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!
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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.
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My Name is Rose follows a curious young woman who leaves a commune to explore the world and find herself. What were some ideas that informed this novels development?
The thread that runs through my novels is nostalgia. As a baby boomer, I lived through some of the best decades, experienced the life-changing views of all Americans that were shaped by the Vietnam conflict, as well as the hippie peace movement that followed. I was never extreme, but fads began and ended in California. A teenager or young adult couldn’t help but be swept up in the changes that were happening, and communes were an escape for many of my generation who preferred the unhurried environment they provided.
The plot line of Rose’s lineage sprang up from the well-known fact that “free love” was embraced during this time, especially in San Francisco, the poster city for peace rallies and an over-indulgence of mind-altering drugs. Without degrading personal choices or judging anyone’s character, I thought it would be an interesting perspective to pursue from the point of view of one couples’ offspring. This nugget of inspiration has nothing to do with my life or direct involvement, but is an encapsulated version of what might have happened in this situation. There was no particular incident that triggered this story, but it flowed easily once I started to write.
I enjoyed Rose’s character and evolution. Was there anything from yourself that you put into Rose’s character?
Like Rose, I was never the center of attention growing up and spent more time observing than participating. I cultivated my skills that were more cerebral, as opposed to physical, and Rose has a touch of my personality in her. I was able to weave her life through the years not so much with first-hand experience, but with knowledge I had acquired over decades that helped me to understand what links hearts and souls together. My protagonists are ordinary people dealing with difficult circumstances. My antagonists are as much self-doubt, anger and immaturity as they are a person, as we can damage ourselves just as easily as we can be damaged by another human being. The tragedy of misunderstandings and mistakes that lead to estrangement is something many of us have felt, and this particular family saga puts into perspective how everyone plays a part in the final outcome. As an author, I have the ability to shape my characters – the way they think, dress, talk, behave – in order to present a tight, neat package with what I hope is a satisfying ending for my readers.
I find that writers often ask themselves questions and let their characters answer them. Do you think was true for this book?
Great question! That is absolutely true in this story! When I started to think about this novel in my head, before I even started writing it, I knew there were a few endings that I could create. As I wrote, and the characters and situations evolved, I considered all of them in the back of my mind and how I would determine the final chapters. Interestingly, when I got to that section and the question of who Rose’s biological father was, the words just spilled onto the page. I didn’t question it, scrapped the other endings, and let it emerge to a natural conclusion. It was seamless.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
During my first nine weeks of quarantine, I completed the first draft of my third novel, MIRACLE. The story revolves around two young women in the 1950s’. One lives in Southern California and must come to terms with the fact that four unsuccessful pregnancies leave adoption as the only option for herself and her husband. The inability to qualify with the adoption agency due to their advancing age – almost thirty was old in the 50s’ – steers them towards an alternative solution of adopting a child outside the United States. From 1945 to the 1970s, the Canadian government created maternity homes for young women who were without a spouse or family assistance. Forced to give birth in secrecy, it was understood that they would leave their baby behind for adoption by a suitable couple. The second young lady finds herself in a position that demands she reside in one of these homes for the last part of her pregnancy where she agonizes about the ultimate sacrifice that is forced upon her. These two women are destined to connect, but the ending is not as one might expect. I hope to have MIRACLE ready for publication by mid-2021.
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Nira was miserable, pretty much all the time. As an immigrant in her school (or as she called herself, “one of the only brown people”) she was automatically an outsider, and spent her days there commiserating with her one friend about it. Her life at home was equally as unfulfilling, spent under the strict watch of her parents who lived to ensure that she accomplished the dreams they had for her future. Her two biggest comforts are her grandmother and her trumpet, both equally soothing for her soul. Eventually, though, Nira begins to learn that no one’s life is quite what it seems.
In the Key of Nira Ghani, by Natasha Deen is a coming of age story that finds Nira navigating life not only as a teen, but as an immigrant in a foreign country. On the surface, the story is familiar territory- monetarily poor teen bemoans how sad and unfair her life is until she realizes that everyone else’s happiness is mostly a facade and discovers all the things in life money can’t buy. However, on a deeper note Deen has crafted a story that is in equal turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, all while being impossible to put down. She shares the intricacies of Nira’s family life in a way that highlights its cultural differences while also showing that we all face similar challenges and rivalries when it comes to those relationships. While writing about teen conflict can be challenging, Deen approaches all of Nira’s problems without making any of them seem trite or trivial. She absolutely nails the turmoil of being a teenage girl, even before the added pressure of living in a completely new place.
