Seven Days Review

A Dream to Die For was reviewed in Seven Days, Vermont’s Independent newspaper, along with four other book from awesome Vermont authors. Here’s a glimpse at the write up:

“Complete with new-age therapy, an ominous tarot reading and a healing crystal turned murder weapon, this murder mystery takes readers on a mystical and mind-bending journey through one woman's pursuit of wellness gone wrong.”

Read the entire review here on the Seven Day website!

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An Interview with Ivy Mix, Traveling Bartender

When I was creating the character Celeste Fortune, the protagonist in A Dream to Die For, I needed to figure out how she kept herself financially afloat during her two decades living abroad volunteering in refugee camps and disaster areas around the globe. I remembered running into American and European bartenders in fancy hotel bars I occasionally visited when I, too, was a globe-trotting volunteer.  Bartending seemed the perfect job for Celeste, who wasn’t quite able to commit to anything long-term until she landed in Riverton Falls. 

When I learned about globe-trotting, award-winning, stereotype-busting bartender, bar-owner and mixologist, Ivy Mix (yes, that’s her real name), I found the person Celeste might have become if she’d had more staying power and confidence in herself. Mix is perhaps best known as the co-founder of Speed Rack, an international speed bartending competition for women to raise money for breast cancer education, prevention and research. Since 2011, the competition has raised $1,000,000 while showcasing the talents of female bartenders in the craft cocktail world, which has long been dominated by men. In addition, Mix is co-owner of Leyenda Brooklyn Cocteleria, a bar in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York that specializes in Latin American and Caribbean liquors. Leyenda was named one of the 100 Best Bars in the World by William Reed Business Media. Mix herself has won important competitions, including the Spirited Awards Bartender of the Year (2015) and with Speed Rack co-founder Lynnette Marrero, Bartender Mentor of the Year (2019) at Tales of the Cocktail, an annual celebration of cocktail culture held annually in New Orleans, and was a nominee for Outstanding Bar Program by the James Beard Foundation Awards 2019. These days, she travels more than ever as a celebrity bartender for cocktail-related events and competitions around the world. 

Ivy Mix at her bar Leyenda in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY (photo courtesy of Ivy Mix)

Ivy Mix at her bar Leyenda in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY (photo courtesy of Ivy Mix)

Here’s what she told me when I had a chance to interview her between trips.

SZR: Did you always want to be a bartender?

IM: Maybe people aspire to that now, but when I was becoming a bartender, people still asked what my real job was. “What else do you do? Are you an actress? Are you a singer/songwriter? Are you an artist?” I did get an art degree and I had an art studio and everything, but bartending was my main job.


How did you get your start?

IM: I went to Bennington College where there is a winter Field Work term that gave me a chance to travel. I wanted to get out of Vermont because I’d lived there my whole life. So, the first place I went was Antigua, Guatemala. I discovered a tequila/mezcal bar, but as a nineteen-year-old American, I didn’t know anything about bars. I hung out at the bar and spent so much money that after awhile I started working there to pay off my tab. I realized I could be making money in the place I was spending so much money. It turned out I really liked being in bars!

I kept going back to Guatemala for five to nine months of the year throughout college. Half-time in Guatemala and half-time in Bennington. I moved to NYC in 2008 when the economy collapsed. The only way to make money was bartending or working in the service industry. I had a Fine Arts and Philosophy degree which was already relatively useless. So, I ended up bartending and I discovered cocktail bartending. I thought: Oh, I can be creative and bartend. That’s great! 


Was it still unusual for women to be bartenders when you started out?

In cocktail bartending, yes. Sex sells, so put a pretty girl behind the bar, and then your bar makes money. But in 2008, when I landed in New York, it was the year of the cocktail revival in the US and abroad. We’d been through the Dark Ages of sour mix and crazy martinis in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In 2007 and 2008, things started to ramp up. At that point, cocktail bars meant “speakeasies.” Jerry Thomas, considered the Cocktail Godfather of pre-Prohibition times in the mid-1800s, was the role model for inventing creative cocktails, so everyone was trying to do speakeasy-style cocktail bars when they started to come back into fashion. But in the speakeasy bar, you were supposed to look like the guy with suspenders and a moustache. There wasn’t room for women in that idea of what a mixologist should be. But now that’s starting to change.


Sounds like you are a leader in getting that to change.

Yeah! Along with my Speed Rack co-founder Lynnette Marrero who gave me my start at the Clover Club and is now co-owner of Leyenda with me.


What inspired you to start making up your own drinks and becoming a mixologist?

I got a job as a cocktail waitress while I was still trying to make it as an artist. I had an art studio and everything. That’s how I learned what cocktails were all about. They are pretty; they are beautiful. You have to be a nerd to get into the cocktail business because you have to know recipes and ratios. And be creative on top of those recipes. Kind of like baking a cake. You have a certain amount of flour, a certain amount of sugar, a certain amount of eggs to make something happen. It depends on what’s in there to make a good cake, a bad cake or just plain cake. 

There’s also an equation for cocktails. There has to be a certain amount of sweet, sour or whatever. Then you can be creative within those realms. It is both geeky and it was art and creative. Just a different sensory path. 


So, you got your start in Guatemala. Where did you go from there?

