, as there are other locations and talent to allow a film maker to produce a film at a low budget, and this is something that we can change by supporting and Hollywood and CA can try to offer an easier path to allow first time film makers to accomplish their films, But, on the pos side of it all, the internet and the digital areas have made it now much easier for all actors, and film makers to accomplish a film, and more so a western.

Q:  What is Copperhead Creek about?

A: Without giving away too much of the story, it is about two men who have gone through a war together, and have become friends, and they become lawmen in a small town. They both have a family, and find themselves in a fight to save family members from a man who want revenge, and forces the two lawmen to face him and his outlaw bunch in an attempt to wipe them out.  It is a family friendly story, but with real western action, and with actors who are seasoned western actors who know and understand the western. I take a traditional approach to direction and production.  I do not want to let out more of the story at this time, but I can say, it will have you wanting to ride along with us.
Q:  How is it different from other westerns?

A: It is a real western movie, with traditional photography, action, and direction. We have characters that people can relate with, and who are exciting and real. It is as I said, family friendly, but full of good story and lots of action, and performances that are true and strong. It is not a big budget Hollywood film, but an honest beautiful and exciting look at the old west of 1899 CA. Plus, we are mentoring student actors and film makers who bring a fresh energy and love of work to the film.
Q:  Why do you think vigilante films are so popular?

A: The reason is most people want to see justice, and want to feel that good is stronger than bad, and the vigilante brings this kind of justice. People are tired of news of bad events, and the good deeds of people are not made headlines, and so, our news and TV screens are filled with the bad news. Most folks want to see the bad guys get what they have coming, and a vigilante film in a way, helps fill the void. My film has some of these in the subtext, and we make sure the good guys and bad guys are defined. My lead character say…”Bad men and killers will not be heard in the courtroom, they will be shot”. This is the basic ideal for all good westerns.
Q:  What are some challenges you face as a cowboy in Hollywood?

A: I have always been type cast as a cowboy, as this is who I am. Back in the early years of my acting career it bothered me, but when I embraced it, all changed, and I became known for it, and proud of it. The other challenges are, I, like most cowboys, am very honest, I don’t lie or play games, and I say it like it is, and most in Hollywood do not understand my simple way of doing things, and so, it can make folk uneasy, and there were months at a time of no work, from both a lack of western films to work on, or just the nonsense of the auditions going to the actor with the known name or someone’s friend, and it had little to do with talent. I became frustrated at this, and started ny own production company, so I could do the thing I loved doing, be  a cowboy in films.
Q: What is your strangest on set story?

A: There are many, but the one that stands out is, about 20 years ago we made a modern day western horror film that was about a Native American Zombie “Terror on Shadow Mtn”. We made the film fast all on location in the mountains in 10 days. I wrote, directed, and acted in it along with about 10 other people. One night after we finished shooting, we sat down by the campfire to rest. I told the PA to get more fire wood for the fire. We all started talking about Zombies and how the story we were telling was creepy. The PA came back with an arm full of wood and brush and tossed it onto the fire. The smoke grew thick and we could not see, and we joked about Zombies walking in the smoke. We went to bed. The next day we all got up with poison oak all over us. It was tossed into our fire, and we all got a bad case of it. We finished the shoot with no make up, as we all looked like Zombies…We have not made another film like that since.
Q:  What kinds of day jobs have you and your family have had?

A: I have had many to support myself and family, and to ad to my income as an actor/film maker. My family members also have had many over the years. We have been everything from an art model to a teacher, a tractor driver, a mountain guide, a security guard, an photographer, and many more things. I have been a special needs teacher now for 18 years as my day job, and do my acting and film making in all my free time, or take time off to do a film. I have found that all things I have done help with acting, and story telling.
Q:  If you could put on your western show at the Democrats National Convention or the Church of Scientology which would you pick and why?