In the Key of Nira Ghani manages to touch on all the major themes of teenage life- the desire for more independence, rebellion against parents, the need for acceptance, the evolution of childhood friendships (whether for better or for worse), and first love. Nira begins the story in a place of utter loneliness, but as she encounters all of these things she learns to grow and eventually becomes more defined by juggling each new obstacle. By the end of the book, Nira has discovered an independence and strength that she never imagined, not to mention empathy and understanding for those around her.
While Nira’s emotional turmoil was hard to read at times, it was accurate for her age and experience, and the added layer of cultural differences made the story that much more interesting. I spent the entire book emotionally invested and was definitely happy to be along for the ride!
Pages: 300 | ASIN: B07G74YP63
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The Apprentus, Michael Bialys’ second installment in The Chronicles of the Virago series, finds Mackenna Gold, the chosen Virago, as she trains in China to protect twin-gift Emi and Noah from evil forces that seek to endanger them.
The characters in this book are fresh and highly imaginative. Fluffy, Mackenna’s talking worm sidekick, adds wit and humor to the text. Tai-Pan, Mackenna’s trainer, has an interesting link to a familiar children’s book character. Finally, Mackenna herself is a young girl who plays the traditional hero. She is determined, resourceful, and has utmost respect for the responsibility that has been placed in her hands. She is the type of character who the reader genuinely wants to see succeed.
The fast-paced plot makes it hard to put down. The book is organized into chapters that are short, digestible, and filled with relevant action that moves the story along. Movement from scene to scene is natural. The role of Natasi is revealed incrementally, only revealing what is necessary at any given time.
This book, and arguably the series itself, is a solid read for young adult readers because of the values it promotes. Tai-Pan symbolizes the need to fight fairly and without contempt, even when fighting against those who have done wrong. Samuel and Stephen, Mackenna’s school friends, prove that even the greatest of heroes can’t do it alone and that everyone has something to contribute. Finally, Mackenna reinforces the nobility that comes with protecting loved ones, upholding commitments with passion, and, above all, the power of never giving up when met with adversity.
However, the proofreading errors detract from the reading experience. There are spelling errors and editing issues scattered throughout the text. Otherwise this a truly stellar, high-quality read. The Chronicles of the Virago: Book II The Apprentus has an engaging and action-packed plot, the characters are likable, and the text teaches ethics that are appropriate for a young adult fantasy readers.
Pages: 252 | ASIN: B07LC1QHHV
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In Jackiem Joyner’s debut novel, Zarya, he takes us on a wild journey through the mythical planet of Cydnus. In the first chapters of the book, there is a heavy focus on the parents of the main character, Zarya, as we are taken through the events right before their mysterious disappearance.
However, later on, the author shifts gears to primarily focus on the main character and her journey through life. As a strong female lead, she exudes brilliance and the unrelenting resistance to hide it, something quite against the norms of the time.
She is portrayed as a confident woman, unhindered by the status quo, and possessing courage that makes her willing to go to extreme lengths to find her parents. Together with her best friend Kizzy, and acquaintance Marco, she embarks on a quest filled with curveballs, tons of action, and unexpected camaraderie.
For a book set in a land that doesn’t value its women, it is interesting that the author includes a lot of strong female characters, all of whom are very keen on making Cydnus a better place. And the few male characters in the book are mostly either evil or rather subdued. It almost seems like the women are fighting against an ill-functioning patriarchal system.
If there is one theme that clearly stands out throughout this book though, it is the importance of family; both chosen and blood bound. But at the heart of it, this book is about the old age fight between good and evil. As such, it contains several scenarios that force characters to choose between what is right and what is easy.
Predictably, the protagonist has a righteous egalitarian vibe to her while the villain seems to be purely evil. In this regard, I feel like more could be done in terms of character development to add more depth to them. I would have loved to see different sides of the characters to make them more realistic.
For instance, it would have been helpful to learn more about how Zarya coped with the absence of her parents in her early childhood and how this affected her behavior. This would have made her plight much more relatable.
However, the plot is solid and is full of detailed and engaging action scenes. Also, the dialogue is quite entertaining and there are no signs of long-winded paragraphs. All things considered, this book is very fast-paced and easy to read. As such, it leaves me yearning to read the sequel. For its ability to enthrall me as a reader, I heartily recommend this book.
Pages: 361 | ASIN: B01J6OXCQY
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