At the bar in Guatemala I was just pouring beers and shots, not making cocktails. But it was a tequila /mezcal bar, so that’s where I first learned about those spirits. Then I started going to Mexico, not just for the mezcal, but more as an excuse to travel. But when I moved to New York, mezcal was the big thing and no one knew anything about it. By chance, I had learned a lot about mezcal, so I had this foot up. 

Fast forward, I was still planning to go to grad school for a fine arts or art history degree, or some combination of the two, but I decided to keep on with the bartending because I was getting to travel because of it. People would ask if I wanted to go here or there and see this and that and maybe make some drinks there while you’re at it. Or maybe you want to learn about our local spirits? I was still into art, but I was getting paid to travel! So sure! 

 

When did you open your bar?

I opened the bar in May 2015. Leyenda honors and specializes in New World/Caribbean/Latin American spirits. It’s everything from tequila to rum to pisco. I had to ask myself, do I want to go back to that part of the world permanently or do I want to bring that part of the world to Brooklyn? So that’s what I did.


What’s your most popular cocktail?

La Sonambula is one that’s been on the menu since we opened. It means Sleepwalker in Spanish and has chamomile, jalapeño juice, tequila, lemon, mole bitters and Peychaud bitters. Always been pretty popular.

Tia Mia is another popular one. It’s like a Mai Tai with mezcal, Jamaican rum, toasted almond orgeat, orange curacao and lime. That’s also pretty popular as well.


What are the flavors you’re looking for?

I make cocktails because they are a gateway into tasting the spirits themselves. I want the spirits to have the biggest flavor profile, the most nuanced, because then I can take the tasting notes and build a cocktail off that. For example, the idea when you’re making something with Scotch is not to think “I taste smoke,” because of the peaty taste. But what else do you taste? It’s like honing your palate a bit and “Mr. Potato Heading” different ingredients onto the base. What other things have that flavor profile and branching out from there, building up these different flavors to make a new drink. That’s how I go about it. 


Sounds like you get to a lot of experimenting.

You really need a bar to do it. You probably don’t have all the ingredients at home. 


How are you treated as a woman behind the bar? Is it different from how men are treated? 

It depends on what part of the world you’re in. I bet your protagonist had the same experiences I had. When I was in my early 20s, I’d get a lot more “Hey Sweetheart” and hand touching. Was that because I was in my early 20s or was that because it was 10 years ago? I do think things are changing. It’s certainly different now. 

At Leyenda, the majority of the staff are women. I enjoy having lots of women on staff because I feel like it makes our clientele more comfortable. But there are still times when there are two women behind the bar and a male bar-back. But instead of talking to the women bartenders, people often will talk to the man about his recommendations. It’s not conscious, it’s just moronic. 


Is it unusual for a woman to own her own bar?

Yeah, unfortunately! Especially cocktail bars. There are all these different awards, so you have like the James Beard Foundation that finally started honoring bars, about five years ago. Pellegrino does World’s 50 Best Bars, Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans does the Spirited Awards. You look around these categories, and I was the first woman to win best American Bartender in the 12 years of Spirited Awards history. In the World’s Best 50 Bars, only two were owned by women. So, there is a problem. 


Why do you think this would be a good job for women?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s not, especially in the United States where there’s usually no health insurance built in. If you’re thinking about starting a family, there’s no paid maternity leave. So, a lot of women leave to become spirit ambassadors, representing a brand. You get to travel the world all paid for, you get health insurance and paid time off—things bartenders don’t tend to get unless they work in hotels.

I personally think it’s sad that lots of women leave bartending to become spirit ambassadors. Bartenders don’t get two-week paid vacations. And certainly not two months paid maternity leave, which spirit ambassadors can get.  So, it’s tricky. But the benefit of being a bartender or bar owner is personal freedom. I work for myself. I’ve never wanted to work for anybody. I’ve tried it. I was bad at it. I’m too hard-headed. I make my own schedule. I’m doing my own stuff. People look at my Instagram (Mix has fifteen thousand followers) and think I have the best life. Those are the benefits, especially for younger people. I’d love to see more female bar owners. Usually mainstream media portrays women behind the bar because they are often younger than thirty, they’re pretty, and they bring creepy dudes to the bar to spread money. That’s the whole purpose. Using women as sex objects. 

But more women need to become bar owners. Women are inherently more mothers, even if we’re not. We’re into hospitality. And as a bar owner, I don’t have to become a brand ambassador if I want my own family because I’ve built my own businesses. It’s all about the upward ladder. For a long time, it was about not enough women bartenders, now it’s about not enough women bar owners. It’s another step up for us to take.

 

You’re a glass ceiling breaker.  Are you’re planning on continuing in this work, no matter what your personal future holds? 

I think so. I travel an insane amount. Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I wonder if I want to do this forever, so I’m actually looking at opening up more bars. I don’t make any money off my bar at all. I make most of my money traveling to different places and giving a speech or judging contests. I would like to figure out how to make money owning bars so I can travel because I want to, not because I have to. Maybe I’ll write a book, make tons of money, and I’ll get to travel for that.

 

When you travel, what are you paid to do?

I judge a lot of cocktail competitions. They are massive right now outside the US. I judge competitions like the Diageo World Class, Bacardi Legacy, tinier ones too. I give speeches at conferences all around the world—Mexico, Brooklyn, Berlin, Sao Paulo. Sometimes people want cocktail consulting. Though I own my bar, I haven’t been here much this year.

 

Did you ever dream that this is where you were headed back in that bar in Guatemala?

