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No Matter How Difficult the Journey is

Hannah D. State
Hannah D. State Author Interview

Journey to the Hopewell Star follows young Sam on an adventure across the stars to save a dying alien planet. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting story?

The inspiration came from a combination of different sources. I started writing the story when my husband and I moved from Ontario to the East Coast. Along with the excitement, there was also some uncertainty about the move and what to expect in terms of the transition. Without the long commute, I’d found I had more time in the evenings to explore creative pursuits, and with the new setting, the friendly community, and the beautiful landscape, I felt inspired and compelled to start this new project.

Using my imagination and writing in the fantasy/science fiction genre was the perfect outlet. I wanted to write a story about a strong female character who was thrust on a journey of self-discovery, but I also wanted to make the stakes high, the plot complex, and present her with several obstacles to see what she could handle. I wanted to make it accessible to a young adult audience, hoping it might resonate with others who were going through trying times, with the main message being to never give up, no matter how difficult the journey is.

Sam is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

Sam has a lot of qualities that reflect the strong women in my life and the women whom I admire. I wanted to bring to light a character who was empathetic, introverted at times, but also persistent and sometimes bold and outspoken, who had different layers and complexities. Sam has a willingness to expand her boundaries, to question conventional beliefs and to be open to other possibilities. She loves to question things, and this helps her grow and transform as a character.

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

I wanted to incorporate themes that interested me and that had timely, urgent implications, such as concern for the environment, problems with inequality and corporate greed, and the risks of unmonitored technological development. I thought it would be interesting to see some of today’s issues from both human and otherworldly perspectives, to look at some of the similarities and differences that played out across galaxies, and explore whether we would have common goals.

Other themes that I wanted to explore to make it more relatable to the young adult audience included anti-bullying, friendship, dealing with anxiety, overcoming obstacles, and believing in oneself.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m working on a sequel to Journey to the Hopewell Star that will take Sam and her friends on another journey, but the tone will be somewhat darker than in the first book. I’m also working on a dystopian story that has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while, in which the theme of gender will play a major role. There are no scheduled dates for their releases yet.

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Quiet and introverted twelve-year-old Sam Sanderson is comfortable living a simple life on her family’s peaceful farm. That is, until a mysterious visitor arrives one night, thrusting her on a formidable and dangerous journey across galaxies.

With little direction and no training manual, her mission is to find the elusive Hopewell Star to save a dying planet. But with time running out, a destructive business mogul tracking her every move, and deadly disasters threatening her community, she’ll have to rely on her wits, courage, and friends to make things right and restore peace to both worlds…all while surviving seventh grade.

Christmas Letters

MICHAEL SHAWN MCCALLEY
Michael Shawn McCalley Author Interview

30 Chicago Christmases is a collection of personal letters you’ve sent during the holidays over the last 30 years. Why was this an important book for you to publish?

I have asked myself what I would grab from my house in a hurry were it burning to the ground. The obvious answer was my collection of end-of-year Christmas letters that I have been keeping in a 3-ring binder. I did not want to reach the end of my life without leaving behind any indication of having been here. I did not want to reach the end of my life without sharing what I have learned or observed. In publishing this book filled with holiday-themed correspondence, my hope was that others might benefit from the insights that have come from my experiences.

Your 30th year-in-review letter will be in 2020. This is a difficult year for everyone, but was there anything specifically personal to this year for you?

During the earliest and most restrictive phases of the pandemic lock-down, I never identified with the oft-spoken adage that “we’re all in this together.” Despite technology which has allowed for telework and electronic forms of communication, I have felt greatly distanced from a sense of normal and from other people. Christmas 2020 looks to take place under a lock-down. My hope when writing this book is that it would be a way to connect with people, with activities, and with traditions at a time when get-togethers and travel might be inopportune.

Was there anything that surprised you when you went back to look at these letters for this book?

No, I cannot say that I was surprised by anything. What I had written was consistent with my memories of what I had described. My letters did include some details that I might have forgotten had they not been put to paper. What I did feel was a sense of affirmation with respect to the choices I have made and that my life feels like it is headed in the right direction going forward.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

I want readers to appreciate how beneficial and significant writing can be to a sense of well-being. I do not wonder where the years have gone because I have got a record of what I have done with them. Others who write can experience that same sense of satisfaction in being able to account for how they have spent their time on planet earth or at least avoid that sense of loss felt by non-writers who wonder how time got away from them.

