SnoozeFest Won’t Put You to Sleep: A Review of SnoozeFest and Interview with Samantha Berger and Kristyna Litten

Snoozefest This dad says, “SnoozeFest will be your next bedtime hit,” though we read it before lunch. The imagery in SnoozeFest is fun and engaging, taking you into the town of Snoozeville where we meet Snuggleford Cuddlebun a rather sleepy sloth. Samantha Berger and Krstyna Litten have created a fun little world to visit that your kids will connect to. For example the names of all the blankets ‘Knit-Knit and Woobee’ (At our house we call blankie Foofie) and the fun animals who visit the NuzzleDome for the SnoozeFest. My girls sat on my lap as I read the fun rhyming prose of SnoozeFest accompanied by engaging beautiful art. They enjoyed looking at the artwork in detail, talking about the silly things they saw. We read the book twice back-to-back because they liked it so much. I recommend SnoozeFest to moms and dads looking for a fun read-aloud story.  When I asked my kiddos what they thought of the book; Kinley said, “Really good. My favorite part was the cats in the pajama parade.” Her sister Elsie agrees about the cats in pajamas (we love cats) but adds the book was, “Silly.”

A quick and awesome interview with the author and artist:

Snoozefest Sleeping Blue-Brown PJ Final

Samantha Berger

KristynaLittenPhoto

Kristyna Litten

Brock: Samantha, how did you come up with the idea for Snoozefest? Samantha: Snoozefest combines 3 things I absolutely love: sloths, music, and SLEEPING! Once upon a time, I took a trip to Costa Rica and stayed at a sloth sanctuary that helps rescue sloths and baby sloths. I met a sloth named Buttercup and held her in my arms. Here is a photo:

Samantha and Sloth

Samantha and Sloth

I couldn’t believe how slowly sloths moved, and how expressive their faces were (*Just look at that FACE!) and how much they liked to SLEEP! I knew I wanted to write a book starring a sleepy sloth someday. And, I also love music!There are, all over the world, these HUGE music festivals, where tons of bands play, and people gather to listen to music for days. (Some of the famous ones in the United States are Coachella, Lollapalooza, Burning Man, and South by Southwest). That gave me the idea to have a great big music festival for the world’s greatest sleepers. What would the audience do at that music festival? They would sleep through the whole thing! And who would love that festival MOST? A sloth! (and ME!) That is how Snoozefest was born.

Brock: That’s a fun story. I’m going to have to put, ‘holding a sloth,’ on my list of things to do before I die. Tell us one thing about Snuggleford Cuddlebun that was not in the book?

Samantha: Snuggleford Cuddlebun has six sloth sisters and brothers. Their names are Yawna, Dozer, Sir Crashington, Snora, Restacio and Droolian. All of them are also too tired to wear pants.

Brock: That makes me laugh. What advice would you give to a kid who wants to become an author?

Samantha:

  1. Carry a pen and journal with you everywhere, all the time, and write down everything that comes into your brain. That could include conversations you overhear, a name you like, a joke, a word you think should exist that doesn’t yet, lists of different kinds of cookies! All of it is good stuff. Even keep a pen and journal next to your bed at night, so you can write down your dreams. I have dreamed about books I ended up writing. You always think, “Ah, I’ll remember this in the morning, I don’t need to write it down,” but sometimes you forget and WISH you had written it down. So keep your tools with you (waterproof pen and paper), and write, write, write!
  1. When you write, let your mind and ideas FLY FREE! Forget about whether you think what you’re writing is “good” or “bad” or “interesting.” Forget about anyone else who might read it, and what they might think. Just WRITE! Just ramble, blurt, blather, and get your words down on the page! You can always go back later to edit and improve your work, but the most important thing is for a writer to WRITE!
  1. Write about the things you LOVE writing about. Vampire teddy bears, superhero kittens, the boy who traded places with his Grandma. Anything at all! It’s ALL good. There is no such thing as wrong, no such thing as mistakes, no bad ideas when it comes to writing. Just write what you love, and become the writer you are!

Brock: That is great advice. I can’t tell you how many times I wake up in the middle of the night and quickly tap out a text or email to myself so I won’t forget. And I couldn’t agree more about your advice to, ‘just WRITE’, I know I’ve said it several times to kids who ask me, “WRITE, WRITE, WRITE, WRITE, get it all down on paper, worry about editing and formulating once the idea is down.” Thanks Samantha. Kristyna, you’ve done an amazing job with this book, my girls love the cats in the Pajama Parade. Did you have fun drawing all the animals? 

Kristyna: Yeah, I love drawing animals so it was great to draw all the animal families that would be going to the Snoozefest. I’m glad they liked the three little kittens. Those mischievous three are actually on a number of the pages, right from the point they are waiting for the bus through to the performances of all the great bands. Where most of the crowd are chilled and mellow, the cats are running wild. One of them is even emptying the contents of an onlooker’s handbag, and another is riding a sheep across the stage.

Brock: My girls loved that (the cats)! My oldest had me flipping pages back and forth, while she was laughing. I wish I had a video of it. She was going on about the silly little kittens. What was your favorite part of the book to illustrate?

Kristyna: I really loved doing the PJ Parade. I love fashion and drawing clothes so that was really my favourite spread to do. And I also love colourful patterns so I block printed and drew lots of patterns that could be used through the book. So they all came in particularly useful when I was colouring all the unique blankets animals would bring to the festival.

Brock:  PJ Parade was certainly the winning spread at our house. What advice would you give to a kid who wants to become an illustrator?

Kristyna: Draw as often as you can and draw what you enjoy drawing, the more you draw for pleasure the more confident you’ll become in drawing new things and develop as an illustrator. I’m still learning every day.

Brock: Great advice Kristyna, I’m no artist, but I do love to doodle. Perhaps there is even hope for me someday. Thanks Samantha and Kristyna for taking the time to answer these questions. We learned a lot and I know my family looks forward to your next books, hopefully we’ll meet Snuggleford Cuddlebun again.

From the Publisher:

Bedtime story meets Coachella in this adorable book about a sloth who packs up his pajamas to attends an arena festival for nappers, dozers, and the very best sleepyheads. Snuggleford Cuddlebun is a champion sleeper. In fact, she’s such a good sleeper that she decides to go to Snoozefest, an arena festival that celebrates sleep. There, she lounges in her hammock while bands like the Nocturnal Nesters and the Quiet Quartet serenade the audience with lullabies. There’s warm milk and honey to be had, designer pajamas from Diane von Firstinbed, and no one dares be seen without a baby blanket. But before she knows it, the nuzzling, snuggling, and dreaming are over—and Snuggleford has slept through it all. This hilariously endearing bedtime story is perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals, and/or cuddles. Order Here

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Want your name in HowlSage? Simply send an endorsement.

HowlSageCvrIf you’re interested in seeing your name in HowlSage please send your endorsement to thequestfortruthbooks (at) gmail (d0t) com. I’ll choose the very best endorsements and put them in the front of the book. A couple may even be chosen for the back cover. If your endorsement is not chosen it can still find a place on the Sages of Darkness page on my website. So what are you waiting for send your endorsement in now?

Examples:

“It’s yummerful!”

– Allie Mikalatos, age 9, WA

“Taylor is an average boy, with unaverage abilities. Sages of Darkness; reveals the evil around us, but uncovers the strength in all of us. With pulse pounding action, the Sages of Darkness trilogy will keep you up all night reading, which is a good thing since you won’t want to turn out the lights.”

