Saturday, March 26, 2016

Writers4Higher features author Taj Shotwell

Welcome to Writers4Higher

The purpose of the Writers4Higher blog: to feature authors in a new light, a fresh look at the way writers use their talents and life energies to uplift humankind. Writers4Higher doesn’t promote religious or political views. Authors are asked to answer three simple questions: simple, yet complex.

This issue, Writers4Higher features

Author and Educator Taj Shotwell

Hi, Taj. Welcome to the Writers4Higher family!

1. Tell me about yourself. Your book(s), your life, your inspiration.
Born as Theresa Ann James, I use the acronym, “TAJ”, as my pseudo. I’m the middle child of eleven children, raised by a strict career-military father and a God-fearing-homemaker mother.  Reading fictional stories allowed me to escape from the realities of my then dysfunctional environment.  I learned strong morals and hard work ethics, early on. Parental guidance was stressed on behavior, cleanliness, and leaving home by age 18. Yet, special family gathering included my mother’s angelic singing, dancing, and poetry. This later inspired me to write songs & stories, and choreograph dance. I enjoy family drama films, plays, and TV shows, including action, suspense, and mysteries.
Asking anyone for anything, including help, has always been difficult. Having to ask, caused me to feel weak and powerless.  Even today, I feel I must earn my way and is reluctant to accept gifts. I’ve always had to have a “Plan”-- backed up with “Plan-B”, and believe in going above and beyond.
In 1979, when I lived in San Francisco and a single mom, I earned a MBA. That summer, I wrote my first play called “Black Snow”, but had no idea what to do with it-  so, I filed it away.  Years later, I decided to return to college to earn a doctorate degree in education.   I wrote my dissertation on the outcomes of the performing arts on students’ learning.  Immediately after graduating, I wrote a concept report for a performing arts boarding school (7th-12th grades) with a unique curriculum and program, and imagined someday its actual existence.
In 1993, I moved to Tallahassee to accept a position as a full-time university professor. During my down-time, I wrote a family drama play called “Maggie: Never Bitter”, inspired by my mother, Maggie. Years later, in 2006, the play was presented in a public reading at the university-- under the direction of the university’s Theater department. I received helpful critiques and made adjustments accordingly. However, shortly after that event, my mother became seriously ill.  I set the play aside—delaying a full stage production--- and for several years dedicated any extra time I had commuting 10-hours to Memphis from Tallahassee to care for my mother.   After my mother’s death and my retirement from the university, I worked full-time on the play and the boarding school plans. Hoping the play landed on “Broadway”, my vision expanded to film, therefore, I converted it to a screenplay and submitted to agents and producers.  An emotional incident occurred with a relative that triggered me to start writing fictional drama novels (based on my life, from the mid-1950s): "Middle Child: Build a Fence All Around Me" was launched in December 2014, and "Middle Child 2: Better Than Good," was launched in June 2015.  
International traveling and a healthy life-style play an essential part of my being.  My feet have touched the soils of many continents. Yet, I plan to compete the bucket-list.  To maintain fitness, I eat healthy foods-- and have volunteered as a certified aerobic dance instructor at various centers and schools, since 2004- domestically and internationally; including Costa Rica, India, China, and cruising down the Rhine River in Europe.
One of my greatest fears is to become a burden to anyone. Maybe it’s because of the possible act or expression of disappointment and inconveniences that I’ve witnessed some caregivers develop, especially a family member.  I believe that the best gift we can give our children is our independence and to make less importance on leaving behind financial rewards.
Divorced for many years, I have a well-educated and liberated daughter, and two young adult grandchildren (a male and female).   All of whom are good people and I love dearly, yet I definitely believe they are from another planet.
2. Where do you see your writing taking you in the future? 
My vision/purpose is to share my work with the public and entertainment world, and perhaps, leave behind a small contribution or legacy for future artists, educators and readers.  Writing novels, stage and screen plays, and educational resources have been truly fulfilling.  Each day, I awake thinking about my work; rationalizing the joy, entertainment and knowledge that I will bring to others; envisioning my work on the stage or film; and about the prospects the work will bring to skilled artists. Furthermore, my educational resources will be used in many classrooms for student’s professional development.
3. How do you use your talents/time to help others?
I’m an educator first and I cherish my accomplishments.  However, I’m in the position to give back to a profession (performing arts), that I admire and one that helped me throughout my life endeavors. I’m the founder of “The Business of Arts Academy, Inc.” (BAA), a 501c3 year round boarding and day school – (in development).  BAA will provide a comprehensive college-preparatory academic in arts and business for co-ed students in grades 7th through 12th.   The academy will be located in the Tallahassee, Florida, area -- serving local, national, and international students.  All proceeds from my literary work are contributed to the development of the school and I volunteer my efforts.

