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Get On With The Business Of Living

Daphne Birkmyer Author Interview

Maiden Voyage follows the twins as their guardian tries to keep them safe among Marcela’s gender affirming surgery and Amadeus’s future in Alaska’s fishing industry. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

Maiden Voyage, the third book in the COMFREY, WYOMING series, finds the twins standing on the cusp of adulthood. At last Marcela Crow has the body she has been seeking since early childhood. Amadeus has always been his sister’s protector and advocate, but after her surgery he feels the loss of the little boy he learned to walk with and talk with—the little boy who once looked so very much like him. Unsure of the role he now plays in Marcela’s life, disillusioned with college and struggling with the illness that claimed his mother, Amadeus leaves Wyoming and family and strikes out on his own.

For Marcela’s story, I relied heavily on a family friend, assigned female at birth, who advocated for his authentic self from a very young age. Like Marcela, he had the support of a loving family, but it couldn’t protect him from painful bullying in school. He is now a successful young man living in another part of the country, where he can maintain his privacy and get on with the business of living. His experience in school was why I deemed it crucial for Heidi, the twins’ guardian, to move the family to Comfrey, where no one would know the children were born identical, and where Marcela would be accepted as a girl.

I had rich sources of experience to call upon for Amadeus’s journey north and his immersion in Alaska’s fishing industry. A woman who travels the Alaskan Canadian highway annually with her dog shared pictures, diaries and anecdotes of her trips with me. Another person, who has worked on fishing boats in Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea for years, spent many hours sharing his experiences and answering my questions. I was so grateful I named my fishing captain after him.

I am also indebted to a college friend, who witnessed and described the gruesome accident that ended the life of one of my characters at sea. For much of his career, my friend worked as a marine scientist monitoring fishing vessels in Alaskan and Arctic waters. He often worked with Inuit observers and remains a passionate advocate for Indigenous fishing rights.

Marcela and Amadeus are intriguing and well-defined characters. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

As babies, the twins’ physical appearance, personalities and precocity were derived from a very special little boy, who joined our family for a time. He is still at the edge of my consciousness when I write about the twins, but his influence has waned as the twins have matured and taken on lives of their own.

Despite being born physically identical, Amadeus and Marcela are essentially yin and yang, opposite but interconnected forces bound by a fierce loyalty. Where Marcela is academic, grounded and artistic, Amadeus is impulsive, competitive and intimately connected to the natural world.

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

People who can communicate with the dead have always intrigued me. Three very different characters in my series maintain strong ties with departed loved ones. Heidi, the twins’ guardian, continues to commune with her deceased child. Beppe, an Italian winemaker and one of the twins’ honorary uncles, hears his grandfather’s voice as he walks his vineyards at dusk. Amadeus is aware of his mother, Nara, in the wind and the sea.     

Despite my dive into metaphysics, however, a scientific current thrums in the background of my books, the legacy of my years of teaching science. In Maiden Voyage, that current includes the genetics of Sphynx cats, the mating rituals of elk and the effect of climate change on the distribution of fish in Arctic waters. 

Another theme in Maiden Voyage is the importance of representation—LBGTQ representation, and racial representation. I am blessed to be part of a racially and gender diverse family. I hope my complex and relatable characters capture readers who may be unfamiliar with the LBGTQ community. Heidi’s cousin, Karl, and his Italian husband, Beppe, have provided her with emotional support for years. They are the strong, loyal men she turned to when she lost her baby to genetic disease in Birds of a Feather, the first book of the series. In Maiden Voyage, Karl comes to San Francisco to support Heidi after Marcela’s surgery. Beppe is the person Amadeus seeks for comfort after he suffers trauma at sea.

My trans character was introduced in the series as a young child, to make her less threatening to those who believe they have never met a transgender person. I wanted readers to bond with Marcela. I wanted them to not merely tolerate her, but to truly appreciate her, her wit, her talent and her integrity.     

To peel back a layer of white privilege, I included a young black man in Maiden Voyage to illustrate the danger and stress of driving while black. My sons are black, my nephews are black, and on my most recent trip to Wyoming for research, I drove with a black friend. The hyper-scrutiny is real, and the hyper-vigilance a person feels under that scrutiny is exhausting. My black character drives from San Francisco to Wyoming alone, always on edge, always with a feeling of dread that he’ll disappear into what he perceives as a wasteland, and never be heard of again.

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

Black Sheep, Black Sheep, Book Four of the COMFREY, WYOMING series, will be released in 2023. People from Pennsylvania, California and the Philippines join the citizens of Comfrey, and at long last, that endangered and highly venomous Midget Faded Rattlesnake alluded to in the first three books, has a significant part to play.   

