Posted in Creekside Cafe, interview

A Memoir with a Purpose

A Creekside Cafe Author Interview with S.C. McIntyre

A Creekside Cafe

Author Interview with S. C. McIntyre

Today I am so excited to welcome Sue McIntyre to my Creekside Cafe. Sue is a member of the Pamlico Writers’ Group. She has shared pieces of her story during our critique group meetings but even with those insights I had no idea of all she experienced.

Her memoir, Outside Heaven: An Afghanistan Experience is a book everyone should read. It should be added to our school curriculum. This is a story women of all ages should be discussing. I had to keep reminding myself that Sue was a grandmother when she went to Afghanistan, she wasn’t a twenty-something fresh out of college. She was a mother, wife and she was dealing with her own mental and emotional exhaustion.

Home sweet camper, outside Heaven. The codename for the embassy.

Home sweet camper, outside Heaven. The codename for the embassy.

Welcome Sue to my virtual Cafe. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Why did you decide to write this memoir?

Sue: My first inclination on writing my memoir was to share my work with family and friends, especially my grandchildren who had no idea why I was gone so much of the time.  But, as I began writing, I realized that I had much to share with the general public about the special events and times that brought me to Afghanistan and the existing conditions on my arrival at the very beginning of the U.S. invasion in January 2002.                                    

Sherri: Why not your whole life? Why this vignette?

Sue: I thought this experience could capture the nature of my work for those interested family and friends.  I decided to concentrate on this historical time as the primary focus of the book rather than on my entire life because of the enormity of what had happened in America with the 9/11 attacks and America’s response.  Hence, the time frame is limited to my working in Afghanistan.  I could have many other interesting and exciting experiences to share in other countries but decided to give this book’s full attention to Afghanistan. 

Sherri: Why do you think this story and others like it are important?

Sue: I believe that it is important for the general public to get as many “views” as possible on any critical international situation and how our government works in its humanitarian  response.  My views presented in the book are not political or military, but come from the perspective of a woman and a humanitarian.   

Sherri: What do you hope to accomplish with your story?

Sue: I hope my story brings the Afghan people to light in a more personal and human way.  I hope it takes the reader into some of the everyday life of these far-away people. If the book opens up the eyes and minds and hearts of Americans, or others, toward the Afghan people, I will be happy with the results.

Sherri: What do you hope readers come away with after reading Outside Heaven?

Sue: My hope is that the reader will expand their understanding of the complexity of international humanitarian work as offered by the US Government but also, and more importantly have more empathy for the Afghan people who have suffered for generations of war on their homeland.  I hope the book increases their tolerance towards all foreigners who come to America bringing their own unique lifestyles, different religions and new languages.  I hope the reader will see the beauty in new lands and cultures.  

Sherri: I was a little disappointed you didn’t send photos of the fishnet dress. For those of you who are asking questions, you’ll just have to read the book. The photos you sent are awesome and so historical. While many may never be published anywhere but here, they mark the time invested and I’m sure they bring back a lot of memories both good and bad.

How difficult was this memoir to write?

Sue: I think with any memoir there are challenging parts of the book. It is always difficult to revisit old wounds and fears but I thought it was necessary to share some of my childhood and past experiences to allow the reader to get inside my mind as I went to Afghanistan.  As can be seen from the book, I had some very difficult times personally and professionally while in Afghanistan.  Revisiting some of the horror of any of my work always brings a risk of reentering the sadness and pain of that time.  But I thought I needed to be open and honest to give the reader the full picture.  

Sherri: Did you experience any flashbacks or PTSD after your experience or while writing this memoir?

 Sue: On days when I was writing about the difficult times or sad events, I found myself wallowing in those moments.  It was hard to walk away from the computer and put them back in time especially when I saw the ongoing fear and suffering of the Afghans every day on TV.  With the events of today in Afghanistan being a prominent news story and the ending of our 20 years in that country I did a lot of reflection on what I had written and what I thought had been accomplished in our time as a country in Afghanistan.

Sherri: How did you handle the emotions, memories and reliving the drama of this time in order to retell it? Was it therapeutic to put it on paper? 

Sue: Writing about me does not come easy.  I am very private so it was hard to open up.  My editors and husband both kept telling me I had to put more of myself in the book.  Many of the emotions and memories are ones I have dealt with over the years either through group team briefings or through personal therapy.  Still, I was surprised to find it very therapeutic to write things down and to share with others.  

Sherri: I remember my first book and it was just a simple fiction. I cannot imagine how you must be feeling about your first published book?

Sue: I’m terribly excited to see my book in actual print and to be able to go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites and find me there.  I am also very relieved to complete the book.  It really has been 10 years in the making.  I was constantly interrupted in my writing when sent out on new assignments where my time, energy and focus was on whatever new country and crisis I was working in.  But my commitment to completing the book was firm.  So over the past two years, since my retirement, I have worked more consistently on the book.  It’s a thrill to have it finished and see it in print. 

Sherri: Will you do anything different with your next book?

What are you working on now? How different is this from your memoir?