A: Well, I would pick the Democrats National Convention. As, I think I would enjoy doing some real western gun tricks, and gun safety talk for them, as I always talk gun safety with every show for the kids in the crowd, as well as for the adults. I would enjoy showing the folks that you can be entertaining and educational at the same time, and also be a good example to the young people. I love this country, the USA, and I am proud of our history, and like to share it. Plus, I think people in office need to get back to the basics of a good old time of fun, and beauty of what this country has to offer, and sometimes a good show is just what the doctor orders.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

An Interview With Model Suzanne Stokes


Suzanne Stokes is a model who has appeared in Playboy and on Frasier and The Howard Stern Show; here is a link to her website:


Q: How did you become involved with beauty pageants in the first place?


A: When I was really little my mom put me in a beauty pageant. I also did some modeling for some local newspapers and had taken a modeling class when I was young. I guess I would have to say my first bikini contest was just for fun. I was probably like 16 and I was at a bar in FT Lauderdale with my boyfriend and I entered a bikini contest just for fun.  I ended up winning 3rd place and some money which I was stoked.  Then I began modeling in Miami and I booked my first audition which was for a Ruffles commercial which I was so excited about. I was living on Chokoloskee Island at the time which was about an hour and a half away from Miami so my dad usually drove me to the castings at first which I am very thankful for.  I booked a Heineken commercial which was filmed in The Dominican Republic, and I met this other girl who was really cool and we began friends. When we were back In Miami, we decided to enter a Hawaiian Tropic contest at the

Cleavlander Hotel  on South Beach. I ended up winning first runner-up and I won some money but you had to go to the next contest in order to get the money so I continued on. It was a fun experience and I got to meet a lot of cool people. I ended up winning Miss Miami and the I won the Top 4 in the USA contest and then I won Most Photogenic in the International contest

Q:  What kind of day jobs have you had and what makes modeling better?

A: I must say that I have never really had a day job.  I was a first mate once on my dad’s airboat ride. I pulled the crab trap up to show the tourist and then I fed the raccoons and gators the marshmallows. They loved those things.   It was cute because the raccoons would come take them from your hand. I would just throw it to the gator though.

Q:  What is your favorite Hef story?

A: One time we were all riding in the limo coming home from the club and a bunch of us girls were hanging out the top of the limo and we got pulled over and I thought that was kinda funny.  I was thinking wow, who would actually give Hef a ticket.  Lol…. But luckily we got away with a warning and continued the fun back to the mansion. Hef is an amazing person.  He is fascinating and has lots of stories that are great.  He is very charming. It was lots of fun back in those days.

Q:  What was the Playboy experience like?

A: The Playboy experience was amazing for me. I had a really amazing time.

Q:  When you went on Howard Stern’s show you participated in something called the tickle post where you were chained to a post, naked and tickled by Mr. Stern. Did they tell you this was part of the show or did you find out when you got there?

A: I found out when I got there.  It was all just random.  At the end of the show, they came around and filmed us while they give us a quiz on random facts. Buffy and I got all the questions right but they didn’t end up showing that part. Lol

Q:  Your website says you are producing a reality show; what is it about?

A: I was a producer on this show called Guts and Glory. It is about the San Antonio Talons. Football

Q:  What is the strangest fan letter you have ever received?

A: I once got this package with locks of hair in it.  Kinda weird I thought.

Q:  What role did you play on Fraiser?

A: I played the Fantasy Plumber.

Q:  If you could change anything about Hollywood, what would it be and why?

A: Less traffic

Q:  What are some misconceptions about nude modeling?

A: Are there misconceptions?

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

An Interview With Writer Nyla Nox

Nyla Nox (1)

Nyla Nox is the author of, Graveyards of the Banks – I did it for the money; here is a link to her Amazon page:


Q: What is Graveyards of the Banks about?

A: Graveyards of the Banks is a trilogy about a jobless humanities graduate who falls into a dark, secret world working on the graveyard (=midnight) shift producing graphics for the Most Successful Bank in the Universe.  Nothing has prepared her for an environment that is so hostile to human life. The bankers treat her like the dirt beneath their shoes and fight each other for nightly survival.  Her supervisors subject everyone to nightly public humiliation.  But she desperately needs the money, after her many debts accumulated through a life ‘following her dreams’.

