Wednesday, October 16, 2019

WRITER'S DIGEST GUIDE TO MAGAZINE WRITING and other books by Kerrie Flanagan

I met Kerrie Flanagan (who also writes under the pen names C.K. Wiles and C.G. Harris) at this year's Colorado Writing Workshop. Kerrie was not only one of the event's main organizers, but she presented a really helpful workshop on publishing.

In The Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing, accomplished freelance writer, author, and instructor Kerrie Flanagan demystifies the idea that writing for magazines is a difficult process meant only for those with journalism degrees.
Drawing from her 20 years as a freelance writer and instructor, Flanagan takes you step-by-step through the entire process, sharing her knowledge and experiences in a friendly, conversational way.

With more than a dozen sample articles, expert advice from magazine editors and successful freelance writers, practical tips on researching potential publications and instructions on crafting compelling query letters, you'll find the tools needed to write and publish magazine articles.

Kristin Hughes swore she would never work in the theater again, but that’s exactly where the employment agency sent her for her first accounting job. When performer and old flame, Devon Dashner appears, he doesn’t recognize his ex-lover. Kristin would rather smack Devon than work with him, but with money tight and desperation even tighter, she sets out to finish the job and keep her identity, and her emerging desires private—at least for now.

After she’s had a taste of the theater owner’s crazy antics, and a bookkeeping system from the dark ages, Kristin wonders if she made a mistake agreeing to stay, but Devon’s cunning charm and shirtless work attire are too tantalizing to ignore. After an evening of unwitting voyeurism and a party filled with costumes and lavish libations, Kristin’s secrets are threatened and she must make a choice; disappear or expose everything, and risk being rejected all over again.

Gabe is recruited to join the most dangerous organization the world has never heard about. As a double agent he has to fight within their ranks to stop them, all with no training, no experience and no support. If he’s caught, they will tear him apart. But that’s not the real twist.

Gabe is dead, he lives in Hell and Judas Iscariot just became his new boss.

Judas assigns Gabe a beautiful new partner with plans to sow a disease that could wipe out the modern world. Without revealing his true identity, he must find a way to deal with insect wielding super agents, firestorms, and worst of all, the nauseating envisage travel to get Topside to save the earth.

I enjoyed your workshop on publishing. What do you think is the biggest myth that holds writers back in the publishing process?

I don’t think there are big myths that hold writers back. Most seem to understand that publishing isn’t easy. But what I do see holding back writers is fear. The fear of rejection, and the fear that their work isn’t good enough. For many this can be paralyzing, and they end up not doing anything with their novel, short story, essay… and it sits in a desk or on a computer, never be read by anyone else. Fear is a powerful deterrent, but it can be overcome with a shift in mindset. Just like every person is unique, every writer is unique. If I give a writing prompt to a group of 100 writers and each one would create something different. There may be similar elements, but the voice, word choice, style will be unique to each individual writer. And because of that, writers should feel a responsibility to share the stories, essays, poems they felt compelled to create, because if they don’t put it out into the world, no one will. When we hold back our writing because of fear, we lose any opportunity to have our work resonate with readers.

This is so true--and exactly what I needed to hear! SHOWTIME RENDEZVOUS, which you published as C.K. Wiles, takes place in a theater setting. What about this backdrop was most fun to write? 

My co-author and I chose this setting, because it seemed unique and theaters are full of entertaining, quirky people. Theaters also have lots of different types of settings within the building. There are offices, backstage, the lobby, balcony, the stage, dressing rooms, catwalks… we had so much fun exploring our fictional set and creating different scenes in the various locations. Because of all the options, we never had to leave the building. The characters did leave, but that was always “off camera” and could be talked about by them, but everything in the stories took place in the theater. Even after three books, there were still places we hadn’t used yet and in book three a secret is revealed that added even more possibilities!

Exciting! You also have books with photography and poetry. What do you like about each of these mediums, and in what ways, if any, do they help you refill your creative well?