No, I just thought it was a way to travel and make money. I opened Leyenda before I was thirty with lots of partners, which is integral to success. I wanted to own 100% of as many bars as it would take to support myself and my lifestyle by the time I was forty. But now I know that owning a bar is really hard. Everything breaks, especially plumbing and electrical. You have to be a landlord with a thousand people a week in and out of your space, like a massive living room. We’ve been open for four years, and now it’s a bit easier, so I begin to think I’d like to open more bars. But it’s like when you have a baby and then forget how hard those early days were, so you think, I want to do that again! Opening a new bar is like that. 

I’d like to move back to Vermont one day and make money there, so if that’s an option with the new distillers popping up, who knows? 

 

Do you have a recipe you can share with us?

Sure! Try this!

89 Sour

2 oz Bar Hill Gin
1/2 oz maple syrup
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh orange juice
1 dash angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe, float 1/2 oz of red wine on top using a spoon.

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Reader's Favorite Review!

A Dream to Die For was recently reviewed by Reader’s Favorite. Check out their glowing words!

“Mixing multiple genres of science fiction, fantasy, romance and crime, author Susan Ritz creates the perfect adventure that may keep the reader awake at night. Realistic dialogue and relatable events serve to keep the reader engaged in this fast-paced, psychedelic tale of one man’s vision to control the world, one dream at a time. Perfect for fans of intrigue, suspense, and murder stories!”

Read the full review here: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/a-dream-to-die-for

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Write the Book Podcast Interview

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It was a pleasure to chat with Shelagh Shapiro, the illustrious host of Write the Book podcast last week. The link is now live and you can listen to our conversation from the comfort of your home, any time.

https://writethebook.podbean.com/e/susan-z-ritz-interview-573-72219/

At the end of each show, Shelagh asks the authors she interviews to share a writing prompt with her listeners. Here’s the prompt I suggested:

Pick up a box of buttons or bows or pieces of jewelry and choose two that are somehow different from each other. Think about the people who might wear or use these things. Write a scene where they meet somewhere - perhaps a café or park - and hold a conversation that begins: "Where were you last night?"

I’ve used this exercise before with my student and found that they find it to be a great avenue into scene, dialogue, and character.

Enjoy!

How to Write About Dreams

How to Write About Dreams by Susan Z. Ritz
originally posted on She Writes Press, see it here:

We all like to talk about our dreams, but few people want to hear about them. Our own dreams are revelatory, scary, confusing, funny, and weird; other people’s dreams are just plain boring. That’s why so many writing teachers and editors warn us not to throw dreams into our stories if we want to keep our readers turning pages.

When I sat down to write my mystery, A Dream to Die For, I knew I was going to have to come up with ways to write about dreams that made people want to read about them. I didn’t want to rely on dream sequences—you know, those italicized paragraphs we all tend to skim? They can be hokey or gimmicky and usually interrupt the action just as things are getting good. There had to be a way to put dreams into a book about the murder of a dream therapist and leader of a cult of Dreamers. I just needed to figure out how to write them to enhance rather than detract from the plot. 

First, I asked myself what I wanted the dreams to do. Like every scene in a well-written book, they had to serve the story. In my case, I wanted dreams to do two things—drive the plot forward and reveal something about a character’s inner life that I couldn’t show any other way. 

Next, I considered the nature of dreams. Dreams themselves rarely make sense. They don’t come to us as fully fleshed out stories with a clear narrative arc. They arrive fractured, fragmented, and filled with puzzling symbols. They are ephemeral, and we often find ourselves chasing after images before they disappear, trying to remember exactly what it was that frightened us, delighted us, or surprised us. I wanted the dreams in my book to reflect the fleeting, often bewildering quality of the dreams I experience when I’m asleep.

My book begins with my protagonist, Celeste, trying to remember last night’s dream and only recalling three short images. A woman at a window. Bushes blowing in a soft breeze. A shadow coming at her from behind. My own dream journals are filled with snippets like these, so I decided to use fragments as the recurring dream that appears throughout the book. Each time the dream shows up, it gives the reader a little more information. Short, dramatic, and essential to the plot, these tiny sequences mimic the ephemeral nature of dreams and also serve as important clues, building tension and suspense. 

I realized that I had to do something very different to show the characters’ inner conflicts and fears. Dreams on their own don’t tell us much. They are illogical, often preposterous, and only gain coherence when we wake and try to figure them out. I didn’t need to make up some hokey dream sequences to get at my characters’ anxieties. The contents of the dreams themselves didn’t matter. Instead, I needed to show how they interpreted their dreams. Because many of the characters in my book are in a dream cult, I had plenty of opportunity to create scenes that better divulged their inner lives. They write them down in dream journals; they discuss them with other Dreamers; or they ruminate over them as they go about their daily routines. I embedded the dreams into scenes with action, dialogue, and a natural place in the narrative. Instead of interrupting the flow of the plot, they propelled it in new directions. I unearthed subconscious emotions and thoughts without dragging my readers through long italicized dream sequences that took away from the action. 

But if your story is not as plot driven as mine, you might want to use dreams to add a lyrical touch. If so, pay attention to your own dreams. Write them down for a few weeks. You’ll notice how images flow into each other, how scenes change without any meaningful transition. You’re sitting on a beach. You raise your hand and you’re standing in a cornfield. If you echo the flow of the images you’ve recorded, you are sure to create prose poems, which are the best way I know to mimic the actual rhythm of dreams. 