Author Links: Facebook | Amazon

My name is Michael McCalley, and 30 Chicago Christmases is the first book I have authored. Before now, my writing outside of work had been limited to personal correspondence and accounts of travels when I have taken a vacation. Many people have told me how much they enjoy my letters which I consider my favorite compliment. What I write also tends to be short, generally no more than a few thousand words. Never would I have considered myself an author or a writer of an entire book. But then the pandemic hit. I coped with lockdowns and restrictions by writing more than usual. During this time, I successfully recovered the most aged of some lost “year-in-review” Christmas letters which I had stored on some old floppy disks. They go back continuously to Christmas 1991. Beginning with the 2009 Advent season, additional mailings detailing the build-up toward Christmas in the Windy City supplemented the annual letters sent to my parents. The year-in-review letter sent for 2020 is my 30th. My pandemic project has been the compilation of all my holiday correspondence into what has become 30 Chicago Christmases. At times, it may read as a reflective memoir intended for those interested in personal growth and development. The book is also an account of how Christmas is observed in Chicago, which is part current history and part travelogue. I chronicle the happenings downtown, in my neighborhood, at work, and at home. Vivid descriptions of activities and events which make the Yuletide special in the Windy City put the reader at the center of the festivities. This book will delight readers who want the experience of a Chicago Christmas for themselves and to share with others.

Realistic Flaws

Kevin James Breaux Author Interview
Kevin James Breaux Author Interview

What was the initial idea behind Blood Divided and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?

I wanted to continue to show how the world I built is full of shades of grey. These people are doing what they must to survive. The good guys do bad things, and the bad guys do things that, depending on which perspective you view them, may not be so bad.

BLOOD DIVIDED was always meant to be the story of the next generation. How will they grow and move forward when a time of peace is jeopardized? Four children with four different desires and goals. I found it fun to grow with them in each edit of the book. I am incredibly happy with how it all turned out for this, the newest version.

What was one of the hardest parts in Blood Divided for you to write?

Some of the back story in the beginning. It was hard to write it without it being a little too much “telling”. I would have loved to have had a prologue, but my editors and publishers always advise against them. LOL.

Other than that, it was smooth. I had it all very well imagined before I started writing it and I feel confident I conveyed the messages I wanted to.

The characters in Blood Divided are complex yet relatable. What is your process for creating such deep characters?

Although I write in fantasy, urban fantasy, and horror, I always try and write characters with realistic flaws. I have always believed that it is our flaws that make us relatable.

When I was young, my uncles would always call and brag to my dad about my cousins’ accomplishments; they all had good grades all the time. In turn, my dad would tell my uncles all about my trials and tribulations. I did not get good grades. I did not like school and was often bored and unmotivated.

So, when I was a child, I did not gel with my cousins and my parents never realized why.

When I was in college, I felt like I was the only one in the family people truly related to. Why? Because they knew the building blocks of the foundation of the person I had become.

Who were my cousins? They were the people with good grades. I never knew much more about them. Did they struggle to pass their driver’s exams? Did they have health issues? Surgeries? Migraines? Did they all go to their number-one-pick colleges? Did they ever fail a class? Have a bully? Win or lose a physical fight? Who knows? So, to me, my cousins were mostly one dimensional and uninteresting.

I learned for this experience, which is one reason why I write my characters the way I do.

(FYI- I grew to better understand some of my cousins over the years. I even like a few of them. Okay, maybe two. LOL)

Where does the story go in the next book and where do you see it going in the future?

The next book takes place a few years later with two of the characters returning to Illyia and Kel Tora. I do not want to spoil who, but one is returning for honor and the other for family. These two have had a very eventual time away. And they are returning in much different roles then they left with.

The book is written, and it is so big I had to break it into two. So, the original three book series is now four books long. I can’t wait until the publisher puts out the next one. It is tentatively called: HEART BOUND.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

There exists an ancient elven proverb, dating before the time of man. Life and death, like day and night, meet at a point where they blend into one. It is that moment when anything is possible. There was a time when four sparks of life burned brighter than the sun itself. Megan was born with power, Lucien born with station. Autumn was born full of life, while Nathan was entwined with death. Peace had come and gone. The conflicts of old returned—rejuvenated and driven. This is the beginning of the end. The children will shape the fate of Illyia. Will they join forces, or with blood will they be divided?