The Words & Images coffee-table books I did with Suzette McIntyre pushed me creatively and I loved it. I have always enjoyed photography and playing around with poetry. Suzette is a professional photographer, as well as a writer, and one day we were talking about these mediums; individually these they’re great, but what if we combined the two? What if we approached them in a way where they enhanced one another? The idea got us both excited and we created a class that combined them. She taught the photography and I taught the poetry.

The class was success and it inspired us to make the books together. While working on them, I definitely refilled my creative well and at times it was over flowing. At the core of creativity is a curious spirit and surprising your brain with something new. With this project I approached photography and poetry differently than I had in the past, keeping my mind constantly engaged. Suzette was an amazing partner in this venture and inspired me to think outside the box with my photos.

We were working on the last book in the series, Reflection and I had a trip to France planned and I told her I was bummed because it was supposed to be rainy while we were in Paris. Suzette got excited and said that it was wonderful. I thought she had lost her mind. She went on to explain that with rain, comes puddles and puddles reflect the world around them. During my visit to the Eiffel tower, while everyone looked up, I looked down. Sure enough, in one of the large puddles, was a beautiful reflection of the tower. Now, I became excited about the rain.

Once I had all my photos, I went back through and added the poetry. The purpose was not to explain what was in the photo but to enhance it. To think about what couldn’t be seen in the image; smells, sounds, emotions… By themselves the photos and poems were great, but together, they were powerful.

Extremely. What are some of your current projects? 

I love to try new things and have a variety of projects going at once, because as I mentioned earlier, it keeps my brain engaged. One current project has me very excited.

The other project I am really excited about is the urban fantasy series, The Judas Files, I am writing with my incredible co-author, Chuck Harrelson. It is like a mash up of Dresden Files, Sandman Slim and Good Omens. In the first book, The Nine, the main character, Gabe, is making the best of his afterlife in hell and all is going well until he gets summoned to the office of Judas Iscariot who insists Gabe become a double agent for the Judas Agency.

I love working on these books. One reason is because Chuck and I have a great writing partnership making the whole process fun and fuels our creativity. The engaging story line is filled with action and adventure, so we are never bored writing it. Plus, the banter between Gabe and his new partner is a ton of fun to write. We have started the second book, The Dominion, and I look forward to digging deep into that storyline.

We are super excited because the audiobook version of The Nine was just released. We found the best narrator who makes the story come to life. MacLeod Andrews narrated the Reckoners series and the Sandman Slim series, along with many others. When we heard him, we knew he was the perfect narrator for The Judas Files. He does more than just read the book he performs it with different voices and does an incredible job.

You can listen to a sample here: This is our first audiobook and we are very excited to share it with everyone. It will be available on all audiobook platforms and through Author’s Direct:

Kerrie’s Bio:
Kerrie Flanagan is an author, writing consultant, presenter, and freelance writer with over 20 years’ experience in the publishing industry. She’s the author of, The Writer's Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing and creator of the Magazine Writing Blueprint. In addition, she has published twelve other books with a co-author, under the pen names, C.K. Wiles and C.G. Harris. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications and anthologies including Writer's Digest, Alaska Magazine, The Writer, FamilyFun, and six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her background in teaching, and enjoyment of helping writers has led her to present at writing conferences across the country and teach continuing studies classes through Stanford University.

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Monday, October 14, 2019


Just in time for Halloween, we have BERTIE'S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS by Ocelot Emerson, a half-cat, half-person, who is also a screenwriter under another name. The book comes out October 15, 2019:

Twelve-year-old Bertie Blount is great at causing trouble. When she's forced to leave behind her dad and friends in North Carolina so her mom can marry the most boring optometrist in the world, Bertie has a chance at a fresh start.

But when Bertie arrives in Pennsylvania, she doesn’t just bring trouble; she brings disaster. In a moment of anger, Bertie unwittingly triggers an accident that puts her future stepbrother in a coma.

