Author and Illustrator, JD Holiday's Blog
~ BOOKS for Kids: Janoose The Goose, its sequel- Janoose And The Fall Feather Fair, The Spy Game & The Great Snowball Escapade, a chapter book for 6 to 9 years old. For Adult: Stories & Imaginings For The Reading Spot.
Author and Book Reviewer Fran Lewis worked in the NYC Public Schools as the Reading and Writing Staff Developer for over 36 years. She has three masters; Degrees and a PD in Supervision and Administration. Currently, she is a member of Who’s Who of America’s Teachers and Who’s Who of America’s Executives from Cambridge. In addition, she is the author of three children’s books and a fourth that has just been published on Alzheimer’s disease in order to honor her mom and help create more awareness for a cure. The title of my new Alzheimer’s book is Memories are Precious: Alzheimer’s Journey; Ruth’s story and Sharp as a Tack and Scrambled Eggs Which Describes Your Brain? Because We Care, Faces Behind the Stones, Bad Choices and my two latest YA books: Bertha and Tillie Friends Forever and Bertha and Tillie, Sisters Forever.
Fran reviews only print copies and her reviews are detailed, honest, stand as written but never have spoilers. She was the musical director for shows in her school and ran the school’s newspaper. Fran writes reviews for authors upon request and for several other sites. You can read some of her reviews on Ezine.com and onijustfinished.com under the name Gabina.
Fran Lewis and I have been friends for many years. I admire Fran greatly and am happy to interview her.
Tell us about your latest book, Hidden Truth And Lies?
Hidden Truths and Lies is told from the point of view of the deceased person behind the gravestone. The person has either done something wrong and or has been wronged. In the first story 27 minutes and Silences Maria D has been wronged but it is only time that will tell if Tony her husband is guilty of her death or if there are other reasons. In the second story the main character did something wrong and definitely belongs behind the stone. This is my fourth in the Faces series but the last two stories are my attempt at writing horror and a touch of science fiction. Faces Five will be told from the viewpoint of three people based on real life events plus five or more that need to learn a lesson in life. I hope that all of my books in this series teach young adults and adults lessons to make sure they do not wind up behind the stone in Golden Gate Cemetery.
When did the storyteller in you surface?
I have always loved writing since I think I was five. But, writing books started as a dare from my sister, Marcia. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I had to retire early to make sure she was taken care of at home. So, my sister dared me to not only review my first book, which was a cookbook, and Fran does not cook but to write a children’s book about our antics growing up in the South Bronx. Of course she managed to edited the book and critique it too and that she did. By the time I got it published I think she read it ten times and wanted me to change some of the endings of the stories but I told her everything or every ending does not always end happily ever after and that what I wrote was what really happened making the stories authentic and real.
What was your ambition for your writing career to start with, and what is it now?
I started to write short stories in 2003 and published them on a great site : Writing .com and was able to get some valuable feedback. It is great for writers and authors to publish stories and see what other writers think. I started there and then I took all of my Bertha and Tillie stories and created my first children’s book never thinking that I would continue on to write even more. But, when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I decided to do some major research and then create a book that would honor her, let everyone hear her voice and help caregivers and families understand how important it is to take care of someone if they can at home and provide outside help to give you a chance for some type of freedom.
What do I hope Now? I hope that I will continue to review books for a long time. I find that I learn a lot from the writing styles of all of the authors and even more from the informational books, historical novels, memoirs and at times even the self-help books. Reading is power and power gives you the knowledge to make choices in life.
Do most of your books usually convey a theme or message?
My Bertha series deals with bullying, mean girls, skating lessons that went sour, being overweight and friendships. My Faces series I hope teaches teens, young adults and adults lessons that they need to learn. For example in Bad Choices one of the stories deals with suicide and being overweight. Another deals with mean girls at a sorority party who treat some of the not so pretty girls in a mean way and what the boys do is even worse. Hard lessons are learned in these books along with the pressures of school and too much homework. Each story is different and each one presents it own theme.
Are there parts of your life in your stories?
In every one of the Bertha Stories you will read about me, Bertha and some of the things that I went through trying to take dancing lessons, ice skating and dealing with a teacher that was cruel and insulting. Winning a writing contest and having the teacher say she would not submit it to the principal even though the teachers on the grade said I came in first. My aunt was a teacher in the school and although the assignment was given in class and done in class she thought my aunt told me about it before and that I had rewritten what she told me even though I started like everyone else with a blank paper. Needless to say it was the first time I ever talked back and spoke up for myself in a different way.
Fran, you are a book reviewer. How did this come about and what can authors expect from your reviews? The first book I reviewed was a cookbook by Martha Cheves and I had no idea where to go with it or how to review a book. But, I managed to come up with something unique and funny. As a result someone else read it and invited me to join a site just for authors. For some reason many of the authors asked for reviews and I have not stopped yet. I love Tess Gerristen and I took a chance and emailed her and she sent me her book to read and was my first New York Times best selling author to interview on my radio show. She is doing an on air with me in October.