Would you like to find Taj?

Check out the links to this talented author:


Be sure to visit the Writers4Higher Market! We have gear for the writer in you.

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Writers4Higher features author Bruce Ballister

This issue, Writers4Higher features

Bruce Ballister

Hi, Bruce. Welcome to the Writers4Higher family!

1. Tell me about yourself. Your book(s), your life, your inspiration.

I’m a geek, and sort of proud of it. I was a geek before the word was invented. I was cross trained in college with most of a degree in Geology and all of the degree in Commercial Art. Finding that artists made no better living that art students, I pursued the graphic component of civil engineering and design until I was passed up the line to designer and then engineer. About the time Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey came out, I was already an annual subscriber to Scientific American, and National Geographic. Art and illustration gradually fell away, and my career morphed into public policy, urban planning and grant writing. But for reading, I still love the blend of science and science fiction. Often a great Sci-Fi story requires a reader to make only one small leap of faith to bridge the gap between literary fiction and science fiction. Because at their core, both genres require depth of character, hard decisions, human struggle, and compassion for human failings. Toss in, artificial intelligence, aliens, locations outside our atmosphere, or times easily accessible outside the here and now, and you have science fiction. A writer in Sci-Fi still has to make the problems of the protagonist real and ultimately solvable and the antagonist, sincerely driven by his/her/its own value systems.

My particular background and continuing interest in the sciences informs my inspirations and attempts to write science fiction. Arthur Clark blew me away with the Space Odyssey. Science fiction was cool! My first writing efforts were simple vignettes, conversations between two people at a crossroads, the edge of suicide, the edge of enlightenment, or an arrival at a major decision point. A few of those early efforts went well beyond thirty to forty thousand words and I found out I was writing novels. Surprise! I’m a writer. Now, I have aspirations of becoming not only a better writer, but one with a following. My Amazon fans seem to appreciate my early efforts. If you’re reading this, I invite you to take a chance.

2.  Where do you see your writing taking you in the future?

Pulitzer Prizes, nah, I’m not a research/reporter kind of writer, but a Hugo would be nice, but primarily, I’d like to build a fan base that knows, based on the books already out there, that I will deliver. The delivery will included believable dialogue, deep backstory, interesting settings, danger!, probable love interests, (why not?), and a book that will leave you turning pages well after midnight. I am approaching retirement, a threshold I hope to cross without joining too many volunteer organizations, because I’d really like to write in the morning when I’m awake, rather than the wee hours when it’s questionable. And hey! … if you’re a publisher… let’s talk.

3.  How do you use your talents/time to help others?

As a third year member of the Tallahassee Writers Association, I’ve had a hard time saying no to the simple ask. (that’s always been a problem). So, the early ask to join the board of TWA morphed quickly to VP, the 2015 Conference Committee Co-chair, and now the President’s slot. Somewhere in there I took on the management of the Seven Hills Literary Competition which I hope to continue after this term as president closes. The presidential slot includes that famous abused phrase, “…and other services to be determined.”

We, the TWA, hope to offer value-added special workshops in addition to a great annual conference that has been moved to the early fall this year. Our monthly Third-Thursday meetings offer insights into the successes of regional talents in a wide variety of genres from historical, romantic, literary, short, non-, science, young adult, etc. -fiction to poetry, screenplays, editing techniques, plot and character development and some you-name-its.

I will never be a real pedagogue, but I love to share. If there’s something you don’t know, and I might, I’ll share it. And that’s pretty much the, philosophy of most of us at the TWA, we support each other, promote each other, and when time permits, we write!

Would you like to find Bruce?

Check out the links to this talented author:

Look for Tallahassee Writers Association on Face Book, and MeetUps, as well as and

Twitter Handle: @ballister49
LinkedIn: Bruce Ballister

Be sure to visit the Writers4Higher Market! We have gear for the writer in you.

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

Writers4Higher congratulates Pat Stanford

Welcome back, Pat! Tell us a little about your new book. I have been writing poetry practically as long as I could first hold a pe...