Canada’s Great Unsolved Murder

Ann Shortell
Ann Shortell Author Interview

Celtic Knot follows a young girl who’s caught up in a murder mystery that has national consequences. What was the inspiration for turning this historical event into a thrilling mystery novel?

It was true inspiration, through a dream. I awakened with the vision of a girl, writing by candlelight, “I was on the other side of the door when Mr. McGee was shot.” I knew she meant the 1868 assassination of Canadian Father of Confederation T. D’Arcy McGee. Irish rebels were blamed, and one was hanged for the crime. Yet this remains Canada’s great unsolved murder mystery.

Clara is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

Thank you, Thomas. Readers have described Celtic Knot as “Alias Grace meets a dark, twisty Anne Of Green Gables”. Certainly, Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s heroines, such as Anne Shirley and particularly her writer protagonist Emily Byrd Starr, served as inspiration. There’s a bit of Jo March in Clara as well. Yet Clara is a young female immigrant, the ultimate outsider viewing a strange new world with the particular gaze of a post-famine Irish-Catholic (& one hiding her late mother’s scandalous mixed-marriage to her negligent Anglo-Irish Protestant father.) Clara is bright, & surrounded by powerful men, yet absolutely powerless—except for her education, her knowledge of events, and her ability to ferret out information. She must work as a domestic servant to live, and must always make a fine calculation to balance her ethical duty and her best interests.

I enjoyed the historical references used throughout the book. What research did you undertake to ensure things were accurate?

There is a plethora of information available about McGee and his assassination, including books, trial transcripts, his own writings, newspapers of the day, and letters of prominent politicians & their civil servants. There is also no dearth of lore surrounding this story in the Irish-Canadian community, to this day. Much of what I’ve written is factual, but I’ve also learned facts and then taken great liberties with them. The trial is a representative pastiche, and I invented some character backstories and subplots—including the ending. One fact that still intrigues me: when slain, McGee did in fact have a recently-completed, politically-sensitive manuscript that went missing.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Yes, Thomas, young Clara Swift off having more misadventures–this time amidst a western Canadian rebellion, followed by high-level American Washington D.C. political intrigue, all of which culminates in a border raid of Canada by Irish-American Civil War veterans. This work-in-progress is titled An Irish Goodbye A Clara Swift Tale, and its publication date is Clara’s—and my—latest mystery.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website | LinkedIn

1868 Ottawa

Politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee is assassinated. As Prime Minister John A. Macdonald cradles his friend’s bloody head, he blames transplanted Irish terrorists: the Fenian Brotherhood. Within a day, Patrick James Whelan is arrested. After a show trial, Whelan is publicly hanged.

That much is history. Did Whelan do the deed?

What if Clara Swift, a mere slip of a girl, sees the trace-line of a buggy turn off Sparks Street, moments after the murder? What if housemaid Clara understands her dead mentor’s shorthand, and forges an unlikely alliance with the Prime Minister’s investigator? And ends up being trusted by the condemned man’s wife — and by Lady Agnes Macdonald . . .

Celtic Knot.
It’s reimagining a crisis that tested a new country.
It’s history with a mystery.
It’s A Clara Swift Tale.

And it all begins with a shot in the dark.

I Wanted Him to be Honored

Shauntae Spaulding
Shauntae Spaulding Author Interview

My Time With Papa helps readers deal with the loss of a loved one by reminding them of all the wonderful memories they have. Why was this an important book for you to write?

It was important for me to keep the book lighthearted but also provide a discussion for parents to have with children. I also wanted to make sure my stepfather came to life in the book by capturing things he loved and the bond he had with his granddaughter.

The art in this book was vivid and bright. What was the art collaboration like on this project?

My illustrator was fantastic in capturing my stepfather’s likeness. It was uncanny. I was very specific in what I wanted in the book because it was a reflection of him and I wanted him to be honored. My illustrator took the details and embodied the emotions I wanted to capture by keeping the illustrations lively and colorful.

Do you have plans to write other children’s book?

Yes, I do! After writing this book, I fell in love with process and wrote three more. I look forward to sharing those with the world as well!