- Wayne Thomas Batson, best-selling author of The Door Within Trilogy, The Berinfell Prophecies, and The Dark Sea Annals

“When you meet author Brock Eastman, you are bathed in energy, optimism, enthusiasm, and a genuine reflection of Christ’s love for His people. When you read his book, HowlSage, you are immersed in a tale of adventure, drama, action, and matters of eternal consequence. Join Taylor, Jesse, and Ike as they learn how to defeat evil in the form of the wicked sages.”

- Donita K. Paul,author of the Dragon Keeper Chronicles

“I’m constantly on the lookout for books that are exciting, but not too scary for my school aged children. Eastman consistently delivers action packed page turners that are not only a joy for the whole family to read, but also strengthen our spiritual walks.”

“Our house is jam packed with books, but my nine year old snatched up Howl Sage and disappeared with it. I’ve never seen her this excited about a book. The book never left her hand until it was done, and she woke up at six in the morning, snuck into the bathroom and read in there until the rest of the family woke up. Now she’s pestering me constantly to read Blizzard Sage which, as of right now, isn’t out yet! Hurry release the next book! Our family loves the Sages of Darkness series and we can’t wait to see what happens next!”

-  Matt Mikalatos, author of My Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian

-Elissa Peterson, OH, Mom of 4, creator of Don’t Let Life Pass You By blog

“I was totally immersed in the fight between good and evil that unfolded in HowlSage. The spiritual struggles that Tyler endures, makes him an easily identifiable comrade to the reader. You find yourself cheering him on and holding your breath as danger unfolds. The cliff hanging ending of HowlSage left me frantically turning the last few pages, crying out no, no, no… just a little more…Absolutely cannot wait till the next book in the Sages of Darkness series, BlizzardSage, is released so Tyler can continue the good fight!”

– Lisa Wiegand, IL, Teacher

“Work couldn’t get over soon enough each day. The book [HowlSage] was waiting.”

– Colin Knapp, age 22, IL

“HowlSage definitely a bit of a hit. My son’s not going to bed. Seems this book is head and shoulders above any he’s read in a while. Well done!”

– Angela Wilmot, Western Australia, Mom of 7

“I liked all the different locations that the characters traveled to, but the last one was my favorite. It was just as good as HowlSage.”

 –  Alex Peterson, age 9, OH

“BlizzardSage is now one of my favorite books! I love the characters
and the lessons about Christianity.”

–  Ryan Matlock, age 14, IN

“HowlSage is an exciting and thrilling ride; it is a must read for all people my age and older!! HowlSage took me under 24 hours to read and my literally eyes were glued to it! It was brilliantly and amazingly written and I can’t explain in words how amazing this book is! I can’t wait for the rest in the series!!”

–  Michael Wilmot, age 14, Western Australia.

“HowlSage is an exceptionally well written book that kept me on my toes the whole time. I can barely contain my excitement to read BlizzardSage.”

– Hannah Frey, age 16, IL

“I loved HowlSage! It was fun and exciting. You never knew what would happen next. If BlizzardSage is half as good, it will be AMAZING! I can hardly wait to read it.”

– Aaron Frey, age 14, IL

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Harvest of Souls: An Interview with Jeremiah Montgomery

I want to introduce you to a series you may not have heard of, but one any spec fiction fan should read. I’ve been following Jeremiah’s series from the beginning and have enjoyed the story’s development thoroughly. He’s published with P&R which is also my publisher for The Quest for Truth series.

Brock: Jeremiah thanks for taking a moment to tell us about your Dark Harvest series. First tell us how you came up with the idea for Dark Harvest.

Jeremiah: A friend of mine sowed the first seeds of Dark Harvest several years ago when he suggested to me that I read about the Synod of Whitby, a real event that occurred on the island of Britain in the kingdom of Northumbria in AD 664. After reading about the outcome of that synod, the questions arose: what if the synod’s decision had gone the other way? What would be the implications? Would the losers sit back and accept defeat, or might they try again, years later?

Brock: Northumbria just sounds like a fantastical world, yet it really existed. Tell us about the main characters. Who are they, what makes them unique? And will you give us one fact about each that no one else knows?

Jeremiah: Morumus is a monk for whom life is as serious as death. His seriousness stems from two sources. First of all, he is intelligent and introspective by nature. But secondly, horrific memories stalk the corridors of his mind.

As the younger son of a king, Oethur is a prince turned monk.  He is possessed of an easy humor, yet beneath the surface he is solid. When grim events force him to forsake the monastery for the battlefield, he will confront both foe and fear – and learn the true nature of courage.

Urien is a woman imprisoned from her youth in a world of dark rituals. When she comes to realize the true character of her childhood faith, she rejects it. In time she comes to appreciate the beauty of the faith of Morumus and Oethur, but struggles to know whether or not it is actually true.

All of the above you can learn from the books. But here are a few things you may not know …

Morumus’s mastery of several languages is the embodiment of my own love for foreign languages. Yet unlike Morumus, I have yet to become fluent in anything beyond English.

Oethur’s persistent dislike of peas is another echo of my own personality. I’ve heard it said that tastes change as we age. In some cases, that has proven true for me. But not for peas.

Of all the characters in the series, Urien was the one who changed most from the first conception to final conclusion. In the first draft of The Dark Faith, she was not introduced until near the end, and shortly thereafter became a convert. But another friend convinced me that her conversion was too easy, and my editors persuaded me that she needed to arrive earlier in the story. And so I began to rework Urien’s tale, fleshing out her history and taking her along the tortuous path from paganism to skepticism to inquiry… and finally to faith. By the end of the trilogy, something quite surprising had happened: Urien became the main and most important character in Dark Harvest. The whole story begins and ends with her.

Brock: It is interesting how a character who we (authors) don’t intend to be significant can soon become a favorite. This happened with Obbin in my series. I never intended for him to continue from the first book and we’ll he’s still there four books later. In three sentences tell the FF family what this book about?

Jeremiah: The Threefold Cord brings the theme of Dark Harvest – that there is an enemy far deadlier than dark magic – to its climax and resolution. It shows the reader how this theme irrevocably changes the life of each of the main characters. And finally, it demonstrates that every outward conflict in history is but another cycle of the great “invisible war” (to borrow a title from the late Donald Barnhouse).

Brock: That’s one of the things I connected with most in this series; the “invisible war.” Too often we (Christians) don’t consider how it’s affecting our daily lives. Can you expand on the biblical background or basis for the series?

Dark Harvest is based on the overall biblical contrast between the Christian gospel and every other religion in history or today. The gospel of Jesus Christ is insistently exclusive, yet persistently gracious. Every other religion (or attempt to blend religions) is ultimately a manifestation of humanity’s darkest impulses toward self-salvation and self-worship.

Brock: That’s a great explanation. Are any other books planned for the Dark Harvest series?

Jeremiah: Though The Threefold Cord leaves several cupboards cracked and threads dangling (real history usually does), it is the last planned volume in the series.

Brock: Sad, but understandable.  Life is a continuing story that never truly concludes, it carries on from one generation to the next. Did you outline the Dark Harvest trilogy, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?

Jeremiah: From the beginning, there was an overall outline to the series and a rough outline for the first book. Yet as I’ve alluded to above, The Dark Faith underwent some serious changes, and these cascaded into the sequels. The main story arc stayed the same, but there were several developments that I did not foresee when I first began. Chief among these was the transformation of Urien’s journey. But there were lesser surprises as well: the storming of Cuuranyth in The Scarlet Bishop, and the discovery of Melechur in The Threefold Cord. Neither of these existed in the original trilogy notes.