The book follows Nyla and her fellow workers as she discoveres the dirty secrets inside the Most Successful Bank in the Universe.  It’s even inside a building with no name…

Set in the city of London, mostly during the hours of night time…

‘Graveyards of the Banks’ tells one of the core myths of the 21st century, a kind of ‘reverse LOTR’ starting out in Mordor in the City, and like LOTR it is the story of a small person who stumbles inadvertently and very reluctantly into the dark heart of a terrible world.  No rings or Orcs involved though.

Q: What inspired you to write it?

A: I realised that I knew, from the inside out, a world that most people have never seen.

My own creative dreams were broken, too when I first joined the Bank and I saw so much suffering and pain among my co-workers.  I also saw what caused it and the toxic system this world runs on.

I wanted to tell people that it’s not the little bankers who are evil, they are responding to a brutal system that dehumanises them and us.  But they ARE being groomed to become the Masters of the Universe, of all of us.

I also wanted to write a novel about the workplace that takes this environment seriously.  Not an office comedy but a literary (but very readable) novel.  After all, many of us spend most of our lives at work.

And I think this is excellent material for the Big 21st Century Tragedy.

Q: What kind of job did you have in the banking industry?

A: I worked on the graveyard shift at one of the most powerful investment banks on this planet for seven years. Like Nyla, I created high end graphics to killer deadlines in order to illustrate the Bank’s version of the world.  Like Nyla, I had no idea what was going on in there before I joined and like most non-bankers I didn’t realise that these banks really do rule everyone’s world.

Our jobs are tough:  8 hour night shifts with no breaks, constant stress and needless repetitions, and extreme corporate bullying and intimidation.  I wanted people to know about all this.

Q: Why do you think people don’t fight back against the banks very often?

A: That’s a really good question.

I believe ‘ordinary’ people think there is no chance they will win, and they also think that somehow investment banking is difficult to understand (it isn’t, that’s all propaganda).

Generally, we are incredibly under-educated about economics and probably a little bit afraid of it. Which is a shame because it lets the banks to whatever they want.  Economics is actually a really interesting subject, if you get away from the ridiculous ideologies that most bankers learn in business school.

Ask yourself:  what is the purpose of the economy?

It’s to enable us to create our lives and organise our society as best we can.  It is here to serve us, not the other way round.

Right now, most people are and see themselves as decoupled from the Masters of Finance and feel hopeless.

So I’m trying to empower people through my book: look, see what life inside the Most Successful Bank in the Universe is really like!

Q: What is your opinion of the media’s coverage of banking scandal over the last ten years or so?

A: The coverage is sensationalist and portrays the bankers as greedy toddlers.  That is very simplistic and there is little real analysis.

But the decades of propaganda portraying bankers as a superior species are still paying off for them.  The media is incredibly toothless when it comes to demanding consequences for crimes and damage committed by the banks.  They seem to accept the status quo as ‘nothing to be done about it’.  Just maybe a little bitching about our masters.

The media also largely still buy into the idea that investment bankers are smarter and deserve their success because of their superiority. That, of course, reflects the propaganda by the banks who style themselves as our rightful leaders because they are superior to the rest of us.  I saw this cult of ‘leadership’ up close and it is very ugly.

In fact I think that the ‘leadership cult’ is one of the most dangerous ideologies around.

But mostly, the media treat banking scandals like personal horror shows – and of course, the banks always get away with it.  There is a kind of sneaking admiration for that.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that most media are dependent on the banks in some way…

Q: What are some examples of the horror stories we will read about in the book.

A: Oh where to start…

The shift workers in the graphics center (a Center of Global Excellence as we were always told) are on ‘limited hours’ contracts which means that they can be cancelled any time (‘don’t come in we don’t need you tonight’), and also fired any time (‘don’t come in at all any more’) and no reason has to be given.  Both of this happened very frequently.

In addition, they are subject to regular ‘short shifting’ – whenever the workflow dries up, they are sent home without pay, often at 4AM or 6AM.  They also have to sign a contract that forbids them to work anywhere else.

And of course there’s the annual ‘cull’ – a fixed percentage of workers company wide must be fired.  Up to 25%.  Yes.  Really true.

