Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Marilyn Monroe – Causes of Tragic Suicide

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

#sexualabuse #MarilynMonroe #sexsymbol #suicide

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is arguably the most well-known celebrity of all time in the entertainment industry. Her achievements as an actress have earned her recognition and honors throughout the world. The popularity of her films, thanks to the availability of DVD versions and streaming services, ranks high against the many legends of the movie industry. The surge in the number of readers visiting this site in response to the reviews of the two volume definitive biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe by Gary Vitacco-Robles attests to a sustained high level of interest in the star. Given the reaction to the reviews, we are pleased Author Vitacco-Robles has consented to answering a questions questions for our readers. What follows is the first of four installments of an interview with the author.

Why do you think Marilyn Monroe is so well remembered? Why does she stand out from so many others who were clearly very talented, beautiful and dedicated?

My thesis about Marilyn is that she is a psychological, cultural, and spiritual phenomenon. Her childhood situation and its impact on her attachment challenges, her family history of mental illness, and death by suicide makes her a salient subject to educate the public about childhood abuse & neglect and mental health issues. Culturally, Marilyn impacted us in the 1950s and 60s and endures as an icon; subsequent to her death, each decade and each generation reinterprets her life.

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Spiritually, Marilyn engenders empathy and compassion in those born in the generations following her death who project their own subjective interpretations onto her extraordinary life. She recognized this quality in herself and once said, “People don’t see me; instead they see a mirror. Marilyn continues to symbolize the American dream. She rose from poverty, worked hard, and succeeded against the odds, never losing sight of her humble beginnings and relating to those who also struggled. She was honest about her limitations; studied acting at the height of her fame; and had a deliciously appealing self-deprecating humor.

Marilyn’s legion of predominantly male biographers was seduced by her physical beauty and complex nature, but completely overlooked what I had seen as so obvious. She was a resilient survivor of abuse and mental illness who became a goddess, a legend, and an icon. She inspires young people today, and her tragic death does not mar this image. By revealing her vulnerability and humanity, Marilyn endures as a beloved American treasure. Part of her enduring appeal may be the empathy her pain and life experiences evoke in each of us. ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world,’ Marilyn wrote, aware of the emotional chord she struck in her audience, ‘not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.’”

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn was a rare constellation of circumstances that makes her so intriguing to each subsequent generation. She was a unique personality with a specific background and psyche drawn to a career that brought her to the public’s awareness. She emerged at a watershed time in American history, the post-war era, on the brink of a sexual revolution, when roles were rigid.

Marilyn was the underdog, American’s parentless “orphan”. Mid-twentieth century media was different. Despite her great gift of managing the media and promoting herself in her early years, Marilyn knew how and when to withdraw. During the Arthur Miller years, the peak of her success and fame, she fled to New Year and Connecticut and lived a rather private life.

There are infinite possibilities for a similar constellation of factors for another personality to resonate so deeply to the public, however, I cannot identify a current example.

You have refrained, quite admirably, from expressing your own judgements about the people who came and went in Marilyn Monroe’s life. Surely you have opinions about those who were most supportive to her and those who made her life more difficult. Would you care to be more specific now? What’s your opinion of Dr. Ralph Greenson, for example? Lee Strasberg? Paula Strasberg? Any others? 

People are rarely all good or all bad, and even in unhealthy relationships marked by abuse, there can still be loving feelings. The two are not always mutually exclusive. As a therapist, I can be objective and see various perspectives; however, at some point, one can identify egregious acts. Also, writing about individuals who are long deceased is challenging; they are no longer present to interview. I diligently worked to unearth various versions of events and presented each, usually concluding what is most likely or least likely, or presenting what facts remain and allow the reader to draw a conclusion.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Greenson was over his head in working with Marilyn. Although well-intentioned, he could also be grandiose and self-serving. Marilyn was also a most challenging patient, but he needed supervision, and he turned to his office male, Dr. Milton Wexler, who was himself investigated for slapping a female patient with Borderline Personality Disorder. This act makes me question the supervision Wexler provided; Wexler admitted his behavior.  It was Wexler who encouraged Greenson to virtually adopt Marilyn into his family. Greenson fostered dependency and failed to empower Marilyn. He assessed her as damaged, fragile, and needy. He wanted to rescue to her, parent her, protect her. In the end, he knew he had failed and felt very guilty. His daughter said he had never lost a patient to suicide and never really recovered.

