The Contest and Other Stories is a collection of inspiring stories that got me to think and reflect. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
JD: I originally wanted to create a coffee table art book with all paintings connected to a framing story.
KR: Around 2007 or 2008, Joe started bringing these quirky short stories inspired by paintings to the critique group in Prescott, Arizona that we both belonged to.
In February 2011, he shared his draft and invited me to assist with the project as a co-author. We continued to work on polishing the stories and the connecting novella together. In our bios, we say that he has the vivid imagination and I have the word-whacking polish, but the truth is, we both contributed to the imaginative creation and to the nuts and bolts polishing and editing. We multiplied our mind-power by working together!
What were some themes you find yourself exploring in your short stories?
JD: The relationships artists have with drinking, higher consciousness, and insanity.
KR: As Joe says, some of the stories explore the artists’ lives directly in the genres of magical realism, dark fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and alternate history, or as a fabulous motif. The other stories were developed using a painting as a prompt, but have no relation to the artist or their work. Those stories explore life challenges and transitions such as birth, death, falling in love, relationships, family life, and work, also through the medium of various fantasy genres. The connecting novella explores the archetypal overbearing father who insists that his only son follow in his footsteps, while the son rebels to make his unique contribution to arts and literature.
What is the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Long distance.
KR: By the time Joe and I started working together on this project, he lived in Arizona and I had landed in California. So we shared thoughts and drafts for The Contest and Other Stories via email.
Will you be putting together another collection of short stories?
JD: We’ve been working on solo projects lately. I completed a connected short story collection in 2016 titled Story Time Karaoke @ The Chicagoua Cafe.
KR: I’ve been working on stories inspired by dreams and a novella created entirely from a series of dreams, with a working title of Loop: Life is But a Dream.
As for other joint projects, Joe and I just published a humorous dystopian sci-fi novelette, Space Race: Robot Rebellion in the Future Wild West (Tootie-Do Press, 2018). We also have a YA story, Thirteen, published in an anthology called 31 Nights of Halloween (Rainstorm Press, 2011). Neither of these stories fit the theme of The Contest, so we searched for other alternatives for publication.
Inspired by the works of international artists, this collection contains nineteen spellbinding Young Adult – New Adult magical realist, paranormal, slipstream, alternate history, and fabulist tales linked by a novella: Peter John Rizzo, a 1960 graduate of Yale University’s journalism program, inherits a floundering art magazine from his uncle, John Rizzo, with the provision that he must increase the circulation or forfeit all assets to creditors. Peter Rizzo, Pete’s father, is a banker who scorns careers in the Arts and Humanities, and is jealous of his late brother’s influence upon his wife and son. Classic Art Expose’s devoted but unorthodox editorial assistant, Jason, and two university interns, sisters Shirley and Evie, help Pete start a monthly short story contest with artwork prompts, hoping to expand and save the business. As the four friends publish the winning (and sometimes disturbing) stories over the following eighteen months, Pete battles his father’s attempts to ruin his business and his reputation, and in the process, discovers a sordid family secret. What else could possibly go astray?
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Cross of a Different Kind, written by Anthony Maranise, dives into the relationship between cancer and Christianity. A “field guide” for those affected by cancer, Cross of a Different Kind was created for those who have cancer, those who know someone affected by cancer and for the survivors of cancer. Each person will find solace in this novel, regardless of what part of the journey you are on and feel a connection of both faith and hope through the inspiring words and reflections. It’s a reminder of the light in the darkness and how God can bring spiritual comfort and acceptance in a time of loss, sadness and grief.
Cross of a Different Kind is a novel based on the ideologies of Christianity, written especially for those experiencing cancer themselves. The book is split into different sections with each part addressing the different stages of cancer that someone may be in.
The author, Anthony Maranise, tells of his battle with childhood cancer and the feelings surrounding his family, relationship with God and what it meant to find hope in some of his darkest hours. Maranise words are raw, honest and inspiring, allowing the reader to develop a sense of trust and gratitude for the words he writes. At times I felt as though I was sitting in a room, listening to him tell his story as it opened up the pathway to reflect on our personal experiences with cancer.
With statistics such as 69% of cancer patients praying for their health regularly, it is clear that Cross of a Different Kind is a novel that will connect with many people who have been touched by cancer. There are many Christianity references, but they are used to inspire hope, clarity and acceptance in a time of great trauma and stress. Cross of a Different Kind talks about how the journey of faith has helped the author and many others against the tough battles brought on by cancer.