The environment on the working floors of those glamorous, very rich banks is very unpleasant.  Desks huddled close together, overflowing with papers, dirty towels drying on chairs, filthy kitchens with overflowing garbage bins, broken air conditions (we used to call it ‘Siberia’), people forced into very close physical contact when the junior bankers hadn’t been home for 20 hours…  Sometimes the bankers sleep underneath their desks and Nyla gets tripped up while running to the toilet.

Worst of all are the nightly humiliations.  Nyla and friends have to endure public recitations of their mistakes and personal flaws by a quality control department that acts like the secret service. Their shiftleaders on the graveyard shift have absolute power over us because the managers are invisible and asleep.

Petty, cruel rules affect Nyla’s well being and your health.

And then the bankers run in and shout.  You can hear them in the distance, like constant gun fire…

Q:  What is your dream job and what have you done to make it happen?

A: Right now my dream job would be to be a full time writer.

What am I doing to make this happen?

I’m investing everything that I don’t need to eat and sleep somewhere into my books.  I write as much as I can.  Sometimes it all gets too much and I give up for a while.  Then I get up and fight again.

I’m going to publish all my novels bit by bit and I will try to make my dream come true.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to afford to write full time again.  But I will write as much as I can.

However, I will always be poor, of course.  That’s the way our society is organised.  I’ll never earn even a fraction of what the bankers earn.  Neither will most of your readers.

Q:  A lot of actors and artist who ask me for interviews do not want to admit that they have day jobs; why do you think this is?

A: Really?  That’s very interesting.  I need to think about this…

I’ve been moderately successful as a writer (still hoping for more of course…) but like most writers I don’t earn enough to make a living, not even a bad one…

The only reason I can think of is that when I was writing my books (before the first one was published), people often subjected me to stern questions:  ‘Are you published?’  ‘Do you live on your writing?’ and when I said, no, not yet, they sometimes called me an ‘amateur’.

But then the same people got very angry when they saw my first book in the book shop.  So why try to please them?  I suppose being an artist is still thought of as a very privileged position, and therefore we have to show our credentials.  But, see above…

Maybe artists feel that the mark of ‘professionalism’ is to be able to live on your art but for many of us, particularly writers, that is not possible.  Many famous writers from the past had a ‘day job’ although they might have called it something else.

If that is the reason, it’s really sad.  I know very good writers who will probably never make a living from what they write, including, of course, almost all poets.

Q:  What have you done to publicize your book?

A: Oh dear.  I would so much rather just write…

But actually I do quite a lot.

When volume 1 ‘Graveyards of the Banks – I did it for the money’ first came out, I was invited to write articles in publications like ‘Business Insider’ and I was interviewed in UK media.  Most of this was the result of my own marketing efforts.

I try to get reviews and I’ve done discount promotions on Amazon.  But it’s really not my thing.  I’m sure I’m not doing it nearly as well as I should.  That’s what hangs over the author all the time – did you do enough to promote?  While, really we just want to write.  But of course I also want to get my voice heard.  So I’ll continue to try to contact people, get ignored and rejected, and sometimes I get nasty emails back.  Then I cry and try to move on.

Q:  What would be the appropriate punishment for a corporate criminal?

A: Tempting question…

When I think of the banking world I’d say: ‘To be treated like any other criminal.  Like any other thief, fraudster, robber etc.’  Because to date no banker has been brought to justice for the crash of 2008 or any other related corporate crimes.  This reinforces the idea that bankers are a superior species that is above the law.

However, from my experience in these powerful institutions, I know that the responsibility ultimately rests with the corporation itself.  Of course individuals should be punished for crimes they commit, and that applies particularly to the men at the top, the CEOs who usually get a few million to resign or retire while the only ones even remotely in danger are those much further down the ladder.

But to me, justice would be if corporations risked fines that put their existence in danger, and if they could indeed be dismantled for committing crimes.