I am always tense when I review a book for an author who asked me to. I feel I have to get it done right away. It’s nerve racking for me. Is there pressure on you knowing that authors are awaiting for your review of their books?
From the moment I get the request whether it is a new author, Indie or internationally famous author or New York Times best selling author I read the book at my own pace, try to find something different to start the review and let the author know beforehand that my review stand as rated and written, I am honest, straightforward, don’t claim to be perfect but I will give them an honest review. However, if the book does not warrant at least 3 and a half stars I won’t review it. I will create a short summary for the author for promotion purposes and will not post it on Amazon of Goodreads. I never pan a book. Just because I do not find it four or five stars someone else might. I do not want to cloud anyone’s judgment.
My Bertha and Tillie series focuses on my real life experiences growing up with my sister in the South Bronx. We both took dancing lessons, ice skating lessons and I shared some stories about mean girls in school, getting bullied and how Bertha created a peer mediation group to deal with student differences in Bertha Fights Back. The series is supposed to promote understanding, tolerance and hopefully teach kids to work together in a respectful way. Bertha and Tillie are totally different and one story also focuses on how we dealt with the fact that my mother, in this case I used my grandmother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and how we all came together to care for her. Memories are Precious, Because We Care and The Vanishing Mind of Ruth Swerdloff provided valuable information for caregivers, families, Alzheimer’s stages and short pieces where you can actually hear my mom’s voice and understand what she went through. The Faces Behind the Stones series is told from the point of voice of the deceased person behind the gravestone. Each story in this series teaches a lesson the person behind the stone should have learned before committing crime, hurting someone else, or generally failing at life. “We’re about to enter Golden Stone Cemetery, where these unfortunate people are buried so deep you can barely find their markers. Their crimes are so heinous and their deeds so cruel that family members buried them here because they want to forget they ever existed.”
What advice would you give your younger self, Fran?
Always stay true to who you are and never let anyone put you down or make you feel less that you are no matter what. All too often kids find themselves in a position where they are unsure, lack self-confidence and tend to want to conform to the thinking of others. Within my Bertha series this theme comes through loud and clear until Bertha realizes that she is smart, intuitive and does not need to be like everyone else because she is BERTHA. My sister was always thin and I was always, not anymore, overweight and battled to just stay below 170. With the help of my grandmother, Katie and my doctor, Dr. Ballot I was able to combat the problem and learn the cause. Till this day, I am not overweight by any means, I still battle with my weight and eat healthy al the time. Living up to your own standards and finding your own niche is important. I learned not to be a follower and to use my musical talents in playing both the violin and piano as my strong suits and eventually they helped give me the confidence I needed back then and even now my book reviews and the fact that authors want my opinions and reviews is really gratifying and great. To anyone young, teens, young adults find something you like doing and go for it. Be who you are and being different is okay.
My sister and my aunt Tova played important roles in my writing. My sister encouraged me to write what I know about and that of course if me. I write about school, friendships, Alzheimer’s and areas that can be researched and of interest to teens and young adults. I love writing the Faces Stories and that came from visiting my family’s cemetery and wondering as I looked at the headstones what each person would say if they could speak to me and what my sister would want me know that she never got to tell me before she passed away. I took walk around the cemetery and wondered what the stories behind each stone were and what some of these people might have accomplished in their lives if they could speak to me and what others would like to confess.
Who do you read?
I read different authors: Brian Freeman, Jon Land, Tess Gerritsen, J.D. Holiday and her great children’s books, Marsha Casper Cook, Robert Dugoni, Allan Topol, Linda Fairstein, Daniel Palmer and Christoph Fischer to name a few. I love reading Carole Roman’s historical series for children. I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies. One of the best books I have recently read is The Progeny by Tosca Lee, and Ink and Bones by Lisa Unger.
What is your next project?
I am currently working on a piece for my Magazine: MJ 9 on obesity and the causes to make people aware of the need for parents and children to be more vigilant about their health and the pitfalls of falling into binge eating. I am working on MJ9 and coming up with new ideas for Faces 5 and have started to create titles for the book such as 21 shots and designated driver.
Did you ever want to have revenge on those who have harmed you in some way? Reading Hidden Truth and Lies, I was able to feel a little substitute pleasure with my thoughts. I smiled through this collection of Edgar Allan Poe-like sci-fi short stories. The author’s characters are vivid and fascinating throughout these clever, dark and captivating stories of crimes and heinous choices. Fran Lewis is a superbstoryteller. A quick, fun and delightful, (Yes, I said fun and delightful,) read! 5 VERY Large Stars!