These confessions aside, I am a stubborn proponent of outlines. After the changes to The Dark Faith, I made it a practice to create detailed outlines for The Scarlet Bishop and The Threefold Cord. After these outlines were drafted, I reviewed them with my editor. Having a complete outline in place allowed both sides of that conversation to examine the story as a whole, and surprising as it may sound, it was the process of thorough outlining that enabled me to work in creative developments. Because I could see the whole landscape clearly, it was relatively easy to know where I could make changes that would enhance the story without disrupting its overall movement.

Brock: Being that this book has some roots with an actual historical event, what sort of research did you have to do? What things did you come up with on your own?

Jeremiah: Dark Harvest is based in a world that intentionally parallels our own cultures and history. As you might expect, then, it involved a fair amount of research. Yet most of this research came through life experience. I spent many hours of my young adult life walking wooded paths and reading fantasy stories, and I enjoyed many semesters in seminary studying Ecclesiastical history and theology. As a late teen I had the privilege to visit the cities of London and Edinburgh, which gave me the opportunity to walk through castles, cathedrals, parks, and palaces.

Where life left gaps, friends and further research filled the voids. I corresponded with an antiquarian book expert in order to describe certain aspects of a Dark Ages library. When I wanted to see a picture of a Roman bridge or an old church, I used the Internet.

Brock: Certainly our ability to use the web for research has increased the accuracy to factual representations for our stories. I know for one of my series I used Google maps to walk inside places I was describing; it was amazing and a lot less expensive than flying there. What are your hopes for your future as an author?

Jeremiah: As the pastor of a mission church in a diverse community, I hope to author resources aimed to help bring the unchanging Christian faith to a rapidly changing society.

Brock: What can you tell us about any future releases you have planned?

Jeremiah: I am working with my publisher to edit a new edition of The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English that will include Scripture proofs.

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Raptor Paced Action: An Interview with Ronie Kendig

An action packed thriller with a touch of romance is just what Ronie Kendig cooked up in her latest military thriller. Raptor 6 (Shiloh Run Press) adds to Kendig’s library of award winning series that have attracted a loyal following of fans. I myself am impressed with Kendig’s ability to deliver realistic mind-blowing action forcing you to burn through the pages quicker than the bullets flying from the muzzles of the terrorists’ machine guns you’re reading about.

Brock: Raptor 6 is not your typical romance novel, you incorporate combat, action, and other elements that usually take a back seat in a romance novel. Yet in Raptor 6 you’ve done a great job creating a balance of action, intrigue, and romance. Is it difficult to strike this balance?

Ronie: I confess this is tough for me, because my novels hover on a thin line between “true romance” and “true suspense.” I have readers who beg for more romance, but on the other end of the spectrum, I have those who are quite vocal in their opposition of a romance thread. For me, I’m a romantic. But I do not want a book of just romance—I want the action and adventure, too. I’m pretty sensitive when things swing too far to one side, so when I start to feel that barometer getting heavy on one side, I work to balance it. If I read through a section and there’s not enough romance or the romantic angle feels forgotten, I’ll tease it up a little. And to be fair, the level of romance also depends on the book itself, and the characters. For example, in Firethorn, the romance thread was pretty light because theirs was more of an intellectual romance. In Raptor, the romance is more in the form of my hero providing protection, the only thing he feels he has to offer.

Brock: Why have you chosen to right these combat romance thrillers?

Ronie: There’s a myriad of reasons, but ultimately, it boils down to two things: 1.) these type of stories are the ones I love to read and watch in a movie theater, whether it be Lone Survivor or Divergent (strong “military” element among Dauntless), and 2.) passion—I have a passion for our military.

Brock: Why is the military close to your heart? And if so why?

Ronie: It [The Military] is close to my heart, and I cannot fully explain why, without saying it’s a purpose and passion the Lord has put on my heart. I grew up an Army brat and even after my dad retired, he took a job as a civilian contractor on a base, so I was around the military, our soldiers well into my early twenties. But really, in the beginning, it was the romanticized notion of our military heroes, those undaunted individuals, that drew me into writing. Then, one day about 6 or 7 years ago, I was in a Sunday School class with my in-laws, and I heard a woman, who was married to a Navy SEAL, speak to the group. She asked for prayers for her husband’s salvation, but also for his anger, what I believe to be birthed out of PTSD. Hearing her request, watching her story unfold and a family destroyed by PTSD, I knew I could never again write a military story without showing the toll it takes on our military heroes.

Brock: Wow that sounds like a very key moment and a God assigned mission for you. What is the reaction from your readers?

Ronie: Those readers who’ve been with me from the beginning know what to expect from a Rapid-Fire Fiction (my brand) novel—intense action, raw characters, and real life. They’ve asked me to keep the edge to the novels, and they often thank me for writing “real life.”

Brock: What sort of research do you do for your series (example: Afghanistan, quantum cryptology, Military tactics.)

Ronie: Research has been ongoing since I started writing military stories, but more so with the Discarded Heroes series (I wrote the first one in late 2008 and early 2009). I subscribe to several online publications and follow many, many military and military advocate sites and Facebook pages, and my choices for reading and movie-watching are often military related, including watching documentaries on special operations command and subsequent fields. For Raptor, the involvement of cyber security was both convenient—my husband works in the industry—but also incredibly challenging since most of the information is still protected information. Though I had two sources with that security clearance, there was not a lot they could divulge without compromising themselves or our soldiers—something I would never ask of anyone. So, I did the best I could with the limited knowledge they could share.

Brock: Why did you choose to focus on a male protagonist in this series?

Ronie: This almost feels like a trick question, but I’m not 100% sure. The great irony is that, as an author, I am more comfortable writing a male character, but I’m also more intrigued in writing the male character. In the Discarded Heroes series, my protagonists were also male, and in one of the military working dog series, the first book was a male protagonist.

Brock: How many books are planned for this series?

Ronie: The Quiet Professionals is a three-book series that focuses on a Special Forces team known as Raptor (formerly identified in the A Breed Apart series as ODA452).

Brock: Can you give us a hint at the next book?

Ronie: The next book in the series is Hawk, a story that will focus on Brian Bledsoe, who is challenged with the great dilemma of choosing who to save—his Green Beret brothers or a group of women and a child depending on him to save them from a brutal storm.

Brock: Are you working on the next book?

Ronie: Right now, I am working on a novel serialization with my publisher called Operation Zulu: Redemption. OZ:R will come to readers this summer in five installments, starting July 4th. This series focuses on a team of women who, five years ago, were the first all-female special operations team. After a deadly mistake, they are hiding from the enemy who sabotaged their mission.

Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?

Ronie: Gah! Another trick question? I am torn between two genres—writing my military suspense/thrillers and speculative fiction, which I’ve been writing since before my first contract for my debut novel.

Brock: Where do you like to write?

Ronie: Where I write is not as important to me as being sure to have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or ear buds. I can write pretty much anywhere as long as I can audibly block out the rest of the world.

Brock: Are you a full time writer?

Ronie: While writing is my only career at this moment, I would say that homeschooling my teens keeps me from qualifying myself as a full-time writer. I have four more years of homeschooling, and I really want to make it the best for my kids.

Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?

Ronie: This varies greatly one what I’m writing and my deadlines, but in general, it takes me about 4 months to craft a solid draft. Unlike some writers, I do not write in terms of drafts, meaning I don’t create a wretched first draft, then clean it up in a second, and perfect in a 3rd (or 4th. . .5th. . .) draft. Because I am easily discouraged and drained during an editing process, I work very hard to write what I want in a scene. I will not move on from a scene until I *know* it’s right. Each day/night I come to the writing table, so to speak, I will read back through the last chapter or two I’ve written and feel it out, make sure it’s right and moving in the correct direction. If it’s not, I fix it. But if I’m okay with it, I press on.