Broken and desperate to make things right, Bertie prays for a miracle. Instead, the universe gives her a pair of supernatural sunglasses, a wise-cracking doppleganger, and a terrifying ghost that sends Bertie on a dangerous mission to find the one thing that just might save her stepbrother’s life.

Question One:  How did you escape from the X Prison of Wayward Creatures?  

Rats.  In prison there are always a population of rats.  And these rats know things.  Now usually I eat rats.  You might think that’s disgusting, but I’m a cat it’s what I do.  Not to mention cats really aren’t concerned by what others think — like at all.  That being said, back to the question.  I made a deadly alliance with the rats.  It was simple a deal — I’d stop eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they would show me a secret escape route out of the secret prison.  The rats drew me a map.  My feline sense told me the map was actually a trap, however.  So I ate the rat who drew it and asked the other rats if they would like to try again. They drew another map.  And I knew in an instant this map was the real deal. This was my pathway to a new pathway in life. And even though I have nine lives, I was grateful.  Filed with a hope I’d never known before.  Even so, I ate the second rat on principal, and away I went from the sinister confines of the secret evil prison into the dark mystical woods. A doorway to brave new world. Or so I thought…

Question Two: BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS, has both tragedy and comedy. How do you find balance between these two very diverse set of emotions when composing your work? 

Stay with me on this answer, there’s a super important point I’m going to make.

We’re all two people, aren’t we (or in my case I’m half-cat/half person)?
Don’t you have a voice inside your head commenting on just about anything and everything you do?
It’s actually exhausting.  The voice goes on and on, from inner arguments about what you should wear in the morning, or the inner debate over whether or not everyone is staring at that pimple on your cheek (they are), or the inner judgement about those awful shoes your friend is wearing (what is she thinking)!

But here’s the rub — we’re so used to this voice, we don’t even notice it.  It’s 100% crazy.
No joke, ff people could actually hear our inner voice, nobody would want to be our friend.  They’d think we’re nuts.  Because, well, we are.  The voice in our head is unrelenting and it is essentially more harsh to ourselves than it is the rest of the world. 

Now comes the point:  We are comedy.  We are tragedy.  So the stories we read and watch feel most authentic when they are both as well.  As humans (or half-humans) we are comedy and tragedy on two legs (and hopefully good shoes) (or good paws). Here’s another point:  My cat senses tell me that the more we quiet the nutjob voice in our heads, the more chill we are.  The less we judge, and the more we let go, the more we purrrrrrrrrrr.

Oh, I looooooove to purr, baby.

Question Three:  As a half animal, half human, it must be difficult to blend in. What do you wish more people knew about you?

I don’t blend.  I shine. Big and bright.  Blending is boring.
That being said, people usually think I’m in some sort’ve of costume.
But, as previously mentioned, I don’t give a rat’s behind what people think.  It’s the beauty of being Oceloty.  And lemme tell ya, it’s a thousand times better than being humany.

Question Four:  What are some of your current projects?

Ocelot is also a screenwriter under another name.  Cats have many different sides and each side digs privacy.  I’ve written a diverse slate of stories from animation movies, to monster movies, to inspirational true movies.  Right now, I’m meeting with several studios who want to turn Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders into a feature film or TV show.

Thanks for reading Bertie.
You’re a better person for it.
That’s a scientific fact.  Spiritual one too.
No lie, everyone says you look like ten times more attractive right now.
FYI:  Even when others adore you, you really don’t have to care.
Hold up, it’s not about being apathetic, beautiful person, it’s about being authentic.
When you’re authentic you’re naturally grateful (and draw people to you like moths to the flame.  BURN, BABY, BURN!)
How fabulous are you?!!!!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The RULES FOR THIEVES series by Alexandra Ott

I happened upon the Rules for Thieves series when Alexandra Ott was having a Twitter giveaway. I was lucky enough to win a book, and as soon as I did, I couldn't wait to feature it:

Rules for Thieves

After twelve-year-old orphan Alli Rosco is cursed with a deadly spell, she must join the legendary Thieves Guild in order to try and save herself in this high-stakes debut.

Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Some of these traits have served her well during her nine years in Azeland’s orphanage, and others have proved more troublesome…but now that she’s escaped to try her luck on the streets, she has bigger problems than extra chores to contend with. Surviving would be hard enough, but after a run-in with one of the city’s Protectors, she’s marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical—and seems well out of her reach.

Enter Beck, a boy with a gift for theft and a touch of magic, who seems almost too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be, too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the King of Thieves will assign to her. Join the Guild, collect her yearly reward and buy a cure. Plus, Alli hopes the Guild will be the home—the family—that Alli has always wanted. But when their trial goes wrong, innocent lives are put in danger, and Alli has to decide how much she can sacrifice in order to survive.

Alli must risk everything to save her new family from a rogue organization that is threatening the Thieves Guild’s existence—and the lives of all its members—in this high-stakes sequel to Rules for Thieves.

The Shadow Thieves

Alli Rosco, former orphan and thief, is free after her disastrous Thieves Guild trial, which left an innocent woman dead while Alli’s partner-in-crime, Beck, fled.

Now Alli is getting more than just a fresh start: her long-lost brother, Ronan, has come forward to claim responsibility for her and let her live with him on a trial basis. They try to mend the rift that started when Alli was dropped off at the orphanage while Ronan became a lawyer in Ruhia. But as determined as she is to make things work, Alli can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

To make matters worse, Alli finds a surprise guest on her doorstep one night: Beck.

He’s on the run and brings news of the Shadow Guild, a rogue organization that is trying to overthrow the current king of the Thieves Guild. Their friends are in real danger. And Beck needs Alli’s help one more time to bring the Shadows down.

Once again, Alli is forced to make a hard choice: save her friends, or lose her last chance to have a true family.

According to your website bio, you live in Oklahoma with your "canine overlord." Can you elaborate on this overlord and their expectations?

My canine overlord is a Lhasa Apso who is very vocal about how she expects her humans to serve her. Among her demands: 1) The delicious food called “popcorn” must be shared with her; 2) Humans must lift her up onto her couch and her bed themselves, since jumping is beneath her dignity; 3) The office blinds must be left open so that she can look out the front window and bark at potential intruders. She also doesn’t understand why people keep calling her by the name “Penny” when the proper form of address is obviously “Your Majesty.”

"Her Majesty" sounds adorable! THE SHADOW THIEVES is a sequel to RULES FOR THIEVES. In what ways did Alli's story expand in ways you didn't expect? 

It’s tough to talk about The Shadow Thieves without spoilers, but I’ll try! I’d say that I went into this sequel knowing what the focus would be and where I wanted it to end, but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there. Several new characters are introduced in The Shadow Thieves who weren’t in the first book, so that was one of the biggest areas of exploration—figuring out exactly who these characters are and what makes them tick. There are some new villains, for example, who were quite fun to write about once I figured out their story!

I'll bet they were! What do you love most about Twitter giveaways, and in what ways (if any) can they be a helpful marketing tool?

I love how engaged the book community is on Twitter. It’s such a great way to find new readers who I might otherwise not have been able to connect with. Some of the bloggers I’ve met via Twitter are such passionate and dedicated readers! I don’t know how effective it is as a marketing tool, but I’m glad that it gives me the ability to connect with readers so easily.

I'm not sure about Twitter as a marketing tool, either. Every book has its reader--and the hope is that enough people (including bloggers) can spread word so that more potential readers can be reached. Your next middle grade novel, SEEKERS OF THE WILD REALM, is forthcoming from Aladdin/Simon and Schuster in summer 2020. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

I’m so excited about Seekers of the Wild Realm! Like the Rules for Thieves series, it’s a middle grade fantasy adventure story. But it’s about a new protagonist—a young girl named Bryn who’s determined to win a competition to become a magical creature caretaker/trainer. But there’s a problem: she’s the first girl ever to compete, and she isn’t allowed to train with the boys. So Bryn will have to find her own way to train—even if it means caring for a baby dragon in secret...