So many of us know someone or have even experienced cancer ourselves and will find the feelings and reflections in the novel provide a sense of solace and comfort in the times of great stress and alarm. One of my favourite sentiments was that it is important to grieve and mourn the loss of our loved ones (even if we believe we will meet them again). Another idea the author presents is that those experiencing cancer are soldiers in their own way, battling the sadness, anger and trauma brought on by sickness that steals happiness and joy. This idea instills a sense of comradery and connection with the book, allowing the reader to feel acknowledged and understood in regards to their own personal battles with cancer.
Cross of a Different Kind will bring the reader a sense of spiritual comfort, understanding and information for those who are experiencing the journey that comes with cancer. I would recommend this for all Christians who are suffering from the burdens of cancer- whether it is themselves or their loved ones.
Pages: 188 | ISBN: 0692974148
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The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom, by Diane Mae Robinson, is a handy writing tool for kids in one neat, little package. Robinson presents readers with a succinct list of terminology, ten chapters covering everything from subject and verb agreement to dangling participles and misplaced modifiers. Throughout the grammar guide, readers are treated to engaging illustrations of Sir Princess Petra and Snarls, the dragon. From beginning to end, The Dragon Grammar Book, provides readers with everything they need to address those most common questions they encounter as budding writers.
Robinson begins her grammar guide with a very useful and well-organized grammar terminology section. Teachers, students, and parents will find the opening 15 pages of the book an extremely helpful tool for quickly skimming and finding definitions and examples of each of the parts of speech, punctuation, along with a few writing terms tossed in for good measure.
Let’s face it, kids can shut down at lightning speed when a textbook comes into sight. The Dragon Grammar Book provides the perfect amount of information presented in short bursts that don’t overwhelm the reader. Accompanying explanations for each rule are not too wordy, and hold the reader’s attention long enough to make a point. The ongoing dragon theme is tucked into each of the example sentences throughout the book.
As a teacher, I appreciate the wide variety of topics covered in the fairly short text. The author has chosen to include some areas students will encounter as their writing develops over the course of several years. Chapter One’s focus on confusing words was a breath of fresh air to this teacher. Arranged alphabetically and featuring brief, easy-to-understand examples, this portion of the book is simple to navigate and covers each and every roadblock young writers encounter as they learn to proofread and edit their work.
I give The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom 5 out of 5 stars. Having a useful resource that engages students and includes a wide variety of grammar rules with short, fun examples is difficult to find. Robinson has produced a winner with this easy-to-navigate, all-inclusive, grammar guide for kids.
Pages: 140 | ASIN: 198871401X
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Misty Hayes, author of The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1, is handing readers a unique take on the vampire stories of late. Her main character and narrator, Larna Collins, relates a tale deeply woven in history, family secrets, and bloodlust. Larna, quite the social outcast in her high school, graduates and embarks immediately on a mission to find her estranged father in England. Using her father’s journals and her own burning desire to find answers to her endless string of questions about his sudden disappearance, she leaves Texas just as her lifelong friend, Corinth, reveals his desire to be more than a tried-and-true confidante.
The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 is written to appeal to young adult readers, but is so exceptionally written and full of wit and wisdom it easily resonates with a much larger audience. The idea of the socially downtrodden heroine is not a new one, but Hayes manages, quite successfully, to fashion Larna Collins into character unlike any readers will encounter within other books in the same genre. Larna is thoughtful, and the reader is privy to all of her emotions, anxiety, and, ultimately, her pride and power.
Character development appears to be Hayes’s forte. Dropping little hints throughout the plot, the author draws robust images of each character from Paul the Volkswagen/taxicab-driving vampiric sidekick to Gabriel–the devil incarnate. Each of Hayes’s characters adds a rich element to the story, and she masters the plot twist with the best of the action/adventure writers out there.
Hayes provides a captivating mixture of budding romance and action sequences. In addition, she takes literary risks with her characters’ fates. She, by no means, sticks with what the reader expects. At every turn, Hayes delivers something new and unexpected, but more than appreciated. The tension between Corinth and Larna and the ever-present question of romance between Larna and Alastair keep the reader guessing from beginning to end.
Hayes offers an originality with her presentation of the vampire tale. She successfully juxtaposes the deteriorating architecture of old England with present-day Texas and tosses in a healthy amount of technology and modern references–all easily within the schema of the young adult audience. Those expecting to find the vampires of the Twilight series will be pleasantly surprised to find a quite different vamp sketched before them as Hayes offers up a down-to-earth creature with far-reaching abilities and deep-rooted emotions.
I am giving The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 a solid 5 out of 5 stars. Hayes offers a well-written, smooth read which mesmerizes readers from the first paragraphs. The relatable struggles of its main character, Larna, take an unexpected turn early on and pull readers in for a ride like no other. Hayes will soon find herself with a growing fan base yearning for more from Larna and her crew. By giving her audience the story they want with a cast of characters far-removed from those of the typical vampire tales, Hayes has succeeded in paving the way for her band of outcasts.