However, that said, this serialization project I’m working on right now is a very different beast—I’m writing 15k words a week and will have about 205k in three months. I’ve never done that, especially not with the content pretty much ready for print. In addition, I’m editing the previous episode and proofing an even earlier one—all in the same week. It’s a rigorous, borderline deadly pace for me, but I’m in love with the story and characters, so I’m making it happen.

Brock: Do you plot or outline the entire series before you begin writing, or do your books take on lives of their own? Or is there a combination?

Ronie: Again, this depends on the story. For my military novels, I start with a skeletal outline (maybe a page long) and then start writing with the main plot and character goals in mind. However, for the serialization project, my publisher required a detailed outline of each episode (at the time, there were 13 individual episodes). So, I have a thorough roadmap through that story and its characters, though it still demands some creativity and adjustments as I write. A year ago, I would have decried the detailed outline, and in fact, I whined a great deal about having to write that thing out, but now. . .I am grateful for how “easy” it has made getting the story, arcs, and characters on the page. At the same time, I’m not at the point where I would say I prefer to outline. It—and I—am still a work in progress.

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Sonic the Hedgehog versus Harry Potter: Let’s Motivate Kids

Motivate Kids to Read and Write!

I hated reading. I really didn’t enjoy writing, and my grades reflected it. I wasn’t exactly the prospect for becoming an author. Why did I need to read when I had Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis? There was always a new Sonic game and a more enhanced Dr. Robotic to beat. I’d sit for hours in my blue video-rocker-chair glued to that black controller, connected to my character through a five foot black chord.

Occasionally I’d venture outside with my friends, but that addictive little blue hedgehog always called me back. I remember one of my friends trying to get me to read Louis Lamoure, I think I made it halfway through a chapter. I’d skim the required reading books, and the grades on my book reports would prove it. In High School, my streak of ‘not reading’ continued and my writing reflected the minimum page or word count required to get a B or C.

It wasn’t until college that I read a book because I wanted to. The series I chose is the oft hated, but mostly beloved Harry Potter series. Now some of you reading this are already averting your eyes, and that’s okay; that’s your choice, like reading the books was mine. But let me share with you what the series did for me and many other kids like me; it got me excited about reading. We could debate the magic of the Harry Potter world as good, bad, etc. but the real magic about the books was the creative world that drew young readers in. My imagination was opened and the characters felt like friends. In fact, it inspired me to become an author. Before I talk about the writing thing, let’s take a bit of a tangent first.

Now, why did I decide to pick these books up? Well I met this beautiful girl, and we challenged each other to see who could finish the entire series first. The only title not out was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The only reason I was able to catch up to her was because we both had to wait for the release of the final book. We sat in a Borders bookstore (sadly they went the way of the dodo bird) and waited for the midnight release of the final installment. It was a whole lot of fun with all the dressed up fans everywhere and the ‘Great Snape Debate.’ Personally I thought in the end we’d find out he was using Voldemort and was the real bad guy, but alas I was wrong.

The next few days were devoted to reading as much as possible and I am proud to say I won. Though my win is still under protest until this day. Here is why my winning is under debate. Early on in our competition, we went to a friend’s house for a nice home cooked Italian dinner. As we ate, I excused myself from the dinner table to use the restroom. As I passed my girlfriend’s purse I slipped out her copy of The Half Blood Prince and took it with me. Then I proceeded to read it for the next half hour, needless to say my absence in the restroom for so long, was causing everyone else some concern, but no one checked and I made quite a bit of ground on my reading. Now with that confession over, you can judge if I won or not. But I did indeed win in the long run, because the girl married me!

So Harry Potter inspired me to read and it also inspired me to write, but the writing thing is twofold. One I thought how cool would it be to create my very own world, or at least my very own characters. And two I want to write a book series that is a bit more ethical than Harry Potter. You see my real beef with the Harry Potter series is not the magic, because, sorry to burst your bubble, but magic isn’t real. My opposition to the series is the lack of an honorable hero. You see, though Harry appears to be a great hero, he sort of got there through a whole lot of lying, disobedience, and arrogance at times. To tell kids that Harry is a hero, when he overcame evil by committing many wrongs of his own, seems wrong. Sure little Billy, steal that candy bar as long as in the end you overcome a great trial. NO! WRONG!

I wanted to give readers characters they could really look up to, characters they could learn from and trust. Something else I wanted to do, specifically for The Quest for Truth, was provide a story without unnecessary death. This wasn’t in reflection of Harry Potter, but of many series for kids and young adults, and not just in the secular marketplace. How often do our kids read of a sword slicing through someone, or a gun fight? We probably wouldn’t let them watch it on TV, so why would we let them read it in a book?

So with the desire to provide authentic moralistic heroes and a story-line without unnecessary death, I began writing The Quest for Truth. And though this kid who hated reading and writing, hadn’t read anything until he was in college, and hadn’t written anything larger than a few thousand word research paper, wrote a 100,000 word manuscript with no prospect of getting it published. After all I was a college student in the middle of the cornfields of Illinois getting a degree in Marketing. It wasn’t until later that God opened up some pretty amazing doors.

The fact is God has His plans for us. Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV) says; ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’

So what are you waiting for? You just read a 1000 word article; go read a book. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write one of your own!

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My Friend the Dragon Lady: A Thank You and Interview with Donita K. Paul

My friend the Dragon Lady

In 2008 I moved to Colorado Springs as a newlywed starting out on a new adventure. My wife and I accepted a position with Focus on the Family and were excited about our new life together in a place new to both of us. Yes it meant new friends, a new church, a new community, but it also meant those things were both of ours, not just the church I grew up in, her high school friends, and a city with the same old familiar haunts we visited through our season of dating each other. We were beginning a new adventure together and like the early pioneers had little idea as to what we might experience. What we did find were many of God’s blessings ahead, including the beginning of my writing career. I hope to share parts of this adventure with you in my column this year and perhaps inspire you on your journey.

If you’ve ever been to Focus on the Family you’ll know they have a beautiful campus with a wonderful bookstore and of course Whit’s End. But this article isn’t about my favorite audio drama Adventures in Odyssey (Whit’s End,) it’s about the bookstore and a very special lady I met there. A lady who inspired me in my writing career, her name is Donita K. Paul. Many call her the Dragon Lady.

I’d only been working at Focus for a few short months when the bookstore hosted a book signing with author Donita K. Paul. I’d never heard of her, in fact even though I was working at a ministry I wasn’t a big reader of Christian fiction, for that matter I was hardly a reader at all. But I thought, well this is cool, I can meet a real live author. Although I admit I was a bit nervous I crossed the parking lot and got in line. My small bit of anxiety was quickly washed away as I heard her laughing with some kids and saw her bright smile. She’d set up a wonderful table with the first four books in the Dragon Keeper Chronicles, she had a ‘prize dragon’ (a stuffed dragon you reach into it’s mouth and pull out a prize,) and every color of pen you could imagine.

When it was my turn I scooped up each of her books and she asked what color I would like her to sign them in. I chose a different color for each book and made sure the color of the ink matched the book’s cover. We had a brief delightful conversation, she told me about the series, I told her I was new to Colorado Springs and had started at Focus on the Family. She welcomed me and assured me I would love it here. We said goodbye (as there was still a long line behind me) and I took my books to the counter, checked out, and left.