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

Maiden Voyage, Book Three of Daphne Birkmyer’s COMFREY, WYOMING series, finds twins, Amadeus and Marcela, on very different paths to self-discovery. As their guardian, Heidi Crow, attempts to weave a safety net as original and complex as the twins themselves, she prays it will hold through Marcela’s gender affirming surgery and Amadeus’s uncertain future in Alaska’s lucrative and dangerous fishing industry.

A richly diverse cast, including a Shakespeare-quoting street basketball player and a Chinese purveyor of pu-erh tea, joins characters already beloved by readers of the series in this transcendent tale of nontraditional family and steadfast friends. 

Secrets and Sunflowers

Secrets and Sunflowers (Pepperville Stories series) by Joann Keder is a fiction story about three friends set in the small town of Sandy Salts. Keilah Charmant is a local coffee shop owner who has to move her business to make way for the new construction project to widen the highway through town. Vanessa Withers is a reporter who writes obituaries in the local newspaper, and Deeloriandra Fisher acts as an honorary grandmother to Keilah’s two children. But all three women are keeping secrets from each other. The town is divided between people who want to keep the two-lane highway and others who support the expansion to a four-lane highway. When a dead body is found in a nearby lake, is it connected to the town dispute? Or is it more personal?

This was a fun story to read, filled. However, stereotypical small-town gossip and speculation. There were several elements of mystery in this book, which I liked. This bit of intrigue kept my interest as I tried to guess what would happen next and solve the mysteries along with the characters. 

I liked that the author included a list of characters at the beginning of each chapter, which helped to avoid confusion as there were many different people introduced in a short span, especially for readers unfamiliar with the characters from reading the previous books in the series. Although this is not the first book in the Pepperville series, it can be read as a standalone story. The author gives enough details to recap what occurred in the other stories so that readers do not feel lost. The references that were made to mysteries solved in previous books and other intriguing details raised my interest in going back to read the other books in the series to find out the full story of what happened.

I felt some of the characters’ motivation was lacking, especially in regard to some ethical issues concerning the actions of the main characters. For example, I did not feel that the author gave a compelling reason why Vanessa did not want to contact the police when she discovered the dead body. The author, however, did include a lot of small details, such as the inclusion of the obituaries of various townspeople and the weather reports. These help the reader feel more part of the community.

Secrets and Sunflowers is an entertaining family saga novel filled with drama and some mystery. Readers of the Pepperville Stories series will enjoy the latest addition to the collection, and new readers to the series will find new friends they want to read more about.

Pages: 436 | ASIN : B0BB5N3RKS

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Joint Venture

Joint Venture is a riveting story about a mother’s family feud and its impact on Alice and Helen; two relatives caught in the middle. As the intensity of their mothers’ hatred and division pulled them apart for years, they soon find themselves in an unlikely circumstance that has brought them together. When both women become reacquainted in a small New England town, can they put aside their mothers’ feud and work together?

As Alice and Helen appear from two different worlds and conflicting ideals, they eventually find what they have in common. This story delves into the rich history and details of the family’s division and how their relationships are intertwined. It’s an excellent read; though it may feel a bit slow at first, you’ll find the characters are easy to connect with, and you’ll want to continue learning more. The author did a fantastic job explaining the dynamics between the characters, giving us a glimpse into the minds of both Helen and Alice, what makes them contrary, and how they eventually connect in a relatable, human way.

What I loved most about this book was that the characters were relatable and flawed. There was a lot of family drama and secrets that shed light on their upbringing and what led them to their present situation. Once you get familiar with Helen and Alice, the plot grows more intense and gripping. While some areas of the story progress a bit slower and provide more details, these developments provide a clear picture of each character and their circumstances. You’ll find yourself lost in the small town of Polar Point. It’s a story that slowly embraces the reader, pulling you into an intense story that is difficult to put down once you begin to read.

Overall, I found Carol Rhees’ intense story an enjoyable read, and while there is a lot of build-up to the more intense plot developments, it’s a worthwhile book to read. I recommend this book as Joint Venture is a well-narrated story that combines family drama with mystery and the unexpected.

Pages: 240 | ASIN: B0B76239RJ

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Honor in Concord

Honor in Concord by Cathryn McIntyre is a combination of memoir and fiction. The book takes place in Concord, Massachusetts, and is a story about history, love, reincarnation, and living our lives with truth and honor. While retelling the actual events in the author’s life, there are some fictionalized elements in the story. For example, the scenes that show famous writers from Concord’s literary past are fiction based on historical facts. There is also a third storyline, focused on honor, interspersed with scenes of Concord’s historical and literary figures.