The most important thing to remember is that dreams, like any other part of your book, need a purpose. If you know why you need a dream in your story, you can figure out the best way to write it.




A review by @TheWeekendBooker

A review by @TheWeekendBooker

The following is a book tour review of A Dream to Die For. Read the original post here.

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📚A Dream to Die For (Available July 16) 🖤book tour review🖤
A novel by Susan Z Ritz

Holy moly, what did I just read? This one sure did hit that genre of murder mystery suspense right on the penny. This was a quirky and very unique take on nightmares and dreams. This story had me engaged the entire time as it was again, a very unique plot and didn’t want to put it down. I LOVE when the first page pulls you in immediately and remains to do that throughout the entirety of the book. What we have is a story set in a small New England town and a girl name Celeste who suffers from dreams/nightmares she doesn’t understand. With the help from her therapist, Larry, who seems to be acting as a cult leader of "dreamers", a dream master if you will in which she discusses her dreams with and takes notes of her dreams to be able to help try to figure out what they mean. Her fiancé pretty much gives her an ultimatum to stop seeing this therapist as he thinks he isn’t a good man. As she goes to tell Larry she’s done seeing him, Celeste finds him dead and the computer with all of towns secrets is missing. Celeste and her friend set out to find out whodunnit before it is pinned on her... ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 .


➡️➡️❓QOTD: ❓Do you ever have bad dreams or crazy unexplainable dreams/nightmares? Have you ever searched online what certain parts of the dreams mean? Has it ever made sense to you? .
Thank you to@suzyapprovedbooktours@susanzritz, and@shewritespressfor my review copy for an honest review.
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#suzyapprovedbooktours#arc#reviewer#reviewofbooks#mystery# thriller#dreams#bookstagram#bookstagramer#theweekendbooker#booksharks#bookishblingonetsy#bookishbling#advancecopybook#booksofinstagram#bibliophile#bookshivers#bookreview#whatimreading#bookloversunite#preorderthisbook#readersofinstagram#bookstagramit#nightmares

Join a Writing Group!

Join a Writing Group!

Like many women authors, I have always considered writing a communal act. That’s why I have been in a writing group for over twenty-five years. As with many other auspicious encounters in my life, I found the group through my dog walking connections on a snowy day in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park. My Wheaten terrier, the late, great Watson, got into a friendly tussle with another dog. Talking to the owner, I discovered we were both writers. She asked me if I wanted to try out for the group. I brought my very first short story, which was well received, and I was accepted. Since then, writing group has become one of the most important parts of my life, giving me a bi-weekly writing deadline and a supportive audience. It’s also a place to share publishing woes and wins, to complain about hard times, and help each other with the key ingredient to success—perseverance.

Many members have come and gone over the years. Several have published their books and moved on; others have dropped out for lack of time, changes in life circumstances, or changes in writing needs. But several things about the group have stayed the same because they work.

For most of the years, we have met at my house every other Tuesday evening. We loosely follow Peter Elbow’s (Writing Without Teachers) guidelines for constructive criticism. Each member brings a piece she has been working on to read aloud to the group. When she is finished, we go around the table, offering our comments and suggestions as the reader listens silently. She is not allowed to argue or answer questions until each member has had her say. Though I often find it hard not to speak while my work is being critiqued, I know the silence rule gives me space to absorb the suggestions without being defensive or responding in the moment. This process has taught me to be not just a better listener, but also a better writer because I learn so much from looking closely at the work of others. In fact, I learned everything I know about writing fiction from this group. I could never have written A Dream to Die For without them.

Sometimes I look back and am amazed by the number of books we have produced. This stack is only half of what we have published. Quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

Books:  A Dream to Die For  by Susan Z. Ritz;  Where a Wave Meets the Shore  and  Deceptive Cadence  (Book 1 in the Virtuosic Spy series) by Kathryn Guare;  Shadow Girl  by Deb Abramson;  Water Shaper  and  Alia Waking  by Laura Williams McCaffery;  The Shape of the Sky  by Shelagh Connor Shapiro;  Trigger Warning  and  Feminist on Fire  by Coleen Kearon

Books: A Dream to Die For by Susan Z. Ritz; Where a Wave Meets the Shore and Deceptive Cadence (Book 1 in the Virtuosic Spy series) by Kathryn Guare; Shadow Girl by Deb Abramson; Water Shaper and Alia Waking by Laura Williams McCaffery; The Shape of the Sky by Shelagh Connor Shapiro; Trigger Warning and Feminist on Fire by Coleen Kearon

When anyone asks what advice I would give a novice writer, I always say, “Join a writing group!” If you’re lucky enough to find one as good as mine, you’ll find yourself taking risks, exploring new territory, and discovering your own depths. For me and for many women, the daily isolation of the writing life can lead to self-doubt, procrastination and getting stuck in a rut. A writing group is the perfect antidote. By sharing our work, our successes and failures, and our fears and hopes, we help each other face that blank page, knowing we are not alone.



New Review: a memorable mystery that avid whodunnit readers can sink their teeth into.

Official Review: A Dream to Die For by Susan Z. Ritz

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "A Dream to Die For" by Susan Z. Ritz. Click here to see the original post.]