Pages: 356 | ASIN: B077XL9WHH
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How a church wrongfully uses the Word of God to their own advantage for the unreasonable exercise of power and exploitation.
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I found Vatican Protocol to be a grand journey that crosses over the Atlantic to Europe in a search for answers. What was your inspiration for this thrilling novel?
The inspiration was a combination of the terrific novels by Robert Ludlum where multiple plots converged at the end. There are so many questions regarding Nazis, UFO’s, religious and governmental conspiracies I had as much fun doing the research as I did writing the book.
The book follows Sean who seems like a regular man with very irregular friends. How did you set about creating Sean’s character and what was most important for you to get right?
Sean is similar to me. He is the coordinator and orchestrates activities and watches what swirls around him. Because he is somewhat like me, I didn’t want him to be the hero, which would have felt contrived. Instead he brings together his band of associates and keeps the ball moving forward without being the main focus.
I enjoy reading conspiracy theories that involve the church and global cover-ups. What is your favorite genre of books to read and how do you think that influences your writing?
My favorite genres are conspiracy and crime thrillers. I like Michael Connelly, John Sandford, John Grisham, Stuart Wood, James Patterson and many others. I like surprises and interesting characters. I’m also partial to recurring characters from one novel to the next.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
Since the release of Vatican Protocol I’ve had two novels published. Serial K and Serial K Returns. These are in the crime genre and have both won awards. The next one to be released is named Real Monsters and will be available late Q1, 2018 or early Q2.
Struggling writer and nearly bankrupt Sean O’Shea is searching for the blockbuster story from which he can create a best seller. The goal is to regain his financial independence and self-esteem. When he learns of a horrific 1936 UFO crash in Germany’s Black Forest, he chases the story to its origin. The discovery of insidious Nazi involvement piques his interest and when he unearths secret assassinations of previous investigators, he is hooked. As his probe continues, witnesses are murdered and he becomes the target of deadly agents sent by the most powerful man in the Vatican-The Black Pope. The cover-up is greater than he ever imagined. When he discovers that UFO’s, Nazis, Wewelsburg Castle and the Vatican are connected, he has the killer story he envisioned, though it just may kill him to get it published.
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The Enigma Ignite is filled with technological advancements, drama, and humor while it assembles an interesting cast of characters to solve a problem with high tech communications. What was the inspiration for the theme of this novel?
Communications avenues have evolved to the point where we can speak over almost any device, often with video included. In our line of professional work using cell towers, satellites and SIP opens up more avenues for conversations to be monitored or masked. Each of our stories focus on the technology capabilities as well as how we use and abuse technology. Those who want to see what is occurring and yet they themselves hide under the radar are only limited by their imagination. A lot like a fictional author, right?
Technology is a lot like art in that it can inspire different interpretations in each person. The difference however is that with technology if you see dark thoughts you can use the product for dark actions. Enhanced communications for the battlefield, the main theme for this story, is just exactly what we were trying to illustrate. We create this brilliant researcher, Su Lin, trying to improve food production and the bad guys have seen the possibilities of her development efforts, yet have mapped it to their purposes in the dark net. The point we are trying to drive home is that no matter what your intentions were there will be some entity capable of morphing it into something never imagined. The problem then becomes how to put the genie back into the bottle?
Your work is able to effortlessly switch between drama and humor. Is that because of the two of you working together? Which one of you do you find lends more levity to your writing?
We do have fun working together to continue the aspects of drama and humor. Burkey has continually tried to learn humor over the years and is improving. The subtle aspects of the humor for the most part in the early stories of the series is Breakfield, however as you get further into the series Burkey comes up with some winning humor aspects. Over the years we have had a lot of humor in heavy drama circumstances when stuck in a horrific late night upgrade. Like the time we had talk down an engineer that ran screaming out of the building with our emergency chocolate pieces. You just can’t make that stuff up. Of course, we can’t tell you who wrote which portions because then we would need to arrange an unfortunate accident for you in a future story.
I found Su Lin and Franklin’s story line to be intriguing all the way around. What was your inspiration for the characters and relationship?
In our experience pigs are creatures who can bind with people, like a dog. They also have some physiology that makes that ideal for this kind of experimentation. Su Lin needed a new way to focus her creative efforts and do something for humanity that would make her feel like the valuable individual she is. Her brilliant character has evolved in the series and we wanted to give her some additional dimension. We honestly felt that putting the two together would interesting. Perhaps we were slightly influenced by the long ago story of a family, a pig, and a spider.
The Enigma Ignite is the third book in the Enigma series. What did you do different in this story to keep things fresh?