That night when I started reading the books I fell in love with not only fantasy fiction, but Christian fiction. The Dragon Lady had woven a story (about our Redeemer and about sacrifice) into this fantastical world she had created. I flew through the four books and then had to wait. It wasn’t until almost a year later when the fifth book finally released and saw her at the local Borders store where she was signing again; pens, prize dragon, and all. You see Borders was my wife and I’s favorite place to go. Again Donita was a joy to be around and I could tell not only was she passionate about her writing and characters, but she was passionate about using this medium to share the love of Jesus with others.

So fast forward a year or so. By now I had been consuming Christian fiction and was working in the product marketing area of Focus on the Family. I was working on kids’ books and my favorite brand Adventures in Odyssey. I’d also started to learn about the publishing industry itself thanks to my co-workers and new friends at Tyndale. Having fallen in love with Donita’s writing, I’d dusted off a manuscript I’d written in 2005 and prepared it to show publishers. A few short months later I had a contract for The Quest for Truth and while there were many other author and industry friends along the way that inspired, coached, and encouraged me, the reality of my publishing journey started with Donita K. Paul’s series The Dragon Keeper Chronicles.

And as with that first series, her latest series is continuing to inspire and captivate. In April of last year I wrote about the first book in her new series Realm Walkers. Donita continues the adventure and excitement in the second installment Two Renegade Realms (Available now from Zondervan.) The series isn’t just for kids, its a series for adults who love fantasy and science fiction. The characters are loveable, the story will keep you turning the page, and the world she created, although makebelieve, is believable because of her writing skill.

Donita inspired me through her writing and I know she will inspire you. Before you check out Realm Walkers make sure you’ve cleared your calendar for the next few weeks, because once you’ve finished this series, you’ll be grabbing her other books as well. But before you do here is a brief Q&A about Two Renegade Realms with Donita K. Paul.

Brock: In three words what is at the heart of Two Renegade Realms?

Donita: Preparation requires leadership

Brock: Names. How do you come up with the names of your characters and places?

Donita: My female protagonist was named after a favorite actor, Bill Bixby. Totobee-Rodolow was named after the dog in Wizard of Oz. Cantor was named after singers in formal church services. Tegan was named after President Reagan. I know. It’s a stretch.

Brock: Were there any characters or scenes that were cut from Two Renegade Realms? Can you share about them or even include some of the text that was cut?

Donita: Um, I edit so rigorously as I write that I rarely get to the end and have to cut scenes or characters. The last time I did that was in my first book published. The editor had me cut a segment with a cute dog, a cute kid, and vile villains.

Brock: What is the message that you hope readers take away from this book?

Donita: Be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Know enough to make wise choices

Brock: Will you give us a hint on what to expect in the third book.

Donita: Since it is the last book in the trilogy, you can expect to have everything wrapped up all nice and tidy. You can expect a bumpy ride to get there. Specifically, in an attempt to create bogus realm walkers, our evil ne’er-do-wells are ruining the lives of innocent, and not so innocent, normal folk.

Brock: After this series completes do you have other series or books in the works?

Donita: I have no contracts at present, so I’m assigning myself some fun projects including another reader http://bit.ly/HouseonTrollHill ; a new picture book http://bit.ly/DragonandTurtle ; another Sage Street adventure http://bit.ly/2TicketstotheChristmasBall ; and some old-fashioned prairie romance http://bit.ly/TamingtheWildWind . Plus, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of DragonQuest. Lots of things to keep me busy!

Brock: What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Donita: READ! Your brain subconsciously accumulates information about writing do’s and don’ts while you read. It accumulates examples of shabby techniques and stellar prose. What you like to read is what you will be most successful at writing. I don’t mean genres. You can read westerns and write thrillers, but the style and syntax of your favorite novels will bleed into your approach to storytelling.

Brock: Thank you Donita.

Read more exciting articles by Brock Eastman in Family Fiction Edge magazine. It’s FREE! Visit the archive here.

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Walk Not in Shadows: An Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Tales of Goldstone Wood has piqued the interest and engaged thousands of fans around the world. I had a chance to ask Anne Elisaebeth Stengl about her vast series and the sixth installment. I especially enjoy world building and losing myself in an author’s immense world, Tales of Goldstone delivers on that!

Brock: Anne thanks for being here with us. How did you come up with the idea for the Tales of Goldstone Wood series?

Anne Elisabeth: You know, I honestly don’t remember. I have been working on ideas for this series since I was a kid, penning out short stories and notes in various spiral notebooks. Some of those original short stories have matured and turned into the novels (Starflower and Dragonwitch, for example). Some of the characters and poems and legends have carried over as well. But I’ve been writing Goldstone Wood for so long (and intend to keep on writing it for so much longer!), that pinpointing an original inspiration would be impossible.

Brock: Take a moment and tell us about the main characters in Shadow Hand?

Anne Elisabeth: Shadow Hand features Prince Foxbrush, who has recently been named heir to the throne of Southlands . . . an honor he always rather thought he deserved over his cousin, Lionheart, but never really expected to get. And he’s discovering (as my characters often discover along the way), that getting his dream-come-true is really not all it’s cracked up to be. But he’s betrothed to the girl he’s loved since childhood, the beautiful Lady Daylily . . .

. . .who opens the book by running away on the morning of their wedding, determined never to be seen again. She is a deeply repressed young woman with a mind teetering on the verge of madness. In her bid to escape, she lands herself in far more danger than ever. Worst of all, she becomes more dangerous than ever.

Brock: In three sentences tell us what is Shadow Hand about?

Anne Elisabeth: When Lady Daylily runs away on the morning of their wedding, Prince Foxbrush sets out to find her, plunging into the dangerous Wood Between, where Faeries live and mortals die. In his mad pursuit, Foxbrush finds himself stepping into legends out of his own country’s past, and he himself standing in the legendary hero’s role . . . which means Lady Daylily herself has become his enemy. He must fulfill the strange, dark bidding of an ancient poem if he is to have any hope of saving both Daylily and his kingdom.

Brock: How many books are planned for this series?

Anne Elisabeth: I don’t have a set number in mind. This is a series about a world, not about a specific cast of characters. And it is a large, varied world with so many possibilities, I could keep on writing in it for years to come. I currently have 15 full-length novels in mind, not to mention numerous shorter works (such as my recently released novella, Goddess Tithe) and several spin-off series ideas. Each book is written to be as stand-alone as possible, but the series itself is far too complex to package up in a set number of volumes . . . at least at the current time. I could easily see this turning into my own small version of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series . . . which has 40-some novels, plus multiple shorter works and companion stories!

Brock: You really could lose yourself in this series. One thing that seems to happen too often, is we (readers) get attached to our characters or their world and then lose them in a just a few books. That’s always hard to say goodbye, when there really is more to the world we’ve been reading about. With such a big series, do you outline or write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?

Anne Elisabeth: There’s no outline for the entire series. But there are individual series threads that cover multiple volumes within the series, and these are all carefully outlined ahead of time. I also take the time to carefully outline each novel before I write it, checking the storylines and timelines against the other novels to make certain things are lining up properly.

Brock: With so much outlining and such a vast series, do you have to do any research, or does everything come straight from your imagination?

Anne Elisabeth: Lots of research went into this book, actually. Before setting pen to paper, I spent hours poring over long (and extremely dull) passages of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which is a desperately dry but useful volume on the history of magic and superstition throughout the world. A fantastic research tool when it doesn’t drive you utterly mad with boredom.

Shadow Hand is a very loose retelling of “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” certain Saint Patrick legends (specifically those dealing with Crom Cruach), and a George MacDonald fairytale. I spent quite a lot of time studying these texts and making notes as I went.

I also spent a good bit of time researching the cultivation of fig trees. Not something I ever expect to use again, but interesting research nonetheless.

