Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Welcome Nancy Ellen Dodd

Join me in welcoming Nancy Ellen Dodd to Highlighted Author.

Nancy Ellen Dodd is a writer with many voices, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, she currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University to undergraduate and graduate students.

Nancy has received numerous awards for her writing, which includes screenplays, plays, short stories, short films, and novel-length works, as well as inspirational writing. Some of her short stories have been read on public radio. She also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers: Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paul Zindel; playwrights Velina Hasu-Houston, Oliver Mayer, David Milton, and Lee Wochner; screen and television writer Sy Gomberg; and international poet James Ragan.

Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Nancy serves as academic editor of the Graziadio Business Review, an online peer-reviewed business practitioner’s journal with over 500.000 page visits per year, 35% of those international. She also produces and edits video and audio interviews for the journal. Nancy’s journalistic career includes publishing more than 130 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders.

Her book, The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, will be released in June, 2011, by Writer’s Digest Books.  It covers the full creative writing process from which she draws lessons for her classes. The Writer’s Compass teaches the writer how to develop and focus their ideas, the use of a story map, and building the story through 7 productive development stages. 

Tell us about The Writer’s Compass, Nancy, and what we as writers might learn to help us put together a successful book.

In my university class I only have time to teach story mapping and 3 of the 7 stages, this book gives me the chance to expand my college course. It is the heart of the thousands of hours I spent listening to lectures and audio, attending seminars and workshops, reading books, and acquiring two graduate degrees to learn the craft of writing.

How does a writer tell the story he or she wants to tell and capture an audience’s heart?  Regardless of genre or format, to tell a story effectively writers must first sort through all the ideas they’ve been toying with–organize them, whip them into shape, and turn them into great writing.  The Writer’s Compass shows the writer how to do that.  Through the 7 stages the writer learns to focus on one aspect of the story at a time for more efficient story development.  The book also addresses navigating the creative world by developing a writing time, space, and mind-set and addresses the importance of setting goals, quality writing, and how to map the writer’s lifestyle.

The Writer’s Compass teaches writers to visualize their story by creating a story map based on the 3-act structure chart.  The map helps writers to see the essential elements of storytelling, what they know about their story, and, perhaps most importantly, what’s missing.  This book simplifies Aristotle’s elements of good writing into easily applied comcepts.  Writers are shown how to form stories and develop ideas, build strong structures, create vibrant characters, and craft scenes and transitions.  Thought-provoking questions and exercises help writers more objectively assess their story’s strengths and weaknesses by thinking through what they are writing, why they are writing it, and what they want to say, setting the compass for the story the writer wants to tell–in 7 stages.

Thank you so much, Nancy, for being with us today on Highlighted Author.

For more information about Nancy Ellen Dodd or for writing tips go to or .


Welcome Tom Ruck

Join me in welcoming Tom Ruck to Highlighted Author.

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day here on Highlighted Author than to have with us Tom Ruck and his nationally awarded book, Sacred Ground, A Tribute to America’s Veterans.

Tom was gracious to send me his introduction and how Sacred Ground came to be as this is a very busy time for him.  This week alone, he’ll be speaking in Dallas and St. Louis before he heads to LA for more events. Thank you, Tom, for taking the time to be with us today.


Tom Ruck has served as Director of National Accounts for renowned corporations. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri in Columbia, grew up in the St. Louis area where he was active in many volunteer and philanthropic organizations. He now resides in Southern California, serves as a Visiting Fellow to the Freedom Alliance Foundation, is a member of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and continues traveling the nation inspiring and honoring Veteran’s and their loved ones through his many speaking engagements.

How Sacred Ground came to be:

In the fall of 2004, Tom Ruck envisioned a book honoring the American Veteran. He realized he had to turn this concept into a reality; starting the process of creating and publishing this idea. An unknown author and photographer, the journey to publication was difficult, yet remarkable, and ultimately fulfilling, and is a story in itself. The result of Tom’s efforts, Sacred Ground, A Tribute to America’s Veterans, was released by Regnery Publishing achieving #5 ranking on Amazon. As he describes, I created this book as a labor of love to honor the truest of American heroes, our veterans.

In the stillness and solitude of the United States’ national cemeteries, the gratitude of a nation to its veterans is forever alive. This eternal gratitude is precisely what Tom Ruck portrays in his book, Sacred Ground, a coast-to-coast photographic journey through the national cemeteries, accompanied by poignant essays and quotations from historical figures and celebrities.

