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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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.
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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.
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The Hainan Conflict is a superb follow-up to book one in your The Net thriller series. What were some new ideas you wanted to introduce in this book that were different from book one?
There were several ideas that I wanted to include in The Hainan Conflict. Interestingly, they were all based on elements of truth. The very first chapter hits on one of those elements: A female Russian virologist developing biological weapons and selling them to various countries and/or terrorist groups, along with the deliberate release of a deadly strain of smallpox in Kazakhstan in order to test its potency.
The next factual element I wanted to include was the mid-air collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet in airspace over the South China Sea, resulting in the US spy plane’s forced landing on Communist China’s Hainan Island. This actually occurred on April 1, 2001, and set into motion a highly charged political situation of top-secret US intelligence possibly getting into China’s hands. A lot of research went into the characteristics of the planes involved, the base where the US plane had originated from, etc. to make the story as believable as possible. My husband and I were living in Southern China at the time (we had even vacationed on Hainan Island) and we were (naively) surprised at how different the news accounts were between US and China sources. It was at that point that I realized that having a free press doesn’t guarantee the truth any more than a government-controlled press. I think that is something we as Americans take for granted, and wrongly assume that our news isn’t editorialized.
The next factual element was Hainan Island itself. It is just as beautiful as described in the book. And, here again, truth proved stranger than fiction! The descriptions of the resort/beach area, Wild Boar Island, the unusual military training camp on the beach, the primitive village with female leaders bearing facial tattoos, the hidden caves, even the modern computer in a plastic tent, were all facts based on personal experiences there. And, the island’s history of a native women’s group defeating the government’s army is factual. A dear Chinese friend was kind enough to research that information for me.
So, where does truth end and fiction begin? I leave that for the reader to figure out.
The relationship between Yi and Sarah was consistently intriguing. What were some ideas that informed their conflict?
The characters of Yi and Sarah are composites of the best qualities in some of the friends and judges we knew in China. Such qualities included a fierce loyalty to family and country, and a dedication to seeing China rid itself of poverty and corruption. However, some of the characteristics of the average Chinese man were not so charming. These included excessive smoking, spitting, and a tendency to treat women as second-class citizens. It was not uncommon to see a man step in front of a woman in line–simply because she was female. (This infuriated me, and I tapped a few men on the shoulder to point out their error!) The conflict between Yi and Sarah certainly comes from the issue of his being American and a spy (and therefore unable to confide in Sarah his true identity and purpose). Adding to the conflict and intrigue, Yi’s character had to be different from the average Chinese male. So, he regularly does things more typical of an American. This confuses Sarah. The fact that he’s an attorney by profession rather than a spy gets him into trouble on several occasions. Plus, he misses his life in America. Much of Yi’s conflict stems from Sarah’s life in Tibet with Buddhist/vegetarian traditions being so different from his Christian American ones. Yet he is fascinated by her beauty, her brilliant legal mind, and her strong female personality. He struggles with the distraction of falling in love, while being in an uncomfortable situation that could cost him his life.
What were some goals you set for yourself as a writer in this book?
The main goal was to be true to the facts. I researched and tweaked the story until I could fit it into the timeline that the facts dictated. That was not easy!
What can readers expect in book three of The Net thriller series?
Although book 2–The Hainan Conflict–is more standalone than book 1 (which was written as an introduction to the series, its intertwining stories and character development), book 3–The Panama Contagion–continues the story of the Net organization’s attempts to secure world power, the vendettas between the evil characters and our hero Yi, and the romantic struggles between Yi and Sarah. As readers of book 2 know, the Net acquired bioweapons from a Russian virologist. The use of these weapons culminates in book 3 by way of unsuspecting travelers on two cruise ships returning to the States after a trip through the Panama Canal. A pandemic ensues. Also carried over from book 2 is the Net’s plan to disrupt international shipping channels by destroying parts of the Panama Canal. The question is, can Yi stop the Net’s destruction while fighting off a psychopathic killer, and trying to mend his relationship with Sarah, all while the CIA is ignoring his warnings? You’ll have to read it to find out.
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In The You Beyond You, Ramzi Najjar offers advice that can help one change their perception about life, boost their self-esteem and improve their personal habits. The author is engaging and his words are thought-provoking. The author talks about life experiences, and the lessons one should take when they fail. This book has rare truths, some of which are painful and agonizing to read about. The author however uses a friendly tone and captivating words that enable the reader to keep going. The You Beyond You is not just a self-help book but a personal guide for anyone who would appreciate reading encouraging words before they start their day.
I enjoyed reading the chapter ‘Letting the Right Memory Run our Life,’ because of how great the author expounded about the mind. I learned about pure memory, being positive, and how prepared we should be psychologically. Some of the things we do subconsciously are a result of the energy around us. Other chapters that I immensely enjoyed reading about were those that spoke about body pollution, mind pollution, and getting imprinted with the correct memory.
In this book, you will learn that there are solutions to most problems if you are committed to look for solutions. The author advises that as an individual, focus on being a better person before trying to be helpful to the next person. The energy you carry in you will be reflected in your actions. Every human being has feelings and the author writes that there is nothing wrong with expressing one’s feelings.
Ramzi Najjar is a great motivational writer. His book has wisdom that can be helpful to teenagers, young adults, senior citizens, and anyone going through personal struggles. Being in the right state of mind will enable you to make better financial, career, and even romantic decisions and that is why this book is a must read for every reader. One good thing about Ramzi Najjar’s writing style is that he is easy to understand. The phrases he used are easy to comprehend and the examples given in the book are relatable. I would recommend The You Beyond You to anyone who is looking for an inspirational book for personal growth.