A seemingly luckless woman is at the heart of Susan Ritz’s debut mystery, A Dream to Die For. Celeste Fortune (wryly referred to as “Miss Fortune”) just wants to get her life together. She wants nothing more to do with Larry Blatsky, her sleazebag of a therapist who’d kept her shackled to dream therapy for nearly four years. She wants out of Dreamland, Larry’s tightly knit (and increasingly cultish) community of clients who call themselves the Dreamers. She wants to get her fiancé, Jake Kelly, back.

But then Celeste has a strange dream: A woman stands in a kitchen while a sinister shadow creeps from behind and proceeds to strangle her. She turns to Larry for a possible interpretation, but he lashes out instead in rage and fear. Hours later, Larry is murdered in his office, and by some stroke of misfortune, it’s Celeste who finds the body. As her life devolves into a whirlwind of police interrogations, hostile encounters with grief-stricken Dreamers, and repeated attempts on her life, Celeste finds a welcome ally in Gloria Cross, an estranged friend who was once a Dreamer herself.

A perplexing crime, a rural setting, a cast of quirky characters, and a reluctant amateur sleuth are staples of the cozy mystery genre, and everything comes alive at the tip of Ritz’s pen. The puzzle of Larry’s death drives the plot forward, and Ritz cleverly roots the answer in the tangled web of the character’s relationships, both personal and professional, past and present. In any other location, several plot points may seem like too much of a coincidence, but the small town of Riverton Falls renders everything plausible, the claustrophobic atmosphere providing the perfect set-up for the mystery to unfold. Many characters of interest populate the town, several of whom are not exactly who they seem. It’s easy to empathize with Celeste’s confusion and frustration as even those closest to her — Jake and Gloria, for instance — know more than they’re letting on. The truth behind Larry’s fixation with dreams leads to a fascinating twist where the lines between mysticism and technology are blurred.

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And yet well-executed as they are, A Dream to Die For is more than just the sum of these parts. Even as Ritz keeps the tone light and amusing, there are powerful messages that ring through the story. Celeste’s involvement with Larry and the Dreamers is a cautionary tale of sorts, and though the psychology is frightening, Ritz depicts cult behavior with neither judgment nor condemnation. Everyone here is flawed, especially Celeste herself, and Ritz allows the readers to make up their own minds about the characters — hero, villain, or otherwise. The theme of loving who you are is also a beautiful takeaway from the story. “We all have crazy reasons and rioting pathologies to struggle with,” Gloria tells Celeste. “We need to recognize them and love them as part of the bigger picture of who we are.”

I rate A Dream to Die For 3 out of 4 stars. Though there are no wasted moments in the narrative, Celeste’s story moves at a rather deliberate pace. There is some repetition of facts (e.g., how a character died), and there are minor typographical errors (e.g., missing quotation marks) scattered throughout the pages. Nevertheless, A Dream to Die For is a memorable mystery that avid whodunnit readers can sink their teeth into. Anyone interested in dream therapy will also find the book enlightening (Ritz really did her research well in this regard), and those who like empowered female characters will find many to root for in this story.

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Moderator's Note: The reviewer of this book read an ARC. Prior to publication, the book was edited to fix the minor typographical issues mentioned by the reviewer.
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Linda’s Book Obsession Review and Interview

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Today is the day. My interview with Linda’s Book Obsession and her review of A Dream to Die For is now available for your reading pleasure! You can find the entire review here and my interview here. Below are some excerpts.

FROM LINDA’S BOOK OBSESSION’S REVIEW:

“…There are a mystical feel and magical essence in this story. At times it is difficult to tell reality from fantasy. I would recommend this novel for those readers who enjoy an unusual mystery.”


FROM MY INTERVIEW WITH LINDA’S BOOK OBSESSION:

“Did you have to do research for your book? How did you do it?

Even though A Dream to Die For is fiction, I did have to do quite a lot of research, mainly on the technical aspects of virtual reality, which plays a big part in the book. I am a complete novice when it comes to technology, so I needed a lot of help. I connected with a young man from my hometown who was working at a virtual reality start-up and over many emails he explained the technical details behind creating digital images that seem to come to life with the help of a set of goggles like Oculus Rift. I also went to several Meet Ups to try out virtual reality myself. I was the only woman and only person over 40 at the meetings, which made me realize that digital technology is still a “boy’s only” field.

I used the internet to learn about holograms and various other augmented reality devices, as well as ways scientists are actually beginning to see images of people’s dreams when they are sleeping. Kind of creepy!”

No Matter What, Hold onto Your Values

A Note about this blog post: I am pleased to present this guest blog by Cult Awareness Educator Gerette Buglion. Gerette creates retreats and presentations for people affected by cultic abuse. Her home, Dream Haven Vermont, is a short distance from the beautiful Green River Reservoir State Park in Hyde Park Vermont.To learn more about Gerette or to contact her, please visit her web site.: www.dreamhavenvt.com

No Matter What, Hold onto Your Values

Celeste, the colorful protagonist in A Dream to Die For is caught in a complex web that is far greater than the typical ‘who done it’ murder mystery. Author Susan Ritz skillfully shows the reader how Celeste’s psyche is enmeshed in a controlling group that has established a kind of authority over her free will and that of others in the group and led to some devastating consequences. ‘Controlling group’ is another term for cult - one of those taboo words in the English language that is fraught with variable meanings and is often avoided altogether. In this article, I am referring to destructive cults, those that can harm members through a variety of abuses and mind control.