Brock: You mentioned 15 books planned, and potentially many more to come. Are you working on the next book? And if so can you give us a hint at the next book?

Anne Elisabeth: I’m actually a couple books down the road already from Shadow Hand. Book 7, Golden Daughter, is scheduled to release in November. Here is the write-up for that story:

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS

IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

COMING AUTUMN 2014

More fun details about that book can be found at:

www.Golden DaughterNovel.blogspot.com

I’ve also written a new short work titled Draven’s Light, which should release next spring, and I’m in the process of putting together book 8, which doesn’t have an official title yet, but which should release next autumn.

Brock: I think the interview already makes this pretty clear, but I must ask. What is your favorite genre to write for?

Anne Elisabeth: Fantasy, without a doubt! It’s what I love most to write and to read. Specifically fantasy written in the omniscient narrative. Always a favorite with me.

Brock: With so many books releasing and so many in the works, are you a full time writer?

Anne Elisabeth: Yes . . . when I’m not also a marketer, designer, blogger, networker, etc. But I would consider myself a fulltime novelist, even if that doesn’t always mean fulltime writing!

Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?

Anne Elisabeth: Anywhere from two to six months, I think. At least for the rough draft. I try to draft as quickly as possible and allow myself time for polish and revision. I have written full-length novels in two months before (and Goddess Tithe was drafted in under  two weeks!). I believe the longest I’ve taken over a novel is six months, though. I rather expect book 8 will take me longer since it’s the most complicated plot I’ve tackled yet . . .

Brock: What’s your view on e-books and the new publishing revolution? Any e-book only plans in your future?

Anne Elisabeth: I am a big fan of e-books! I still read primarily paperback, but that’s more force of habit than anything. I got my first e-reader last year and am slowly building up a nice little e-book library. And I absolutely intend for all my books to be available in paperback and e-book! Goddess Tithe was primarily an e-book experiment, but my fans wanted a paperback version too, and it sells pretty well in both.

But yes, e-books are awesome. What a wonderful way to get work out to so many more readers! My international audience would never be what it is today without the blessing of e-books.

Brock: Something must have inspired you or intrigued you to become a writer. What was your favorite book as a teen or child?

Anne Elisabeth: As a child, my favorite book was Felix Salten’s Bambi . . . which is not to be confused with the Disney movie! A dark, beautifully written tale, and not really as appropriate for children as I remembered (this I discovered upon a recent re-reading). But I was fascinated with that book as a child, and I read it more times than I can recall!

As a teen . . . Robin McKinley’s Beauty was definitely high up on the list. I didn’t discover Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series until my late teens, but I’m going slip that onto the list too . . .

Brock: What were some of the challenges for you writing your book?

Anne Elisabeth: Beginnings are always tough for me, and Shadow Hand was particularly difficult to begin. It picks up where both Book 3 and Book 5 of my series leave off . . . but those two books are set in completely different periods of history, separated by approximately 1500 years. So finding the right place to start—a place that will work at least decently well for new readers as well as for established fans of the series—was definitely a challenge. I think I’d written more than half the book before the right beginning finally came to me.

But I shouldn’t complain. Beginnings are almost always the hardest part of drafting for me. Once I get into the meat of the story, everything tends to smooth out, at least from the creative point-of-view.

Brock: What do you want readers to take away from Shadow Hand?

Anne Elisabeth: This book, like all of my books, is a story of undeserved grace. My characters are flawed people—their internal struggles are as great, sometimes greater, than the external struggles they face. They never discover innate brilliance or magical powers that suddenly enable them to conquer all odds. What they discover is grace. What they discover is the triumph of brokenness. And this is what I hope my readers will take away: We don’t need to be epic heroes. God chooses the humble things of this world to shame the proud.

Brock: Wow I love how you put that. It’s clear that your stories bring forth your Christian beliefs. In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?

Anne Elisabeth: I never go into any of my stories with a set message or moral in mind. I never intend to write allegorical themes. But I treat my work as the truest form of worship in my life. As a form of worship, the storytelling keeps me open to God’s leading, keeps drawing me back to my knees in prayer. It never ceases to amaze me how God will speak to me through the stories I create . . . and then speak beyond me to the readers for whom I write.

Brock: Now for a few fun tidbits. Favorite place to vacation and why?

Anne Elisabeth: I do love to go back up to Minocqua, Wisconsin (in the summertime), to see my family. They live in a beautiful log house on a lake, so I get family time and resort-vacation time all rolled into one!

But the number one place I want to vacation is Sri Lanka, my husband’s home country. Really looking forward to going back there with him one day!

Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?

Anne Elisabeth: Ceylon Tea. Strong, black Ceylon tea with a little cream and a little sugar, proper British fashion. This is the beverage of choice, and has been for many years now. (I don’t go in for those fruity or green teas . . . no, sir! It’s good black Ceylon tea from the mountain plantations of Sri Lanka for this cookie!)

As for food, I tend to go on “food kicks” during which I only want one snack food for weeks, get sick of it for years, and move on to the next one. Currently, I like pickles (which, no, don’t go well with the tea). A few months ago it was samosas. A few months before that it was fresh avocado on crackers. A few months before that it was peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches . . . You get the idea. But the tea is a constant!

Brock: Anne thanks so much, you certainly made me chuckle as well as provided great insight into the world of your writing and stories. I know I’m looking forward to your next book.

Author Bio:

Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. Her books include Christy Award-winning Heartless and Veiled Rose, and Clive Staples Award-winningStarflower. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration and English literature at Grace College and Campbell University.

Anne Elisabeth blogs at Tales of Goldstone Wood.

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Mind Games: An Interview with Andrew Klavan

Andrew Klavan is quickly becoming a household name for many Christian fiction fans, including me. With books for adults and young adults as well as credits for major blockbuster movies, you’ve probably watched or read something he’s had his hand in. It’s my pleasure to share a look at his latest YA trilogy, MindWar. And if the title isn’t enough to convince you to add the book to your wishlist, I’m sure the following interview will.

Brock: How did you come up with the idea for the MindWar Trilogy?

Andrew: I’m a gamer. I’ve always loved games and puzzles and when video games came along I was swept away. I played Space Invaders so much I developed a swollen wrist! And as the games became more sophisticated, they became so incredibly immersive, it was like actually being in space or in a haunted house or underground.  So I just began to wonder:  what if the border between life and games became permeable, what if you could pass from one into the other and back again? I guess that was the start of the MindWar idea.

Brock: I too was very into video games, defeating Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog) became a daily goal for me. And in college I got into a Navy Seal game called SOCOM. You could actually talk to your team mates via headsets, which brought the game that much more to life. Tell us about the main characters in MindWar?

Andrew: The main character is Rick Dial, a guy who feels he has lost everything that matters to him. He was the quarterback on his high school football team, a real athlete-hero type. Then his car got broadsided by a panel truck and his legs were shattered. He’s on crutches now.  And on top of this, his father has disappeared and may even have run off with another woman.  So Rick has lost his faith: in life, in God, in himself, in everything.  But when he’s sent as an avatar into the MindWar Realm, he has a chance to recover the hero in himself.  It’s just a question of whether he can find it.

Brock: Wow, that sounds pretty awesome. In three sentences what will the MindWar trilogy deliver to the reader?

Andrew: Action, first of all. Because the stories take place both in real life and in the game, there is both the sort of action you get in fantasy novels — sword fights and dragon battles and so on — but also normal thriller action with guns and bad guys and chases and so on. And, of course, you’re going to follow the evolution of this young man Rick as he goes deeper and deeper into this beautiful but essentially evil place.