Sue: My next book is in progress and is set in Yemen.  I am writing a fictional story about the common practice of child marriages for girls there.  I am enjoying the freedom to create a fictional story. Still, I am writing about some very disturbing events that are common in many rural and undeveloped communities.  I am also hoping this book does not take me 10 years to finish.  Since I am retired, I am writing more consistently so hopefully I can finish this book in the next year. 

Of course writing fiction opens up the possibilities of characters and events in the way a memoir does not.  Also, I am not having to consider how my words might affect others in my life.  I love the control of making people do what I want them to do and making events as public and creative as I want.  It is amazing to me as I begin this fictional book to find the characters taking on lives of their own and surprising me with choices they make.  

Check out her wonderful memoir, Outside Heaven: An Afghanistan Experience

 My book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and can be ordered through any book store.  I will also have some copies in our local bookstore, Pamlico Books, in Washington, NC. Please ask for it if it is not available.  It is also available as an e-book through all websites providing e-books.

Posted in Creekside Cafe, interview

On The Porch with C. S. Ratliff

Welcome C.S. Ratliff to my virtual café. It is so good to have you here. In eastern North Carolina summer has arrived with a combination of extreme heat and tropical rain but occasionally we will get the breeze from the ocean trickle down the river and it is lovely, until the mosquitos try to take us off to their lair to feed. But here in my virtual café the weather is perfect, the breeze is wafting, and the mosquitos have been banished to another universe.

C.S.  Thank you so much for having me. I live in Ohio so the weather is sporadic right now. 

Sherri: You and I met through the Shameless Self-Promo Twitter group. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the camaraderie I have experienced through this group. It has been a wonderful experience meeting everyone. I am so glad to have this chance to get to you better.

C.S.  Absolutely. I originally created the Shameless Self Promo group as a pay-it-forward system. At first, it was simply retweeting other’s work. It’s grown over the months and evolved into a very nice support system of around 40 authors. 

Sherri: You are an artist as well as an author? You’ve shared some of your artwork in our message group and I have to admit, I was impressed. Do you design your own book covers? They are fantastic.

C.S.  Thank you. Yes, I am an artist. I studied fine arts for years, and as I’ve gotten into writing, I knew I wanted to design book covers. I have created over 50 book covers, and that does include my own covers. 

Sherri: Tell us a little about your books, you write fantasy, is that correct? I know there are different subgenres within the fantasy genre, where do your books fit on the shelf? Do they crossover to other genres as well? I’ve started reading The Lighting Rod, you bring the reader into the world in the very first scene.

C.S. Yes, I write Fantasy. I’ve had trouble really pinpointing where my books fall within the genre, but I think Epic Fantasy fits best. There are definitely across different sub genres. A nice blend of High Fantasy and Coming of Age. I try to break the mold of texture in the genre but creating my own magic system and highly detailing the world, Gnariam. My action sequences are quite different from other authors as well. 

Sherri: I listen to a lot of YouTube videos and even though I don’t write fantasy, I find the writing videos insightful, especially on world building. Do you plan your world and magic system before you write? Are you someone who plots a book before writing it or are you like me and write by the seat of your pants? I have to admit, I have started doing a bit of planning especially as my series has become larger.

C.S.  I knew going into my first book, The Lightning Rod, that I wanted an extensive magic system. So I really created two systems, Elemental Magic, and Elemental Power, which is rare in Gnariam. I had a good idea of how I wanted the first book to go but I didn’t plan much. I planned out a lot more of book 2, The Thunder King. Now, I am writing book 3, The Tempest Fate and I’ve grown into a full on plotter. I spent a month of just planning the entire book. 

Sherri: How long have you been a writer? A published author? How did you get started writing?

C.S.  I’ve been writing for myself on and off for about a decade, little short stories here and there. I really ramped-up my focus to write professionally at the beginning of 2019. I published my first book in July, 2019. 

Sherri: Who has inspired your writing? Do you have authors that you admire and emulate, or did your stories come from somewhere else entirely? I write suspense thrillers with a bit of romance. For me, I base my setting, my imaginary town on my real hometown. My characters are a combination of family and friends, but my plots come from a variety of places from local stories, news and questions of “what if.” How about you? Can you pinpoint where your ideas began? Did you start with a character, a plot or a setting?

C.S. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle was my first big love for Fantasy. I’ve been a big fantasy fan and nerd since I was young. In 2012, I was deployed to Afghanistan in the Army and we were stationed in an area where the Kunduz Mountain surrounded us. Everyday, I would visualize the mountain with dragons, swords and sorcery. I’ve also always had a tremendous love and awe for Lightning. So I think the idea just grew out of a combination of all of that. 

Sherri: What has been the most difficult for you since becoming a published author? Are you traditionally or indie published?

C.S.  I think the most difficult part for me, in the beginning, was finding readers. The Fantasy genre is vast, and easy to get buried in the masses. I chose to self publish through KDP. 

Sherri: With each book I’ve written and published I’ve learned something new. What have you learned with each book or since becoming published?

