Tag Archives: 5 Questions With

5 questions with Amber Benson, author of The Witches of Echo Park

Book Cover - Witches of Echo ParkAmber Benson is an actress (you probably know her as Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) a director, and an author. Her most recent book, The Witches of Echo Park, comes out today. Here’s a quick summary of the book, courtesy of Amazon.com:

Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls…

When Elyse MacAllister’s great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she returns to Echo Park, Lyse discovers her great-aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.

Not only is Lyse heir to Eleanora’s Victorian estate; she is also expected to take her great-aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last…

Luckily, I was able to catch Amber (via email) before she started her book tour, and ask her these five questions:Photo - Amber Benson

1) What inspired you to write The Witches of Echo Park?

It’s a bit of a mash note to Echo Park – which is my favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was also a way to write about lady friendships – how women relate to each other, support each other, have each other’s backs. My women friends are what keep my going – my ladies are my rock and I wanted to explore what that means – and what better way to do that then to delve into the world of witchcraft – a coven of ladies who are forced to deal with each other.

2) Is it tough to switch between acting (where you become someone else and are directed on how to be that person) to writing and directing, where you are clearly yourself?

I get bored so easily that I need to be spinning lots of plates in order to stay fulfilled and happy. So it’s less about switching back and forth between all the different things I do creatively, and more about living in a state where I stay fluid and open to anything at any time. I want to live in a way where I can jump into any situation and not be overwhelmed.

3) Where do the characters names come from? For example, Hessika, Devandra and Lyse are very unique, but seem to fit the characters perfectly.

Aw, thank you! I love interesting names – I kind of collect them. There was this kind of timeless quality to The Witches Of Echo Park, so I thought it would be neat to throw in some old timey names to add to that ‘out of time’ feeling.

4) Your other books also deal with supernatural topics. What draws you to that subject material?

You can talk about all kinds of interesting, possibly volatile things in fantasy/sciFi books and keep the ideas just veiled enough that people can take them or leave them when they read the story. I like that you can talk about things without getting up on the soap box and preaching – that you can layer big ideas over genre tropes and the reader can peel back the layers if they want, or not.

5) What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from the book?

I want them to get lost in a magical world. I want them googling all the places in the book, trying to figure out which ones are real and which ones I’ve made up.


The Witches of Echo Park (Ace Trade books) is available in paperback form and in e-reader form today. I recommend that you go check it out.

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5 Questions with Joy E. Stocke and Angie Brenner, authors of Anatolian Days and Nights

The title of Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey: Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, says it all. In the book, Stocke and Brenner write about their many experiences that they had over the course of their 10-year journey in modern-day Turkey. Here are some of the things that they had to say about the beautiful and often mysterious country that many Americans wrongly think of as dangerous.

1) Why Turkey? What drew you to the country?

JOY: When I was in my early twenties, a friend and I (Wendy in the book) decided to take leaves of absences from our jobs and backpack through Europe.  We decided to fly into Greece and work our way through Europe to London.  When we got to the Athens Airport we picked the first flight we could find leaving for the Greek Islands and landed on the island of Kos, part of the Dodecanese or Twelve Islands, which tuck into the Turkish Coast.  Each morning, when I woke up, I could see the beautiful mountains of Turkey and learned that a number of people in the small town were I was staying had family who came from Turkey in the 1920s. Greece and Turkey share thousands of years of history. To learn more, I needed to jump across the Aegean and see what was on the other side.  I’m still unraveling all the layers.

ANGIE: I knew little about Turkey prior to going there for the first time, and as (at the time) the owner of a travel bookstore was curious about this exotic area called the Near East. When travel operator, friend – Wendy in the book  – planned to expand her Greek tours to the coast of Turkey and asked if I wanted to join a cruise along the Mediterranean coast, I was in. My feverish planning led me to decide on taking an additional three weeks of solo travel. People would audibly gasp when they learned of my upcoming trip, alone, to such a dangerous place. The fear in their voices was like a red flag to a bull for me, I couldn’t wait to go!

2) What was your favorite thing about Turkey (food, architecture, anything)?

JOY: There are so many favorites.  Absolutely the architecture, which is mind-boggling and which you could spend a lifetime visiting and still not absorb all that you are seeing.  There are ruins dating back to the dawn of time, so in the Southeast you can see houses in the shape of beehives, a packed mud version of a teepee. And in Istanbul, no matter how many times I’ve been there, I am mesmerized by the great domed Agia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Those domes are based on the very first freestanding dome of that size and proportion, the Pantheon in Rome.

And then there’s the food, one of the finest cuisines in the world and also one of the healthiest. Angie and I have had many, many meals in the homes of our Turkish friends. The entire process from gathering ingredients (we once went caper berry-picking with our friend Bekir in the mountains above the Mediterranean town of Kalkan.) to preparing and eating a meal is meant to be savored with friends.  And the ingredients are so vibrant: greens, seafood, chickpeas, garlic, yogurt, dill, cucumber, olive oil, sunflower oil, polenta, nuts, cherries, oranges and lemons, to name a few of my favorites.

ANGIE: Undoubtedly the people. I spent very little time in Istanbul that first trip, so the passion for the architecture, history, and sophistication of the food would come later. As an American woman traveling alone across the country by bus I couldn’t have been more welcomed and looked after. I remember losing my prescription sunglasses on a small boat at the Dalyan River and having them show up at my hotel several days (and a few hundred miles) later. The culture of carefully looking after guests has always been a draw.

The authors of Anatolian Days and Nights

3) What’s your favorite Turkish meal?

JOY: That’s a tough question. I would start with mezes and a glass of Turkish Raki – an aperitif like ouzo, but less sweet. For the mezes I would start with Beyaz Penir – soft white cheese topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, olives, of course; Patlican, smoked eggplant puree; and lightly battered and fried calamari.