This was an exciting and enjoyable book to read. I liked the inclusion of writings from historical, literary individuals from the 19th century at the beginning of the book. The author writes about their daily lives and families and the descriptions of the homes where they resided, which were shown through house tours of the historic sites taken by the author or fictional present-day characters. I enjoyed reading the scenes of life from the perspective of historical, literary figures.

The past and present are woven together in an interesting way in this book. One example is when the author imagines the historical figures in places found in present-day Concord that they had visited during their own lives in the 1800s. I enjoyed all the bits of history that were included throughout the book, especially the places where parallels were shown between what historical Concord residents were feelings contrasted against people living in the present time who were feeling the same kind of emotions or thinking similar thoughts. In addition, I found the scene where the author tries to reason with Dr. Roland’s ghost rather humorous.

My favorite parts of this book were the pieces of the author’s own life and the historical information. The story’s subplot with Richard Hazzard and Sarah Simon was an interesting addition to this novel. However, I felt that these sections sometimes took away from the most exciting aspect of the story, which was the author’s spiritual and writer’s life in Concord and the everyday lives of Concord’s famous historical writers.

Honor in Concord: Seeking Spirit in Literary Concord is a unique combination of historical fiction and memoir that will enchant readers with personal stories and interesting historical facts. The author’s ability to combine these different writing elements into a cohesive and entertaining storyline makes this a must-read for those interested in authors like Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Alcott.

Pages: 240 | ASIN : B0B4G8LVL2

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Life Lottery: Pandemic Life Stories

Life Lottery: Pandemic Life Stories contains an enthralling collection of stories all told in less than 200 pages. Author Ionel Rusanu takes readers on a thought-provoking journey through life during the pandemic. In the form of short stories, we witness a plethora of different emotions and circumstances that are affecting the characters much as they would everyday people. From drug addiction to cope with pain, financial struggles, and domestic abuse, there is no stone left unturned in this poignant collection of short stories.

This is a well-written collection of stories that does a fantastic job of setting up characters in intriguing circumstances in a short amount of time. With many anthologies we will end up with stories that range in quality, but one thing I like most about Ionel Rusanu’s book is the consistency. Each story skillfully conveys the emotion of the characters, imbuing the story with its own unique feel, and setting up the plot and conclusion succinctly. Readers will be taken on an emotional-rollercoaster as they breeze through these intriguing stories. Some stories are humorous while others are thoughtful, but all have their own message.

The author does a fantastic job examining and displaying all aspects of the human condition. I enjoyed how readers are able to understand the actions of characters, empathizing with them, even when they are the antagonist. You almost sympathized with them to a degree. The first story in the collection is a shining example of this at work. Another thing I enjoyed was the simple writing style. Rusanu conveyed the stories messages beautifully without the use of flowery language or unnecessary metaphors. You got the point of the story immediately but you are not left underwhelmed by the writing. A short story collection such as this deserves a straightforward approach. When you’re asking a reader to think deeply about life’s struggles, you can’t add the weight of deciphering poetry. The subject matter is poetry within itself.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking but quick read, check out Life Lottery: Pandemic Life Stories by Ionel Rusanu. This is an absorbing collection of stories that blends genres and ideas in creative ways and will leave readers pondering well after the stories end.

Pages: 168 | ASIN: B09V37STC3

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We’re Hesitant To Be Authentic

Kimberly Greer Author Interview

Masked Intent tells a romantic story that explores our relationship with the truth and how it motivates us. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

As I was working on the novel and authenticity became an issue between the main characters, I saw a larger opportunity than what the traditional romance genre affords, a bigger story than boy meets, falls for, and gets the girl. I began to wonder what Truth – if personified – might think about alternative facts, their genesis, and their role in human interaction. Social media, reality TV, the world’s obsession with celebrity, and other artifacts of current society have fostered unrealistic standards of what beauty, success and happiness look like. They’ve obfuscated the truth. So, I imagined that my character and narrator Truth isn’t happy about that and wants to teach us a lesson of what happens when we stop listening to the still-small voice inside.

That’s when the “morality play” idea sprang to life. The Catholic church of the Middle Ages used morality plays to teach its Faithfull, most of whom were illiterate, about virtues. Similarly, Masked Intent uses the love story between the main characters as a convention–an allegory—to explore how, even in our most intimate moments, we’re hesitant to be authentic for fear of not measuring up.