The inspiration for Sacred Ground came to Tom Ruck while he was in Los Angeles for a business trip in 2004. The idea was to create a book that would be a tribute to veterans, He jotted a few notes on a paper napkin and forgot about it until the next morning when he spotted the napkin as he was getting ready to leave for the airport.

He unfolded the napkin and reread his idea. For Ruck, who is neither a photographer nor a writer and had never served in the military, the concept was daunting. “I didn’t have a clue on what to do to get a book published,” Ruck says.

The easy thing would have been to crumple the napkin and toss it in the trash on the way out. Instead, Ruck stepped bravely into the world of nonfiction book publishing.

“This is something I have to do,” Ruck says, recalling his thoughts as he looked at the idea on the napkin. “I wanted to do something to say thank-you to the veterans. Ruck wanted to share with America and to make them aware of his strongest belief that America’s veterans are the truest of American heroes — “I believe in the American veteran and I am proud to have created this book that honors them and their dedication and commitment to our country.”

Assembling the book Ruck considered several subjects for the book and quickly settled on a photographic book of America’s national cemeteries. “I realized what true national treasures our national cemeteries are,” he says.

There are 131 national cemeteries in the United States, in which over three million Americans who wore the uniform of our country are laid to rest, Ruck says. The cemeteries are administered by the National Cemetery Administration, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“They ( National Cemetery Administration) do an unbelievably fantastic job of keeping the serenity and the dignity and the beauty of those cemeteries alive forever to say a final thank-you to that man or woman who wore the uniform of our country,” Ruck says.

With the book concept in mind, Ruck dove headfirst into the project, looking for essayists, photographers, a publisher, and the official permission from the National Cemetery Administration.

Finding a publisher for the book was an arduous process, but once Ruck spoke with Regnery Publishing in Washington, D.C., he knew he had found a publisher that would match his faith in the project. “I will forever be in debt to Regnery and their fantastic team that helped make this book a reality,” Ruck says.

At the same time, Ruck had been writing to the managers of celebrities, hoping to persuade the celebrities to contribute essays. He didn’t have much luck until he contacted Ward Grant, who was Bob Hope’s Manager. “I talked to him about the idea as I was driving from Chicago to Cincinnati and Ward being in Los Angeles. He literally began to weep and cry about what a beautiful idea it was, and then I started to weep and cry about what a beautiful idea it was. It was two grown men crying about what this book could mean to veterans,” Ruck says.

Ward Grant promised to round up support from other celebrities. Unfortunately, before they could get the ball rolling, Ward passed away three months later. Mr. Ruck then sought the help of Hollywood’s ex-official mayor Johnny Grant, who actually did as many USO shows as Bob Hope. With the help of Johnny Grant, the snowball effect took place and celebrity contributions which included essays from Oliver North, Buzz Aldrin, Dennis Miller, Paul Teutul, Sr., Fred Travalena, Ann Margret and Mickey Rooney started to happen.

Ruck also gathered quotations that honored veterans from sources ranging from Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson to Maya Angelou and John Wayne. He collected excerpts from some of the most famous American military speeches in history, including Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Patton’s speech to the Third Army and George W. Bush’s speech on September 11, 2001.

Ruck went out of his way to find local photographers for each cemetery. His directions to the photographers were simple: be respectful and shoot more than just headstones. Ruck insisted on using images that had not been previously published because he wanted fresh, candid images for the book.

“All 47 of the photographers were volunteers and not professionals, each with their own story why they accepted the volunteer assignment. ” All I could offer them was the chance to get published and maybe a few free books,” Ruck said. They were fantastic and did an unbelievable job. I can’t believe the shots they captured. Over 6,000 photographs were taken and 200 are in the book.

After much research into non-profit organizations for veterans, Ruck was honored to choose the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which gives college scholarships to the children of service members who were killed in action or have a 100% disabled rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sacred Ground was awarded with a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America in non-fiction for 2009. It was named the Overall Grand Prize winner at the Branson Stars & Flags Book Awards, which is part of America’s largest veteran celebration, The Branson week-long Celebration of Veterans, and as the Winner in the 2009 USA Best Book Awards in the Military History category.

Acting Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield presented Ruck with a Special Commendation Award in Washington, DC. Tom Ruck has brought honor and recognition to America’s heroes and the VA, said Mansfield. His respect and admiration for the service and sacrifices of our veterans and their families is reflected on every page of this book. Sacred Ground has heightened the public’s awareness of the courage, commitment and sacrifices of America’s Veterans.