Brock: Andrew can you share how you have intertwined  biblical themes into the series

Andrew: You know how it says in the King James Genesis that the imagination of man’s heart is evil…  and then Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that it’s not just the crimes we commit that condemn us – the adultery or murder or whatever – it’s the crimes we imagine — the lust and anger in our hearts.  This is a story about a young man who has to confront both:  the perils of the inner world and the outer one.  The MindWar is essentially the war for the imagination.  You have to win that before you can win any other.

Brock: And it seems this is a battle parents are trying to win every day. I hope they’ll be encouraged by Rick’s story. What sort of research did you have to undertake for the book, or was it all straight from your imagination?

Andrew: Well, I could try to keep a straight face while I told you how many video games I had to play before I could really get the hang of the thing!  But the truth is I actually did have to do quite a lot of background research.  For one thing, the computer world of MindWar is actually a weapon to use in the real world.  The villain Kurodar is trying to imagine acts of terrorism into being.  So, without giving too much away, I can say that I had to find out how some of those terrorist acts would be committed.  And I really did need to get some sense of how video games work, and how computers can be hacked and polluted.

Brock: You may very well be on several government watchlists now from your research. And I guess now I could be listed as an accomplice. Oh man, who knew interviewing could be so risky. Can you give us a hint at the second and third book?

Andrew: Not too much, but I’ll just say this:  things get very weird in the second two books because entering the MindWar has some very gnarly effects on the brain and Rick has to start to deal with that.  And there’s a kind of love story you maybe haven’t seen before.  And some cool twists and turns.  And now I’ll shut up before I give something away.

Brock: Thanks for pretty much nothing! But we respect that at Family Fiction, we want to be surprised by the plot turns and twists. You have many great releases already out and I am sure many more planned, are you a full time writer?

Andrew: More than full time!  I’m usually at my desk by 7:30 am and what with phone calls and required reading and so forth, I don’t shut up shop until ten at night.  I used to take weekends off, but that’s so twentieth century!  I’m just glad you have to turn your cell phone off in church!

Brock: You just gave me a very sad chuckle of self-realization. Taking weekends off is so twentieth century has to be one of the truest statements I’ve read in a long time. Then I think about Downton Abbey and how they waited days, weeks, for information. We certainly have increased in ‘productivity’ if that’s what we can call it. Speaking of productivity and efficiency, how long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?

Andrew: About nine months, although longer for the first one because that’s where you’re developing the characters.

Brock: What were some of the challenges you faced when writing MindWar?

Andrew: Keeping the plot going strong in two realms:  in MindWar and reality, and making the timing work in both.  I had to make it plausible that there could be, say, a car chase in one chapter, and a fight with a gigantic fantasy monster in the next.

Brock: I can only imagine how hard that would be to keep your outline straight. What do you want readers to take away from MindWar?

Andrew: You know, I believe in stories as experiences.  I’m not trying to send a message exactly, I just want readers to live through what Rick lives through:  the search for his lost hero-self, the search for who, in the end, he really is.  I hope that experience will give you something that you can use in your own life, but I think you’ve got to figure out for yourself what exactly that is.

Brock: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?

Andrew: So many ways. Before I knew God, the problem for me and for my characters was always the problem of Pontius Pilate:  “What is truth?”  My stories were always about lost and endangered people trying to determine what reality is so they could act.  Now though, the problems my characters face are more elemental, more immediate:  How do I do what’s right? How do I keep my courage in the face of suffering?  How do I keep my faith when everything goes wrong?   In my humble opinion, my stories have become a lot stronger because their issues are more grounded.

Brock: You can’t lose when you’re writing for Him and with Him. He’s the creator and when He’s the inspiration and the foundation for our writing it has to get better! So speaking of a creator, what is your favorite color?

Andrew: I read somewhere that little boys like bright colors but when they grow up they like colors that are more subdued. So I’ll say bright red.

Brock: Staying on the personal side of things. What’s your favorite holiday memory?

Andrew: Oh, man, I’ve had some great, great holidays. Last year, I went to Israel for the first time and walked along the Sea of Galilee. And once, on safari in Africa, I was standing up through the roof port in one of those safari busses and two separate prides of lions walked criss-cross around the bus simultaneously:  nothing but lions everywhere.  It was like some kind of wild dream.  In Hawaii, I once walked over the hardened lava of an erupting volcano, hopping over the burning parts… I could answer this question forever.

Brock: Those are some pretty awesome experiences to have had.  Do you have a favorite pasta dish?

Andrew: Now you’re getting really personal.  Pumpkin ravioli.

Brock: Sounds quite tasty, and not what I might have expected. Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?

Andrew: Never. It’s the one thing that disturbs me. When I was a radio news writer, I used to write on two minute deadlines with three televisions blaring, teletypes clattering and the radio playing…  so I’m not easily distracted.  But I love music and it messes with my rhythms so I have to leave it alone.

Brock: Amazing how our brains can be trained to operate in different ways based on our tastes and likes. And lastly, but often the most fun thing to share. Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

Andrew: Several, sure.  But the one that always leaps to mind is: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” That’s smoking stuff. It never fails to move me.

Brock: Andrew thanks for giving us a look at your latest release as well as a little more into who you are. We’ll look forward to checking with you when the next book releases.

UPDATE: Next book Hostage Run releases March 2015.

Andrew Klavan is a best-selling, award-winning thriller novelist whose books have been made into major motion pictures. He broke into the YA scene with the bestselling Homelanders series, starting with The Last Thing I Remember.He is also a screenwriter and scripted the innovative movie-in-an-app Haunting Melissa. Twitter: @andrewklavan Facebook: aklavan

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Get 40% off Taken, Risk, and Unleash

Today through Saturday you can order Taken, Risk, and Unleash at 40% off using code MD8871. Plus get free shipping to your local Mardel store.

Mardel-TheQuestforTruth

After you have the first three books it’s time to pre-order Tangle in my author store at the limited time low-price.

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A Storm of Reading is in Your Forecast: An Interview with Mary Weber

Storm Siren is an exciting tale set in a fantastic world that Mary Weber brings to life in a way few authors are able to do. Romance and action combine to create a page turning tale set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.

Brock:  Mary thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions about this exciting new series.

Mary: Brock, THANK YOU for letting me!!! What an absolute thrill!!!

Brock: I always like to start at the beginning, how did you come up with the concept for Storm Siren and the world of Faelen?

Mary: I was researching Joan of Arc one day (because she’s totally awesome!) and came across the old, hauntingly beautiful poem, “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.” In one of its stanzas, Patrick is basically calling forth the elements to shield him, and I thought, “How cool would it be to incorporate those into a fantasy world?” That’s where the concept and setting came from. And then, of course, I spent days hashing it over with my sister (who’s brilliant at fantasy and plots) and my husband (who’s like this encyclopedia on all things superhero) until it came together.

As far as the heart of the story – that developed from the teen girls I work with as a youth pastor. I wanted to create a story they’d not only (hopefully) love, but would be empowered by. There’s so much in our culture throwing mixed messages at them about what strength and beauty are.  On one hand teen girls are encouraged to just “be themselves” but then they’re quickly heaped with a host of shallow expectations. In that way, Storm Siren is my shout out to them and the fact that each of them – that each of us – is born with unique value and destiny. And when we embrace that? We’re powerful. Beautiful. Unstoppable.

Brock: Mary what a great inspiration to write a story. I always feel like when I write for a reason and for an audience I care specifically for (in your case your youth group girls), the story really takes hold and God provides the inspiration. And when mentioning St. Patrick’s breastplate, I actually wrote the outline for Challenge on the Hill of Fire (Imagination Station #10) and was very intrigued by that part of St. Patrick’s story like you were. God can do some pretty amazing miracles when we fully trust in Him. Okay a creative challenge here, give us five individual words to describe the book?