Your characters are intriguing and well developed. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

My male lead, Mateo, is quick to pick up on this truth in his dealings with his love interest, Alexa, yet both are slow to admit to such tendencies within themselves. It will take time for them to admit and resolve these flaws, which is an ironic dance they do around each other. As a professional communicator, Alexa is quick to spot and call out disingenuity in others but slow to admit her own such transgressions. Similarly, Mateo, a psychologist and, therefore, student of human nature, willfully refuses to admit that he has yet to come to terms with a heartbreak from years past, a past he can shed only after he deals with it.

It’s also important to note that these aren’t young, inexperienced people. Alexa is 43; Mateo is 36. Although this fact is mentioned early on, their age difference isn’t discussed in great detail. We have a name for women who date younger men…but aside from her age, Alexa doesn’t fit that stereotype. This is intentional as was my decision about their ages. We tend to think that life ends after 40, that we know all we’re supposed to know or that we are no longer creative or vibrant enough to serve a useful purpose. My characters disprove those assumptions.

Each of my characters is named with deliberation, and there are important clues to each of their personalities therein. The name Alexa means “defender of mankind.” She tends to believe that she is. But, as the saying goes, you can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm, which is exactly what she does—ad nauseum—to her own detriment. Samson Stone, for whom Alexa works, is self-centered and ill-intended. The alliteration in his name suggests a slithering snake, which is fitting for this character.

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

I wanted my characters to be likable and relatable, which means they must be inherently flawed. Each character in Masked Intent carries the scars of disappointment, struggle, and, in some cases, abuse. I wanted to play up their shortcomings as they follow their individual paths towards self-discovery.

With that in mind, I hope my readers will consider the cornerstones of this novel:

  • The biggest lies we tend to believe are the ones we tell ourselves.
  • Self-deception is an epidemic as many of us choose to focus on what our lives look like to others as opposed to whether they’re a reflection of all that is good within us.

More subtly, but no less important, a key takeaway from the novel should be that the ageist ideas society can tend espouse are based on the myth that requires us to accept as fact that success, happiness, love, and discovery are the stuff of our youth. To the contrary, learning and growing never stop, so we never stop being solid contributors to the world around us.

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

I currently am completing a “prequel” to Masked Intent called Intermezzo. Though it is very much intended to be the intermission between my first novel (hence its title) and the story’s conclusion in Intents + Purposes, I call it a prequel because it provides some context around when and how the main characters met. It also gives readers the origin stories for two of the supporting characters in Masked Intent: Becket Oliver and Phaedra Sheppard. I plan standalone novels for each of these characters once I’ve completed The Morality Plays Series.

Intermezzo will be available in July 2022. Look for Intents + Purposes in the late fall of this year.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

There may be more than one mask.
From being denied by her birth parents to marrying the wrong man, Alexa Winston has learned to cope with disappointment and heartache by masking her true self from the world. Divorced and finally living on her own terms, she shrouds herself in half-truths and bravado, content to live her quiet, predictable life – until she finds the job and the man of her dreams. As she falls deeper into both, and into a world ruled by powerful players jockeying for influence and dominance at all costs, she’s forced to weigh her truths against reality. Trouble is, though she’s a master at detecting self-deception in others, she’s slow to recognize it in herself.

Masked Intent takes a taut, complex look at how we hide behind inauthenticity to guide us through interpersonal relationships. Through a series of detailed, interconnected storylines, the novel takes a timely look at our relationship with the truth and how it drives our actions and motivations. Where do you draw lines in a world where authenticity takes back seat to the power and seduction of influence?

Masked Intent is the first installment in The Morality Plays Series and ends in a cliffhanger. The story concludes in Intents + Purposes, which publishes in 2022.

The Story Took Off From There

Jeff O’Handley Author Interview

Powerless follows a man that must adapt to a post-apocalyptic world and keep his family alive and safe as resources become scarce. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

The first glimmer of an idea for Powerless struck when I was driving through a hurricane to pick up my daughter at her friend’s house. The road crossed a small stream, and as I saw the water boiling through the culvert beneath the road, an image flashed in my head of the road flooded and impassable. I thought, “What if I couldn’t pick up my daughter?” This thought was followed by two in rapid succession that will be familiar to anyone who writes. The first was, “Oh, that would be horrible!” The second was, “Oh, that would make a great story!”