“(The foundation) makes sure we don’t forget the children: that we say thank you for the service of their mom or dad,” Ruck says. “If you’ve lost your life or are severely disabled in service to this country, it’s the least this country can do.” “If it’s going to sell more books for the kids, if it’s going to heighten the awareness and dedication of our veterans and our troops, and let the country know we have 131 beautiful, gorgeous, serene, dignified cemeteries all around the country, then that’s what it’s all about, the kids deserve it. They deserve my effort to go out and do more with the book. And we’re doing it,” Ruck says.

A second wind

Sacred Ground was published on Veterans Day in 2007 and sold well. Ruck took a hiatus from promoting the book in 2008 after his wife’s death in January, changing jobs in the middle of the year, moving to Rancho Cucamonga, California and suffering a heart attack in December.

In 2009, Ruck returned to book promotions with renewed vigor, accepting invitations to fly all over the country, giving speeches at ceremonies honoring veterans. He is the featured speaker at Ft. Logan National Cemetery in Denver this Memorial Day, 2011.

Up next

Ruck’s selfless giving to veterans and children of veterans will continue through several major projects that are in the works. He’s also in the ‘plans and negotiations’ stage of a fund-raising TV special that will feature the choirs of all four military academies singing on stage together for the first time in history.

Ruck is also preparing to begin a Sacred Ground companion book that will focus on U.S. national cemeteries in Europe.

Alongside the photographs of cemeteries, Ruck would like to tell the stories of the towns where the cemeteries are located, many of which still show gratitude for the American service members buried there. Ruck describes a town in Belgium where the school children still learn the “Star Spangled Banner” in English and sing it each year at the American cemetery. He also hopes to share stories of entire ships, airplanes and military units that have perished in battle.


Sacred Ground
From the back cover

Includes essays by Oliver North, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity

A Humble Expression of Deep Gratitude for the Sacrifices of True Heroes

“Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms…. I regarded him then as I regard him now–as one of the world’s noblest figures….His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.” -General Douglas MacArthur

“All too often we take our freedom for granted. At times we forget that extraordinary men and women have sacrificed so much so that all of us may enjoy the freedoms we have. To all those who gave of themselves to preserve our way of life, the American way of life, I say: thank you.” -Col. Buzz Aldrin

“We mourn their loss and then entrust these selfless Americans to our national cemeteries where they rest beneath a white marble stone. Visit them, but tread lightly near each hero’s grave. Pray for them and their families, but do so quietly, for during their lives they had to endure the horrific sounds of war. And be grateful that here, in honored respite, these fallen champions can embrace what every warrior hopes for–a peaceful silence.” -Lt. Col. Oliver North

Get your copy of Sacred Ground at Amazon .