The technology keeps our series fresh as it keeps changing and we are in a position to observe its applications. However, it is the characters that give the series a very unique perspective. We have a subject rich pool of people and technology for our award winning techno thriller series. We incorporate the numerous characters, aka business professionals, we have encountered and it simply allows our imaginations to run rampant. Nanotechnology, drones, and military superiority as a mix seemed to play right into our process. The technologies alone don’t matter without the human interactions. The human interaction is more inspiring when they help paint a great story. We believe we balance a great combination of the technologies, research and characters to keep it fresh. We are so delighted you enjoyed it. In subsequent stories some characters, good and bad return, and some simply earn their just desserts. New technology continues to evolve our stories.
What does research to improve animal husbandry to boost global food supplies have in common with next generation high-tech military communications? A Texas university professor, quietly working in her field of study, finds her unconventional communication techniques have put her in the cross-hairs of multiple interested parties. Her applied research of nanotechnology, coupled with new programming methods has gotten her more attention than she wanted.
When the world’s biggest powers compete for superiority, it’s not larger weapons or greater numbers of soldiers that top their wish lists. Instead, it’s leveraging the latest technology improvements: nanotechnology,dynamic programming algorithms, and drones, working together to build the next generation of military communications. But what challenges do they face before emerging as the tall hog at the trough?
As Keith Austin Avery scouts new technology and new applications under his military contract his research draws the attention of a powerful terrorist group, with traumatic consequences for him and his subcontractor Eilla-Zan Marshall. Will they be forced to reveal the confidential military plans? Or is all this information already out on the Dark Net?
The R-Group is engaged to locate terrorists and their captives. Marshaling all data and using sophisticated analytics, they uncover more than they planned. Is there government corruption? Are secrets kept from those who can help? Most importantly, how many will lose their lives in the fight to perfect advanced battlefield communications?
This fast-paced third installment of the Enigma Series,TheEnigma Ignite, has the R-Group’s Jacob Michaels and Petra Rancowski working closely with a powerful and talented team to uncover the newest technological inroads. The technology programs they uncover results in a race against time to save lives.
Award winning authors, Breakfield and Burkey, provide a solid espionage thriller, that incorporates a satisfying balance of technology, tension, surprisingly sensitive romance,and the blurred lines that surround the age-old conflict between good and evil.
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Titch the Itch is the tale of an animated little itch who wants nothing more than to make friends. How did you come up with the idea to anthropomorphize an itch?
The idea was born when I was ‘chasing an itch’ around my wife’s back. Every time I scratched a spot, the itch seemed to move. I thought the idea of an itch playing games would make a fun concept for a children’s book so I set about to develop the story.
There are many fun and funny moments in the book. Were there any moments that made you laugh out loud while creating the book?
I’m not actually a laugh out loud kind of person. I’m one of those annoying people who internalises humour – so no one is actually sure whether I’m finding something funny. I know… I’m working on it. But yes, there were quite a few moments that I found quite fun.
There are probably two main aspects of the story that stand out to me as funny. The first is Titch’s desperate but authentic attempts to make friends, juxtaposed with the exaggerated but real-world reactions of his new acquaintances. The second is Titch’s completely innocent disregard for anyone’s personal space.
Lenny Wen, the illustrator, also did an outstanding job capturing the humour. Probably my favourite page is when Titch spots a ‘rich-looking lady with a tiny white poodle’. She has managed to illustrate someone who typifies dignity and stoic behaviour. It is the anticipation of Titch’s desire to make friends with her that I think prepares readers for a good laugh out loud moment (if that’s their thing of course).
This story of an itch looking for friendship is perfect for teaching young readers about the value of friends and loyalty. What do you hope readers take away from this story?
I tried to write something that was a little different to most books on friendship. Often we think of friendship as something that we accept based on someone’s desirable qualities. I wanted to challenge that, and ask the question, what if friendship has more to do with someone else’s acceptance of us.
Titch ends up being a really interesting case study in friendship, because he is annoying by nature. In essence, the desirable qualities that we normally associate with friendship have been stripped away. We are only left with loyalty. I also purposefully avoid concluding the book in consonance, as it transfers this question to the reader.
At the end of the day however, this question is only a subtle thread in an otherwise simple and humorous adventure of an Itch. More than anything else, I hope that readers of Titch the Itch just enjoy the imaginative qualities and have fun reading!
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next book to hit the shelves is called Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32. It is about a brother and sister who are invited to explore a mysterious hotel with some unusual guests. Readers will be able to linger on each page and count the hidden objects as they make their way towards the forbidden door. I really look forward to hearing what children (and adults) think of it.
It is currently available for pre-order, and will be available on March 14.
When Titch discovers that no one in his family wants him, he sets off on a journey to find someone – anyone – who would be willing to live with an itch. With every step he grows less hopeful. That is, until he meets an old friend.
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