So, for a while, the broad idea was ‘Man moves heaven and earth to get his daughter back amidst a great natural disaster.’ That interested me, but it didn’t thrill me–it just looked like some sort of generic action movie in my head. One day I was mulling it over yet again, and I was thinking about this family that was one kid short in a crisis and picturing husband and wife at the dinner table with an empty chair where their daughter would be. And I sort of idly wondered, “What’s it like in the other house? The one with the extra kid?” That was my “Ah, ha!” moment, and the story took off from there.

Kevin must learn to adapt to a new way of life that he was unprepared for. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Kevin is a nice guy, and while he certainly hasn’t finished last in life, he definitely gets walked on and over a bit. I was interested in exploring what would push him to finally say “no”, what situation and circumstance would help him find the power within to stand up for himself, and to stand up for what is right.

He’s also someone who is rather optimistic by nature, as well as resourceful and forward-thinking.
As the situation in Powerless unfolds he proves to be surprisingly good at doing things that he’s never done before. But his optimism and basic faith in others leads to some blind spots where he is unable to see some of the threats to his family lie.

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

The biggest theme in Powerless is family, and how we define it. While the antagonist in the story is Eli Sobchuck, the real conflict is ultimately between Kevin and his wife, Monica, and it’s over how to define family. Kevin wants to draw the family circle as wide as possible to include not only his daughter’s friend, who has been stranded at their home during this event, but also neighbors and the people of the town. He sees the wider community as part of his responsibility. Monica, meanwhile, is trying to keep that circle as tight as possible, is trying to protect herself and the people closest to her. This resulting conflict is not only with her husband, but with herself.

The book also looks at the dynamics between people with power and those without, and the use of power for personal gain versus community good.

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

I have a completed manuscript of what I think of as ‘economic fiction’ about a woman who finds herself trying to work off debt in a compulsory, government sponsored volunteer program. It’s pretty much good to go but it doesn’t yet have a home. I’m hoping to rectify that. I’m also in the early stages of a project that is too new to really talk about right now. It has some characters and some situations that are interesting, but I haven’t quite found the story just yet and I’m sort of trying to write my way into it.

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Website | GoodReads

Sunspots, Al-Qaeda, North Korea—no one knows why the power goes out in sleepy little Harpursville, how much of the world is affected, or how long it will last. In one instant virtually every modern convenience stops working, leaving the townspeople scrambling.

For Kevin Barton, the problem is compounded by the presence of his sixteen-year-old daughter’s best friend, Dina, who’s been stranded at the house after yet another sleepover. When Kevin’s attempt to escort Dina home ends in robbery and humiliation, their “second daughter’s” overnight visit becomes a permanent stay. Kevin doesn’t really mind. Dina helps with everything from hauling water to digging a garden, and she does it with a smile. But with food scarce and hunger eating away at reason, her large appetite and constant presence sets the household on edge, causing a rift between Kevin and his wife, Monica.

Help is offered by the man who stops Harpursville from sliding into everyone-for-themselves chaos but then he gives Kevin an unthinkable ultimatum. With the peace of the town and Kevin’s own family hanging in the balance, he faces a two-front war. Can Kevin find the power in himself to protect everything he holds dear?

Masked Intent 

Masked Intent by Kimberly Greer, is the first book of the Morality Series and is a powerful novel that focuses on authenticity and relationships. We follow Alexa Winston who has finally found contentment after her divorce and leads a predictable life. All this changes when she not only lands the job of her dreams but also the man of her dreams. There is only one obstacle to fully accepting their love for one another and it is their past, will they come to terms with it, or will it keep them apart?

Author Kimberly Greer has created a very detailed story and I was immediately immersed in Alexa and Mateo’s world. The author seamlessly transitions from Alexa and Mateo’s point of view throughout the story without creating confusion. This was my favorite part of the book because this gives readers an inside look as to what each character is thinking and feeling, which is important because this an impassioned romance novel with emotions underlying much of the plot.

I enjoyed reading about the passion both Mateo and Alexa felt for one another because it felt authtentic and deep, yet they tried so hard to hide it. This passion and intensity builds slowly throughout the story and provides the story with intrigue and melodrama that is intoxicating because you just want the two to let go and just be together.

This riveting romance novel is long side but the playful and tense back and forth banter between Alexa and Mateo makes pages fly by. I enjoyed the author’s character development as each character has a unique personality and evolution throughout the story. I enjoyed that Mateo wasn’t afraid to say how he felt about Alexa. Alexa is also a character I enjoyed as she is confident and, based off past experiences, she knows what she wants for herself.

I highly recommend Masked Intent to those who are looking for an intense and thrilling contemporary love story involving the romantic chase between two captivating people.

Pages: 492 | ASIN : B09FMP4BYP

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