Maybe also the law needs to be tightened up to stay up to date with corporate activities that are often ‘just on the right side of the law’.  So the bankers feel they haven’t done anything wrong…

Another issue which I write about in volume 2 ‘Graveyards of the Banks – Monsters Arising’ is extreme corporate bullying which is endemic to the banking world and destroys many people’s health.  I would like to see many more people and corporations prosecuted for doing this, allowing this, and, in the case of the Most Successful Bank in the Universe, creating an environment that enables and rewards extreme bullying.

Corporations should be held responsible.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

An Interview With Bird-Watching Blogger Mark Bilbrey

Mark Bilbrey is a writer who runs the bird-watching blog, Aberrant Plumage; here is a link to his website:


Q: What made you interested in birds?

A: Procrastination, actually. I was studying for comprehensive exams as I finished my PhD in the English Dept at the University of Georgia—impoverished, over-worked, stressed out—but I had huge windows in the home I was renting, so I welcomed the distraction of watching the birds outside. I put up feeders to attract more of them. The next thing I knew, I’d purchased binoculars and a field guide and would go on long walks just to watch birds. It was escapism, no doubt—but I got a lot of pleasure out of it, even though it probably caused me to delay my exams.

I think there was one bird in particular who cemented my love of birds by giving me a sense of their unique personalities and the hardships they face on a daily basis. He was a male Northern Cardinal covered in scars, his feathers always a patchy mess. This guy was intense—the first bird singing in the morning and the last one to call it quits at night—and he had a bad habit of attacking his own reflection in windows and car mirrors. He would defend his territory (from himself, mostly) with inexhaustible fury. He nested in a tree just outside my bedroom, where he fed and raised a single fledgling. The other cardinals in the neighborhood would sort of come and go, but that guy was a stalwart.

I started the Aberrant Plumage blog many years later to celebrate what’s fun and humorous and silly and entertaining about this hobby, while also educating readers. Most of the writing I find about birding is surprisingly serious. That’s fine, but let’s face it: unless you’re a scientist, watching birds isn’t an especially austere endeavor. When I’m watching birds, I’m usually giggling—and that’s the angle I try to communicate in the blog.

Q:  Why should the average Joe or Jane reading this article take up birding?

A: I don’t know if they should, frankly, and I’m no proselytizer, but if someone were looking for encouragement, I’d say this: A) All the cool kids aren’t doing it. Get to it before the hipsters do! B) It’s your best excuse yet to wear a fanny pack and a big sun hat. C) Your newfound knowledge will really impress the ladies at the assisted living facility. D) It’s better than Netflix.

It’s just fun for me. It’s fun at all levels, from beginner to expert. If you like a very chilled-out, easy-going hobby that’s a distraction from work, this fits the bill. But it’s also a great hobby for Type A folks who take their hobbies seriously and want to read hundreds of books about it and travel the globe and buy expensive equipment and develop unprecedented expertise and pick up a few degrees in ornithology.

Q:  What are the startup costs of birding?

A: It would be fair to say there aren’t any. Look out a window. Go outside. Done.

But, in reality, you’ll probably want binoculars. I think mine were seventy bucks. Feel free to spend $300 if you prefer, but it’s not necessary. You might want to shell out another twenty or thirty for a good field guide, or save money by picking up a used copy or just using free online resources. If you want to attract birds to your yard, you’ll spend a good bit on feeders and seed—perhaps $100 to start with a couple of feeders, a pole, and a couple big bags of quality seed, but the equipment is hardy and will last for years. The seed, on the other hand, is a regular expense. If it’s too costly or you don’t have a yard, just go to the park. Problem solved.

Q:  What kinds of birds does one find in the Pacific Northwest?

A: This is my question exactly. I’m new here, having just moved from Tennessee. Some species like American Crows and American Robins live all over the country, but many species live either in the west or the east of the continent, which is why so many field guides are labeled as western or eastern. I have a lot to learn about the birds here in Oregon. So far, though I haven’t had much time for birding between all the unpacking and IKEA trips, I’ve been fascinated by the Black-billed Magpies, Common Ravens, Oregon Juncos (a subspecies of the Dark-eyed Juncos with which I was familiar), Stellar’s Jays, House Wrens (we had Carolina Wrens back east), Song Sparrows (they live in the east too, but seem to be much more abundant here), and Red-breasted Nuthatches. There’s a long list of western birds I hope to see and learn about soon. I’ll definitely make a trip to see the puffins and other shorebirds, and I plan to check out the Vaux’s Swifts this month at Chapman Elementary School, where they apparently put on quite a show.