In her latest book Women Rowing North, Mary Pipher states, “Freedom is the ability to make conscious choices in accord with our deepest values.” This fertile sentence, written to inspire resilient and graceful aging in our later years, can just as easily be applied to the potential perils of power dynamics as they manifest in groups. Freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of expression are values that many Americans hold near and dear. But what exactly are values? I like this definition, that surprisingly comes from The Business Dictionary: “Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.”  

We humans are defined by our individual values and those golden threads of morality that are passed on to us from our families, our communities, our churches, our ancestors and the groups we choose to participate in. These personal values can be challenged and transformed within groups, a natural part of evolution and personal growth. But what happens when a group or the leader of a group, minimizes your values and strives to replace them with values they deem more important? Although this happens to varying degrees in numerous situations, it is always something to watch out for. Because if it coincides with the surrender of one’s autonomy, it is the beginning of mind control.

For years, I was part of a spiritually oriented self-help group that I dedicated enormous amounts of time, inspiration and financial resources to. I did not know to watch out for the gradual stripping away of my personal values. I was taught, for example that “God does not care if you recycle - what He cares about is how you do it.” This teaching, combined with a dualistic ideology, a strong set of given values, and a compelling inspiration for the spiritual freedom of “becoming a true woman of God”, sent me down a difficult, dark  rabbit hole where I became a victim of mind control and was profoundly dependent on the group leader.  

I believe the slow stripping away of my values, separating me from the core of my essential self, was one of the most damaging aspects of my eighteen years in this destructive group. Early on, I surrendered one of these core values: a deep and respectful relationship to the Earth and her resources. I grew up on a farm, was an outdoor educator and passionate about recycling and energy efficiency before joining the group. While in it, I learned to dismiss my instincts and judge others for their “frivolous sentimentality and arrogance” [Direct quote from the leader of the group.] for driving a Prius or compulsively separating glass bottles from the trash. I trained myself to not wince when loading a truck full of trash, including hundreds of pounds of food waste after a spiritual retreat. In this way, I relinquished the freedom to fully be myself, was encouraged to suppress my capacity for making conscious choices and was therefore more vulnerable to manipulation. Whether intentional or not, by diminishing and replacing my core values, the group leader broke down part of the very fabric of my soul self - that which defines me and guides me ‘in all situations’.

Since leaving the group five years ago, I have been engaged in a healing process that supports me to reckon with the abuse I experienced but almost more importantly, to dig deep into my resilience and re-discover who I truly am. From this place, I now have the freedom to make many conscious decisions each day, arising from my core values. Since leaving, I have experienced many ‘re-awakenings’ of values that still define me to this day. One such awakening occurred through a patch of Forget-me-nots - the delicate but hardy spring time flowers that re-appeared in my yard the spring I broke away from the group. In my post-cult life, these serve as both a playful reminder and stern warning of what I had forgotten. And they inspire me to share with others the importance of holding on to one’s values, no matter what.

 You can learn more about Gerette or contact her at http://www.dreamhavenvt.com/about.html

I Just Can't Keep Quiet

 I’m not sure when it was that talk radio replaced music as the soundtrack to my life. Somewhere along the line, I switched the channel from rollicking rock and roll to news of latest climate catastrophe, Congressional shenanigans, and nasty presidential tweets. But now, with the world in shambles, I am ready to go back to music. If only I knew what to listen to.

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What I really want to hear are today’s protest songs. But I have no idea where to start. When I look on Spotify for protest songs, I find several playlists, but are filled with songs of another dismal period in our American history—Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Eric Burden and the Animals. There are a few newer ones, like the raps of Flobots or heavy metal screeching of Rise Again, but none of those good old anthems we all knew by heart and sang around campfires wherever we were in the world. They were a common language. Songs you could strum a guitar to.

There is one song that comes to mind, though, a song that stirs my heart and makes me cry every time I hear it. It is the song that emerged from the Women’s March, when it’s originator MILCK formed an online acapella group from California and Washington DC. She sent the lyrics and harmonies to each group to practice at home. On the big day, that unseasonably warm January day in D.C., the group sang it seven times as they moved through the crowd of half a million.

            A tweet by one of the members, retweeted by Harry Potter actor Emma Watson, reached over 68,000 people in a single day. The Facebook post of the march rendition has been viewed 11 million times.

            This new women’s anthem is now sung by women and girls all over the world. A choir in Ghana adds defiance and even joy to their stirring rendition.

Thirteen hundred people, mostly women, gathered in Toronto to sing with MILCK and the results are powerful.

 A flash mob of hundreds of pussy-hatted women sang in the Stockholm train station.

I get weepy when I see the joyful faces of these women belting out a song that finally speaks for so many of us. I can’t help but think of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford. I can’t help but think Malala, and of all the women and girls denied their freedom in Afghanistan. This song speaks for all of us who have been abused, who have been denied, who have been told to just shut up. I can’t help but think of #MeToo .

