Monday, June 27, 2016

Fatima Doman on Focusing on Authentic Strengths to Optimize Potential

Fatima Doman talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Authentic Strengths.

“Look to see the best in yourself, and then cultivate that.” ~Fatima Doman

Fatima came to the United States at the age of three, as a refugee from a war in Angola. She has been an executive coach for twenty years for Franklin Covey, and has been using positive psychology lately when she works with her clients, and received her Advanced Executive Coaching Certification from Columbia University as part of Franklin Covey’s Executive Coaching Practice under Global Executive Practice, and among the many tools she learned during that certification was positive psychology.

Positive psychology is a relatively new field in psychology that has been around for only fifteen years to date, and is based on, and has been validated by, the over two hundred research studies done around the world that show that people focus on strengths rather than weaknesses when they focus on what’s right rather than what’s wrong, and this creates greater energy and resilience and even higher functioning immune systems. Fatima notes that it’s better to work using models on humans flourishing rather than focusing on disease models, which is the methodology used in traditional psychology, and positive psychology acts as a balance to traditional psychology. Positive psychology focuses on what’s going right, and enables those who use it to work towards something they create more of, rather than avoiding particular behaviors. Fatima notes that people can coach themselves using positive psychology as well as coach others.

The twenty-four strengths of character that the book is based on came about from a study conducted by fifty scholars around the world who studied strength of character in wisdom literature from around the world, and the listing of the essential human strengths which can be found in all cultures took three years to catalogue. These are all in Fatima’s website,, where visitors can take a free survey (which is highlighted on the website) to see how these twenty-four strengths rank with them.

Fatima wrote Authentic Strengths because she wanted to share the positive message to the world, particularly as she experienced its power in her own life, and thus feels that everyone can benefit from it, so they can use their authentic strengths in their lives. She notes that research has shown that people can learn to be more optimistic as well as learn to create the conditions that enable a greater degree of fulfillment in their lives, and the science behind these are what Authentic Strengths is all about. Given the broadness of positive psychology, Fatima wrote the book as a distillation of the strength concept in a way that the ordinary person can understand.

Fatima remarks that everyone has the twenty-four strengths, but these are all present in different degrees in different people, and that we should use our top strengths more often, as these give us more energy and more engagement, and that we should create more opportunities for us to use these, thus leveraging these to create greater results. She noted that people who focused on using their higher strengths for a week experienced benefits, such as lower stress and lower anxiety, over a period of six months. Fatima notes that certain strengths can be influenced by culture, such as a higher placing of the strengths of modesty and humility in Asian cultures.

Fatima commented on a few case studies, such as herself when she worked on her strength of prudence while she worked on her book. Fatima noted the case of a high-performing VP of sales who was about to be kicked out because of the abrasive way others felt he dealt with them. Fatima identified the man’s strength, which explained why he acted the way he did - and he basically had only the best financial interests of the company in mind - and then worked with him on his communication skills, while keeping his higher strengths in mind, which resulted in him not only staying in his company but also being given equity share in the company.

Fatima remarked that it is possible for people to develop their lower strengths, and gave the example of a woman who was able to gain fulfillment by working to develop one of her lower strengths, which was perseverance.

To those who want to achieve better things for themselves, Fatima recommends that they take the strength survey on her website to discover what their top, or “signature,” strengths are, and then look for ways they can use that strength in their lives. She would like to see the message spread throughout the world, and mentioned that one of her partners in India is using the book to work with teenagers, which helps them a lot.

Fatima Doman’s website is

Purchase on Amazon: Authentic Strengths by Fatima Doman

Friday, June 24, 2016

Kayt Sukel: How to Take Risks and Win | The Art of Risk from National Geographic Books

Kayt Sukel talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution and Chance.

“Successful risk-takers understand risks very deeply and implicitly.” ~Kayt Sukel

Kayt freely admits that she became an author “by accident.” Although, as a child, she once told her father that she wanted to be a writer, and her father suggested she go into computers, as that was “where the money is,” which is how Kayt wound up in Carnegie Mellon University, as computers are widely used there, regardless of course taken. It was when she moved to Europe that she began writing essays and articles for various publications, as she had a new baby by then and needed something to do to fill her time, and a lot of her essays had to do with being a new mom, an expatriate and a military spouse. Her writing career built up from there, and she now has two books published, with a third one likely on the way.