Q:  What is the worst day job you ever had in your life? (why was it so bad.)

A: I can think of a number of jobs that have been difficult or exhausting, but most of those have been rewarding and worthwhile. Only a couple of them were truly bad, in the moral sense. One was a telemarketing job. We were supposedly soliciting donations for the Fraternal Order of Police, but I doubt that’s where the money was going. It was a real scuzzy operation. We were encouraged to be very aggressive and it soon became clear that the people who were actually making decent money (the more donations a caller got, the more he or she was paid) were doing so by flat-out lying to anyone with whom they spoke. There were no consequences for doing so. No one could call us back or submit complaints. They didn’t even know who we were, so who would they complain to? I remember speaking with an elderly woman who very reluctantly decided she could spare some money out of loyalty to her local police department. I wanted to tell her not to do it, but the manager was listening in. I quit after two weeks, when the scam became irrefutably clear. My manager’s response: “Okay. Bye.” Looking back, I wish I had investigated, asked around, and spoken to law enforcement, but I was young and didn’t have the wherewithal to do so at the time.

For a couple summers in Iowa City, I graded essay responses for standardized tests, which I also found to be morally dubious. Some kids would write brilliant, thoughtful, creative answers that didn’t score well according to the rubric; others would write garbage but manage to tick off a few of the boxes we were looking for and score well anyway. Being a part of that racket didn’t feel good at all, nor did it feel good to look around at an enormous room full of dedicated, experienced, highly-trained professional educators reduced to $10/hr peons in this business of for-profit testing. Meanwhile, kids’ educational futures were on the line.

Q:  You have a business doing freelance writing called Paragraph Doctor. What is the most typical kind of writing people request?

A: Unfortunately, many of those who contact me are looking to have their undergraduate papers written for them. I don’t do that. I offer to tutor them instead, but I imagine they just laugh and go find an essay-mill somewhere to do their dirty work.

I get a fair amount of work writing web copy for businesses. A politician hired me to work on his speeches, web content, and press statements. A musician hired me to write his bio and web profiles. This surprised me, but twice now I’ve been asked to write or revise wedding ceremonies. You just never know what might come along.

Most of my work is in editing, though, and I’d say the majority of that has been for scholarly work. Professors and graduate students hire me to edit work that they intend to submit for publication or to a dissertation committee; undergraduates hire me to edit theses and application letters and that sort of thing. The ethics of editing for an undergraduate or high school student are a little tricky to navigate, so I have to determine on a case-by-case basis if what I’m being asked to do is ethical. (I’ll spare you the laborious details—I could write a book on it). Some of those clients are not native English speakers, while others are dealing with massive projects and just need another set of trained eyes. I’ve also edited a great deal of fiction, non-fiction, and—just recently—a graphic novel. It’s most fun and rewarding when I can build a collaborative relationship with a client and we develop a level of comfort with each other’s honesty. Seeing a writer get the most out of their work and learn along the way is a thrill.

Q:  What was the most challenging writing job you ever undertook?

A: Writing for a politician was tough. I’m not a politician, nor do I understand much about politics (which I made clear to the client before accepting the job), but I do know a great deal about rhetoric and audience awareness and writing a clear, effective argument. Ultimately, he appreciated my fresh perspective, and I appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the political discourse. He knew that, at least, I would provide something new and unique. It wasn’t my job to come up with his position on any given topic, nor did I need to agree with all of his positions—my job was to make his ideas clear to voters. Had his positions been abhorrent in some way, I would not have done it, but they weren’t. And if there’s anything we need in politics it’s a higher level of clarity and discourse, so I was proud to contribute to that effort, if only in a very small way.