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019


As soon as I saw this book in my Facebook feed, I had to feature it. It's set to debut on October 8, a week from today:

From the moment she first learned to read, literary genius Darcy Wells has spent most of her time living in the worlds of her books. There, she can avoid the crushing reality of her mother’s hoarding and pretend her life is simply ordinary. But when a new property manager becomes more active in the upkeep of their apartment complex, the only home Darcy has ever known outside of her books suddenly hangs in the balance.

While Darcy is struggling to survive beneath the weight of her mother’s compulsive shopping, Asher Fleet, a former teen pilot with an unexpectedly shattered future, walks into the bookstore where she works…and straight into her heart. For the first time in her life, Darcy can’t seem to find the right words. Fairy tales are one thing, but real love makes her want to hide inside her carefully constructed ink-and-paper bomb shelter.

Still, after spending her whole life keeping people out, something about Asher makes Darcy want to open up. But securing her own happily-ever-after will mean she’ll need to stop hiding and start living her own truth—even if it’s messy.

Earlier this year, you posted about your spring trip to Japan. What, if anything, did you discover on your trip that surprised you?

Japan was a dream. I traveled with my family to Tokyo and Kyoto, and besides my surprise over the actual amount of ramen that can be consumed by one 5’3” woman, I was incredibly touched by the graciousness of the people I encountered. Nearly everywhere we went, we were greeted with the warmest hospitality, kindness, and patience. I can’t wait to go back.

My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan this coming spring, and now I can't wait! In the THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS, literary genius Darcy Wells is forced out of her bookish comfort zone. In what ways did you feel this was a necessary part of her character growth? 

When we first meet Darcy, she's created an extensive library to escape her mother’s hoarding and compulsive shopping. Darcy shelters herself––literally and virtually––within her book walls, which leaves her devoid of some aspects of human experience. Darcy finds safety in consulting and drawing upon the past successes of book characters. And this works for her, until a pressing family situation can’t be solved by lingering between pages. She has to get out, act, and look for new strategies. When this also brings the possibility of love, she has to figure out how a relationship could fit into a life she’s kept so closely guarded and hidden. This grows her––heart, soul, and mind.

Darcy comes of age in my story. I believe an essential component of growing up is exploring your own voice in the world, and your own place and purpose. Previously, books and book characters have fulfilled and grown Darcy. In THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS, she learns what it means to live out her own story.

An important way to live indeed. What do you love most about words, and what do you feel are the necessary parts of a good story?

I love that words contain the power to invoke emotion. As a writer, there is nothing I love more than finding the right word, or the perfect combination of words that makes a reader feel and remember.

For me, a good story presents a cast of characters that I care about. They don’t all have to be likable, but they have to be compelling. Then, I look for a conflict with personal stakes, a sense of emotional resonance, and creative world-building in the physical setting, as well as in the interior worlds inside every character. Lastly, I look for a voice that draws me in and makes me want to stay a while.

I agree completely. What are some of your current projects? 

I recently finished a YA contemporary tribute to my Cuban heritage. In this story, a teen Miami Cuban baker finds herself in England the summer after high school graduation. As she heals from heartbreak and shares her cuisine, she faces new people, places, and opportunities that challenge her beliefs about what her carefully plotted future should look like.

And now, I am drafting again! I am working on a YA contemporary featuring ten years of ride-or-die friendship, and one act of betrayal that could tear three girls apart forever.

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019


I've long admired Bill Koningsberg, and I got a chance to meet him at the IReadYA booth at this year's YallWest. I was particularly inspired by the speech he gave at last year's NCTE conference. His newest book, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, explores facing fears--and how we can grow when we let go of denial.