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

This is a loving story about a little girl who lost her Papa and finds a way to remember all the wonderful memories she had of him that she will cherish forever. Walk down memory lane and recapture the memories of lost loved ones from the imagination of a young girl.

From Mystery into Fantastical

Otto Schafer
Otto Schafer Author Interview

The Secret Journal follows two teenagers that uncover a dangerous secret about their town. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting story?

I am a huge fan of archaeology thrillers. I love Indian Jones and National Treasure. The Goonies was my favorite movie as a kid. But I also love fantasy and magic like Tolkien of course, and more modern stuff Like Brent Weeks Lightbringer series. I combined these influences and wrote the book I would want to read.

Petersburg, Illinois was my hometown growing up. It is a beautiful little town full of history and old Victorian era homes. Old Abraham Lincoln himself surveyed the town, and if you visit there you will see it’s a magical place. As a kid, I played in all the mysterious drainage tunnels and I’ve been in some of the basements of those old homes high up on the bluffs. The key locations in the book, including the library, the old Victorian basement, and even the mysterious tunnel are all real, and were described to the best of my memory. So you see, it only made sense Petersburg had to be the setting for the magical story I wanted to tell.

Garrett and Breanne are intriguing and well-developed characters. What were some driving ideals behind their character development?

Garrett is a small-town kid from a blue-collar home who reminded me a lot of myself at his age. The problems I gave him were similar to problems I was going through at his age. Of course, I ramped it up as the story made the transition from mystery into fantastical.

My inspiration for Breanne was inspired by my wife and her father and brothers. I knew I wanted a diverse cast of characters in my book because I value diversity, and I think our culture needs more of it. So writing a young Black girl who wants nothing more than to be a world famous archaeologist like her father was my way of saying to any young girl out there, no matter her culture or background, you can and should be whatever you want to be! I also think it worked well that she couldn’t be any more different than Garrett. He is a poor, small-town kid who has to work side jobs for new shoes and has never really left home. While Breanne is a world traveler, cultured, and incredibly intelligent, yet they are drawn to each other.

I enjoyed the mystery at the heart of this story. Was it planned before writing or did it develop organically while writing?

I am a panster at heart, so I didn’t plot much. I knew what needed to happen by the end of each chapter. I let the characters show me how to get there. Sometimes, I sat back in my chair completely surprised by the path they chose to take. Now that I am working on the third book of the series I plot a little more, but I still let the characters take me away and I am still surprised on a regular basis with the directions they choose to go.

This is book one in your God Stones series. What can readers expect in book two?

In ‘The Secret Journal’ I took readers on a suspenseful mystery where the intensity built chapter by chapter. By the end of the book it is obvious all hell is about to break loose. From the early pages of Book 2 ‘The Keepers of the Light’ that is exactly what happens, and it doesn’t stop. The action picks up as the teens fight for their lives, come to terms with their new reality, and try to save the world. The magic picks up too as we continue to transition from ‘real world’ ‘to a world suddenly saturated in a magic that wasn’t meant for us. I should mention, Book 2, ‘The Keepers of the Light’ is out now and I am hard at work on the 3rd book!

Author Links: GoodReads | Instagram | Facebook | Website

A history hidden from the world. A truth long sought, but better left unfound. Will two teenagers survive the magical secrets they unearth?
Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Breanne Moore blames herself for her mother’s tragic death. So when her archaeologist father is invited on an exciting new dig, she’s determined to tag along and keep him safe. But as the mystery leads them closer to the island’s secret, Breanne’s dreams are filled with visions of a strange boy she’s never met… and a world of flaming carnage.
Petersburg, Illinois. Sixteen-year-old Garrett Turek is the unofficial leader of his fellow outcasts. Grappling with a volatile relationship with his stepfather, he avoids his home life by helping an eccentric accountant restore a historic Victorian house. But when he and his crew stumble on a crusty journal in the basement, Garrett uncovers a dead president’s key to a secret world-saving society.
As Breanne and her dad seek clues to a treasure hidden deep beneath the surface, they trigger a dangerous magic that should have stayed dormant forever. And when Garrett closes in on the truth, he’ll question everything he thought he knew and find trust in a girl from far away as they prepare to battle a dangerous foe.
Can the two would-be heroes fulfill a powerful prophecy and save the planet from destruction?
The Secret Journal is the first book in the sensational God Stones YA contemporary fantasy series. If you like unusual pairings, well-researched historical backgrounds, and heated suspense, then you’ll love Otto Schafer’s coming-of-age adventure.
Destiny awaits those brave enough to turn the page!