Q:  What is your opinion of Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

A: My opinion is that I might read it (or watch the movie) given enough incentive (say, free drinks or a cash sum). The Neil Diamond soundtrack I might listen to on a lark.

Q:  What do you think of Portland so far?

A: It’s lovely. Any place that cherishes its doughnuts, beer, and weirdos the way this town does is okay in my book. Plus, they call porta-potties “Honey Buckets,” so that’s a win.

It’s nice to be so near the mountains and rivers and the ocean. Folks are friendly but not intrusive. I hope I can tap into the creative energy of this place. But I’m really going to miss Northern Cardinals.

Q:  Of all the famous cartoon ducks, which one do you believe would have the best chance of surviving in the wild? (why)

A: Donald is too incompetent and prone to self-destruction to last very long in the wild. Birds face a lot of dangers, from habitat loss to predation to competition to environmental pollution, not to mention the monumental task of migration and surviving extreme temperature fluctuations. I don’t think he could handle it. Rubber Ducky has no legs and is incapable of autonomous movement, so he’s out too. Also, he’s not really a cartoon, so he’s ineligible anyway. I think Daffy would do fine, though. Daffy Duck can take a shotgun blast to the face without any permanent damage. He just puts his bill back on straight, mutters a few curses, and goes along his way. He’s a tough bird.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

An Interview With Blogger John Laurits


John Laurits   is a blogger; here is a link to his website:


Q:  What inspires you to write?

A: Trying to say things that I don’t know how to say… yet. Whenever I get the feeling that I can’t say something that I’m experiencing, it’s then that I start to go crazy – I become obsessed until I find the words. There is a condition of mind that is called “aphasia,” which is that state in which one knows what they want to say, knows that there is a word for it, and yet cannot quite say it – a word being on the “tip of one’s tongue.” A kind of mystical ecstasy tends to ensue when I feel that I’ve succeeded at articulating something that is difficult to articulate. Sometimes this takes the form of poetry, other times as short stories or vignette, and still other times as essays.

Q:  What kind of day job do you have and how does it affect your writing?

A: I currently count myself as being among the precariat, which is similar to the proletariat, except that society has no consistent demand for my labor-power – I’m basically homeless & unemployed, ear-to-the-ground for odd-jobs – during better days, I was a student of philosophy that subsisted on a combination of student loans & the meager wages of a courier at a copy & shipping service center.

Q:  Who are some of your influences?

A: J.P. Jacobsen, Herman Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Phillip K. Dick, many religious scriptures, Bill Shakespeare, a variety of Persian poets, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Eduardo Galeano, Harlan Ellison, John Wilmot, Goethe, Siegfried Sassoon, etc. I like metered poetry, romantic stuff – I also enjoy speculative fiction and metaphysical or religious writing.

Q:  What life experiences do you draw from when you write?

A: My experience of the natural world – I enjoy drawing connections between natural or cosmic processes like growth, seasons, or gravity and personal processes & spiritual or emotional experience. The awe of nature or transcendent experiences following the contemplation of physics, mysticism, or cosmology. My experience of holy scriptures like the Qur’an or the Torah definitely informs my writing.

Q: What is your novel about?

A: I’m not sure. I think it’s mostly about a person. His name is Jacob – which I chose because of the biblical story in which Jacob actually (I mean literally), instead of worshiping or praying to Her, chooses to fight G-d! Something about the idea of struggling against the impossible excites me. I guess I’m working with the themes of existential obstinance, hubris, and the struggle against meaning

Q: What have you done to promote your blog?

A: Woefully little. I did take advantage of my job in the copyroom to print a hundred bookmarks or so with one of my poems and the web address on each of them. I place them in books by authors that have inspired me at stores and libraries. Since we appreciate the same authors, I figure there’s a higher chance that those people will enjoy what I write.

Q: What do you think makes a character worth writing about?

A: I think there are probably a ton of reasons why a character might be worth writing about. I mean, I think everyone might be worth writing about – it’s just way easier to make a Beowulf, a Harry Potter, or a Tyler Durden interesting, but I think that a good writer can evoke beauty even from the most prosaic creatures. Maybe the idea that some of us aren’t interesting is another capitalist myth. I think a better question might be, “How can a writer become worthy to write about any character?” That would be a great writer – I want to be that writer.