For the main course, I would share a whole grilled fish whose cavity has been filled with lemon and dill, fried potatoes, Cacik – cucumber and yogurt sauce; and a traditional peasant salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, Kos lettuce, topped with black olives, a slice of feta and dressed with olive oil and lemon. For dessert, I’d have a piece of pistachio baklava and a cup of medium sweet Turkish Coffee.

ANGIE: There have been so many, where to start? But two come to mind immediately:

One was during a trip with my then Turkish boyfriend, Tunc, when we’d rented a jeep for the day and drove into the mountain hills above the Mediterranean Sea. We stopped at a village home where there was a woman baking gozleme, sheets of dough much like a flour tortilla, on a stone. They had erected a small platform covered with carpets and pillows and a low table. The woman served the hot gozelme bundled with crumbled white cheese and parsley, a plate of spiced olives and a salad of mild green peppers, onions, tomatoes with lemon and olive oil. After stuffing ourselves like the gozelme, we took a nap.

A second most memorable meal was when Joy and I were invited to stay at Istanbul’s famous Ciragan Palace Hotel when we dined at their restaurant, Tura, where the palace chefs had recreated many of the old Ottoman recipes. We sat on an outside balcony table overlooking the Bosphorus and full moon while a half-dozen wait staff brought us one course after the other, served under silver domes with a seventeenth century flourish. From succulent lamb braised with plums and apricots, to the rose milk pudding, it was beyond wonderful.

4) What surprised you the most about the country?

JOY: I was a teenager when the movie Midnight Express came out, so I, like many people of my generation, imagined Turkey to be a very dangerous place where you risked getting arrested or worse. What Angie and I found, instead, was a country where hospitality infuses every strata of society, where people welcome you into their homes and shower you with affection. I often find myself missing the warmth of my Turkish friends and acquaintances when I return home.

ANGIE: The layers of history and religions that encompass all that is within the borders of Turkey. You read about all this in books, but to be in places crossed by Lycians, Greeks, Romans, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Saint Paul, Jelalladin Rumi, and experience the merging of myth and reality, still moves me.

5) What knowledge do you hope that people come away with after reading the book?

JOY: First and foremost, Anatolian Days & Nights is a story of friendship, of what women can accomplish when we share a vision, how women traveling together will venture where we might not go alone. But the book is also about a country that many people know little about, and sometimes fear. Angie and I wanted to show how our own history and culture are connected to the land called Anatolia by Turks and Greeks, the land of the great mother Anat.

ANGIE: When people hear and read our stories and say, “wow, I never knew that,” or tell us that they had never thought to travel to Turkey before reading the book and now want to go, I’m happy. We wanted introduce Turkey to people as you would introduce a new friend. To show the subtleties and quirks which bind us all together as humans, and dispel fear of “the other.”

Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey: Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints is available now at booksellers everywhere and Amazon.com. For more information on the authors, or to attend one of their book signings, please go to their website: Anatolian Days and Nights.

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5 Questions with Kenneth Brown, author of Inside the Cup

Does the thought of going into Starbucks and ordering a drink intimidate you? Or, do you simply wonder exactly what separates a grande nonfat cappuccino from a venti caramel macchiato? Well, Kenneth Brown has cleared up the mystery in his book Inside the Cup: Translating Starbucks Into a Drinkable Language.

1) Why write a book about Starbucks drinks?

When I worked at Starbucks customers had so many questions about their drink, the offering, and the mystique of Starbucks. Even regulars who had been customers for years had plenty of questions. I didn’t attempt to write an exhaustive piece of work that left no Starbucks stone unturned. I simply wrote a book to answer the questions that the average customer has. After speaking with so many customers over the years it seemed like a no-brainer.

2) Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund the book, instead of going with a traditional publisher?
Kickstarter has been an interesting process. I’ve gotten more out of it than funding. Funding it through Kickstarter would be icing. My media blitz is a little mistimed to aid Kickstarter since most of the attention I’ve been getting will be printed in April. That’s far from a problem since it will coincide with the release of my book. What Kickstarter has done is give me an additional platform for vetting my offering. I’ve received some solid feedback and made some adjustments (some which I continue to make) ahead of my launch. Lastly, Kickstarter is one more way to market my book at no cost. There’s no reason to pass that up.
3) Are there any drinks that you left out? And why?
There certainly are some drinks that I left out. The drinks that I wrote about, and really anything that’s in the book for that matter, are all North American drinks that Starbucks always offers. I focused on staples and not promotional drinks that might show up once and never come back again. Lattes, mochas, caramel macchiatos – Starbucks will always sell these. However, I didn’t leave out all promotional drinks because some are offered every year. These include Eggnog Latte, Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Peppermint Mocha to name a few.
4) What’s your favorite Starbucks drink?

Author Kenneth Brown

Tough question. I’ve had so many opportunities to experiment and taste drinks. Protein Latte, short breve hot chocolate, and Awake Tea Latte all make my rotation. If I had to choose a favorite I would probably say an unsweetened Black Iced Tea Lemonade.

5) Are you planning on writing any more books? Or is just a one-time thing?

I’ve heard a lot of funny and heart warming stories over the years from customers and partners alike. If the response is there I’ll put together a compilation of these stories (which can be submitted via my website). I also have the notes to write a book on managing a Starbucks/coffee shop. Initially, this book was a one time thing. Ultimately, it will depend on the interest. So far the interest has been quite high. So we’ll see.
For more information on Inside the Cup: Translating Starbucks Into a Drinkable Language, please check out the official Inside the Cup website, or help fund the book on Kickstarter.

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