/// • /// • ///

put on your face
know your place
shut up and smile
don't spread your legs
I could do that

But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don't say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let the-em hear what I have to say

I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one-woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

I can't keep quiet
For anyone
Anymore

Cuz no one knows me no one ever will
if I don't say something, take that dry blue pill
they may see that monster, they may run away
But I have to do this, do it anyway
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can't keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one-woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh I can't keep quiet

Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
There'll be someone who understands
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
Must be someone who'll understand
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now
There'll be someone who understands
Let it out Let it out
Let it out now

I can't keep quiet

/// • /// • ///

A couple of weeks ago I read a disturbing article in the New York Times about the manifesto penned by the shooter in New Zealand. He argued for the “Replacement Theory,” which claims the white race is dying out because white women aren’t having enough babies to replenish the numbers. This unbelievable theory is spreading through far-right circles and has even been mentioned on Fox News, an arguably main stream media outlet. The solution? Take away women’s right to work and vote. I read those words and realized it is already happening.

            On NPR, I heard about a new law in Georgia that would give a fetus full rights as a human being after five and half weeks in the womb. From that time, any pregnant woman becomes a state incubator, her rights superseded by the rights of the fetus. Miscarriages, an event that happens to a majority of women sometime in their reproductive years even before a woman knows she’s pregnant, would trigger an investigation into the woman’s activities. Did she have a drink? Smoke a cigarette? Have an addiction problem? She would be liable for the death of a child. How can we keep quiet? 

            We women will go on singing until we are finally heard. “I Can’t Keep Quiet” provides a new soundtrack to my life. Maybe I will tell Alexa to wake me with it each morning as I face another day as a woman in an increasingly hostile world.  

P.S. Here’s another great song, Lynzy Lab’s “It’s Scary Time”






Have You Ever Wanted To See The World?

Have you ever wanted to see the world, find a way to get up close and personal with the locals, and make money at the same time? Maybe a career in international bartending is for you!  Celeste Fortune, the main character in my novel A Dream to Die For, an international bartender with almost two decades of experience, can tell you about how to get started.

Susan Z Ritz: How did you decide to become an international bartender?

CELESTE FORTUNE: It all began as a whim, or maybe I should say, a dream. After my parents died, my life turned upside down. Though they left me a bit of money, it wasn’t enough to keep me in college. I wasn’t the rah-rah college type in any case, as my roommate Gloria pointed out. It was enough to get me to the other side of the world, though, and I high-tailed it out of Ohio for the big city lights of Tokyo, where I figured I could get a gig teaching English. It didn’t take me long to figure out that real money was in the bars.  Every evening, Japanese “salary men” head to their special watering holes, eager not just for the booze, but for the attention of the hostesses—especially the European girls who served drinks and put up with a lot of shenanigans for some pretty good tip money.   

SZR: So you were a hostess?

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CF: No, I figured I was too tall and skinny to get in on that, but I did know how to mix a few mean drinks. Growing up with my drunken parents gave me years of experience pouring some pretty stiff ones. That got me in the door of my first bar, Café Absinthe, in Osaka. In just a few months, I’d made enough money to move on, travel to Southeast Asia, volunteer in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, do some freelance reporting. Every time I began to run low, I’d find another bar in some resort area or big city and save up, then take off exploring again.  

I was living the dream!

SZR: How would someone get started in this business? Do you have you be a great bartender first?

CF:  First, I’d take a quick bartending class, get a certificate, learn to make a few of the classics, like Manhattans, Old Fashions, Harvey Wallbangers. A very dry Martini is a must. You don’t need to be a fancy mixologist, but you should have a solid repertoire that you can mix up fast. Speed is the key in a busy bar.

SZR: But how can you legally work in another country?

CF: Believe it or not, some countries like Singapore and Korea where foreign, mostly Western, barkeeps are a big draw, offer Working Holiday Visas for young Americans between 18 and 30.  


SZR: What did you like best about bartending overseas?

CF: Have to say, the money and tips. But hanging out with the local barflies taught me a lot about the countries I was in. And I even made a few friends.  I’d tell anyone ready for a grand adventure, bartending is a great way to see the world. And when you get ready to go back home and settle down, you know you can find a job like I did at the Broken Gate in Riverton Falls!

https://www.fourlinesupply.com/stories/how-to-travel-the-world-as-a-bartender  

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Why She Writes

When I started writing A Dream to Die For, the idea of actually publishing it seemed remote. I was a creative nonfiction writer trying my hand at something new, a novel that was a diversion from the memoir I had half-written. The memoir, about my years living in a village outside Dachau, Germany, was both daunting and crazy making. I didn’t really want to go back to many of those memories of a marriage gone wrong.  I thought it might be more fun to make up someone else’s life than to keep digging down into my own past. A fiction writing friend gave me the advice to include some mystery or question in my novel. Though I’d never been a big mystery or thriller reader, I decided to take his advice and then some by turning the whole novel into a mystery. I learned as I wrote, largely from my writing group members who all had their second or third novels under way.

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I also watched them struggling to get their wonderful works published. Finding an agent seemed daunting and time consuming. One gave up early and went on to self-publish four wonderful novels, including the Virtuosic Spy series, learning a lot in the process about how to design and publicize her own work. The others opted for Vermont small presses with mixed success.  As the oldest member of the group, I didn’t have years to search for an agent who wanted a sixty-something- year-old author with only one book in the pipeline and no “platform” from which to launch it. I knew I didn’t have the perseverance or talent to self-publish successfully. Then I remembered stumbling upon a women’s writing community, She Writes, years earlier and thought I might find some advice there.