Q: What compels people to blog?

A: I think of blogging as a kind of accessible, grassroots radio-slash-TV-sorta-phenomenon; as we become increasingly alienated and unrepresented by the privatized media outlets, we turn to whatever medium that is still available to us – which is basically the internet. It is our collective opportunity to practice democracy with information – as a collective, we get to decide what gets talked about or what goes viral and nobody is barred from contributing. These are opportunities that are not available to us within the media.

Q:  What blogs do you follow and why do you like them?

A: I follow the Bulletproof Musician’s blog, they post a lot of really cool sciency things about how we learn… other than that, I mostly follow my friends writing-oriented blogs like the Wandering Bard ( and Operation Orchid (

Q:  There are a million E-books and blogs out there and only a few writers who make a living by blogging. Why do you think they they are successful and we are not?

A:  blame capitalism. Without money to hire some kind of marketing agent or something, it’s difficult to be noticed – I know that sometimes I feel like I’m yelling into a vacuum… I’m a writer, you know? I write stuff because I literally have to! I’m not a publicity specialist or a web-designer – that’s not what I’m good at. I’m sure there are people who totally get off on that kind of thing but they need to make a living too and it’s a well-known fact that they’re not going to get that from a poet. Once the ruling class is overthrown, wage-slavery abolished, and the earth’s resources are distributed in a more humane way – then, I think, the human collective will choose to support its writers, painters, social commentators, etc and the problem of making a living in general will be relegated to the past next to the weapons of mass destruction & Furbies.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

An Interview With Ultimate Discount Services owner Casuel D Pitts Jr


Casuel D Pitts Jr is the owner of Ultimate Discount Services INC; here is a link to his website:




Q: What is  Ultimate Discount Services INC?

A: Ultimate Discount Services INC, is a membership association benefit’s program. Our focus is to help our customers save on everyday challenges that we face on a day to day basis. Challenges such as:

Bad Credit

Cell Phone Deductible

Traffic Violations

Co-Pay’s and many more.

Q:What inspired you to create the company?

A: This is GOD’s Vision and he gave it to me to seek it out to the world. But in short I have faced several of these issues personally and I said to myself from personal experience I can not only help people save but change the world.

Q: How does it work?

A: Lets say you receive a speeding ticket. You now are faced with a $100 violation and with our basic membership you would take a pic of that ticket and send email it to our claims department. Once we verify the ticket then we mail out a check covering 50% of the ticket to either the provider or customer depending on the situation.

Q: Why is it better than other credit services?

A: Well first allow me to say that we are not specified as a credit service however one of the many services that’s offered is 720 Credit Repair. Now what separates us from other credit repair companies is one we are affordable, efficient, & consistent and what I mean by that is that we actually build a personal portal for our customers to evaluate alongside our creditors. We don’t just call you and tell you what’s going on we actually go though it together.

Q:  What qualifies you to run the company?

A: I’m the Founder

Q:  What are some pit falls that people fall into when it comes to their credit?

A: One of the pitfalls is lack of education of how credit repair works. Some individuals think that they can repair there credit on there own when not knowing that when done on your own the process takes ten times longer. But working with a professional company the process can be executed ten times quicker.

Q:  What was the most extreme case of bad credit you have encountered and how did you deal with it?

A: We had a client who has been with us for 8 months and she has already used our services 3 times. She was up for credit repair after her third on time payment with Ultimate Discount Services INC, and we then forward her profile to our credit department where she started with a 580 and within 8 months her credit is now a 660.

Q:  What kind of rates do you offer?

A: We have 3 different membership packages and they are:

VIP Basic which is $10 a month

VIP Premium which is $20 a month

VIP Deluxe which is $30 a month

Q:  What is your opinion of  The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009?

A: Honestly I would say lets save that question for a more political debate although I will say that it has not made my business grow or decrease.


Q:  How did the act affect your industry?

A: As stated in question 9 it has not made my business grow or decrease.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)