Kayt admits that The Art of Risk initially started out as a book on superheroes, a set of people that had a set of genetic or environmental gifts that enabled them to take risks and still come out ahead. The book, however, became what it was when she realized that risk-taking is a cognitive process that is involved in every decision made every day, and that the people she was interviewing for the book, whom she regarded as risk-takers, such as brain surgeons, firefighters and special forces operators, invariably said that they didn’t consider themselves to be risk-takers. Kayt realized that she, herself, didn’t take unnecessary risks and that by having a better understanding of how the brain responds to uncertainty, people can work around this rationally.

Kayt is a self-confessed “brain nerd,” and this, coupled with her training as a cognitive neuroscientist, makes her approach to human questions on such things as love and risk-taking come from the perspective of the brain, which is responsible for every thought, feeling and behavior that humans do. She notes that we talk about risk in extremes, be these potentially very bad (such as getting killed or going bankrupt) or very good (such as achieving enough wealth to live one’s dream life). That said, risk, Kayt remarks, is a necessary part of everyday life, and comes up in such simple decisions as whether or not one should take a third cup of tea or when to schedule a meeting, where the uncertain outcome could be either negative or positive.

Kayt notes that, the more often one deals with even such everyday, seemingly small decisions as whether or not to have another cup of tea, is much the same way that people who are regarded as risk-takers handle the risks they take. She notes that training, experience and education enables brain surgeons and special forces operators to view the risks inherent in the work they do as manageable - particularly the training that exposes them to situations where things go wrong, so they can learn how to manage such scenarios. She notes that those same people would likely “freak out” if they were thrust into a domain they weren’t familiar with, such as the extremely experienced firefighter she interviewed who was so chary of IRS audits that he has an accountant handle his tax reports.

Kayt notes that risk is in the eye of the beholder, mentioning that, as a pre-teen, she took the New York subway all by herself, and that, when she mentions this to the people around her today, people who aren’t New Yorkers, they are horrified by her stories as, to them, riding a New York subway is a free ticket to a mugging. She also notes that, if a New Yorker were put in a rental car and placed in the middle of a state where there is a lot of land and very few landmarks, they would be the ones to get very nervous because of the risks they perceive.

Kayt remarks that, according to research, one of the predictors for outcomes of negative risky behavior, such as dying of a drug overdose or ending up in jail for a random act, is having a Y chromosome, which means that men are more prone to these. She notes that the brain loves novelty and that there are genes that are related to impulsive behavior, such as the DRD4 gene, which is actually designed to enable us to access the things we need to do or get in order to survive by enabling us to get out of our comfort zone and colonize places other than those we grew up in. That said, Kayt remarks that it is actually the interaction amongst, and resultant contribution of, hundreds of genes that determine what a person does, as the individual contribution of a single gene to human behavior is “very small.”

Kayt noted that Steph Davis, a free solo climber, wingsuit flyer and BASE jumper, was one of the more interesting people she interviewed as, despite having a sponsor cancel on her because they deemed the things she was doing “too risky,” Steph isn’t anything like the aggressive, outspoken kind of person ordinary people think risk-takers are. According to Kayt, Steph is a “homebody,” a smart, thoughtful, considerate person who is very much aware of the possible consequences of her actions, particularly after her husband was killed in a wingsuit flying accident.

To those who are fearful of particular risks, Kayt suggests that they take a step back and imagine what the worst outcome would be, then ask themselves if the cost of that outcome would be too great to bear. She also notes that people become more risk-averse as they get older, and mentioned a scientist who said that, if people pushed themselves more, they would be able to get the things that they want in life.

Summer of Risk Campaign (ONLY UNTIL July 18, 2016)

At present (June, 2016), Kayt has paired up with her publisher, National Geographic Books, for a campaign called #summerofrisk, which runs until July 18, 2016. This stemmed from Kayt receiving comments from other people who said they were trying out various risks in their own life after reading her book. The campaign is all about people considering the risks they want to take this summer and get accountability for it, and share these, adding the #summerofrisk and location hashtags, with the favorites going up on the National Geographic Books Facebook page. The top five favorites will be receiving a National Geographic Summer Reads prize pack.

Kayt Sukel’s website is

Purchase on Amazon: The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution and Chance by Kayt Sukel

Friday, June 17, 2016

Kathleen Drucker Spivack on Being Privy to Unspeakable Things & Writing about Them

Kathleen Drucker Spivack talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Unspeakable Things.