Pages: 474 | ASIN: B08DRR383Y
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The little Book Of Greatness introduces us to a man named David who seems to have given it all up. Sitting on a cliff, David is troubled. He has not accomplished his dreams and everything seems to be crumbling down. David is thinking about life, wondering why he is in his current situation. Lost in his thoughts, a man appears from the woods. Little does he know that this stranger would give him something that may enable him to hold on for a little longer.
Ari Gunzburg speaks to everyone through David’s story. He speaks to his readers, and makes them feel like they are not alone. I like the comforting tone used throughout the book. When giving advice, the author uses a tone similar to that of a therapist. He is encouraging and offers hope to the hopeless. This book is meant for those that are about to give up. Things may appear like they make no sense, but the author assures everyone that we are destined for the best. You cannot help but admire how amazing Ari Gunzburg is with his moving words. Through his words you not only learn more about yourself as an individual, but also get enlightened about life in general and how our thoughts shape our destinies.
Chapter 12 is one of my favorite chapters. In this chapter, the author focuses on putting it all together. I enjoyed reading the conversations between Regina and David in this chapter. Major lessons in this chapter are rearranging our priorities and focusing on what is important in life. The writing is incredible and the text is engaging. Ari Gunzburg is a great narrator and captivates his audience.
The Little Book of Greatness is a motivational book but it does not feel bland like some books in the inspirational genre. The author wrote distinctively, narrating stories of scenarios that happen in real life as he incorporates important lessons in the story. I recommend The Little Book of Greatness to readers that would love some encouraging text that will cheer them up and help them become better people.
Pages: 185 | ASIN: B08GH63H75
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Dee is a surfer who has lived an eventful youth. Managing to survive one dangerous scenario after another, she has pretty much experienced it all. From swimming with Orcas to experimenting with drugs and trying to outwit known criminals, Dee and her friends knew no boundaries. Her summers were filled with one breathtaking encounter after another. She recalls these times fondly and describes the thrill associated with each of their close-calls with an unmatched level of nostalgia. As the years passed, Dee’s family grew and her family meets with their own challenges and successes. Theirs is a life many would look upon with amazement.
Random Summer Storms, by Denise Ann Stock, is the third book in contemporary fiction a series. Main characters, Dee and Ian, have a past rooted in turmoil. They have known nothing but drama since their youth on the coast of California. Wishing to leave their past behind and begin a new life, Dee and Ian set their sights on Florida for their fresh start.
Stock’s third book in a series is, by and large, a narrative. With few exchanges between characters, Random Summer Storms reads more like a memoir than a story with a clearly-defined sequence of events. Dee, the narrator, relates a detailed description of every family member’s activities and challenges. From her own husband and children to her extended family members, she paints a clear picture of each one’s celebrations as well as their business dealings, legal or otherwise.
Random Summer Storms is written in a unique style. While I prefer more dialogue in my realistic fiction, I enjoyed the feel of the memoir. I would have appreciated a little more organization to the story as I felt like it was a bit aimless at times, which left me with questions. This family fiction story felt as though it contained a little bit of everything, there was a motley collection of striking dilemmas and curious conflicts.
Random Summer Storms has the potential to be a truly engaging story, but I felt like the characters are not given an opportunity to flourish in a well-developed plot. Had Random Summer Storms been touted as memoir-esque and edited to read in a more diary-type narration, it could have been quite a fascinating piece of literature.
Pages: 252 | ISBN: 1952269474
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Stone Fever: Erebus Tales Book 1 by Norman Westhoff is a captivating adventure story full of inspiring narratives! In the story, we follow Keltyn, a geologist who is exploring a now defrosted Antarctica. Keltyn is trying to find iridium around Mount Erebus, a volcano that the local Onwei tribe has predict will erupt soon! While on her mission, Keltyn makes friends with two teens from the tribe; Luz and Joaquin. While on their adventure, the trio grows, learns, and discovers the ulterior motives of a certain Oscar Bailey! Keltyn must find a way to stop Oscar before it’s too late!
Despite the hardships found within this story, Westhoff has managed to create a heartwarming tale that I could not get enough of! He touched on so many relevant topics, including colonization, global warming, and cultural diversity!
The character development was spectacular and a particular focal point of this novel. We watch Luz grow emotionally from a naïve young girl to a fierce young woman by the end of the novel. I must say, I really enjoyed Luz’s relationship with her mother in this book; it strayed away from the typical nuclear family unit.
The world-building was fantastic! Westhoff took a risk using the real-life issue of global warming as a plot device and world-building tool, but he handled it with grace and elegance. His portrayal of the issue left me with a hopeful outlook, despite it being fiction.
Westhoff’s storytelling abilities are also praiseworthy! He can keep you hooked from page one all the way to page 299; it is incredible! There was never a dull moment; wait until you get to chapter 13; you will not be able to put the book down!
The writing style also captured my attention. It’s simplicity made the story easy to follow and a joy to read. There was never a moment where I had to go back and reread a passage due to intricate text, which can be a common issue amongst indie authors. The chapters where Keltyn was narrating were my favorite!
Stone Fever: Erebus Tales Book 1 is a thrilling adventure story that touches on important topics while always entertaining the reader.
Pages: 386 | ASIN: B085YF4RWG
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