Very Hard to Kill

Ben Meeks Author Interview

Petrified finds the state of Georgia under siege when demons threaten to bring the Keepers to their knees. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting story?

It started when a friend sent me an article about a werewolf mythology from Scotland called Wulver. I based the Keepers of them. What I loved about them was that they were so much different than other mythologies. As someone with a deep love for shifters, it was exciting to find a story that I could expand on the traditional tropes.

Obie is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind the characters development?

As a rule, a Keeper has to be hard. Keepers don’t age and can heal very quickly. This means they are very hard to kill. It also means they put up with a lot of pain in their lifetimes. This kind of life could make someone bitter and jaded. I wanted Obie to have the resilience about him. one of his defining characteristics is his ability to keep doing the hard thing, the right thing, even when it would be easier for him to be more selfish. That’s not to say he always does the “right” thing but he is a character that is easy to root for.

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

Besides what I spoke about above, the book deals with loss, specifically the loss of a loved one. The inability to let go, anger, doing anything to keep them, and finally acceptance.

I also explore cruelty to a certain degree. There are some characters who are more apathetic than we would think is acceptable. Unfortunately the consequences for this are paid by the people around them.

This is book one in The Keeper Chronicles series. What can readers expect in book two?

There’s a line in the beginning of the book, “Everyone up here crosses the line at some point or other.” If the reader pays attention they can find a place in the story where every character “crosses the line”. In the second book many of the consequences of these misdeeds come due. Alliances and friendships are pushed to their limits.

Author Links: Facebook | Website | GoodReads

Thera, the Earth Mother, is under siege. Demons from other worlds sneak through magical portals and wreak havoc on earth. In response, she created the Keepers, a group of shapeshifters made from the world’s most skilled predators, to protect her, and us. The fate of North Georgia hangs in the balance when an unknown menace with a new magic threatens to bring the Keepers to their knees. It’s up to Obie, the Keeper of North Georgia, and some unlikely allies to put an end to the destruction before it’s too late. What will happen when the hunter becomes the hunted?

Inspired by the Stories

Marc Curtis Little Author Interview

The Bootlegger’s Mistress follows a young woman who heads north for better opportunities and finds them once she creates a new persona. What was the inspiration for the setup to this novel?

The inspiration came from the stories I heard from many people in my life—mother, aunts, uncles, family friends—who traveled from the southern United States to cities along the East Coast during the Great Migration. I was also inspired by the stories I heard from men and women who encountered the same kinds of agony faced by the protagonist in the The Bootlegger’s Mistress.

Carrie is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

The development of Carrie Lacey/Dicie Caughman as an unaccommodating, street-wise young girl/woman was driven by a desire to debunk and diminish the image of Black women being impulsive with hair-trigger tempers and unyieldingly iron-willed attitudes.

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

Racial animus, stealing of land in Southern states, and the underestimation of the intelligence of African Americans.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am developing a series in which the first book will be titled Stoops. The availability has not been determined at this point.

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Website

Carrie Lacey’s happy upbringing is seemingly immune from the pressures of growing up Black in rural South Carolina during the Great Depression. But life changes when her mother and six siblings are forced from their Anderson home, leaving Carrie and her father, Hallie.

While working for White businessman Tommy Joe Butler-a bootleg liquor dealer-Carrie becomes aware of the depth of her father’s campaign to change the lives of African Americans. He is using some of the strategies of the Underground Railroad, the nonviolent system of freeing slaves in pre-Civil War America. Her childhood friend, Nappy Eddie, attempts to keep the truth from Carrie, but to no avail. When Butler and Hallie continue to disagree over property ownership, she departs Anderson in frustration.


During her travels, Carrie encounters her alter ego, Dicie Caughman, commencing an odyssey that spans nearly eighty years and numerous locales. Carrie, in the form of Dicie, lives a good life, though marked with deep-rooted secrets.


The Bootlegger’s Mistress embodies the essence of The Great Migration-the decades-long movement of six million African Americans from the racially oppressive South to the economic opportunity-laden North during much of the twentieth century.
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