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn't want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His "wives" and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won't like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he's the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what's considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they're willing to risk -- to get the thing they want the most.

I love the unique detail you have in your stories, especially regarding your characters. How do you decide which details to include and which to leave out? 

Good question. A lot of the choices I make are instinctual, but I suppose if there are ground rules, it would be something like this: include it if the detail evokes character, or if it makes the setting come to life in and of itself. Leave out if it feels generic or uninteresting. I think of Jordan's 80s bordello bedroom. I am not the kind of writer who is going to overload readers with detail, so I want each detail to do a lot of work. They have to land.

Finding that "best" word or phrase that makes all the difference. In THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, both characters are confronted with their fears. What do you hope readers can glean from their journey?

I think a lot of what I've been learning in my own life is how important it is to move away from denial. And by that I mean all sorts of denial: denial of reality, of feelings... I was really focused on how Max has been told to ignore his emotions, and how much I was told that in my life, too, and the impact of that. On boys and also on society. That which we resist does tend to persist, at least in my experience. I've been really enjoying a TV show called The Bold Type, about three 20-something women working in the fashion industry in New York City. What I notice is how often the plot tends to come down to the characters having to dig down and deal with what is, and what they are feeling. It begins to feel like the most important thing in life, in some ways.

It certainly is. You gave a very poignant speech about the dangers of marginalization and what it does to teens. What do you wish more people knew about these teens and their experiences?  

I wish people--and I guess I mean non-allies here--understood that this isn't about sex or sexuality. I think a lot of the "queasiness" some people feel about LGBTQIA issues is that it seems like it's about something private, but really it isn't. Not any more than someone acknowledging their heterosexuality is about sex, and we seem to do that with great ease. This is about identity, and being open and honest with ourselves and others, and most importantly it's a health and safety issue. We simply must work harder to lower the horrifying numbers of LGBTQIA teens who attempt and die by suicide. Particularly trans youth. It's not acceptable, and it shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.

Indeed. We live in a heartbreaking world, and I'm thankful that teens (and others) have access to your books within it. What are some of your current projects?

I'm finishing up edits on my next novel, THE BRIDGE, which will come out next fall. THE BRIDGE is about two teens, a boy and a girl, who meet atop the George Washington Bridge in New York City. They are both there to jump, and they interrupt each other. Then, based on what happens as the two teens sit, facing each other, 100 feet apart, with one leg each over the ledge, the world splits into four separate realities: one in which the girl jumps, one in which the boy jumps, one in which they both jump, and one in which they both decide not to. It's a book about the huge impact of our choices in those moments when we are depressed and we think no one would care if we died, and how we impact the world around us greatly, each of us. Not just our families and friends, but those who we would not expect to be impacted. I'm so excited to have this book out in the world!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

For Bill Koningsberg's other books, click here.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Release Feature: DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS by Nikki Z. Richard

Happy release day to Nikki Z. Richard and DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS! The full interview can be accessed here.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, some things cannot be explained.

Sixteen-year-old Samuel, son of devout cleric, has endured shame and prejudice his entire life. Although he is destined to become clergy too, he longs for an ordinary life in the whitelands away from demons and holy roots.

When the mayor claims to have captured a mute demon girl, Samuel is forced to become her caretaker. But as Samuel gets to know the prisoner, he finds her not to be very demonlike. Instead, she is intelligent, meek, and an exceptional artist. Despite her seeming goodness, some more concerning things cannot be explained. Samuel is hard-pressed to reconcile her uncanny strength and speed, missing arm, ambiguous gender, and the mysterious scars covering most of her body.

Samuel forms a deep attachment to the girl with predator eyes and violent outbursts, against his father’s advice. Their friendship could turn into something more. But when Samuel discovers the mayor’s dark intentions, he must decide whether to risk his own execution by setting her free or watch as the girl is used as a pawn in a dangerous game of oppression, fear, and murder.