Welcome Pamela Bitterman

Join me in welcoming Pamela Bitterman to Highlighted Author.
Pam Bitterman is an explorer in every sense of the word, she has been a mediator, a teacher of maritime history and seamanship at the San Diego Maritime Museum, a devoted mother, and much more. She shares her amazing experiences in the books she writes: Muzungu, Sailing To The Far Horizon, “When This is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read, and there are more to come.
Welcome to Highlighted Author, Pam. What prompted you to share your amazing stories and life as an author?  Have you always planned to pen your experiences, or did someone or something inspire you to do so.
I am not certain when I made the conscious commitment to be a writer, but I do know that the idea had been germinating in my subconscious since early childhood when my mom first planted it there. She would maternally fertilize this little nugget of a notion every couple of years, patiently grooming into my psyche her profound belief that, although being a “late bloomer” as she lovingly phrased it, I would be amazing when the time was right. The right time for me to write arrived when I too was a mother, and my own mom became ill. She died before she was able to see my first book published. But she was then, and I believe still is, somewhere, winking and smiling.
With so much going on in your life, how do you manage your writing? As an author, I know how much effort goes into a work…time, emotions, thought, work!
I probably write for the same reason most of us do. We wield that pen or pound those keys or scream into that recorder, to purge stuff out of us. Sadness, confusion, joy. Fury. Love. On paper, our words become tangible and manageable and cathartic, often taking on a life of their own. In the quiet and solitude, I am compelled to keep kneading those words until I get them just so, which is hugely satisfying. Virtually never happens for me in live conversation, I can tell you!
Typically the majority of us are better writers than we are speakers, correct? Well, I’ve discovered that I am often even a better writer than I am a thinker! There are those golden moments when, much to my surprise and delight, pure magic will appear on my page. These are without a doubt my greatest times as a writer.
If you could choose one person who was your biggest influence or supporter, who would it be?
I have been fortunate to be able to have “lived a big life”, as my dad was fond of saying. As I result, I do feel that I may have some unique and interesting adventures to share. If I didn’t know me, I think I would want to read about the people and places I’ve been lucky enough to experience. I hope others will feel that way.
If you could choose one person that stands out in your heart and mind from our travels, who would it be? Why are they so memorable to you?
If I had to pick who from my travels stand out in my mind and  heart, they would be the folks I lost along the way. The ones who are gone always seem to leave the deepest impression. There are people I left behind on my journey, many of whom, although I somehow knew I would probably never see again, I now know I will miss every day, for the rest of my life.
Muzungu was released in February 2011.
Muzungu: The Swahilli word for white folks.
Translation: Confused person wandering about.
“Order this phone today”some sweet confection-nicknamed, neon-colored, ultra sleek mobile” and help wipe out AIDS in Africa!” the television commanded me within minutes of my collapsing for the first time in my Southern California living room after spending nearly two months in Africa. Now, what does that mean? I pondered. The next morning, a headline in the fat newspaper on my doorstep informed me that a tiny band of rebel fighters trapped somewhere in the African jungle were caught killing mountain gorillas. They were eating them to survive. Some American animal activist group was positively outraged. “Yes, outrageous,” I sighed.
Since returning home, reflecting on the time I spent in Kenya has proved to be a frustrating exercise. Throughout my journey I toted my copy of National Geographic, the issue on which the title page flashed, Africa: Whatever you thought, think again. I was hoping that somewhere in this illustrious expose I would find validation for the conflicting messages I was receiving. To make matters more confounding, from the moment my plane touched down back on U.S. soil I was buried in an avalanche of material insidiously designed to debunk my own eyewitness accounts. As a result I began to question my perceptions, which in turn caused my intention to commit the experience to print to stutter and then stall out completely. I feared that if I wrote an honest appraisal of my adventure I would be vilified. Even worse, I was afraid that what I wrote would have a deleterious effect on the people of Kenya, the people I went there to help. Then later on, while leafing through the stack of magazines that had piled up in my absence, I stumbled upon an article that casually discarded the term hunger, substituting in its place the new PC term, low food security, when describing the unpardonable state of the starving multitudes on the planet. It was at that moment that I pledged to tell my story.
Curious as to how the media’s tone when dealing with current issues jived with my personal impressions, I collected every Dark Continent news tidbit that cycled down the pike. Culling information from a variety of sources and comparing it with anecdotes from my own journey, I ferreted out what I hoped amounted to the litmus test for a Kenyan reality check. Materials from newspapers to newsmagazines, adventure journals to journals on health, and nonprofit charitable organizations to profiteering political organizations, were referenced and offset against my own experiences. As a result I began to suspect that the media’s Africa had taken on a life of its own and that tragically that life had precious little to do with improving the lives of Africans. It became increasingly apparent that although my story was certain to be a great many things, one thing it would never be was representative of the norm. I am changed as a result of my trip to Kenya though not in any way formerly anticipated. In addition to acknowledging the existence of the established abominations at work in Kenya, I expose some lesser-known evils. In the end I wrestle a few slippery demons of my own.
David arrived home to San Diego six months after I did. I called him immediately and we got together to catch up. He seemed like the same old David, ”happy, kind, helpful, manic, and refreshingly clear-eyed and unsentimental about the situation in Maseno. I was thrilled to have him back, had dozens of ideas to run past him, and felt such a profound sense of comradeship that I became cautiously optimistic about completing the book. My Kenyan cohort confirmed everything I remembered, sensed, questioned, and concluded about our shared experience at St. Philip’s. I am not crazy . . . I consoled myself. Then David stepped off the front porch of his and Michael’s sweet little cottage, strolled down his lovely tree-lined street, settled beneath a blossoming willow on a soft green lawn, and calmly sent a bullet through his brain.
Muzungu Book Trailer

You can get your own copy of Muzungu at
Want more Pamela?  Visit her web site at
I want to apologize to all those who tried leave a comment for Pam this week.  Blogger has had issues with this service.  Please take a moment and visit her website through the link above and leave word with her there. She would like very much to thank all of you personally.

 Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one. This is a most valuable and sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.  Abraham Lincoln