“I’m always learning new things and being challenged. It’s a journey.” ~Kathleen Drucker Spivack

Kathleen’s father (influential management consultant Peter Drucker) and grandfather, when they came to the United States, were initially unemployed when they came over to the United States, so they had a lot of time to read Greek myths and various other stories to Kathleen, which made her realize that she wanted to become a writer and teacher. Kathleen remarked that she would bribe her little brother with candy so that she could play “teacher” with him as the student.

At the time when Kathleen grew up, there weren’t many avenues for writers or women to earn a living, and it was her drive to gain life experiences that led Kathleen to do various jobs, such as being a factory worker for her to become an effective writer. She remarked that she feels lucky to have lived the life she has, and also noted that it’s hard for her to really explain to others just how lucky she feels.

Kathleen’s family came over to the United States during World War 2, where they fled the Holocaust. She and a lot of other refugees would be packed together into a room, and at night, when everyone else was asleep (or supposedly asleep), she would hear hair-raising stories about what they experienced. One of those she listened to was an old woman who had circles under the eyes from the suffering she had endured and who told her stories so tragic that the young Kathleen would ponder somewhat uncomprehendingly over these for many a day. She remarked that refugees didn’t speak about what they went through to their children, as this is necessary for them to move on from the tragedies they experienced, and the children didn’t speak about what they were going through to the parents, which results in a shadow that hangs up to the grandchildren of the refugees.

Kathleen remarks that the first generation of refugees who come to the United States write about the experiences of their families as a way to vocalize the things that their elders wouldn’t talk about, and as a way to record what had happened before it’s forgotten.

One of the inspirations for Kathleen writing Unspeakable Things was when she was in France at a time when the French were coming to terms with the “unspeakable things” that occurred during World War 2, such as turning over their Jews to the Nazi occupiers even before the Nazis asked for these. She had always been interested in merging the two identities she had felt she had - her American identity and her European identity - and she went to France in an attempt to do so, which worked out. It was while she was being given a ride home by one of her female students, during her first year of teaching in France, that the latter remarked that her father and grandfather had been guards at the first French concentration camp for Jews (Drancy?) and that she had seen scratches made by the fingernails of people who were desperate to get out. Kathleen found this confession unusual, and her French colleagues remarked that that student wouldn’t have told them about that.

France has laws limiting the number of years a foreigner can teach in their country, so Kathleen applied for, and got, a Fulbright scholarship which enabled her to greatly extend her teaching stay in France. As part of her application, she wrote a five-page story about her grandfather wheeling and dealing with other people to get their relatives out of occupied Europe, and it was these five pages that she eventually expanded into the novel, Unspeakable Things. Kathleen remarked that each character in the book has his or her own particular musical piece associated, and the book is based on musical composition, and she admits that some of the parts were over the top and some of it is meant to be funny. Kathleen admits that writing the book took her deeper into herself than she had ever done before.

Kathleen admitted that she doesn’t know from where her creativity comes from. For her, it is who she is and what she does, and also remarks that she still has a several books to write. She loves to read and work with writers from all over the world. She notes that she had, just like everyone else, had stereotypes about age and that, now that she’s a senior, she’s not experiencing that which she thought old people experienced. Moreover, when she sees her friends who are ninety, she wonders what it would be like to be their age.

Kathleen advises would-be writers to take the time to write it because, for her, writing is something like practicing tennis - it improves with practice. She remarks that people close to a writer, such as a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, are supposed to be cheerleaders rather than critics, and that writers should choose people other than these to be critics of their writing.

Kathleen Drucker Spivack’s website is

Purchase on Amazon: Unspeakable Things by Kathleen Drucker Spivack

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Firoozeh Dumas on "It Ain't So Awful, Falafel "- A Teen Iranian Girl the U.S. in the 1970s

Firoozeh Dumas talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her latest book, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel.

“I am a firm believer that a good story is a good story.” ~Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh is an American-Iranian who, as a girl, traveled with her family to the United States, and as her family had moved a lot, she admits that she was always the new kid in school. She first came to the United States in 1972, when hardly anyone in the United States knew much about Iran was, hence her being asked about camels and the like. It was while she was in the United States, a few years later, that the Iran hostage crisis took place, which was, by her admission, a dark phase in her life, as she then felt the distrust directed at Iranians and which made her wonder how everyone could shun an entire country. Her experiences during that time were the basis of It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, which is her first foray into writing for young adults.