Lee and Paula Strasbergs were opportunists, but I also believe they loved Marilyn. Marilyn could be vulnerable and elicited both rescue and protective impulses in others. At times, Marilyn surrendered her power and autonomy to others and projected onto them her fantasy of protector. There is an interactive feedback loop in these dynamics on the part of both Marilyn and others. The Strasbergs also recognized a talent in Marilyn and believed they were helping her achieve her goal. They were gurus. Marilyn, insecure and believing them to be experts, became dependent upon them; Lee needed a gifted student to succeed as Stella Adler had found in Marlon Brando. He took some credit for assisting Marilyn achieve her dramatic success in Bus Stop. Marilyn’s celebrity, in turn, promoted Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, and she participated in fundraisers until her death. I often wish Arthur Miller would have supported an ongoing created relationship between Marilyn and Milton Greene.

In ICON, I explored Marilyn’s many supportive relationships often overlooked. Until her death, she maintained a close relationship with the mother and sister of Fred Karger, her vocal coach in 1948 and the first man with whom she certainly had a sexual relationship following her divorce. There are many others: Norman and Hedda Rosten; Ralph Roberts; Rupert Allan; Allan Snyder; Xenia Checkov, the widow of an acting coach; Sam and Anne Shaw and their children; Inez Melson, her mother’s legal guardian.

Tour work with childhood victims of emotional abandonment and abuse clearly provided an overlap with your interest in Ms. Monroe. Can you expand on that for readers, please?

For thirty years, I have worked with children in the child welfare system who have survived trauma (sexual and physical abuse and neglect) as well as adults with chronic and persistent mental illness. My fellow clinicians who work in the mental health field might see ICON as the longest biopsychosocial assessment summary in history.

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

My first position as a therapist was in a program specializing in trauma-informed treatment of youth and families who had survived physical/sexual abuse and neglect and children with sexual behavior problems. I became licensed as Mental Health Counselor in Florida in 1997 and became a Nationally Certified Counselor in 1998.

I intended this research and writing project to serve as a diversion from my clinical work as a licensed mental health counselor and program manager of an outpatient clinic, however, I selected a remarkable subject who only brought me closer to my work.

Marilyn Monroe began her life as Norma Jeane Baker and survived a childhood marked by complex trauma; she was raised in foster homes and an orphanage as a result of her mother’s psychiatric instability and her father’s abandonment.  She battled major depression and bipolar disorder during a time when she had limited treatment options. She survived domestic violence and suffered from endometriosis which resulted in chronic pain and the inability to have children. Marilyn was also the first public figure to openly discuss childhood sexual abuse during a time in history when the topic was minimized, if not denied by the culture at large.

Marilyn also appears to have experienced the symptoms consistent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Marilyn is an illustration of many of the children & adults I have served over the years. My professional expertise and experience allowed a perspective missing in former biographies of Marilyn. I believe it is impossible to accurately depict this woman without the context of her mood, personality, anxiety and substance use disorders. Today we have an abundance of information about early brain development, early childhood social and emotional well-being, and behavioral health issues that allow us to better understand Marilyn and her unique constellation of issues which resulted in the trajectory of her life and early death.

As mentioned earlier, this article is the first in four installments. Please watch this site for related posting of our interview with Author Vitacco-Robles.

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Science Fiction and Mystery Author, Steven M. Moore — Interview Part II

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

Science fiction and mystery author Steven M. Moore consented to an interview with us. The first installment appeared as the previous post. In this Part II, Steve talks about his approach to writing, self-publishing and other related topics. Give him a read.

How structured are you in your approach to your writing?

If structured = organized, I’m not very structured.  Remember, I don’t outline.  If structured = mindful of the flow, I guess I am.  The story’s the thing, but that takes in a lot, not just plot.  It has to flow, at least for genre fiction, or I’m not going to read it, and if I write something that doesn’t flow, I can’t expect a reader to read it either.  What that means to different readers is, of course, very subjective.  I know what it means to me as a reader, though.

Do you have anything in mind for your next book?

Cover to Muddlin Through by Steven M. Moore (From Amazon)

Cover to Muddlin Through by Steven M. Moore (From Amazon)

Define “next.”  I just finished the Muddlin’ Through sequel—it’s going into the editing process now.  Mary Jo has a stalker in this one (another social issue we don’t like to talk about), among other people—the tentative title is Silicon Slummin’…and Just Getting’ By.  The first chapters of a new Chen and Castilblanco book, tentative title Family Affairs, can be found at the end of The Collector.  I’m still working on a new science fiction novel too.  I like to keep a variety of projects going.  Keeps the mind sharp.

You have been making your way as an author into print by self-publishing. What are your views with regard to the burgeoning self-publishing industry? What do you see as the future for the industry?

First, I’d say ebooks, whether traditionally or self-published, are going to win out eventually.  I expect them to become more multimedia too, as authors (entrepreneurs?) experiment with different entertainment options.  I’ve gone completely over to ebooks because I can no longer afford to produce pbooks (aka trade paperbacks) and feel that they kill too many forests.

The indie revolution might taper off if big publishers ever get their act together.  Their heel-dragging with pbooks maintains the legacy paradigm of agents (aka gatekeepers), editors, and so forth, the whole process having the nefarious effect of implicitly censoring what people can read.  Moreover, unless you’re a NY Times bestselling author (whatever that means), it’s impossible to make a living with the royalty structure trad pubbers(traditional publishers)* offer.  That doesn’t bode well for the future of traditional publishers—their warhorses will die off and they’ll have no new authors to offer to the reading public.

Steven L. Moore, Author,  Blogger and  Scientist

Steven L. Moore, Author, Blogger and

The indie option is the democratization of the publishing industry.  Unfortunately, that means that there’s a lot of competition—many good writers with good books—so it will be harder to make ends meet as a writer.  As an avid reader, I’m worried about that.  I’d say that approximately 50% of the books I read are written by authors new to me.

To end with a positive note, I recently paid less than $4 for recently released Michael Connelly and Lee Child books.  Maybe traditional publishing is climbing the learning curve.  Who knows?

What advice do you have for a first time author?

Writing can be a slog—it takes motivation and effort and is more a marathon than a dash (forget about NaNoWriMo).  If it’s not fun, do something else.  And, if “first time” means first book, write the next book…and the next…because it’s fun.  You’ll probably not make much money from it.  It’s like the lottery.  Your chances of winning are slim, but you can’t win if you don’t play.  So, don’t give up your day job.

What steps do you take to promote and market you own books?

Cover to Aristocrats and Assassins by Steven M. Moore

Cover to Aristocrats and Assassins by Steven M. Moore

All I can afford, but that’s not much.  I do social media, have an active blog, write many books, review others’ books, and do interviews.  I usually launch a PR and marketing campaign when I release a new book.  It’s difficult to put more into it, either time or money.  Young authors shouldn’t kid themselves, though.  Going the trad-pubbed route won’t make any difference.  Those full-page Times ads and video ads on TV are only for the Big Five warhorses—that stable is getting thinned every year as the warhorses egress to the glue factory.

Do you feel compelled to write or is it a casual pastime? A hobby?

I call it a business, and I’m a full-time writer…because I have a lot of fun writing and enjoy the thought that I can entertain some readers.  Nothing casual about it.  But yes, I do this instead of playing golf.  I can’t play golf anyway—bad back and fair skin from white, European ancestors.  Moreover, I like spinning yarns that will entertain readers.  There’s something very satisfying about telling a good story.  My father was compelled to paint; I’m compelled to write.  It’s a healthy addiction—and probably costs me less than golf!

Do you feel you have yet to write your greatest book? If so, what will it be like?

I guess greatness is in the mind of the beholder.  I have no pretensions.  I just want to write entertaining fiction.  Unlike Clancy, whose best was his first, Hunt for Red October, I think I’m getting better, but my muses are getting worse about the pressure thing.  I suppose Clancy had that problem too, though.

Greatness?  That’s for someone else to determine, isn’t it?  Salieri was more famous than Mozart during the composers’ lives; we’d hardly know Salieri today if it weren’t for the play Amadeus.  My motto coincides with the Lee Child quote that appears in the banner to my website.  That’s the only thing that makes sense.

Please add any additional comments you feel would help readers know you better.

Angels Need Not Apply by Steven M. Moore

Angels Need Not Apply by Steven M. Moore

I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture here.  There’s a lot of competition in the writing business now, whatever one writes.  But if you have fun writing, keep writing.  That’s my motivation.  When it stops being fun, I’ll stop.  I happen to believe that indie publishing is the most fun because you’re most in control and not subject to the whims of desk bureaucrats who can’t write and know it, but I respect those who choose the traditional route—even admire their guts and patience.  You should do what works for you.  science fiction

One pet peeve—and I’ve seen this many times—occurs when people become hooked on the idea that a brand new MFA or journalism degree means they can write novels.  To write good genre fiction, you have to have something to write about.  There’s no age requirement for getting experience, of course, but you have to have some life experiences—events, people, settings, and interactions—that can serve as background to your stories.  Get those experiences, and continue getting them as you develop your writing career.  They will allow you to tell a good story more than any degree will.  Imagination is also a requirement, but life experiences can add to that imagination. science fiction

I also never set out to write a novel.  A tale might end up as a short story, novella, or novel.  I have at least one novel that started out as a short story (The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan) and several short stories and novellas that didn’t quite make novel status (many are in my two anthologies).  This could be construed as part of more general advice—one shouldn’t be constrained by convention.  Ignore what’s fad and conventional, and don’t write for a specific market.  Today’s markets are too often tomorrow’s dinosaurs.  It’s OK to think about what readers like you want to read, but jumping on band wagons isn’t a route to writing success.  I could be wrong, of course.

* Parenthesis mine

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Mystery and Science Fiction Author Steven M. Moore, An Interview Part I

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

Mystery and science fiction author Steven M. Moore is featured in this post. Last month, I published a review of Steve’s The Collector on this web site as well as on Amazon and Goodreads. Steve and I have been trading thoughts on writing, reading, politics and life itself for the past few years. After I posted his review, I asked him to consider working with me on an interview. I am glad he agreed. What follows is the first of two installments.

You are a prolific writer with 15 novels, inlcuding several mystery novels, and 2 anthologies to your credit. What got you started writing in the first place?

I always wanted to be a writer.  I started out making my own comic books as a three- to four-year-old kid (Mom taught me to read before kindergarten) and wrote my first novel the summer I turned thirteen (chucked into the circular file when I cleaned up my room leaving for college).  My father, a wannabe artist, showed me that art (writing is an art) probably wouldn’t support a family, so I became a scientist, back then an easy thing to do because of all the funding available as a paranoid reaction to Sputnik.  At the end of my scientific career, I decided to return to my first love.

Do you have a favorite among the many that you have written? Why is it a favorite?

It depends on the day you ask me, I suppose, but generally speaking, it’s my last book.  I write genre fiction because that’s what I enjoy reading most.  There’s something about wowing readers with an entertaining yarn—maybe wandering Irish storytellers in my past?  Right now I just finished the sequel to Muddlin’ Through, so that’s my favorite tale now, but you’ll have to wait to read that one.

How much research goes into your novels? The Collector, for example, goes into the history of Nazi Germany? Did that require any special study?

Steven L. Moore, Author,  Blogger and  Scientist

Steven L. Moore, Author, Blogger and

Detective Castilblanco is a bit of a history buff.  That plays an important role in Aristocrats and Assassins, the previous book in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.”  In The Collector, the historical stuff is handled more by the dowager from Scotland Yard, the London expert in recovering stolen art (and my bow to Miss Marple).  By the way, she’s trying to convince me to write a mystery novel featuring her as main protagonist.

To answer your question, though, I have a lifetime of experiences behind me, so sometimes I don’t have to do much research (e.g. having lived in the Boston area, I was quite familiar with the Isabel Stuart Gardner Museum heist that’s figured in The Collector); other times, like the genetics material in Full Medical and No Amber Waves of Grain, first and third books of the “Clones and Mutants Series,” I spent more time doing the research than writing the novels.  It isn’t really research in the scientific sense, of course, but just tracking down what’s already known.

Your novels contain frequent allusions to world affairs. This is true of your blog postings also. What inspires your interest in this area?

When I started my website, the CEO of my website design firm said that I should have a blog.  I looked around at other sites and decided another blog about the writing business might be superfluous.  Although I have posts about writing, even those are basically op-ed.  I’m a political animal and have strong opinions about things.  So, why not op-ed?  Because it’s a blog, I can pretty much say what I want.  If people don’t like it (people have a right to their own opinions!), they can comment on the post.  You’ll see some unusual comments sometimes, but I tend to accept them all if they’re civilized and basically free of strong, offensive language.

Steven M. Moore's most recent novel -- The Collector -- Book Cover from Amazon

Steven M. Moore’s most recent novel — The Collector — Book Cover from Amazon

For my books, and short stories, for that matter, there’s often an underlying theme about issues some people often prefer to ignore, like sex trafficking in The Collector, something I abhor more than my character Castilblanco.  That often goes hand-in-hand with exploitation of immigrants, especially women and children.  Terrorism is another common theme.  I realize that issues are often gray and not black or white, but events like the recent slaughter of one hundred-plus school children in Pakistan and Sandy Hook are unconscionable.  The “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” has oscillated between mysteries and thrillers, and the latter often treat some aspect of terrorism.

Tells us about your academic background?

I tend to minimize it.  No one likes a snobbish erudite.  I needed math and science degrees—union cards, if you will—to make a living as a scientist.  I always found those subjects easy, not as easy as spinning a good yarn, but easy enough that I could go a step beyond my parents’ standard of living to one that was more comfortable.  Degrees are over-rated.  I don’t think the inventor of the laser had a PhD.  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs certainly didn’t (well, maybe honorary ones).  The only people I call Doctor are my physicians.

That said, my “first career” was research and teaching.  I loved to work with young, bright minds, and still do, and I carried this love into my second career in scientific R&D work.  Even now, as a full-time writer, I love to work with young writers.  I was active in the now defunct Edit Red, for example.  I wish I had more time to do it, but the best I can do now is to review books and offer interviews to aspiring authors—those probably don’t do much good in this competitive environment, but it’s giving something back to the reading and writing community, and future generations.

You pay attention to the national origin of your characters.  Why is that?

We overblow political correctness in the U.S. to the point where we’re supposed to be ethnically blind as well as race- and religion-blind.  I trend in the other direction—I celebrate diversity.  I lived in Colombia for many years.  In academics, I worked with people from all over, including many smart women.  With the international makeup of our department in Colombia, for example, I learned first-hand the difference between Bavarians and Prussians.  Science is done by human beings, and their diversity adds to, not subtracts from, scientific activity.  Besides, I like ethnic foods.  One fond memory is eating in an Indonesian restaurant…in Amsterdam!

One of my writing heroes is N. Scott Momaday, my English prof at UCSB.  I celebrate that he’s a Native American who won a Pulitzer.  Why not?  My character Castilblanco is a Puerto Rican who rose out of poverty and became a force for good, but he recognized the limitations of Catholicism and became a Buddhist.  Ethnic, racial, and religious diversity make this country and world great and should be celebrated.  The U.S.’s handling of that diversity is an iconic symbol for the rest of the world for the most part.  I celebrate that too.

I grew up in California.  My parents’ closest friends were Armenian, how I learned about the Armenian holocaust.  My father’s sales route included many grocery stores run by Chinese and Japanese.  During World War II, he loathed the Japanese internment camps.  My mother’s church work included helping farm laborers.  Although my father was of Irish descent and my mother of German, they loved all ethnic food, and passed that predilection on to my brother and me.

My first college was UC Santa Barbara, where the main drag was Embarcadero del Norte and the visiting professor next door was a Chilean artist.  My first steady girlfriend was Lithuanian; my first wife was Colombian; and my two kids spoke Spanish before they learned English.  I traveled a lot in Europe as an ambassador for Colombian science.  Bottom line: my interest in the world’s diverse peoples and cultures comes from a lifetime of experiences.  That’s reflected in my books.

Were you encouraged to write as a boy? By whom?

My mother.  She thought it was cute that I was trying to make my own comic books.  I don’t know about the cuteness—it’s mostly overrated, e.g., the baby royal.  I’ve always been self-motivated, maybe a wee bit egotistical: “I can do better than that!”  Reading came first, though; any writer who isn’t an avid reader can’t be a good writer.  Touch typing (a formal course) and speed reading (an informal, voluntary course) were my most useful courses in high school.  They have served me well, but the speed reading allows me to plow through books, which is why I often read them twice for reviews, just in case I’ve missed something.

Who are your favorite authors?

The list is too long.  I was recently reminded why my detective stories are “hard-boiled,” because I read such stories as a kid.  Chandler comes to mind.  I also read a lot of sci-fi—hard sci-fi, not fantasy.  Those were the days when we were taught to hide under our student desks in case of atomic attack, something I thought stupid and would express my opinions on, so dystopian sci-fi was especially appealing to me.  Kornbluth and several British authors like Christopher come to mind.  Of course, there’s Asimov, whose sci-fi novels Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are sci-fi mysteries—I like to combine genres too.  Just a few years ago, I discovered Ian Rankin, but I’ve discovered many interesting authors in my capacity as a reviewer, too.  There are so many good books and good authors now.

And so ends Part I of my interview with Steven M. Moore. Part II follows in a few days. Watch for it.

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