Instead, I discovered that She Writes had branched out and added She Writes Press (SWP) and from what I read, it sounded perfect for me:

“She Writes Press was founded by Brooke Warner and Kamy Wicoff in June 2012 for the purpose of providing an alternative publishing option to women writers. She Writes Press is for authors who want the freedom, control, and financial rewards of investing in their own books up front, without sacrificing the credibility and status that come with publishing under a highly selective imprint.”

Just what I’d been looking for! As a women’s rights advocate, I was thrilled there was an option just for women. As an older emerging writer, I felt valued by a publisher for the first time. Though my book was far from finished, I knew where it was headed and once I had this viable option, I wrote more seriously and finally got it done.

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She Writes Press is a hybrid press that is leading the charge toward a new way of publishing as the traditional houses, like Random House and Penguin, consolidate and focus their resources on celebrity writers or younger, more edgy authors. As a hybrid press, SWP acts like a traditional house in several respects. First, submitted manuscripts are curated, not every book is accepted and not all are accepted at the same level. Some need help with major issues and authors are sent back to the drawing board with an option of editorial help for a fee from the publisher. Some need copyediting by SWP before they are ready for printing. Others are accepted for publication as is. She Writes then guides the author through the design and publication process, providing support at every step along the path to publication. Like many traditional and smaller presses, SWP uses Ingram Publishers Services to distribute the books to book stores across the country.

What sets SWP and other reputable hybrid publishers, like Rootstock in Vermont, is that the up-front costs are paid by the writer. In other words, the writer rather than the publisher takes the risk on the book, but also reaps higher rewards from sales than traditional publishers seeking to make back advances paid to the author. As the traditional, big house publishing world shrinks, options like nonprofit presses (think Graywolf), small indie presses (think Fomite Press), self-publishers and hybrids are emerging as the places to find unusual and diverse voices. They’re not looking for blockbusters, they’re looking for good writing, unusual stories, and authors whose work may not sell thousands of copies but add something new and daring to our cultural discussions.

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 Publisher Brooke Warner is leading the charge to give this hybrid publishing the respect it deserves. In her book, Green Light Your Book, and her TEDx talk she urges us to take charge of our own creativity:

“Green lighters are not sitting around waiting for someone else to say yes to their dreams. They are artists, creators and makers who know that their creativity comes from someplace within and not out there.”  

Warner, formerly of Seal Press, is the champion for all the writers like me, who have a tale tell but may not fit the platform profile agents and the Big Five publishing houses are looking for.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when She Writes Press accepted my book as ready for publication, something only 5%-7% of manuscripts achieve. I have received much support in the form of group phone calls with the other authors in my cohort of Spring 2019 authors, webinars, and a helpful handbook. I find encouragement and tips on how to proceed and succeed from the She Writes community on a private Facebook page. I also had a chance to meet many of my fellow authors at the SWP retreat last fall. At She Writes Press, I found a home not just for my book, but for me as an author. And knowing She Writes is there, I dare to start my sequel!

A Dream to Die For Playlist

I know a lot of you are having trouble waiting all the way to July 16, 2019 to get your hands on a copy of A DREAM TO DIE FOR, but here’s a way to make the time fly by!

Get out your headphones and your dancing shoes and listen to this line up of “dreamy” songs on the A DREAM TO DIE FOR playlist on Spotify.

Let me know if you have any suggestions of music to add. Happy listening and sweet dreams!

https://open.spotify.com/user/1228729754/playlist/7FqbVDft0QV12nWl0UtBt5?si=-S6TqnJsSb2nID3Ogra1PA

My Writing Journey

I have been a writer as long as I can remember. I was one of those little girls who made up stories about my dolls and wrote them down in handmade books. Here is a picture of one of my early works, Misery, a hint that even as a kid, I was drawn to the darker side of life. I stole shamelessly from my fellow Minnesotan, Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts and best sellers like Happiness Is a Warm Puppy. Instead of happy incidents, I wrote sources of misery. “Misery is when you invite your best friend over the night and your brother socks her in the stomach and then she’s not your best friend anymore,” is one of the more memorable pages. The doll is meant to be the poor injured sister, aka me disguised as a blonde.

One of my first books

One of my first books

These initial forays into the world of writing were followed by fifty years of journaling, beginning when I was fifteen. My journals are a record of my traveling years first as a Friends World College student of social work and cultural anthropology. I was lucky enough to spend four years living and working in Kenya, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. Later I recorded my years as a mother and hausfrau in a Bavarian village outside of Munich, Germany. I carefully documented my days in preparation for the memoirs I knew were in my future. But first, I wanted to live a life worth writing about.

A few of my journals

A few of my journals

In 1989, I moved to Montpelier, Vermont with my husband and three young children and decided I’d had enough adventures to finally get going on those memoirs. I joined a writing group and earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College to learn how to turn memories into stories for others to read. In the meantime, I wrote articles for many nonprofit newsletters and articles about women in agriculture, politics and small business for Local Banquet and Vermont Woman. I taught creative writing to adults and high school students and edited the Montpelier High School literary journal, Wild Onion Review.

 But those memoirs, the stories of my adventures overseas? They are still many works in progress. Writing about myself has never come easily for me, and the memoirs seemed to be going nowhere. As an escape from digging into my past, I found myself writing a mystery, a genre I knew little about. That mystery kept me busy off and on for many years, but finally I had a finished product, A Dream to Die For, to be released by She Writes Press on July 16, 2019. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!

My ARCS arrived!

My ARCS arrived!