Firoozeh’s first two books became popular reading in schools and colleges, and so she decided to write a book for a younger audience. She realized that her life experiences during the Iran hostage crisis were something that adolescents could probably relate to, and wrote it in a way that they would give them hope, and as she worked on the book, she likewise realized that there wasn’t much of a difference for her, when it came to writing to a younger audience compared to writing for an adult audience, although her book was published in 2016, a time where and the reaction to it was a hot topic. She points out that, while the book is timely for 2016, she had started writing it in 2008, prior to present time concerns.

The emotions that the lead character of It Ain’t So Awful, Cindy, goes through are real, but the character herself is based on several different people. Firoozeh noted that Cindy is usually kind, is funny, and doesn’t give up easily. The author believes that these are traits which attract the readers to her lead character. The historical facts of the time are true, but Firoozeh needed to figure out how much history to put in the book in order to keep the storyline flowing, and spent two years while writing the novel, doing just that. Because humor is her self-confessed “secret sauce,” writing the funny parts were the easiest things for her to do, while writing out scenes that were based on the sad parts of her own life were the most difficult for her to do, which required her to, on occasion, step back and take a break. As a whole, her book is intended to be humorous in the perspective of a young girl.

Firoozeh is a voracious reader and, as a child, never did wonder why she never read a book with an Iranian protagonist, but as a mother she feels that diversity in protagonists is now important. She wrote It Ain’t So Awful for everyone to relate with, Iranian protagonist or not, noting that audiences reading on stories about people of different backgrounds make them kinder, and with this in mind, she has, through the book, initiated an organic initiative for school kids called the Falafel Kindness Project, which she hopes would help kids realize just how much power they have by turning to kindness rather than focusing on bullying.

Firoozeh hopes that her readers will be inspired to pick up another book to read and enjoy. She also notes that history is a lot more than memorizing dates and that it is more along the lines of the songs we, as a people have heard and is really all about the life that unfolds around us.

TRIVIA: Falafel is a fried bean ball from the Middle East.

Firoozeh Dumas’s website for her book, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, is

Buy from Amazon: It Ain't So Awful by Firoozeh Dumas

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Laura Barnett on Writing 3 Love Story Variants in "The Versions of Us" Romance Novel

Laura Barnett talks with Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, The Versions of Us.

“Isn’t it a funny paradox that fiction, that the more specific and personal you make it, the more general and worldly it becomes.” ~Laura Barnett

Laura had always written works of fiction as a child, and had always wanted to write a novel. She trained as a journalist once she got out of college and has spent over a decade, so far, writing for various publications and specializing in the arts. She had actually written two novels which, according to her, didn’t work before writing The Versions of Us and remarked that it was just as well that she did, as she was then able to write about characters who, and situations which, didn’t have much to do with herself. When she started writing the novel, she was constantly thinking about what would please a reader, but she then realized that she would never know what exactly goes on in a reader’s mind, and after that wrote the kind of work that she wanted to write, after which things fell into place for her.

For Laura, writing The Versions of Us was so clear, it seemed to her that she had read the novel in its entirety before it was written, and in addition to being hit with the inevitable doubts that plague every author whenever they write a book, she also doubted how well the book would do, given its unique structure, and she received a boost of confidence when, halfway through writing the first draft, she showed it to a colleague, who remarked positively about it. She remarked that there seemed to be an interest in “what-ifs” where stories are concerned, and that three different permutations of the same story seemed to be just the right number to do. She included what she called “handholds,” or parts within the story where a reader could latch onto so they could understand the story, in a way that someone climbing a cliff would use handholds to climb it.

Where writing out the three different versions were concerned, Laura remarked that she started with a paragraph summarizing each version and the characteristics of the characters, after which she essentially inhabited the characters and just moved with them as their story progressed over time - a method that felt very natural to her. Laura kept notes of the stories as these progressed, and she likewise did the research as she wrote, rather than doing all the research before writing. She credits the Internet for being a wonderful research tool.

Laura remarked that she never thought that the book would achieve the success it presently has, and added that its story of taking the path less traveled is what resonates with people all over the world. She is presently working on her next book, Greatest Hits, which focuses on the life of a female musician and whose chapters are titled after a song that the character is listening to. She is also working to create a companion soundtrack album to that upcoming novel. To aspiring novelists, Laura advises them to not give up and to dig deep, asking oneself hard questions about what one wants to say and then challenge themselves.