Mary: For. People. Who. Like. Fun.

Brock: My kind of book then. Tell us about Nym and her unique ability, without giving away any spoilers of course.

Mary: Nym is an Elemental, born with the ability to summon storms and manipulate the weather. Technically, she’s not supposed to even exist since her kind have always been born male and automatically killed at birth (due to their level of power and a disturbing treaty her kingdom made long ago). Sadly, having never been taught to control her power, Nym believes she’s a curse rather than born for goodness.

Brock: And as our readers read the book, I think they’ll find confidence in their own purpose from Nym’s story. Would you please use five words to describe Nym?

Mary: Broken. Hungry-for-redemption. Powerful. Sarcastic-but-loyal. Tenderhearted.

Brock: Nym sounds like a character many of us could relate too very easily; perhaps aside from the powers to control the elements. Expound on the spiritual themes inlaid within the book.

Mary: Okay, so I honestly think all good stories have what I call the “thread of redemption” in them. And it’s something you’ll definitely find in Storm Siren. Other themes close to my heart are: Laying down one’s life for a friend, heart surrender, valuing life at every level, racial and social justice (including caring about the underprivileged and those with special needs), and embracing our God-designed destinies.

Brock: Powerful messages that fit so perfectly into our time. What do you want readers to take away from Storm Siren?

Mary: To quote John Eldredge in his book “Waking the Dead”: “You are not what you think you are. There is a glory to your life that your Enemy fears.”

Brock: Share with us the story of how you were published.

Mary: Short version: It took a village! (Thank you to my critique group, mentors, parents, sister, and husband!)

Long version: Before Storm Siren, I’d been writing a number of years and had recently shopped around an adult paranormal manuscript that racked up eighty-seven agent rejections and four rewrites. When a dear friend paid my way to the Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference, I was able to submit part of that paranormal MS (in brown ink because my printer broke – so classy I know) to the conference ahead of time. While there, Allen Arnold, the then-publisher for Thomas Nelson HarperCollins approached me and invited me to chat. He’d read my submission as well as my blog, and he broached the idea of writing YA. Shortly after, he introduced me to one of TN’s editors whom I began corresponding with. Over the course of six months I pitched two stories. They eventually bought the second, and I screamed like an excited, rabid banshee. :0)

Brock: Like you my first books were published without an agent and direct to the publisher. It’s an exciting experience but a lot of work. I have grown to appreciate what the agent is able to take off your plate. (You’re awesome Amanda L.) What does it feel like to see your book in print and know that your story is being shared with so many?

Brock: I’m not going to lie…I’ve been squealing a lot. And also a little terrified.

Brock: Yeah, I’ve got several selfies of my books and me, as well as a few pictures my wife snuck while I slept with my books cradled in my arms at night. How many books are planned for this series?

Mary: Three!!

Brock: So your husband should be ready for a bit more squealing, I’d say. Can you give us the tiniest of peeks into the next book?

Mary: Sure! We’re going to see Nym continue her internal journey of discovering who she is and what she was born for. We’re also going to see her face some very real challenges – including those involving her ability, Lord Myles, and Princess Rasha. Oh, and we get to travel to the Bron kingdom! There might be wraiths. Ahem.

Brock: Oh, well now I’m intrigued. I’ll need an ARC asap please. Which book are you working on?

Mary: I recently turned in book 2 and now I’m plotting out book 3. There may or may not be kissing.

Brock: Do you have a favorite drink and/or snack that you drink/eat while writing?

Mary: Okay, so I have this $40 espresso machine from Walmart that seriously makes THE BEST lattes. Before heading to my writing desk, I whip one of those babies up. I also keep a bag of almonds on hand because I tend to forget to eat while writing. Well…unless I’m stuck on a plot point. In which case all bets are off and I’m raiding the fridge like there’s no tomorrow. I’m not exactly proud of that.

Brock: The Latte thing I totally get, I make a mean Caramel Latte to start my sessions. And yes the forgetting to eat can seriously become an issue. You have a rather unique bio, can you explain a bit more about the unicorns you feed?

Mary: *laughs* The unicorns are rather pesky things – always interrupting with nonsense. Someone really should tame them.

Brock: Perhaps you could include a chapter on this in an upcoming book, or a blog post. Another intriguing question raised by your bio, how might one go about taking over a make-believe world?

Mary: I’m going to be honest – it takes time and a good theme song (preferably sung by a boy band). Oh, and a rockin’ 80’s costume.

Brock: So many questions to save for our next interview. What is your favorite thing to do at the ocean? Do you ever write while you are there?

Mary: Aww, I love this question! Okay so my favorite thing to do at the ocean is watch my kids play. They’re so carefree, jumping in the ocean spray and trying to force-feed poor, unsuspecting anemones.

Although as far as writing at the beach, I can’t. Mainly because I’m the most distractible person I know. I’m the girl who’s like, “Ooh look, a snow cone machine!” And “Oh-my-gosh – what if that surfer gets eaten by a SHARK?” That said, the ocean is most definitely my “walk-on-the-pier-with-my-husband-and-hash-out-plot-points” place. Books one and two would not exist if it weren’t for those dates. Or for my husband.

Brock: Mary thanks for sharing the great insight into the book and your life, our readers really appreciate it.

Mary: Thanks so much for the fun, Brock!! Loved doing this with you!

Brock: Check out Storm Siren at your local Christian retailer or wherever books are sold. You can find link at Mary’s website here.

 

Storm Siren:

“I raise my chin as the buyers stare. Yes. Look. You don’t want me. Because, eventually, accidentally, I will destroy you.”

 

In a world at war, a slave girl’s lethal curse could become one kingdom’s weapon of salvation. If the curse—and the girl—can be controlled.

As a slave in the war-weary kingdom of Faelen, seventeen-year-old Nym isn’t merely devoid of rights, her Elemental kind are only born male and always killed at birth—meaning, she shouldn’t even exist.

Standing on the auction block beneath smoke-drenched mountains, Nym faces her fifteenth sell. But when her hood is removed and her storm-summoning killing curse revealed, Nym is snatched up by a court advisor and given a choice: be trained as the weapon Faelen needs to win the war, or be killed.

Choosing the former, Nym is unleashed into a world of politics, bizarre parties, and rumors of an evil more sinister than she’s being prepared to fight . . . not to mention the handsome trainer whose dark secrets lie behind a mysterious ability to calm every lightning strike she summons.

But what if she doesn’t want to be the weapon they’ve all been waiting for?

Set in a beautifully eclectic world of suspicion, super abilities, and monsters, Storm Siren is a story of power. And whoever controls that power will win.

Siren’s Fury:

I thrust my hand toward the sky as my voice begs the Elemental inside me to waken and rise. But it’s no use. The curse I’ve spent my entire life abhorring—the thing I trained so hard to control—no longer exists.

Nym has saved Faelen only to discover that Draewulf stole everything she valued. Now he’s destroyed her Elemental storm-summoning ability as well.

When Nym sneaks off with a host of delegates to Bron, Lord Myles offers her the chance for a new kind of power and the whispered hope that it may do more than simply defeat the monster she loathes. But the secrets the Bron people have kept concealed, along with the horrors Draewulf has developed, may require more than simply harnessing a darker ability.

They may require who she is.

Set against the stark metallic backdrop of the Bron kingdom, Nym is faced with the chance to change the future.

Or was that Draewulf’s plan for her all along?

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