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Monday, September 16, 2019

MERGED by Jim Kroepfl and Stephanie Kroepfl

This month seems to have a theme of collaborative writing! Like last week, we have another writing duo, this time a husband and wife team, whose book, MERGED, is set to debut tomorrow, September 17:

Seven of our country’s most gifted teens will become Nobels, hosts for the implantation of brilliant Mentor minds, in an effort to accelerate human progress.

But as the line between what’s possible and what’s right, draws ever blurrier, the teens discover everything has a cost.

Scientists have created an evolved form of living known as Merged Consciousness, and sixteen-year-old Lake finds herself unable to merge with her Mentor.

Lake, the Nobel for Chemistry and Orfyn, the Nobel for Art, are two from among the inaugural class of Nobels, and with the best intent and motivation. But when Stryker, the Nobel for Peace, makes them question the motivation of the scientists behind the program, their world begins to unravel.

As the Nobels work to uncover the dark secrets of the program’s origins, everyone's a suspect and no one can be trusted, not even the other Nobels.

As the Mentors begin to take over the bodies and minds of the Nobels, Lake and Orfyn must find a way to regain control before they lose all semblance or memory of their former selves.

How did you know you wanted to collaborate together?

We fell in love when we were nineteen years old. We were pursuing business majors in different fields, and then spent our corporate careers working separately. Our lives changed when we moved to a tiny town at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. The natural beauty is truly inspiring. It was finally time to pursue something we’re passionate about, and do it with each other. We’re both avid readers and have always written for our careers, so the idea of creating stories together fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Wonderful. How did the premise of MERGED come to you, and in what ways did writing the book surprise you?

Three death-related incidences occurred within days of each other. First, an older friend was in hospice, and just before he died he shared amazing stories about his life that none of us knew. Then, Brittany Lauren Maynard, a younger woman with terminal brain cancer, decided to intentionally end her life “when the time seemed right.” Finally, friends had to put down their old dog, and it was fascinating how their lives changed afterwards. It got us thinking about all the things that would change if people—in good health—had more time. This led to the concept of merged consciousness, which provides those who are making world-changing differences another lifetime to continue their work.

The aspect that surprised us is the STEM vs. STEAM theme. One of our protagonists, the street artist Orfyn, appeared on the page as if by magic. He was too fascinating a character not to incorporate into the story, and it changed the entire plot line. Jim is a musician and Stephanie is an artist, and it was a huge part of our lives while growing up. Without being preachy, we wanted to show how valuable it is to include right-brained people when solving problems, and how their artistic contributions enrich our world.

What a great way to encompass the importance of art in story! What is the most difficult about writing emotionally?

It is challenging to ensure each major character has their own unique character arc. Meaning, while the characters are moving through the story, they need to change and learn from their experiences and interactions. Otherwise, what’s the point of the story? Every person reacts differently to emotional situations, and each reaction must feel true for that particular character.

We don’t believe a scene or chapter is complete until one of the characters experiences a significant emotional shift. When a character begins with one emotion and then goes through a dramatic emotional change, it needs to be something visceral that the reader (hopefully) actually feels—a roller coaster ride of tension and release. And that’s where the hard work comes in. We have to show that emotional shift and not merely tell the reader what’s happening to the character.

Hard work--but also necessary! What are some of your current projects?

We’re busing promoting MERGED, and also writing the sequel RE-MERGED. We’re speaking at high schools and colleges about the craft of writing a novel and the business of getting published. We have a number of novels in various stages of development, but we also love writing short stories and have recently had “The Patch” published in the Northern Colorado Writers anthology, “Change.” This is a story about a group of teens who travel to the Pacific Garbage Patch to colonize a new homestead for their religious sect back on the troubled mainland. These short stories are often the basis of our future novels, so we’re working on developing this story into something bigger. Finally, we’re constantly brainstorming and keeping notes on future characters and book ideas.

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