Laura Barnett’s website for her book, The Versions of Us, is

Purchase on Amazon: The Versions of Us (a romance novel in 3 versions) by Laura Barnett

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Julie Zickefoose on Painting and Taking Care of Baby Birds

Julie Zickefoose talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her latest book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest.

The bird sounds used in this video were not intended to be representative of birds from the northeastern United States, specifically the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, where Julie Zickefoose, the author, lives, although you will hear some of them, such as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the American Crow, and the Chimney Swift, all of which had been individually added over the ambient background audio. See if you can identify them. Can you also identify the country of origin of the ambient bird sounds?

“To be able to see baby birds gain their independence and become what they were meant to be is a beautiful thing.” ~Julie Zickefoose

Julie is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who got interested in birds at the age of eight when her attention was attracted by the sound of a bird bathing, which she followed to its source - a warbler. She was so fascinated by her discovery that she borrowed her father's binoculars to seek out more birds and was helped out by a few neighbors who were familiar with birds. The was the start of her bird watching, but she didn't know that bird watching existed until she got into college. It was in 1981 when she began setting up nesting boxes for bluebirds, that she began looking into their nests and became fascinated with their development as chicks, and this was also when she began painting them.

Julie's first job at college was with the Connecticut chapter of the Nature Conservancy, where she was assigned to investigate which plant and animal species which were the most endangered in certain locales. Once she discovered the nests of endangered birds, she fenced these off - a first in Connecticut. Within three years' time, she was in charge of thirty volunteers and eighty miles of coastline. It was a daunting task and she always knew that she wouldn't get rich in that job. Julie then turned to illustrating, something she had been doing since she was very young, to help herself out financially. It was also something that she had already done in college for some of her classmates' papers. She freelanced as an illustrator for newsletters and magazines and books, and her writing extended from there.

It was while looking into nesting boxes and realizing the miracles that she was seeing that Julie realized that not everybody got to saw how birds developed, and this was her primary inspiration for creating Baby Birds. She had always kept nature journals with her paintings and associated notes on the side, and she then decided to “borrow” some baby birds, drew them in her studio, and then returned them a short time later. The birds she illustrated were those from the nesting boxes she kept safe from predation, and it helped that the parents of the birds were comfortable enough with her to trust her to bring their chicks back to them, safe and sound.

Where making illustrations are concerned, Julie uses watercolors, a medium which she had been using since seventh grade, remarking that watercolor works exactly how she wants it to, letting it run and blend into the paper. Creating a single page for the book takes as long as the bird needs to develop, which means as long as a month or so, as she also records the time after the birds leave the nest.

Chimney swifts are, in her experience, the most challenging to raise, as they have a long nesting period of around twenty-five days and need a lot of water and calcium to survive. Hummingbirds (left) likewise proved to be just as challenging, as they need to eat every twenty minutes or so due to their fast metabolisms. Cedar Waxwings, on the other hand, were the easiest for her to raise, as they ate only fruit and berries and picked up their own food at a very young age.

Julie noted that raising birds gave her some powerful and compelling insights into how birds think, and her training in bird behavior and ecology helped out with her writing. Julie focuses on showing the birds rather than attributing the birds’ thoughts to it, and she remarked that birds have their own goals, thoughts and emotions. One of the things that surprised her was how well the birds she raised or had rescued and fed, such as some hummingbirds, bonded well with her, as these would follow her around whenever she went out into the yard.

Julie notes that birds are very vulnerable while in their nests and need to get out of it as soon as possible. The growing birds are then supported by their parents outside of the nest for several weeks, as they learn such things as which foods are good  and what calls relate to which possible dangers are around.

For potential bird watchers, Julie suggests to observe from a distance with a good pair of binoculars and stay out of the birds’ space since birds watch humans possibly even more closely than humans watch birds.

Writing Baby Birds made Julie realize that she has found a niche that she is uniquely qualified to fill, given all her certifications, skills, and time she can take out to observe them. In addition to working on another possible book on baby birds, Julie intends to write a book about her Boston terrier, Chet Baker, who already has a Facebook page of his own.

As advice to those who want to create something like her book, Julie has a quote:

"Do not do what someone else could do as well as you. Do not say, do not write what someone else could say, could write as well as you. Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else. And, out of yourself create, impatiently or patiently, the most irreplaceable of beings."

                                                                                                              ~Andre Gide

Julie Zickefoose’s website for her book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest, is

Purchase on Amazon: Baby Birds: An Artists Looks into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose