Archive for March, 2014

Was It Really Better Back Then?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Guest Author: Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh Headshot, for FB - June 2012On April 1st, my next novel releases, called What Follows After. It’s set in October, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis (which serves as the backdrop for the story). To research the book, I read and watched everything I could about life in the US during the late 50s and early 60s. I was alive then but only 5 years old. I found being reminded about the way things were “back then” to be wonderfully refreshing.

This is the period in American history just before the JFK assassination which, I believe, was a pivotal point for this country. In some ways, the time between WW2 and that horrible day in Dallas in 1963 was a golden era for the US. For the most part, life was much simpler and safer, families stayed together and the air was filled with the hope of a bright future.

Most of my research reinforced what I remember as a child. I was talking with my wife recently, after watching yet another bizarre event on the news, and said I think if you took someone from back then and brought them forward in time to today, gave them the grand tour, they’d never believe things could ever get this bad.

Things really have changed.

In the last fifty years, the US has changed drastically and dramatically in????? several fundamental ways. Other than the host of wonderful new gadgets and gizmos technology has given us, and some of the amazing medical breakthroughs we’ve seen, I’d say most of the changes have made things worse. I’ve talked with many other people my same age, or older, who feel the same way.

I don’t think this observation is merely a case of subjective opinions (read – old people complaining). I think many surveys and national statistics on topics such as violent crime, divorce, child abuse, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, support the contention that the social fabric of life in the US is deteriorating not improving.

Having said that, my researched forced me to consider another observation about life ‘back then’. It wasn’t such a golden era if you were part of a minority or a woman. The civil rights movement that exploded in the 60s did so precisely because blacks were treated so poorly and unfairly, and had been for so long. Women also were treated badly: sexually harassed at work, unable to get many jobs they were capable and qualified to do, often paid much less than men doing the same things. And housewives were often treated as second-class citizens, not just by society but by their own husbands.

The changes that have come in these areas were critical and necessary. I don’t think any reasonable person would want to return to the good old days, if it meant a return to these social abuses. But it has made me wonder…can we really call a solution a solution if the path to it spawns a host of new problems we didn’t expect? Some which are just as bad, or arguably even worse than the problems we set out to solve?

What do you think, was life in America really better back then? What could we have done differently in the way we tried to fix the broken things, or do differently now to repair the unintended consequences?

About Author:

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 10 novels published by Revell and Guideposts, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and The Dance. Reviewers often compare Dan’s books to Nicholas Sparks. He’s won 3 ACFW Carol Awards, 2 Selah Awards and three times his books have been finalists for RT’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years and now writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 37 years and have 2 grown children and 2 grandchildren. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest from his website at

9 and Counting

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Guest Author: Jeff Kinney

UnknownI had an unsettling moment at a children’s authors’ awards event last year.

I was lucky enough to be a nominee in the Best Author category, alongside such literary stars as John Green and R.J. Palacio. I knew I was outclassed and didn’t expect to win, but I was happy to be in such good company.

Before the winner was revealed, each author’s work was given a quick synopsis by the presenter.

“In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, two teens living with terminal cancer meet and fall in love.” I’ve gotta read that, I thought.

Next, “In R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a middle-school boy with a severe facial deformity struggles to find acceptance amongst his peers.” Sounds amazing. Another one for my reading list.9781419705847

Both books mentioned thus far were already widely regarded as modern classics. As I tried to work out which of the two authors might win, I momentarily forgot that I was up for the award as well.

Then the presenter spoke again. “In Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7,  Greg tries to find a date to the big dance.”

I slumped down into my seat, wishing I could turn invisible. It wasn’t so much the trite-sounding synopsis that bothered me, it was the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7.” Seven! Were there really that many books in the series? Something about the mention of that number got to me. Was I writing pulp?

And yet, here I sit, laboring over my next book. I’m not sure when, or even if, the series will end, but I still treat every book like it’s my first. Every year at this time, I go through Hard Lucka period of crippling self-doubt and I always feel that the book I’m currently writing is no good, and the whole thing will come crashing down once it’s released.

That’s how it was when I wrote Hard Luck, the eighth book in the series. One of the reasons I have so much doubt in the writing process is because I never have any idea what the book is going to be about until the last minute. I write upside-down, as it were. Instead of coming up with an outline in the early stages, I write disconnected jokes until I absolutely, positively have to stop. Then I collect all of the jokes and see if I can string them together in some sort of a plot. It’s anxiety-provoking to say the least. But in order to write a funny book, I feel that I need to focus on the humor first.

Luckily, Hard Luck didn’t sink the franchise, and I’m off and running on my next book. Hopefully it will meet readers’ expectations and I’ll put it on my bookshelf with pride once it’s published.

But I’m running out of room. If I get up to Diary of a Wimpy Kid 30, I may just have to build a new shelf.

About Author:

Jeff Kinney is an online game developer and designer, and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. Jeff has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Jeff is also the creator of, which was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites. He spent his childhood in the Washington, D.C., area and moved to New England in 1995. Jeff lives in southern Massachusetts with his wife and their two sons. 

Failing Chemistry

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

2012KHsmallI have a few friends who’ve never been married. They’re interested in being married—they want stability, friendship, romance, commitment. So far, though, nada. Online dating sites, workplace romances, introductions through friends,…nothing has worked so far for these three.

I think once you pass a certain age, your expectations start to fade a bit. Rather than the meet-cute we all love in books in movies, you become more task-oriented. Dating is a means to an end, rather than a fun pastime. One friend refers to first dates as interviews, in fact. You start to recognize (and heed) those warning signs, rather than hope you’re mistaken and invest the time to ascertain that you are. After all, you’re not as willing to fritter away weeks, months or years on the wrong person anymore.

This was the dynamic I wanted to explore in The Perfect Match. Honor kristanHolland is 35 years old. She’s been in love, and it failed spectacularly. Honor’s a list-maker. She’s pragmatic, good at her job and goal-oriented. She wants a family. Love would be great, sure, but stability…now we’re talking. Respect. Mutual interests. And if those things grow into true love forever, great.

Tom Barlow, too, has been burned before. If he and Honor have something of a business relationship, that’s just fine. She’s decent, she’s nice, she’s not hideous. What more could he ask?

One of my single friends is warm, funny and generous. She has a great job and a lot of friends. She also says she can tell within ten seconds if she and a guy have chemistry, that elusive pheromone cocktail that tells her the guy is worth more time than that.

If she were Honor, she would’ve skipped right over Tom. Good thing she’s not, because Tom and Honor find each other time well spent, and it’s pretty obvious that their arrangement has a lot more heart than either one initially expected.

About Author:

Kristan Higgins is the award winning, internationally bestselling author of 12 novels, which have been translated into 19 languages and are sold on six continents. Her upcoming book, Waiting On You, received starred reviews from Kirkus and the New York Journal of Books.

 In 2013, The Best Man was called one of the best books of the year Amazon, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, National Public Radio and Library Journal. Recently, the New York Times Book Review broke its silence on romance novels when it reviewed The Perfect Match, saying “Higgins proves she only gets better with each book.”

 Kristan lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, two atypically affectionate teenagers, a neurotic rescue mutt and a cat who serves as an alarm clock by sitting on her head at 5:30 each morning. Find more about Kristan Higgins at You can also find Kristan on her Facebook page:

Behind The Scenes by Carolee Dean

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Guest Author: Carolee Dean

Hi Res Author Pics 028Creating a novel is a lot like making a stew. Some of the ingredients simmer on the back burner for a very long time. As the soup takes form, other items are added spontaneously at the end, but each element is important to the flavor of the whole.

Many of the ideas for my novels come from events and situations from my own formative experiences that have been left stewing, and often times unresolved, since adolescence. Years later, I discover the perspective to deal with incidents I found overwhelming at the time.

This was especially true when writing my verse novel, Forget Me Not. It’s the story of a girl, Ally Cassell, who tries to take her life and finds herself stuck between worlds. From an abandoned hallway, Ally watches out the window as the lives of her peers continue to unfold. Compromising internet pictures have spread around the school and afraid to face the other students; she decides to spend the night on the hallway.

When Ally awakes the next morning, she discovers she’s not alone. The hallway is filled with the ghosts of previous suicides. She ultimately is faced with the decision of whether she really wants to be dead or if she is willing to face the pain that almost killed her.

This story was directly influenced by several personal experiences. When I was in the seventh grade, one of my classmates hung himself. It was an event that haunted me for many years as I tried to make sense of how someone that young could feel so hopeless.

In my work as a speech-language pathologist, I have encountered several Forget Me Not High Resolutionyoung people who attempted suicide and lived. One particularly heartbreaking case was a boy who survived a self-inflicted gun shot to the head only to become completely incapacitated. All of these people inspired parts of the novel, but as harrowing as some of their experiences may be, the story is ultimately one of hope and redemption.

Working with teenagers in the public schools has greatly influenced my writing. Being able to spend every day in high school helps keep my stories fresh and gives me a true feel for the way teenagers talk as well as a glimpse into how they think. Everyone from the principal to the custodian has influenced my stories. One day after finding a mutilated pigeon on the balcony outside my office, I asked the latter what had happened. He told me the story of the two ravens that had lived at our high school for over a decade and how they picked off the smallest and weakest of the pigeons that had taken roost under the eaves. I thought that was a perfect metaphor for bullying.

The ravens ended up figuring prominently in Forget Me Not. So did the custodian who became a ghost who mopped the same spot day after day, not realizing he was dead.

Story material is everywhere. Being a writer has taught me to keep my eyes and heart wide open. It has shaped the way I experience my world.

ABOUT CAROLEE DEAN: Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, and poetry events, as well as at national and international educator/library conferences. Her first novel, COMFORT, was an IRA Notable Book and her second novel, TAKE ME THERE, was a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, a master’s degree in communicative disorders, and has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist where she has helped to sponsor poetry slam teams at both the middle school and high school levels. Unrelated to her accomplishments, but interesting to note – she works at the high school where Season One of BREAKING BAD was filmed. No, she has never met Walter White or Jesse Pinkman. Now that would be a story!

Interview with Colleen Hoover-Author of Maybe Someday

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

colleen picFamous for her phenomenal Slammed and Hopeless series, Colleen Hoover is a well-known NA fiction writer from Texas. Author of five New York Times bestselling novels, Colleen is an inspiration to every author and aspiring writer who dream of that type of groundbreaking success. Her latest, Maybe Someday, which is undoubtedly going to be a smash hit, has been released today. And we are honored to have her here today on our blog sharing her writing inspiration, self-publishing career, her personal favorites and success secrets with the readers.

Sherry: Hi Colleen, thank you for agreeing to an interview! Firstly, please share with us a little about yourself and how do you spend your off time?

Colleen: Thanks for having me! I work a lot, so I don’t get a lot of off time. When I do have time off, I like to spend it relaxing with my family. 

Sherry: What did hitting the New York Times Bestsellers List means to you? And what was your reaction when you first time learned that you have become a NY Times Bestselling writer?

Colleen: It was unbelievable and it still is. It means so much to me. I feel like having a #1 New York Times bestseller is something people only dream of. I’ve always wanted to write, but I never thought this would be possible. I can’t even remember my reaction the first time I found out I made the list. I think I blacked out due to the excitement!

Sherry: Can you tell us briefly about your upcoming book, Maybe Someday?

Colleen: I’m really excited about this project. The two main characters, Sydney and Ridge, write lyrics together throughout the book. Readers will have the privilege to actually hear these songs come to life as they are written in the book. The songs will be available to listen to for free at I’m hoping readers enjoy this experience. Music and fiction are my two favorite things and I’m so excited about bringing them together.

Sherry:  Do you always know how a book is going to end or do you develop it as you write?

Colleen: I definitely develop as I write. I’ve tried writing outlines before and I never stick to them. Once I get into a story, the characters take control and I don’t have any say in where the story goes.

Sherry: Previously in a blog post, you mentioned that a lyric in an Avett Brothers song inspired you to write your first book.  And since then music has played a huge role in a number of your books? Can we consider music as a mascot for your successful writing career? And can we see the inclusion of music or lyrics in your forthcoming projects too.

Colleen: Yes, music has been a huge inspiration for me. As I said before, music is a big part of the Maybe Someday project. Hopefully you’ll see me finding new ways to merge music and fiction in the future.

Sherry:  Why do you choose to self-publish and what has been fsfthe hardest part of being a self-publisher?

Colleen: Well, self-published my first two novels because I thought it was my only choice. I never thought a publisher would take a look at my work, so I just published it myself. As of now, all of my books have been published through Atria Books with the exception of Hopeless, the ebook of which is still self-published. The best part about self-publishing is being in complete control. However, this can sometimes be the hardest part about self-publishing as well. It’s great to have the support of a publisher like Atria who does whatever they can to make sure my books are taken care of.

Sherry:  A lot of authors are now using social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to connect with their followers and promote their latest and forthcoming book. In what type of marketing do you spend most of your time and how much difference do you think that these interactions help in attracting new readers to your work?

Colleen: I use Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, and my blog. I think it makes a huge difference. I try my best to stay connected with my readers and answer any questions they have, and I’ve noticed this seems to be something they really appreciate. I also do a lot of giveaways. This year, I’m doing one every single day. I use social media to post these giveaways and share them with my readers. Not only is it a simple way for me to reach out to them, but all they have to do is click a button to enter, so it’s easy for them, too!

Sherry:  Many writers find it difficult to make the time to write and market their work. How are you so successful?

Colleen: I’ll be the first to admit that timing and good luck play a factor in any author’s success. However, I also don’t sleep very much and when I’m writing a book, it’s all I do. Fortunately for me, my husband was able to quit his job so he’s able to take care of the kids and the house during those times.

Sherry:  Has anyone ever told you that you won’t succeed at writing? If so, how did you deal with that?

Colleen: I was the one who always told myself I wouldn’t succeed. I gave up on that dream in my early 20’s when I was married with a child to provide for. I had to be more practical, and I knew pursuing a career in writing just wasn’t the right choice for me at the time. I even found a blog I wrote a few years later about how nearly impossible it would be for me to get published and how I needed to give up the dream for good. I’m so glad I self-published Slammed

Sherry:  It’s probably pretty hard to do, but out of the several books you’ve written, do you have a favorite? And if so, which one and why?

Colleen: I just love them all for such different reasons. I love Slammed for being my first, I love Hopeless for hitting #1 on the NYT Bestseller list, I love Maybe Someday for being such a unique project, but I think my favorite might be Ugly Love, which releases August 5th. My books tend to be pretty emotional reads, and a lot of readers have told me my books make them cry, but the only one that’s ever made me cry while I was writing it was Ugly Love. 

Sherry:  And finally what things you’d suggest to an aspiring writer if she/he is looking for a successful self-publishing career?

Colleen: I don’t have any magical advice. There are a few things you should know:

1. Google is your best friend. If you can’t figure out how to do something, Google it. It worked for me.

 2. Stay true to yourself. Don’t try to write what’s popular right now or what you think readers want. If you aren’t being genuine, readers will sense it. Who knows, maybe you’ll start the newest trend!

 3. “Decide what to be and go be it.” – The Avett Brothers

 Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

If you would like to know more about Colleen, kindly visit her website:

Interviewing Hilary Wagner on Nightshade Chronicles Series

Friday, March 14th, 2014

HW-Author4Today, we have the great pleasure of welcoming Hilary Wagner, debut middle grade author of Nightshade City series on Printsasia. Founder of Project Middle Grade Mayhem, Hilary lives in Chicago with her husband and two kids. Here in this interview, the author talks about her inspirations, childhood, her life, her special childhood moments, her popular Nightshade Chronicles and the new follow-up novel, “Lords of Trillium” that has been released today. So, enjoy the interview and go and check out her books everyone!

Sherry: You seem to have always been interested in the animal world.  So, before we get started, we would like to know about your background—your studies and interests when you were younger?

Hilary: Funny you should ask that. I grew up with many animals in my household. My mother bred dogs, so we’d have anywhere from seven to seventeen afghans and salukis running around our property. We also had three horses, five cats, four birds, and my older brother loved exotic fish, so yes, many, many animals in my background. I guess you could say I went for the smaller more creepy variety!

Sherry:  How would you review your middle grade debut for those unfamiliar with your work? What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book series?

Hilary: It actually started as a picture book I was going to write for my daughter, who I was pregnant with at the time. I had no plans to get it published. It was just something I wanted to do for her. The minute I started writing it, I knew this kind of book was not for me. I needed a little less sugar and a little more spice. In nutshell, the cute little mice became rangy city rats and the quaint sunny forest became a dark, dirty city, and suddenly my picture book morphed into a middle-grade novel.

My favorite aspect of the series is that constant search for justice, that relentless need to fix the wrongs in the world. My rats persevere through the worst of times, knowing that a better life awaits, a life beyond mere survival.

Sherry:  Briefly describe your journey to publication. How long did it take, from writing the first draft, to publication?

Hilary: I rewrote the novel three times before sending out. I was rejected by nearly 200 agents in a 13-months span. Yes, 200. It was hard–no–horrible, but it taught me to persevere, just like my rats. I had writer friends who just gave up after a few (and I seriously mean a few) rejections. I didn’t want to be like that. I was going to exhaust every avenue possible. Luckily, a wonderful agent took me on. My agent, Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt, sold my book in six short weeks after offering representation. Now I’m on the final book in the series (US) and the first book just came out in France.

Three Book

Sherry:  Where did you get such a gorgeous book cover for the Nightshade Chronicles? It is what drew me to the book.

Hilary: The fantastic and utterly amazing Omar Rayyan! He’s known as the “Animal Guy” and with good reason. The first cover for Nightshade City blew me away and each subsequent one has done the same. He and his wife are both artists and you can find out more about their work on their website,

Sherry: What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your book?

Hilary: I really want kids to realize we should never let a few decide the fate of many. When we see wrong in our world we need to work together to correct it, to make things better. On a less profound note, I just hope they love the story. What more could any writer ask for? 

Sherry:  What books can we look forward to seeing by you in the future? And will you stick to Middle Grade or move into other categories?

Hilary: The third and final book in the Nightshade Chronicles series, Lords of Trillium, releases on March 2014, so that will be hitting the shelves any day now! I’m also working on my first YA novel as well as starting a new middle-grade series. I’m a busy girl!

Sherry:  Are you affected by other people’s appraisals of your work?

Hilary: Of course! It’s hard not to be. Writers have to be realistic. Not everyone is going to like every book. It’s all a matter of taste. Some of us like rats. Some of us don’t. Mine walk on two feet, sometimes wear cloaks, battle, and talk though, so what’s not to like? ;)

Sherry: Do you have anything specific message that you want to say to the readers who are reading this interview?

Hilary: Wow, that’s a tough one.

To my readers out there, I say thank you so very much for supporting the Nightshade Chronicles, from Nightshade City to the final novel, Lords of Trillium. Without your readership the series would never have been possible. I only hope my words will entertain you in the many years to come.

And to writers out there, those who really want to get published, please don’t give up. Keep trying to improve and keep sending out those query letters to agents and editors. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you. In the words of John Steinbeck, “I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.”

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. You can know more about her book on

How I Write

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Guest Author: C.J. Box

Photo Credit: Molly Box Donnell.

As I await the March release of Stone Cold, the fourteenth novel in my series, I think about how things have changed in my writing process since the first few books – and how they haven’t.  The basics remain the same.  I start with an issue, although I hate that word. Whether it is endangered species, environmental terrorism, energy development, or another topic, I start with research. I read about the subject, interview experts in the field, visit locations, and line up several big brains to read over the first draft. I go with a balanced approach. I figure out how to build a plot to, in effect, pull the reader through the issue in an interesting, exciting, and page-turning way.

Then I begin. I’m an outliner. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline to the end. (NOTE: I may completely change the ending once I get to it, but at least for the bulk of the novel I know where I’m going.)9780399160769

I start literally on top of the outline and the slog begins: 1,000 words a day after editing the previous days’ work.  On good days I hit 2,000 or 3,000 words.

It used to be that I wrote anywhere I possibly could: on planes, in hotel rooms, in my little home office. My children didn’t know I was writing a book because I didn’t want them to think of me as, “My Dad, the failed novelist.

Now I write every day either at my home outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming or at my cabin on the bank of a river.  I prefer the cabin, because I can take breaks and fly-fish or run my dogs.  Then it’s back to the desk.  I can’t think of a better job.

 About Author:

C. J. Box is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels including the Joe Pickett series. He won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009) as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and the 2010 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award for fiction. The novels have been translated into 27 languages.  Over 3 million copies of his novels have been sold in the U.S. alone.  

How the World Changes

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Guest Author: Cathleen Miller

deceptively sweet for webIn my life there’s been a recurring theme: I’m sitting in my study trying to write—between considering bankruptcy, wondering should I get a job, contemplating running off to South America and changing my name to Catalina—when the phone rings. And suddenly everything changes.

That’s what happened the morning the call came offering me the deal to write Desert Flower. And then four years later when the United Nations called me in California and asked if I’d like to write the life story of their top female leader, Nafis Sadik.

Such an innocuous thing, a telephone, that you don’t realize till years later how picking it up can send you in an unexpected direction and change your life. In this particular case, that direction was east, first to Manhattan to interview Nafis and her colleagues at the UN. Dr. Sadik had been named “One of the most powerful women in the world” by the London Times because of her groundbreaking work in women’s rights, so I knew I’d be in the presence of greatness. But I didn’t know I’d spend the next 10 years of my life delving into the source of that greatness.

By the time I finished Nafis’s biography, Champion of Choice, I hadMiller_cvr_final.indd orbited the globe to interview some of the most acclaimed minds of our time, including several female heads of state. What I came home with felt like a PhD in leadership and diplomacy, a deep understanding of how Nafis and her cohorts had changed the world.

The watershed event where this change took place was the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo where Nafis received the signatures from 183 governments agreeing to females’ rights to contraception, education and health care. The nations committed to create access to these opportunities back home in the coming years.

The media usually focuses on the depressing facts of destruction and decline; but thanks to Nafis’s decades of effort here is one startling and earth-changing achievement: when this ob-gyn started with the UN Population Fund in 1971 the average global birthrate was six children per mother. By the time of her retirement 30 years later, that birthrate had been cut in half, and much of it’s due to her paradigm: birth control + education = a reduction in the world’s population.

March is Women’s History Month in the U.S. and the thing I am most proud of in Champion of Choice is that built into the story of how Nafis became “one of the most powerful women in the world” is the information on how she did it, in case others reading her biography also have a secret desire to change the world.

It’s my small contribution to women. After all, my life was changed by access to birth control and education…oh, and the telephone.

About Author:

Cathleen Miller’s latest book, Champion of Choice, the biography of UN leader Nafis Sadik, has been named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Biographies of 2013. Her previous work includes the international bestseller Desert Flower, which was adapted as a feature film. Miller’s travel essays have appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times. 

Drastic Change and the Need for Deep Learning

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Guest Author: Stellan Ohlsson

stellan headshot color copy - CopyWe are living through multiple, thoroughgoing changes: global warming, economic globalization, electronic networking. But so did people in the 19th century; consider electric lights, steam engines, and the telegraph. Indeed, pre-historic hunter-gatherers could claim that the invention of agriculture, the use of fire, metal working, weaving, pottery, and long-distance migrations changed the basis for human existence more thoroughly than anything else in the last 100,000 years. Paradoxically, thoroughgoing change is a constant.

How do people cope? In Deep Learning: How the Mind Overrides Experience, I argue that when change is thoroughgoing, the cognitive processes of adaptation cannot be reduced to the accumulation of bits and pieces of information, the type of learning that is familiar from many psychological studies of memory and learning. The core feature of deep learning is that it involves the unlearning of some prior concepts, beliefs, and skills. When change is thoroughgoing, we need to ‘drawback to leap’. That is, we need to override – suppress, reject, revise — those parts of our prior knowledge that worked well for us until yesterday but are no longer relevant. The central claim of Deep Learning is that this requires special cognitive processes. The book presents detailed conjectures about what those processes might be in the contexts of creative problem solving, skill training, and belief revision.

Of course, some situations appear unfamiliar on the surface but can, innew deep learningfact, be dealt with by extrapolating concepts that are familiar from prior experience. I recently lectured on deep learning at the University of Seoul, in Seoul, South Korea. The Seoul subway system has a very different look and feel than the Chicago ‘L’ system, but it nevertheless functions similarly. Learning Seoul’s system required only minor additions to my prior concepts and skills for riding subways in big cities.

It would help us cope with change, if we could know ahead of time whether a new situation can be handled by extrapolating prior experience, or whether it will require deep learning. After all, we have long experience of both types of situations, so we should be able to learn from experience how to recognize which type of situation we are faced with.

Reflection reveals the fallacy behind this expectation. It might not be possible to extrapolate past experience of which situations call for deep learning and which do not. The way in which things change could itself be changing. If so, prior experience of when prior experience can be extrapolated and when it needs to be overridden might itself need to be overridden. I know of no magic antidote for this recursive curse. All we can do is to cultivate our sensitivity to the fact that some changes are thoroughgoing and thus will require deep learning.

 About Author:

Stellan Ohlsson is Professor of Psychology and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He received his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Stockholm in 1980. He joined the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) at the University of Pittsburgh in the 80’s and was Senior Scientist there in the 90’s. Dr. Ohlsson has published extensively on computational models of cognitive change, including creative insight, skill acquisition, and conceptual change. He has lectured about his research on deep learning at universities in the US, Europe, and Asia. Dr. Ohlsson lives with his wife, Elaine, in central Chicago where he enjoys jogging along the waterfront. Deep Learning, published by Cambridge University Press in 2011, is his first book.

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