C.S.  I’ve learned a lot about the actual writing part of being an author. My prose has gotten tighter and cleaner. My descriptions are not only better, but vary much more. Over all, I think everything I do has consistently gotten better. 

Sherri: You have three books out now, is that correct? What are you working on? Will it be a part of the same world?

C.S. So far I have two books, and I am working on the third. They are all part of the Gnariam’s Fate Saga. I have six books planned for this series. 

Sherri: What, besides entertainment, do you hope your stories bring to readers?

C.S. I hope that, being in the YA Fantasy genre, my stories may inspire young adults, or even younger. I hope that the idea of perseverance can inspire people to push on, take on challenges and fight for what’s right. 

Sherri: Is there anything else you’d like to share? What would you tell a young writer with dreams of becoming a published author?

C.S.  I always like to tell anyone that wishes to become an author to simply try. Write the book you want. If you hit barriers along the way, find a way through it, or around it. Never give up on your dreams. You are never too young or old to become an author. 

Sherri: Thank you for stopping by my virtual café. I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit. If you enjoyed this interview then follow C.S. Ratliff on social media and check out his books, the links are listed below.

Thank you C.S. for sharing your story.

Media Links





Book Links

Posted in Book Review

Finding Hope by Michele Brown

Second Chances with all the FEELS

This was an amazing story. I started crying with the opening sentence and found myself laughing, crying and falling in love with these characters.

As the mother of a former soldier who served two tours in Afghanistan, this story touched my heart right from the beginning. I thought Michele handled the PTSD and the main character, Jackson’s loss of his leg, with compassion and understanding. The growth and changes she has Jackson work through are believable and at times heartbreaking.

Jackson’s relationship with Hope and her mother Devyn is sweet and begins as friendship. Watching the relationship grow and the three of them become a family was so filled with emotion. We watched both Jackson and Devyn deal with their fears, their dreams for the future until they are able to share them and become stronger, together. This is a beautiful romance. Second chance at love, second chance at life. If you want a story with all the feels, you need to check out Finding Hope.

Posted in Thoughts

Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes
When I first started working for the Pamlico News it was just in time for the Viet Nam Veteran’s Homecoming in Charlotte, North Carolina. In preparations for attending the homecoming with my father-in-law, I did several interviews with veterans of the Viet Nam War. The men and women I spoke to were from every branch of service. They told stories that could make your blood run cold and some that could fill you with joy. Surprisingly, none felt the were heroes. The common mantra was “I was just doing my job”.
My friends Robert and Avonne Quinn were newly weds when Robert was drafted. He did not want to go to Viet Nam and chose not to enlist, hoping to just do his job and come home.
“When we landed in Viet Nam we had to sit on the tarmac and extinguish our cigarettes and all lights. There was a fire fight going on in the town near the air port. When the bus finally got through to pick us up, the driver sped through town barely keeping the tires on the road in his haste to get us to the base alive,” Robert told me when I did my interview with him. Yet he says he is not a hero.
He was lucky to get a job on a boat ferrying supplies up and down the river. “We had to sleep on our boat to keep them from being stolen or sabotaged.” Mr. Quinn told of supplies and boats blowing up and ports being sabotaged.
Young, afraid, away from home and his life, Mr. Quinn was one of the lucky ones. He came home to his wife and the baby girl who was born while he was gone.
He was a hero and still is, he did his job and supported his country to the best of his ability.
When my son, Jason came home from his first tour of Afghanistan, he came home to a country who called him a hero. His experience was so different from those retuning from Viet Nam but it was still difficult. He didn’t know how to handle being called a hero. He wasn’t on the front line, he simply did his job.
Mr. Robert helped me understand, there is a guilt the survivors bring home. When so many are lost and left behind.
As we celebrate Veteran’s Day, I am reminded of the men and women who do not call themselves heroes. Who like my son and my friend, just feel they are doing their job. Being in the military is the ultimate team program. It works because everyone does their job. Each job is important because one cannot win a battle alone.
To all the men and women who are serving or have served their country, Thank you. You are true heroes and I appreciate your sacrifices.
God Bless America!

Posted in Thoughts

Fourth of July

Fourth decore 025As the Fourth of July nears, I have been thinking of what it means to me. As a child, the Fourth was about fire works and watermelons, cook-outs and fun. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned more of what it cost our forefathers to declare our independence. Many of those who fought for our freedom never recouped their losses. They lost homes, family, titles and business. When the ties with Britain were severed there was more at stake than I ever imagined. What would I country be like if we were still under British rule? Who would we be? With a father-in-law and a dad who served during the Vietnam Conflict, I have always had a strong sense of American Pride. My dad, thankfully did not have to go to Vietnam but my father-in-law server four tours. I have had uncles and cousins in every branch of the military and in every war. Now my middle son is in the Army, he has served two tours in Afghanistan and I still feel proud to be an American. I am proud of his service but I also fear losing him. What does the Fourth of July mean to me? It means I can stand on the corner and shout out my beliefs while someone who believes just the opposite has the right to do the same. Being free isn’t easy. It is hard work. For some, the cost is very high. What would you sacrifice for freedom?